Source: Orthodox Christian Laity

Thank you to the thirty respondents who provided thoughtful answers to two questions in a survey distributed at the end of June 2021. The voice of the Orthodox faithful reveals a sampling of grassroots understanding and passionate opinions about this important issue.

1) In your opinion, what major obstacles must be overcome to administratively unite the Orthodox Church on the American continent?

Have everyone recognize the status of the OCA.

(1) The fear of losing money and “handing over ” assets to some other authority. (2) The clergy are more opposed to giving up their ethnic turf than are the laity. (3) The OCA should act in accordance with their purpose…but they also have overlapping bishop jurisdictions. They should formally fix this as an example to the other Orthodox groups. (4) Who is going to be in charge? Power, egos, status. How about a pan-Orthodox Synod with rotating chairmanships. (5) How will the central headquarters be merged into one? Do they have to be? Probably yes.

Such unity is a bad idea for several reasons and not canonical. The rule is one bishop PER CITY not per nation.

Constantinople requires sources of capital which only the αποικιες (colonies) can provide.

The foreign jurisdictions wanting to retain a foothold on this continent, and specifically in the US.

Humility and Charity – keystone virtues of the ancient Church – must be the driving force of restoring a united Orthodox Church. Holding on to hierarchical power, ethnic identity, ecclesiastical treasures, and pride of our accomplishments must give way to a knowing that we must truly believe what we preach – that the good and ultimate triumph of Orthodoxy can only be a passing dream unless we actually act on our Keystone virtues. Acting on what we believe, is more difficult than sacrificing anything for what should be. Let us shed our pretenses and do the hard work. God and the laity desperately want this to happen.

You’re spitting in the wind on unifying anything if you don’t unify with the healthiest and most powerful lung of our Lord’s Church: The Russian Orthodox Church.

Overseas patriarchates squabbling and unwilling to work together. Overidentification of churches to nationalities and ethnicities. Local political alignments and fundamentalism.

Shifting understanding of “Autocephaly”. It would seem to mean one thing to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and an entirely different thing to most other Orthodox primates. In my country, at a pan-Orthodox service, the Greek primate, in his address, effectively implied that with unity we could all become Greeks!

Hierarchal Ego within the churches, political obstruction from the outside.

The time has come to stop dragging our feet with all the petty excuses!! Get it done NOW!

The GOA must recognize that the United States of America was first evangelized by missionary Russians from Valaam. These missionaries would go on to establish the first Orthodox presence in America which would lead all the way to Archbishop Tikhon as the first Orthodox hierarch on American soil. This saint was a visionary many, many, years before your organization was even a thought. He and St. Raphael of Brooklyn united Serbs, Russians, Americans, Romanians, Ukrainians and even Greeks under one omophorion. The OCA, as the legacy to St. Tikhon, was given their autocephaly by the church of Russia and should rightly be acknowledged as the multiculturally diverse jurisdiction of primacy in America. This is the first and foremost obstacle now that the GOA feels they are the “first church ” and only church to correct these jurisdictional anomalies. They will give up nothing but expect everyone else to renounce everything and submit to them.

Here are some obstacles: (1) ethnocentric attitudes, (2) Orthodox fundamentalism, (3) strong ties to the Mother church in the old country, (4) fear, (5) ignorance, and (6) profound indifference to what’s being proposed.

Use English in the services, serve together, for example on Sunday of Orthodoxy have a joint service. Have a joint service monthly at different locations.

People outside of North America don’t want it to happen.

OCL has no plan for holding the Assembly of Bishops accountable for their inaction. OCL is stuck in complain mode.

First, the schism involving the recognition of the Kyiv Patriarch needs to be annulled. There is only one true Ukrainian Church, that under the omophorion of +Onuphrios. Without the healing of this schism, forget about Orthodox unity.

The phyletistic jurisdictions of the Greeks and Arabs.

Mother Churches interfering in the Ecclesiastical Affairs of other Mother Churches.

Orthodox Patriarchs of the various Churches must unite and speak with a unified voice. Today you have serious dysfunction amongst all Orthodox Churches.

