Russia

Ties that bind: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Russia and Fatima

Ties that bind: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Russia and Fatima

The world was buzzing with rumors about U.S.-Soviet talks as President Ronald Reagan flew to Italy for a global economic summit in the summer of 1987.

There were only two events on Reagan's schedule before the Group of Seven sessions -- a June 6 meeting with Pope John Paul II and a hush-hush briefing beforehand by U.S. Vatican Ambassador Frank Shakespeare.

The secret topic, at Reagan's request: The visions of Our Lady of Fatima to three children in Portugal in 1917, including prophecies linking St. Mary, Russia and, the world would later learn, the shooting of a "bishop in white." This was crucial information about John Paul II.

The pope believed Mary intervened to save his life on May 13, 1981, when an assassin tied to Bulgarian spies and Soviet military intelligence gunned him down in St. Peter's Square -- on the 64th anniversary of the first Fatima vision.

The pope needed six pints of blood to survive. Reagan required eight pints during surgery after he was shot six weeks earlier, on March 30th. He was convinced his survival was part of a divine plan, which Reagan called the "DP."

Reagan met John Paul II for the first time a year after the shootings. He told the pope: "Look how the evil forces were put in our way and how Providence intervened."

Clearly, the Soviet plans "backfired," said author Paul Kengor, in an Oct. 22 lecture at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.

"The Soviets were worried about an alliance. Right? So they wanted to end this alliance -- especially by getting rid of the pope," he said, speaking on the feast day of St. John Paul II.

Instead, these men went on to hold five strategic meetings, backed by an unknown number of back-channel contacts. Kengor's book about their friendship, "A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Extraordinary Story of the 20th Century," was published in 2017.

"Well, you really screwed this up," said Kengor, who teaches at Grove City College. "Now, these two -- they've got the world's most exclusive, mutual prayer society. They've got a bond that no pope and president may ever have."

There was no translator present in the 1987 Vatican meeting between Reagan and the multilingual John Paul II. The president told aides that they discussed U.S.-Soviet relations, nuclear arms control and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

But in his public statement afterwards Reagan also included strong words about the future of Poland. John Paul II was days away from another trip to his homeland.

Philip Jenkins on giant, global leaps of faith in 1918, 1968 and 2018?

Philip Jenkins on giant, global leaps of faith in 1918, 1968 and 2018?

One of the most famous tales of World War I began when a fantasy fiction writer wrote a story in 1914 about British soldiers crying for help while facing overwhelming German forces near Mons, in France.

Their prayers summoned heavenly hosts of archers attacking the "heathen horde."

Soon, veterans started claiming that they saw these "angels" with their own eyes. Images of the Angel of Mons began appearing -- as fact -- in posters, paintings and popular songs.

It's hard to imagine a world in which nations led by rational, scientific elites could embrace these claims, said historian Philip Jenkins, in recent lectures at King University in Bristol, Tenn. That world is impossible to imagine because it was swept away a century ago by waves of change that few saw coming.

"What happened in the victory? 'Oh, angels appeared. The dead arose to fight for us.' When the Germans launched their great offensive in 1918, of course, what else could it be called? It's Operation Michael, after the leading archangel -- who by this point has become something like a German war god," said Jenkins, a distinguished professor at Baylor University and author of 27 books.

"If you look at the propaganda of the time, the assumption is that Christ is absolutely with US -- whoever WE are, the Germans, the Americans, whatever."

Before World War I, most global leaders followed a radically different set of assumptions, with ironclad ties between their governments and major religious institutions, he said. Many soldiers believed that St. Michael the Archangel, the Virgin Mary, even Joan of Arc, would fight by their side. As the war began, Germany experienced fervor many called a "New Pentecost," with Martin Luther as a messianic figure.

While it's common to believe that religion evolves slowly over time, in a linear manner, the evidence suggests that history lurches through periods of "extreme, rapid, revolutionary change, when everything is shaken and thrown up into the air," said Jenkins. Ever 50 years or so, new patterns and cultural norms seem to appear that never could have been predicted.

Pope Francis speaks out on 'snake news': But the Devil's in the details on solutions

Pope Francis speaks out on 'snake news': But the Devil's in the details on solutions

Maybe it's author Michael "Fire and Fury" Wolff hinting that President Donald Trump is having an affair with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Maybe it's the waves of lies from Russian hackers that have flooded major social-media sites, causing global confusion and chaos.

