Editorial: The New Americanism, Orthodox History and Unity in America

In the closing years of the 19th century, a number of Roman Catholic leaders in America were accused of a heresy called Americanism, and Pope Leo XIII wrote an apostolic letter specifically denouncing elements of this teaching, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. Americanism was essentially the emphasis on American political values over against the Roman Catholic political tradition, which was at the time at least distinctly uneasy regarding political positions such as the separation of church and state, freedom of the press, liberalism (in the classic sense) and the individualism which so marks American culture in general. While the episode in Catholic history was really quite minor, what was at stake was the question of religious identity in American society. It was probably not until the election of John F. Kennedy to the American presidency that Roman Catholics came to feel that they had finally come into their own in America, despite their presence on the continent for nearly as long as the English Separatists who founded the seminal colonies of American national life.

In our time, it would be regarded as absurd that anyone would accuse American Catholics of heresy over a devotion to such staples of American political values. Setting aside for the moment the controversial peculiarities of modern American Roman Catholicism even within the wider Roman communion, it must be admitted that the “Americanists,” such as they may have been, have essentially won. Few American Catholics would say that one cannot be fully American and yet fully Roman Catholic. There has come to be no contradiction seen between these identities. (For an example of a rather less successful merger of such values, one need only look at the liberation theology of South American Catholic Marxists.)

Like those Roman Catholics living in 19th century America, for Orthodox Christians living in 21st century America, the question of how exactly one is to be faithful to one’s communion in this particular place is again paramount. Though the debates about Orthodoxy’s history, present and future in America range widely—from canons to language to proofs to corruption to double-dealing to controversial candidates for the episcopacy or canonization—the question at the heart of all these debates is really this: What is our identity?

One attempt to grapple with our past and our future might also be termed Americanism. Unlike those 19th century Roman Catholics, however, modern Orthodox Americanists (not to be confused with Orthodox Americans) have chosen different elements of American identity with which to interpret and (I would argue) distort not only our history but our faith.


Perhaps the clearest and most troubling such element is the spirit of legalism which pervades Americanist readings of our history, accompanied by their prescriptions for our future. The narrative typically follows this shape: Because the Church of Russia was the first in America (in Alaska, 1794), it gained immediate rights to the whole continent. Thus, when in 1970 it granted autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (the Metropolia), which subsequently renamed itself as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the exclusively legitimate Orthodox Church for America finally was born.

There are numerous problems with this narrative even on purely “legal” grounds: Does jurisdiction in Russian Alaska automatically extend to the entire continent, under the control of multiple colonial powers at the time? Did the Russian Metropolia even view itself as exclusively legitimate prior to the establishment of other jurisdictions in America? What does it mean that the Metropolia granted canonical release to the Antiochian parishes operating on its territory? For the purposes of ecclesiastical annexation, do the canons actually allow for appointing bishops outside one’s canonical territory? (The opposite, really.)

But the issue here is not really all these legal grounds. For one thing, it is anachronistic to read our history in this fashion, since there is no indication prior to about 1927 that anyone was making the claim that all Orthodox in America had been united under the Russians, that the Russians enjoyed an exclusive, universally acknowledged claim over the whole continent, or that the Metropolia ever really regarded the other Orthodox in America outside its jurisdiction as illegitimate, uncanonical, etc. But now there are some commentators saying precisely all these things, some even going so far now as to claim that all those outside the Metropolia’s jurisdiction were really not Orthodox. Such a claim, if true, would render most Orthodox Christians currently in America bereft of the sacraments.

What is most troubling, however, is this dedication to legal technicalities. It is certainly a major facet of American life that we like to get the legal authorities involved at the drop of a hat, so much so that, even when we are not actually involving the police or the courts, we still think and speak in such precise technicalities. Even if this anachronistic narrative of our history were actually defensible on purely canonical, legal grounds, this spirit goes wholly against the spirit of the Orthodox Christian faith. We were not appointed by God to be lawyers for His Kingdom, but rather “able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Reading history in order to find ammunition for “claims,” etc., is basically a Westernization, a distortion of our church life along lines foreign to our basic ethos. It is what Fr. Georges Florovsky would have called a “pseudomorphosis” (a term he used when referring to the distortions which accrued in Russian theological life as a result of the “Western Captivity” which led up to the Bolshevik Revolution).

