by Father John Dresko
Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, once famously said that “all politics are local.” What he meant was that if potholes are not fixed, no one can get a job where they live, and house prices are skyrocketing out of reach for most people, no one will be happy with the work of any politician, no matter how eloquent or hard-working. Grand visions (if there are any) are words wasted as they float off ignored into the air.
We are in a presidential election season, and one which already seems to be particularly vicious and full of mud-slinging. But the reality is that Speaker O’Neill was right. All the rhetoric, commericials (incessant, endless commercials!), and spending ultimately mean nothing if I don’t feel safe, secure and reasonably certain at moving forward. If I feel the game is fixed, if I feel that no one cares that I bang my car’s wheels on the big hole in front of my driveway, or that I am “not better than I was [however many] years ago,” everyone running for election is in danger of being ignored or, worse, thrown into the trash dumpster of history. Eloquent words even saying things with which we agree and which we like to hear mean nothing if I don’t think things are going well. Political philosophy and party mean little when things are bad at my house.
We might not realize it, but Tip O’Neill was also speaking about the Church. Many don’t stop to think about it, but the Church absolutely has a political structure. First of all, the Church is hierarchical — people are in obedience to others above them. There are offices and councils, there are budgets and treasurers, there are laws and penalties for breaking those laws. Our Church has received a Tradition that is conciliar. Our doctrines, beliefs and liturgical life have been forged throughout history by, in many ways, a political process. The outcomes ultimately have to pass muster in the consenting mind of the Church, but the process certainly is political.
As I write these words, the so-called “Great and Holy Council of Primates” is meeting in Crete. The excitement over this council, which had been in the making for over 50 years, has been considerably dampened in the past few weeks as the agreed-upon structure of the council began to unravel. The pre-conciliar documents about six areas of Church life came under attack from various corners of the universal Church, with no real process to change them. The rules of the council were decisions would be passed by consensus of Church votes, that is, each Church had one vote, not each bishop as in traditional Orthodox council history. Not every Orthodox Church in the world was invited, including our own Orthodox Church in America. Finally, in the past two weeks, the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Antioch withdrew, fighting with each other over jurisdiction in Qatar. Bulgaria and Russia withdrew over concerns about the process and the documents. Despite all this, the Ecumenical Patriarch, a bishop with a diocese of about 2,000-3,000 people, issued a statement that any decision made by the council would be “binding on every Orthodox Church in the world.” Outsiders can only look at the past three weeks and wonder.
I have been involved in Church politics at every level, including the highest, for over thirty years. It is necessary and important work. I even like it. But may I ask a silly question? Does any of this matter to any of you? Have you thought more than a moment about it? Did you even know any of this happened?
Isn’t it true that “all politics are local?” No matter what is going on in Crete, Moscow, Istanbul, New York, or any other Orthodox capital, isn’t it "my parish" where we all experience the Church? The council is not “changing” the Faith. So no one should be worried about the white noise emanating from Crete or anywhere else. We need to make sure that we pray for the universal Church, we must vigilantly guard the Faith and always be connected with every other Orthodox community in the world. We cannot be parochial.
But we must make sure that our own little corner of the universal Church is in good shape. If it is, then we are also in good shape. How do we measure this? In my parish,
Are we doing the divine services? We are not a monastery, but we have regular, lenten and festal celebrations. They are beautiful and prayerful.
Are we providing instruction in the Orthodox Faith? Regular classes are held during the school year, both for adults and young people. Regular instruction of catechumens takes place.
Do we missionize the world? Over the past five years we have welcomed about 30 new Orthodox Christians. The welcoming and friendly atmosphere not only brings people in, but makes staying so much more pleasurable, for them and everyone else!
Is the Orthodox Faith proclaimed? Sermons are crafted to teach and challenge everyone to live a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, life of the Church.
Do we care for those whom God brings into our life, even the “least of the brethren?” I see outreach to the homeless, prayer for the sick and the dying, celebration of life’s joys and sharing of sorrows. Confessions are regularly heard of those who drag their broken spirits in for healing.
In other words, are the potholes of my life addressed, cared for, and fixed in my local community — my parish? If they are, then the controversies, disputes, and even dysfunction, of the levels of Church life above us don’t really create a lot of ripples in our lives, do they?