Canada, and the Future of The Orthodox Church in America

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Canada, and the Future of
The Orthodox Church in America
(A paper preparatory to the 14th All-American Council
in Toronto, Ontario, July, 2005)
20 February, 2005

A person cannot contemplate possible characteristics of the future without considering the past. The two, along with the present, are intimately connected one with another.

The history of the Orthodox Church in Canada is much shorter than that of the USA, and it has a much different character. This is partly the result of the history of immigration to this country, and partly the formation that the country brings to those who arrive in it. In Canada, the immigration of Orthodox peoples did not begin until almost a century later than it did in the USA, and it was this immigration, not a missionary foundation, that introduced the Orthodox Faith to Canada. This is the case, even if one were to accept a theory that the first Orthodox believers could have arrived amongst the Vikings in Newfoundland a thousand years ago ! Even at that time, people came to Canada either to find a better economic life, or to escape some painful local situation, such as persecution. Thus, it was in the second half of the 19th century, that immigrants from the Middle East, from Syria and the now Lebanon, arrived in eastern Canada, in the Eastern Townships of Québec, in Prince Edward Island, and in Nova Scotia. As witness to this, there is, at Bishop’s University near Sherbrooke, Québec, an 1862 edition of the Codex Sinaiticus, gift-dated about 1879, given by Tsar Alexander II to that University, in thanksgiving for their giving the use of the University Chapel to the Orthodox believers, who received the services of a priest sent to them from New York by the Russian Mission. By 1890, there began the arrival of the first Slavs from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, soon to be followed by Romanians, and then others. These came principally from the areas of Ukraine and Romania called Galicia, Bukovina, Kyiv and Volyn (which includes Pochaiv). Their settlement was primarily in the western prairies, although many settled also in Québec and Nova Scotia, and then in Ontario. A wave came later from China’s Shanghai and Manchuria to far western Canada.

From 1898, the Mission began to send priests to western Canada to serve these large numbers of migrants (also later to eastern Canada). Always there was the struggle to meet, with very few resources, the needs of so many immigrants. Missionary motives as such were not in the forefront of the minds of many, except the minds of a few exceptional lay-persons, such as Theodore Fuhr (†1942) and Theodore Nemirsky (†1946). Both men were born in Western Ukraine, and they farmed on opposite sides of Edmonton, at about equal distances from it. This exception included also some of the priests who worked hard in those days. They were responsible for the conversion of many to the Orthodox Faith, as they worked together with the actively-witnessing lay-people. Foremost for many was simply trying to live their Orthodox Christian lives as they had in their homelands. So much was this a primary concern, that in many cases these pioneer homesteaders lived in sod houses, and before building a “better” home for their families, they first banded together to build the church. The prairie provinces are dotted with such beautiful Temples to the Lord, built of logs and/or sawn timber, dating back even to 1894. It is this sense of the priority and the importance of the worship of the Lord that has remained a constant until today. However, the 70 years after the communist revolution in Russia wrought havoc in our Canadian diocese. In its various effects, it almost destroyed our life. As a result, there was all-round neglect, sometimes oppression, both of clergy and parishioners, often because of complete lack of resources, sometimes from falling into temptation. However, the Lord, in His mercy, kept all alive. From this situation, He enabled a renaissance and a blossoming of active Church life, beginning with the last years of the active service of Archbishop Sylvester, of blessed memory.

The problems that arise from Canada’s being a different and independent country from the USA (and yet an integral part of The Orthodox Church in America), are much the same as they were a hundred years ago, and even more difficult. A century ago, Saint Tikhon (at that time the Archbishop of North America) was unable to achieve a Canadian federal incorporation of the bishop, because he was a foreigner ; and he was able to manage this incorporation only on a local, western, level — and that after considerable difficulty. People rightly marvel constantly at the energy, wisdom, insight, and future vision of this godly and God-given man. Today, the Canadian government strictly regulates the activities of, and limits the foreign outflow of monies from registered Crown Charities, as are almost all our parishes, and the Archdiocese of Canada itself. At this moment, only one of our American institutions is registered in such a way as to receive Canadian contributions and qualify for tax credit. Many who participate in the 14th All-American Council will notice that there are differences between Canada and the USA, between Canadians and Americans. However, they will also notice that the differences are generally small. Nevertheless, the differences remain real : a republican country founded in revolution, and a modified monarchy founded in peaceful, gradual and freely-given independence ; two countries whose principal language is English, but often having quite different ways of speaking and spelling it ; two countries consisting of many different cultures, but also two very different ways of including them ; one country founded only in the English language, the other founded first in French, then adding English, and in time incorporating them both equally ; one highly-developed country in many aspects, and the other that is popularly said to be always thirty years behind. In both countries, the Orthodox Church is broken up into nationalistic administrations, and in both countries, the bishops are trying to work together, despite the administrative division.

