The website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) notes that today marks the sixth anniversary of Metropolitan Tikhon’s enthronement as Primate.
This reminded me that, in December 2012, fresh back from four years of atheism, and having just read the news of His Beatitude’s upcoming enthronement and the pricey banquet to follow, I sent him the following heartfelt email. He never responded.
It was intended not as disrespectful of Metropolitan Tikhon (I had no opinion of him at the time), but as an appeal to act less like an emperor and more like a shepherd—more like Christ—in his new primatial ministry.
I share my email now as an urgent appeal to all Orthodox Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops, and Bishops everywhere. The portion of Christ’s Flock entrusted to each of you needs true shepherds after the likeness of the Good Shepherd.
December 21, 2012
Dear Metropolitan Tikhon:
In view of the dismissal in disgrace of the last three metropolitans of the Orthodox Church in America, one looks for a preliminary sign, any sign, that you will fare better than they, and that your primatial ministry will be cut from a different fabric from theirs.
It has been many years since I last attended a hierarchal liturgy, but I remember them well. When at last the omophorion is placed upon your shoulders, you are reminded in the midst of the congregation of your most fundamental duty to us, that of being an imitator of the Good Shepherd who leaves behind the ninety-nine and sets out in search of the one.
The Christ whose presence your episcopal charism embodies more fully than any other in the Church fed the multitudes free of charge at the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. On another occasion, He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them.” He threw the doors of the Kingdom wide open to those who feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. He stationed himself in high places and in low places, where everyone could approach Him, rich and poor alike. In the parable, He consigned to the netherworld the rich man who feasted sumptuously while the least of His brethren languished outside the gate with none but the dog to minister to his suffering body. He washed feet. He grilled fish on the beach to feed His disciples. He rode into town on a donkey. He came into this world in a barn. You know all these things.
He did not, incidentally, surround himself with people who could afford $100 per person to eat with Him in His honour. You know this, too. I guess the poor of your flock, and the children, and even those of average means, will have to be satisfied with hot dogs from street vendors outside your banquet hall on 27 January. I wonder if there will be dogs at least to lick their hands and help them forget their exclusion from the festivities inside. Nothing soothes like the rough tongue, wet nose, and wagging tail of a loving dog—except, perhaps, the voice of a loving imitator of the Saviour bidding those on the highways and the byways to enter into the joy of the feast.
When Orthodox bishops start to behave less like Byzantine emperors and more like the tired, dust-covered Servant from Nazareth who had nowhere to lay His head, then will grace divine flow in abundance once again to complete what is lacking and to heal what is infirm in your collective ministries; then will the fire of love divine reignite, which He came to cast upon the face of the earth.
We can take no more of business as usual. Please ponder these things in your heart as you sit on your dais surrounded by those members of your flock who are endowed with healthy bank accounts. Renting a big cheap hall, feeding all comers at church expense, you and your brother bishops walking around pouring coffee and handing out hugs—to me, that sounds a little bit like the heavenly Kingdom inaugurated in our midst.
Peter J. SanFilippo