From ROCOR Studies
In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the Lord spoke about those laborers, who, having been hired at the eleventh hour, nevertheless had received the same wages as those who had worked the whole day, very clearly demonstrating that converts have the same rights within the Church as “the cradles”. Both groups have their own advantages and disadvantages. The “cradles,” or “ethnics” for instance, might tend to support favoritism over meritocracy in church administration. This article is not a piece on Orthodox historical theology, but a case study is written from a sociological perspective focusing on groups and not individuals. The term “sectarian” is used in an anthropological sense and should not be perceived as branding.
Although this academic article does not focus primarily on the Russian Church Abroad, the author addresses problems also common for the ROCOR. After groups formed elsewhere join the Russian Church Abroad, their major loyalty usually would lay first and foremost with their own leadership and only then with the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad. Striking examples of this phenomenon might be observed with Holy Transfiguration in Brookline, MA, and Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, TX. Similar traits can be detected in America with the so-called Holy Orthodox Church in America (Fr. Anthony Bondi), in France with Bishop John-Nektarios Kovalevksii’ of the so-called Orthodox Church of France and in Russia within the National Patriotic Front, “Pamyat” in the early 1990s.
Deacon Andrei Psarev,
Jordanville, October 19, 2019
This article considers two case studies of collective conversions to Eastern Orthodoxy to illustrate the most pressing challenges faced by ethnic Orthodox congregations who attempt to assimilate sectarian groups into their midst. I argue that these challenges include: 1) the different understandings of ecclesiology held by former Protestant sectarians and by “cradle” Orthodox believers; 2) the pan-Orthodox aspirations of sectarian converts versus the factionalism found in ethnically-based American Orthodox jurisdictions; 3) the differing pastoral styles of former sectarian ministers and Orthodox priests; 4) the tendency of sectarian converts to embrace a very strict reading of Orthodoxy and to adopt a critical and reformist attitude in relations with cradle Orthodox communities; and 5) the covert and overt racism that sometimes exists in ethnic Orthodox parishes. I suggest that the increasing numbers of non-ethnic converts to ethnic Orthodox parishes may result in increased pressure to break down ethnic barriers between Orthodox communities and to form a unified American Orthodox Church. These conversions may also lead to the growth of hybrid Orthodox churches such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
A significant trend in recent American religious history has been the growing number of non-ethnic converts to Eastern Orthodox Churches. 1 These conversions include both individuals and whole religious communities drawn to the rich liturgies, firm moral theology, mystical spirituality, and claims to apostolic continuity offered by Orthodoxy. Noteworthy examples of such conversions over the past twenty years include an entire congregation of the charismatic Vineyard movement that was received into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in northern California; Father Ken Dunlop, pastor of Christ the Saviour Church in Anderson, South Carolina, who brought his entire parish into the Antiochian Archdiocese; Father John Kress and Father Samuel Sebring, who brought their respective parishes of conservative Episcopalians in South Carolina into the Antiochian Archdiocese; Christ the Saviour Brotherhood (formerly the Holy Order of MANS), a new religious movement headquartered in Indiana whose far-flung communities joined the Orthodox Church in America; and the Evangelical Orthodox Church, an independent evangelical alliance that brought its nationwide parishes into the Antiochian Archdiocese. 2
In a paper presented at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting, I interpreted individual Orthodox conversion narratives as a variation on the enduring theme of primitivism in American religious history. 3 These narratives all had a recurring theme: converts saw themselves returning to the Age of the Apostles, to the primitive Christian community depicted in the New Testament. This return was experienced as the recovery of a lost connection with an uncorrupted deposit of original Christian doctrine, practice, and ecclesiastical organization. The primitivist impulse has been an important part of such diverse American religious communities as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Churches of Christ, Pentecostals, Primitive Baptists, and early Puritans; it appears to be a significant motivating factor for many American converts to Eastern Orthodoxy.
In its classic formulation by scholars such as Richard Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, primitivism is understood as an attempt to transcend chronological history — a history that is seen as a declension from a pristine form of Christianity. 4 Taken in this sense, it is not surprising that those who are reared within the Orthodox Church are not drawn to the primitivist enterprise. These “cradle Orthodox” Christians grow up understanding that their church has a history, not of corruption or declension, but of careful refinement of Christian doctrine and practice. One of its main virtues, in their eyes, is that it has retained — through the heroic efforts of its many saints and martyrs — the traditions of the Apostles across the vicissitudes of history. However, while cradle Orthodox do not perceive a historical break in the apostolic tradition, converts do. In existential terms, this break has occurred in their personal religious journeys, and the discovery of Orthodoxy is experienced as a return to something pure and sacred, something that had been lost.
My earlier study of converts to Eastern Orthodoxy led me to reflect on the challenges and tensions faced by ethnic Orthodox Churches in America when sectarian communities of various stripes convert and join their ranks. These communities bring with them distinct norms, expectations, and attitudes that are not always congruent with those of their new, cradle Orthodox families. The present study thus moves beyond individual conversion narratives and considers two case studies of collective conversions to Orthodoxy in order to illustrate the most pressing challenges faced by ethnic Orthodox congregations who attempt to assimilate “outsider” groups into their midst. I argue that these challenges include: 1) the different understandings of ecclesiology held by former Protestant sectarians and by cradle Eastern Orthodox believers, a difference that can be traced to the democratic mind of the West versus the traditional episcopal structure of Eastern Orthodox Churches; 2) the pan-Orthodox aspirations of sectarian converts versus the fierce rivalries and factionalism that exist between ethnically-based American Orthodox jurisdictions; 3) the differing pastoral styles of sectarian Protestant ministers and Eastern Orthodox priests; 4) the tendency of sectarian converts to embrace a very conservative, “over-correct” brand of Orthodoxy and to adopt a critical and reformist attitude in their relations with cradle Orthodox communities; and 5) the covert and overt racism that sometimes exists in ethnic Orthodox parishes. This study also suggests that in the future, the growing numbers of non-ethnic converts to ethnic Orthodox parishes may result in increased pressure to break down ethnic barriers between Orthodox communities and to form a unified American Orthodox Church. These conversions may also lead to the growth of hybrid Orthodox Churches such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which seeks to attract Americans from charismatic, Pentecostal, and evangelical backgrounds into its traditional Orthodox liturgical and doctrinal communities.
