Glory to God in the Diocese of the South: Back to the Future
Fr. Stephen Freeman
Almost the first statement from Metropolitan Jonah to the diocese at this years assembly was, "The Diocese of the South is the future of the Orthodox Church in America." I took that as one of the most hopeful things I've heard in the last number of years. It is an affirmation of what we are doing now - but also an affirmation of a "future" that was established in the very beginnings of our Diocese.
Three things come most to mind when I hear the stories of our diocese' founding - stories that I have heard fondly recalled particularly by Vladyka Dmitri.
The first is the missionary vision of an indigenous Orthodox Church. Vladyka Dmitri, himself an "adult" convert to the faith, has always expressed a great warmth and enthusiasm for the Church's outreach to the people around us. "I have always gone wherever I was invited," he once told me, and advised me to do the same. It has been a cornerstone of my own missionary work as an Orthodox priest. Our diocese was once unusual for its large number of "converts" to the faith. Today, only one or two members of the Holy Synod can claim to have be born into an Orthodox family while converts make up the largest percentage of our clergy. In this regard - the Diocese of the South has become the present and not just the future of the OCA.
A second thing is a lively commitment to the faith. Orthodoxy is not a "religious option" in a consumerdriven culture: it is the fullness of the faith as given to us in Christ. Were Orthodoxy simply an option from a range of choices - our task would be to provide advertising and consumer information. However, because it is a gift from God and not the creation of man, it is a life to be embraced and lived. The first task of our life as Orthodox Christians has always been to become Orthodox Christians, and to continue becoming. Vladyka Jonah's words to the assembly in Atlanta were precisely a call to that deep life of the faith. He urged us to become "sober" (neptic). In a world driven by the passions, Orthodox Christians must learn to be driven by Christ and Christ alone.
The third thing is a matter which goes to the very founding of the diocese itself. From the beginning it was decided that the Diocese would teach and practice the tithe: returning to God a tenth of what God has given us. For years the diocese stood alone in this commitment and was often seen as unduly "protestant" in its handling of money. (Never-mind the fact that the tithe and the principle of tithing is the only form of stewardship actually taught in the Scriptures.) For a time the diocese also asked for the national assessment (often referred to as the "head tax"). This year the diocese approved a 2010 budget that asks only the tithe - the original commitment of the Churches in the diocese - back to the future.
I pray that the Metropolitan's words are prophetic. For the practice of such biblical principles as the tithe has resulted in the Diocese of the South, despite its lesser membership, having one of the largest income of any diocese in the OCA. It is from such abundance that the Diocese can continue to commit 25 percent of its budget to mission and parish development. The parish's stewardship to the diocese is clearly an investment in the lives of parishes within the diocese. The sense of trust and family that is a hallmark of the diocese are deeply related to how we handle money. How we handle money - like every other aspect of the diocese - is deeply related to the Gospel of Christ - as it should be.
The Diocese of the South, by God's grace, may indeed become the future of the OCA. Such a gift will mean that we are remaining faithful to the Godly vision that was given to us in our founding. By God's grace it will mean that the gift God gave to us in our founding was always meant for the whole Church. May God grant us all such a good future and grant many years to all of our diocesan family!