All posts by Jamey W. Bennett

Writer, editor, marketer, classical curriculum developer, rapper, paleo/primal, libertarian, Orthodox Christian. I like flip-flops, tacos, craft beer, Hawaii, beagles, and my beard.

Lenten Journey Through the New Testament

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We interrupt our regular Field Guide format for this Scripture reading challenge!

Would you like to up your Scripture reading this Great Lent? Perhaps you haven’t spent much time in Scripture recently, and would like to get in and wrestle with the great foundations of the Orthodox faith.

Join us on this Lenten reading challenge! Seven chapters a day, six days a week, beginning on Clean Monday, with a day each week to rest or catch up, will put you finished with the entire New Testament early in Holy Week.

If you want to back off a little and go six chapters a day, that’s fine, it’s just that on Holy Saturday or on Pascha you’ll have a load of reading to do to finish up, and that’s a pretty busy weekend for a us!

It’s as simple as reading seven chapters today, and then seven tomorrow, and continuing on until you finish. For those who like charts and lists, I’ve broken it down for you in more detail.

CLEAN WEEK: Matthew 1 – Mark 14
M – Mt. 1-7
T – Mt. 8-14
W – Mt. 15-21
TH – Mt. 22-28
F – Mk. 1-7
SA – Mk. 8-14

FEAST OF THE TRIUMPH: Mark 15 – John 16
M – Mk. 15-Lk. 5
T – Lk. 6-12
W – Lk. 13-19
TH – Lk. 20-Jn. 2
F – Jn. 3-9
SA – Jn. 10-16

ST. GREGORY PALAMAS: John 17 – Romans 9
M – Jn. 17-Acts 2
T – Acts 3-9
W – Acts 10-16
TH –Acts 17-23
F – Acts 24-Rom. 2
SA – Rom. 3-9

VENERATION OF THE CROSS: Romans 10 – Galatians 6
M – Rom. 10-16
T – Rom. 17-1 Cor. 7
W – 1 Cor. 8-14
TH – 1 Cor. 15-2 Cor. 5
F – 2 Cor. 6-2 Cor. 12
SA – 2 Cor. 13-Gal. 6

ST. JOHN OF THE LADDER: Ephesians 1 – Hebrews 6
M – Eph. 1-Phl. 1
T – Phl. 2-Col. 4
W – 1 Thes. 1-2 Thes. 2
TH – 2 Thes. 3-1 Tim. 6
F – 2 Tim. 1-Tit. 3
SA – Phm.-Heb. 6

ST. MARY OF EGYPT: Hebrews 7 – Revelation 14
M – Heb. 7-13
T – Jas. 1-1 Pet. 2
W – 1 Pet. 3-1 Jn. 1
TH – 1 Jn. 2-Jude
F – Rev. 1-7
SA – Rev. 8-14

PALM SUNDAY AND HOLY WEEK: Revelation 14 – 22
M – Rev. 15-22 (1 extra chapter)
T – Go to church!
W – Go to church!
TH – Go to church!
F – Go to church!
SA – Go to church!
PASCHA!

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Fort Lauderdale’s Attack on the Homeless

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In recent years, approximately 100 U.S cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless, and contributing to criminalizing the poor and homeless, and reducing them by law to something less than human.

Many of these cities have specifically targeted their food supply, enacting laws limiting or banning serving free food publicly. Houston, Pasadena, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Philadelphia are among the many cities that have made news for their policies that sound good in closed door meetings, but don’t go over so well with the public.

Most recently, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has rankled many across the country when police arrested 90-year-old WWII veteran Arnold Abbott for serving food to the homeless outdoors. “’Drop that plate right there,’” Abbott claims an officer commanded him, as if he were wielding a weapon. Abbott has been serving the poor of Fort Lauderdale for more than two decades through his ministry, Love Thy Neighbor, and has no intention of stopping now.

Even comedian Stephen Colbert picked up the story on his late night comedy news show The Colbert Report, joking, “If George Zimmerman had fed a guy in a hoodie, he’d be in jail.”

Read the full post at Orthodox Christian Network.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Kiss, Kiss, Kiss

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Kisses-p1Orthodox people kiss everything: icons, relics, hands, cheeks, it doesn’t seem to matter, and few things are safe from an Orthodox person planting a smooch on it! We kiss hands of clergy, out of reverence for hands that have held God. We kiss icons (on the hands or feet, avoid kissing the face) to give honor to that holy person. We kiss each other because we want to foster love and friendship among the people of God.