Our leaders must be humble and willing to listen to one another. The current disagreements among various Orthodox churches in Europe and elsewhere must be resolved or put aside in order for us all to unite.

For some Hierarchs to comply with the canons, traditions, etc., and not to recognize schismatic groups, their places of worship, and especially the schismatic leadership.

The bishops who make up the Assembly must make decisions based on majority rule rather than 100 percent agreement. They need to focus on the needs of the people living here in America. They need to put themselves in our shoes and stop being foreign agents. They need to become a canonical synod, elect their head and get on with the work of the Church.

I believe the obstacles preventing unification are administrative in nature; which jurisdiction will be the dominant force to lead the North American Church, control issues; which Bishop from what jurisdiction gets assigned to the most prominent cities in the US. I’m sure it is also difficult for the Mother Churches to give up their franchised operation in the United States. I think the stalemate has to do mostly with the business of a national church. I’m confident most Orthodox clergy are on the same page when it comes to the faith. That leaves only the worldly concerns as the obstacle, and I’m guessing there is really no workaround to that, other than being patient and praying the Hierarchy does what they know is right; and God willing, a leader will emerge from among the ranks of Bishops to lead our Orthodox Community to the wholeness it deserves.

The schisms between Moscow and Constantinople and between Jerusalem and Antioch show that instead of an Orthodox Church, we have several independent national Orthodox Churches. These schisms are outward symptoms of profound and long-lasting problems in Orthodox ecclesiology. The problem in America is just one of many other symptoms.

Lack of a will from the current leadership (Bishops) to create a unified American Orthodox Church.

No hierarch wants to give up what is his. Some of the hierarchs from abroad, like Patriarch John X, do not wish to lose what they consider their lifeline. Any agreement for administrative unification in the U.S. must include a firm agreement to maintain financial support for each of the Mother Churches as it is today. Another obstacle is that the non-Greek, Carpatho-Russian, or Ukrainian eparchy’s fear that the Ecumenical Patriarchate seeks a takeover of the diaspora. If GOArch was smart, and it often isn’t, it would find a way to place all the EP eparchy’s within it, while guaranteeing the maintenance of their existing character, their practices and cultural traditions. Further, the existing estrangement between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate compounds the obstacles. A unilateral shift to autocephaly is wrong and unnecessary. Autonomy is appropriate. The Holy Churches should negotiate which church will oversee each Episcopal Region, like the EP North and Central America, the MP, Western Europe, etc. Another group of 3 Churches could serve as an Appeals council over the Church that oversees each Region. The canonical chaos in the diaspora is a unique situation that requires unique solutions. Frankly, the model that the AOB had considered had a great deal of merit and should be pursued. There must also be a return to North and Central America as the Episcopal Region. The Church is poorly served by national churches. A return to regional territories must be the norm for each Episcopal Region. Canada can be given some form of autonomy within. Central America could be the mission to which this Region is devoted. Consideration of Archbishop Elpidophoros’ extraordinary coziness with Patriarch Bartholomew must also be addressed. While I support the promotion of the responsibilities of the EP as the “First Throne,” I abhor the EP’s meddling in the internal affairs of GOArch from 9,000 miles away. The loss of the “Orthodox Observer” is also problematic. Whatever is going on with the revision of the Constitutional Charter must be exposed. Lots of obstacles; lots of work. Not realistic. Most unfortunate.

The Greek government’s influence on Greek Orthodox Hierarchs outside of Greece.

You are the biggest obstacle. You claim you want unity but then you publish an article criticizing Met. Hilarion Alfeyev – you pretty much call him a scum bag (see your published article that was written by Fr. John Chryssavgis). I also suspect your definition of unity is to do whatever Archbishop Elpidophoros says.

The ethnic boundaries and pride of each parallel jurisdiction.

2) What do you believe the hierarchs of the Assembly of Bishops would say are the criteria that must be met to fulfill the 2009 Chambesy Decision?

All of the American bishops need to have the strength to respectfully “stand up” to their non-USA-based Patriarchs.

Shut the whole idiot project down. With a plurality here, if something goes wrong in one jurisdiction, you often don’t have far to go to get into another one.

