Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
Overview of the History of OCL Presented by Executive Director George Matsoukas in the IOTA Session: “SHOWCASE OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS”
Why are we here?… Why have we exerted so much effort, time and expense to be together?… I am here from the United States representing Orthodox Christian Laity, because I am an Orthodox Christian and rejoice that I am part of the right-believing, right-worshipping and right-living Christian faith! I am also here, though, to challenge us on that “right-living” aspect. While we proclaim that we are united in Christ through Creed and Worship, and especially the Holy Eucharist, we have much work to do in living out this same faith which calls us to focus on Jesus Christ first and what He expects from us as His followers, instead of becoming entangled in the divisive temptations of power, politics and culture.
Please permit me to provide a short description and history of Orthodox Christian Laity. Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) is a grassroots movement that was established as an independent, non-profit, educational ministry incorporated 32 years ago in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Many of its founders were organizers of: 1) the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) movement which was started by returning veterans of the 2nd World War; and, 2) the Council of Eastern Orthodox Youth Leaders of the Americas (CEOYLA), which in 1966 hosted a meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bringing together 13,000 Orthodox Christian young people. The hierarchy were taken aback by the organizational skills and enthusiasm of youth for Pan Orthodox unity and systematically slowed down the momentum.
Today, OCL consists of 15,000 friends, supporters and benefactors. It hosts one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Christian web sites: ocl.org. In addition to the web site, it employs social media to educate those interested in receiving Orthodox news from around the world. OCL has hosted 31 Annual Meetings and 68 Open Forums in different geographic areas of the USA, addressing issues related to uniting the jurisdictions, as well as administrative accountability and transparency. Clergy and laity addressing these issues are noted for their work and expertise in these areas. Many of their talks are videotaped and can be viewed on the web site. Links to many of the other Orthodox Christian web sites are listed and can be accessed through the OCL web site. OCL archives of primary resources are maintained at the John T Richardson Library at De Paul University Chicago, Illinois. Materials in the collection have been accessed by researchers and students seeking graduate degrees.
A list of nine OCL Occasional Papers, dealing with such topics as monasticism in the USA, Orthodox Christian unity and governance, the role of the laity in the life of the Church, and five books published and sponsored by OCL, can also be found on its web site.
OCL is governed by a board of directors, executive committee and advisory board members from all walks of life representing different jurisdictions and residing in all geographical areas of the USA. Members include distinguished hierarchs, academics, business professionals, high tech personnel, journalists, attorneys and other faithful Orthodox Christians. They participate in the sacramental life of their local parishes and offer their time and talents as chanters; Sunday School teachers; parish, diocesan, and national board members; and participants in parish service groups. The OCL board has provided informational, financial and moral support to organizations and programs that relate to its mission.
As a grassroots movement, OCL sees itself as a catalyst and advocate for the strengthening and renewal of the Church, by educating and thereby empowering the laity to exercise its responsibility for the spiritual and administrative life of the Church. Elements of this strengthening and renewal include transparency, accountability and Orthodox Christian Unity in the geographic areas that were not traditionally Orthodox, such as the USA, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The synodical system, which convened the Holy and Great Council in 2016, after hundreds of years, needs to be employed on a regular basis. Thought should be given to establishing a multicultural Orthodox Christian Secretariat. Coming to grips with the reality in which we function requires more communication among bishops. More meetings must be focused on unity. Fragmentation is a form of marginalization. OCL is gratified to see that the hierarchy shares its insights, but we do not accept the reasons why the bishops cannot move forward to make unity a reality. OCL board members have met with Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and Clergy to discuss these matters.
The reality is that Orthodox Churches in pluralistic societies that consist of multiple ethnic jurisdictions are uncanonical. The laity have understood this fact for a long time, because even beyond the ecclesiastical reasons, we see our time, talent and resources being squandered. The Assemblies of Bishops established 10 years ago must move forward to bring about unity by creating opportunities that empower local clergy and laity associations to work together. In 2014, Patriarch Bartholomew instructed the Assembly of Bishops meeting in Dallas, Texas “to move beyond what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’ to what is ‘ours’. From now on, this is how we should conceive and conduct all of our ministries and resources, all of our departments and initiatives. Otherwise, we do not practice what we preach. It is really up to us to accept the challenge or refuse the call.” The laity in pluralistic societies know that where unity is practiced (for example in Cleveland, Ohio), so much more of Christ’s mission is accomplished. In the United States, the laity have come together to form International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), and in unity have transformed numerous lives in Christ.
We celebrate the establishment of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA)! As OCL, we can assist the hierarchs to move ahead, because we are not impeded by their historical circumstances. Theologians need to educate all of us in direct and active ways utilizing social media, print and video media to project their insight beyond the academic community. From OCL’s inception, we have called for lay theologians to be active participants leading the Church to unity. They need to be active change agents. We are excited about the future work of IOTA and pray that your commendable efforts may bear bountiful fruit!
OCL Executive Director
IOTA Inaugural Conference, Iasi, Romania – Selection of Videos, International Orthodox Theological Association