When the dad in question is the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops inAmerica (SCOBA), and the children are the millions of Orthodox Christians inthe United States, the neglect becomes a catastrophe. Yet this isprecisely whatSCOBA has done to its spiritual children across America.
Consider the words of John Catsimatidis, then vice chairman of the ArchdiocesanCouncil of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America. In defense ofPresident Clinton's behavior during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Mr.Catsimatidis remarked in the September 14, 1998 issue of the New York DailyNews that "Sex is sex: It happens--and it's been happening for a millionyears.... I don't know anyone who's committed adultery who hasn't liedabout it."
Now, I am a young, single Orthodox Christian, and if there is anyone whoshould rejoice in such a "party" mentality it should be me. However, thereis little cause for celebration in the idea that "sex is sex" when oneconsiders the emotional and physical damage that casual sex inflicts onyoungpeople and families. That a church leader would voice this poisonous ideais scary.
Where are Orthodox bishops to help correct such risky thinking?
Sadly, in the last tumultuous decade Orthodox bishops in America have placedvirtually no emphasis on issues of sexual morality. The result is thatAmerican Orthodoxy has no voice in shaping the culture it finds itself in.
Compare our ecclesiastical silence with the public ministry of CardinalJosephBernadin on life issues, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on human rights.NoAmerican Orthodox bishop has assumed a similar role of public moralleadership in recent times.
A few decades ago, Orthodox Christians across America rejoiced when now-retired Archbishop Iakovos marched with Martin Luther King Jr. insupport of civil rights. But this model of leadership has become the exception, notthe norm. While the Orthodox Church in America issued a promising synodal document on human life issues and sexuality in 1992, it failed to generateacontinuing conversation on moral concerns. The document offered no localparish strategies for helping men and women incorporate the church's wisdominto their lives.
As the member bishops of SCOBA prepare to meet in 2001, it is urgent thatmoral issues be given priority over administrative issues. SCOBA can dothisby publicly focusing its energies on the young men, women, and families whowill make up the future of Orthodoxy in America. They could, for example,issue a series of accessible pastoral teachings on concerns such aschastity,dating, marriage, and the single life.
But we also have to remember that throughouthistory, God has moved people to speak out in public on issues of life anddeath and general morality. From Moses' bold challenge to Pharaoh, throughPaul's epistles instructing the Body of Christ in specific moral laws, tothemartyrs who died valiantly speaking truth to the Soviet Empire, people offaith havealways maintained a public dimension to their witness.
In fact, the recent council of the world's largest Orthodox Church--the Year2000 Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church--confirms this.Thesebishops not only released a thorough statement on social and moral issues,but also announced the glorification of thousands of martyrs as saints. Thehierarchy of the Church of Greece has also become active in the publicsquareover the issue of religious identity. As these efforts show, the OrthodoxChurch does indeed have an aspect that includes appropriate action in civillife. So why can't U.S. bishops talk about sexualityoutside the confessional?
The challenge before SCOBA for the next decade is great. It should followthe example of its sister church in Russia and bear witness to moral truths.Without that unity, mere administrative unity would be meaningless. Thoughthe church currently lives in a morally unhealthy culture, the situation inthe end is not hopeless. Orthodoxy has historicallysurvived, and even borne glorious fruit, under the most horrible of culturalcircumstances. All the united false humanism of the Soviet empire could notdestroy Orthodox Christianity. In our own time, a morally united OrthodoxChurch can overcome the false humanism of the sexual revolution with similarsuccess. And despite their corporate silence, SCOBA is blessed withbishopswho are quite capable of providing leadership on issues of morality.