Maybe it's rumors that Pope Francis has a brain tumor or that he's preparing for a Third Vatican Council, one sure to split the Church of Rome.

Whatever "fake news" is, the pope's World Communications Day message made it clear that he believes Satan is behind it all, whether journalists and mass-media leaders know it or not.

"We need to unmask what could be called the 'snake-tactics' used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place," wrote the pope. "This was the strategy employed by the 'crafty serpent' in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news, which began the tragic history of human sin."

The pope released this text on Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales -- the patron saint of journalists -- even though World Communications Day will be on May 13. The "fake news" hook is in the title: " 'The truth will set you free.' Fake news and journalism for peace."

The problem is that few people -- especially in culture-wars America -- agree on what "fake news" means. It's hard to imagine a more partisan term, when President Donald Trump shouts it at a rally. Meanwhile, many journalists have downplayed Gallup polls showing that public trust in the news media is lower than ever.

Concerning the crucial definition issue, Pope Francis wrote:

Apocalyptic visions about Chernobyl

KIEV -- The apocalyptic visions begin just inside the doors of the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum and many of them lead straight into the Book of Revelation. The final pages of Christian scripture are full of angels, trumpets, flames, thunder, lighting, earthquakes and catastrophes that shake heaven and earth.

In this museum, the key is in the eighth chapter: "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."

When Ukrainians translate "wormwood" into their own language it becomes "chernobyl." It's easy to connect the two when discussing the legacy of pain that followed the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl Power Station north of Kiev, when explosions and fires at the reactor core released a plume of radioactive debris that drifted over Russian and into Europe.

Soviet officials claim a mere 31 died. Ukrainians mock this number, saying it's impossible to calculate the long-term fallout in cancers, birth defects and other forms of human suffering.

"The catastrophe at Chernobyl station took its victims before their time," said Archpriest Andrei Tkachev of St. Agapit of Pechersk Orthodox Church in Kiev. "Man is supposed to meet death in his own time, when he has a chance to prepare to meet God. That kind of death is a gift from God -- a good death.

"That is not what happened for many of the victims of Chernobyl."

The museum opened on April 26, 1992, the fifth anniversary of the disaster and soon after the Soviet Union's collapse. The exhibits include 7,000 artifacts from the 76 towns and villages -- with 76 churches, in this historically Orthodox culture -- that were razed in the radiation-tainted resettlement zone.

The door into a large chamber dedicated to the families and children of Chernobyl leads to the church iconostasis, with a radiation suit hanging in place of the Archangel Michael and barbed wire and a contamination sign blocking the way to the altar. High overhead is an icon of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of endangered children.

The altar is gone, replaced by a boat -- to carry souls over the waters of death -- full of children's toys. Under the boat, the blackness is full of the icons of saints.

The Chernobyl disaster was especially poignant, said Tkachev, because it struck a region that for many symbolized the innocence and safety of the past.

"The people here were simple people. They didn't have writers and journalists to tell their stories," he said. "This is an attempt to tell their story, using what they left behind when they were forced to flee the homes, their schools and their churches. ...

"Modern life separates a man who has deep faith from a man who has little. In these villages, life and faith was simply combined and you can see that here."

In one of the starkest images -- over a map of the stricken region -- the melting reactor literally shatters a famous icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, while an apocalyptic storm swirls around her.

"We are tempted to think that fire and water and all the elements of nature are at our command, but that is not true," said Tkachev, outside the final exhibit hall. "We can become victims. ... The more technologies are in our lives, the more danger there is that we become their servants, even their slaves."

The archpriest stroked his beard, thinking of another way of stating the ultimate message of this sobering tribute to lessons learned at Chernobyl.

Finally he offered a litany of simple images.

If a man builds a bicycle and it breaks while he is riding it, then he will be hurt when he falls, said Tkachev. If he builds an airplane and it breaks, this man will almost certainly die when it crashes.

"Now, if we build a nuclear reactor in our back yard and it breaks, then the catastrophe will kill many and it may last into future generations," he said. "What this teaches us is that we must fear God and try to be humble about the things that we build with our own hands."

