Twentieth Century (Greeks and Arabs), (Western Orthodoxy)

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By: Timothy Ware ( Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)
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The Twentieth Century


Greeks and Arabs

The Orthodox Church of today exists in two contrasting situations: outside the communist sphere lie the four ancient Patriarchates and Greece, under communism are the Slav Churches and Romania. Whereas communism only impinges upon the periphery of the Roman Catholic and the Protestant worlds, in the case of the Orthodox Church the vast majority of its members live in a communist state. At the present moment there are probably between sixty and ninety million practicing Orthodox — the number of baptized Orthodox is considerably higher — and of these more than eighty-five per cent are in communist countries.

Following this obvious line of division, in this chapter we shall consider the Orthodox Churches outside the communist bloc, and in the next the position of Orthodoxy in the “second world.” A third chapter is devoted to the Orthodox “dispersion” in other places, and to Orthodox missionary activities at the present time.

Of the seven Orthodox Churches not under communist rule, four — Constantinople, Greece, Cyprus, Sinai — are predominantly or exclusively Greek; one — Alexandria — is partly Greek, partly Arab and African; the remaining two — Antioch and Jerusalem — are mainly Arab, although at Jerusalem. the higher administration of the Church is in Greek hands.


The Patriarchate of Constantinople, which in the tenth century contained 624 dioceses, is today enormously reduced in size. At present within the Patriarch’s jurisdiction are: Turkey; Crete and various other islands in the Aegean; All Greeks of the dispersion, together with certain Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Albanian dioceses in emigration; Mount Athos and Finland.

This amounts in all to about three million persons, more than half of whom are Greeks dwelling in North America.

At the end of the First World War, Turkey contained a population of some 1,500,000 Greeks, but the greater part of these were either massacred or deported at the end of the disastrous Greco-Turkish War of 1922, and today (apart from the island of Imbros) the only place in Turkey where Greeks are allowed to live is Istanbul (Constantinople) itself. Even in Constantinople, Orthodox clergy (with the exception of the Patriarch) are forbidden to appear in the streets in clerical dress. The Greek community in the city has dwindled since the anti-Greek (and anti-Christian,) riot of 6 September 1955, when in a single night sixty out of the eighty Orthodox Churches at Constantinople were gutted or sacked, the total damage to Christian property being reckoned at ?50,000,000. Since then, many Greeks have fled from fear or else have been forcibly deported, and there is a grave danger that the Turkish government will eventually expel the Patriarchate. Athenagoras, Patriarch during 1948-1972 — indefatigable as a worker for Christian unity — and his successor Patriarch Dimitrios have shown great patience and dignity in this tragic situation.

The Patriarchate had a celebrated theological school on the island of Halki near Constantinople, which in the 1950s began to acquire a somewhat international character, with students not only from Greece but from the Near East in general. But unfortunately from 1971 onwards the Turkish authorities prevented the school from admitting any new students, and there is at present very little prospect that it will be reopened.

Mount Athos, like Halki, is not merely Greek but international. Of the twenty ruling monasteries, at the present day seventeen are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian; in Byzantine times one of the twenty was Georgian, and there were also Latin houses. Besides the ruling monasteries there are several other large houses, and innumerable smaller settlements known as sketes or kellia; there are also hermits, most of whom live above alarming precipices at the southern tip of the peninsula, in huts or caves often accessible only by decaying ladders. Thus the three forms of the monastic life, dating back to fourth-century Egypt — the community life, the semi-eremitic life, and the hermits — continue side by side on the Holy Mountain today. It is a remarkable illustration of the continuity of Orthodoxy.

Athos faces many problems, the most obvious and serious being the spectacular decline in numbers. And it is likely that numbers will continue to decline, for the majority of the monks today are old men. Although there have been times in the past — for example, the early nineteenth century — when monks were even fewer than at present, yet the suddenness of the decrease in the past fifty years is most alarming.

In many parts of the Orthodox world today, and not least in certain circles in Greece itself, the monastic life is viewed with indifference and contempt, and this is in part responsible for the lack of new vocations on Athos. Another cause is the political situation: in 1903 more than half the monks were Slavs or Romanians, but after 1917 the supply of novices from Russia was cut off, while since 1945 the same has happened with Bulgaria and Romania. The Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, which in 1904 had 1,978 members, in 1959 numbered less than 60; the vast Russian skete of Saint Elias now has less than five monks, while that of Saint Andrew is entirely closed; the spacious buildings of Zographou, the Bulgarian house, are virtually deserted, and at the Romanian skete of Saint John the Baptist there is a mere handful of monks. In 1966, after prolonged negotiations, the Greek government eventually allowed five monks from the U.S.S.R. to enter Saint Panteleimon, and four monks from Bulgaria to enter Zographou: but clearly recruitment on a far vaster scale is necessary. Of the non-Greek communities, the Serbian monastery alone is in a slightly better position, as some young men have recently been allowed to come from Yugoslavia to be professed as monks.

In Byzantine times the Holy Mountain was a center of theological scholarship, but today most of the monks come from peasant families and have little education. This, though not a new situation, has certain unfortunate consequences. It would be sad indeed were Athos to modernize itself at the expense of the traditional and timeless values of Orthodox monasticism; but so long as the monasteries remain intellectually isolated, they cannot make their full (and very necessary) contribution to the life of the Church at large. There are signs that leaders on Athos are aware of the dangers of this isolation and are seeking ways to overcome it. The Athonite School of Theology was reopened in 1953, in the hope of attracting and training a somewhat different type of novice. Father Theoklitos, of the monastery of Dionysiou, goes regularly to Athens and Thessalonica to speak at meetings, and has written an important book on the monastic life, Between Heaven and Earth, as well as a study of Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. Father Gabriel, for many years Abbot of Dionysiou, is also widely known and respected in Greece as a whole.

