Orthodoxy – Past Present and Future
A talk delivered on Orthodox Sunday In Cleveland, Ohio

By The Reverend Fr. Thomas Ruffin


The topic for the address this evening is “Orthodoxy, Past, Present and Future,” in which we will attempt a survey of the various aspects of the Orthodox faith. In such a survey one wonders whether to speak optimistically or pessimistically; whether to give facts or opinions. This evening we will attempt to employ all four, optimism, pessimism, fact and opinion.

There must have been a beginning, so let us start from a short history of the Orthodox Church in America. The Orthodox Church first came to America by way of Alaska in the year 1794 by Russian Orthodox Missionaries. It flourished and spread to other parts of the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska mainland.

The first Orthodox Cathedral was built in Sitka, Alaska in 1850 and in 1871 the Cathedral was transferred to San Francisco. The first Orthodox Seminary was established under Russian jurisdiction in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1905; but in 1923 it was closed due to lack of funds. The first Greek Orthodox Church was established in the United States in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1866 and by the turn of the century many national groups organized and established churches.

The statistics on membership for these churches are not very clear, as there was no actual census taken. And it was only natural for these groups to establish along national or ethnic lines because of language and sociology. Many churches were established firstly as a social club composed of members of the same nationality and social structure and so from these national social groups, Orthodox Churches were established and began to grow.

Now what is the present status of the Orthodox Catholic Church in the United States? If a comparison of the growth of the other denominations is made, there is always the tendency on our part to rationalize the situation by stating “But we have only been in this country such a short time.” There is some truth in this statement, but how long can we use it validly? Our past history shows that we have been on this continent since 1794, which gave us approximately 70 years of development. The present situation still finds us lacking in such areas as seminaries, administration, hospitals, schools, homes for the aged, priests, colleges, orphanages and other social institutions which are by necessity a function of the church.

I make this comparison in no real derogatory sense, for the other cultures were adaptable to the American way of life and their customs and traditions and language more so than those who came from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. I only make this comparison to impress upon the second generation of Orthodox who are adaptable to the American traditions that these are the goals for which they must strive with all their God given energy. These goals and ambitions we will speak on a little later.

In reference to the Eastern Orthodox Church the Encyclopedia Americana states, “There is no administrative center, nor any official organ for consultation, nevertheless, all Orthodox Churches are in communion with each other and regard themselves as members of the same spiritual organization.” The people of the Encyclopedia Americana may think this complimentary, but we as Orthodox should think and meditate on this problem. There is no central organization for consultation, consequently what does someone do when they need consultation about the Eastern Orthodox Church? It has no authority for reference, so the project is either dropped, or the information given someone for dissemination is usually in error.

I cannot possibly enumerate the many and diverse problems which face us today. But I am going to give a present situation of some of our problems and adapt these to what, in my opinion, our goal should be for the future.


l. Religious Education: Presently in religious education what do we as Orthodox possess? We possess a variety of texts and materials not in harmony at all with the material of others. Each jurisdiction spending man power and money producing their own religious educational texts. This is the present status of our religious education. Our present parochial schools, few as they are, are limited only to the people of that ethnic group.

2. Sacred Music: In the field of music the same situation as our religious education holds true. Each church and each jurisdiction is spending time and energy publishing their own music, each going in diverse directions.

3. Social Institutions: Presently, we clothe our social institutions in a garment of ethnic chauvinism, not caring what happens to the brother who possesses and adheres to the same Orthodox faith, but because he is of a different nationality we can’t sympathize or we don’t pay any attention. We have accomplished Boy Scout awards, and athletics at present are becoming a vital part of our church work. However, again the same thing holds true here in the Boy Scouts, in that they are limited only to the Scouts of the nationality of that group. Again man power is not being centralized and used to the effect that it could and should be used. We have, relatively speaking, no orphanages, no hospitals, and limited facilities for the aged.

4. Relations With Other Denominations: We are members of the World Council of Churches, that is most of the jurisdictions, and we are members of the National Council of Churches. What is our present status of these organizations? At present, the situation of the Orthodox in these organizations is one of question. Our position has often been referred to as the “anguish of the Eastern Orthodox Church.” Theologically speaking we are a separate chasm and our present position is not very effective.

5. The Hierarchy: Only in the past year has the Hierarchy shown a real and genuine cooperation among one another in the formation of a new Council of Bishops. Three meetings have been held, and various committees have been formed to discuss the various topics that I speak of today.

6. Politics: Politics, and not domestic politics, presently play such a part within our Churches that we are strangling the growth and the promotion and the progress of our beloved Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a known fact that schisms within the Eastern Orthodox Faith are not theological at all, but political. It is difficult for many of our churches to put aside petty hates and jealousies which stemmed from the other side and have no business in the church of America.

