Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America
Washington, D.C. Meeting of January 20, 2010
A presentation concerning a Proposed Meeting of Hierarchs
in North America
To consider the administrative unification of the jurisdictions into one.
+Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit
“The demands upon our Church’s life by an un-believing society do not allow for any further delay in this process.”
Ligonier: Statement on the Church in North America, 1994
I. Three Autocephalous North American Churches.
The Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Commission determined that the Church on the North American Continent region would cover three sovereign nations: Canada, The Republic of Mexico and The United States. Although it seems that we are to accept this as a given, hierarchs, clergy and faithful of Canada, Mexico and The United States must reject this arbitrary determination.
First, if church administration is based on region, then each of these nations must be respected as a sovereign nation. Regionally speaking, two of them are each larger than all of Europe, let alone of “orthodox” nations, and Mexico is larger than many of the nations individually given as a region.
Second, each nation already has its own honorable church experience and history of evangelization and has a working relationship with its particular and unique government. There are three separate and unique forms of government in which each Church bears witness to the Orthodox Christian faith. It is understood that the Church in each sovereign region must respond to the acts of the government in which she lives and bear her unique witness to that particular society.
Population-wise, individually, these three nations have populations larger than most European nations or combinations of them. There is a larger Orthodox population in the United States than in the Non-Orthodox European countries (NOE) combined, regardless of the mistaken population figures promoted by the “Athenagoras Institute” of California.
A. Mexico has the canonical makings of an Autocephalous Regional Church
The Church in Mexico should be an Autocephalous Church. There is no major Hispanic language Orthodox presence in Canada or the US, and any tie of Mexico to either of these two nations could be detrimental to the growth of the local Church in Mexico.
The Diocese of Mexico (presently Orthodox Church in America) is recognized by the Federal Government as a local Church; and the Bishop of Mexico City, a Mexican national, is likewise recognized as its head. This is unique. First, because this indigenous Mexican Church is not, and has not been part of a European patriarchal Church. Second, because the Mexican Church (OCA) is already recognized as the local Orthodox Church in Mexico, she can readily welcome in the Antiochian and Greek communities. Both of these communities, as well as others, are considered foreign. Both of these communities do not have an outreach to the indigenous population, and their hierarchs are still considered to be foreign.
Altogether, they and whatever other “ethnic” Orthodox reside in Mexico, are sufficient in the number of hierarchs, clergy and faithful to be the regional Autocephalous Church of Mexico which would be acceptable to the Mexican Federal Government.
B. Canada has the canonical makings of an Autocephalous Territorial Church
Canonically-speaking, Canada has sufficient numbers of hierarchs, clergy and faithful to be a regional Church. The over-all history of the Church in Canada is older and more complex than the history of Orthodoxy in the NOE nations.
The Orthodox witness in Canada is perhaps better known to the Canadian population than that of the Orthodox witness in the United States, because of the presence of a large Ukrainian population which early settled in Canada. Furthermore, the presence of other “ethnic” Orthodox peoples in Canada is more noticeable than that in the US. This is because the population ratio of Orthodox to others in Canada is greater than the ratio of Orthodox to others in the United States.
The Canadian Church has some educational facilities, some monastic communities; and of course, the multitude of parishes. There are a variety of newspapers. Many Orthodox Christians are much involved in Canadian political life and society. There already exists a
form of a Hierarchs’ Committee.
C. The United States has the canonical makings of an Autocephalous Regional Church
I believe it is sufficient for facts to stand as to the makeup of the Church in the United States. My point here is to promote the establishment of three individual, regional Autocephalous Churches on the North American Continent: Canadian, Mexican, “American.”
