Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
As Orthodox Christian Laity prepares to participate in the 2023 International Orthodox Theological Association Mega-Conference in Volos, Greece, from January 11-14, 2023, we are republishing OCL’s presentation and video from the 2019 Conference in Iasi, Romania. We remind the theologians and presenters at the upcoming conference to more actively bring their works and be teachers to lay persons outside of the academy. It takes all of us to bring about canonical order and unity.
We also encourage you to do yourself a favor and watch the most watched video on IOTA’s website: The Keynote Address by His Eminence Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia, “Unity and Conciliarity in the Orthodox Church.” Given at the Opening Ceremony of the Inaugural Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA), Iasi, Romania, 9 January 2019. (see below)
Overview of the History of OCL Presented by Executive Director George Matsoukas in the IOTA Session: “SHOWCASE OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS”
International Orthodox Theological Association Inaugural Conference, Iasi, Romania
Why are we here?… Why have we exerted so much effort, time, and expense to be together?… I am here from the United States representing Orthodox Christian Laity because I am an Orthodox Christian and rejoice that I am part of the right-believing, right-worshipping, and right-living Christian faith! I am also here, though, to challenge us on that “right-living” aspect. While we proclaim that we are united in Christ through Creed and Worship, and especially the Holy Eucharist, we have much work to do in living out this same faith which calls us to focus on Jesus Christ first and what He expects from us as His followers, instead of becoming entangled in the divisive temptations of power, politics, and culture.
Please permit me to provide a short description and history of Orthodox Christian Laity. Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) is a grassroots movement that was established as an independent, non-profit, educational ministry incorporated 32 years ago in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Many of its founders were organizers of: 1) the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) movement which was started by returning veterans of the 2nd World War; and, 2) the Council of Eastern Orthodox Youth Leaders of the Americas (CEOYLA), which in 1966 hosted a meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bringing together 13,000 Orthodox Christian young people. The hierarchy was taken aback by the organizational skills and enthusiasm of youth for Pan-Orthodox unity and systematically slowed down the momentum.
Today, OCL consists of 15,000 friends, supporters, and benefactors. It hosts one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Christian websites: ocl.org. In addition to the website, it employs social media to educate those interested in receiving Orthodox news from around the world. OCL has hosted 31 Annual Meetings and 68 Open Forums in different geographic areas of the USA, addressing issues related to uniting the jurisdictions, as well as administrative accountability and transparency. Clergy and laity addressing these issues are noted for their work and expertise in these areas. Many of their talks are videotaped and can be viewed on the website. Links to many of the other Orthodox Christian websites are listed and can be accessed through the OCL website. OCL archives of primary resources are maintained at the John T Richardson Library at De Paul University Chicago, Illinois. Materials in the collection have been accessed by researchers and students seeking graduate degrees.
A list of nine OCL Occasional Papers, dealing with such topics as monasticism in the USA, Orthodox Christian unity and governance, the role of the laity in the life of the Church, and five books published and sponsored by OCL, can also be found on its web site.
OCL is governed by a board of directors, executive committee, and advisory board members from all walks of life representing different jurisdictions and residing in all geographical areas of the USA. Members include distinguished hierarchs, academics, business professionals, high-tech personnel, journalists, attorneys, and other faithful Orthodox Christians. They participate in the sacramental life of their local parishes and offer their time and talents as chanters; Sunday School teachers; parish, diocesan, and national board members; and participants in parish service groups. The OCL board has provided informational, financial, and moral support to organizations and programs that relate to its mission.
As a grassroots movement, OCL sees itself as a catalyst and advocate for the strengthening and renewal of the Church, by educating and thereby empowering the laity to exercise its responsibility for the spiritual and administrative life of the Church. Elements of this strengthening and renewal include transparency, accountability, and Orthodox Christian Unity in the geographic areas that were not traditionally Orthodox, such as the USA, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The synodical system, which convened the Holy and Great Council in 2016, after hundreds of years, needs to be employed on a regular basis. Thought should be given to establishing a multicultural Orthodox Christian Secretariat. Coming to grips with the reality in which we function requires more communication among bishops. More meetings must be focused on unity. Fragmentation is a form of marginalization. OCL is gratified to see that the hierarchy shares its insights, but we do not accept the reasons why the bishops cannot move forward to make unity a reality. OCL board members have met with Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, and Clergy to discuss these matters.
The reality is that Orthodox Churches in pluralistic societies that consist of multiple ethnic jurisdictions are uncanonical. The laity has understood this fact for a long time because even beyond the ecclesiastical reasons, we see our time, talent, and resources being squandered. The Assemblies of Bishops established 10 years ago must move forward to bring about unity by creating opportunities that empower local clergy and laity associations to work together. In 2014, Patriarch Bartholomew instructed the Assembly of Bishops meeting in Dallas, Texas “to move beyond what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’ to what is ‘ours’. From now on, this is how we should conceive and conduct all of our ministries and resources, all of our departments and initiatives. Otherwise, we do not practice what we preach. It is really up to us to accept the challenge or refuse the call.” The laity in pluralistic societies knows that where unity is practiced (for example in Cleveland, Ohio), so much more of Christ’s mission is accomplished. In the United States, the laity has come together to form International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), and in unity have transformed numerous lives in Christ.
We celebrate the establishment of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA)! As OCL, we can assist the hierarchs to move ahead, because we are not impeded by their historical circumstances. Theologians need to educate all of us in direct and active ways by utilizing social media, print, and video media to project their insight beyond the academic community. From OCL’s inception, we have called for lay theologians to be active participants in leading the Church to unity. They need to be active change agents. We are excited about the future work of IOTA and pray that your commendable efforts may bear bountiful fruit!
OCL Executive Director
Click here to go to IOTA’s YouTube Channel and view videos of other speakers.
IOTA Inaugural Conference, Iasi, Romania – Selection of Videos, International Orthodox Theological Association
You have encapsulated the work and dreams of our organization, Orthodox Christian Laity, so well in these few words. Axios! OCL is the voice of the Orthodox laity, and we are waiting for our bishops to hear us along with the words you quoted above spoken by His Holiness in Dallas, Texas, and move us to abide by the Holy Canons of the Church by joining us together into a unified American Orthodox Church.
Andrew Kartalis, Vice President – OCL