7. Church Government’ We hear so much about parliamentary procedure from so many of our church organizations and especially from the Boards of Trustees who feel that the way to govern the church is to adhere to parliamentary procedure and ignore the Christian practices. Many Boards of Trustees at present do not fit into the progressive pattern of the Orthodox Church, nor do they educate themselves to fit into this pattern. They feel that the Priest is a hired hand and can be fired and hired at will, and they have the authority to tell the Priest who to baptize, who to marry and who to bury. This is the present status of church government which we face today and which tends to destroy the true mission of the church.

8. Separation of Church and State: Because we live in a state where there is freedom of religion and a state which is democratic, we assume and expect that the Orthodox Church is also a democratic church. One who has studied his faith must know that by history the Orthodox Church, by the very fact that it is a hierarchical church, is ruled and governed by a Bishop; this automatically eliminates it from being a democratic church. The authority of the Orthodox Church according to the canons of the church and its Holy Traditions lie solely with the Bishop. This does not mean the laity do not have a voice in the church, for they have their position as well as the Bishop and the Priest, however, let each know his responsibilities in accordance with the canons of the church, and let us not be so free with the term “democracy” in church government.

9. Public Relations: Among other denominations our public relations are good, but I am sorry to say that public relations among our own individual groups and attempts to understand each others problems are rather weak. Is it right for us to do a good job of public relations among other groups and a bad job among our own groups? This is neither right nor proper, and I feel that public relations should begin at home. More about that when we discuss the future.

10. Orthodox Church Councils: Thank the Lord that within the last few years many cities, both large and small, have established a Council of Eastern Orthodox Churches. This must be encouraged. It is only through a common understanding, a common cooperation and a common love, that these councils should operate. They must be encouraged in every city where there are Orthodox parishes, and the work must be centralized through these councils. The hierarchy of the various jurisdictions should encourage and insist on their parishes participating in these councils.


In relation to these same subjects, what does the future hold for us? Some of these questions are answered by fact, some are mere opinions; some you will agree with, some you will not agree with. I speak only my opinion from the standpoint of one who experiences the situations almost daily. We saw the past, we reviewed the present, and now what will the future be?

1. Religious Education: The manpower now being used must be centralized into a combined effort; our methods and our texts should begin to show more uniformity. All religious education material must give the same message and this duplication of effort which we now experience should be eliminated to a great degree. The Orthodox Christian Education Commission which is in existence now should serve as the nucleus for this centralization. Anyone who is capable should channel their efforts on behalf of that commission so that standard of our goals should be established of the parochial school. Yet if we are thinking of establishing parochial schools for the propagation of nationalism instead of faith then let us forget parochial schools right now. If in the future we band together as Orthodox and establish parochial schools for all Orthodox, the admission to these schools should not depend on nationality. The only entrance requirement should be that an Orthodox Christian desires to learn, then we shall have the right start.

2. In the field of music there also must be a centralization of effort, and the extravagant waste of man power and finances be halted. For whether we like it or not, even the music which we print today will be obsolete and unsuitable because it is inevitable that the music which the future American church will use will be neither Slavonic nor Greek. The best of both will be blended and adapted to the English language so that we will have a tradition of Orthodox music in America. This is really so in keeping with the all embracing characteristics of the Orthodox Church.

3. Social Institutions: The future should bring about the establishment of old age homes, orphanages and other institutions which are of a Christian nature. However, these should not be established only for those who are privileged enough to have the finances. We must combine our efforts and our finances into establishing these institutions for all of our Orthodox people. The same thing holds true for our Boy Scout organizations and for our athletic programs. We must encourage athletics among our people. The building of the body, the nurturing of the body, is just as important as the nurturing of the soul. For the body is that which houses the soul and the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our pastors must orient themselves in psychology and psychotherapy to cope with the emotional problems prevalent in our civilization.

4. Relations With Other Denominations: What about our future relations, especially with the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches? Our position must be clarified within these organizations. If we are influencing them in Orthodox terms and our judgment respected and position understood, then all well and good. But if we are being used as a wedge by these organizations (i.e., to oppose the Roman Catholic Church) and if in any way by our presence at these organizations we turn to compromise, then we must withdraw, as compromise is not the true expression of the church.

5. Hierarchy: With the establishment of the Council of Eastern Orthodox Hierarchs and the new committees which are to be established by them there is a movement in the right direction. It is not without obstacles, but it gives us great hope and it is a beginning point. It is a sincere desire on the part of our hierarchy to recognize these problems and do something about them. This Synod or Conference should be a vital organization; it should be a federation that makes decisions and those decisions should be binding upon all the Orthodox Faithful. The future should bring about not a loose federation of hierarchs but it should become a Holy Synod. In so doing, the future will bring about a central authority and central government for the Orthodox Church in the United States. It should be a Synod in fact, in word, and in deed … not just in name. The committees which they propose to establish on religious education, translation and Scouting, must be vital committees doing the necessary work to bring about their particular aim. And we, as Priests and laymen, must cooperate fully with our Bishops and these committees.

6. Politics: We see what there must be in the future and have no doubt but that politics will be abolished in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our main goal will be to bring our people to Christ and to His Holy Church and not to worry about the politics of the Old World.