But it would be wrong to judge Athos or any other monastic center by numbers or literary output alone, for the true criterion is not size or scholarship but the quality of spiritual life. If in Athos today there are signs in some places of an alarming decadence, yet there can be no doubt that the Holy Mountain still continues to produce saints, ascetics, and men of prayer formed in the classic traditions of Orthodoxy. One such monk was Father Silvan (1866-1938), at the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon: of peasant background, a simple and humble man, his life was outwardly uneventful, but he left behind him some deeply impressive meditations, which have since been published in several languages (See Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos and Wisdom from Mount Athos, London, 1973-1974 [most valuable]). Another such monk was Father Joseph (died 1959), a Greek who lived in a semi-eremitic settlement — the New Skete — in the south of Athos, and gathered round him a group of monks who under his guidance practiced the continual recitation of the Jesus Prayer. So long as Athos numbers among its members men such as Silvan and Joseph, it is by no means failing in its task. (The text above describes the situation as it existed on Athos during 1960-1966. Since then there has been a notable improvement. Although the non-Greek monasteries have only been able to receive a few fresh recruits, in several Greek houses there has been a striking increase in numbers, and many of the new monks are gifted and well-educated. The revival is particularly evident in Simonos Petras, Philotheou, Grigoriou, and Stavronikita. In all of these monasteries there are outstanding abbots).


The Orthodox Church of Finland owes its origin to monks from the Russian monastery of Valamo on Lake Ladoga, who preached among the pagan Finnish tribes in Karelia during the Middle Ages. The Finnish Orthodox were dependent on the Russian Church until the Revolution, but since 1923 they have been under the spiritual care of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, although the Russian Church did not accept this situation until 1957. The vast majority of Finns are nominally Lutheran, and the 66,000 Orthodox comprise only ***1.5 percent of the population. There is an Orthodox seminary at Kuopio. “With its active youth, concerned with international and ecumenical contacts, anxious to appear a western and European community, while at the same time safeguarding its Orthodox traditions, the Church of Finland is perhaps destined to play an important role in the western witness of Orthodoxy” (J. Meyendorff, L’Eglise orthodoxe hier et aujourd’hui, Paris, 1960, p. 157).


The Patriarchate of Alexandria has been a small Church ever since the separation of the Monophysites in the fifth century, when the great majority of Christians in Egypt rejected the Council of Chalcedon. Today there are about 10,000 Orthodox in Egypt, and perhaps 150,000-250,000 elsewhere in Africa. The head of the Alexandrian Church is known officially as “Pope and Patriarch”: in Orthodox usage, the title “Pope” is not limited solely to the Bishop of Rome. The Patriarch and most of his clergy are Greek. The whole of the African continent falls under the charge of the Patriarch, and since Orthodox are just now beginning to undertake missionary work in Central Africa, it may well be that the ancient Church of Alexandria, however attenuated at present, will expand in new and unexpected ways during the years to come. (On missions in Africa, see Chapter 9.).


The Patriarchate of Antioch numbers some 320,000 Orthodox in Syria and the Lebanon, and perhaps a further 150,000 in Iraq and America. (Roman Catholics, Uniate and Latin, number about 640,000 in Syria and the Lebanon). The Patriarch, who lives in Damascus, has been an Arab since 1899, but before that time he and the higher clergy were Greek, although the majority of the parish clergy and the people of the Antiochene Patriarchate were and are Arab.

Some thirty years ago a leading Orthodox in the Lebanon, Father (now Bishop) George Khodre, said: “Syria and the Lebanon form a dark picture among Orthodox countries.” Indeed, until recently the Patriarchate of Antioch could without injustice be taken as a striking example of a “sleeping” Church. Today there are signs of an awakening, chiefly as a result of the Orthodox Youth Movement in the Patriarchate, most remarkable and inspiring organization, originally founded by a small group of students in 1941-1942. The Youth Movement runs catechism schools and Bible seminars, as well issuing an Arabic periodical and other religious material. It undertakes social work, combating poverty and providing medical assistance. It encourages preaching and is attempting to restore frequent communion; and under its influence two all but outstanding religious communities have been founded at Tripoli and Deir-el-Harf. In the Youth Movement at Antioch, as in the “home missionary” movements of Greece, a leading part is played by the laity.


The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has always occupied a special position in the Church: never large in numbers, its primary task has been to guard the Holy Places. As at Antioch, Arabs form the majority of the people; they number today about 60,000 but are on the decrease, while before the war of 1948 there were only 5,000 Greeks within the Patriarchate and at present there are very much fewer (? not more than 500). But the Patriarch of Jerusalem is still a Greek, and the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, which looks after the Holy Places, is completely in Greek control.

Before the Bolshevik Revolution, a notable feature in the life of Orthodox Palestine was the annual influx of Russian pilgrims, and often there were more than 10,000 of them staying in the Holy City at the same time. For the most part they were elderly peasants, to whom this pilgrimage was the most notable event in their lives: after a walk of perhaps several thousand miles across Russia, they took ship at the Crimea and endured a voyage of what to us today must seem unbelievable discomfort, arriving at Jerusalem if possible in time for Easter (See Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem, London, 1913. The author traveled himself with the pilgrims, and gives a revealing picture of Russian peasants and their religious outlook). The Russian Spiritual Mission in Palestine, as well as looking after the Russian pilgrims, did most valuable pastoral work among the Arab Orthodox and maintained a large number of schools. This Russian Mission has naturally been sadly reduced in size since 1917, but has not entirely disappeared, and there are still three Russian convents at Jerusalem; two of them receive Arab girls as novices.


