St Tikhon of America

St. Tikhon of America

(Oct. 9)

A Vision of Orthodox Mission

Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky

(Director of External Affairs and Inter-Church Relations for the Orthodox Church in America, and Editor of The Orthodox Church Magazine)

The focus of the following article is, "Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, Enlightener of North America."  With the approach of the All American Council in November, Fr. Leonid's words provide a meaningful reflection as we consider the election of the OCA's next Metropolitan.  St. Tikhon's personal qualities as described by Fr. Kishkovsky -- "generosity, tolerance, flexibility, imagination, pastoral sensitivity" as well as understanding -- describe not only desirable characteristics for Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops, but for all Orthodox Christians.  Let us pray that the Spirit of wisdom as embodied by St. Tikhon, will guide, with all power, the forthcoming AAC.

Introduction:  St. Tikhon and the Russian Church "The life and image of Patriarch Tikhon in the history of the Orthodox Church is forever connected with his service as Patriarch of the Church of Russia from 1917 to 1925.  These dates encompass the Bolshevik revolution and the beginning of communist rule, the period of civil war and religious persecution, and the emergence of enduring patterns of anti-religious policy in the Soviet Union. From the time of his elevation to the patriarchal throne to the time of his death, Patriarch Tikhon defended the Church of Russia and her people by raising his voice against repression, state political abuse and manipulation of every variety.  He denounced state terror.  He challenged the hatred towards God and "class enemy" proclaimed as the ideal in the new state.  All the same, he appealed for obedience to legitimate decrees of the Soviet state -- that is, to decrees not compelling violations of piety or faith.  He rejected the political declarations of emigré churchmen on the subject of the restoration of the monarchy.  He was unbending before the threats and plots of the leaders of church schisms.

St. Tikhon's Episcopacy in North America:   Concern for All Our attention, however, is drawn to Patriarch Tikhon's episcopal service in North America from 1898 to 1907.  When Bishop Tikhon (Belavin) arrived in New York on December 12, 1898, to take up his responsibilities as ruling bishop of the vast diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska, encompassing all of North America, he was, at 33 years of age, one of the youngest and perhaps one of the most "ordinary" bishops of the Russian Church.  He was not known for intellectual or theological brilliance;  he did not have the reputation of an eloquent speaker;  he did not show signs of administrative genius.  Nevertheless, his episcopal service in North America incarnated a remarkable vision of Orthodox mission in the New World.

This vision is relevant to us today because it had to take into account factors and realities which still confront us.....: i.e. the encounter of the Orthodox Church, a small minority in America, with the larger American society;  the ethnic and linguistic pluralism within the Orthodox community; and finally the question of how to be a mission in this context.

The North American diocese administered by Bishop Tikhon was a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic diocese.  Its responsibilities included continuation of the missionary work in Alaska, nurture of immigrant communities in Canada and the United States, witness to the Orthodox faith in the midst of heterodox Christian bodies.  Bishop Tikhon ministered to Arabs and Greeks, Galicians and Carpatho-Russians, Russians and Serbs, Byelorussians and Ukrainians, Eskimos and Aleuts, Indians and Americans.  His flock worshipped in Greek and Arabic, Slavonic and English, and in the languages of the Alaskan native peoples.....(Tikhon's) pastoral and missionary attitude to language in the life of the Church continued the tradition of Bishop Innocent (Veniaminov) and the Alaska mission, which itself continued the tradition of Cyril and Methodius and their mission to the Slavs.

The bishop of such a diverse flock clearly required generosity and tolerance, flexibility and imagination.  Precisely these qualities characterized the episcopal service of Bishop Tikhon in North America and enabled him to see his diverse flock as one flock.

By 1903 Bishop Tikhon had arranged for the consecration of the auxiliary bishop for Alaska, and on March 12, 1904, Bishop Tikhon and his auxiliary, Bishop Innocent, consecrated Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny as Bishop of Brooklyn, auxiliary for Arabic parishes in North America.

In 1903 Bishop Tikhon inaugurated the process of study and preparation that led in 1905-1906 to the transformation of the Missionary school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, into a seminary for the diocese.  In 1905, Tikhon, by then elevated to Archbishop, gave his blessing for the initial steps towards the creation of a monastery at South Canaan, Pennsylvania.

All of these developments were signs that the North American mission was coming to be an increasingly self-sufficient local Church.  A document written by Archbishop Tikhon in December 1905 shows the maturity and clarity of his prophetic vision for the Orthodox Church in North America, and gives eloquent testimony to the fact that his decisions and actions in ordering the life of his diocese were helping to embody his vision of Orthodox mission in America.

