Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
Overview on the Chronology and Work of the Assembly of Bishops
Presented on Friday, November 5, 2015
Open Forum at the OCL Annual Meeting held at St John of Damascus Orthodox Church, Poway CA:
ORTHODOX WORKING TOGETHER – George Matsoukas, presenter
Will the Orthodox Christian Church in the USA remain as separate colonies of the fourteen Old World Patriarchates and autocephalous churches, or will it finally be a mission Church to the faithful in their own country?
This is the question for the Hierarchs of the Church to solve in their deliberations as the Assembly of Bishops, or the question for the Great and Holy Council.
Since 1920-1930, and more seriously since 1988, the Patriarchs and heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches have been preparing an agenda to discuss this issue. Finally in 2008, after three previous meetings during a 20-year period , an agenda to face the issue of the uncanonical administrative structure in the lands beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire was agreed upon in Chambésy, Switzerland by representatives of all fourteen old world Orthodox Christian hierarchs of autocephalous churches. Note that on behalf of the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius, of blessed memory, this document was signed by Metropolitan John of Europe (who is now the present Patriarch).
In 2009, at a meeting attended by ALL fourteen Patriarchs and autocephalous church hierarchs held in Istanbul, Turkey, the agenda was signed. Bishops living in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and Central America and Australia were directed to sit as Assemblies of Bishops and develop blueprints to eliminate the parallel jurisdictions that exist in their geographic locations. They were directed to create canonical order. Ultimately, their deliberations were to result in one bishop in one city – Orthodox unity in their lands.
The largest Assembly of Bishops is the USA Assembly. There are 54 Orthodox Bishops in the USA representing 8 parallel jurisdictions in the same country.
From 2010-2015, the US Assembly met annually for a total of six times. The last meeting was September 15-17, 2015, in Chicago, IL. During these six years, many bishops got to know one another for the first time. They worked in committees. The convener was Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. There was an executive committee and a secretariat that kept things going. The most relevant committees were Pastoral Practices and Regional Planning. Various documents were produced by committees. Bishops were surveyed on attitudes and perspectives on Unity. In the end, there was no consensus on a blueprint for unity.
The bishops in the USA representing the Patriarchs of the lands freed from communism within the last 25 years are hard-core nationalists. They want their jurisdictions in the USA to remain unified to their old-world mother country Patriarchs or Autocephalous heads. These include Bulgaria, the Patriarchal Russian Church, ROCOR, Georgia and Romania.
The great shock of the last Assembly of Bishops meeting was that the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America believes unity in the USA is premature. They will remain loyal and unified to the Patriarch of Antioch. The present Metropolitan has reversed 30 years of Unity Leadership provided by his predecessor, Metropolitan Philip. His statement was a blow to the effort to establish a unified, self-governed, Autocephalous Church in the USA.
The result of the six years of meetings is the rationalization of the status quo, which is uncanonical. The “new ecclesiology” emerging from the last Assembly is essentially saying that parallel jurisdictions in the USA are okay; that it is more important to stay unified to your old world Patriarch rather than to be unified as the Orthodox Church in the USA, governed by a synod of bishops able to make decisions for transfiguring our People in our nation and society as a whole.
In my view, this is unacceptable. The Church is not a colonial extension of 14 foreign Patriarchates or foreign governments. The Church is organized for a specific geographic area, and the bishop is concerned about bringing the Good News of Christ to all souls in this specific geographic region in which it exists. This is the Orthodox Way. The 54 bishops in the USA need to become a synod and gradually deal with property and reassignment issues. Their focus must be to be good shepherds, ministering the Good News to their multicultural flocks and to the society in which they live.