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Again Magazine – December 1993 Page 4-5
of Orthodoxy in America
By Father Thomas Hopko
Dean, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary
During this bicentennial year of Orthodoxy in America, when we celebrate the arrival of the first Orthodox missionary team
on our continent, we offer special thanks to the Lord for illumining our land through the good works of many “bright lights.”
We have already read in AGAIN about Saint Herman of Alaska, the Church’s “joyful north star” (as he is called in our liturgical hymns), and about Saint Innocent and Saint Tikhon and others who have labored in our land. Now in this issue we are given the opportunity to learn of still more men and women who accomplished Christ’s work in our midst like burning and shining lamps in whose light we delight.
Some readers of AGAIN will have been personally acquainted with some of the people written about in these pages. No reader will have personally known them all. And some of us will have personally known none of them. But all those described and praised in these pages are known to us all, and indeed to all Orthodox Christians in America, in a very special way. They are known through people whose lives they have touched, and whose lives have touched our own. This is how God’s Spirit works in Christ’s Church. This is Christian Orthodoxy in action.
VARIETY IN UNITY
The people about whom we will now read were remarkably different from one another. They vary greatly in nationality, heritage, education, social class, and spiritual style. And the writers who speak of them—including Sophie Koulomzin, our common mother in the Faith who is interviewed here—are also very different. This diversity is the glory of the Church. It reflects the glory of God’s original creation.
The Uncreated Light has limitless splendors and glories. God’s infinite energies are expressed in a boundless variety of ways within the hundred thousand million galaxies, each with not less than a hundred thousand million stars. The created cosmos abounds with endless originality and diversity. And God beholds it all and exclaims: It is good; indeed it is very good!
Christ’s Holy Church, called by Saint Gregory of Nyssa the “recreation of creation,” reflects the glorious diversity and boundless variety of the “bubbling spring” of Divine Goodness, to use another of Saint Gregory’s expressions. She does so as Christ’s Body and Bride, the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), particularly in the millions of human beings made in God’s image and likeness who are called to everlasting life in God’s Kingdom.
MATURATION IN CHRIST
A sure sign of our maturation as Orthodox Christians, and as the Orthodox Church in North America as a whole, is our joyful acceptance and affirmation of diversity and variety in God’s good creation, and in the life of God’s new creation, Christ’s Holy Church.
Immature and childish people want everyone to be as they are, and everything to be as they wish. Those growing into “mature personhood,” on the other hand, into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (see Ephesians 4:11-13), within the Church “which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22, 23), positively delight in the diversity within the Body which expresses the Church’s essential unity—which is that of the Lord Himself.
The more we grow spiritually as Orthodox Christians in America, the more we will see the essential unity of Christ’s Church, and the essential unity of God’s faithful servants within the Church. As our passions and prejudices are conquered by God’s grace and truth, our parochial perspectives and provincial predilections will pass away. We will then come to see that what separates Orthodox luminaries like Bishop Raphael and Mother Alexandra, Archbishop John and Father Alexander, and indeed all those described in these pages together with all who firmly hold to Holy Orthodoxy—compared with what binds and unites them—is absolutely nothing.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
We Orthodox, of all people, should learn from holy history. Saint Paul contended with Saint Peter, but the foremost apostles were able to stay united in the truth of Christ and are thus forever glorified together in the Church.
Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian, the best of friends who often quarreled bitterly over doctrinal and practical issues, did not at first agree with the teachings of Saint Athanasius, but they were finally fully united in faith with him whom they came to venerate as their father and teacher.
When Saint John Chrysostom’s relics were returned to Constantinople from his place of exile, and his name was to be returned to the list of Orthodox hierarchs, no less a one than Saint Cyril of Alexandria declared, “If John is to be numbered among the bishops, then Judas should be numbered among the Apostles.” But God has glorified both Cyril and John as saints of the Church and teachers of the Faith.
We can think further of Saint Nilus of the Sora and Saint Joseph of Volotsk, and nearer our time of the bishops Saint Theophan (Govorov) and Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninoff), who in their lifetimes did not always agree and often even violently disagreed. When, however, their earthly lives were over, and their limitations acknowledged, and their peculiarities accepted, and their gifts affirmed, and their sins (which everyone has) forgiven and consigned to oblivion, they were all revealed by God as lights in the world, working the work of the glorified Christ by the Holy Spirit in the midst of the earth.
ORTHODOXY FOR AMERICA
Whatever the differences, and even divisions, among those described in these pages of AGAIN; and whatever their personal peculiarities and passions; and whatever the myths and legends and even the lies that shall inevitably be invented about them, three things will forever clearly unite them.
The first is their unwavering devotion to Christ and the Orthodox Church. The second is their unconditional conviction that Orthodox Christianity is for all people. And the third is their absolute certainty that Orthodox Christianity is for America.
As we reflect on their lives and teaching, let us put aside what separates them and delight in what unites them. Arid let us learn from each one of them that unique thing which only he or she could reveal of God’s goodness and beauty and truth. In doing this we will not only be honoring them, but we will be honoring ourselves through our maturity in gratefully accepting what God has given us, for the edification of His Church and the salvation of our souls.