II. Makings of the Churches
A. The Orthodox Church in America (OCA): The USA, Canada and Mexico
The claim of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) to be the Autocephalous Regional Church in North America has had and continues to have repercussions for the three North American Orthodox communities, i.e.: Canada, Mexico and the US, inasmuch as she claims regional sovereignty. Such a claim is non-existent in any of the other “regions” as determined by the Chambesy Commission. The claims for the “barbarian lands” fostered by the Patriarchate of Constantinople are not accepted by the other Patriarchates, excepting perhaps those under the “Greek” sway. Other Patriarchates have not yet stated their opinions.
Responses to the OCA Autocephaly are well known: recognition, non-recognition, and non-committal. This remains an important issue in the process of recognizing the autocephalous status of the three North American Churches and because those three responses are present in those three nations through the existence of the multiple jurisdictions, the final construction of these Churches will depend on how the status of the OCA plays into that construct.
For now, let us put aside this autocephalic entity which, although one of the building blocks, must be decided outside the US hierarchal meeting of May 2010.
Is it possible for the non-OCA jurisdictions to accept the factuality of the OCA as the Autocephalous Regional Church? Most likely, even if this would be acceptable by the local jurisdictions, in all likelihood, some of the patriarchal churches would not acquiesce to this consideration.
Another unique facet of the OCA Autocephaly is the presence of the three “ethnic” dioceses represented by their hierarchs in the Holy Synod of the OCA. These entities were accepted into the Russian Greek Catholic Metropolia (ROGCM) during the Cold War period, before the issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly by the Russian Church. We shall also lay this aside for the moment, inasmuch as those three dioceses have counterparts not represented on the OCA Synod but which have been and are represented in the “SCOBA.” One could argue that the Bulgarian presence in the OCA would factor out any opposition from the Patriarchal Bulgarian Church which did/does acknowledge the OCA Autocephaly; however, the Bulgarian Patriarchal continues to support a presence in North America in spite of the fact of Bulgarian recognition of the OCA.
B. Patriarchal jurisdictions on the North American Continent
At no time in the history of Christ’s Church is there such an un-canonical situation as exists in North America and in other regions of the world. The responsibility for this situation rests entirely on the actions of the Patriarchates; and the continued existence of this situation is a scandal to the entire Church and to the Christian world.
One might be correct in placing part of this blame on the governments in which these Churches exist, but only to the degree that a Church was absolutely forced to so act. There is enough blame to go around for both State and Church.
Can it be believed that the matter of the unification of the various patriarchal jurisdictions on the North American Continent (including the ROGCM) would have taken place earlier than it is proposed may happen? It may be that it is precisely because the OCA has been recognized as autocephalous by the Russian Church that this process has supposedly been fast-forwarded. From recent statements by Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Kyrill, it seems that the problem of the “Diaspora” must be/will be/can be resolved by a Great Council of the Church. Of course, the question remains: why has a date not been set for the Council?
It is based on remarks such as stated by these Patriarchates and by the work of the Pre-Council Commission that brought the North America hierarchs to understand that there would be a general local meeting of all hierarchs of North America in 2010. It seems that the SCOBA or rather His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, acting as chair of the new Executive hierarchal committee, has called such a meeting
C. An Orthodox “Communion”?
The Church must not fall into a pattern reflecting that of the Anglican “Communion” by maintaining separate jurisdictions while pretending to be unified under a synod of ethnic heads. We must also be concerned not to fall into Roman Catholic centralism. Should we move along into either of these paths, then we will have ceased to become the Orthodox Church but rather a conglomeration of “ethnic” enclaves or, as is often the term, ethnic colonies of foreign Churches and governments or a dim reflection of the Patriarchate of Old Rome.
D. Our goal
It is understood that the desire for and implementation of administratively-unified Churches on the North American Continent must be the will of the hierarchs, clergy and faithful. One builds consensus on what is common to the various participants in the discussion. We will not go into the specifics, because these are known among the hierarchs and to a greater or lesser degree among the clergy and faithful. However, it is necessary for consensus to be positive, that all three elements of the Churches must be aware of the issue and the process, and support it to its final goal: regional Autocephaly.
