Posts tagged Assembly of Bishops
The hierarchs of the Episcopal Assembly, which has just concluded, issued the following statement:
We glorify the name of the Triune God for gathering us at this first Episcopal Assembly of this region in New York City on May 26-28, 2010 in response to the decisions of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Switzerland, from June 6-12, 2009, at the invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Gathered together in the joy of the Feast of Pentecost, we humbly recognize our calling, in our unworthiness, to serve as instruments and disciples of the Paraclete, who “holds together the whole institution of the Church” (Hymn of Vespers of Pentecost).
We honor and express gratitude to the Primates and Representatives of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches who assembled at the Ecumenical Patriarchate from October 10-12, 2008 to affirm their “unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church” (Chambésy Rules of Operation, Article 5.1a) and emphasized their will and “desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements” (Message of the Primates 13.1-2)
We call to mind those who envisioned this unity in this region and strove to transcend the canonical irregularities resulting for many reasons, including geographically overlapping jurisdictions. For, just as the Lord in the Divine Eucharist is “broken and distributed, but not divided” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), so also His Body comprises many members, while constituting His One Church.
We are grateful for the gift of the doctrinal and liturgical unity that we already share, and we are inspired by our leaders, the Heads of all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who proposed that which we painfully yearn for in this region, i.e., the “swift healing of every canonical anomaly” (Message of the Primates 13.2). We are also grateful that they established a fundamental process toward a canonical direction and resolution.
We are thankful to almighty God for the growth of Orthodoxy, for the preservation of our traditions, and for the influence of our communities in this region. This is indeed a miracle and a mystery.
During our gathering, and in accordance with the rules of operation of Episcopal Assemblies promulgated by the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference, we established:
1. A registry of canonical bishops (Article 6.1)
2. A committee to determine the canonical status of local communities in the region that have no reference to the Most Holy Autocephalous Churches (Article 6.2)
3. A registry of canonical clergy (Article 6.3)
4. Committees to undertake the work of the Assembly, among others including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical, and legal issues (Articles 11 and 12)
5. A committee to plan for the organization of the Orthodox of the region on a canonical basis (Article 5.1).
In addition to the above, we agreed that a directory would be created and maintained by the Assembly of all canonical congregations in our region.
We as Episcopal Assembly understand ourselves as being the successors of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), assuming its agencies, dialogues, and other ministries.
Moreover, at the formal request of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Canada, the Assembly will submit to the Ecumenical Patriarch, in accordance with the rules of operation (Article 13), a request to partition the present region of North and Central America into two distinct regions of the United States and Canada. Additionally, at the request of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Mexico and Central America, the Assembly will likewise request to merge Mexico and Central America with the Assembly of South America.
As Orthodox Hierarchs in this blessed region, we express our resolve to adhere to and adopt the regulations proposed by the Pan-Orthodox Conferences and approved by the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and to do everything in our power by the grace of God to advance actions that facilitate canonical order in our region.
We confess our fidelity to the Apostolic Orthodox faith and pledge to promote “common action to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in our region” (Chambésy, Decision 2c). We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) as we eagerly anticipate the Holy and Great Council.
The Assembly concluded with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Friday, May 28, 2010 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City. During the Liturgy prayers were offered for the repose of the eleven victims of the current ecological disaster in the Gulf Coast, for the consolation of their families, for all those adversely affected by this catastrophe, as well as for all people living under conditions of war, persecution, violence, and oppression.
Of the sixty-six Hierarchs in the region, the following 55 were present at this Assembly:
Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman
Metropolitan Philip, Vice Chairman
Archbishop Justinian, Vice Chairman
Bishop Basil, Secretary
Bishop Ioan Casian
[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the corrected list and order of bishops' names at the official release.]
It was a pretty hot day in Manhattan yesterday. Despite the discomfort, though, the Orthodox Christian hierarchy of North America seemed to be in pretty decent spirits.
I’m here in Manhattan at the 2010 Orthodox Episcopal Assembly of North America in an auxiliary role. I don’t get to attend the actual meetings, though I’ve been at some of the meals and have spent time with the hierarchs and others present in the halls of the hotel. Since this is such a genuinely historic occasion, we thought it might be of interest to readers to provide an informal witness to how things have been proceeding, to what it’s like to be here. (You may also be interested to read the officially published opening addresses of Abp. Demetrios (Constantinople), Metr. Philip (Antioch), Abp. Justinian (Moscow), and Abp. Nicolae (Romania).)
