AT THE EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLY OF NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
Helmsley Park Lane Hotel
New York, New York
(May 26, 2010)
* * *
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies and Your Graces,
Beloved Brothers and Concelebrants in the Holy Spirit
Of the Holy Orthodox Churches of North and Central America,
I greet all of you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the joy of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who on the Holy day of Pentecost descended upon the Apostles and abides with the Church and with us, today and forever.
I convey to all of you the greetings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who, in these very days, in fact in this very hour, even as we are meeting here in New York, he is making a reciprocal visit to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The images that we have seen of the Patriarch of the First Church of Holy Orthodoxy meeting with and being together with the Patriarch of the largest Church of Holy Orthodoxy truly impart an inspiring and visionary message for our Pan-Orthodox work, as a labor of unbreakable togetherness.
In the spirit of this important visit and brotherly encounter of the two Patriarchs, we, too, are assembled together and joyfully repeat with the Psalmist: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together (Psalm 132:1). We are together in this place and at this historic moment by the will of our merciful God, in order to continue and promote the sacred work of the Church, the Body of Christ, as good shepherds of the Flock entrusted to us by our Heavenly Shepherd and Lord.
1. We have come together during this festive and solemn week of Pentecost, when, as we gratefully chant in the Kontakion of the Feast, “the Most High God by distributing the tongues of fire on His Apostles has called all people to unity.” In Pentecost, we celebrate the call to unity for all human beings through faith and obedience to the one Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, however, in Pentecost, we celebrate the refreshing reality of the diversity, wonderfully manifested in the extraordinary fact of the proclamation of the one Gospel in many languages as a result of the advent of the Holy Spirit. The relevant description in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is truly astonishing. For, upon hearing the proclamation of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the multitudes marveled:
And how is it that we hear, every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians: we hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:8-11)
As we behold the event of Pentecost, we observe that the multiplicity of languages used by the Holy Apostle in proclaiming the single Gospel is not a cause of confusion or conflict, but a reason for thanksgiving and celebration. The one Gospel does not obliterate linguistic, ethnic, or cultural differences and particularities. The Gospel is clearly a call to unity, but as our history of 2000 years demonstrates, it does not cause an eclipse of the diversity within the Church. And this speaks directly to our case.
Indeed, as we consider the history of the Church, we see that through the ages the Church promotes unity but resists homogenization and reductionism. Remember the example coming from the Second Century A.D., when the Early Church outrightly rejected Tatian’s effort to compile a single or uniform Gospel text from the four canonical Gospels, the so-called “Diatessaron.” In the mind of the Church, there was only one Jesus; but this one Jesus Christ was revealed through four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And this Biblical diversity offered to the Church a unique perspective, and a richer and more textured understanding of the One Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.
We strive for unity because the Lord asked of us to be one, but diversity and differentiation are not to be feared. They are gifts that are to be used for the glory of God. Our unity cannot exist to destroy such differentiation; rather, our unity is meant to flourish as a result of our natural diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or ethnic. Is this not exactly the condition of our universal Orthodoxy today? Of course, problems related to unity, or to differentiation, or to both, always existed in the Church, starting already in the time of the Apostles, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies. This is a valid observation for us today.
We come together to face the problems that have arisen in our region, where the Orthodox Faith has flourished for generations. As we have grown and established ourselves, situations have been created that need our attention and our wisdom.
Indeed, we have, as the Apostle Paul says: … one body, and one Spirit, … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6) But our unity is not a theoretical premise viewed on a grand scale; it is a calling for us, indispensable for our witness to the Crucified and Risen Lord. It is a reality that has to be manifested in the local parish, the diocese, the jurisdiction, the autocephalous churches or the totality of the universal Church. Unity starts from the elementary Church community, the local parish, as it happened when Saint Paul asked the Corinthians that there should be no schisms among them (1 Corinthians 1:10), or when he urged the Ephesians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, (Ephesians 4:6).
2. Beloved brothers in the Lord, being mindful of the above and the need to resolve any related problems, we have come together in accordance with the decisions of the Heads of the Most Holy Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, who, at their Holy Synaxis at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October of 2008, expressed their strong
… desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements, such as in the so-called Orthodox Diaspora, with a view to overcoming every possible influence that is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology.