Russia, rock, riots and religion

It wasn't easy being a rebel in the Soviet Union, back in the 1970s when Sergy Ribko was a rock drummer who cherished whatever scraps of music and media made it through the Iron Curtain. Most of all, the self-proclaimed hippy who would later become a Russian Orthodox priest loved The Beatles.

The band taught "us to think about the meaning of life, good and evil, even about God and eternity, taught us to understand and love freedom in all its manifestations," wrote Ribko, in an open letter addressed to the "Dear and Highly Esteemed Sir Paul McCartney" that has been translated from Russian and circulated on the Internet.

"The absence of freedom was extremely felt in that totalitarian country, in which we were doomed to be born and live. The 'iron curtain' separated us ... from our mates in the free world where they could create and live according to their desires. ... Moreover it tried to hide from us the Heavens and God."

What would inspire the rector of Moscow's Church of the Holy Spirit to write such a personal letter to a rock patriarch in the West?

Here's the blunt answer -- Pussy Riot.

McCartney released a letter backing the members of this infamous music group who were recently sentenced to two years in prison for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." Their crime was a "punk prayer" in which they pleaded, in highly profane terms, with the Virgin Mary to oust President Vladimir Putin.

"I hope you can stay strong," concluded McCartney, "and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom."

For Father Ribko and many others, the key is not that Pussy Riot attacked Putin, but that the group's members recorded their YouTube video as they danced, prostrated and pretended to pray directly in front of the holy doors at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The video included images from another church invasion, as well.

"Some months ago Russia witnessed an act of evil. We, Russian believers, perceive this event in this way," wrote the monk.

"All this Bacchanalia was filmed and shown to the world. ... When Pussy Riot blaspheme in the street, it is their private affair. Many people do the same. But if they break into our church, disturbing praying people, blaming our God, out faith, our patriarch, they offend personally each of us."

It's crucial that these events have unfolded in a land still struggling after a blood-soaked century that included the worst sustained persecution in Christian history. The Communists closed 98 percent of Russia's churches and killed 200,000 bishops, priests, monks and nuns, while another 500,000 or more believers were sent to die in labor camps. Millions more died in purges under Joseph Stalin.

Members of the Soviet League of the Militant Godless -- including Alexandra Kollontai, a self-proclaimed "female Antichrist" -- took special glee in vandalizing churches, desecrating the relics of saints and performing profane, crude, blasphemous skits in, or even on, the altars of Orthodox sanctuaries. As their ultimate act of desecration, the Soviets in 1931 leveled the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

"Christ the Savior was a central shrine both of the Orthodox faith and of Russian national pride, and for that reason, the Bolsheviks targeted it for destruction," noted historian Philip Jenkins, author of "The Lost History of Christianity" and numerous other works, in an online commentary about the Pussy Riot case.

"Not until 1990 did a new regime permit a rebuilding, funded largely by ordinary believers, and the vast new structure was consecrated in 2000. The cathedral is thus a primary memorial to the restoration of Russia's Christianity after a savage persecution."

For many believers, these new acts of sacrilege at the altar of this symbolic cathedral resembled old Russian nightmares. Try to imagine, wrote Jenkins, protesters seizing a European synagogue that had been rebuilt after the Holocaust and using it as the setting for a profane video mocking Jewish prayers.

"Not only would international media fully support the governments in those circumstances, but they would complain bitterly if police and courts showed any signs of leniency," argued Jenkins. "However serious a group's grievances, there is absolutely no justification for expressing them with such mind-boggling historical insensitivity, and in such a place. Anywhere but there!"

Orthodox bridge to evangelical world

As point man for Russian Orthodox relations with other faith groups, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is used to talking shop with Catholics, Anglicans, leaders in older brands of Protestantism and other world religions. These duties have long been part of his job description. Meeting with leaders from the world's booming evangelical and Pentecostal flocks?

Not so much.

However, recent ecumenical contacts by this high-profile representative of the Moscow Patriarchate is evidence that times are changing. Time after time, during meetings with evangelical leaders and others here in America, Hilarion has stressed that it is time for Orthodox leaders to cooperate with traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants and others who are trying to defend ancient moral truths in the public square.

