Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
The eighth gathering of the Assembly of Bishops of the USA took place in Garfield, New Jersey, on October 3-5, 2017. Thirty-two Bishops out of the 52 Bishops were present. The Assemblies were authorized in 2008, and it is now 2017. They were authorized by all the Patriarchs and Autonomous Heads of Orthodox Churches with the charge to make the uncanonical structure in the lands beyond the ancient Roman Empire canonical. In the United States, there exist 14 parallel jurisdictions based on ethnicity and managed by Patriarchs in foreign lands. The exception is the Orthodox Church in America [OCA] which was granted autocephaly in 1970 by the Moscow Patriarchate. But this autocephaly is being undermined today by the Patriarchate in Moscow which has set up its own Patriarchal Churches and allows ROCOR to compete against the autocephalous Church which already exists here in the USA. This makes no sense!
The U.S. Assembly is no closer to reaching the goal of one bishop in one city today than it was in 2008. In fact, unity looks more elusive today than it did in the past. Unity in the United States was more promising under SCOBA and in 1994 when the Bishops met in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. There they issued two declarations: The Church in the United States has a missionary task; and the Church in the United States is not a Church in “diaspora.” Why have the Bishops failed to act in the face of an existential crisis for nine years?
The Assembly has failed to reach consensus, because the rules they have chosen to operate under require unanimous agreement. If only one dissents, the issue remains unresolved. Committees have been established, but some have failed to meet. Surveys of bishops and clergy attitudes have been developed and collected. The survey of bishops indicates 87 per cent of the bishop’s favor unity. But the proceedings of the bishops are not open to clergy and laity participation and input. Their work is not published. There is no accountability or transparency.
The excuses for the lack of progress are numerous. Four bishops dissent on most matters. Some jurisdictions say that the Patriarch of Constantinople had no right to call the other Patriarchs together to address the issue of canonical order outside of the traditional Orthodox Lands. Others suspect that the Patriarch of Constantinople is using the Assemblies to become the Pope of the East. Others have withdrawn, because they believe the crisis in the Middle East should rally the bishops around the Church of Antioch. Bulgarian and Georgian bishops believe that they are the only qualified clerics that can minister to recent immigrants of Bulgarian and Georgian ethnicity in the USA. Since the fall of Communism, Russian and Eastern European Bishops are making new inroads in the USA. The Romanian Patriarch has set up a Metropolitanate here when there has been a Romanian Episcopate here for over eighty years.
The concept of Omogenia and Phyletism which permeates Orthodox Christianity is a form of racism and the root cause of disunity. Some bishops put their ethnicity in a higher order than being Christ-centered. Christ-centered bishops could overcome all obstacles. They could quickly bring the Church into canonical order. Christ-centered bishops would declare themselves to be the Synod of the Orthodox Church in the United States. Uniting the Church administratively at the top will allow the Church to address and resolve all the other issues. Unity will come from Bishops trusting in Christ and the Holy Spirit. Expecting unity to arise from a groundswell among the laity, when the Bishops have not preached it or given permission to their clergy to educate their flocks about the benefits of unity, is a cynical formula for failure. It is like removing teachers from classrooms, and then blaming first graders for not learning to read and write by themselves.
We need to pray day and night for our bishops to trust in the Lord and do their duty. Their duty is bringing the Church in the United States into canonical order under their synodical and conciliar leadership. With the help of clergy and laity, we can be the missionary Church we are called upon to be.
Executive Director, Orthodox Christian Laity
George: All good and true. It all goes back to the 1960’s and the origins of SCOBA. At those early meeting they discussed a one, united, autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. All the bishops agreed to work toward this goal, including + Iakavos & + Philip and vowed to join such a church. The theological adviser to SCOBA, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, worked toward this goal and in 1970, the MP gave it’s daughter church in America, the Metropolia, it’s official blessing of autocephaly. This is exactly what SCOBA wanted. The Albanians joined, the Romanians joined, the Bulgarians joined, but the GOA and Antiochians waited. Soon thereafter, a flurry of denouncements came from the Phanar stating the new OCA was non-canonical and a rogue church. The GOA & Antiochians reneged from joining the OCA. Fast forward to Ligonier in 1994 when + Iakavos & + Philip tried to kick-start unity again. The Phanar retired + Iakavos, emasculated all the Greek bishops in America and installed a leader of the GOA who was totally loyal to the Phanar. + Philip continued to operate the Antiochian Archdiocese independently and resisted unity with the OCA. Fast forward to last year when the Phanar tried to force all unity of the Orthodox Churches world-wide under himself. Of course, this failed miserably. In the U.S., we have the bishops of the Assembly who are afraid of their own shadows. They are happy to have a job, have a place to live, food, retirement, a purpose and therefore, they don’t rock the boat. The Russians keep their Patriarchal churches & SYNODAL churches to give the Russians (MP) a strong foothold in the U.S. – Again, the ethnic hold of to the old country continuing to divide any unity in the U.S.