In response to a questionaire sent to all diocesan bishops of the Russian Church as part of the official preparation for the long-awaited Council of the Church in Russia, Archbishop Tikhon outlined his ideas on the structure of the Orthodox mission in North America.  He proposed that the diocese become an exarchate of the Russian Church, but an exarchate with great autonomy.....He saw the need for autonomy and independence in matters affecting the internal life and structure of each national or ethnic diocese or vicariate, and also the necessity for a common mind, expressed through decisions of the bishops meeting in council under the presidency of the archbishop, in matters of common and general concern.  He went so far as to mention the word "autocephaly" in connection with the organization of the Orthodox Church in North America.

A Vision of Conciliarity: The development of diocesan institutions, the creation of an "episcopal college" for North America, the pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual flock could perhaps be seen as the normal actions of a good, ordinary bishop trained in the conservative setting of the late 19th century Russian Church.  What comes as something of a surprise is the commitment of Bishop Tikhon to the establishment of a conciliar spirit and style in his North American diocese.  From the beginning of his American ministry, Bishop Tikhon gathered together his diocesan clergy whenever possible for discussions of the problems of the mission's life.....On (one) occasion (particularly) Archbishop Tikhon said that he considered regular meetings of the diocesan clergy to be desirable for discussion and conciliar resolution of questions affecting the mission's life and activities.  He specified, futhermore, that one of the most important questions to be considered was the active involvement of lay people in the up-building of Church and parish life in America.....(A resulting statement issued in a local publication explained that) in America.....the Church must return to its "conciliar nature," must become again a living organism.  Clergy and laity have a common responsibility for the life of the Church.

The conciliar vision articulated by Archbishop Tikhon in America reflected the thinking on this subject within the Church of Russia.  At the end of the nineteenth century there were some in the Russian Church who did not accept the status quo as normative, and who believed that the welfare of the Church and the success of its mission required changes.  One of the fundamental changes envisioned was the liberation of the Church from its bureaucratic bonds and the creation of a conciliar and truly Orthodox order and style of Church administration.  The Council which elected Tikhon as Patriarch in 1917 was an embodiment of this movement to conciliarity, a movement which in the Russian Church was overwhelmed by the events of the Communist Revolution and the nearly total liquidation of the Church in the 1920's and 1930's.  Only now, in (recent years), has a living conciliar consciousness begun to emerge once again in the life of the Church of Russia.   Although this development is still tentative and fragmentary, we may dare to hope that the conciliar tradition of the Church of Russia will be strengthened in the years ahead.

For Orthodox in America, the inheritance of Tikhon, our own bishop and father in God, remains a living tradition of pastoral wisdom and missionary vision.  The conciliar vision which he embodied in his relationship with clergy and laity remains a challenge for Orthodox Americans every time our bishops meet in council with the clergy and laity.  There can be no doubt that Archbishop Tikhon, when he left his American diocese for the last time on March 26, 1907, saw the North American mission not as a permanent extension of the Church of Russia, but as the local Church in America.

An inspiring and touching summary of his vision is to be found in his farewell sermon, preached on Forgiveness Sunday, March 17, 1907.

".....Orthodox people must care for the dissemination of the Orthodox faith among the heterodox.  Christ the Savior said that men lighting a lamp do not put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5:15).  The light of Orthodoxy also is not lit for a small circle of people.  No, the Orthodox faith is catholic;  it remembers the commandment of it Founder:  "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.  Make disciples of all nations"  (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19).  It is our obligation to share our spiritual treasures, our truth, our light and our joy with those who do not have these gifts.  And this duty lies not only on pastors and missionaries, but also on lay people, for the Church of Christ, in the wise comparison of St. Paul, is a body, and in the life of the body every member takes part.

"For each of us the dissemination of the Christian faith must be a favorite task, close to our hearts and precious to us;  in this task each member of the Church must take an active part -- some by personal missionary effort, some by monetary support and service to the "needs of the saints," and some by prayer to the Lord that He might "establish and increase His Church," that He might "teach the word of truth" to those who do not know Christ, that He might "reveal to them the gospel of righteousness, and unite them to His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.""  (Prayer for the Catechumens at the Divine Liturgy).   (The preceding was taken from, "The Legacy of Saint Vladimir," SVS Press, Crestwood, New York, 1990, pp. 267-273.)