February 2, 2016 Length: 27:26
At the dinner following the 33rd Annual Schmemann Lecture at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Dr. Charles Ajalat, the former chancellor for the Antiochian Archdiocese and the co-founder of International Orthodox Christian Charities, presented a plan for a governing structure of the world wide Orthodox Church. Also see transcript below. Earlier in the evening, Dr. Ajalat received an honorary doctorate in Canon Law. Here he is with his January 31, 2016, proposal.
Ownership by All, Control by None
Your Beatitude, Your Graces, reverend clergy, Fr. Dn. John, beloved Christi and Big Charles and Luca, Richard (an SVS graduate) and brothers and sisters in Christ:
God has blessed many things that the clergy and the laity have worked on together here in America. Look at some of the activities which God has allowed me, unworthy though I am, to participate in, like IOCC, which has distributed over $500 million of aid in over 50 countries; and FOCUS North America, just six years old, which has distributed over $30 million of aid in that short period of time to people in 50 cities here in the United States. In the Becoming Truly Human program, we now have clergy and laity working together to see whether we can make an impact on changing the culture in the churches to have more spiritual outreach. God has blessed it so far. It’s been in existence a year, and we have over 65 Antiochian churches running it, and we hope and have been given a blessing by Sayidna Joseph that if other jurisdictions would like to participate in it, we would like that very much.
And, with that as context, I asked myself why we haven’t been able, by the hierarchs on the international level, to have this kind of concerted joint action. First of all, I would like to make clear I presently have no official office, so I speak to you only as an individual, but I do so with the experience of having been Chancellor of the Self-ruled Antiochian Archdiocese for approximately two decades. I see three facts that I think we need to address in the Orthodox Church, and I’d like to share those with you tonight.
Geo-politics, Resolution of Disputes, and the So-Called “Diaspora”
The first fact is: we need to look at geopolitics as well as history. Nicolas Kazarian, who wrote an article last week for the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago, states it plainly: “Orthodox Christianity is a geopolitical reality.” And he talks about the tension between Constantinople and Moscow in that regard, but it’s more than just those two. It is a geopolitical reality, and if we don’t take account of that we cannot help our hierarchs create a structure that will work for the Orthodox Church, work in an effective way, work in a way that produces effective action such as the laity and the clergy working together do in things like IOCC.
The second fact is we don’t have a system for a neutral resolution of disputes. I know that we have the Ecumenical Patriarch as a center of appeal, but I’ll give you some examples where I think we need to beef that up and expand the mechanism because it just doesn’t work. We need to figure out a way of resolving disputes.
The third fact, and again I quote Kazarian there so that I don’t have to say it myself. He says, “The most important issue among the churches internationally is that of the [so-called] Diaspora.” I’ll probably say less about that because I’ve been talking about it for maybe 30 or 40 years and haven’t made quite the progress I would like to see. God hasn’t yet blessed it totally, I should say, although He has blessed it a lot.
Regarding, the first fact—that of geopolitics—let me tell you a story about Russia. Politically 1989-1991 were the crucial years in Russia and Eastern Europe, but I think the watershed year for the Russian Orthodox Church was probably 1993, when the Parliament adopted its laws on religious freedom. Again, through God’s grace in a very unexpected way, I was invited as one of twelve so-called international experts on freedom of religion to go and advise the leaders of Parliament regarding what laws they should adopt on religion and state. Believe it or not, I didn’t really want to go, and I agreed to go if Patriarch Alexeii would meet with me for two hours to discuss nothing but the American situation. To my surprise I was told, “The patriarch is really looking forward to meeting you.” And there I was in Russia, on three days’ notice.
And I didn’t know what I was going to say. I was only comforted by the Scripture that says that—“I’ll give you the words.” The entire rest of the delegation were atheists except for the head of the delegation who had invited me—he was a devout Catholic. It was quite clear, in the head of the delegation’s mind, that in an atmosphere where Russia was very pro-West, that the atheists were going to lead Russia down a historical path that would be very bad for Russia.
So I did something kind of bold. I was the first speaker before the Parliamentary leaders, and I stood up and said, “Look, I’m going to tell you first my bias, because there’s no one of the speakers who are going to speak to you who are unbiased on this critical question of the relation of Church and State, and unless you know what that bias is, you can’t evaluate it.” So I said, “I want you to know I believe in the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—one God. I want you to know I believe the second Person of the Trinity became man as Jesus Christ. I want you to know I believe he died and was resurrected. I want you to know I’m Orthodox. I’m not under the Patriarchate of Moscow but under the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. I’m now going to put my religious and personal background behind, but remember my words. Don’t listen to anyone else unless you know what their bias is, because you will be led down the wrong path.
“Now I’m going to speak to you as a lawyer: What is the legal precedent? The legal precedent is Nazi Germany. The successor West German government with respect to the millions of Jews who were killed paid”—and I gave them some large number that I knew at the time—“of reparations to the victims and the families of those people. The legal precedent is the state of California in the United States, where, during World War II, we interred Japanese-American citizens because they were of Japanese background. And the successor American government paid reparations to the victims and the families. Now what is your obligation?”
