[Text of a presentation delivered by His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel at the Orthodox Christian Laity Conference, October 20, 2001]
“The Celebration of the First Anniversary of the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the United States of America & The Establishment of the Patriarchate”
It has been one year since the recognition of the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church of The United States of America. The Church now has a unified voice in the person of His Holiness, The Patriarch, and a common forum of action, The Holy Synod of The Orthodox Church of The United States of America and The National Assembly of The Orthodox Church of The United States of America.
In English, Greek, many Slavic tongues, Arabic, Albanian, Romanian, and native languages, chanting of the Service of Thanksgiving as mandated by His Holiness, the Patriarch, in conjunction with the Holy Synod of 51 archbishops and bishops, has been offered up to God without interruption since the signing of the Tomos of Autocephaly.
After two hundred and some years, the Orthodox Church in the United States of America is now united administratively. Although she was, more or less, united in a spiritual union through the decades, now there is full sacramental unity for there is no division of the sacramental life from the administrative and the administrative from the sacramental.
With the blessing of the Mother Churches, each ethnic jurisdiction became an autonomous body (“pre-autocephalic” was the name given to this unique state of existence of multi-jurisdictions in the USA) and when all had received this blessing, His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, in the name of all the Churches, recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of The United States of America.
For more than two hundred years, there had been a gradual coming together of all Orthodox Christians in the United States in working together in public activities such as the CEOYLA, Conference of Eastern Orthodox Youth Leaders of America and SCOBA, Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America. Later IOCC, OCMC were formed, Orthodox Christian Fellowship OCF and more recently, the OYOUSA, Orthodox Youth of The United States of America, with its various age divisions and the OCWOUSA, Orthodox Christian Women of The United States of America, one of the most active of the groups.
After the proclamation, in each city where there was a determined number of parishes, a City Council of Orthodox Christian Clergy and Laity, CCOCCL, was established to coordinate common activities and public relations. These form a unit within each State/ Commonwealth, State Council of Orthodox Christian Clergy and Laity SCOCCL with appropriate representation. Its purpose is principally to gather information about the general activities of the City Councils and to propose actions which affect the Church in each State/Commonwealth.
Giving witness and support to the growing unity of the Church were the numerous associations: there are the Associations of Orthodox Physicians, Dentists and Psychologists, Lawyers and Politicians and Public Servants, Engineers and Architects, Physicists and Scientists.
There is the vast network of University Professors of all disciplines, Elementary, Secondary Administrators and Teachers who are taking part in the formation of our national network of Orthodox Christian Schools.
The clergy associations and the clergy wives have regional and national organizations and even their children have a network between them.
The Church has evolved her own Insurance Company, and there is also health and life insurance for all Orthodox Christians.
Today, His Holiness, has come from Washington, D.C. to dedicate the 100th Senior Citizens Facility. Apartments and Condominiums are being established across the land. Last month His Holiness and the Lesser Synod dedicated the 51st Orthodox Hospice for those who have no family support in the remaining days of their lives.
The United Orthodox University and College Students Association, have been active in our own education facilities across the nation. The National Board of Regents, whose honorary head is the Patriarch, is comprised of outstanding Orthodox Christian Laity who are prominent in the area of national education.
The inauguration of another television network, the sixth since autocephaly, will take place next month. Radio stations, which have been also been broadcasting for some time, present unbiased news covering events of importance to Orthodoxy and the world.
The Websites relating to the Church, have proliferated with links to every diocese, parish and monastery, further knitting the Orthodox community closer together. Instructional and educational programs are available on sites and thousands of “hits” have been recorded since the Tomos.
Special audio programs about the sacraments, marriage counseling, how to prepare to be a God-parent, preparing for death, and many more are available through the City Council. Of course, the chat-rooms are active. It seems that there are sites for everyone. There is a special one for “I used to be Orthodox” and for those who have left the Church because of perceived and real problems. Another is for those who are confused or doubtful about life.
It has been a strong period of growth for lay catechists; women and men who are teaching courses in all areas of Orthodox Faith and Practice. The Church has blossomed with Orthodox who have renewed their faith, individuals coming into the faith and those who have been in confusion and have found the true faith. City-wide catechetical programs are established with various clergy and lay presenters.
Plans to found orphanages and homes for children and teens near diocesan centers have begun to bear fruit. The emergency 800 number across the country has numerous operations and with professional respondents. There is the “Unplanned Parenthood Line” which walks pregnant moms and worried fathers through a process which saves the lives of the unborn and also gives support to these parents. There is the “My Life is Precious to Me” for teens.
“Saint Basil’s Workers,” established years ago, has taken on new life. In this volunteer association, lay people are trained to visit the sick in hospital, in re-habitation homes and at home. In addition to visiting the sick and elderly, they hold vespers at least once a week wherever facilities are made available.
As part of the process of recognition and receiving the blessing from each Mother Church, the various pre-autocephalic churches pledged that they would not neglect the immigrant members of the Church in the United States. For the present, each ethnic jurisdiction has retained its administration while participating in all activities of the entire Church. Administrative unity is principally expressed through the unity of all hierarchs into one Holy Synod.
The National Conference is held each year for three years but will probably takes place once every three years. In between those three year intervals, regional conferences are being considered. All things being equal, these matters will be determined through the years to come by the entire Church meeting at different times and on various levels of participation.
All the hierarchs meet together twice a year, as the canons require. The various Metropolitanates, the name given to the previous Patriarchal jurisdictions, meet twice a year, at times different than the Holy Synod. There is also a permanent Synod which meets as required and the Patriarchal Council comprised of hierarchs, elected clergy and laity meets twice a year just before the Holy Synod. At this time, this Council is comprised of equal representation from all Metropolitanates.