Often, clergy and laity alike will come in for a kiss when you least expect it. Careful! Don’t kiss your priest on the lips (unless you’re married to him), and be prepared for returns: Greeks will usually want to kiss you once on each cheek, and Russians will go back for a third kiss. If you’re kissing cheeks, start with the right cheeks, then go for the left (try not to bump noses!), and brace yourself for one more on the right cheek if you’re in a Slavic community! It is not uncommon for such kisses to be imaginary kisses, where you basically just touch cheeks and make a smooching sound in the air. Depends on who is doing it, and likely has something to do with how afraid they are of your face hosting germs!

In the middle of the service, there is a “passing of the peace”—the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” In recent centuries, the traditional Orthodox practice consisted of clergy around the altar kissing each other, but some parishes essentially have a brief meet-and-greet in the service. Visitors can probably get away with handshakes to those around them, but stick around long enough and people might start kissing you. In some parishes, one of several customary greeting are exchanged at this time, too.

Sidebar: In many Slavic parishes, it is customary for communicants to kiss the communion chalice after partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is done out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. In most Byzantine parishes, however, they wouldn’t dream of doing this, also out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. It’s just one of those quirky differences in Orthodoxy!

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Baptism and Conversion

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Coming into the Orthodox Church can be as exciting as it is bewildering for an adult convert. At times, inquirers find it difficult to get straight answer on what reception into the Orthodox Church is like. Put simply, one is received into the Orthodox Church by:

  • Confession of the Orthodox Faith
  • Baptism
  • Chrismation (the sealing of the Holy Spirit by anointing with oil)

All must confess the Orthodox Faith. Some will also need to baptized and/or chrismated. Sometimes a baptism, or a baptism and chrismation, are “grandfathered” in. This latter practice is sometimes done, for example, with the non-Chalcedonian “Oriental Orthodox” Christians, such as the Copts and Armenians.

The exact practice depends on the jurisdiction, bishop, or parish priest. But the Church does not simply leave a minister to his own devices. There are canonical and historical considerations, personal considerations, local considerations, and considerations of the bishop’s judgment that all factor into the manner of a person’s ultimate reception into the Orthodox Church. It is important to understand the way these several streams come together in the Church today.

There are several canons that govern reception of converts. Most famously, the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical council states clergy should chrismate certain professing Christians who hold non-Orthodox beliefs, such as Arians and “Macedonians” (among others), but only after they have renounced any false beliefs they once held. Whereas, Montanists, Sabellians, and Eunomians were to be received by confession, baptism, and chrismation after a period as a catechumen. There are similar canons in other councils, and once we factor in more controversial historical discussions from Orthodox luminaries such as St. Cyprian of Carthage and Blessed St. Augustine of Hippo, we have a rich tapestry of reception for the bishops to draw from.

The trouble is, there is no canon that says, “Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants who call themselves Lutheran or Reformed or Methodist, do this; but with Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, and the so-called Churches of Christ, do that.” Complicating matters further, there is a good bit of difference between a Lutheran and a Presbyterian, often even chasms of difference between Lutherans and other Lutherans, or Anglicans and other Anglicans. The Canons are a matter of wisdom and exegesis—an exegesis and wisdom that belongs almost entirely to the bishops as successors of the Apostles.

When people from the particular groups in question described in the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council were in view, it is safe to say they were received with a fairly strict application of the canon. Several hundred years later, at the Quinisext Council, the same basic canonical rules were repeated with minor expansion, and the canons of the Quinisext Council later enjoyed ecumenical standing.

Beyond that time, application of the Holy Canons varied. Many of the heretics listed in the Canons died out, and relations with the Western Church grew complicated due to linguistic, theological, and liturgical differences, and eventually the unprecedented Protestant Reformation arose in Western Europe.

By the time the Orthodox faith reached America in the late 18th century, the Slavic tradition almost universally received converts from other Christian confessions by chrismation. We know of saints in the last century who were received without rebaptism, such as St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (formerly a German Lutheran) and St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre (formerly a Byzantine-rite Roman Catholic). More recently, certain local churches have strengthened canonical applications as it relates to reception of converts (perhaps in part responding to what is perceived to be excesses of the ecumenical movement).

It is not surprising that in this modern era there is diversity of practice. Since the current cadre of converts to the Orthodox Church is not the same as it was 1600 years ago, the application of 1600-year-old canons will necessarily vary. It is the prerogative of the bishop to determine the best application of a canon, and by proxy, his priests are often left with discretion in such matters.

Despite minor variation from one bishop to another, the Orthodox Church has been quite consistent in its insistence on determining decisions based squarely on the Holy Canons.

