The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada, Part 2 (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Talk
The Mission of the Archdiocese of Canada
Interview given to orthodoxradio.ca, Part 2
24 February, 2008


INTRODUCTION

DGK :

When people set out to find the historic Church of Christ established at Pentecost, they end up discovering the Orthodox Church. We thank God for those people who have found the Orthodox Faith, the true Faith that once and for all was delivered to the saints. This Orthodox Faith has remained the best-kept secret in Canada and North America. It is time that we let this light shine. Canada needs the Orthodox Faith. To those who have found the Orthodox Faith, we say : “Welcome home”. To Canadians, who are wondering where they could find a solid moral foundation that has not changed with popular opinion, we say : “Come home to the Faith of Peter and Paul ; come home to a Faith which has remained unchanged for close to 2,000 years. Christ is in our midst. He is, and ever shall be”.

What is the Orthodox Church ? Where did it come from ? Why hasn’t anyone heard of it even though it is the second largest Christian Faith in the world ? In the weeks to come we will explore what the Orthodox Faith is : its historic roots, and what it stands for. We will talk to many people who have entered into the journey and have come home to the Orthodox Faith.

My name is Deacon Gregory Kopchuk, the host of “Welcome Home”, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Canada of The Orthodox Church in America, an English- language Orthodox Church for North Americans.

Today, we are welcoming again to the programme His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of the Archdiocese of Canada, of The Orthodox Church in America.

Your Eminence, we’re continuing the second part of the discussion about the vision of the Archdiocese of Canada of The Orthodox Church in America. In the first part, we talked about the need for a basic foundation. You mentioned repentance, believing in Christ, knowing Christ, responding to Christ’s love, living a life like Christ, imitating Christ. All these are the basic foundation that should be there before anything else happens. The next step, of course, is “where do we go from there ?” I was trying to find an early written vision and mission statement for the Archdiocese of Canada, and the only thing I could find was from our 1990 bylaws : “The newly established Archdiocese (this was written in 1903) was part of the continuing work of the original mission of the Orthodox Church in Russia, which began in Alaska in 1794. The aim of that mission was two-fold : to provide ministry to the Church’s sons and daughters who had emigrated to Canada, and to provide Orthodox Christianity to the wider Canadian milieu. The result of this double purpose was and continues to be the creation of a distinct and truly local Orthodox Church in Canada”. Is that still our vision and mission, or has it changed a little ?

AS :

I do not think it has changed at all. That little statement outlines what the Christian purpose should be everywhere at all times. In Canada, we have had immigrants and we still have immigrants and it is our responsibility to look after them. However, we are living in a country that is not Orthodox, and it is our responsibility to live our Orthodox lives in a faithful way, so that people who are looking for Christ might be able to find Him and might be able to participate in Him with us.

DGK :

Your Eminence, you know the idea that “‘no one can serve two masters’” (Matthew 6:24). We are taking care of the immigrant Orthodox from overseas, but we are also trying to bring Orthodoxy to the general Canadian populace. Isn’t that going after two goals, and you know the idea that if we “chase after two rabbits at once”, we won’t catch any. Aren’t we doing the same thing ?

AS :

I would say probably not. If you try to make such a clear division, it is a bit schizophrenic ; but it is also a description of how we live our life. If you recall, I was saying that we are not a system and we are not a religion. It is life. It is how we live our life. Our responsibility is to be yeast and salt (see Matthew 13:33 and 5:13). This yeast and salt in baking work in different ways according to the nature of the ingredients they are working with. That is how it is with us. It is actually the Lord who does all these fine-tunings based on what we offer. At the same time, we also have to remember that the Apostle Paul is reminding us that we, as members of the Body of Christ, all have different functions (see 1 Corinthians 12). In this Body we have different gifts ; we have different purposes. Yet we are all parts of the same Body. Christ is the Head of this Body. These ideals of how we are supposed to be living out our life in Canada are fulfilled by us corporately all together. It is not our so-called “institution” trying to do this and that – looking after immigrants, and offering something to Canada. It is not actually like that. In the first place, we are not an institution, even though we have to have some characteristics of an institution in order to exist in Canadian law and so forth. Those factors do not make us who we are. It is partly how we live in this society with bylaws and other things, but that does not constitute us : Christ constitutes us. Therefore, if we are going to be ministering to immigrants, there are people amongst us who have the particular gift of helping those who are immigrating, not only to help them feel that there is a connection here with where they came from, but also to help them accommodate themselves as Orthodox Christians with this society which is very different from a normal Orthodox Christian society.

DGK :

Your Eminence, there are a lot of churches out there that claim that they are the right religion, that they are the right Christian Faith. There are even people that are imitating Christianity. How do we, as the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox way, compete with all that ?