While it is surely an American thing to call out the lawyers and pull out the law books in order to adjudicate nearly every dispute, this is not the content of our Orthodox Christian faith. If we wanted to be Christian legalists, we would find no better home than Calvinism, a theology designed by a lawyer.


A dedication to “the letter” typically leads to sectarianism, the rigid sense that one particular ecclesiastical faction is right while all the others are wrong. At the foundation of this sensibility is also a historiographical problem, the identification of a sort of “golden thread” which stretches unbroken from some favored moment (e.g., St. Herman landing in Russian Alaska) to the current day. The favored sect is the sole lens through which this history is read.

The theological problem at the heart of this side of Americanism is the refusal to look into the faces of fellow Orthodox Christians and see the Church. This ideological approach to faith is the same one which gives rise to totalitarianism in politics, which always necessarily follows a dedication to ideology. What is most important is the transcendent narrative, not the other person. That is why the other can be dehumanized and demonized, and insulting epithets can be hurled at church leaders who do not represent one’s preferred sect. In politics, this leads to persecution, but in ecclesiology, this leads to schism.

I believe that one of the major elements in the Americanist approach to our history and our future is precisely the schismatic spirit, the one that prefers to be “right” rather than to love, the one that makes demands and sets exclusive terms rather than taking every opportunity to work together and sacrifice for the other. This attitude has been rarely more evident than in the recent Internet storm over the newly formed Episcopal Assembly, which it seems can only be up to no possible good. I very much believe that the Americanists want it to fail in its task. I’m not really sure what they would put in its place, however, other than an entirely unrealistic expectation that the overwhelming majority bow to the small minority of their favored “jurisdiction.”

But all our “jurisdictions” must die in order that our Church may live. We cannot become one Church for America without all giving up what we are in order to become what God has called us to be: a single testament to the Orthodox Christian faith. I cannot see any workable solution which would not require the disbanding of all our current “jurisdictions.”


As an example of the demonization typical of the sectarian spirit, many Americanists will point to the controversial claim of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to jurisdiction over all the diaspora (i.e., all areas outside universally acknowledged canonical territories) based on Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council. It is true that such a claim is almost never taken seriously except by Constantinople itself. Yet while Constantinople’s claim is raged about, few of the Americanists, who typically have a much greater affection for Constantinople’s main rival of Moscow, will criticize the much broader claim made by Moscow in its very Statute:

The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church shall include persons of Orthodox confession living on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Estonia and also Orthodox Christians living in other countries and voluntarily joining this jurisdiction. (emphasis added)

Not only does Moscow define its jurisdiction primarily as one over “persons” rather than simply over geographic territory, the very wording of its Statute permits Moscow jurisdiction everywhere in the world, limited not only to specific territories and the diaspora, but even theoretically to within the territories of existing Orthodox churches.

This disturbing, universalist approach to ecclesiology, with some variations, is not exclusive to Constantinople and Moscow, however. Contrary to the canons, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and even the OCA also maintain parishes outside their officially claimed canonical territory. This anomaly is rampant, and almost no Orthodox church in the world is innocent of it. We have indeed seen the enemy, and he is us.


The problem of nationalism in Orthodoxy throughout the world is of course also rampant and its sins well-known. For Americanists, it is most often expressed on grounds which are basically Orthodox—a desire to be shepherded by local shepherds—but the expression of those grounds often takes us into a rebellious and nationalistic direction. So-called “foreign” bishops are rejected (which discounts missionaries), total local independence is assumed to be the norm at all times (which discounts the numerous centuries throughout Church history in which various churches were dependent for lengthy periods on “foreign” administrations far away). The ultimate desire of Americanist nationalism is that our bishops would simply thumb their ecclesiastical noses at the “foreigners” in other lands and declare us immediately to be an independent, autocephalous church. As precedent for such an act, they correctly point to when this has happened before.

But with modern communication and travel, “foreign” bishops are not so foreign as they once were. In the past, a unilateral self-declaration of autocephaly was much more practical than it is today, due precisely to these same factors. Though uncanonical, it is now much more possible to have an international, worldwide jurisdiction answering to a single synod. What Rome declared de jure and enforced with anathema has now become de facto for ten Orthodox jurisdictions which operate outside their traditional and/or self-defined territory (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and the OCA).