The Church of Greece continues to occupy a central place in the life of the country as a whole. Writing in the early 1950s, a sympathetic Anglican observer remarked: “Hellas, when all is said as to the spread of secularism and indifference, remains a Christian nation in a sense of which we in the west can have but little conception” (Hammond, The Waters of Marah, p. 25). In the 1951 census, out of a total population of 7,632,806, the Orthodox numbered 7,472,559 other Christians no more than 41,107; in addition there were 112,665 Mohammedans, 6,325 Jews, 29 persons of other religions, and 121 atheists. Today there is much more indifference than in the 1950s, and the Socialist government elected in 1981 began to take steps towards a separation of Church and State; but the Church remains deeply influential.

Greek dioceses of today, as in the primitive Church, are small: there are 78 (contrast Russia before 1917, with 67 dioceses for 100 million faithful) and in north Greece many dioceses contain less than 100 parishes. In ideal and often in reality, the Greek bishop is not merely a distant administrator, but an accessible figure with whom his flock can have personal contact, and in whom the poor and simple freely confide, calling daily in large numbers for practical as well as spiritual advice. The Greek bishop delegates far less to his parish clergy than a bishop in the west, and in particular he still reserves to himself much of the task of preaching, though he is assisted in this by a small staff of monks or educated laymen, working under his direction.

Thus by no means all the married parish clergy of Greece in the past preached sermons; nor is this surprising, since few had received a regular theological training. In pre-Revolutionary Russia all parish priests had passed through a theological seminary, but in Greece in the year 1920, of 4,500 married clergy, less than 1,000 had received more than an ordinary elementary school education. Hitherto the priest of the Greek countryside has been closely integrated with the local community: usually he is a native of the village which he serves; after ordination, as well as being priest, he still continues with his previous work, whatever that may be — carpentry, shoemaking, or more commonly farming; he is not a man of higher learning than the laity round him; very possibly he has never attended a seminary. This system has had certain undeniable advantages, and in particular it has meant that the Greek Church has avoided a cultural gulf between pastor and people, such as has existed in England for several centuries. But with the rise in educational standards in Greece during recent years, a change in this system has become necessary: today priests clearly need a more specialized training, and it seems likely that henceforward most, if not all, Greek ordinands will be sent to study in a seminary.

The two older universities of Greece, at Athens and Thessalonica, both contain Faculties of Theology. Non-Orthodox are often surprised to find that the great majority of professors in both faculties are laymen, and that most of the students have no intention of being ordained; but Orthodox consider it entirely natural that the laity as well as the clergy should take an interest in theology. Many students afterwards teach religion in secondary schools, and it is usually the local schoolmasters whom the bishops choose as their lay preachers. Only a few of these students become parish clergy; a few others are professed as monks, though it is likely that only a minority of these graduate monks will live as resident members of a monastery: in most cases they will work on the bishop’s staff, or perhaps become preachers.

The theological professors of Greece have produced a considerable body of important work during the past half century: one thinks at once of Chrestos Androutsos, author of a famous Dogmatic Theology first published in 1907, and more recently of men such as P. N. Trembelas, P. I. Bratsiotis, I. N. Karmiris, B. Ioannides, and Ieronymos Kotsonis, the recent Archbishop of Athens, an expert on Canon Law. But while fully acknowledging the notable achievements of modern Greek theology, one cannot deny that it possesses certain shortcomings. Many Greek theological writings, particularly if compared with work by members of the Russian emigration, seem a little arid and academic in tone. The situation mentioned in an earlier chapter has continued to the present century, and most Greek theologians have studied for a time at a foreign university, usually in Germany; and sometimes German religious thought seems to have influenced their work at the expense of their own Orthodox tradition. Theology in Greece today suffers from the divorce between the monasteries and the intellectual life of the Church: it is a theology of the university lecture room, but not a mystical theology, as in the days of Byzantium when theological scholarship flourished in the monastic cell as well as in the university. Nevertheless in Greece at the present time there are encouraging signs of a more flexible approach to theology, and of a living recovery of the spirit of the Fathers.

What of the monastic life? In male communities, the shortage of young monks is as alarming on the mainland of Greece as it was on Athos until recently, and many houses are in danger of being closed altogether. There are very few educated men in the communities. But this gloomy prospect is relieved by striking exceptions, such as the recently founded monastery of the Paraclete at Oropos (Attica). Some older communities still attract novices — for example, Saint John the Evangelist on the island of Patmos (under the Ecumenical Patriarch). In Meteora some notable efforts to revive the monastic life were made by the late Metropolitan Dionysius of Trikkala. Here there are a series of monastic houses, perched on rocky pinnacles in a remote part of Thessaly, which were partially repopulated in the 1960s by young and well-educated monks. But the constant flow of tourists rendered monastic life impossible, and in the 1970s almost all the monks moved to Mount Athos.

But while the situation of male communities is often critical, the female communities are in a far more lively condition, and the number of nuns is rapidly increasing. Some of the most active convents are of quite recent origin, such as the Convent of the Holy Trinity on Aegina, dating from 1904, whose founder, Nektarios (Kephalas), Metropolitan of Pentapolis (1846-1920), has already been canonized; or the Convent of Our Lady of Help at Chios, established in 1928, which now has fifty members. The Convent of the Annunciation at Patmos, started in 1936 by Father Amphilochios (died 1970; perhaps the greatest pnevmatikos or spiritual father in post-war Greece), already has two daughter houses, at Rhodes and Kalymnos. (In this connection one must also mention the impressive Old Calendarist Convent of Our Lady at Keratea in Attica, founded in 1925, which now has between two and three hundred nuns. On the Old Calendarists, see p. 309).

