August 23, 2013

Fr Thomas Hopko: Church Administration as Service to God

Fr. Thomas Hopko
Fr Thomas Hopko

From time to time during the Canadian Assembly Fr Thomas Hopko is giving brief theological reflections on church administration. Now that may sound deadly, but for anyone charged with the usually thankless tasks of admin from parish to diocese to central church what he says helps put that work and its temptations in the much wider perspective of God’s mission in this world. Administration is one of the callings that keeps the Body of Christ together (see Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4). It’s part of “being faithful in little things, ” doing all and using all to the glory of God: possessions, property, power, resources, personnel, programs—everything being put to practical use for the love of God and service of neighbor. There is no better demonstration of the sacramental heart of Orthodox Christianity as we take the most mundane elements of life in this world—like committees and budgets—and transforming them into communion with God.

Public lecture
Public lecture at Annunciation Cathedral

Here, the laity have always had a key role.  But for most of church history, at least since Emperor Constantine, the “laos,” the people of God were represented by emperors and czars. Indeed, as Father Tom pointed out, the first six ecumenical councils were convened and presided over by emperors. Constantine called the bishops together in Nicea (325AD) before he was even baptized. State power and the Church in the ideal were to be a “symphony” ordained by God. This left the Church misaligned with the state even under oppressive regimes like the Ottoman Turks and the Soviets when the top layman was the sultan or Stalin. What happens when all that disappears? That’s still an open question in the Orthodox world as churches in the Old World readjust to new political realities, often hearkening back to the old models. But in North America the answer that has been emerging since the early 20th century is found in assemblies like the one we’re having now in Canada: the laity from across the church working together in hierarchical good order with clergy and bishops to do God’s work in this land. This makes assemblies vital laboratories for transformative, sacramental administration.

Father Tom expanded on these themes when he spoke yesterday evening on “Faithful Stewards” in a public lecture at Annunciation Cathedral.

Ottawa/Gatineau: Assembly Archdiocese of Canada (Day 1)

The Assembly opened with a hierarchical divine liturgy and moleben presided by Bishop Irénée.

Metropolitan Tikhon began his address in French (and was bilingual at several points) to underline the inclusion of French-speaking Canada in the Orthodox Church in America. He recalled with pleasure that he recently had the opportunity for the first time to celebrate the Divine Liturgy entirely in French when visiting Montreal’s Saint Benoit de Nursie parish at the invitation of Bishop Irénée.  He also remarked that this is his first diocesan assembly as Metropolitan.

His Beatitude emphasized that the necessary church work of assemblies, councils and administration is grounded in personal faith, repentance, prayer, love and respect for one another. This makes it possible to share constructively and joyfully in fellowship with other human beings created in the image and likeness of God even, or especially, when disagreeing on important issues. Face to face personal encounter—and not just online interaction—is at the heart of church leadership. This is also why the recent OCA delegations trip to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus was important. “There were no earth-shattering agreements, but personal connections were established.” Metropolitan Tikhon ended by saying that we are all responsible for fostering a sense of calm and stability in church life. “We are all human beings and we need to remember to interact with each other in a Christ-like way, a humble way, following the law of Christ, which is the law of love.”

Fr John Tkachuk
Fr John Tkachuk receives silver St Innocent award.

Bishop Irénée’s address reviewed the work of the last three years since the previous Assembly, reminding everyone of the faithful servants of the past who built the church in Canada. In particular he called attention to the service of Father John Tkachuk (The Sign of the Theotokos, Montreal) who is retiring this year and as pastor, chancellor, and diocesan council member was a key influence in shaping the life of the Archdiocese of Canada for forty years. Personally, I can say that when I was a McGill University student in the mid-1970’s he played a decisive role in my life and in my decision to go to Saint Vladimir’s Seminary and eventually serve the Church. I still carry the Bible he and the parish gave me in 1977 when I graduated from university.

In recognition of his service to the Archdiocese and to the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude awarded Father John the silver Order of Saint Innocent.