Regardless of the differences, we are all part of the North American Church, and we have a similar foundation in faith and perspective. We are, taking into consideration our differences, moving in the same direction, even though in different contexts, with different resources, and with different mentalities. Even if our cultures are somewhat different, and if our founding and present constituent parts are somewhat different, the Canadian and American parts of The Orthodox Church in America (and this probably applies also to Mexico), both understand themselves to be the indigenous Church in and for North America. We have a double missionary work to do. On the one hand, we have the responsibility to reach out, to be visible, and to be accessible to the people of the culture in which we live — American or Canadian. In each, there are many subdivisions. On the other hand, there are periodically large immigrations of peoples from traditional Orthodox homelands, to whom we must also be accessible. Often (although certainly not always), the education in the Orthodox Faith of the newly-arrived persons begins at a more fundamental level than that of a North American potential convert. In order for the education to be effective, it must be offered first in the native language of the immigrant. If this be the case in the USA, it is much more the case in Canada, since in Canada, it is the official policy of the federal government to enable the retention of the ancestral languages and cultures for as long as possible.

It has been the experience of our communities, time and again, that various programmes will be formulated by the faithful, with a view to being more visible, more inviting, more accessible to those in the environment of our communities. All this is undertaken with a sense of responsibility and seriousness. Sometimes there is a little fruit from these programmes of outreach, and a few people may arrive. However, it is far more often the case that real growth in a community results either from the patient, prayerful, loving, serving, witness of the believing faithful themselves, which produces a positive response in the hearts and lives of those touched personally ; or, it results from the Lord’s having touched the heart of a seeker, who, finding the community through one’s own research, simply arrives. When the sheep arrive, from whatever motivation, the sheep need to be fed. The foundation of this food is love, in the context of the love of Christ. In addition, following the example of the Apostle Paul, the food has to be presented in a form that is perceived as consumable by the sheep. Those who are receiving the arriving sheep have to be prayerfully sensitive to the needs of these arriving sheep, all with their different needs, and try to feed them accordingly. In Canada in particular, this has already meant the need for a multicultural and multilingual approach. If we were ever to be approachable by the Aboriginals of Canada, it would require our understanding them and their cultures much more than we do, by following the example of Saint Innocent. It is those who are like Saint Innocent (and also Saint Nicholas of Japan), who serve as templates for us in our desire to be approachable for the sake of Christ.

Regardless of the content of our outreach in whatever direction, it is necessary for us all, in all our countries, to accept the responsibility that we have been given by God : to live our lives in loving service of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and in imitation of Him and of His way of life. In the long run, it seems to be that this personal witness is always most attractive to others, and it produces the most fruit for building up the Church. It is not we who bring or make converts to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who does this, who moves the hearts of people. It has to be our work that we remain constantly sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our own lives. To do this, it behooves us to learn (in the spirit of Saints Innocent, Herman, Nicholas and the others) how to live our lives here and now, always loving our Lord above all. It behooves us to remember the manner in which the Orthodox Way has been lived in other cultures elsewhere, and to take this as guidance for the development of this Way in the various North American cultures. The way we live the Way need not imitate exactly any other specific Orthodox culture. However, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, it will develop in the same way they developed historically, as we become the Orthodox Church living here in North America, with various flavours, according to the various situations. Our becoming truly the Orthodox Church in North America will be achieved in time when we will know ourselves to be faithful to the Tradition of Christ in the Orthodox Church, living in the context of the various local cultures, and no longer trying simply to transplant and impose a different culture on these ones. After all, the cultures of traditional Orthodox lands are all now as they are, because of how the Orthodox Faith and Way transformed these cultures under the influence of the Gospel by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. This can only be accomplished in North America by our living our lives faithfully, engaged in a sincere and honest dialogue with these local cultures. It is the Lord Himself who will accomplish all the rest, in accordance with His will.