In the past twenty years a surprising number of classic works of monastic spirituality have been reprinted in Greece, including a new edition of the Philokalia. It seems that there is a revived interest in the ascetic and spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy, a development which bodes well for the future of the monasteries.

Religious art in Greece is undergoing a most welcome transformation. The debased westernized style, universal at the beginning of the present century, has largely been abandoned in favor of the older Byzantine tradition. A number of churches at Athens and elsewhere have recently been decorated with a full scheme of icons and frescoes, executed in strict conformity with the traditional rules. The leader of this artistic renewal, Photius Kontoglou (1896-1965), was noted for his uncompromising advocacy of Byzantine art. Typical of his outlook is his comment on the art of the Italian Renaissance: “Those who see in a secular way say that it progressed, but those who see in a religious way say that it declined” (C. Cavarnos, Byzantine Sacred Art: Selected Writings of the contemporary Greek icon painter Fotis Kontoglous, New York, 1957, p. 21).

Greece possesses an Orthodox counterpart to Lourdes: the island of Tinos, where in 1823 a miracle-working icon of the Virgin and Child was discovered, buried underground in the foundations of a ruined church. A large pilgrimage shrine stands today on the site, which is visited in particular by the sick, and many cases of miraculous healing have occurred. There are always great crowds on the island for the Feast of the Assumption (15 August).

In the Greek Church of the present century there has been a striking development of “home missionary” movements, devoted to evangelistic and educational work. Apostoliki Diakonia (“Apostolic Service”), the official organization concerned with the “Home Mission,” was founded in 1930. Alongside it there are a number of parallel movements which, while cooperating with the bishops and other Church authorities, spring from private initiative — Zoe, Sotir, the Orthodox Christian Unions, and others. The oldest, most influential, and most controversial of these movements, Zoe (“Life”), also known as the “Brotherhood of Theologians,” was started by Father Eusebius Matthopoulos in 1907. It is in fact a kind of semi-monastic order, since all its members must be unmarried, although they take no formal vows and are free to leave the Brotherhood at any time. About a quarter of the Brotherhood are monks (none of whom live regularly in a monastery) and the rest laymen. One wonders how far Zoe, with its monastic structure, points the way to future developments in the Orthodox Church. In the past the primary task of an eastern monk has been prayer; but, besides this traditional type of monasticism, is there not also room in Orthodoxy for “active” religious orders, parallel to the Dominicans and Franciscans in the west, and dedicated to the work of evangelism in the world?

These “home missionary” movements, especially Zoe, lay great stress on Bible study and encourage frequent communion. Between them they publish an impressive number of periodicals and books, with a very wide circulation. Under their leadership and guidance there exist today about 9,500 catechism schools (in 1900 there were few if any such schools in Greece), and it is reckoned that fifty-five per cent of Greek children — in some parishes a far higher proportion — regularly attend catechism classes. Besides these schools, a wide program of youth work is undertaken: “The period of adolescence,” to quote an Anglican writer, “when so overwhelming a portion of our own children lose all vital contact with the Church, is commonly that at which the young Greek Christian begins to play an active part in the life of his local community” (P. Hammond, The Waters of Marah, p. 133).

The influence of these “home missionary” movements has declined considerably in the 1900s and 1970s, and in particular the words just quoted — written more than twenty-five years ago — unfortunately would need today to be qualified.


The ancient Church of Cyprus, independent since the Council of Ephesus (431), has at present 600 priests and over 450,000 faithful. The Turkish system, whereby the head of the Church is also the civil leader of the Greek population, was continued by the British when they took over the island in 1878. This explains the double part, both political and religious, played by Makarios, the recent head of the Cypriot Church, “ethnarch” and President as well as Archbishop.


The Church of Sinai is in some ways a “freak” in the Orthodox world, consisting as it does in a single monastery, Saint Catherine’s, at the foot of the Mountain of Moses. There is some disagreement about whether the monastery should be termed an “autocephalous” or merely an “autonomous” Church (see p. 314). The abbot, who is always an archbishop, is elected by the monks and consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem; the monastery is entirely independent of outside control. Sad to say, there are today fewer than twenty monks.


Western Orthodoxy

Let us look briefly at the Orthodox communities in western Europe and in North America. In 1922 the Greeks created an Exarchate for western Europe, with its center in London. The first Exarch, Metropolitan Germanos (1872-1951), was widely known for his work for Christian unity, and played a leading part in the Faith and Order Movement between the ‘wars. In 1963 this Exarchate was divided into four separate dioceses, with bishops at London, Paris, Bonn, and Vienna; further dioceses were later formed in Scandinavia and Belgium, and most recently of all (1982) in Switzerland. There are about 130 Greek parishes in western Europe with permanent churches and resident clergy, and in addition a number of smaller Church groups.