The Evangelical Orthodox Church and the Ben Lomond crisis
In early 1987, some 2000 members of the Evangelical Orthodox Church were received into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of North America, the largest mass conversion to Orthodoxy in North American history. The leaders of the convert community were former Protestant ministers with backgrounds in Young Life, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Youth for Christ, and degrees from such evangelical institutions as Fuller Seminary, Oral Roberts University, and Wheaton College. In 1973, these campus evangelists joined together to investigate what had happened to the historical church of the New Testament. Through a careful examination of church history, they realized that their understanding of the Christian tradition had a huge gap — from roughly 95 to 1517 C.E. They also came to believe that Christian worship had been liturgical from the earliest period of documented Christian history, that the early church fathers had accepted the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic gifts, and that episcopal orders of clergy dated back to the first century C.E. From 1976-79, this small community of evangelicals established churches around the country under the name, New Covenant Apostolic Order, and began incorporating Orthodox liturgies and sacraments into their worship. In February 1979 the group changed its name to the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC) and instituted an episcopal form of governance with ordained presbyters and deacons. Female deacons were part of this system, although they were not allowed to play a liturgical role in the church. The church’s largest centers were in Indianapolis, Memphis, Santa Cruz County, and Santa Barbara, California, and Anchorage. Beginning in the early 1980s, the EOC began to negotiate with canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States for eventual full communion. After a number of false starts, the group’s 33 parishes were accepted into the Antiochian Archdiocese by Metropolitan Philip on 15 February 1987. Most of the 71 priests and 19 bishops of the EOC received canonical ordination as part of the agreement with Philip. 5
The EOC’s congregation in Ben Lomond, California, Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, ran into difficulties with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian West Coast Chancery in Los Angeles beginning in September 1996. At that time, Bishop Joseph expressed his desire to reduce the number of clergy at Ben Lomond (which at the time was 29) through transfers and laicization. This attempt to bring the Ben Lomond congregation into line with normative Antiochian clerical practice caused a great deal of confusion among members since the church was a tight-knit community that had collectively undergone its journey to Orthodoxy over a number of years. Bishop Joseph also removed Ben Lomond’s founding pastor, Father John Hardenbrook, from his position as dean of the Northern California Deanery during this period, a move that was widely viewed as retaliation against Hardenbrook for his article, “Phyletism or Freedom!” which was published in the parish’s weekly newsletter. This article criticized tribalism and ethnocentrism in the Eastern Orthodox churches in North America and made it clear that Hardenbrook supported his parish’s right to choose rites and music from “the great banquet of Orthodox traditions in the world.” 6
In May 1997, Bishop Joseph issued a liturgical directive ordering all former EOC parishes to begin using the official service books and liturgical music of the archdiocese, rather than those that had been approved for the EOC’s usage when the church was first received into the Antiochian communion. The change was to occur within two years and reflected Bishop Joseph’s intention to bring the former EOC churches into line with accepted Antiochian liturgical practice. Because of its unusual journey to Orthodoxy, the EOC had drawn from other Orthodox traditions, including Russian and Greek, in developing its own versions of Orthodox liturgies and music. 7
This second directive was hugely unpopular with much of the clergy and laity in Ben Lomond and compounded the unease that had arisen following the earlier directive concerning transfers and laicization. In communications with Metropolitan Philip, the disgruntled clergy quoted Bishop Joseph’s words to them in 1991 stating that he did not want their church to become like any traditional Orthodox parish — whether Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, Bulgarian, or Greek. The local presbytery finally issued a statement to its parishioners declaring that it did not intend to make additional changes in the church’s liturgical life. A small group of parishioners, angered by this response, accused the parish priests of disloyalty in private communications with Bishop Joseph. Although a truce was called between the contending factions in September 1997, unresolved tensions erupted in full on 6 February 1998, when one of Ben Lomond’s most popular priests, David Anderson, received word from the auxiliary bishop in charge of parish assignments that he was being reassigned to an Antiochian mission in Chicago. This attempted reassignment was seen by many parishioners as a direct attack on the parish and its liturgical life. It was also viewed as a cold-hearted act because Anderson was caring for his invalid mother with the help of other parishioners. Anderson appealed the decision and was told by auxiliary Bishop Antoun that he was putting the care of his mother above the service of God. At this point, Anderson requested a release from his affiliation with the Antiochians so that he could begin working as a priest within the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). 8
On 12 February 1998, ten of the church’s twelve priests and eleven of its seventeen deacons fired off an angry letter to Metropolitan Philip detailing the many actions taken by Bishops Joseph and Antoun that had caused them to lose their trust in the jurisdiction’s ecclesiastical leadership. The letter also stated what the pastors saw as the underlying cause of the problems between Ss. Peter and Paul and the Antiochian Archdiocese: “The outward expressions of our church’s life, whether liturgical, social, musical, or governmental, reflect a vision that has never attempted to exactly reproduce any one of the prevailing systems normative in contemporary Orthodoxy in North America. We were encouraged in 1987 to presume that there was room for this approach within the Antiochian Archdiocese. We fear this is no longer the case. Pressure has been placed on us for some years now to make our liturgical services conform to the prevailing practice of North American Antiochian Orthodoxy. We have developed a liturgical life over many years now that is truly the heart and soul of our parish <…> it has been the catalyst for many <…> to embrace the Orthodox faith”. 9
The letter concluded by asking Philip to grant the ten priests and eleven deacons a release from the Antiochian Archdiocese so that they might be received into the Orthodox Church in America. About 60 percent of the laity signed a petition in support of this request.