The Holy Fathers gathered together in Ligonier in 1994 created a “Statement on Mission and Evangelism” in which a goal-plan was set forth as acceptable and sustainable in North America. There is nothing in the statement contrary to Orthodoxy, but there is everything to strengthen Orthodoxy in North America. The twelve points are the blueprint that was denied the seal of approval by some Patriarchates. It’s been stated that most of the Patriarchates did not, in fact, support Ligonier. The more shame then on them, our brethren in Christ.
“We believe that our task in North America is not limited to serving the immigrant and ethnic communities, but has at its very heart the missionary task, the task of making disciples in the nations of Canada and the United States.”
Ligonier: Statement on Mission and Evangelism, 1994
“To this end, all of our efforts should be coordinated within an overall ecclesial framework. This would provide the freedom and flexibility to allow us to organically become an administratively united Church.”
Ligonier: Statement on the Church in North America, 1994
A simple proposal would be for the hierarchs themselves to simply proclaim autonomous Churches. I believe that according to the canons, the number of three hierarchs suffices. From our experience in North America, we know that this would not be successful nor appropriate to the dignity of the Church in North America.
The most plausible solution is that all ruling hierarchs form a Synod and elect a head. The work of the present jurisdictions would temporarily continue but under this Synod. Thus, there would be no violent re-ordering of the present administrations, an action that could negatively affect the entire body as a whole.
It seems unlikely that the jurisdictions can, at this time, re-align into regional dioceses. Therefore, the actual realigning of dioceses and Episcopal sees is best left to the united hierarchy of each new Synod. Even if this takes some time, it is the process most likely to come to fruition. It is unlikely that the jurisdictions are ready or able to share the wealth (and debts), just as they are not yet prepared to re-align parishes.
If this is to be the probable scenario for the next few years, a time frame must nevertheless be established to put into operation the re-aligning of regional dioceses and the inclusion of all parishes within each.
It must also be determined which cities will become or remain Episcopal Sees. Where there is more than one hierarch already bearing the title of a city-See, it would seem more likely that the actual holder would be elected by the Holy Synod, and there would be a compiling of all parishes under his authority.
The Churches in those three nations must be good mothers to their faithful and not neglect the particular needs of ethnic peoples/immigrants and residents. We cannot force English on French-speaking, Spanish-speaking peoples nor on any of those who are comfortable in non-English tongues. Inasmuch as hierarchs will be elected from all Orthodox Christians, surely it will be appropriate to elect those who have linguistic skills to the Episcopacy, perhaps in unique positions, to serve the needs of those peoples who are, nevertheless, under the omophorion of diocesan hierarchs.
During this time, financial advisors should be assigned the task of reviewing the financial operation of each present jurisdiction, or in the case of the OCA, each diocese. It seems that the OCA dioceses only have their own financial operations, as is the norm in Orthodox ecclesiology.
As is the present pattern in all dioceses in North America, each parish is a not-for-profit corporation. The wealth of the Churches of North America therefore lies not with the diocese but with each and the sum of parishes. Ownership of property and movable goods appears to be in the hands of the local community. This reality allows for an easier transfer into a local, all-encompassing diocese; parishes in a given diocese simply continue with their corporations and respond to the needs of the diocese as determined by diocesan assemblies.
Inasmuch as each parish and each diocese (in time) are locally incorporated in the state/province in which they exist, they will need to have uniform statutes in the Acts of Incorporation. In this regard, there must be national statutes for each of the three Churches, each reflecting the governmental oversight in which they exist.
Monastic communities would come under the omophorion of the local hierarch. Stavropighial institutions should be reviewed and minimized. The determination of an institution of any kind as Stavropighial must be determined by the Synod.
Institutions of higher learning ought to come under the Holy Synod inasmuch as they are preparing clergy for service to the local Church; and, the hierarchs as the shepherds must be in charge of the pastoral preparation of their clergy.
