Metropolitan Tikhon, OCA Chancellor and Secretary, address AAC opening plenary session

AAC Opening

OCA- July 2015

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, addressed hundreds of delegates and observers at the opening plenary session of the18th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America on Monday evening, July 20, 2015.

Metropolitan Tikhon called the AAC to order after an opening Service of Intercession.

In his address, Metropolitan Tikhon challenged the assembly to join him “in this ascetical journey to discern and develop our apostolic calling here in North America, through prayer, repentance and common work for the glory of God, always remembering the words of the Lord:

‘Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock’ (Matthew 7:24-25).

“Each of you, gathered here this week, has his own history and family background,” Metropolitan Tikhon continued.  “And each of you is here as a member of the Body of Christ, the Holy Church.  But what is amazing is that all of us are gathered here as the Church.  We may have our own opinions about our countries, about social and moral issues, about immigration issues, gun control, about states’ rights and centralized government, about diocesan sovereignty and the central administration.  At the same time, every one of us is a member of the Body of Christ.  And this gives me hope—hope in the beauty, goodness and kindness of humanity; hope in the potential of our Church to be a true witness to the divine beauty, goodness and kindness that is offered to all of mankind; hope that, by God’s providence, I stand before you as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and that I am able to hear your concerns and hopes, your complaints and praises, your frustration and your encouragement.”

Turning his attention to the AAC theme—“How To Expand The Mission”—Metropolitan Tikhon went on to reflect on the witness of those who have gone before us.  “Besides Saint Tikhon, we have many bold advocates for our vision in North America. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke at the time of the funeral of Metropolitan Leonty, noting that His Eminence had left the Church in North America with a legacy: a legacy of unity, the legacy of his vision of the Church and the legacy of being a true man of God.  Concerning unity, Father Alexander said, ‘[Metropolitan Leonty’s] whole life was above everything else a ministry, a liturgy of unity, and in this he fulfilled the first and most essential function of the Bishop.  He literally kept us together in his heart, in his prayer, in his love.  And his heart was big enough for all and everything.  And everyone, whatever his position, his calling, his ideas, could identify himself with the Metropolitan and through him with the Church….  Whenever he appeared – all knew immediately that he was the father, the center of unity—all felt immediately secure and confident in his love, understanding and response.’

“The Orthodox Church in America holds sacred its vision for a local Orthodox Church in North America, and we are able to articulate this more firmly than any other jurisdiction on this continent,” Metropolitan Tikhon continued.  “Not only this, but while living in brotherly good relations with all other Orthodox, we have had the blessing of being able to live the reality of that local Orthodox Church and to strive to be all things to all people, so that even a few might be saved.
Archpriest John Jillions, OCA Chancellor, also addressed the delegates.

“The work we do as the OCA’s central administration with His Beatitude, the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council is first and foremost to foster a sense of mission, identity and connection among our parishes and dioceses as ‘The Orthodox Church in America,’” Father John said.  “We serve people from a wide range of backgrounds.  But we share a vision about being Orthodox Christians here — in the US, Canada and Mexico.  We have planted our roots here, we love the culture, people and history here.  Sticking closely together in our OCA identity is all the more important when we are only about 100,000 souls scattered across 50 states and three countries.”

Father John went on to offer observations in light of the AAC theme.  “This week our focus is ‘How to Expand the Mission,’” he noted.  “We as Orthodox Christians have largely accepted North America’s vision of who we are.  This is what we are being told: ‘You are one of several hundred religious denominations and sects and your churches are exclusive gatherings that cater either to specific ethnic groups or to religious, political and social conservatives who are attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy.’  This is a caricature, but it’s what the public thinks of us, if they think about us at all.

“But this is not who we really are,” he continued.  “We are the Orthodox Church in America.  We are the expression here of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, even if that sounds delusional at times….  But nothing stops us from being who we are: members of the Church, with a capital C, whether others know it, accept it, ridicule it, or reject it or not.  To be the Church in this universal sense means we look at every human being the way God does.  Regardless of who they are or what sins they have committed this is a child of God.  This is someone for whom Christ died.  This is someone for whom the Orthodox Church could be a spiritual home.

“We are a tiny church on the vast North American landscape,” Father John concluded.  “But we have a precious treasure to offer.  And despite our small size, our vision for America gives us unique possibilities unknown in other parts of the Orthodox world.  As Archbishop Anastasios of Albania said, ‘In North America especially, the Orthodox witness is offered within a dynamic society with universal interests.  In such a society Orthodoxy is in a state of mission — and she cannot, certainly, be content with a museum-like preservation of the glorious Orthodox past of faraway homelands.  Something substantially new and important ought to arise.’”

Also addressing the delegates was Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, who spoke of the day-to-day work of the OCA Chancery before focusing on the AAC theme.

“This Council is focused on the theme of on expanding the mission,” Father Eric said.  “This must always be foremost in the mind and actions of all levels of the Church, [and] without such focus, the Church loses its breath and dies.  With it, the very lifeblood of the Church goes out into all the world.  We must maintain our focus and do everything with that goal—how are we expanding the mission?

“Everything is mission and evangelism in the Church.  Period!” he continued.  “Whether it is pastoring a parish, working in a hospital, worshipping in the Church, scrubbing the floors, cooking dinner—and even administering the Church.  It is all mission and evangelism.  Our challenge is to see that and work as such together as a Church, despite our differences and perhaps because of our differences.  Saint Tikhon commented in his first sermon to his flock in North America, ‘I ask for assistance and cooperation not only from the pastors, but also from my entire beloved flock.  The Church of Christ is likened by the Holy Apostle Paul to a body, while a body has not one member, but many (1 Corinthians 12:14).  These have not one and the same function (Romans 12:4), but each its own: the eye its own, and the arm its own.  Each member is necessary and cannot be without the other, they all have concerns for each other, and there is no division in the body (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).  So you also, my brethren, are the body of Christ, and members in particular (verse 27).  And unto every one of you is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:7), unto the perfecting of the saints, for a work of ministration, for the building up of the body of Christ (verse 12).  And for this purpose continue with true love to grow into Him Whom belongs the whole Body, which is built up of and joined through the supply of every joint, according to the working in the measure of each single part, receiving increase for the building up of itself in love’ (verses 15-16).

“The work we do at the Chancery is precisely a reflection of what Saint Tikhon charged the flock in North America,” Father Eric concluded.  “The Chancery work is not just bureaucratic work but must be seen as a real pastoral calling.  It involves people and issues that go beyond simple administrative oversight.  It requires a real and true connection between the work of the central administration and the dioceses, parishes and the people.  Otherwise, it would be empty work.  Instead it connects the whole together.  But it is much deeper than that, it is an evangelistic endeavor. Our dearly beloved and recently reposed Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko wrote, ‘In many Orthodox Church and church institutions, Christ and his gospel serve merely as a pretext for a variety of religious, ecclesiastical, social, and political ideas and activities that have little, if anything to do with the Lord’s mission in the world.  These ideas and activities may be old-fashioned or modern, spiritualistic or secular, relativistic or sectarian, political or pietistic.  They may be sophisticated or simplistic, intellectual or popular, refined or vulgar.  But whatever or however they are not rooted in Jesus Christ.  Nor are they guided and guarded by the Gospel image and teaching of and about Jesus and God the Father; nor are they informed by the Holy Spirit Who is always and everywhere the Spirit of God.’  May we never fall into that trap but rather ensure that all our labors are done in the light of Christ.”

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