Metropolitan Philip responded by announcing the immediate laicization of John Hardenbrook and David Anderson for inciting rebellion against their bishops. He also suspended the other twenty clergies who had signed the letter. A priest who had not signed the petition was ordered to change the locks on the doors to the church, effectively closing the church for the immediate future. The defrocked and suspended clergy and their loyal parishioners — who numbered about 300 — began attending St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in America (OCA) parish in nearby Saratoga and petitioned to be officially received into the OCA archdiocese. Because of the increase in attendees at St. Nicholas’ Sunday Divine Liturgy, an earlier service was added to accommodate the former Ben Lomond parishioners. 10
In the meantime, the Antiochian Archdiocese sued the Ben Lomond parish corporation, which held title to the church property, and on 20 August 1998, the archdiocese was awarded control of all the church’s property and bank accounts. The minority group who remained loyal to the Antiochian Archdiocese was given control of the property. The court decision resulted in the closure of the seven-year-old parish school after the reconstituted parish council rejected a request from the splinter group to use the school facilities until a suitable replacement building could be found. 11
When it became clear that the suspended Ben Lomond priests would not be accepted as priests by the OCA, the group sought out a priest from the Jerusalem Patriarchate for assistance. This priest began celebrating the Divine Liturgy for the splinter group at a private chapel in Felton, California, on February 1999. Over the past three years, two priests from the splinter community have been ordained by the Jerusalem Patriarchate. They serve the splinter group’s new church, Saint Lawrence Chapel, and its school, located in Felton. The suspended and defrocked clergy from Ss. Peter and Paul remain in ecclesiastical limbo, with the Antiochian hierarchs unwilling to release the renegade priests from their jurisdictional authority. Some of these clergies have continued their struggle for independence under the auspices of the Brotherhood of St. Nektarios. 12
The Ben Lomond Incident: Analysis
The Ben Lomond incident highlights several significant dimensions of tension and challenge that face sectarian communities who convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. The first has to do with the collision of subcultures that inevitably occurs when a tight-knit sectarian community such as the EOC attempts to merge with an ethnically-based community such as the Antiochian Orthodox Church. During the development over time of any sectarian community, emotional bonds are formed between members, beliefs are elaborated, and rituals of worship are created that in time become trusted pathways for spiritual experience. The difficulty this presents for converts to an ethnic Orthodox communion is more subtle than at first may seem to be the case. In the case of the EOC, an idiosyncratic blend of liturgical practices and sacred music had been developed during a long religious journey. This unique blend of liturgy and music gave the community a profound sense of common identity and spiritual cohesion. The assurances the EOC received from the Antiochian bishops — that there was room for these liturgies and music within the Antiochian communion — was a linchpin of the group’s decision to join the jurisdiction. When these practices were proscribed by Bishop Joseph in an attempt to enforce uniformity with normative Antiochian practice, it precipitated a crisis of spiritual identity for the group, and a majority closed ranks behind their clergy to defend the community’s integrity. Significantly, the loyalty of a majority of these new converts was to their own community’s leadership, not to the ethnic hierarchs of their new jurisdiction. This development does not bode well for future conflicts between groups of American sectarian converts and their jurisdictional leadership.
The sectarian foundation and tendencies of the Ben Lomond community appeared again as the splinter group attempted to merge with the OCA parish in Saratoga. The splinter group attended its own services at the church, celebrated its own liturgies, and was unresponsive to requests to fill out the church’s membership forms and pledge cards. In a letter to the group, presiding OCA Bishop Tikhon insisted that former Ben Lomond members discontinue their practice of regarding themselves as a separate community distinct from the St. Nicholas parish and that all members of the church celebrate the same liturgy. Faced with this threat to their communal liturgical identity and unable to find a secure ecclesiastical standing for their priests within the OCA communion, the splinter community maintained its integrity by creating a separate church under the auspices of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. This independent-minded trajectory betrays the group’s Protestant and congregational roots. 13
The second aspect of this collision of subcultures has to do with ecclesiastical authority. Persons reared in the Protestant tradition are often deeply inculcated with the principle of freedom of individual religious conscience. Whereas the default mode for cradle Orthodox is to submit to the authority of their bishops, the default mode for evangelical Protestants is to make up their own minds in religious matters. In the Ben Lomond incident, this deep Protestant conditioning came to the fore, allowing a majority of the clergy to follow their consciences and to oppose openly the directives of their ruling bishop. When matters came to a head, they exercised their belief in individual religious freedom and chose to disaffiliate themselves from the Antiochians. This is not to say that cradle Orthodox always agree with their bishops, only that their disagreements are likely to result at most in a transfer of a priest to another church or of a bishop to another diocese — or perhaps in the choice to attend another church within the same jurisdiction. One of the principal reasons for this measured response to conflict is that a cradle Orthodox’s ethnic jurisdiction is the community with whose customs, practices, language, and culture they are most strongly identified. A move away from this community would leave the congregant without a familiar and secure social support network — too high a price to pay for most cradle Orthodox.