Other Institutions and Societies
Inasmuch numerous institutions and societies exist which are not directly under the omophorion of any hierarch but which do have some relationship through ethnic or church connection with Orthodoxy at large, these will continue according to their own Acts of Incorporation over which there is no direct church affiliation or control.
Existing Commissions and Others
The scope of this short presentation does not include listing all the presently-existing organizations in the Orthodox Communities in North America. I doubt that the first meeting of the hierarchs will treat every aspect of church life. It would be useful for someone to list what organizations already exist, including a short history of the same. By these, I mean clergy and lay organizations; those ‘recognized’ by SCOBA, those which exist outside SCOBA and others.
Directives from Abroad
We have been told to create an Episcopal Assembly, to gather the hierarchs into a full session; to inform our faithful of this process. At the same time, we are directed to “resolve” the matter of administrative unity or it will be solved by the Great Council. Are we prepared to resolve this, and in what amount of time? Is there a time frame? Key for all North American Orthodox Christians should be the timeline for resolving the problem before and at the Council.
There are only four months before the meeting of the hierarchs. As the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, we must work diligently to prepare our own vision of the Churches in North America.
The vision of Saint Tikhon and of the Ethnarchs who served the Church through the decades must be the basis for our considerations. In some way, the OCA has an advantage because of her experience of four major groups within: Russian/Slav, Romanian, Albanian and Bulgarian. The tradition of mutual respect for one another’s languages, liturgical expressions and administrations has much to offer our brethren of the jurisdictions and for the administratively-unified Churches in North America.
The experience of the OCA, her ups and downs, should demonstrate to our brethren that the richness of Holy Orthodoxy brought to North America two hundred years ago and shaped from the many traditions,can create unique icons of mutual love and understanding between all Orthodox and will bless our evangelization of our three societies.
Perhaps it would be useful to review the Video: “A New Era Begins.” It would be useful to us as Synod. A rereading of A New Era Begins put out by OPT would be good for us to review.
Respectfully submitted in the hope of being useful,
+Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit
From the statements made by the Chambesy committee, it appears that the Autocephalous Churches are intent (hopefully this is not too strong an expression) to resolve the problem of administrative disunity in North America. Our concern should not be for regions beyond our own, because we have no input into any solution for them.
If the Chambesy statements are true, then the jurisdictions in North America should not have to be concerned that their particular patriarchate would oppose any effort to resolve the problem. If the basis for the Episcopal Assemblies is that the patriarchates are truly interested and prepared to resolve this problem, then that is the first step.
What relationship each jurisdiction wants to have with its patriarchate is something to be discussed, if there would even be any. Is this an issue for the patriarchates, that there would be no connection to their American colony? Is it understood that if there is Autocephaly of all jurisdictions into one administrative unity, then the relationship would be as that of the OCA to the Church of Russia?
How far, at this time, is each of those jurisdictions prepared to immerse into a unified administration? Unless there is a total immersion through a unified Holy Synod, we are not moving forward at all.
Between now and the end of May, are the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of these jurisdictions preparing to respond at the meeting? What is the possible response of each jurisdiction? Do we move forward with a few? Wait for all? Wait for the patriarchates to determine for us, because there is no consensus here among us?
What role will foreign governments play in each jurisdiction’s decision-making? Are the jurisdictions more ethnic than political or more political than ethnic? It would seem that none of the North American jurisdictions receive financial support from abroad. What then are the interests of the patriarchates and governments in the jurisdictions/colonies here? What do they gain, and what do they lose? Can we resolve these issues?
It seems to me that the threat of a new ‘scoba’ had something to do with the fast-forward button of resolving the disunity here. If there is no longer this threat, can we assume that the interest to resolve it will also wane?
Must the OCA wait until May to find out from these jurisdictions what their plans, their thoughts are? Can we not anticipate some kind of informal dialogue with them? Serbs? Ukrainians? Antiochians?
Do we remember that there are four dioceses in the OCA without hierarchs, meaning without votes in the assembly?