And then I told them what Patriarch Alexeii had said to me at the end of our meeting when I asked him, “Is there anything you want me to say to the leaders of Parliament tomorrow?” He said, “You tell them that Khrushchev came on television in 1955 and said, ‘Within 20 years, I will show you the last Orthodox priest in this country.’ ” So I told them that, and I said, “Your predecessor governments were so afraid of the Russian Orthodox Church that they targeted it for total extinction. You destroyed as many of the church buildings as you could have. Those you couldn’t destroy, you made urinals out of the altar areas, you made garbage dumps out of the buildings; you killed more than 10 million martyrs for the faith, your predecessor government did all this and more. So what is your responsibility legally?” And I gave them a huge, multi-billion-dollar number that they had to pay, I said, in reparations to the Russian Orthodox Church.
They started running up to me in the break, saying, “Don’t you realize we’re a bankrupt government? The only way we’d get that kind of revenue is to tax the people. The people are all Orthodox. It’d be like taxing the Church!” I said, “Now that I have your attention, there are two kinds of religious freedom. There’s the religious freedom everyone else is talking about, which is religious freedom from political persecution. And there’s religious freedom from economic persecution. While the persecuted Orthodox Church is living off of candle income, you are allowing the Hare Krishna to come here and spending $10 million a year to divide your homogenous population at a time you are very vulnerable—it makes no sense. What I would recommend to you is you have at least a five-year moratorium on letting other religious faiths come in.” And that was very hard for me, because I feel very strongly about evangelism, but I knew it was the right thing at the time.
And I guess both the Parliamentary leaders—and the Patriarch—got more excited than I think they’d expected, and they passed, as you all know, very restrictive religious freedom laws in 1993. The laws provided that if a religious group hadn’t been in the country, I think it was for at least 15 years, they had to register—that only included five faith traditions, the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Jews, the Muslims, and the Buddhists. And there were members of the United States Senate that had talked to me personally and said, “We’re not too happy with you going to Russia and what Russia did.”
But I think: here we are now, 23 years later and the Russian Orthodox Church has become more influential internally and I dare say externally, both among other Christian faith traditions and among the Orthodox themselves. So one of the geopolitical factors we cannot ignore if we’re to devise a structure that works for Orthodoxy and one that is not simply unacceptable negotiations solely between Constantinople and Russia. If you’re going to develop a long-term structure that’s going to work, it’s got to take into account both history and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch and geopolitical factors as where the Russian Orthodox Church is today but in a way that gives ownership to all and doesn’t allow any one or two groups to automatically control.
The second fact is a need for dispute resolution. When I was Chancellor, I was asked by the Patriarch of Antioch and Metropolitan Philip to go to Constantinople and see His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew in a one-on-one meeting, making a formal appeal on behalf of the Patriarchate of Antioch, to help us bring traditional canonical order to the situation where the Patriarchate of Jerusalem had uncanonically entered the United States and tried to take a couple of our churches, particularly in northern California. Shortly before that had occurred, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem had tried to do the same thing to the Ecumenical Patriarch himself in Australia, and he had not been able to resolve it with Jerusalem. The Ecumenical Patriarch called together the other primates of churches which were headed by ethnic Greeks, namely Alexandria, Greece, Cyprus, and Albania, and the five of them said, as I understand it, “You shall leave Australia, or we will excommunicate you, Jerusalem.” Jerusalem backed down and left Australia.
My Patriarch and my Metropolitan said to me to say to the Ecumenical Patriarch, “We want you to preserve order in the Church,” to say, “Do the same thing to Jerusalem regarding North America that you did in Australia.” And I did that. As we somewhat expected, His All-Holiness said, “Charles, I can’t intervene in the internal affairs of Jerusalem, another patriarchate.” And I said, “But Your All-Holiness, you did it in Australia, and we’re asking you to do it here. We’re giving you a golden opportunity. We’re asking you to be the Ecumenical Patriarch and not just, one could say, in that other situation, Patriarch of the Greeks.” Well, we now have Qatar. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know what will happen with the Great and Holy Council. But I know that we need canonical order.
What I also know, looking at the broader picture, is that we need a dispute resolution mechanism in the Orthodox Church. Is it going to solve all the problems? Will the Ukraine go away? Will Moldova go away? I could name many other spots. I don’t know, but I know we’ve got to start if we’re going to be an effective Church in the modern age, and that otherwise we will continue to be a footnote in the annals of modern history. It’s the Church of Jesus Christ we’re talking about, folks. It’s wrong, and anyone who has any possibility in doing something, is going to have to answer to God if the situation isn’t corrected.
The So-Called “Diaspora”
Two recent quotes are applicable to what I’ve said about structure and the three facts I’ve set forth: The first is from Fr. Dn. John’s book, released today.
Nonetheless, in order to facilitate a reconciliation of primacy and collegiality, what is necessary is no less than a sense of radical truthfulness and fearlessness in order to explore the privileges and the drawbacks of each.