This specific expression of the will of the Heads of the worldwide Orthodox Churches was introduced in essence and with great precision by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his opening address to the aforementioned Synaxis, when he stated:
With a sense of our Church's obligation before God and History in an age when the unified witness of Orthodoxy is judged crucial and expected by all, we invite and call on you fraternally that, with the approval also of our respective Holy Synods, we may proceed to the following necessary actions:
(1) To advance the preparations for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, already commenced through Panorthodox Pre-Conciliar Consultations.
(2) To activate the 1993 agreement of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation of the Holy and Great Council in order to resolve the pending matter of the Orthodox Diaspora.
As a result of the pertinent resolutions of the Synaxis, the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference convened at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy from June 6th to the 12th in 2009, charged with the task of preparing the ground for the appropriate actions. In its Communiqué the Pre-Conciliar Conference stated:
The theme of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Panorthodox Conference was, in accordance with the will of the Primates and the representatives of the local Orthodox Churches, as expressed in the Message of their Holy Synaxis at the Phanar (October, 2008), is the discussion of the subject of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora. The relevant decision regarding the agenda was agreed upon by the Conference at the opening of its proceedings.
The Conference examined the texts prepared by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Committee in its conferences at Chambésy, namely: a) from November 10-17, 1990; and b) from November 7-13, 1993; as well as the document of the Conference of Canon Lawyers held in Chambésy from April 9th to 14th, 1995. These texts, together with the relevant clarifications, supplements, corrections and additions, were unanimously agreed upon.
The Conference expressed the common desire of all Orthodox Churches for a solution to the problem of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora, in accordance with the ecclesiology, canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church. The Conference decided to establish new Bishops Assemblies in certain regions throughout the world in order to resolve the problem of the Diaspora, namely for the Orthodox faithful that have settled outside the traditional boundaries of the local Orthodox Churches. The Presidents of these Assemblies are the primate hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in that region or, in their absence, the next in order of the Church Diptychs.
The members of these Assemblies include all those recognized by all Orthodox Churches as canonical bishops, who shepherd the existing communities in each region. The mission of the Bishops Assemblies is the proclamation and promotion of the unity of the Orthodox Church, the common pastoral ministry to the Orthodox faithful of the region, as well as their common witness to the world. The decisions of the Bishops Assemblies are made on the basis of the principle of unanimity of the Churches, which are represented therein by bishops.
Beloved Brothers in Christ, it is precisely these suggestions, proposed by the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference and fully approved by all Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, that have brought us here today when we celebrate the fullness of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Thus, we have arrived at this important moment in our history.
3. Before proceeding with our work these days, let us call to mind the geographical regions in which the Episcopal Assemblies like ours will be convening. They are as follows:
(1) North America and Central America.
(2) South America.
(3) Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
(4) Great Britain and Ireland.
(5) France.(6) Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.
(8) Italy and Malta.
(9) Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
(11)Scandinavian countries (except Finland).
(12)Spain and Portugal.
In accordance with the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference:
The Bishops of the Diaspora, living in the Diaspora and possessing parishes in multiple regions, will be members of the Episcopal Assemblies of those regions.
Allow me an observation here. The word “Diaspora” is not being used in any pejorative sense; rather it is merely a description of places where no single Autonomous or Autocephalous Church governs all the Orthodox who live therein. In fact, the Message of the Primates, included in your folders, uses the expression, “so-called Diaspora.” I am aware that some of us take offense at the word, but I ask that you apply your understanding to the bigger picture, and that we try to find a word better than the “so-called Diaspora” to describe our situation.
The fact is that Orthodoxy is dispersed throughout the world in places where multi-jurisdictional realities have ensued from a whole complex of facts, not the least being immigration. The vital presence of our Churches throughout the world bears witness to the ongoing work of pastoral care of our flocks who have moved around the globe. It also bears witness to the continuous preaching of the Gospel that has brought an abundance of converts to the Faith. Neither of these realities stands in opposition to the other. They are merely the facts of our existence and they should be cause for celebrating the unique gifts and talents that all of our communities bring the Church universal.