Although the Metropolitan (jurisdictions) administrations are still in place, there is cooperation between every parish in towns and cities. Clergy and lay associations meet as one to supervise the schools, institutions and general activities of the Church in their area. These clergy-lay associations form regional associations which meet once a year and come together in general council once every three years.
This year, the President of our Nation will address the assembly and will participate in the closing ceremony. At the inauguration of the President last January, His Holiness, the Patriarch, offered the invocation. It was noted in the press that the presence of an Orthodox Christian Patriarchate at this ceremony was a first. What was even more significant is the fact that he is Patriarchate of The United States, the spokesman for millions of American citizens made a profound impression.
Although the metropolitan administrations continue, another administrative system was established as a normal response to the Tomos of Autocephaly. These are the territorial districts system into which all parishes, in addition to being part of their present metropolitan administrations, are included. As new English speaking missions are established and grow, hierarchs will be consecrated to pastor their needs. In this way, the immigrant is not neglected nor the American-born. The Church has wisely recognized that to be the Orthodox Church of the United States of America does not mean the suppression of existing ethnic parishes, administrations and expressions, but to sustain what is useful and to create what is essential for the good order of the Church.
The seats of these territorial districts/dioceses, will be determined by need. It was decided that the ethnic dioceses will continue with their particular seats. In time, there will be a territorial archbishop with ethnic bishops within his jurisdiction. Where, at this time, there are more than one hierarch in a city, the ethnic dioceses will continue as long as there is an active presence of that ethnic group.
Since the Tomos, there has been a noted increased in people embracing the monastic life. New sketes and monasteries are planned, each within the jurisdiction of the Territorial Districts. There are groups of laity living a form of communal life and who serve the Church in the inner cities, responding to the Beatitudes of our Lord.
The Church/Sunday School System has been revamped because of the existence and steady establishment of new elementary and secondary schools. Instead of each parish having a separate religious school program with its own expenses and duplications, city-wide programs have been established. Those who attend public schools have an opportunity to grow in their faith with centralized programs. Thus the financial and human resource burden has been lifted from each parish and is shouldered by the entire local/city church.
In addition to Orthodox teachings, the rich cultural heritage is maintained by programs established by the Metropolitanates. Wherever requested and sustained, foreign languages are taught and those activities which are not contrary to the dignity of the Church and which add to the enrichment of our American Orthodox Culture.
Continuous education programs for the clergy and laity are being established. A central publishing office with regional offices and plants prints a multitude of new works. The staff of translators is kept busy with translating from many languages into English and vice-verse.
The various musical traditions are respected and schools for directors and cantors provide appropriate training in English and other languages. The publishing of liturgical books is in a state of constant review to keep the liturgical language understandable but also literary and appropriate to praise of the Holy Trinity.
Considering the wealth of experience in business and the economic sections, a number of Committees have formed to give direction to the finances of the Church. There is a network of these committees advising all levels of the structure of the Church. Another benefit of unity is the existence of Central Purchasing Agencies from which all kinds of equipment and material needs are to be found in catalogues and made available at a better price.
An Orthodox “Think-Tank” has been existence almost since the day one of the Tomos. There is no topic which cannot be reviewed from the Orthodox Christian understanding of transfiguration.
Due to the wealth of experience of our Orthodox Community, the Church is called upon to participate in numerous dialogues, political, social as well as religious. Our presence is sought because we are experienced in the art of multi-cultural living. Our hierarchs are being called upon to be more involved in the general life of the nation. The old idea that a bishop is responsible only for his own particular ethnic groups is being replaced by a new sense of responsibility to all peoples within his diocese.
Our children, meeting together in social events, have found joy in knowing that they are not a minority nor un-appreciated. They are inviting their friends to these events which allow others to appreciate the values of Orthodox Christianity.
As part of the first year celebration, each diocese which does not already have one, will establish a food kitchen for the poor and will open places of shelter for those who are without a bed. In this area, the laity have taken the lead and are planning, organizing, staffing and supporting these hands-out from Christ projects.
Missionary efforts within and outside the country are beginning to expand. There are numerous “retirees” who have discovered within themselves a burning desire to reach out to others with the Orthodox way of life.
We have not forgotten our roots and offer to the Sister Churches numerous gifts of goods and services, but only if they have need and request. On the other hand, the tradition of the Church in America, from long before the Tomos was one of sharing the many blessings with which we have been blessed and we cannot not do the same now,…in the name of Christ.
His Holiness has expressed appreciation to those communities which have initiated “Centers for Orthodox Christian Studies”. The centers are a kind of amalgamation of ministries for charity, for religious renewal and restoration and for education. They are supported by the entire local Orthodox population and are known throughout the cities as representing the unity of the Church.
A national central library was initiated six months ago. Some talk has been mentioned of establishing one single seminary so that our clergy will be educated in the same spirit. Similar to the university style in Europe, a central school with various ethnic collegia will be established so that a universal theological training will knit the clergy together and particular needs for the ethnic immigration will be properly insured.
There is a new board reviewing the lives of American Orthodox to ascertain if we are not already venerating some whose lives are worthy to be recognized as holy.
The cornerstone for our National Cathedral will be laid during this next year. His Holiness has asked us to pray and fast for that day so that God will accept this new temple as a sign of our humility before him and not a sign of pride. It will be in the Greater Washington area. Thus, the celebration of the first anniversary of the autocephaly and the establishment of the patriarchate is being commemorated.
A note to the reader: This “Possible Scenario” does not point out the spiritual blessings which will be reaped from the establishment of the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in The United States. It was our intention to focus on the practical blessings which would result and to offer some possible ways by which the structure of the Church might be considered. This in the hope that those who say that it is not time for autocephaly or there is no structure, will consider that communication will be foremost in finding solutions to a real scenario.
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America