Yet with such unilateral self-declarations of autocephaly in the past, the driving factor was practical: the need to form a local, self-sustaining common church life. What we have now is numerous overlapping networks of self-sustaining church life, bound together internationally by easy communication and speedy travel. Globalization has taken a toll on our Church life, permitting it to become distorted beyond the essentially localist approach witnessed to in our canonical tradition, where decisions made by leaders had to be lived with by those leaders. They were shepherding their neighbors.

If we are to regain our localist sensibility for church governance, then we cannot rely on a means which was supported by a different technological age. The unilateral declaration of autocephaly is impractical in our time. Why? It’s because there are already existing international networks for American Orthodox Christians to fall back on. This is why the formation of local networks is so critical. This is why our mother churches have mandated the formation of the Episcopal Assemblies.

It may well be that the Assemblies are just a power grab by whatever jurisdiction we hate the most. But even if that is true, what is happening at them is the formation of a common local identity.

St. Raphael Hawaweeny

The Cure for Americanism: The Common Identity

All of this fractiousness may be cured by looking no further than our common Creed, which attests to our belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As Orthodox Christians living in America, we have no path to unity—indeed, no path to our own salvation—except through love. We must look at one another’s faces and see the Church there. When we cease to do so, we have become sectarians and schismatics.

All of the history of Orthodoxy in America is our common history. It does not matter which “jurisdiction” we are in. The saints, the sinners, the laity, the clergy, the successes, the failures—all of these are mine. All of this history is our history. It is not the history of Russians or Greeks or Syrians or converts, etc. It is the history of the Orthodox. We need to learn to say with St. Raphael of Brooklyn, “I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul.” He didn’t just tolerate these other people; he identified himself with them.

Many of these elements of American culture that I call “Americanism” and that are at odds with our faith also are now characteristic of other cultures throughout the world, and we can see their ill effects in other Orthodox churches, as well. Claims and counter-claims, legalism, sectarianism and nationalism are all major pastoral problems plaguing Orthodoxy worldwide, and no doubt we would have a more peaceful and united presence in the world if we could shed these sins. American culture has much that is worth preserving and enhancing, but as truly Orthodox Christian Americans, there are some elements of that culture that need not preservation, but repentance.

We have an opportunity in our time to put aside all of our claims and sectarianism Phariseeism, to see one another as fellow children of God, and to build a common church life. We’ve come a long way, and at least to me, it seems that the future is starting to look a lot brighter.

I really cannot wait to see where we go from here.

[This article was written by Fr. Andrew S. Damick.]

11 Replies to “Editorial: The New Americanism, Orthodox History and Unity in America”

  1. A wonderful and much needed article! If I may, though, I do think that there is an important difference between the Orthodox Churches with jurisdictions outside their canonical territories on ‘unclaimed’ lands (Ireland, Brazil, or even North America) and those that have established non-representational jurisdictions on the territories of their sister Orthodox Churches (as Constantinople has done in Estonia and Romania has done in Serbia and the former USSR).

  2. “those that have established non-representational jurisdictions on the territories of their sister Orthodox Churches (as Constantinople has done in Estonia and Romania has done in Serbia and the former USSR).”

    I have lots to say on the OP, but right now I’ll speak up for the Romanians.

    I take it that you are refering to Moldova and Voivodina (I notice that you do not refer to the Romanian Archdiocese of the Americas) The latter results from the Karlovti Serbian Patriarchate and the Metropolitanate of Transylvania under the Hapsburgs, as does the Serbian Exarchate in Timisoara. The former results from Russia and its Holy Governing Synod taking terriotry (after “abolishing” the Church of Georgia) from the Metropolitinate of Moldavia and Bucovina (which was autocephalous before uniting with the rest of Romania), being returned. Not any different than what happened in Estonia after WWII.

  3. “But the true church is one, as by unity of doctrine, so by unity of government, and she is catholic also. Since God has placed the center and foundation of unity in the chair of Blessed Peter, she is rightly called the Roman Church, for “where Peter is, there is the church.” Wherefore, if anybody wishes to be considered a real Catholic, he ought to be able to say from his heart the selfsame words which Jerome addressed to Pope Damasus: ‘I, acknowledging no other leader than Christ, am bound in fellowship with Your Holiness; that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that the church was built upon him as its rock, and that whosoever gathereth not with you, scattereth.'”
    -Pope Leo XIII of Rome, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae
    (not available, btw, it seems on the Vatican’s website)