The chief centers of Russian Orthodoxy in western Europe are Munich and Paris. At Paris the celebrated Theological Institute of Saint Sergius (under the Paris jurisdiction of Russians), founded in 1925, has acted as an important point of contact between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Particularly during the inter-war period, the Institute numbered among its professors an extraordinarily brilliant group of scholars. Those formerly or at present on the staff of Saint Sergius include Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), the first Rector; Bishop Cassian (1892-1965), his successor; A. Kartashev (1875-1960), G.P. Fedotov (1886-1951), P. Evdokimov (1901-1970), Father Boris Bobrinskoy and the Frenchman, Olivier Clément. Three professors, Fathers Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann, and John Meyendorff, moved to America, where they played a decisive role in the development of American Orthodoxy. A list of books and articles published by teachers at the Institute between 1925 and 1947 runs to ninety-two pages, and includes seventy full-scale books — a remarkable achievement, rivaled by the staffs of few theological academies (however large) in any Church. Saint Sergius is also noted for its choir, which has done much to revive the use of the ancient ecclesiastical chants of Russia. Almost entirely Russian between the two wars, the Institute now draws the majority of its students from other nationalities: in 1981, for example, of the thirty-four students, there were seven Russians (all except one brought up in France), seven Greeks, five Serbs, one Georgian, one Romanian, seven French, two Belgians, two from Africa, and one each from Holland and Israel. Courses are now mainly in French.

In western Europe during the post-war period there has also been an active group of Orthodox theologians belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, including Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958), Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine) of Brussels, Archbishop Alexis (van der Mensbrugghe) (1899-1980) and Archbishop Peter (l’Huillier) (now in the U.S.A.), the last two being converts to Orthodoxy. Another convert, the Frenchman Father Lev (Gillet) (1892-1980), a priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, wrote many books as “A Monk of the Eastern Church.”

Several Russian monasteries exist in Germany and France. The largest is the women’s monastery dedicated to the Lesna icon of the Mother of God, at Provemont in Normandy (Russian Church in Exile); there is a smaller monastery for women at Bussy-en-Othe, in Yonne (Russian Archdiocese of Western Europe). In Great Britain there is the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Ecumenical Patriarchate), founded by Archimandrite Sophrony, a disciple of Father Silvan of Mount Athos, with Russian, Greek, Romanian, German and Swiss monks, and with a women’s community nearby. There are also the Convent of the Annunciation in London (Russian Church in Exile), with a Russian abbess and Arab sisters, and a few smaller foundations elsewhere.

In North America there are between two and three million Orthodox, subdivided into at least fifteen national or jurisdictional groups, and with a total of more than forty bishops. Before the First World War the Orthodox of America, whatever their nationality, looked to the Russian Archbishop for leadership and pastoral care, since among the Orthodox nations it was the Russians who first established churches in the New World. Eight monks, chiefly from Valamo on Lake Ladoga, originally arrived in Alaska in 1794:one on these, Father Herman of Spruce Island, was canonized in 1970. The work in Alaska was greatly encouraged by Innocent Veniaminov, who worked in Alaska and Eastern Siberia from 1823 to 1868, first as a priest and then as bishop. He translated Saint Mathew’s Gospel, the Liturgy, and a catechism into Aleutian. In 1845 he created a seminary at Sitka in Alaska, and in 1859 an auxiliary bishopric was set up there, which became an independent missionary see when Alaska was sold to the U.S. in 1867. In Alaska today, out of a total population of 200,000, there are perhaps 20,000 Orthodox, most of whom are natives; the seminary was reopened in 1973.

Meanwhile in the second part of the nineteenth century, numbers of Orthodox began to settle outside Alaska in other parts of North America. In 1872 the diocese was transferred from Sitka to San Francisco, and in 1905 to New York, although an auxiliary bishop was still attached to Alaska. At the turn of the century, the number of Orthodox was greatly increased by a group of Uniate parishes which was reconciled to Orthodoxy. The future Patriarch Tikhon was Archbishop of North America for nine years (1898-1907). After 1917, when relations with the Church of Russia became confused, each national group formed itself into a separate organization and the present multiplicity of jurisdictions arose. Many see, in Moscow’s grant of autocephaly to the OCA, a hopeful first step towards the restoration of Orthodox unity in America.

The Greek Orthodox in North America number over one million, with more than 400 parishes. They are headed by Archbishop Jakovos, who presides over a synod of ten bishops (one lives in Canada, and another in South America). The Greek Theological School of the Holy Cross at Boston has some 110 students, most of them candidates for the priesthood. The bishops in the Greek Archdiocese in America have come in most cases from Greece, but almost all the parish clergy were born and brought up in the U.S.A. There are two or three small monasteries in the Greek Archdiocese; the much larger Monastery of the Transfiguration at Boston, Mass., originally under the Greeks, is now within the Russian Church in Exile.

The Russians have four theological seminaries in America: Saint Vladimir’s in New York and Saint Tikhon’s in South Canaan, Pennsylvania (both of these belong to the OCA); Holy Trinity Seminary at Jordanville, N.Y. (Russian Church in Exile); and Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (Carpatho-Russian diocese). There are several Russian monasteries, the largest being Holy Trinity, Jordanville, with thirty monks and ten novices. The monastery, as well as maintaining a seminary for theological students, has an active printing press, which produces liturgical books in Church Slavonic, and other books and periodicals in Russian or English. The monks also farm, and have built their own church, decorated by two members of the community with icons and frescoes in the best tradition of Russian religious art.

Orthodox life in America today displays a most encouraging vitality. New parishes are continually being formed and new churches built. In some places there is a shortage of priests, but whereas a generation ago Orthodox clergy in America were often ordained hastily, with little training, today in almost every jurisdiction most if not all ordinands have a theological degree. Orthodox theologians in America are few and often overworked, but their number is gradually increasing. Holy Cross and Saint Vladimir’s both produce substantial periodicals in the English language.

