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The Episcopal Assembly, and Beyond- Metropolitan Jonah

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.oca.org/PDF/DOC-PUB/TOC/2010/toc-spring-summer.pdf The Orthodox Church 9-Spring/Summer 2010 The Episcopal Assembly, and Beyond The Episcopal
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2010
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      http://www.oca.org/PDF/DOC-PUB/TOC/2010/toc-spring-summer.pdf

      The Orthodox Church 9-Spring/Summer 2010

      The Episcopal Assembly, and Beyond

      The Episcopal Assembly has come and gone. Many people put enormous
      amounts of hope in it, but wonder what exactly happened at it. Given the fact
      that there was little or no secular coverage, and minimal coverage – or even
      comments – from the participants following the
      Assembly, it seems like little was
      accomplished.

      Metropolitan Jonah

      Perhaps the greatest and most important aspect of the
      Episcopal Assembly, not to be undervalued, was that
      it brought together most of North America’s Orthodox
      bishops to meet and begin to speak to one another, in
      a constructive way. Certain organizational issues were
      discussed, such as dividing the North American Assembly
      to three separate assemblies – Latin America,
      the US, and Canada. Committees were discussed, and
      volunteered for. The ministries of the Standing Conference of
      Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas were discussed, and
      the Assembly recognized itself as SCOBA’s successor. There was
      a common recognition of the need for coordination in many
      pastoral areas – sharing lists of disciplined clergy, the status of
      parishes and clergy, and so forth – and the need to create and
      finance an office to handle such work. A statement was issued.

      But some of the glaring underlying issues were not discussed,
      despite an undercurrent in the Assembly, such as the position of
      the Orthodox Church in America and the nonrecognition of its
      autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allied Churches;
      the multiplication of bishops with the same See, by both the Greek
      and Antiochian Archdioceses and the OCA; the plurality of
      jurisdictions; and so forth. The contentious issues were not given
      voice, as perhaps it is too early to publicly address such issues
      before mutual trust is established.

      As His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek
      Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who chaired the Assembly,
      put it, “this Assembly is not a small claims court.” In fact, His
      Eminence was masterful in avoiding any contentiousness, and
      kept the meeting moving in a very deliberate way. He deserves
      an immense amount of credit for keeping things together and
      moving, in a most gracious, constructive and refined manner.
      Of course, we also have to be grateful to him for keeping the
      OCA at the table, despite some powerful objections.

      Perhaps the most important issue is what was not addressed –
      the vision for the future – which remains the central question.
      Save for the one committee tasked with preparing a plan for unity,
      to be presented to the upcoming Pan-Orthodox Council
      (whenever that is to occur), the range of vision present in the room
      could be characterized as, on one end, a new context of pastoral
      cooperation on pressing matters, to a unified Church (on the other
      end [of the room]). While we would all agree that we need to
      cooperate – and indeed there are many common issues – what is
      most divisive is precisely the question of where to go from here, and
      how to get there.

      Different models of unity. It was most apparent that
      there are also two or three very different models of how a
      unified Church could be organized, if current organization is
      any context for such speculation. About half the bishops in the
      room were subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate: the Greeks,
      Ukrainians, Carpatho-Russians, and the EP Albanian bishop.
      This constitutes a model of unity, already existing among those
      jurisdictions, where each of the various groups has a relatively
      autonomous local Synod, but is directly under the jurisdiction
      of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In fact, the Greek Archdiocese’s
      Metropolitans each sit in rotation directly on the Synod of
      Constantinople. The non-Greek EP bishops are titular, with real
      flocks but without American Sees. On the Assembly’s Executive
      Committee, all these bishops would be represented by the
      Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch. How much actual
      interaction and coordination exists, I am not sure, other than
      that they do not form an American Synod together.

      The second model present in the room was that of the OCA:
      a fully united, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural autocephalous
      local Synod, conscious of being the Church in America, with
      a mission to all people within our territorial boundaries. The
      OCA has already been granted autocephaly – complete
      independence from its mother Russian Church; it would be
      necessary also for each of the other jurisdictions to be released
      from and by their Mother Churches to join into such a unity.
      In the OCA, there is a single Synod with its Primate, the
      Metropolitan, who is the reference point for the unity of the whole.
      A third “model,” if it can be so called, is the status quo: a loose
      cooperation of exarchates from Old World Churches, mainly
      concerned with consolidating and serving “their own” people
      This was what SCOBA tried to consolidate, to no end.
      The first two models are quite distinct. The first considers
      the Ecumenical Patriarch is the point of unity, though there
      remains a degree of jurisdictional autonomy. In the OCA model,
      the Metropolitan and united Synod within the territorial
      boundaries of North America are the point of unity. With the first,
      the canonical identity of the Church is derived from its
      relationship to the Patriarchate in Constantinople; with the
      second, the canonical status may originally have come from the
      mission sent by the mother Church, but it is now rooted in the
      reality of the Local Church and its local Synod. The first model
      preserves separate identities for each jurisdiction; the OCA
      model demands deeper integration and cooperation. With the
      first model, all major decisions are made in Constantinople,
      including the election of bishops; with the OCA model, all
      decisions are made locally and on a conciliar basis with the
      participation of the clergy and laity.

