The Three Twenty-First Century Challenges for the Whole Orthodox Church

Introduction

The fourteen Local Churches, many of them recent foundations, which at present make up the Orthodox Church face many different challenges according to their local conditions. Basically, however, all these challenges can be grouped into three categories. These are:

Living in the Past

Here, we are talking, to put it crudely, about a sort of old fogeyism. At the extreme, for example, there are those in the Phanar in Istanbul, who still think that 1453 has not yet taken place – they are well over 550 years behind reality. Constantinople no longer exists and its flock is well under 1,000 people. Another Patriarchate, which only in the 20th century began to claim Africa and not just Egypt as its territory, is still stuck in Alexandria, where it has virtually no flock. Another Syrian group calls itself ‘of Antioch’, another place that no longer exists by that name and today is in Turkey. Another is run from the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens and the local Palestinian people, who do not speak Greek, have no say over the foreigners who are set over them and cannot speak their language. However, all the Local Churches can provide example of this backwards-looking mentality.

Equally, in all the Local Churches there are clerics and even a few laypeople who are so stuck in their youths in the 1960s and 1970s that they actually still believe in ecumenism, modernism and new calendarism! This is incredible; those absurd movements, in which we never believed in any case, died out in the last millennium. How can you possibly be a modernist in a post-modernist world?! How can you possibly be a syncretist when the whole world glorifies diversity?! How can you possibly claim to be Orthodox and yet live on the papal calendar – Muslims and Jews do not?! However, as the gerontocrats, often in their eighties and nineties, die out and are replaced by the new, forwards-looking generation, these movements will be forgotten, locked away in cobwebbed museums and the dustbins of history.

Centralisation

Here is a more serious problem, as it concerns everyone, but especially the larger Local Churches. This is in fact the problem of power and money. The bureaucratisation of the Church through power structures and the taxing of parishes as a result to support these superstructures, whose very existence seems to many to be quite unnecessary, is a severe problem. Thus, during the covid crisis, many parishes received virtually no income, but in some places ‘Church’ bureaucrats still demanded large sums to run their palaces from clergy who already had to find secular work in order to sustain their families. There is now a great deal of discontent at the grassroots, all the more so, as many see such bureaucracy as parasitic in any case. There could soon be a revolt at this level. Reform here is beginning, as it must.

Moral Decadence

Here again is a very serious problem which, moreover, is structural and in fact institutional. This moral decadence means the dual problems of simony and sodomy. The former problem is a massive problem in several Local Churches, not least the Russian, the Constantinopolitan and the Romanian. Needless to say this practice is totally uncanonical, the canons on simony are very strict. The second problem has developed as a result of the lack of monastic life, and even worse, the refusal to consecrate good monks as bishops, even where there is monastic life, and instead to consecrate celibates of any stripe.

In one Local Church, one Metropolitan is only such because he and his parents belonged to the ‘right’ political party (they had the right surname) and he did not marry. Is that enough? Of course not. The emigrations have for decades been plagued by notorious gay mafias of bishops, who persecute married clergy, probably through jealousy. The scandals are endless. All we can say is, thank God, that, unlike in Roman Catholicism, most Orthodox priests are married and at least there are no scandals of that sort here.

Conclusions: Three Solutions to Three Challenges

The shape of the future seems clear. By the end of this century, if not by the middle of this century, three great changes will have taken place, because they have to take place, within the Orthodox Church. These will recognise that we now live in a global world and that the time of absurd anachronisms and petty and silly nationalisms is long past.

Firstly, in response to moral decadence, there is going to be, once more, a married episcopate, whether we like it or not. This will mean that, as before, dioceses will be much smaller, with only perhaps twelve parishes in each. The new bishops may, as before, have secular jobs and a simplification of their role will ensue. Thus, the dioceses of Local Churches will, as before, become truly local again. This means that there will at last be the leadership which we have so utterly lacked in the last centuries, when bishops acted as mere State functionaries.

Secondly, in response to centralisation, there must appear four new Local Churches, one for Western Europe and three for the New World: one for Western Europe (WEOC); one for North America (NAOC), one for Latin America (IOAL) and one for Oceania (OOC).

Thirdly, in response to living in the past, a number of very small, very fragile and therefore very dependent and very nationalistic Local Churches, some invented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for purely political reasons, others mere anachronisms, may well have merged. Thus, we may end up with only Twelve Patriarchates, Twelve Local Churches. Perhaps, as follows:

The Russian (of New Jerusalem and All Rus).

The Eastern European (of Bucharest and All Eastern Europe).

The African (of Nairobi and All Africa).

The Middle Eastern (of Jerusalem and All the (ex-Muslim) East).

The Japanese (of Tokyo and All Japan).

The Chinese (of Beijing and All China).

The South-East Asian (of Hanoi and All South-East Asia).

The Indian (of Delhi and All India).

The Western European (of Paris and All (ex-Roman Catholic and ex-Protestant) Western Europe).

The North American (of Chicago and All North America).

The Latin American (of Caracas and All Latin America).

The Oceanian (of Sydney and All Oceania).