The chief problem which confronts American Orthodoxy is that of nationalism and its place in the life of the Church. Among members of many jurisdictions there is a strong feeling that the present subdivision into national groups is hindering both the internal development of Orthodoxy in America and its witness before the outside world. There is a danger that excessive nationalism will alienate the younger generation of Orthodox from the Church. This younger generation have known no country but America, their interests are American, their primary (often their only) language is English: will they not drift away from Orthodoxy, if their Church insists on worshiping in a foreign tongue, and acts as a repository for cultural relics of the “old country”?

Such is the problem, and many would say that there is only one ultimate solution: to form a single and autocephalous “American Orthodox Church.” This vision of an American autocephalous Church has its most ardent advocates in the OCA, which sees itself as the nucleus of such a Church, and among the Syrians. But there are others, especially among the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Russian Church in Exile, who view with reserve this emphasis upon American Orthodoxy. They are deeply conscious of the value of the Christian civilizations developed over many centuries by the Greek and Slavonic peoples, and they feel that it would be a disastrous impoverishment for the younger generation, if their Church were to sacrifice this great inheritance and to become completely “Americanized.” Yet can the good elements in the national traditions be preserved, without at the same time obscuring the universality of Orthodoxy?

Most of those who favor unification are of course alive to the importance of national traditions, and realize the dangers to which the Orthodox minority in America would be exposed if it cut itself off from its national roots and became immersed in the secularized culture of contemporary America. They feel that the best policy is for Orthodox parishes at present to be “bilingual,” holding services both in the language of the Mother Country and in English. In fact, this “bilingual” situation is now becoming usual in many parts of America. All jurisdictions in principle allow the use of the English language at services and in practice are coming to employ it more and more; English is particularly common in the OCA and the Syrian Archdiocese. For a long time the Greeks, anxious to preserve their Hellenic heritage as a living reality, insisted that the Greek language alone should be used at all services; but in the 1970s this situation changed, and in many parishes English is now employed almost as much as Greek.

Over the past few years there have been increasing signs of cooperation between national groups. In 1954 the Council of Eastern Orthodox Youth Leaders of America was formed, in which the majority of Orthodox youth organizations participate. Since 1960 a committee of Orthodox bishops, representing most (but not all) the national jurisdictions, has been meeting in New York under the presidency of the Greek Archbishop (this committee existed before the war, but had fallen into abeyance over many years). So far this committee, known as the “Standing Conference” or “SCOBA,” has not been able to contribute as much to Orthodox unity as was originally hoped. The grant of autocephaly to the OCA gave rise at the time to sharp controversy, and the underlying problems thus created remain as yet unsolved; but in practice inter-Orthodox collaboration still continues.


A small minority in an alien environment, the Orthodox of the diaspora have found it a hard task even to ensure their survival. But some of them, at any rate, realize that besides mere survival they have a wider task. If they really believe the Orthodox faith to be the true Catholic faith, they cannot cut themselves off from the non-Orthodox majority around them, but they have a duty to tell others what Orthodoxy is. They must bear witness before the world. The diaspora has a “missionary” vocation. As the Synod of the Russian Church in Exile said in its Letter of October 1953, Orthodox have been scattered across the world with God’s permission, so that they can “announce to all peoples the true Orthodox faith and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ” (This emphasis on the Second Coming will surprise many Christians of the present day, but it would not have seemed strange to Christians in the first century. The events of the last fifty years have led to a strong eschatological consciousness in many Russian Orthodox circles).

What does this mean for Orthodox? It does not of course imply proselytism in the bad sense. But it means that Orthodox — without sacrificing anything good in their national traditions — need to break away from a narrow and exclusive nationalism: they must be ready to present their faith to others, and must not behave as if it were something restricted to Greeks or Russians, and of no relevance to anybody else. They must rediscover the universality of Orthodoxy.

If Orthodox are to present their faith effectively to other people, two things are necessary. First, they need to understand their own faith better: thus the fact of the diaspora has forced Orthodox to examine themselves and to deepen their own Orthodoxy. Secondly, they need to understand the situation of those to whom they speak: Without abandoning their Orthodoxy, they must enter into the experience of other Christians, seeking to appreciate the distinctive outlook of western Christendom, its past history and present difficulties. They must take an active part in the intellectual and religious movements of the contemporary west — in Biblical research, in the Patristic revival, in the Liturgical Movement, in the movement towards Christian unity, in the many forms of Christian social action. They need to “be present” in these movements, making their special Orthodox contribution, and at the same time through their participation learning more about their own tradition.

It is normal to speak of “Eastern Orthodoxy.” But many Orthodox in Europe or America now regard themselves as citizens of the countries where they have settled; they and their children, born and brought up in the west, consider themselves not “eastern” but “western.” Thus a “Western Orthodoxy” has come into existence. Besides born Orthodox, this Western Orthodoxy includes a small but growing number of converts (almost a third of the clergy of the Syrian Archdiocese in America are converts). Most of these Western Orthodox use the Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (the normal Communion Service of the Orthodox Church) in French, English, German, Dutch, Spanish, or Italian. There are, for example, a number of French and German Orthodox parishes, as well as (under the Patriarchate of Moscow) a Dutch Orthodox Mission — all of them following the Byzantine rite. But some Orthodox feel that Western Orthodoxy, to be truly itself, should use specifically western forms of prayer — not the Byzantine Liturgy, but the old Roman or Gallican Liturgies. People often talk about “the Orthodox Liturgy” when they mean the Byzantine Liturgy, as if that and that alone were Orthodox; but they should not forget that the ancient Liturgies of the west, dating back to the first ten centuries, also have their place in the fullness of Orthodoxy.