7. Church Government: We know what the present situation is in the Church, but what can we do as laymen, and as Priests? So many of our parishes, our Boards of Trustees, Church Committees, and parish councils worry about Robert’s Rules of Order. There are rules far older than Robert’s Rules of Order. These are the rules of Christ and His Holy Church, and these rules must be permeated. Because our rules and canons are far older and far more blessed and of a Divine Origin. The Church board must be educated to the fact of their primary purpose. It is that they are assistants to the Priest, and in no way shall they hamper or hinder the ministry of the Priest. It is easy for some Church councils to say they will handle the finances, the Priest will handle the religion. I ask you, where does one begin and the other end? If a Priest is in charge of his religious education department, doesn’t he require finances for that program or for the music department? Or for that fact, bingo. There are some churches that play bingo, and because the church committee rules so. Aren’t morals and ethics involved here which are in the jurisdiction of a Priest? Yet the Priest has this constant struggle. We, as Priests must be firm and true to our calling. Never fearing to condemn that which tends to destroy the true mission of the church. You as laymen must realize your moral responsibilities and also your limitations.

Another problem we face in many parishes is the position of the women. Many are denied the right of voting and having a voice in the Church. As we look over the activities of a parish, we see that the women sing in the choir, teach church school, assist the Priest with office work, and still they have no voice and are discriminated against. This situation should be eliminated, and women should be permitted to vote; they should sit on committees and councils. They are the heart of the church. It is up to the women however, to assume this responsibility and if denied, they must work with love in their parish to accomplish these ends.

8. Separation of Church and State: The fact that there is separation of Church and State in the United States should never prevent us from expressing our Orthodox views whether it be on birth control or patriotism. We must let our Church be made known. We become good Americans by living a true and dynamic and real Orthodox Faith. There is at present a resolution in the United States Senate which calls for the recognition of the Eastern Orthodox Faith as a major one, and this is well and good, however to be recognized by the Federal government is not enough. True recognition will come about by the moral and religious impact which we make on society.

9. Public Relations: Public relations among the various Orthodox groups must be our first concern. Our Orthodox people need a great deal of enlightenment on the public relations level. Let me give an example. Some time ago, because there was no Priest’s name on a hospital card, I received a call from Henry Ford Hospital. They said, “Father, there is an Orthodox woman here, and she is dying.” It took me eight minutes to get to the hospital. An orderly met me and said to follow him. He took me up in an elevator to the woman’s room. There she was in anguish – she was dying. She said, “Father, I die.” I said, “Are you prepared?” She said, “I want my Priest.” I told her, “I am an Orthodox Priest.” She said, “NO no no, I want MY Priest. That woman died without Holy Communion. This is the type of education that we must insist upon among our congregations. It does not matter if he is Greek, or Syrian, or Russian, but that he carries the Body and Blood of Christ, and he is willing and wants to dispense it to all who call themselves Orthodox.

10. Orthodox Councils: Within our Eastern Orthodox Councils in the various cities there must be a beginning of a dynamic spiritual leadership. Through these councils the various projects of which we speak must be instituted. It is through these councils, through the cooperation of the various Priests and laity that the Hierarchs can best do their work. We have found a way of communication. We have found a way to understand each other. Still unless these councils are injected with love, with fellow ship and with communion of the Holy Spirit, nothing can be accomplished.

What are the things to remember for the future? There can be no room for discouragement, laxity, or laziness. It is so easy to say, as I have said previously, that we are doing pretty good, we have only been in this country fifty years. But remember, we had a two thousand year head start. Let us not forget that! The future of the Church can make no room for nationalism or politics. We must all be American citizens, holding no dual citizenships, and above all, be true Orthodox Christians. The future work of the Church must be tackled with a zealous effort by all of us, never giving up hope, never becoming lazy or discouraged. Let us remember that Christ chose only twelve and yet the world was changed by those twelve. So through your efforts the truth can be known. The future must make us all very determined in our efforts. But his firmness must be tempered with Christian love and in a Christian Spirit. Remembering that “what is impossible with men, is possible with God,” and we must never disregard the operation of the Holy Spirit within the church. Nor should we ever place an impediment to the operation of this Holy Spirit, as so many of us unknowingly do. We must make ourselves receptive to the operation of the Holy Spirit, so when the Holy Spirit moves us to these goals, to God’s Holy Ways, we will follow in our love of God and His Holy Church. Doing that which God would have us to do and not what we, as weak individuals, want to do. Everything we do now, and in the future, from this day forward, every bit of work, every hour we give the Church, must be given in love; love for what we are doing. If you love your work it does not become burdensome nor tiresome. If you love, you will remain within the commandments and the precepts of the Holy Church. Because through your love you would not think to disobey them. So our work must be a work of love.

In concluding let me remind you of the words of St. Paul to the Galatians 3: 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all of one in Jesus Christ.”

The WORD/OCTOBER, 1962; pp. 6-8, 12