The Modern Church

Martyr Justin the Philosopher

Martyr Justin the Philosopher

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

By Aristeides Papadakis, Ph.D.

Orthodoxy and Modern Ideology

The tragedy of the Orthodox Church for much of the 20th century had been to live - for a good portion of its flock, at least - under the new political framework of atheistic totalitarianism. The dislocation of communism was the latest in a long series of misfortunes - Arabic, Seljuk, Crusader, Mongol, Ottoman - with which it had to cope in the last millennium and a half. As Saint Paul observes, "it was given to us not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for Him" (Phil. 1:29). There was, however, one significant difference between this latest crisis and those of the past: the previous non-Christian political regimes under which the Church had to live were rarely deliberately anti-Christian. In plain English, there has never been an exact precedent for the communist catastrophe. None of the past regimes were ever as insistent as communism in its belief that religion must not be tolerated. According to Lenin, a communist regime cannot remain neutral on the question of religion but must show itself to be merciless towards it. There was no place for the Church in Lenin's classless society.

Confrontation with Atheistic Regimes

The result of this militant atheism has been to transform the Church into a persecuted and martyred Church. Thousands of bishops, monks, clergy, and faithful died as martyrs for Christ, both in Russia and in the other communist nations. Their numbers may well exceed the Christians who perished under the Roman Empire. Equally frightening for the Church was communism's indirect, but systematic, strangulation policy. In the Soviet Union, in addition to the methodical closing, desecration and destruction of churches, ecclesiastical authorities were not allowed to carry on any charitable or social work. Nor for that matter, could the Church own property. The few places of worship left to the Church were legally viewed as state property which the government permitted the Church to use. More devastating still was the fact that the Church was not permitted to carry on educational or instructional activity of any kind. Outside of sermons during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy it could not instruct the faithful or its youth. Catechism classes, religious schools, study groups, Sunday schools and religious publications were all illegal.

Orthodoxy and Immigration

One of the most striking developments in modern historical Orthodoxy is the dispersion of Orthodox Christians to the West. Emigration from Greece and the Near East in the last hundred years has, in fact, created a sizable Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution forced thousands of Russian exiles westward. As a result, Orthodoxy's traditional frontiers have been profoundly modified. Millions of Orthodox Christians are no longer "eastern" since they live permanently in their newly adopted countries in the West. Virtually all the Orthodox nationalities - Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian - are represented in the United States. To describe them all is beyond the scope of this short survey. Rather, only the largest of these diaspora groups will be mentioned, namely, the Greek Archdiocese of America, with two million faithful. Under the guidance of several dedicated Archbishops, this diaspora has matured into a vital and active Church and plays a dominant role in the lives of millions of Greek Orthodox Christians. The Archdiocese is under the ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Indeed, the senior See in Orthodoxy possesses jurisdiction over a large portion of the Orthodox diaspora. Besides the Archdiocese, there is also the Exarchate of Western Europe, centered in London (with numerous parishes and bishops on the continent), and Australia. Smaller groups in the United States, such as the Carpatho-Russian and Ukranian dioceses, are likewise under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Orthodox Church in the West

Historically, 1768 marks the arrival of the first Greek Orthodox Christians to the New World. These pioneers founded the colony of New Smyrna some forty miles south of Saint Augustine, Florida. A small group of New Orleans Greek merchants built the first church in 1864. The Greek Archdiocese of North and South America itself was officially incorporated by the State of New York in 1921. The complicated and difficult task of organizing and consolidating the Greek communities into a centralized Archdiocese was the work of three far-sighted leaders: Archbishop Athenagoras, who was elected to the Ecumenical throne of Constantinople in 1948; Archbishop Michael, the former bishop of Corinth; and his successor, Archbishop Iakovos. In addition to its diverse philanthropic work, the Archdiocese maintains numerous day-schools, a home for the aged, and an academy for deprived and orphaned children. Candidates for the priesthood are trained at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Mass. Mention should also be made of the second largest group, the Russian. It, too, trains its own clergy at its Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, which also receives candidates from all Orthodox jurisdictions. Both of these institutions maintain their own press and publish their own theological quarterly; they issue a large number of useful and important books in English on various aspects of Orthodox Christian theology, history and spirituality. Both seminaries possess a distinguished faculty with an international reputation.

Historical circumstances, then, have provided Orthodoxy in the West with the unique opportunity to bear witness to its universality. To repeat, despite its historical eastern homeland, the Orthodox Church has never claimed to be anything less than the Universal Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ. True, the segregation and self-sufficiency of some Orthodox frequently give the opposite impression. All the same, the Orthodox are becoming increasingly aware that they must overcome both their isolation and segregation. The subordination of national ambitions and local loyalties is desirable and necessary. Archbishop Iakovos' observations on this point are on target:

"We rarely give the impression of united Orthodoxy as e should, and as others expect of us. They think (and not wrongly) that we are first Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Arabs or Ukranians and the Orthodox. We often deny ourselves the honor to speak as Orthodox and to demonstrate our theological and ecclesiastical unity and identity."  (Orthodox Observer, 21 Sept. 1983, p. 3)



With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George