    “Let me add that the refusal to recognize primacy within the Orthodox Church, a primacy that necessarily cannot but be embodied by a primus (that is by a bishop who has the prerogative of being the first among his fellow bishops) constitutes nothing less than heresy. It cannot be accepted, as often it is said, that the unity among the Orthodox Churches is safeguarded by either a common norm of faith and worship or by the Ecumenical Council as an institution. Both of these factors are impersonal while in our Orthodox theology the principle of unity is always a person. Indeed, in the level of the Holy Trinity the principle of unity is not the divine essence but the Person of the Father (“Monarchy” of the Father), at the ecclesiological level of the local Church the principle of unity is not the presbyterium or the common worship of the Christians but the person of the Bishop, so to in the Pan-Orthodox level the principle of unity cannot be an idea nor an institution but it needs to be, if we are to be consistent with our theology, a person.”

    “For the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not ethnic in the modern sense of the term. It is the continuation of the traditional and patristic expression of Christianity, as this was organically shaped in the historical context of a non-ethnic, ecumenical Empire and as this was recorded and codified in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.
    The Ecumenical Councils recorded the original Christian and Apostolic understanding regarding the organization of Church life purely on the basis of geographical criteria and not any linguistic or ethnic origin. The jurisdiction of each Church was accurately described and defined in their decisions, while the holy and inspired Fathers knew very well that certain regions existed outside the boundaries of the Roman world and outside the then-known “oecumene,” which they labeled with the term “barbarian.” The pastoral responsibility for these regions was assigned to the Ecumenical Patriarch.

    The Ecumenical Patriarchate did not come to this land as an ethnic Church in order to establish an ethnic jurisdiction. This would have been incompatible with both its ecclesiological principles and its very identity, but also with its long history. The Archdiocese is “Greek” in the sense analyzed at the outset of my address, without this signifying the abolition or oppression of the ethnic origin, language and culture of the faithful that comprise its jurisdiction, whether these are Greeks or not. And I believe that we are all in agreement on this.”
    Archman. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Chief Secretary of the Phanar.

    No, we are not in agreement. And it is just this inability to see the comparison between the claims of Old and New Rome that makes it so.

    Just as the situation of the Uniates in America exposed the sectarianism of the “Catholic” Church, so too the circumstances of North America and the founding of the Phanar’s jurisdiction have underlined how ethnic-and parochial-the alleged “Ecumenical” Patriarch had become and remains, who, not satisfied with leaving its innovation on the level of canon, but now elevates its canon 28 myth to the level of dogma. Such problems do not originate in America, nor has America suffered from them alone.

    Antioch, the first see of St. Peter and where the disciples were first called Christians, had to fight a prolonged battle with its daughter Constantinople, to become autocephalous in fact as well as name again. For that, the Phanar struck it from the diptychs in 1900.
    As “A clever young Turkish diplomat of Greek origin” stated in 1899 “the head of our nation is not that kingling in Athens, but the Ecumenical Patriarch.”

    Alexandria, having been reduced by Constantinople even before it became limited by the Phanar, finally set its own house in order in the same year of 1900: Pope Photios forbade the Phanar from sending a minder, and restored Alexandria’s Holy Synod, now one of the largest in the Orthodox world, and the only continent with NO jurisdictional disunity.

    The Patriarch of Jerusalem at the time was Patriarch Damianos, who had to expel Meletios, later Metropolitan, Archbishop, Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope in succession, for his Hellenocentric activities, and his insuborniation to, and indeed treason against, the Patriarch in pursuing them.
    Because he would not take part in the blatant hypocrisy of the omogeneia in excommunicating the Bulgarians in 1872, Pat. Damanios’ predecessor Pat. Cyril was called a “traitor” and “Muscovite,” and was deposed for such a breach of national/ethnic solidarity.

    Such ultramarist actions against the ancient Patriarch were stopped, because the Church of Russia opposed them and aided the local Church: supplying the chrism to Antioch, secruing the berat for Pope Photios and refusing to recognize the deposition of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem.

    So while it is attractive in some circles to dismiss the opposition of “Americanists” to the Phanar’s Ultramarist claims, they stand on solid ancient Orthodox well trod ground in doing so.

    1. So while it is attractive in some circles to dismiss the opposition of “Americanists” to the Phanar’s Ultramarist claims, they stand on solid ancient Orthodox well trod ground in doing so.

