Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
The Assembly of Bishops has been meeting for six years. June 2015 is a critical month and time period in their efforts to develop a plan to make the administrative life of the Orthodox Church in the United States canonical. Orthodox ecclesiology dictates that the Church be organized in geographic areas with one bishop in one city. Overlapping jurisdictions weaken the Commandment of Christ to make disciples of All Nations. Bishops are not foreign agents. Governments of other countries have no place in directing the actions of Bishops in the USA. We need a single Synod of Bishops in the USA, and they need to elect their head. Fourteen different groups trying to do the same work here is counterproductive and inefficient. It is also uncanonical. The charge that was delivered to the bishops in the United States six years ago was to develop a plan bringing the Church into canonical order before the convening of the Great and Holy Council, now set to be convened in 2016.
The Bulgarian and ROCOR Bishops do not think the Church in the USA is ready for unity, because jurisdictions have different practices. They state that they will work with the other Bishops toward unity when the practices of all the groups are conformed. This can come about if there is a USA Synod of Bishops, and they work together. It is good that they are forthright and have expressed themselves. But it seems this past year that a difficulty has emerged with the commitment of the Antiochian Archdiocese to the overall process of the Assembly. Since the death of Metropolitan Philip, who was an advocate of unity and who prepared his flock for the eventuality, it seems that the commitment has diminished under the leadership of Metropolitan Joseph. Why is he the only invited hierarch not committed to attending the meeting in Istanbul? Lebanon is two hours away from Istanbul. Are the difficulties between the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem still impacting the work of the Assembly of Bishops in the USA? Why did it take seven month for his committee report to be released? It was completed in November but released in May? Paying lip service to unity and not supporting the process by encouraging the bishops to work in concert with the other Bishops in committees, conference calls and meetings, makes the process of achieving unity more difficult. The Metropolitan needs to set the example. Does he favor bringing the Church in the USA into canonical order? Or, is he being instructed by the Patriarch in Damascus to withhold his support for the work of the Assembly?
The Assembly has been organized into committees. Many Committees are doing excellent work. In early 2015, the survey of the Assembly of Bishops developed by the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, entitled Exploring the Path to the Future of Orthodoxy in America: A Study of Opinions of US Orthodox Bishops on the Possible Reorganization of the Orthodox Church in the United States after the 2016 Great and Holy Council, was tabulated and evaluated. Fifty two Bishops responded, and I would say 87 per cent understand and support Canonical Unity. Why is this document not posted on the Assembly of Bishops web site? The laity is part of the Church and need to know the facts and where the work of the Assembly is taking the Church in the USA. The passivity of the laity is impacting the work of the Assembly of Bishops.
A preliminary report was supposed to be in place and presented to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, so that it could become part of the Pre-Conciliar Planning Process that is taking place for the Great and Holy Council to be convened in 2016. This report is not ready, but the Executive and Secretariat of the Assembly and the first Hierarchs and Metropolitan Tikhon will go to Istanbul to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew and the Pre-Conciliar Staff. Maybe this will energize the Assembly so that it can reach a consensus in its September 2015 Meeting in Chicago.
In these final stages of the process, it may be necessary for the Assembly to employ a full time administrator to assist them. We are grateful to Archbishop Demetrios for convening the Assembly. He has the respect of all the Bishops to begin the process. But at this stage in the development of the work of the Assembly, a full time administrator who has consensus-building skills and leadership skills is needed to bring the work of the Assembly to a positive conclusion.
It is the assumption of some close to the meetings of the Assembly of Bishops that the Bishops feel no sense of urgency about developing a blueprint for unity, because they feel that the laity does not want unity. But they have done nothing to accurately measure the sentiments of the laity. The laity has been shut out of the process. Many do not even know that the Assembly exists and what it is charged to do. The clergy are not talking up the work of the Assembly in their parishes, because they do nothing unless they are instructed to do so by their bishops. The bishops have not taught the laity about the process and progress of their work. The work of the Assembly has been very guarded.
The laity must now be proactive and get in touch with their Bishops and let them know that we want Unity, because it is canonical, cost effective, and will enable Orthodoxy to be able to be a more effective missionary presence in our country. The recent Pew Study is a wakeup call for all Christians in the USA, but especially for the Orthodox. Administrative unity is a first step for renewal of the Orthodox Church in the United States.
Executive Director, Orthodox Christian Laity