[Editor’s note: The author of this Field Guide is not taking a position on the matter of baptizing converts, but simply trying to be faithful to the facts of historical and current practice.]

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

The Holy Canons

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The Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church are the plumb line by which the bishops have historically responded to pastoral and theological difficulties in the Church. Beginning very early in Church history, Church leaders responded to pastoral challenges by drawing up guidelines for Church life. These canons were written during important councils of assembled bishops.

Many canons cover conduct of clergy or specify areas of authority for certain episcopal sees, placing constraints on Church leadership to mitigate potential for abuse or scandal. Many canons also apply to non-clerics in the Church. Canons speak on matters as varied as sexuality and marriage, sacraments, excommunication, reception of converts, how clergy are to behave in public, and even matters of personal violence.

It is helpful to think of the Canons as the “house rules.” They are the standard for daily activity, but they are not necessarily strictly applied in every instance. That should not lead us to be dismissive of them, though. Just as good parents consider how to apply their own house rules with their children, so it is the bishop’s (and by proxy, a priest’s) job to determine when and how to apply applicable canons to particular pastoral situations.

Canons are not all created equal—some local canons never reached beyond a particular region, and were eventually phased out, while other canons went on to enjoy universal acceptance in the Church. Other canons were more specifically focused on the situations and cultural concerns of their time, finding application to a lesser extent in the Church today. It is not that these canons are ignored or abrogated, it is more that the very specific contexts in which they were introduced are absent, and should some similar context emerge again in the future, those canons would be relevant again. Until then, many simply don’t apply.

The manner of applying the Canons is typically categorized as akravia or oikonomia in popular Orthodox teaching. Akravia refers to a strict, to-the-T application of a rule. Oikonomia literally refers to the management of a household (Greek: oikos = household; nomos = law; or “economy” in English). It is used commonly to describe adjusting canonical requirements for pastoral considerations, with an individual’s salvation in mind.

St. Nicodemos the Hagorite (1749-1809) explains:

One kind of judgment is called strictness (akrivia); the other kind is called economy (oikonomia) with which the economists—the Greek meaning herein is “management of the household of the Spirit” to promote the salvation of souls—at times [go] with the one, and at times with the other.

The definitions and applications of oikonomia and akravia have varied through the centuries. The current usage is consistent with the harmonizing synthesis described by St. Nikodemos, and may refer to a departure from the norm for pastoral reasons for the salvation of those involved—this departure may more lenient or even more strict. St. Nikodemos is only one voice among many, but he is at least the most prominent voice when it comes to  canonical commentaries in English.

Access to the Canons by the laity in the age of the Internet has been a mixed blessing. Some modern Orthodox people have been openly critical of the Canons, and have used certain canons to mock Orthodoxy; others, who are more rigorist have used strict application of the Canons to criticize clergy of the Church (ironically, forbidden by the very Holy Canons they are seeking to preserve and defend) for not strictly applying certain canons. As we move toward greater administrative unity in Europe and America (and more in line with canonical norms), it is important that our bishops and clergy familiarize themselves with the Holy Canons, and that laity support them in this endeavor as we all grow into the future of the ancient Orthodox Faith.

There is always a danger of misapplying the Canons in a zeal to embrace the Canons. It may be something of a cliché to call this Pharisaical, but isn’t this what the spirit of the Pharisees was? They took legitimately enacted regulations of religious life and turned them into ends in themselves.

Certainly, the Canons should not be ignored willy-nilly, but the canonical corpus itself demonstrates that canons may be altered over time for various (good) reasons that don’t have anything to do with compromise. After all, the Church was not made for the Canons, but the Canons were made for the Church.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Should Orthodox Christians Get Their Icons Blessed?

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It is no secret that icons are an important part of Orthodox faith and worship, covering the walls and ceilings and iconostases of our parishes, and most Orthodox Christians have at least a few icons at home. It also is no secret that the Orthodox Church practices blessings throughout the Church year—we start with the blessing of the waters at Theophany, and then we take that water and bless all sorts of other things, like our homes, each other, fruit, and even our cars.

In the past few centuries, it has become increasingly common to have icons blessed by a priest or bishop, either having them sprinkled with holy water or anointing them with Holy Chrism. Some pious believers will even refuse to display an icon in their homes until it is blessed, and I have even seen Russian icons come in the packaging “pre-blessed”! I’ve been told by a few Greek and Antiochian friends that icons may be taken behind the iconostasis and kept there for 40 days to bless them. For so many people, this is a special event, and a comfort.