Orthodox converts from Protestant backgrounds are not influenced by these larger ethnic considerations. For them, the authority issue is paramount. As one parishioner told me, blind obedience to bishops leads to a tyrannical style of leadership and arbitrary exercises of authority. Orthodoxy needed to reconsider the role of bishops, who, in his view, had become earthly administrators more than spiritual pastors. The echoes of the Reformation could still be heard in this former Protestant. 14
Another area of tension highlighted in the Ben Lomond incident is the difficulty sectarian converts to Orthodoxy have with the realpolitik of ethnically-based American Orthodoxy. The tendency of many converts is to adopt a more pan-Orthodox attitude that seeks an authentic Orthodox “essence” that transcends jurisdictional customs and infighting. The Ben Lomond community’s attempt to adopt what they judged to be the best that the various Orthodox liturgical traditions had to offer — rather than copying one particular expression of Orthodox worship — illustrates this tendency. Converts are also likely to view many ethnic Orthodox customs and practices as culturally idiosyncratic, peripheral, and easily separated from the “transcendent” treasures of Orthodoxy, such as its theology and dogma, its festal calendar, its mystical spirituality, and its ancient liturgical forms. Converts are especially repulsed by jurisdictional bickering and politicking and are profoundly discouraged when they perceive their bishops acting out of political expediency rather than spiritual principle. After all, another important motivation for sectarian conversions to Orthodoxy is the perception that the Orthodox Church is whole and undivided, in contradistinction to the fragmented state of contemporary Protestantism. The convert’s primary loyalty is not to an ethnic group, but to Orthodoxy as a seamless, universal religious community.
Another area of tension highlighted in the Ben Lomond incident is the difficulty sectarian converts to Orthodoxy have with the realpolitik of ethnically-based American Orthodoxy (…) The convert’s primary loyalty is not to an ethnic group, but to Orthodoxy as a seamless, universal religious community.
The Orthodox Church in America, which has ethnic Russian roots, has gone further than other Orthodox communities in welcoming Americans from diverse ethnic backgrounds into its ranks and in seeking unity between Orthodox jurisdictions. In his primatial address to the thirteenth All-America Council in July 2002, Metropolitan Theodosius reminded OCA members of how much their church has changed in his lifetime. In 1967 he was the only American-born member of the episcopate. In 2002 most of the OCA’s bishops were American-born, and fully half of the bishops were converts who entered the church as adults out of theological conviction. The Metropolitan also boldly proclaimed: “The Orthodox Church is not confined or limited by factors of ethnicity, or culture, or language. This means that Orthodoxy in America is not restricted to Russians, or Greeks, or Rumanians, or Albanians, or Bulgarians, but is for all people… The only fully canonical and fully traditional way of ordering the Orthodox Church’s life in North America will be the full unity of all Orthodox in one Church, with one hierarchy meeting in one Holy Synod”. 15
In some OCA parishes in the western United States, as much as 75 percent of the membership is non-Russian. OCA parishes in California make explicit their desire to transcend ethnic boundaries. St. Nicholas OCA parish in San Anselmo, to cite one instance, acknowledges on its website the “unique challenges” it faces bringing its different constituencies together. These include “second wave” Russian emigrés from Western Europe and the Far East, transplants from ethnic parishes in the eastern and midwestern United States, recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and “committed Christians of various non-Orthodox denominations” who are among “the most active members of the parish.” The church proclaims that “every local church is called to be Orthodox in faith and truly ‘catholic’ in the sense of being capable of embracing everyone who seeks Christ.” The Protection of the Holy Virgin OCA parish in Santa Rosa projects a similarly pan-Orthodox attitude. It describes itself as a “‘microcosm’ of Orthodoxy in America” which has been “enriched by the customs of Greek, Arabic, Rumanian, and Eritrean” members, as well as those of “other diverse backgrounds,” including Protestant American converts. The church sees its special vocation as “grafting all these twigs” onto the Orthodox branch. Whether the OCA’s outreach has been successful in building the church is another matter. In a Chancellor’s Report delivered by Father Robert Kondratick to OCA bishops in 1997, it was revealed that church membership had been decreasing since 1989 — in spite of increased missionary outreach. 16
The pan-Orthodox tendency of sectarian converts can be seen in one other aspect of the Ben Lomond incident. Both clergy and laity from Ben Lomond were in the practice of seeking counsel from spiritual directors who were members of other Orthodox jurisdictions. In certain cases, these spiritual directors were counseling the Ben Lomond parishioners to defy the stated directives of the Antiochian bishops. In one of their directives, the Antiochian bishops specifically instructed the Ben Lomond clergy and laity to avoid placing themselves under the influence of any spiritual director who was not a member of the Antiochian archdiocese. Such episcopal directives contradict the tendency of sectarian converts to see Orthodoxy as a transcendent unity and to follow their consciences when seeking spiritual counsel. 17
A final challenge illustrated by the CSB saga is the problem of racism. It is a sad fact that many ethnic subcultures in the United States harbor either overtly or covertly racist attitudes with regard to other ethnic subcultures.
A final aspect of the Ben Lomond incident that illustrates tensions between converts and cradle Orthodox is the role that Orthodox priests serve when compared with Protestant ministers. The primary role of the Orthodox priest is to serve the sacraments and conduct the traditional liturgies. Pastoral counseling on an ongoing basis for church members is often a hit or miss proposition. In contrast, the priests at Ben Lomond and in other convert Orthodox congregations adopt a more Protestant style of ministry. This includes entering into a dynamic relationship of spiritual counseling with each member of the community and making a concerted effort to consider the recommendations and criticisms of the parish membership on all aspects of corporate life. Church members used to this quality of ministerial attention and relationship may be loath to leave their long-standing pastors for the unfamiliar ministerial style of an ethnic Orthodox clergyman. The traditional distance maintained between Orthodox clergy and their parishioners may also be uncomfortable to Protestant converts used to a more familiar and egalitarian relationship with their minister.
