Impressions from the Episcopal Assembly

A View of Manhattan from Central Park

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.