Beloved Brothers in the Lord, with that said, allow me to set the stage, as it were, for our deliberations, by refreshing our collective memory of the work of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, whose decisions and conclusions form the very basis for our work.
In the “Decision,” subscribed to by all Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches through their duly appointed representatives, there was an exceedingly important acknowledgement of a basic reality that we face. As the Decision puts it:
… it is affirmed that during the present phase it is not possible, for historical and pastoral reasons, for an immediate transition to the strictly canonical order of the Church on this issue, that is, the existence of only one bishop in the same place. For this reason, the Conference came to the decision to propose the creation of a temporary situation that will prepare the ground for a strictly canonical solution of the problem, based on the principles and guidelines set out below. Of necessity, this preparation will not extend beyond the convening of the future Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, so that it (the Council) can proceed with a canonical solution of the problem.
4. I would ask that all of us pay special and close attention to the language of the Decision. Three very important points are made here about the nature of our work as a Bishops’ Assembly.
(1) First, the uncanonical overlapping of episcopal jurisdictions is not only admitted, but also understood within an historical and pastoral context. All of us who are bishops of the Church, and who have vowed to uphold the sacred canons of the Church, are fully aware that the uncanonical condition of the status of Orthodoxy in the so-called Diaspora is due not only to multiple claims on same titles, but the overlapping of territorial jurisdictions. This jurisdictional disorder is fully acknowledged. The unattainability, as well as the impracticality of an immediate transition to the canonical norm of the Orthodox Church is seen in the wider context of history and in the current conditions is basically called transitional. We must patiently and prudently find solutions to the disorder that afflict the Body of Christ in our region, and to provide healthful alternatives. This does not mean that we should tolerate further abuses – for example, when parishes are organized next to existing parishes, and titles are unnecessarily duplicated.
(2) Second, inasmuch as we are in a time of transition, we need to recognize that our Episcopal Assembly is neither designed nor empowered to be a permanent solution. We are literally a temporary situation, designed to foster the kinds of relationships that will produce a functional, canonical model that is appropriate for the region, and that can be presented to the Great and Holy Council when it convenes. In this regard, this Episcopal Assembly bears no resemblance to SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, founded fifty years ago.
As you well know, SCOBA was neither a conference of all the bishops in the region, nor was it an authorized construct of the universal Church with a clearly defined functioning methodology. What SCOBA was, was a useful and productive vehicle of Pan-Orthodox cooperation. But unlike this Assembly, it could not produce definitive results in overcoming jurisdictional disorder. Even the three Bishops’ Assemblies sponsored by SCOBA: Ligonier in 1994, Washington, DC in 2001 and Chicago in 2006, could not move beyond the self-contained parameters of SCOBA, which provided a working but limited context.
Now, the work of SCOBA should not be underestimated, since it is delivering to this Assembly a legacy of noteworthy Pan-Orthodox ministries and agencies, theological dialogues, and a model for cooperation. However, as we, the Members of the Assembly, embrace the ministries and dialogues of SCOBA, we must exercise wisdom and discretion. We must take care to organize these functions in accordance with the intentions and guidelines of the foundational documents of the Assembly, issued by the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference and approved by all Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches.
This is not as easy as it sounds, for we have each been growing, to a large degree, in a certain isolation. It is as if the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the region are self-contained units, which have been growing through the decades, as each jurisdiction has sought better and better ways to serve its clergy and faithful. If we are unable to overcome the accompanying isolation, then there is no way to overcome any jurisdictional disorder.
Our task is not to envisage a Church based on our own agendas or limited vision. Our task is to work within the parameters recognized by the universal Church, and to do so, as His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reminded us during his Apostolic Visit to the United States last October, when he said there is a need for:
… “thinking outside the box,” so that we may construct models of ecclesiastical polity and governance with foundations sunk deep in the venerable tradition of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – and at the same time are relevant to the spiritual needs and societal conventions of the world within which our faithful live.
This is a tall order indeed, but one that will fulfill the aspirations of all the faithful, and not the limited agendas of a few well-placed individuals.