Christ The Saviour Brotherhood
A second case study illustrates several more important points of tension between sectarian converts and ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions. In 1988, 750 members of Christ the Saviour Brotherhood (CSB) were baptized and accepted into the independent Orthodox Archdiocese of Queens, New York. The brotherhood began its institutional life in 1968 as the Holy Order of MANS (HOOM), a nondenominational “Christian mystery school” that looked at first glance like a Roman Catholic suborder. Order members took lifetime vows of humility, service, poverty, chastity, and obedience, lived in common, dressed in clerical garb, and espoused teachings that were an eclectic mix of esoteric Christianity, Eastern mysticism, and Western occultism. The order’s mission was to prepare humanity for a coming Golden Age of spiritual enlightenment through a rigorous program of initiatory spiritual unfoldment. Part of the brotherhood’s millennial ethos included a commitment to social service ministries, the most prominent of which were shelters for the homeless and for victims of domestic violence that were established throughout the United States. The group’s worldview — which combined esoteric wisdom, personal revelation, and progressive millennialism — would come to be labeled as “New Age” during the 1980s. By the time its founder, Earl Blighton, died in 1974, the order had about 3000 members divided into both renunciate and lay branches. The group’s teaching stations, homeless shelters, youth hostels, and seminaries were located in 48 states and in countries including Holland, Germany, Argentina, Spain, and Japan. 18
Blighton’s death began a four-year leadership struggle that ended when Vincent Rossi became the group’s director-general in 1978. Following the Jonestown mass suicide in November 1978, the order was labeled a “dangerous cult” by the anticult movement. It immediately began building stronger ties to mainstream Christian denominations, a move consistent with the more modest ecumenical outreach of the early order. Between 1978-88, the group undertook a painstaking search for its roots in the historical Christian tradition. After brief flirtations with evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholic traditionalism, the brotherhood discovered Eastern Orthodoxy and believed it had found the historical heart of authentic Christian spirituality. When the order’s leadership tried to find a jurisdictional home within the mainstream Orthodox Churches, they discovered that these churches were suspicious of the brotherhood’s heterodox roots. In several instances, Orthodox bishops demanded that members renounce their past beliefs and join ethnic parishes as separate individuals. Having become a tight-knit community of families over the years, the brotherhood was not willing to take this radical step. The order’s leadership was also not willing to relinquish control of the considerable assets they had accumulated during the group’s 20-year life span. 19
The order solved this quandary by coming to terms with an independent Orthodox jurisdiction led by Metropolitan Pangratios Vrionis, a defrocked Greek Orthodox priest who had managed to gain episcopal ordination in the early 1970s from three Orthodox bishops-—an exiled Russian, an Albanian, and a Romanian who was the purported confessor to the Romanian royal family. Pangratios was willing to receive the order into his church and to give its priests Orthodox ordinations, without requiring that the group dissolve its communities or give up its assets. The union between Pangratios and the newly renamed Christ the Saviour Brotherhood took place in 1988. The immediate problem was that Pangratios’ church was not recognized by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) and thus not in communion with most ethnic Orthodox parishes. 20
Moreover, the most influential figure in the order’s conversion was Abbott Herman Podmoshensky, a maverick monk who had been suspended by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 1984 and defrocked in 1988 for insubordination. In spite of his differences with its bishops, ROCOR — known for its uncompromising anti-Communism and its rejection of Christian ecumenism and other modernist tendencies within the larger Orthodox communion — had a profound influence on Father Herman’s style of Orthodoxy. Another significant influence on Podmoshensky was the piety and austerity of the Russian monastic tradition. The monk practiced this traditional asceticism at the St. Herman of Alaska monastery he and Father Seraphim Rose founded in Platina, California, in 1968. Because Podmoshensky owned the monastery’s property, he successfully avoided appearing for trial before his bishops throughout the period that he was under suspension by ROCOR. 21
CSB’s ecclesiastical relationship with two defrocked priests led to a rocky relationship with the larger Orthodox world during the 1990s. The brotherhood’s priests were not recognized by mainstream Orthodox Churches, and its members were not allowed to receive communion in most Orthodox congregations in the United States. Many ethnic Orthodox believers and clergy went on record with their belief that CSB was a fraudulent organization and that it remained secretly committed to its former esoteric worldview. 22
Father Nikolai Soraich, chancellor of the OCA’s Diocese of the West, declared that his church did not recognize either Pangratios or Podmoshensky as priests, citing their defrocking by their respective churches. With regard to CSB, he said, “We don’t consider that any kind of Orthodox church.” Bishop Tikhon of the OCA’s Diocese of the West disavowed any relationship with CSB and stated, “I believe that the former Abbot Herman and those with him have developed a prejudice against episcopal authority… This prejudice and its fruits are tragedies.” CBS’s website did not help matters when it declared, “Administrative and organizational structures may serve Christ’s Church, but do not alone comprise her… This is especially true of the Orthodox Church in the New World, which suffers presently from the canonical irregularity of multi-jurisdictional- ism and from the strong attack of anti-Christian forces.” 23
CSB’s continued affiliation with Podmoshensky caused a flare of controversy in the late 1990s with ROCOR. In a 1998 issue of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery’s serial publication, The Orthodox Word, Monk Damascene Christenson charged that, in the wake of the Ben Lomond incident, Satan was using “legitimate Orthodox hierarchs and clergy to destroy pockets of believers who are truly practicing their Orthodox faith.” 24 These hierarchs, he contended, were being used by Satan to quote Orthodox saints and church canons to carry out his destructive work. When the canons were used as weapons with which to amass property, money, and power in jurisdictional warfare, Damascene concluded, they became a travesty. These polemical pyrotechnics caused an uproar in ROCOR circles and further problematized CSB’s affiliation with Podmoshensky. The abbot’s long-standing contention that all ecclesiastical organizations would ultimately bow down to the Antichrist, that during the Antichrist’s reign all true Orthodox Christians in America would be considered uncanonical by church hierarchs and persecuted like the catacomb Christians of old, and that CSB had a mission to save Orthodoxy from its worldliness and internecine warfare, also caused difficulties for CSB converts in the wider American Orthodox community. 25
CSB’s extra-canonical difficulties stemming from its association with Pangratios and Podmoshensky appear to have been largely resolved over the past seven years. CSB left Pangratios’ jurisdiction when it received documented proof of his indictment and conviction for sodomy with minors in 1968 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 26
Beginning in September 1995, individual parishes in the CSB orbit negotiated acceptance into the OCA, with re-baptisms and re-ordinations for members and priests. The largest number of parishes, six, was received into the OCA Western Diocese in November 2000. Monks and nuns associated with both CSB and the St. Herman of Alaska and St. Paisius monasteries joined the Serbian Orthodox Western Diocese in Spring 2001. However, brotherhood members who have joined mainstream Orthodox Churches such as the OCA are sometimes regarded with suspicion by ethnic parishioners because of their heterodox past. 27 Incidents of sexual impropriety by ex-order members in mainstream Orthodox parishes have only heightened these suspicions and fears.