This conception of a western-rite Orthodoxy has not remained merely a theory. The Orthodox Church of the present day contains an equivalent to the Uniate movement in the Church of Rome. In 1937, when a group of former Old Catholics in France under Monsignor Louis-Charles Winnaert (1880-1937) were received into the Orthodox Church, they were allowed to retain the use of the western rite. This group was originally in the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, and was for many years headed by Bishop Jean de S. Denys (Evgraph Kovalevsky) (1905-1970). At present it is under the Church of Romania. There are several small western-rite Orthodox groups in the U.S.A. Various experimental Orders of the Mass for use by western-rite Orthodox have been drawn up, in particular by Archbishop Alexis (van der Mensbrugghe).


In the past the different autocephalous Churches — often through no fault of their own — have been too much isolated from one another. At times the only formal contact has been the regular exchange of letters between the heads of Churches. Today this isolation still continues, but both in the diaspora and in the older Orthodox Churches there is a growing desire for cooperation. Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches has played its part here: at the great gatherings of the “Ecumenical Movement,” the Orthodox delegates from different autocephalous Churches have found themselves ill-prepared to speak with a united voice. Why, they have asked, does it require the World Council of Churches to bring us Orthodox together? Why do we ourselves never meet to discuss our common problems? The urgent need for cooperation is also felt by many Orthodox youth movements, particularly in the diaspora. Valuable work has been done here by Syndesmos, an international organization founded in 1953, in which Orthodox youth groups of many different countries collaborate.

In the attempts at cooperation a leading part is naturally played by the senior hierarch of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch. After the First World War the Patriarchate of Constantinople contemplated gathering a “Great Council” of the whole Orthodox Church, and as a first step towards this, plans were made for a “Pro-Synod” which was to prepare the agenda for the Council. A preliminary Inter-Orthodox Committee met on Mount Athos in 1930, but the Pro-Synod itself never materialized, largely owing to obstruction from the Turkish government. Around 1950 the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras revived the idea, and after repeated postponements a “Pan-Orthodox Conference” eventually met at Rhodes in September 1961. Further Pan-Orthodox Conferences have met at Rhodes (1963, 1964) and Geneva (1968, 1976, 1982). The chief items on the agenda of the “Great Council,” when and if it eventually meets, will probably be the problems of Orthodox disunity in the west, the relations of Orthodoxy with other Christian Churches (“ecumenism”), and the application of Orthodox moral teaching in the modern world.



We have already spoken of the missionary witness of the diaspora, but it remains to say something of Orthodox missionary work in the stricter sense of preaching to the heathen. Since the time of Joseph de Maistre it has been fashionable in the west to say that Orthodoxy is not a missionary Church. Certainly Orthodox have often failed to perceive their missionary responsibilities; yet de Maistre’s charge is not entirely just. Anyone who reflects on the mission of Cyril and Methodius, on the work of their disciples in Bulgaria and Serbia, and on the story of Russia’s conversion, will realize that Byzantium can claim missionary achievements as great as those of Celtic or Roman Christianity in the same period. Under Turkish rule it became impossible to undertake missionary work of an open kind; but in Russia, where the Church remained free, missions continued uninterrupted — although there were periods of diminished activity — from Stephen of Perm (and even before) to Innocent of Kamchatka and the beginnings of the twentieth century. It is easy for a westerner to forget how vast a missionary field the Russian continent embraced. Russian missions extended outside Russia, not only to Alaska (of which we have spoken already), but to China, Japan, and Korea.

What of the present? Under the Bolsheviks, as under the Turks, open missionary work is impossible. But the missions founded by Russia in China, Japan, and Korea still exist, while a new Orthodox mission has shot up suddenly and spontaneously in Central Africa. At the same time both the Orthodox in America and the older Churches in the eastern Mediterranean, who do not suffer from the same disabilities as their brethren in communist countries, are beginning to show a new missionary awareness.

The Chinese mission at Peking was set up in 1715, and its origins go back earlier still, to 1686, when a group of Cossacks entered service in the Chinese Imperial Guard and took their chaplain with them. Mission work, however, was not undertaken on any scale until the end of the nineteenth century, and by 1914 there were still only some 5,000 converts, although there were already Chinese priests and a seminary for Chinese theological students. (It has been the constant policy of Orthodox missions to build up a native clergy as quickly as possible). After the 1917 Revolution, so far from ceasing, missionary work increased considerably, since a large number of Russian émigrés, including many clergy, fled eastward from Siberia. In China and Manchuria in 1939 there were 200,000 Orthodox (mostly Russians, but including some converts) with five bishops and an Orthodox university at Harbin.

Since 1945 the situation has changed utterly. The communist government in China, when it ordered all non-Chinese missionaries to leave the country, gave no preferential treatment to the Russians: the Russian clergy, together with most of the faithful, have either been “repatriated” to the U.S.S.R., or have escaped to America. In the 1950s there was at least one Chinese Orthodox bishop, with some 20,000 faithful; how much of Chinese Orthodoxy survives today it is difficult to tell. Since 1957 the Chinese Church, despite its small size, has been autonomous; since the Chinese government allows no foreign missions, this is probably the only means whereby it can hope to survive. Isolated in Red China, this tiny Orthodox community has a thorny path before it.