"I am here in order to find friends and in order to find allies in our common combat to defend Christian values," said the 44-year-old archbishop, who became a monk after serving in the Soviet army. He also speaks six languages, holds an Oxford University doctorate in philosophy and is an internationally known composer of classical music.

For too long, Orthodox leaders have remained silent. The goal now, he said, is to find ways to cooperate with other religious groups that want to "keep the traditional lines of Christian moral teaching, who care about the family, who care about such notions as marital fidelity, as giving birth to and bringing up children and in the value of human life from conception until natural death."

On this occasion earlier in the year, Hilarion was preaching from the pulpit of the 5,000-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, a conservative congregation that remains part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently approved the ordination of noncelibate gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

While in Dallas, Metropolitan Hilarion's public schedule included meetings at Dallas Theological Seminary, a prominent institution among many of America's most conservative evangelical leaders. He has also, during the first half of the year, met with nationally known evangelical leaders in New York, Washington, D.C., and at Princeton University.

In a recent interview with Christianity Today, one of evangelicalism's flagship publications, the archbishop said it is crucial for all churches -- including Eastern Orthodox churches -- to expand their work into public life, even if this creates controversy in some quarters.

"Very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what's happening in the country," he said. "Some people ask, 'Why does the church interfere? It's not their business.' We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it."

The archbishop's statements were especially significant and timely because of a related conflict now raging in the Orthodox Church in America, which has Russian roots.

A major cause of the controversy was the decision by the church's leader, Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, to privately endorse The Manhattan Declaration, a document produced by a coalition of conservative Christians that focuses on abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality and religious liberty issues. Numerous Catholic bishops and several other Orthodox leaders have also signed as private citizens, not in their roles as church officials.

At the very least, this bitter dispute has demonstrated that some OCA leaders are opposed to public stands on hot-button political issues, especially any that proclaim the church's teachings on sexuality. Some prefer isolation and silence.

However, Metropolitan Hilarion, in his taped sermon in Dallas, said it is shocking to see churches divided by "what hitherto seemed unthinkable -- namely marked differences among Christians in their understanding of moral law. ... There has surfaced a desire to revise, or to be more precise, to adjust, the unambiguous commandments of God to any manifestation of human fancy, a trend that has spread out with the speed of a cancer. ...

"Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many families break, why so many marriages end up with divorce, why so many children are raised without a father or a mother and why the birthrates in many countries have become so low. ... Family is no longer a primary value to many young people. This is a tragedy of our times and this is a challenge that we can face together."

An Orthodox question for 2010

The first Orthodox missionaries to reach Alaska traveled with the early Russian explorers and, in 1794, a party of monks established the Orthodox Christian Mission to America. When Orthodox believers venerate icons of the "Saints of North America," many of the images are of missionaries. One is St. Herman of Alaska, a pioneer monk, and another is St. Innocent, an early missionary bishop. Then there is St. Tikhon of Moscow, who envisioned one united Orthodox body in America, a church without ethnic divisions. He later became Russia's patriarch, but died a martyr in the Bolshevik era.

"Before the 1920s, there was only one jurisdiction in North America -- that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, as we know, was open to ... the widest variety of ethnic communities," said Archbishop Justinian of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, during last week's Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North and Central America.

"Much has changed since that time. The tumultuous events of the 20th Century forced many citizens of traditionally Orthodox countries to leave their native homes and seek refuge in other countries, which led to the rise of large ethnic Orthodox communities beyond the boundaries of corresponding local churches."

But the key to conditions today, he stressed, is the fact that an "increasing number of our faithful belong to the Orthodox Church not as the result of their ethnic background, but of a conscious choice in favor of Orthodoxy's truth."

There's the rub, the source of one of the tensions that pulled the bishops behind tightly closed doors in New York City. Even in the public speech texts, it was clear they were wrestling with this question: Is America best described as a mission field in which Orthodoxy is growing or as a strange land in which immigrants have found shelter during a painful diaspora era?

How the hierarchs answer that question will help shape the future, especially if there is to be a way to unite Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Ukrainians, Serbs, Romanians and other Orthodox believers into one American church, with one hierarchy -- as required by Orthodox tradition.