AS :

I do not think that we compete ; we are simply faithful. If we compete, then we try to put them down and show that they are wrong, or something like that. They are not so wrong as all that. It is not so much a question of pointing out someone else’s mistakes or weaknesses, as it is our trying to be faithful ourselves and to be true to the truth ourselves. We are to give thanks to God for what is right about other people, too, so that from our point of view we can help them to discover the whole truth about Him who is the Truth.

DGK :

Historically, we may claim to be the original Church that Christ founded at Pentecost. Can anyone else make that claim ?

AS :

The Roman Catholic Church probably could say so.

DGK :

If the Roman Catholic Church makes that claim, and we make that claim, are we both right or are we both wrong ? Or is one of us right and the other one wrong ? We have a problem.

AS :

We have a problem because we have historically had some misunderstanding which is not necessarily as sharp as we sometimes in our debating like to make it out to be. Nevertheless, it is sharp enough. Indeed, I would say that the fact that we fell out of communion with each other is almost accidental. People make a big deal out of 1054 (the date of the mutual excommunications that were done at that time), but those excommunications were personal. They were the personal excommunications of a pope and a patriarch. The pope was already dead by the time the official document was delivered. It is not such a significant thing in our history as we sometimes make it out to be. We really finally fell completely out of communion with each other only with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. That is when all communication was cut off. There was no possibility then, but up until that time (because of politics and all sorts of other difficulties), there were seldom times when we were in communion with each other, practically speaking. Communication still did occur from time to time, however. For instance, there were Latin monasteries on Mount Athos for a long time. We were having our debates and our differences and there were legitimate points of debate. I think that our problem still is finding the way to overcome legitimate points of difference and to come to an agreement through mutual repentance. That does not remove the fact that we both have the same root – we were actually one Church until relatively recently.

DGK :

Being then a “house divided”, can we really go out and do Christ’s work ?

AS :

We can try.

DGK :

There are thousands of Christian religions out there right now. Even in Canada we have seventeen or eighteen Orthodox jurisdictions. All these people are trying to do the same thing, and then we say that we are the true Church and the way. Why should anyone believe us ?

AS :

We cannot force people to believe us or anything like that, but the point is, are we being faithful to Christ ? Do people see this faithfulness to Christ in us ? Do they want to come to love Christ because they see our hope and our joy ? That is what matters.

DGK :

Your Eminence, how do we go about doing that ?

AS :

Let us put it this way. When he was in Alaska, Saint Herman, who was a regular monk (not a priest, deacon or a bishop), was left alone because the others had died. What could he do ? He lived there amongst the Aboriginals ; he baked cookies for the children and he talked to them. They asked him questions and he answered their questions. He lived with them ; he loved them ; he helped them. He was simply one of them. They accepted him as one of them. Because of their seeing Christ in him, they accepted Christ in him. Because they could see Christ in him, they remained faithful. There are families in Alaska who can trace their being Orthodox Christians to their great-great-great-great grandparents’ conversion to Orthodox Christianity at the time of Saint Herman.

It is the same with Saint Innocent, although Saint Innocent’s gifts and the nature of his ministry were quite different. Nevertheless, there are people in Alaska who are able to trace their connexion to the Orthodox Church to the personal witness of Saint Innocent. Saint Tikhon (who was later the Patriarch of Moscow and eventually a martyr, one could say, under the communists)
was Archbishop of North America about 100 years ago. When he was here in Edmonton, he was blessing churches and helping to establish the Church here amongst the recent arrivals. (I have to say that already in his day they were using the English language because of this dual purpose that we were describing earlier.) There are people here in Edmonton, who are descendants of those who were around in those days and who are Orthodox Christians today partly because of the personal witness of Saint Tikhon. I know people whose grandmothers were babysat by Saint Tikhon on the farms in this area. The nature of the love of Jesus Christ of Saint Tikhon was such that it influenced their family, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. Even today this influence continues in the same way. The love of Jesus Christ is caught like this, and the serious love of Jesus Christ is passed on like this. Does that help ?

DGK :

Your Eminence, there are a lot of people who would say that some of the most unchristian persons they have ever met are in the Church.

AS :

Yes, that is because the Church is made up of sinners, people who are broken. The Church is a hospital for sinners. It is the place in which there are some of the worst-behaving people we can find, but where we can be healed of all sorts of brokenness. That does not mean that the worst-behaving people are themselves the measure of Christ. They are often behaving badly because they are in so much pain and they are acting out badly because this pain needs healing. If they are acting badly, they are crying out to us to pray for them to help them somehow. That is partly why they behave in this way. It is important for us to understand these things.

