The Parish Community of Saint John - New York City
Frequently Asked Questions1. Are you really Catholic? Does the Pope know what you're doing?
In many Orthodox jurisdictions, the term "Catholic," which means universal, is frequently used, just as we use it, and for the same reason: that we're part of the universal church, with roots in the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because our jurisdiction was established by the Patriarch of Antioch, we do not have any relationship to the Pope of Rome. In Orthodoxy, we use the term jurisdiction to indicate the various families or federations of parish communities and churches, served by a bishop or synod of bishops. So, for example, there is the Ancient Church of the East, the Assyrian Church, the Malankara Syrian Church, several Russian Orthodox jurisdictions or churches, an Ethiopian Orthodox jurisdiction, an Indian Orthodox jurisdiction, and many others, including our jurisdiction, the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America. Rooted in the faith of the Apostles, we all share the same creeds, the same Holy Scriptures and many of the same customs and traditions.
2. And you're Orthodox, too? How can you be both?
Until the “Great Schism” in the eleventh century, in the area of the former Roman Empire, there was essentially one church, and it identified as Orthodox and Catholic. The Catholic church also identifies itself as Orthodox, and the Orthodox churches also identify themselves as Catholic. Similarly, our jurisdiction has its roots in the Christianity of the earliest centuries, before it became fragmented.
3. Orthodox means you're really strict; right?
Not necessarily. We do our best to conform to the earliest teachings and traditions, but we also recognize the scientific discoveries and insights as well as the cultural, and social changes that have developed over the two millennia of Christian history. We are an ancient church for modern people living in twenty-first century North America.
4. When do you celebrate Christmas and Easter?
As a jurisdiction, we publicly celebrate Christmas and Easter with the rest of the Western Churches.
5. You have woman priests. Is that really allowed? Since when?
It's really allowed. Recent scholarship suggests that in the first two or three centuries, women were ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate. Our small jurisdiction voted to return to that ancient custom, and began ordaining women in the late 1970s. About ten percent of our clergy are women.
6. Do I have to be Catholic or Orthodox to receive Communion in your church?
No. Our jurisdiction practices what is called open communion. By that we understand that an individual who may not be Orthodox or Catholic, or Christian for that matter, may be called by God to receive Holy Communion. Of course, we encourage these individuals to consider joining the church through Baptism.
7. What kind of Christians are you? What do you believe about the Bible?
We're Orthodox Catholic Christians, with roots in the Ancient Patriarchate of Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time. We believe the Holy Scriptures, commonly called The Holy Bible, to be the inspired word of God, the narrative of God's covenant relationships with the people of Israel, and with the Gentile people. We hold to the faith of the seven ecumenical councils.
8. What can I expect if I come to a service at your church? Will it be easy for me to know what to do?
You should expect a warm welcome and if you arrive a bit early, you can expect some friendly conversation. You can pretty much be sure that there will be a small group of people, with a couple of clergy, and we might invite you to provide a name and email address if you wish to stay in contact. The worship service, called the Divine Liturgy, will resemble the Holy Communion services of various Western Christian faith communities, and we'll have a service book so that you can follow along. After the Divine Liturgy, you will almost certainly be invited to join us at a local diner for brunch.
9. I've never heard of the OCCA before. Are you new?
We're kind of new. We were established in 1892, and most of our parishes were in the upper mid-west, around Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Manitoba, and Western Ontario. In the last ten years, we're seeing some growth with mission parishes like ours on the East and West Coasts.
10. Why don't you have a church building of your own?
We have a couple of reasons. Our clergy are all self-supporting, and most of our parishes are very small, composed mostly of people who have come to us from other communities of faith. Here in New York, the parish is fairly new, having been established in 2002. Also, property is expensive, and there are frankly not enough of us for a church building to make sense at this time.
11. Where do you get your priests? Do they have to be celibate? Are they paid? Do you have a seminary?
None of our clergy are asked to be celibate, but there is an expectation of chastity, which means basically that clergy, and all Christians, are asked to be faithful and to respect the sanctity of relationship, and our clergy officiate at marriages and holy unions. Our clergy serve without pay and are self-supporting. We do not have a "brick and mortar" seminary. Candidates for ordination come to us largely through word-of-mouth or through networking. One person tells another about us, and from time to time individuals come to us having discerned God's call. These candidates study under the supervision and direction of the local bishop or vicar.
12. What makes your church different from the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox? Why would I want to go to yours instead of theirs?
We're much smaller, generally, than a Roman or Orthodox parish, and so we are able to be much more informal and personal. Many people tend to think of us as being rather more progressive, diverse and inclusive, and for that reason they prefer to worship with us. Then again, our church also ordains women and married people, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks. We believe we’re called to reject unjust discrimination, hate crimes, and violence: for example, that based on actual or perceived race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin or citizenship, marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation or gender identity, or language skill.
13. What sorts of people come to your church?
Across the country, all sorts of people, from farmers to physicists, from physicians to fire-fighters. We tend to attract those who value authenticity in worship, respect and reverence for the sacraments, and the healing and reconciling power of a small community of faith. Why not come and see?