It is as if the icon goes from profane to holy through the act of blessing. Last year, Fr. Steven Bigham addressed this issue head-on in the Orthodox Arts Journal, and I’ve seen the article making its rounds the past few weeks. Titled “Does the Blessing of Icons Agree with or Contradict the Tradition of the Orthodox Church?,” Fr. Steven’s article addresses the issue clearly and fully, sweeping history for a clear and definitive answer. The article begins with this paragraph:

Orthodox Christians routinely have their icons blessed by a priest or bishop. Bishops often anoint them with Holy Chrism. There are even special services for blessing different kinds of icons: of Christ, of the Mother of God, of feasts, etc. Most people would never imagine putting an unblessed icon in their houses; it would be a kind of sacrilege, but once the icon is blessed — whatever its subject, taste, canonicity, etc. — many think that what was a simple picture before the blessing becomes an icon after, because of the blessing. It becomes at least a “better” icon. Being only a “profane” image before, it becomes “holy” after, because it has been blessed. Very few Orthodox would question this practice which they feel is legitimate, traditional, and totally in agreement with Church Tradition. I hope to show that despite the widespread habit of blessing icons, this practice is not in agreement with Church Tradition, and that it is in fact contrary to it and based on a theology of the icons that is foreign to Orthodoxy.

The strongest argument seems to be the historical evidence. Put simply, Fr. Steven argues, there is no written evidence of icon blessings in the Orthodox Church until the 17th century. It does not exist.

Bolstering his case, Fr. Steven quotes a long section of the Second Council of Nicea. At one point, Nicea II explicitly argues that blessing icons is unnecessary:

[M]any of the sacred things which we have at our disposal do not need a prayer of sanctification, since their name itself says that they are all-sacred and full of grace…. When we signify an icon with a name, we transfer the honor to the prototype; by embracing it and offering to it the veneration of honor, we share in the sanctification.

He also addresses St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who commented, “The holy icons do not need any special prayer or any application of myron (or chrism),” going on to strongly claim that introducing icon blessing into the Orthodox Church was due to Roman Catholic influence. “Do you see that the prayer which is read over holy pictures is a Papal affair, and not Orthodox: and that it is a modern affair, and not an ancient one?”

The skinny: icons are blessed already because of the figures depicted, and confirmed by the name of the saints on the images. Once an image is distorted or abolished, it returns to its former state of being simply wood and paint, and we dispose of them by reverently burning them. At the end of his article, rather than create another issue for people to argue about or fuss with their bishop or priest over, he suggests a workable solution to this innovative practice would be to replace the icon blessing with an icon dedication ceremony.

Read the whole thing here.

This post was originally run at Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Orthodoxy in America

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Orthodoxy came to America in four waves. The first wave was by missionary activity in Alaska, a land that belonged to Russia at the time. Russians began trading with natives for fur in the 18th century, and a very successful fur trading company was established on Kodiak Island—the Russian-American Company—along with a school for the indigenous people. Over time, under influence of the fur traders and with quite a bit of intermarrying, many natives converted to the Orthodox faith.

With a slew of Orthodox converts and no priest to care for them or administer the sacraments, the fur traders appealed to the Russian Holy Synod of Bishops to send a priest. Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, decided that it would be better to establish a genuine mission to the local peoples, not merely send a stopgap priest.

In September 1794, a small group of monks arrived on Kodiak Island to spread the Gospel to the natives. And though it was very successful, it was not an easy mission. The monks were upset with the way the Russians behaved, and how they treated the native population. Often, the natives’ greatest advocates and protectors were the missionaries.

Over the years, a number of monks, priests, and bishops came to Alaska to minister to the Russians and natives, traveling land and sea to bring the Gospel to the people. In the process, many saints were shown forth in the Americas, including protomartyr of All-America, St. Juvenaly of Iliamna, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Tikhon of Moscow, St. Innocent of Alaska and Moscow, and St. Peter the Aleut.

Today, there is a notable Alaskan expression of Orthodoxy that took root and grew over the last 200 years. It was the Orthodox who taught the natives how to read, and translated the Scriptures and services into the native languages. It was through this mission that Orthodoxy first came to America, and various historical situations and missionary endeavors led the Russian mission to expand to the United States and Canada.

The second wave of Orthodoxy coming to America was through immigration. Massive immigration of Arabs, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbians, Albanians and others entered America through Ellis Island and other ports. Greeks especially came in several heavy waves of immigration—there’s a saying, wherever there is a seaport, there you will find Greeks!

