Tonight I am filled with emotion. Tonight my daughter received her first communion as an Orthodox Christian, after having been in the Orthodox Church for eight years. And tonight a bishop who is beloved to me received his last communion for the forseeable future.
This will be incomprehensible for my friends who are not Orthodox, and I have tried to avoid this kind of controversy in my writings. But the fact remains that Orthodox Christians, particularly in the United States, use the denial of communion as a weapon against each other. This beloved bishop has had enough. He feels that, as a bishop, if he is not taking a stand against this kind of disunity, he is part the problem.
I have never understood the Orthodox Communion Litmus Test, but it goes something like this: An Orthodox Christian visiting another Orthodox church approaches the chalice for communion. The priest has been instructed by his bishop to stop the communicant and ask, "What church do you go to?" By this he means, "What jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church are you a part of?" If the communicant answers with the "right" jurisdiction -- that is, one whose bishop his bishop likes and approves of, the communicant is allowed to receive. If not, the communicant is denied.
For a group of Christians that calls itself the True Church, this is pretty disappointing. The True Church can't even share communion with other members of the True Church? What can the "heretics" be thinking about us?
The word "canonical" is often bandied about and this has always left me even more confused. "Canonical," as far as I've always understood, means "according to canon." And we do have canons in the Church -- ancient traditions that bind us together (or at least, are supposed to.) After 2,000 years, none of us is completely "canonical." In the United States, we violate the canons by, for example, having two Orthodox bishops in the same city. Nevertheless, this word "canonical" is used to mean "my bishop doesn't like your bishop." The "canonicity" of said bishop is not actually in question. It's not about how scrupulously his group follows Church Tradition. It's about whether said bishop is on the approved "list" put together by the bishops with the most money, turf and power.
I will anger people by saying these things. And to be honest, this makes me nervous. But, as this beloved bishop pointed out, just before receiving his last communion, Jesus was scourged and mocked and crucified, while modern Christians tend to dislike being inconvenienced or made unpopular for the sake of speaking out.
This does not mean that I have courage. I don't. I grieve every day about the rift between me and many of my Orthodox friends. We don't talk about it because we do care about each other, and it hurts to talk about. Saying these things will create even more distance between us.
But watching this bishop, who is beloved to me, (and has been since I was a troubled teenager), receive his last communion broke my heart. I know how to write. And it is not for me to remain silent any more.
And even amid all the sorrow and disunity,
CHRIST HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH, AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE.
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