First, although things are happening in an expensive hotel right on Central Park in Manhattan, it’s not a particularly posh or opulent place. The building consists mostly of hotel rooms, most of which (including those being stayed in by the bishops) are not really of higher level than your average Holiday Inn. To be honest, most Holiday Inns I’ve ever been to have far vaster facilities than the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, which doesn’t boast numerous parlors and meeting rooms. There’s essentially one large meeting room where the Assembly is taking place, as well as an adjacent dining area where the bishops are eating. (The dining room was small enough that people like me had to eat our meals out on the roof in the sun!) My guess is that the facility was either donated or a good deal was gotten, since the gentleman in charge of the hotel has a rather Greek name. The food is decent, though not extravagant.
Milling about among the hierarchy—more than 50 in all—I am of course struck by the several languages one can hear. I’ve heard at least English, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic and Greek. But it’s mostly all English, which is not surprising, since there is very little in the way of the bishops sticking to their “own” jurisdictional groups. That is, from what I can see, they’re not being cliquish. They are actually circulating quite a lot among each other. Speaking of languages, though, it was enjoyable last night at dinner at a nearby restaurant when the prayer before the meal including chanting in Arabic, Slavonic and Greek, along with some spoken parts in English. I was fascinated at how many of the assembled hierarchs could sing the Pentecost troparion together in Greek. (Your humble servant remembered only maybe 50%.)
The mood among the bishops seems mostly good-natured and perhaps just a little bored. I’ve been told that most of what was done yesterday was procedural. There are a decent number of smiles among the hierarchy, though there does not seem to be either an ecstatic mood nor a sullen one. I’ve not heard any “exercised” conversations, though I have heard plenty of laughter as the bishops sit at table. One of the highlights of yesterday’s proceedings (Update: I heard, but have not confirmed) was the election of His Grace, Bishop Basil of Wichita, as the Secretary of the Assembly. My speculation is that that means he’ll be doing a lot of the day-to-day management of the ongoing work of the Assembly. (Update: After looking at the scheduled agenda, it seems that the election of a Secretary and Treasurer are not supposed to be until this afternoon. Not sure what that means in light of what I heard.)
All in all, it’s good to be here, and my impression is that, even if not quite yet the case, we are witnessing the beginnings of brothers dwelling together in unity. No doubt this will be a long, bumpy road, and there will be much to do, with lots of boring, detailed work along the way. But as one who is hopeful for our coming together in a single Orthodox Church for America, it appears to me that there is a good beginning here in Manhattan. No doubt the prayers of the faithful that are blanketing this modern-day New Rome are having a good effect.
We’ve tried this before. Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity. Next week, from May 26-28, we embark upon a sixth effort — an effort which, compared to its predecessors, seems remarkably promising.
First, of course, there were the Russians. In the early 20th century, the Russian Archdiocese envisioned itself as the platform for Orthodox unity in America. Its sainted archbishop, Tikhon Bellavin, articulated an innovative vision to deal with the unprecedented diversity of ethnic Orthodox Christians in the New World. He proposed that the Russian Archdiocese be organized, not along territorial lines, but according to ethnicity — a bishop for the Russians, another for the Syrians, another for the Serbs, still another for the Greeks. St. Tikhon realized that the different ethnic groups needed their own ethnic hierarchs, and his first step in implementing this plan was to consecrate St. Raphael Hawaweeny as bishop for the Syrians. Separate, overlapping administrative units were created for the Serbs, and later for other groups (e.g. the Albanians), but St. Tikhon’s overall plan was never fully enacted. The tenuous unity that existed among the Russians, Serbs, and Syrians soon fell apart, and by 1920, any notion of American Orthodox unity under the Russians was dead.
Dead, but not forgotten. When St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop, died in 1915, he left no obvious successor. His flock divided into warring camps, one party favoring continued subordination to the Church of Russia, the other submission to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Eventually, the Russian Archdiocese consecrated Aftimios Ofiesh to be St. Raphael’s replacement. And, whatever else one might say of Archbishop Aftimios, he was nothing if not a visionary. In 1926, he proposed the idea of an autocephalous jurisdiction, the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” which would transcend ethnicity and embrace all the Orthodox in America. The Russian Metropolia — successor to the Russian Archdiocese, and predecessor to the OCA — granted Archbishop Aftimios his wish in 1927. Archbishop Aftimios went around acting like he was the head of an autocephalous Church, but few paid any attention to him, and even the Russian Metropolia soon withdrew its support. As hopeful an idea as the AOCC might have been, it never had any real chance of uniting all the Orthodox in America.