There is only one way forward, one or several very rich donors must step forward to protect the bishops in the U.S. (OCL members) Then, the bishops ALL MUST sign a document to their foreign over-lords that they are leaving them and joining the ONLY autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, the OCA. They can do this under a number of Canons that state, when an autocephalous Orthodox Church is established in a territory, ALL churches MUST join this church. Also, foreign bishops have no authority outside their own local territory – this includes all Patriarchs. Unless the U.S. bishops step up and are totally supported by a strong, forceful laity, unity will never happen. The Kingdom of God is to be taken by force!
This is the time when the Protestant world celebrate the daring and brave and dramatic events of the Reformation, with Martin Luther said to the Papacy “Enough is Enough!” I’m afraid we Orthodox do not have anybody of that stature; therefore, things will continue as usual. Sad!
While I share with my friend Mr. Matsoukas his distress at the decline in the visibility and influence of the North American Assembly of Bishops, where attendance at the annual Assembly and participation during the balance of the year has now reached a new low, I am not surprised at these developments. A clear recollection of the recent history of this body will explain why it is in a death spiral today.
First, Mr. Matsoukas recounts – inaccurately – the reason for the formation of the Assembly, when he states, “They were authorized …. with the charge to make the uncanonical structure in the lands beyond the ancient Roman Empire canonical.” Go back and read the opening address of Archbishop Demetrios at the first Assembly – the event that had Mr. Matsoukas and most of the OCL leadership high-fiving each other and proclaiming victory. His Eminence clearly and forcefully reminded the assembled hierarchs that they were NOT there to correct the clearly uncanonical (aka “irregular”) structure of the Church, but rather to simply write a report in which they would make recommendations that would to be submitted to a future Council of the whole Church for consideration. This report has never been written. But then again, the late Great and Wholly Delusional Council of Crete never even bothered with putting the receipt of these reports from Assemblies around the world on the agenda, so maybe the bishops had already gotten the word that there was no need for urgency.
Secondly, Mr. Matsoukas engages in some unwarranted Russia-bashing, in unjustly charging the Moscow Patriarchate with undermining the autocephaly of the OCA. He states “this autocephaly is being undermined today by the Patriarchate in Moscow which has set up its own Patriarchal Churches and allows ROCOR to compete against the autocephalous Church which already exists here in the USA.” The implication is that the MP has established new Patriarchal parishes after granting autocephaly, which is absolutely not the case. In 1970, 45 Patriarchal parishes were granted their wish to remain under the MP rather than to be reassigned to the OCA. Of those 45, 10 have closed, 35 remain, and not one new MP parish has been established in over 40 years.
Then Mr. Matsoukas turns on ROCOR, which is doubly confusing, as this jurisdiction is in many ways the very model of what a non-ethnic American Orthodox Church should be. ROCOR’s reunification with the MP is a brilliant and shining example of the path that other jurisdictions in the US should follow, in that it was done wholesale, without preconditions, and solely for the purpose of unity in Christ. For the most part, their new parishes are a much clearer expression of American ethnic diversity than the overwhelmingly ethnocentric new parishes being established by most of the other jurisdictions in the US. Their seminary has a non-ethnic American as Dean, and has increasingly moved away from Russian to English as the language in which instruction is offered. ROCOR’s evangelistic zeal has greatly benefitted the entire American Orthodox Church, and is something for which we should all be thankful.
Finally, I do share Mr. Matsoukas’s conclusion that the American laity are woefully unenthusiastic about unity, and his opinion that the bishops are primarily responsible for this, having failed to preach and teach unity. But I am intrigued by his statement that there are four Bishops who repeatedly dissent and are holding up progress. Who are they? What is the source of this allegation? OCL exists for the very purpose of informing and educating the laity. If this allegation is accurate, surely its Executive Director can do no greater service to the Church than exposing them, and encouraging their flocks to hold them accountable. If the source of the allegation cannot be cited, it should never have been made.