In one instance at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, a one-time Holy Order of MANS member and convicted pedophile joined the church and was discovered to have molested several children between 1989 and 1991. In the wake of this discovery, a church member who was deeply offended by the OCA hierarchy’s handling of the problem started the Orthodox People for True Shepherds, whose mission is to bring about sweeping reforms in the training of Orthodox priests — especially with regard to general pastoral counseling and dealing with sexual abuse. This parishioner has also publicly questioned the acceptance into the church of former HOOM/CSB members as well as their rapid advancement into positions of authority at Holy Trinity Cathedral. She charges that order priests have had insufficient seminary training and that they may have failed to alert the church concerning the pedophile’s background because they, too, were involved in the molestations. Clearly, this parishioner and many others consider former order members to be a foreign and possibly dangerous subset within their congregations. 28
A final area of tension encountered by CSB members has to do with the issue of racism. Several of the brotherhood’s priests and nuns are African Americans. These clergypersons have organized the Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black and sponsored conferences to relate the ancient values of African Orthodox Christianity to the problems that affect African American families and communities. A subtext of these conferences is the desire to attract African Americans to Eastern Orthodoxy and to create a congenial place for African American converts in the larger American Orthodox community. 29 The jury is still out on how these efforts will be received by ethnic Orthodox Churches, but in at least several instances, ethnic Orthodox parishioners have voiced strong opposition to groups of Caribbean immigrants joining their congregations. In one example, in Danbury, Connecticut, an evangelical-turned-Antiochian priest converted a group of Caribbean immigrants and was subsequently sent packing by powerful parishioners who told him, “We don’t want those niggers.” 30
The CSB Saga: Analysis
The CSB saga illustrates three additional challenges that face ethnic Orthodox churches when sectarian converts join their ranks. The first of these is the tendency of some converts to embrace a very conservative, “over-correct” brand of Orthodoxy, and to become zealots with regard to such issues as fasting, the length, and frequency of liturgies, and opposition to ecumenism. In some instances, converts to groups such as ROCOR, the Old Calendar Greek Church, or Abbot Herman’s St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood become stern critics of ethnic Orthodox church life. In various forums, they rail against these churches’ worldliness, laxity of spiritual practice, and parochial obsessions with purely cultural elements of worship or custom. To cite one prominent example, the former evangelical anti-abortion activist Franky Schaeffer, in his 1996 commencement address at ROCOR’s seminary in Jordanville, New York, declared, “If Orthodoxy is the hidden treasure in the Western world, then monasticism is surely the heart of that hidden treasure, hidden from even the busyness of so much supposed and so-called Orthodoxy around us that is really nothing more than a social club these days in this country.” 31 Bishop Auxentios, a Protestant convert to the Old Calendar Greek Church, issued a similar indictment in his personal conversion narrative: “One of the most paradoxical things that I have encountered is the lack of knowledge among many Orthodox of their own religion… It is a lamentable fact <…> [that] many Orthodox have capitulated to the world and indeed have the greatest rancor for those traditionalist Orthodox who, by the contrast they present in their practice of the Faith, convict these modernists of breaking with the fullness of Holy Tradition”. 32
In some instances, converts to groups such as ROCOR, the Old Calendar Greek Church, or Abbot Herman’s St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood become stern critics of ethnic Orthodox church life. (…) Cradle Orthodox are also sometimes threatened by the zeal of former sectarians, who bring a serious commitment to living the gospel in all aspects of their lives — including evangelizing those outside the local ethnic community and engaging in active social service ministries in the larger society.
This critical and reformist attitude does not endear these converts to ethnic parishioners, who are offended by the seeming arrogance of newcomers standing in judgment of their elders. Cradle Orthodox are also sometimes threatened by the zeal of former sectarians, who bring a serious commitment to living the gospel in all aspects of their lives — including evangelizing those outside the local ethnic community and engaging in active social service ministries in the larger society. CSB’s avowed mission, for example, is strongly evangelistic. The brotherhood dedicates itself to inspiring, training, and supporting “missionaries and missionary activity, with the goal of bringing souls to Christ.” 33 Such active Protestant-style evangelization of non-ethnic Christians has historically had a very low priority in the Greek, ROCOR, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Romanian Orthodox Churches in America, whose more pressing mission has been to preserve the cultural and ethnic integrity of their own communities.
A second problem illustrated by the CSB experience is the naïveté of sectarian converts with regard to the welter of conflicting ethnic factions within the American Orthodox community. The situation of American Orthodoxy is unique in the world, and most non-ethnic converts to Orthodoxy have little idea when they join an Orthodox jurisdiction of the deep historical animosities and agendas that motivate cradle Orthodox. Certainly, CSB was naive in thinking that it would be accepted by other jurisdictions when its official connection with the Orthodox communion was through two defrocked priests with questionable ecclesiastical credentials.
