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 Others have withdrawn, because they believe the crisis in the Middle East should rally the bishops around the Church of Antioch.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