DGK :

The Orthodox Church has been in North America since 1794 (given the establishment of the mission in Alaska), and in Canada for just over 100 years, that is since the late 1890s in these parts.

AS :

Before going further, I can say that there was Orthodox activity in Canada in two other places earlier. There were Syrian Orthodox immigrants in Québec, in the area of Sherbrooke, about 30 years earlier than the immigration to the Edmonton area. On a provisionary basis, these Christians received pastoral care from priests from New York, I think. There was something happening around Sherbrooke, in Québec in the 1870s. As I recall, Bishops University in Sherbrooke has in their library a Gospel Book signed by Tsar Alexander II. He sent a Gospel Book in the care of the Ambassador of Russia to Washington. It was sent to Bishops University to thank them for looking after these people and providing worship space. The other place is the Yukon. There are some Tlinkit families on the east side of the mountains in the very northern part of British Columbia and in the Yukon area, who used to make pilgrimages over the mountains to Juneau in order to attend services. They were Orthodox Christians, and if they were connected with Juneau, and if they were Aboriginal people from this period of history, their connexion with Orthodoxy has to go back to those missions connected with Saint Innocent. All those things were more or less cut off when Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867. I do not think that there were exactly missionary activities by the Church in the Yukon area. There is no real evidence. However, the people who were moving west over the mountains from the Juneau and Sitka areas were people who were obviously touched by Saint Innocent, Saint Jakob and their followers.

DGK :

So we have had this long period of time of Orthodoxy in North America, and yet in Canada and even in the US, less than two percent of the total population is Orthodox. Have we somehow missed the mark ? Is the Orthodox Church decreasing in numbers overall in North America in fact ?

AS :

No, not really.

DGK :

Have we missed the mark somehow because there are not more people who are Orthodox ?

AS :

To some extent, yes. However, part of the reason for that is our historical circumstances. Our lack of administrative unity in North America contributes to this. Until 1917-1918, the Orthodox Church in North America effectively was one, as it is supposed to be. As you are rightly pointing out, it was the product of the Russian mission to North America with its two-fold purpose. After the communists overthrew the imperial government in Russia which was sponsoring these missions, there was an economic catastrophe. There was no more communication practically speaking between this mission and its mother. We came into a period where all the various other peoples who used to be looked after by this one administration, had to be looked after, practically speaking, by their mothers. Thus, the Greeks began to send Greek priests and then eventually bishops. Romanians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Syrians, Antiochians, everyone did the same. That produced a sort of administrative North American mess because they all had to look after their own people who were still immigrating, and at the same time try to fulfil this second purpose of witnessing to Canada. However, under these circumstances, the witness to Canada becomes much more difficult because it is harder to see how we are different from anyone else when we are all broken up like this, administratively. We do not believe anything different from each other. All Orthodox Christians believe the same thing. How we embrace life, even though it has a different flavour from country to country, is all the same. The Orthodox Church is not precisely the same in Georgia as it is in Russia. Nor is it the same as it is in Ukraine, Byelorus, Poland or Serbia or anywhere else. Every place has its own local character because the Orthodox Church reflects the life of the people where she is.

We have not come to that point in Canada yet to be able to reflect Canadian culture where we are. It is very difficult for us to come to do that when we are still divided administratively. It is true that we are trying to co-operate and to overcome these historical divisions administratively but inertia is a strong obstacle to overcome. We are always comfortable with the way we have been doing things. We are always comfortable looking after our own linguistic group. We are most comfortable with people who do things the same way as we do.

DGK :

One advantage the Orthodox Church in America has (and also the Archdiocese of Canada) is the fact that we are English-language based.

AS :

This is again harkening back to the original foundation. We have a dual purpose to look after people who have moved here from elsewhere whom I have always maintained are the Lord’s transplanting of yeast. It is like sourdough – the Lord transplants Orthodox believers here to North America in order for us to be this yeast here. Already very many North Americans have been incorporated into this dough. The dough is definitely taking on a North American character, and a Canadian character, too. There is even a bilingual, polylingual character.

DGK :

If we want to become a Canadian Orthodox Church, don’t we have to define what is “Canadian” ?

AS :

That is another long story.

DGK :

It is different in Québec and in the Maritimes than here in Alberta.

AS :

It is different but it is still the same. I travel everywhere. Life is very nice in Newfoundland and in some ways it reminds me of how things used to be here long ago when I was little. Halifax is very pleasant ; British Columbia is lovely. There are many things that are the same. When one travels a lot, one can see how we are the same. It is hard to define, but I can just sense it.

DGK :

Thank you, Your Eminence, for talking to us on this programme about the vision and the mission of the Orthodox Church in Canada.