Many times, the first things these immigrant groups did was form a “society of ________ (ethnicity)” and that society would rent or build a church, and try to get a pastor from their home country (who spoke their language) to come to America. There are many cases where multi-ethnic communities existed, and perhaps a Bulgarian priest might serve an Antiochian and Greek dominated parish, or something similar. It was an interesting and exciting time of new beginnings.

Indeed, Greek, Arab, and Slavic immigrants established the first congregation in the lower 48 states in New Orleans, Louisiana. Prior to their establishment as a congregation, they had a society that even raised up a militia to fight for the Confederate States in the American Civil War. This church—Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church—still exists, and has grown to be a large community today.

This period also saw the heirs of the Alaskan mission spread their reach to Canada and the lower 48 states. By 1900, the Holy Synod in Russia established the Diocese of the Aleutians and North America, with St. Tikhon of Moscow at the helm. St. Tikhon traveled from coast to coast tirelessly working to care for his growing flock, dedicating and consecrating churches for more recent Russian immigrants.

Soon, there were so many ethnicities represented in this country with largely disconnected and overlapping jurisdictions. Squabbles among the clergy, and trouble brewing back in the Old Countries—think Communism in Russia or Hitler’s invasion of Greece, for examples—led to increasing ethnic separations, or even splits within ethnic jurisdictions (the Russians, in particular, had a bitter split).

The third and fourth waves of Orthodox expansion in the Americas were by conversion. The third wave began when Fr. Alexis Toth, an Eastern Rite Roman Catholic priest, ran into conflict with the local Roman Catholic bishop who was trying to suppress Eastern Rite practices and other Roman Catholic ethnic groups. Livid from an unsatisfactory meeting with the local bishop, Fr. Alexis began to re-evaluate the nature of the Church and the claims of Rome, and eventually concluded that he needed to jump ship to the Orthodox Catholic Church.

In March 1892, he and 361 Eastern Rite Catholics were received into the Russian Orthodox Church. He began to evangelize other Eastern Rite Catholics, explaining why the Orthodox Church was the true ark of salvation. By the time of his death in 1909, approximately 20,000 so-called Uniates had come into the Russian Orthodox Church, and by 1916 an estimated 100,000 had entered. Many of these parishes are still operational today as Orthodox churches. We now honor Fr. Alexis as St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre.

The fourth wave of growth has been slow and steady over the last generation. Evangelicals, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and non-Christians alike are discovering the Orthodox Church, especially as many parishes have now embraced the English language, and the average parishioner has assimilated into the fabric of America (usually while holding onto his ethnic identity). People are discovering that this ancient, unchanged faith is surprisingly relevant to their lives today, and embracing it wholeheartedly.

One of the more interesting stories of this fourth wave was when 2,000 evangelicals came into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese in 1987. The short of it is that a group of Campus Crusade for Christ ministers were seeking to be true to the ideals of the early Church in their ministries, and through investigation, over time, their ministries and faith began to resemble that of the early Church (and consequently, the Orthodox Church). Despite having doors slammed in their faces by several Orthodox hierarchs, they found a warm reception in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. They were received en masse, and since then have integrated nicely into this Arab-Syrian jurisdiction, bringing a new enthusiasm and refreshment into American Orthodoxy.

Skipping over a great deal of history and grossly oversimplifying, these four waves did not successfully create a single Orthodox administration in this country. As the churches here grew, new churches were established, and more cohesive structures connecting the various churches developed—usually along ethnic lines. This is why a phone book may have “Russian Orthodox,” “Greek Orthodox,” or “Albanian Orthodox” entries.

In 1970, many of the Russian churches (both from the original mission and from immigration) desired a uniquely American-run administration, independent of Russia. It was hoped that all of the other groups of Orthodox people would be excited about this idea of “The Orthodox Church in America” and all join together in a single infrastructure. A few Romanian, Bulgarian, and Albanian churches shared this idea, but many Orthodox in America were not thrilled with what is now known as the OCA. After squabbles in the 1920s and 1940s within the Russian churches, the creation of the OCA deepened the existing schism with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)—a schism that has since been healed, thank God. (There are a few intramural arguments about the timing and canonical propriety of Moscow creating the OCA, but that discussion is for another time and place.)

To this day, there is a multiplicity of “jurisdictions” in this country, with many overlaps and unfortunate situations out of line with canonical norms. Still, we remain a single Church, a genuine expression of the universal Body of Christ, united in our sacraments and faith, and guided by the one Holy Spirit.

Administrative unity is on the horizon now. Over the years, several groups have been established to work toward this end; most recently the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America was established to determine the way forward, and bind our many people, ethnicities, and clergy together more tightly—and over time, to correct any canonical irregularities that may exist.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.