      I believe you are missing my point. I wasn’t dismissing the opposition to “ultramarism,” nor was I agreeing with such claims. The point is really that almost all the Orthodox churches are doing it in one way or another, but some are more explicit about it than others. The quote passage from Moscow’s Statute is particularly disturbing, claiming as it does the potential for jurisdiction in every single place on Earth.

      The Americanist problem in this respect is precisely in pointing the finger at Constantinople but being blind to similar or identical behavior elsewhere in the Orthodox world. The root of that problem is a sectarianism, a refusal to see one’s erring brother and say with St. Silouan, “My brother is my life.” Indeed, in this regard, “My brother is me.” Almost no one’s house is in order.

      It is the failure to realize that my brother is just as much the Church as I am that is the ground on which our current disunities are perpetuated.

  4. “I believe you are missing my point. I wasn’t dismissing the opposition to “ultramarism,” nor was I agreeing with such claims. The point is really that almost all the Orthodox churches are doing it in one way or another, but some are more explicit about it than others. The quote passage from Moscow’s Statute is particularly disturbing, claiming as it does the potential for jurisdiction in every single place on Earth.”

    I plan on going onto this (I have a time crunch at present, due to many hot rods in my fire), but to address this, look at how it is implemented, rather than how it is feared it is implemented.

    The Church of Japan, by the agreement of the Tomos of Autcephaly, Art. X
    “Recognizing the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate as a lawful and canonical jurisdiction over the Orthodox Church in Japan, the parties agree that the Orthodox Church in Japan shall be granted autonomy, upon its petition, by the Moscow Patriarchate.”
    The Phanar likes to ignore the existence of the autonomous Church of Japan, but exists it does. In fact, Met. Daniel was nominated to the post of Patriarch of Moscow. Though I like HB Kyril, Pat. Daniel would have been interesting. The Church of China is also autonomous under Moscow (something also ignored by the Phanar).

    The Tomos itself states “Parishes and clergy in the U.S.A. which remain in the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate shall be governed by the Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia through one of his vicar bishops; not having a title of the local American Church, especially appointed for this, and until such time as these parishes express their official desire to join the Autocephalous Church in America in the manner described below.”
    Some such parishes still exist: one is the home parish of Met. Jonah, of whom the vicar bishop, Justinian, above refered to, stated recently “Archbishop Justinian offered greetings from His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus, expressing the Patriarch’s brotherly support for Metropolitan Jonah’s position as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.” A similar provision exists in Canada.

    As for the rest of the Americas, the agreement states, art. XI “The parties agree that neither of them now possesses or claims to have exclusive jurisdiction of the Orthodox faith in the continent of South and Central America where the canonical status quo is preserved.” Moscow didn’t give up its parishes there, and still has them by canonical right.

    Japan, China, and the Americas (and Oceania for that matter) are not under the usual jurisdiction of Moscow, and hence not listed in the article you quote, Father. But Moscow does have parishes in these “other countries” in perfect canonical order, which have to be accounted for in the general statute. Hence the clause. Nothing necessarily more sinister than that.

    Moscow has provided priests etc. for expat communities of Africa: they are under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Alexandria. There are plenty of Russians in Palestine: they commemorate the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

    Now, if Moscow was making statements as the Phanar’s bishops are in the courts of law in Britain and France about a super jurisdiction over Western Europe (where Moscow also has parishes) and the world, there might be a smoking gun. I haven’t seen it yet. There is an issue perhaps brewing in Finland, but then, I’m not sure of the canonical basis for Finland being ripped from Moscow’s jurisdiction in the first place.

    I will admit, however, that Moscow has established jurisdiction on both poles:

    No, I don’t ignore what can be called Moscow’s identical behavior (though I’m skeptical of whether such charecterization can withstand scrutiny), but I do emphasize that I have been to the living and vibrant Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch which Moscow’s “behavior” made possible, whereas the Phanariots would have killed them off (as is happening in Jerusalem). Almost no one’s house may be in order, but some are not even trying.

    I don’t have a problem at all seeing my brother is just as much the Church as I am. I do have a problem with said brother calling another “so-called” and seeing that as not only Orthodox, but the height of canonical Orthodox praxis.

  5. I hadn’t realized that Serbia had an eparchy on Romanian territory – how sad :-/. It’s sad that the political division of the Banat was not recognized by the Churches involved, though the Church of Karlovtsy/Serbia historically had jurisdiction over the whole region, is it not so?