The bishops in the country divide territory, and while “formally” retaining authority over parishes in their jurisdiction, delegate episcopal oversight of parishes in territories designated for other bishops, regardless of jurisdiction and assume such oversight for others, so that functionally, the various jurisdictions are acting as one, with one bishop performing all episcopal functions in a given location, working cross-jurisdictionally. This may require bishops to defy direction from their foreign jurisdictions, but when such de facto unity has been demonstrated for enough years, it will be recognized.

I unequivocally believe in the power (and the desire) of the Omnipotent God of all creation but, I have little faith that humankind will make the sacrifices necessary the see to the survival of the Church. The powers will hold fast to their treasures in lieu of reunion. They will still drag on and on with excuses until the secular “churches” of our time win the battle. The devil is on our doorstep.

None. They made it clear they are happy with their ethnic ghettos.

Criteria are not as relevant as a true desire for local unity. In my surroundings, there are very few contacts between the ethnically-based traditions. To each his own. What the bishops tell each other and what they tell their flocks may not be the same thing. If you really want unity, you start by directing your parishes to start interacting locally, not isolating them from each other.

They can say what they want, but I do not see anyone running to give up authority to unite the church. It will be expected for the OCA to renounce or surrender their autocephaly, and I do not foresee the various other bishops relinquishing any parishes or authority for the GOA to dictate mandates to their subjugated former parishes. Don’t mean to sound negative, but this is the prevailing theme over the last several years; and now with the new leadership of the GOA with their bold statements regarding ecumenism, if this is what is to come from uniting, watch what you wish for.

The salient question isn’t what “the Assembly of Bishops would say,” but what are they actually thinking? I suspect that a significant percentage say one thing and think another. To be more specific, I suspect many say what is socially desirable at any given time and actually think other things regarding administrative unity. Fact is, some segments of the Orthodox world are simply not ready to seriously consider any form of unity.

They need to act, not just talk.

I have not been able to get clear answers on this. Mixed messages.

They would say what they are saying now: nothing.

The recognition that in any given city there will be multiple bishops to attend to the needs of the individual ethnic churches which are only increasing due to rapid, new immigration patterns.

They have spoken by their inaction.

Get the Patriarch of Constantinople to repudiate and repent from his activities in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, it’s completely out of their hands, and they will not and cannot fulfill the 2009 decision until you have a united Orthodox Church. The Patriarchs are responsible for this and are preventing a united American Orthodox Church. The OCA is the only true American Orthodox Church and the other jurisdictions are guests.

Establishment of the hierarchy across the ethnic variations and within the regions described in the document with the aim of organizing the churches within each subregion domain.

Ask them!

They are controlled from abroad and need to break the yoke.

I think the criteria for the Bishops is self-serving and worldly. Concerning Bishops, you have all chiefs and no servants.

Who knows what they would say. I would say, If we are truly one church, if the Churches in the old world truly gave us a mandate, then we must be obedient. Obedience is the criterion. Our crisis is no primacy and no obedience.

The criteria would be to get them out of their seats of comfort, break their rice bowls and reconstruct the church as it should be in the Americas. This will require more Bishops to be elected from American clergy and not old country clergy. We need to consider churches outside the old country part of the diaspora and more as a mission to evangelize non-orthodox countries — that’s the true TRADITION of the church.

I don’t know. Probably some loose coordination of the hierarchs in each Region.

Appoint American or Canadian-born and raised bishops to oversee the Orthodox Church of North America.

It’s hard to guess what they might say.


1 Comment

  1. All of this is skata! The current OCA has the Romanians, Albanians, Bulgarians, etc. within her. There are NO ISSUES. Their bishops all sit in the Synod of the OCA yet, each ethnic bishop takes care of their own parishes. What’s the problem? Through attrition, as different bishops fall asleep, then integration and re-alignment of dioceses can take place. No need for grandiose decisions to be made for Orthodox unity – just do it. It is the foreign bishops who wish to keep American Orthodox divided keeping themselves in control of their non-canonical dioceses syphoning off more & more money!

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