by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, November 2015
Many are asking if the Antiochians have changed their minds about Orthodox unity in America. Our response to the Proposal of the Canonical Regional Planning Committee printed in The WORD deserves some clarication. After all, Patriarch Ignatius IV, Metropolitan Antony and Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory, as well as the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America have been calling for administrative unity for almost a century. We must have a detailed understanding of the terms under which this unity will be achieved, however. There are many questions which still remain unanswered, and until we have detailed answers it is entirely possible that the proposed unity will not uplift the Church in America, but may very well cause harm, which can never be allowed.
Metropolitan Joseph has reassured us that he remains committed to the process of bringing administrative unity to the new world, and more. “More” means a united outreach to the unchurched Orthodox and non-Orthodox in the neighborhoods of our churches. “More” means mutual respect and cooperation of all people. “More” means meeting the real needs of the faithful in all of our Churches. “More” means that Orthodox churches in the new world take care of everybody, regardless of ethnic identity. To do this we need to be creative, cooperative, open to God and willing to work with each other. In Metropolitan Joseph’s words, “While the idea of the Assembly is noble, we need to address many concerns.”
There remain many questions that need to be addressed before real unity can be achieved. These questions must be adequately explored before a concrete proposal can be made to a Pan-Orthodox Council. We have some questions of our own. Under what specific conditions would the mother churches be willing to release their daughter churches? If some of the churches released their daughter churches, to whom would they release them? How will bishops for America be elected? How can we organize in such a way to care best for the people in our parishes? Who will decide when a parish is viable and should be blessed to continue? How will we care for the parishes that use the Western Rite? Will the laity be included in the leadership of the Church?
At the Assembly of Bishops, the Canonical Regional Planning Committee was asked to find canonists to study all of the world’s autocephalous churches and their histories to find canonical models that may help us discern what is best for us. We also asked the committee to work with bishops in regions of North America to develop models on paper (that is, not implemented) that may be proposed. As Antiochians, we support and applaud these efforts. We are also committed to working together as an Assembly, and locally with the other Orthodox bishops in the region that we serve to bring our people together. Presently, many parish faithful don’t know their Orthodox neighbors. Unity is not something that should be imposed from above.
There is no doubt in my mind that all of the bishops are sincere, God-loving men seeking God’s will. We believe God’s will is to serve His people best. We believe all Orthodox are His Church. We need to be open to God’s Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us to meet best the needs of His holy Church. We must not lose the unity that God has given us in a process to unite administratively. We need to be faithful to God and each other.