The Japanese Orthodox Church was founded by Father (later Archbishop) Nicholas Kassatkin (1836-1912), canonized in 1970. Sent in 1861 to serve the Russian Consulate in Japan, he decided from the start to work not only among Russians but among Japanese, and after a time he devoted himself exclusively to missionary work. He baptized his first convert in 1868, and four years later two Japanese Orthodox were ordained priests. Curiously enough, the first Japanese Orthodox bishop, John Ono (consecrated 1941), a widower, was son-in-law to the first Japanese convert. After a period of discouragement between the two World Wars, Orthodoxy in Japan is now reviving. There are today about forty parishes, with 25,000 faithful. The seminary at Tokyo, closed in 1919, was reopened in 1954. Practically all the clergy are Japanese, but one of the two bishops is American. There is a small but steady stream of converts — about 200-300 in each year, mostly young people in their twenties or thirties, some with higher education. The Orthodox Church in Japan is autonomous or self-governing in its internal life, while remaining under the general spiritual care of its Mother Church, the Moscow Patriarchate. Though limited in numbers, it can justly claim to be no longer a foreign mission but an indigenous Church of the Japanese people.

The Russian mission in Korea, founded in 1898, has always been on a much smaller scale. The first Korean Orthodox priest was ordained in 1912. In 1934 there were 820 Orthodox in Korea, but today there would seem to be less. The mission suffered in 1950 during the Korean civil war, when the church was destroyed; but it was rebuilt in 1953, and a larger church was constructed in 1967. At present the mission is under the charge of the Greek diocese of New Zealand.

Besides these Asian Orthodox Churches, there is now an exceedingly lively African Orthodox Church in Uganda and Kenya. Entirely indigenous from the start, African Orthodoxy did not arise through the preaching of missionaries from the traditional Orthodox lands, but was a spontaneous movement among Africans themselves. The founders of the African Orthodox movement were two native Ugandans, Rauben Sebanja Mukasa Spartas (born 1899, bishop 1972, died 1982) and his friend Obadiah Kabanda Basajjakitalo. Originally brought up as Anglicans, they were converted to Orthodoxy in the 1920s, not as a result of personal contact with other Orthodox, but through their own reading and study. Over the past forty years Rauben and Obadiah have energetically preached their new-found faith to their fellow Africans, building up a community which, according to some reports, numbers more than 100,000, mostly in Kenya. In 1982, after the death of Bishop Rauben, there were two African bishops.

At first the canonical position of Ugandan Orthodoxy was in some doubt, as originally Rauben and Obadiah established contact with an organization emanating from the United States, the “African Orthodox Church,” which, though using the title “Orthodox,” has in fact no connection with the true and historical Orthodox communion. In 1932 they were both ordained by a certain Archbishop Alexander of this Church, but towards the end of that same year they became aware of the dubious status of the “African Orthodox Church,” whereupon they severed all relations with it and approached the Patriarchate of Alexandria. But only in 1946, when Rauben visited Alexandria in person, did the Patriarch formally recognize the African Orthodox community in Uganda, and definitely take it under his care. In recent years the bond with Alexandria has been considerably strengthened, and since 1959 one of the Metropolitans of the Patriarchate — a Greek — has been charged with special responsibility for missionary work in Central Africa. African Orthodox have been sent to study theology in Greece, and since 1960 more than eighty Africans have been y ordained as deacons and priests (until that year, the only .priests were the two founders themselves). In 1982 a seminary for training priests was opened at Nairobi. Many African Orthodox have high ambitions, and are anxious to cast their net still wider. In the words of Father Spartas: “And, methinks, that in no time this Church is going to embrace all the Africans at large and thereby become one of the leading Churches in Africa” (Quoted in F. B. Welbourn, East African Rebels, London, 1961, p. 83; this book gives a critical but not unsympathetic account of Orthodoxy in Uganda). The rise of Orthodoxy in Uganda has of course to be seen against the background of African nationalism: one of the obvious attractions of Orthodox Christianity in Ugandan eyes is the fact that it is entirely unconnected with the colonial regimes of the past hundred years. Yet, despite certain political undertones, Orthodoxy in Central Africa is a genuinely religious movement.

The enthusiasm with which these Africans have embraced Orthodoxy has caught the imagination of the Orthodox world at large, and has helped to arouse missionary interest in many places. Paradoxically, in Africa hitherto it has been the Africans who have taken the initiative and converted themselves to Orthodoxy. Perhaps the Orthodox, encouraged by the Ugandan precedent, will now establish missions elsewhere on their own initiative, instead of waiting for the Africans to come to them. The “missionary” situation of the diaspora has made Orthodox better aware of the meaning of their own tradition: may not a closer involvement in the task of evangelizing non-Christian countries have the same effect?


Every Christian body is today confronted by grave problems, but the Orthodox have perhaps greater difficulties to face than most. In contemporary Orthodoxy it is not always easy “to recognize victory beneath the outward appearance of failure, to discern the power of God fulfilling itself in weakness, the true Church within the historic reality” (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 246). But if there are obvious weaknesses, there are also many signs of life. Whatever the doubts and ambiguities of Church-State relations in communist countries, today as in the past Orthodoxy has its martyrs and confessors. The decline of Orthodox monasticism, unmistakable in many areas, is not by any means universal; and there are centers which may prove the source of a future monastic resurrection. The spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy — for example, the Philokalia and the Jesus Prayer — so far from being forgotten, are used and appreciated more and more. Orthodox theologians are few in number, but some of them — often under the stimulus of western learning — are rediscovering vital elements in their theological inheritance. A shortsighted nationalism is hindering the Church in its work, but there are growing attempts at cooperation. Missions are still on a very small scale, but Orthodoxy is showing a greater awareness of their importance. No Orthodox who is realistic and honest with himself can feel complacent about the present state of his Church; yet despite its many problems and manifest human shortcomings, Orthodoxy can at the same time look to the future with confidence and hope.

 From the book The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Now  Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)