      Another major issue is the nature of the OCA’s autocephaly.
      The Ecumenical Patriarchate, while recognizing the canonicity
      of the OCA and its hierarchy, refuses to recognize its
      autocephaly. For this reason, the EP chose to exclude the OCA
      from the Executive Committee, though it recognized and seated
      our bishops as canonical hierarchs. While this makes no sense
      to us, we accepted it, as we believed it is better to attend in
      humility than to boycott the gathering. We also hope that this
      will be corrected in the future.

      Underlying the nonrecognition by the EP of our autocephaly
      are several major issues, all related. The first is that they did not
      grant it, nor did they accept Moscow’s right to grant it. Second,
      they have a substantial presence here, parallel to the OCA; that
      presence, the Greek Archdiocese, is their largest constituency,
      and it does not work to have another jurisdiction on the
      territory of an autocephalous Church. Third, when autocephaly
      is granted, it is normally to a Church that embraces all Orthodox
      Christians in a given territory; the OCA’s autocephaly was given
      only to one jurisdiction among others – regardless of the fact
      of the OCA’s seniority in North America, which should have been
      the canonical basis for all other Churches. If they were to
      recognize the OCA’s autocephaly, they would be forced
      canonically to release their jurisdictions to the Local
      Autocephalous Church. In short, the situation is very complex.
      The Chambésy meetings, which set the protocols for the
      Episcopal Assemblies, have also now set protocols for the
      granting of autonomy and autocephaly. Autonomy can be
      granted simply by a mother Church to one of her archdioceses,
      with the other Churches being informed of such action.

      Autocephaly, however, is proposed by a mother Church to the
      Ecumenical Patriarchate, which then gains the consensus of all
      the other Patriarchates for it. The Tomos given is then an
      ecumenical document, signed by all the Churches. This
      establishes the new autocephalous Church as universally
      recognized, so that all the Churches would relate to it as an
      autocephalous Church, and it would have a universally accepted
      place in the diptychs – the ordering of the Churches. This
      protocol makes sense; however, it is not retroactive. Were it
      retroactive, the OCA would be in a situation of having been
      proposed to the universal Church, and in the process of reception.
      Currently, five Churches accept the OCA’s autocephaly; five
      reject it, and four are noncommittal. What is not defined is the
      status of such a Church while in process of acceptance.

      Where do we go from here? It is clear that the faithful of
      the OCA want Orthodox unity – a united Synod of Bishops in
      America making its own decisions and guiding the life of the
      Church in America. We want to elect our own bishops and
      metropolitan, and we want conciliar clergy and lay participation.
      We also believe that many other Orthodox Christians in America
      share this same vision of the Church. As the OCA, we are not
      about to surrender our autocephaly, because it is an essential part
      of our identity; but we will merge it into another, larger
      autocephalous structure, when that time comes.

      We hope that this Assembly could lead to a “Pro-Synod,” in
      which all bishops come together and act as a single Synod,
      dealing with issues and problems that arise, perhaps even
      assigning bishops to areas where there are none, addressing
      overlapping jurisdictions, and building the foundations for a fully
      autocephalous Synod. In the meantime, each Church would
      retain its relationship to its mother Church. Its Primate would sit
      on the Executive Council of this Pro-Synod, but also represent it
      to its mother Church, and its mother Church to the American
      Pro-Synod. This is rather “out of the box” thinking, but that is
      what our anomalous situation demands. When the time is right,
      each American exarchate would be given independence from its
      mother Church, a single Tomos of autocephaly would be issued
      from all the mother Churches, and a Primate elected and
      universally recognized. The OCA would fully participate in such
      a structure.

      In the meantime, we are who we are. We know ourselves to be
      the heir of the Russian Mission of 1794, the work of Saint
      Innocent and Saint Tikhon, Saint Raphael and the blessed
      Sebastian Dabovich, Saint Alexis Toth and Saint Iakov of Sitka,
      Saint Nikolai Velimirovich and Saint John of San Francisco.

      We are maturing as a local Church in America, with seminaries
      and monasteries, hundreds of churches, and a tradition of
      Orthodoxy already ten or more generations deep. More than half
      our laity – and most of our priests and bishops – are converts to
      the Faith. We come from dozens of ethnic origins, and all races.
      We are truly a local indigenous Church, the fruit of the original
      Mission as well as the immigration and return of Uniates to
      Orthodox Christianity. And we received the gift of autocephaly
      and are striving to live up to it.

      Our mission is to openly embrace all others, to bring the
      light of Faith and the Good News of repentance and forgiveness
      to all those around us, to baptize them into the Orthodox
      Church, and to share with them our incorporation into the Body
      of Christ. We must embrace our fellow Orthodox Christians,
      leaving aside all that divides us, and finding the “unity of the
      Faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit” that unites us in
      profound intimacy.

      Practically, we can share many things between our parishes,
      across all jurisdictional lines. Youth groups and activities are a
      major opportunity. Clergy Brotherhoods can become effectively
      pro-deaneries or pro-dioceses. We can share health and pension
      programs, insurance plans, and other such things. We can
      cooperate in the support of monasteries, seminaries and
      charitable works, which transcend jurisdiction.

      But most of all, our task is to focus on the one thing needful:
      the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the task He has given us
      to actualize our unity: “That they may be one, as we are one;
      I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be perfectly one, that
      the world may know that Thou hast sent me” [John 17:21].
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