In many cases, converts become disillusioned with the Byzantine complexity of American Orthodox ecclesiastical life and are tempted to join splinter groups that claim to transcend the discouraging realpolitik of Orthodox internecine warfare. Monk Damascene articulates this disillusionment: “We American Orthodox Christians are now coming of age. Previously we had looked around in wonder, idealistically. Having found the true Church of Christ we had thought to find it embodied in the respected, accepted, canonical <…> figures who claim to represent the Church. But now the moment of shock is upon us. Now we begin to see what goes on behind the scenes. Now we come face to face with the prince of this world hiding behind the mask of canonical righteousness, with the power and wealth of this world at his disposal”. 34 The danger is that in their disillusionment, converts will carry their sectarian tendencies into the heart of the Orthodox Church, demanding sweeping reforms and risking a further fragmentation of the American Orthodox community.
CSB tried to deal with the fragmentation of American Orthodoxy by remaining self-governing and distancing itself from the administrative and organizational structures of ethnic jurisdictions. It proclaimed that in the face of canonical irregularity and multi-jurisdictionalism, “we cannot as a group limit the scope of our activity or membership to anyone jurisdiction of the Orthodox faithful.” 35 The brotherhood’s intent was not to form separate congregations but to encourage the spiritual striving of its members. In its evangelical and service outreaches, it asked the blessings of all Orthodox patriarchs, bishops, and righteous ones. This independent and anti-hierarchical stance clearly reflected the sectarian roots of its members.
A final challenge illustrated by the CSB saga is the problem of racism. It is a sad fact that many ethnic subcultures in the United States harbor either overtly or covertly racist attitudes with regard to other ethnic subcultures. Although the roots of these attitudes may be entwined with legitimate concerns about maintaining a distinct ethnic identity in America’s homogenizing cultural environment, the fact remains that attempts to integrate ethnically-based Orthodox churches are likely to meet with strong resistance from parishioners. American converts from Protestant or sectarian communities that are multi-ethnic may boldly confront the racist attitudes they encounter in their new churches, exacerbating the other tensions this article has addressed.
I want to suggest two future trends that we may expect with regard to sectarian American converts and their relationship to ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions. First, it is likely that many Americans who are attracted to a liturgical tradition may simply avoid the murky world of Orthodox jurisdictional and ethnic politics altogether and join independent church movements such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church. This church was founded in 1992 by a group of former Pentecostals and charismatics who wanted a more direct connection with the liturgical and theological tradition of the Christian church. The new denomination has over 1100 parishes under its auspices in 23 countries around the world and is attracting a wide spectrum of former Protestant congregations into its ranks. Although the church is indistinguishable theologically from mainstream Orthodox churches, it rejects Orthodoxy’s exclusivist ecclesiology and continues to value its evangelical and charismatic roots, seeing them as authentic aspects of the early apostolic church that have been largely forgotten within Eastern Orthodoxy. The church makes its broad appeal explicit in its mission statement: “The Charismatic Episcopal Church exists to make visible the Kingdom of God to the nations of the world; to bring the rich sacramental and liturgical life of the early church to searching evangelicals and charismatics; to carry the power of Pentecost to our brothers and sisters in the historic churches; and finally, to provide a home for all Christians who seek a liturgical-sacramental, evangelical, charismatic church and a foundation for their lives and gifts of ministry.” 36 Because of its appeal to a broad spectrum of American Christians, churches of this type are the most likely way that sectarians and Protestants will be drawn to the Orthodox tradition in any significant numbers. The number of these churches is growing, as is the number of independent Orthodox churches that are splinters from the more recognized Orthodox jurisdictions. 37
A second likely trend is that non-ethnic converts, lacking the ethnocentric attitudes and motivations of their fellow parishioners, will begin to exert pressure on their churches to join with other Orthodox churches in a kind of pan-Orthodoxy in America. The number of converts in the OCA already makes them a strong voice in future church direction, and both the OCA and the Antiochians have taken the lead in inter-Orthodox and interdenominational ecumenism. This trend, though likely successful in the long term, will be challenged in the short term by the new waves of Russian, Albanian, and Romanian immigrants that are creating new ethnic enclaves in such urban areas as Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn. Although these immigrants appear to have rather weak religious commitments, they may follow past waves of American immigrants and embrace their traditional churches as strongholds of ethnic solidarity. To the extent that they do so, they will come into conflict with the pan-Orthodox aspirations of sectarian converts. In spite of these short-term problems, however, it is likely that the progressive assimilation of second- and third-generation ethnic Orthodox into American culture will gradually dissolve the most powerful barriers between ethnic Orthodox churches and the American sectarian converts who join them.