(3) Thirdly, our task is to prepare the ground for the planting, not necessarily to reap the harvest. This Assembly does not constitute a final canonical ecclesiastical entity. Rather, it functions out of the canonical ecclesiastical entities and members, in order to exercise the competencies with which it has been endowed by the decision of the Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches. We are not authorized to go beyond these competencies in any way.
5. At this point, please allow me to refresh our memory and awareness on the competencies of our Assembly. They are listed in the Rules of Operation of the Chambésy Documents, Article 5.
The competencies of the Episcopal Assembly are:
(1) to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the Region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations.
(2) The coordination and leadership of activities of common interest in areas of pastoral care, catechesis, liturgical life, religious publishing, mass media, religious education, etc.
(3) The relations with other Christian Churches and other religions.
(4) Anything that entails obligations of the Orthodox Church in Her relations with society and government.
(5) The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.
Each one of these competencies will require tremendous effort on our part, and we will surely have to reach out in our Orthodox Communities for expertise both from the clergy and the laity. Legal issues, issues of financial transparency and accountability, accountability and behavior of the clergy, regulations of parishes and monastic institutions, philanthropic and cultural initiatives, educational institutions, etc; these are the substance of the work of canonical normalcy and regularization.
6. We all know of the problem of overlapping jurisdictionalism, but allow me, before closing, to raise other issues of canonical normalcy and regularization that also need to be addressed:
(1) Some jurisdictions receive persons from roman Catholic and certain Protestant bodies into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism and chrismation, some by chrismation alone, and some merely by confession of faith.
(2) Some jurisdictions receive Roman Catholic clergy converting to Holy Orthodoxy merely by vesting, while others ordain.
(3) Some jurisdictions recognize all marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy as being real marriages (though certainly not sacramental) whether performed for an Orthodox or non-Orthodox, while others recognize no marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy whether performed for an Orthodox or a non-Orthodox.
(4) Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury suicides under certain circumstances, while others forbid the burial of suicides under all circumstances.
(5) Some jurisdictions bury a person who was cremated with all funeral rites in the church temple, others permit only Trisagion Prayers of Mercy in the funeral home, and some forbid any prayers anywhere for a person who was cremated.
(6) Some jurisdictions recognize civil divorce as complete and sufficient for ecclesiastical purposes, while others do not recognize civil divorce at all and insist on Ecclesiastical Courts.
(7) Some jurisdictions have in the past accepted clergy suspended or even deposed by other jurisdictions.
And this list is by no means exhaustive. This means there is serious work ahead, and this may not sound very appealing. Some of us may wish to avoid this difficult work and settle for easy pronouncements about unity, but the Gospel compels us otherwise.
7. Beloved brothers in the Lord, even as we gather together in the wake of the Feast of Pentecost, we humbly recognize our calling, in our unworthiness, to serve as instruments and disciples of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. We offer thanks and glory to the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for rendering us worthy to gather together in prayer and deliberation as Hierarchs and Members of the historic first Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America in response to the decisions of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambésy from June 8th to 12th, 2009, and in preparation for the Holy and Great Council.
We express gratitude to the Primates and Representatives of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, who assembled at the Ecumenical Patriarchate from October 10-12, 2008, affirming their “unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church” and emphasizing their will and “desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements.”
And now we proceed with our specific tasks in our Assembly today and tomorrow. Our tasks include: work for the promotion by our Church here in America of the genuine, total and life-giving message of the Gospel; work for coordinating and enhancing our pastoral, liturgical, educational, cultural, philanthropic and missionary activities; and work for contributing to the preparation for the Pan-Orthodox Synod to be convened when God gives His blessing, with a plan for establishing a full canonical order where such order is needed.
There is no limit to our noble activities, there is no limit to our promising faith perspectives. Our Lord said: All things are possible to the one who believes (Mark 9:24). He also said something even more astonishing to His apostles, Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do (John 14:12). We are united to the apostolic task in which—unbelievable as it sounds—we are called to produce works greater than those produced by Christ!
This is our true challenge. This is our ultimate mission. The fields are ready and waiting for sowing and harvesting. With the help of God, our Great God, let us face the challenge. God has opened to us a door and no one can shut it (Rev. 3:8). Let us go out to the fields. This is God’s time. This is our time.
Source Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
Photo courtesy Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West