ENGLISH VERSION: Mark Stokoe and Svetlana Vais: "OCA. We are a city on a hill"
1. With your permission, Mark, tell me, based solely on your personal experience, to what extent can the internal life of the church can be presented for public discussion? I do not mean the parish meetings and Council -- the issue is specific to the press. Especially the Internet - with its almost instantaneous reaction. Do you personally have any criteria?
St. Mark the Evangelist - not Mark Stokoe - said: "There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing secret that will not become known and come to light." And St. Luke said almost exactly the same: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. " St. John wrote: "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God." And St. Matthew said: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." I think it safe to say that with all four Evangelists in full agreement the "criteria" regarding transparency in the Church should be pretty clear not just for me personally, but for every Christian. There is no point to being "a city set on a hill", if it too has hidden dungeons full of secrets beneath it....
As for the internet, it is not only speed, but the unparalleled reach of this new medium that changes everything. But in the end: so what? It is only confirmation of the Evangelist’s teaching: all that is hidden will be revealed in the end. The "solution" to this "problem" then, is not to betray the Gospel by continuing to hide "secrets", but to practice what we preach. When people fall short we tell them to confess, repent and be healed. When those in the Church fall short of the Glory of God, should they not do the same?
2. Should church leaders engage in public debate about internal matters of the church? On the one hand, no one wants to see a church official talking about things which are not the most beautiful part of church life -- but on the other hand, everyone wants to know the details from the original source. In my view, the presence of an official press service within the church structure, is the height of cynicism towards the members of the church -- even if it’s needed.
In a word: Yes. How does one resolve differences but through discussion and dialog. And are we children that we can only hear and deal with "the beautiful part of church life?" Is that what St. Paul meant when he hoped that we would "...all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ"? I think not. Life is hard, and life in community can sometimes be harder. And that means there will be, being human, disagreements and sometimes even dissension in the Church. But I ask you: What is the point of being a city on the hill, if every time we disagree we shut the gates, pull up the drawbridge, turn out the castle lights, and go down to hidden chambers? How then, are we any different from the cities of the world? Do you think the world will not notice what we are doing? And how we are doing it? Transparency and Accountability are virtues not "problems" to be "overcome".
As for an official press service within church structures, I think you yourself have given the best reason one should exist: one wants to hear the details from the original source. However, if a Church media is only a propaganda service, only serves to excuse, to obfuscate, to "photoshop" out inconvenient truths as it were, to turnout lights rather than shine a light on that city on a hill, then, yes, it is worse than a waste of time. It is a sinful waste of time. Official Church media should offer the first, best, most honest and most complete witness of the Church’s real life, warts and all. Only in this way will we build trust, keep trust, and deserve to be trusted.
3. Do you think that Patriarch Tikhon’s dream of a Local Orthodox Church in America could ever be fulfilled? Or would our national and cultural roots never allow us to do this? How is this happening today. But, perhaps, it’s for the good of American Orthodoxy?
It has been! It’s called the OCA. Is it perfect? Hardly. But it is the local Orthodox Church in North America, even if it is not yet recognized by all the other local Orthodox Churches as such. But one day it will be recognized, that I know, because such is the teaching of the Church and the tide of history. It took the Lutherans in America for example (who were in 15 ethnic and national groupings in America - as opposed to Orthodoxy’s 26!) more than 250 years to unite, and they have still not achieved full unity. We have come far in just 40 years. We’re on our way. Give us at least a 100 before we are judged, OK?
4. Can we even employ such a term as "American Orthodoxy"?
If by "American Orthodoxy" you mean something akin to Greek Orthodoxy, or Russian Orthodoxy, no. There has never been such a thing -- because there has never been an ethnically distinct, national or state Orthodox church here, nor will there ever be one. God forbid! All Americans share certain cultural assumptions regarding the virtue of separation of church and state, religious freedom, the value of cultural diversity, etc. So "American Orthodoxy" in that kind of traditional, historical Old World models will never exist -- because it would then not be "American" in any recognizable sense.
We can, however, speak of an American Orthodox Church as a unique institution, and Orthodox Christians in America as a distinct religious type, the characteristics of both which can be described as empirically distinguishable from Orthodox Churches or Christians in say, Bulgaria or Russia, or Greece. This was made clear to me 30 years ago at my first SYNDESMOS meeting in Finland in 1981. The Orthodox young people from America, representing the OCA, Greek, Antiochian, and a few other jurisdictions, had never even met each other, and though several of us thought of ourselves as "Russian Orthodox" or "Greek Orthodox" or "Arab Orthodox", rather than "American Orthodox", it was obvious to each of us after a few minutes that we weren’t anything like our brothers and sisters from across the sea. Were we less Orthodox? Hardly. But we understood our experiences, assumptions, perspectives, attitudes and goals were culturally very distinct from our Orthodox brethren. It was a very eye-opening experience. In short, while "American Orthodoxy" does not exist, and never will, a new and unique Orthodox "culture" is slowly emerging. Some will continue deny its existence, or authenticity, or validity, just like some biologists denied the existence of the such an improbable animal as the Australian Duckbill Platypus. It’s a mammal that lays eggs! And yet it exists.... and so do we. Personally, I think is exciting to think how Orthodoxy in America will enrich the Church as a whole in coming centuries, even as Orthodox in America continue to be enriched from their various ancestral homelands.
5. How do you feel about the translation of liturgical books and prayers into English? Despite criticism of theologians throughout the Christian world, this process is under way and increases the membership of the OCA. Certainly, it will keep our children in the church, but will they not reproach us for retreating from canonicity? This is not a new issue, but thus far it has not been resolved, and interest in it has not been quenched.
I am the wrong person to whom to ask that question! Forty years ago I attended my first Divine Liturgy on Pentecost Sunday, in a beautiful OCA church in Seattle, that was wonderfully decorated with birch trees and lovely flowers, with a magnificent choir, full of pious people, surrounded by hundreds of icons -- and I couldn’t understand a word because it was all in Church Slavonic. I was like a cultural anthropologist watching a strange new tribe, rather than a pilgrim seeking God. Two months later I attended a second Divine Liturgy, at an OCA mission service, held in the