Archbishop Aftimios effectively destroyed his already fringe jurisdiction in 1933, when he married a girl young enough to be his daughter. But two of his top assistants, the convert priests Michael Gelsinger and Boris Burden, continued to dream of a united American Orthodox Church. They spearheaded a 1943 effort that resulted in the “Federation,” which was to SCOBA what the League of Nations was to the UN. The Federation included the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America (Greek, New York Antiochian, and Moscow Patriarchal, along with Serbian, Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Russian), with the glaring exceptions of the Russian Metropolia and ROCOR. In its short life — measured in months, as opposed to years — the Federation achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. It managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. Just as significantly, the Federation led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. My own Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by that legislation, from the 1940s.
In the end, though, the Federation fell apart. There were probably dozens of reasons for the failure, but, in my view, the biggest was simply that the bishops involved in the Federation weren’t committed enough to its success. Well, most of them. One man who was deeply committed to the vision of the Federation was the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He kept the Federation going, on paper only, through the whole of the 1950s. In 1960, the Federation was reborn as SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. The “big three” jurisdictions — Greek, Antiochian, and Russian Metropolia — were led by three larger-than-life figures, Archbishop Iakovos Koukouzis, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. Among many, the unification of all the American Orthodox jurisdictions seemed imminent.
A decade later, though, there was still no administrative unity. The Russian Metropolia had entered into talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, and in April of 1970, Moscow issued a Tomos, granting autocephaly to its formerly estranged American daughter. The Metropolia became the “Orthodox Church in America” — the OCA, and in the words of an official brochure published at the time, “invite[d] all of the national Orthodox church ‘jurisdictions’ in America to join with it in unity.” This marked the fifth major attempt to unify the various jurisdictions.
Today, of course, there is still no administrative unity. Five decades have passed since SCOBA was created, and four since the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to the OCA. SCOBA has been useful — it has fostered cooperation, if not actual administrative unity, and its many agencies are doing great work. For its part, the OCA did bring in Romanian, Albanian, and Bulgarian jurisdictions, although in every case the OCA group has a non-OCA counterpart jurisdiction. I think it’s safe to say that, despite the best efforts of many great people, neither SCOBA nor the OCA will be the platform for future administrative unity.
Before we get to Attempt No. 6, we should ask — why did all five past attempts at unity fail? Why could neither the Russian Archdiocese, nor the American Orthodox Catholic Church, nor the Federation, nor SCOBA, nor the OCA, succeed in bringing all the jurisdictions together into a single ecclesiastical entity? The answers, of course, are many and complex, but several common threads are apparent. The Russian Archdiocese, the AOCC, and the OCA were all unilateral efforts, led by a single group which tried to get the others to join it. The Federation and SCOBA were “pan-Orthodox” endeavors, but the leaders lacked a common vision, and, worse, the support of their “Mother Churches.” Yes, the Mother Churches may have granted permission for their American jurisdictions to join SCOBA, but they certainly didn’t share a vision of administrative unity in America.
There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.
Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which holds its first meeting this coming week, includes every single Orthodox bishop in America — every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.
There is no guarantee that the Episcopal Assembly will succeed, and if it does, it’s not clear whether that will be in 5 years or 15. But one thing, to me, is certain: all of us — all who share a desire for canonical unity in America — should throw our support and prayers behind the Assembly, and beg the Holy Spirit to guide its work, just as he guided the work of the Ecumenical Councils themselves. Because, make no mistake — this is the best chance we’ve ever had, or may likely have for many decades to come. May it be blessed by God.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Over on frontierorthodoxy, I have uploaded some English-language documents relating to the Episcopal Assembly. I won’t repeat what I typed there, so if you’re interested, go here:
Otherwise, here are the links to the documents themselves:
Orthodox Christian Leaders meet at Ecumenical Patriarchate-1
Thank you to George Matsoukos for providing these. I would also encourage people to join the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) and others in praying for unity, if you do not already do so:
None of this will identify old clergy photos, but I think we’ll find the work of the Episcopal Assembly to be much more historically significant