If America is truly a mission field, that would favor the Russian roots of the Orthodox Church in America, which now worships in English. Its claim to be an autocephalous, or independent, national church is based on a declaration to that effect by leaders of the giant Russian Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, a "diaspora" framework favors leadership claims by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, the symbolic, "first among equals" of the Orthodox patriarchs.

Last week's assembly was led by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and was one of 12 meetings in regions containing multiple Orthodox bodies. However, Demetrios declined Bartholomew's request to exclude Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America. Jonah was seated as a bishop -- but not as the OCA primate. He is a convert to the faith.

At this point, said Demetrios, it's impossible to end the overlapping jurisdictions, which means that bishops from ethnically defined flocks control their own parishes in the same locations. America is both a mission field and part of a diaspora phenomenon caused by immigration, he said. So the new Episcopal Assembly is in control -- for now.

"The vital presence of our churches ... world bears witness to the ongoing work of pastoral care of our flocks who have moved around the globe," he said. "It also bears witness to the continuous preaching of the Gospel that has brought an abundance of converts to the faith. Neither of these realities stands in opposition to the other. They are merely the facts of our existence."

But it's time to see the big picture, stressed Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, another flock affected by thousands of converts. If anyone is living in diaspora, he claimed, it's the tiny Orthodox flocks in Jerusalem, Constantinople and other besieged Old World cities.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox in America, he said, are "no longer little children to have rules imposed on us from 5,000 miles away. Orthodoxy in America has its own ethos. We have our own theological institutions and we have our own theologians, authors, publications and magazines. ... We have been here for a long, long time and we are very grateful to the Almighty God that in our theology and worship, we do express the fullness of the Holy Orthodox faith."

Religion ghosts in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Merely saying the forest's name -- Bykivnya -- can cause strong emotions for millions of Ukrainians.

This is where the secret police of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin buried 100,000 of their victims between 1937 and 1941 in a mass grave northeast of Kiev. President Victor Yushchenko did not mince words during his recent speech there, on Ukraine's Day of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repression.

"Here, at Bykivnya, Stalin and his monstrous hangmen killed the bloom of Ukraine. There is no forgiveness and there will be none," he told several thousand mourners and, of course, Ukrainian journalists.

The mourners wept, while processing through the site behind Orthodox clergy who carried liturgical banners containing iconic images of Jesus and Mary.

"Because of the national symbolism of this ceremony, the priests there may not be important," said Victor Yelensky, a sociologist of religion associated with the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences. "But the priests have to be there because this is Ukraine and this is a ceremony that is about a great tragedy in the history of Ukraine.

"So the priests are there. It is part ... of a civil religion."

This is where the story gets complicated. In the Ukrainian media, photographs and video images showed the clergy, with their dramatic banners and colorful vestments. However, in their reporting, journalists never mentioned what the clergy said or did.

Media reports also failed to mention which Orthodoxy body or bodies were represented. This is an important gap, because of the tense and complicated nature of the religious marketplace in this historically Eastern Orthodox culture.

It would have been big news, for example, if clergy from the giant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) -- with direct ties to Moscow -- had taken part in a ceremony that featured Yushchenko, who, as usual, aimed angry words to the north.

But what if the clergy were exclusively from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate), born after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and linked to declarations of Ukrainian independence? What if there were also clergy from a third body, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, born early in the 20th century?

A rite featuring clergy from one or both of these newer churches also would have been symbolic. After all, these days almost anything can create tensions between Ukraine and Russia, from natural gas prices to efforts to emphasize the Ukrainian language, from exhibits of uniquely Ukrainian art to decisions about which statues are torn down (almost anything Soviet) or which statues are erected (such as one of Ivan Mazepa, labeled a traitor by Russia after his 18th century efforts to boost Ukrainian independence).

But it's hard for Ukrainian journalists to ask these kinds of questions and print what they learn when people answer them, according to a circle of journalists -- secular and religious -- at a Kiev forum last week focusing on trends in religion news in their nation. I was one of the speakers, along with another colleague from the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life.

As in America, Ukrainian journalists often assume that politics is the only faith that matters in life. The journalists in Kiev also said that they struggle to escape unwritten Soviet-era rules stating that religion was bad, irrelevant or, at best, merely private. Many journalists lack historical knowledge required to do accurate coverage of religion, while others simply do not care, because they shun organized religion.