    As for Bessarabia, I wouldn’t think that two wrongs make a right. The majority of Orthodox there seem to want to remain part of the Moscow Patriarchate. If that’s not the case or a matter of education, then wouldn’t a more loving approach to the situation be for the Church of Romania to wait until Moldova is at a place where a peaceful transition of the whole country to Bucharest can be made?

    I still think it important in our modern situation that the Church of Rus’ maintains its canonical territory together with dioceses in its diaspora. The wording of its statute may be scary, but its application is not. Moscow has yet to set up its own dioceses on the territory of a universally recognized church.

    I support the OCA’s autocephaly in a general way, but the messy situation the West finds itself in canonically makes it difficult to say that all the other world Orthodox Churches are wrong to have their own dioceses in North America. That’s why I didn’t bring it up in my original comment. It could be said that Bulgaria’s recognition of the OCA’s autocephaly makes the presence of its diocese in North America unnecessary, however.

  6. While I thought this a good article, I can’t help but think that an article such as this only undermines the objectivity of SOCHA and OrthodoxHistory.org in providing much needed information on “What was” rather than “What should have been” or “What should be”. While clearly labeled an editorial, and thus not focused squarely on “What was”, I find that SOCHA and this site are at their absolute strongest when they clearly focus on the facts to be found in primary documents rather then also providing its own views as to the latter two issues. Objectivity in historical research is our primary lack on this topic; we have no dearth of opinions as to what those facts should have and still should mean.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Christopher.

      It’s worth noting that SOCHA and the OH.org site have never claimed to be exclusively dedicated to purely objective reporting. This is a society dedicated to historical study, which includes analysis and subjective editorial, as well. This is not the first such commentary to appear on this site, and I don’t think it will be the last.

      What I believe makes SOCHA “new” on the scene is an organized dedication to looking at our history in terms of the actual sources, i.e., what anywhere else would be regarded simply as the basic integrity required for historical study. Though there have been some notable exceptions, there’s been too much polemic, tertiary study, political agenda, rumor and hearsay which has driven Orthodox American historiography for far too long. It’s time to put that approach in the ground, because it’s frankly just plain dishonest, or at least ignorant.

      SOCHA has a broad aim, as stated in the “About” section of this site: The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA) exists to promote the study of the history of the Orthodox Christian Church in the New World; to collect source materials and make them available to researchers and scholars; to disseminate historical information to the public; and to encourage networking among those engaged in the study of American Orthodox history. SOCHA is particularly dedicated to this study based on the examination of primary sources with integrity and clarity.

      Describing the content of sources is only one element of what the Society does.

  7. I do appreciate Christopher’s concerns, but as editor of this website, I had no hesitation about publishing Fr. Andrew’s article. While I agree with Christopher that objectivity in historical analysis is always a goal, I don’t believe it is ever a truly attainable goal. Only God himself has the capacity to be truly objective. The rest of us are inevitably influenced by biases, blind spots, and personal perspectives. That doesn’t have to be a problem, so long as the historian is up front about his subjectivity. We run into problems when we claim an objectivity that we plainly do not have.

    The work of the historian is inherently interpretive. Even when I simply print an historical source, without comment, I am engaging in (subjective) interpretation — after all, I am publishing THIS source, rather than that one. Yes, we must be extremely careful to be honest and fair in our presentation of the evidence, but we can never really escape our own subjectivity.

    Furthermore, I don’t think historians must never comment on what should have been (as opposed to simply “what was”). On the contrary, historians tend to be the best informed people on the subject of what was, and thus are often well positioned to speak about how that past reality may have been improved. Often, I do think people get distracted by the question of what should have been, and spend far too much time debating what are usually dead issues. These debates can become a proxy for debates about the present (“what should be”). I don’t think such debates are always to be avoided, but I do think they should be treated carefully, and differently than more fact-based debates about what actually happened.

    On the subject of present-day ecclesiastical issues (“what should be”), I think all three of SOCHA’s directors have made it clear that we support the Episcopal Assembly. Our historical work can certainly have a bearing on the way the Assembly is understood. I don’t think historians must be utterly silent on current affairs, although I do think we must always be careful not to simply descend into the muck of church politics. The balance is a difficult one, and I would never claim that I personally have always remained above the fray.

    Anyway, once again, I want to emphasize that I appreciate Christopher’s thoughtful comments.

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