There is a custom in the capitals of certain countries of the Orthodox Diaspora of holding a service called ‘Pan-Orthodox Vespers’ on the evening of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I first attended such an event in 1975 at the Serbian Church in Birmingham, when the then Fr Vladimir Rodzianko preached against ‘jurisdictions’. I am sure that most of the people present had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently the custom continues, over 40 years later, though few Orthodox know about it or are interested in it. We know who we are, we confess the same Faith, and we have no need of political demonstrations, which change nothing for the rest of the year.
Although the custom is not bad in itself, I have always found it very strange. It does not exist in Orthodox countries, where the average town of, say 50,000-100,000 people, will have several Orthodox parishes, each of which lives its own life. Nobody has ever thought of meeting together as parishes on one Sunday evening a year. (True, the parish rector and one lay representative from each parish do meet when their bishop calls them to a yearly Diocesan meeting). And in the town where I serve, where there are several Anglican and Catholic parishes (the Catholic parishes represent different national groups), the local Anglican or Catholic churches would never dream of holding a ‘Pan-Anglican’ or ‘Pan-Catholic’ Vespers once a year.
It is said that ‘Pan-Orthodox Vespers’ promotes Orthodox unity, although I cannot see how. But why is this necessary? The fact is that all the Orthodox churches are already spiritually united. There is simply an administrative and linguistic division, which occurs in any case and always has and will. For example, in Orthodox countries, parishes are divided between dioceses (sometimes using different languages) and the link of unity is provided by meetings and synods of their bishops, who represent each diocese. In the Diaspora, it is the same thing, only the various dioceses are for some reason not called dioceses, but ‘jurisdictions’, which is a purely secular term.
And there is something very strange here: the term ‘Pan-Orthodox’ has come to be divisive! Even the foreign term ‘Pan’ (as opposed to the English word ‘All’) suggests that there is something narrowly ethnic here. And the minority who promote ‘Pan-Orthodox’ Vespers often represent very divisive trends. For example, many of them do not use the Orthodox calendar for the fixed feasts, as do 80% of Orthodox, but aggressively use the papal calendar and want to impose the papal Paschalia. Surely, if they were concerned by unity, they would return to the majority Orthodox calendar, which 100 years ago was universal, and not try to promote a heterodox calendar and sometimes heterodox values?
Then these promoters of unity engage in such practices as abandoning the sacrament of confession, have no iconostases in their churches, sing Protestant Christmas carols during the Nativity liturgy after the troparia, shout out names for commemoration at the proskomidia during the Divine Liturgy (which they call ‘the holy liturgy’), and ban all languages other than English! One day perhaps someone will explain such things to me. I have been waiting for an answer for 43 years. I have always thought that Orthodox unity can only be based on the Universal Orthodox Faith, not on minority modernist deviations.