"Many would say that, if we do not play the violin, we really should not attempt to comment on how others play the violin," said Yuri Makarov, editor in chief of Ukrainian Week, speaking through a translator.

This blind spot is unfortunate, because Ukrainian journalists may have missed a crucial piece of the Bykivnya story, said Yelensky. It's hard to understand the soul of Ukraine without grasping the power of religion.

"For many Orthodox people in western Ukraine, it is simply unacceptable to live in any way under the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, for many Orthodox in eastern Ukraine, it is simply unacceptable to not to be associated and in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. In the middle are places like Kiev. ...

"This is a division that is inside Ukrainian society. Is it based on religion? No. Is religion right there in the heart of it? Yes."

Voice for Orthodox unity -- from Brooklyn

The rites were quiet, yet elaborate, and drew small clusters of dedicated worshippers out of their homes on a Saturday morning and into Byzantine sanctuaries across the nation.

Somewhere in each church stood an icon of a dignified Arab wearing the rich liturgical vestments of an Eastern Orthodox bishop. The worshippers took turns kissing the icon and chanters gave thanks to God for the work of the new saint whose name still causes smiles -- St. Raphael of Brooklyn.

"It isn't every day that you hear the word 'Brooklyn' used in a Divine Liturgy," said Father Gregory Mathewes-Green, the priest in my own parish near Baltimore. "St. Raphael is important not only because he lived a remarkable life, but because of where he came from and who he was. He is a wonderful symbol for Orthodox unity in America. ...

"Our church was unified in his day and we pray it can be unified again."

Father Raphael Hawaweeny came to the United States in 1895 and became the first Eastern Orthodox bishop consecrated in this land. He was known as the "Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America."

St. Raphael was canonized in 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which has Russian roots, in cooperation with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, with its ancient ties to the Middle East. The OCA celebrates St. Raphael's feast day on Feb. 27, the date of his death.

This monk, priest, diplomat, scholar, missionary and bishop traveled a risky and complicated road on the way to Brooklyn, a fact noted by chanters during the rites last weekend. One of the prayers said: "Arab by birth, Greek by education, American by residence, Russian at heart and Slav in soul, thou didst minister to all, teaching the Orthodox in the New World to proclaim with one voice: Alleluia."

In other words, each Orthodox flock can lay some claim to this particular saint. There are about 5 million Eastern Orthodox Christians in the United States and 250 million worldwide. While the church has grown in America, primarily through converts from evangelical and mainline Protestant pews, the Orthodox map here remains a crazy quilt of overlapping ethnic jurisdictions.

But there are signs of unity in combined programs for foreign missions, relief efforts and education. And last month, Father Thomas Hopko, one of America's most respected Orthodox scholars, dared to produce a rough-draft of a plan for unity. While Hopko is an OCA priest, his essay was published by the Antiochian archdiocese.

Both of these churches now worship in English and include large numbers of converts at their altars and in their sanctuaries. Their most vital parishes are becoming more and more alike, he noted.

"The seven Antiochian bishops include three born in America, one of whom is a convert to Orthodoxy," wrote Hopko, dean emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. The OCA offers "nine bishops born in the USA, one born in Canada, one in Mexico, one in Bulgaria and one in Romania. Eight of the 13 OCA bishops are converts to Orthodoxy. ...

"What an impressive synod these bishops could form to govern a unified Orthodox Church in North America!"

Any attempt to accomplish this would lead to an outbreak of Byzantine politics, especially in Greece, Turkey and Syria. Hopko admitted that it would take years to handle issues of assets, property, diocesan borders and lines of authority.

What would the Greeks do? Who would make the first move? How would a united synod select a patriarch? On this question, Hopko suggested that each church select one candidate and the primate would be "chosen by lot," with a senior priest picking "his name from a chalice after an All-night Vigil, Divine Liturgy and Service of Prayer."

The key is to regain the vision briefly seen in the work of the first Orthodox missionaries to North America -- like St. Raphael.

"All Orthodox churches in the United States, Canada and Mexico would be invited to join in the common work of the new church," wrote Hopko. "No Orthodox would be excluded. All Orthodox would be welcome.

This could take place by 2008, according to Hopko.

It would take sacrifice and cooperation and a shepherd who can command the trust of the Arabs, Greeks, Russians, Slavs and the Americans.