Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
Will Canonical Order – Orthodox Christian Unity in the USA – Emerge from the Sixth Meeting of the Assembly of Bishops?
Canonical Orthodox Churches have always been Churches in specific geographical areas. Where the Bishop is, so too is the Church. The Church is not a colonial extension of bishops ruling or directing from other geographic areas. Canonical order is bishops in a geographic area meeting as a Synod, electing their own head and working with clergy and laity to build up the body of Christ.
This is not true for the Churches outside the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. In the USA, the situation is chaotic. We have 14 parallel jurisdictions of Orthodox Bishops directed from foreign lands. In 2008, the Autocephalous Patriarchs set up a process for Assemblies of Bishops to meet and develop blueprints in the lands outside of the Roman Empire, so that the Church in these lands could be canonical. Presently, they exist in canonical disorder. Since 2009, the Assembly of Bishops of the USA and Central America has been meeting once yearly – all together some 58 bishops of 14 different jurisdictions or groupings. Their sixth meeting will be held September 15-17, 2015 in Chicago. In between sessions, they have met in various committees. The work of some of these committees, especially studies on College Students, Pastoral Practices and Regional Planning, have been noteworthy. The great accomplishment of these six years has been that the Bishops have met each other, some for the first time, and a sense of fellowship has emerged. See the Assembly website (assemblyofbishops.org) for more information.
But where is the plan for Canonical Unity? Will we see it or learn about some of its details after the September 17 Chicago meeting? Which Bishops will be absent from this meeting? Will a consensus emerge? A draft document was supposed to have been developed by June 2015, but the bishops could not agree on a document. Seventeen members of the Secretariat and committee heads, excluding Antiochian Archdiocese members, instead traveled to Istanbul to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew. There have been no reports posted on the Assembly of Bishops website about the substance of this meeting.
The clergy and laity are prayerful that the Holy Spirit will guide the Bishops to create canonical order, which is to make the Assembly a Synod and elect a head. All other details related to a unified, self-governing Church in the USA will be resolved by the Synod working with the clergy and laity. As a result, the Orthodox Christian Church in the USA will have the opportunity to be renewed and become a truly mission Church.
Orthodox Christian Laity and the Unity of the Church in the USA
It is impossible to grow into faith alone, outside of family; and if we are really a family of Orthodox people, all the participants should be there. The role of Orthodox Christian Laity in calling for that unity is really instrumental. I would say that the Russian Orthodox Church is truly appreciative of the work you do, because in your work, true enthusiasm – and I will even say romanticism, in a good sense of this word – is combined with practices and openness to ideas. And that is the image of Christian behavior in a very complex world. (Very Rev Archpriest Alexander Abramov, Secretary of Representation of Moscow Patriarchate in USA. November 3, 2007. Glenview, Illinois).
For 28 years, Orthodox Christian Laity has been an advocate of Orthodox Christian Unity in the USA. It has asked its members to pray for unity, and it has taken steps to advocate for unity. Twenty Six Annual Programs held in different locations throughout the USA had Pan Orthodox Themes. Forty percent of the 1993 publication, Project for Orthodox Renewal, was devoted to the topic of Orthodox Unity. In 1998, OCL passed a resolution for Autocephaly (https://ocl.org/a-resolution-for-autocephaly/) . Its 2009 publication, Orthodox Christianity at the Crossroad: A Great Council of the Church: When and Why, clearly outlines why our College Students demand unity in order for them to remain Orthodox Christians. Archpriest Alexander Abramson, then Secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate, states that the Moscow Patriarchate supports a Holy Synod of American Bishops. Since 2008, the OCL website(ocl.org) has been the go-to place to learn about the work of the Assembly of Bishops. OCL also contributed $20,000 to support the First Meeting of the Assembly at the Helmsley Hotel in NYC. We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Bishops in this 6th Meeting.
George Matsoukas, Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Laity