- Eastern Orthodox Churches are typically national churches in Europe: e.g., the Russian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Antiochian Orthodox Church. When members of these churches immigrated to the United States, they tended to create enclaves where, for example, Russians lived and worshiped together. Thus, I term these churches “ethnic” Orthodox churches. Non-ethnic converts encompass Americans from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds who are not descendants of Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serb, Greek, or Syrian immigrants. ↩
- For a fuller investigation of Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers who have chosen more traditional religious communities, see Richard Cimino, Against the Stream: The Adoption of Traditional Christian Faiths by Young Adults (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996); Wade Clark Roof, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); Colleen Carroll, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002); and Frederica Mathewes-Green, Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997). ↩
- Phillip Charles Lucas, “Protestant Christians Who Become Eastern Orthodoxy Converts: Variations on a Primitivist Theme,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San Francisco, California, November 1997. ↩
- See Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). ↩
- Jon E. Braun, “Historical Sketch of the Evangelical Orthodox Church,” unpublished article, n.d.; Charles W. Moore, “The Strange Case of How 2000 Protestant Evangelicals Ended Up Joining the Orthodox Church,” <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/ 3071/toc.html>, (accessed February 1999). ↩
- Letter from John Hardenbrook and his fellow priests to Metropolitan Philip, 12 February 1998; Father John Hardenbrook, “Phyletism or Freedom!” The Grapevine, the weekly newsletter of Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, 29 August 1997. ↩
- Hardenbrook, “Phyletism or Freedom!” ↩
- Hardenbrook, “Phyletism or Freedom!” The OCA has its roots in the Russian Patriarchate and its early missions to Alaska. The OCA gained recognition as an autocephalous church in 1970. Today the church includes American descendants of various Russian, Ukrainian, Aleut, Eskimo, and Tlingit communities as well as some members of Albanian, Bulgarian, and Romanian episcopates in the United States. ↩
- Hardenbrook, letter to Metropolitan Philip. ↩
- Metropolitan Philip, Archpastoral Directive to Clergy and Laity of Ss. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, 14 February 1998; Mark Swearingen, “Anatomy of a Church Split,”<http://www.BenLomondArchives.org>, accessed 29 March 1998; Mark Swearingen, interview with the author, Watsonville, California, 19 September 1999. ↩
- Email dated 28 August 1998 from Mark Swearingen to email@example.com (St. Theophan Academy). ↩
- Respondent who wishes to remain anonymous, interview with the author, Ben Lomond, California, 8 July 2002. The Brotherhood of St. Nektarios’ website address is <http://www. nektarios.org/sys-tmpl/door/>, (accessed 12 November 2002). According to this website, the St. Nektarios Brotherhood is a “trans-jurisdictional, Eastern Orthodox Christian organization of laity, clergy, and monastics with worldwide representation. The goal of the Brotherhood is to present, dispassionately, accurate information regarding critical situations within American Orthodoxy which must be made known in order to be healed.” ↩
- Email dated 26 August 1998 from Mark Swearingen to SsPPCrisis@ephesus.com (Saints Peter and Paul Crisis). ↩
- Mark Swearingen, interview with the author, Watsonville, California, 19 September 1999. ↩
- Primatial Address of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, at Thirteenth All-American Council, Orlando, Florida, 22 July 2002. published on the Orthodox Church in America website, <http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=10&story=oca 7282002204958.html>. ↩
- St. Nicholas OCA parish website, <http://www.stnicholasmarin.org>, (accessed September 1999); Protection of the Holy Virgin Church website, <http://www.oca.org/pages/directory/listing.asp?KEY=OCA-WE-STSPHV>, accessed September 1999; “Holy Synod Declares 1998 Year of Church Growth and Missionary Outreach,” <http://www.oca.org/ OCA/Press-Releases/OCA-HolySynod-1997-Fall.html>, (accessed 24 October 1997); Father Matthew Tate, interview with author, 12 February 1999, Milwaukee, Oregon. ↩
- “Notes from the 7 May 1997 Meeting of the Antiochian Bishops,” <http://www.BenLomondArchives.org>, accessed 29 March 1998. ↩
- Phillip Charles Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 1-3. ↩
- Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 213-16. ↩
- Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 214-15. ↩
- Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 195-231. ↩
- Don Lattin, “Suddenly Orthodox,” San Francisco Chronicle, 31 May 1992, 1-11, This World; Hieromonk Jonah Paffhausen, “The Doors of Repentance: The Journey of the Holy Order of MANS/Christ the Savior Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church,” Again, 23, no. 1 (January-March 2001) at <http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=98&story=features6032001010219.html>; Melanie Jula Sakoda, “Behind the Doors of Repentance,” <http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=10&story=features7072001221745.html>, accessed 30 July 2002; Mark Athitakis, “Awkward Christian Soldiers,” San Francisco Weekly, 22 December 1999. ↩
- “Organization and Governance,” Christ the Saviour Brotherhood Website, accessed September 1999. Website is no longer online. A printed copy of site contents exists in the author’s private archive. ↩
- Hieromonk Damascene, “Orthodoxy Comes of Age in America,” The Orthodox Word 200, no. 1 (May-August 1998): 120. ↩
- Damascene, “Orthodoxy Comes of Age,” 120-32. ↩
- Athitakis, “Awkward Christian Soldiers”; Father Eric Tosi, “Six Communities Received into Diocese of the West,” The Orthodox Church (January/February 2001) at <http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=98&story=usnews 3182001233629.html>; “New Nuns and Monks in our Diocese,” Voice of Holy Trinity (Spring 2001) at <http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=98&story=usnews31820010 84118.html>. Pangratios was recently charged with third-degree sexual assault and attempted sexual assault in Queens, New York. His status is pending; see “Bishop’s Unholy Act,” New York Post, 19 April 2002. ↩
- Sakoda, “Behind the Doors of Repentance.” ↩
- Melanie Jula Sakoda, “Where Have All the Shepherds Gone?” privately distributed report, July 1995. ↩
- Email dated 4 January 1998, from Mark Pearson to Ocnet, announcing fifth annual Ancient Christianity and Afro-American Conference at Saint Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church, Kansas City, Missouri; brochure announcing Ancient Christianity Afro-American Conference, 25-28 May 1995. ↩
- Mary Gregory, interview with the author, 12 February 1999, Pleasantville, New York. ↩
- Franky Schaeffer, “Commencement Address,” Orthodox Life 3 (1996): 11-12. ↩
- Bishop Auxentios, “The Old Calendar Greek Church: A Personal Testimony,” at <http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/auxentios_testimony.htm>, accessed 21 March 2003. ↩
- “Corporate Purposes,” Christ the Saviour Brotherhood Website, (accessed September 1999). Website is no longer online. A printed copy of site contents exists in the author’s private archive. ↩
- Damascene, “Orthodoxy Comes of Age,” 120. ↩
- “Organization and Governance,” Christ the Saviour Brotherhood Website, (accessed September 1999). Website is no longer online. A printed copy of site contents exists in the author’s private archive. ↩
- Charismatic Episcopal Church, <http://www.iccec.org/index1.html>, accessed 11 November 2002. ↩
- Email dated 14 August 1997 from Kenneth Tanner, communications director, Charismatic Episcopal Church, to Steve Hayes. ↩