But I would add to his quote: “And what is necessary is to consider a structure which takes account of geopolitics and dispute resolution, where there is ownership by all and control by none.” My own view is you can’t find the solution just with history, so that a different view from Fr. Dn. John’s.
The second quote is from the most recent St. Vladimir’s Quarterly where Antoine Arjakovsky says:
Gradually, we will become aware that being Orthodox means more than simply being faithful in an inflexible way to those traditions of the past.
He’s talking about the Diaspora, but it applies to both international and national structures. We have to have creative solutions
So what is this proposal I’m making? Well, we are not the first body of any sort to discuss these kinds of situations. You have many examples although I haven’t tried to catalogue them. Two situations come immediately to mind: The American colonies had to deal with large populations and small populations. The United Nations Security Council is another example of ways that one could go. But taking the American colonies’ example, my proposal is that while I think the goal must always remain 100% conciliarity, realistically until the churches can get to trust each other, we’re going to have to lower that percentage and simultaneously get limits on control by any one or two groups, to achieve the result of the title of this talk: “Ownership of all and control by none.”
To do that, I have recommended that there be the three typical areas of governance: legislative, executive, and judicial. I believe that you ought to have 15 “jurisdictions” represented internationally, including America. There would be two international synods to pass any legislation in the areas they agree on—and they may need to make exceptions to the scope; nobody’s going to want to give up all their autonomy—but such legislation would require passage by 80% of each body and approval by 80% of the executive. The one legislative synod would have two voting representatives from each of the 15 jurisdictions. The second legislative synod, also composed of 30 representatives, would take into account population, history and other factors, but no one alliance would have more than 30% of the vote.
The reason I say 15 “jurisdictions is I really believe—and not because I’m an American—that America has to be represented. So how do you deal with the OCA and the non-OCA jurisdictions? My proposal is you give five representatives to America, one to each of the American jurisdictions associated with a patriarchate and treat the OCA as a patriarchate, but that together the five jurisdictions have two votes in the international synod.
Under the second body, call it the synod of the faithful for want of a better term, you would have it be based on population and history and other factors, but you would have limits. Constantinople is never going to accept something where Moscow has a vote equal to its influence over 80% of the faithful Orthodox, nor should they. And how do we reconcile that with being first among equals? So my proposal says that neither those churches allied with Constantinople nor those churches allied with Russia should have more than 30% of the vote, which means that 40% would be divided between Antioch, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and America.
The toughest part, of course, is what do you do about the executive? What do you do about the presidency? The recommendation that I make in the proposal is that there be an international unanimous and equal executive committee of three, presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The other two members would be Russia and Antioch (one of the original four patriarchates (and non-Greek) and where they were first called Christians, but also as a balancing factor). I see both Antioch and Romania as balancing factors. The executive committee would have certain prescribed areas of responsibility. They would have to speak unanimously, the three of them, in international forums. They’d have to all be physically present.
I think that executive committee should also be the judicial body, again, under the presidency of the Ecumenical Patriarch, with the equal participation of Russia and Antioch. However, you’re going to have to adjust the rules and make nuances when one of those bodies is involved. You’re not going to want one of the representatives voting as a judge on behalf of one of their affiliates or, for example, in the case of Antioch, regarding Qatar, or, in the case of Russia, regarding Moldova.
What you have to do in a structure that works is accommodate the needs of Constantinople, the needs of Russia, and the others, and you need to be reasonable. I think the proposal, as an example, shows it’s possible. I really do. I see much more difficult things get accomplished both in the law and in the Church. I mean, look: people thought IOCC would never work. What you probably don’t know is that it became completely bankrupt and had millions of dollars of debt in excess of its assets. I wish my wife could have been here tonight, but if it weren’t for my wife, we wouldn’t have an IOCC today. So these things are possible.
So I think the time for Orthodoxy is now. God willing, the Great Council will go forward, but if it does, it needs to go forward in an even more meaningful way than the subjects they’re talking about, whether it’s done now or afterwards. For the Council itself, there’s no reason the rules regarding previous processes can’t be modified now. With respect to the views of all, I believe if you had at least four of the major patriarchates, say, Constantinople, Russia, Antioch, and Romania, agree on a structure, all 15 would agree on allowing the rules of the Council to be modified to allow that structure to be discussed at the Council. I just want to make clear that anyone who says, “Well, we can’t even think about that kind of thing because the process won’t allow it,” is really simply wanting to delay the decision, or they can’t make the hard decisions to find a way to come together.
My prayer and hope for the Orthodox Church before I die is that it will no longer be a footnote in the annals of modern history but an effective and transforming instrument of God’s will for the world.
But in closing, I want to tell you, Your Beatitude and Fr. Chad and Fr. John, St. Vladimir’s is a very special institution for me. As Fr. Chad said, it was during this time period as an active Trustee, in which I left teaching Sunday school (and I’m not sure I made the right decision, mind you), to get involved in all of this governance. But, as I say, God uses the unworthy and fools, and I’ve been very blessed to be involved in a lot of things in the Church that I’m very grateful for. I love all of you here at St. Vlad’s. I love the school. I want well for it, and thank you again for giving me this honor. It’s very humbling. [Applause]