Letter from William Souvall, OCL President, to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Christian Bishops

A letter from Orthodox Christian Laity president William Souvall. Highlights:

…The need for thorough committee work is understood, but it should not delay palpable unity-related activities which can be undertaken immediately: such as increased and highly visible Pan-Orthodox worship services throughout America.

With few exceptions, the Orthodox presently worship together only on the Sunday of Orthodoxy when attendance is often disappointingly low. In some regions, even this minimal activity has either been neglected or discouraged. Is it not fair to ask why Pan-Orthodox activities and initiatives at almost every level rank so low in priority? This example is cited to demonstrate that such activities need not wait for the formal committee work which the Assembly is laboring to commence.

[…]

…Unless the Church’s leadership vocally, visibly, and urgently insists that unity matters, this present woeful situation will persist. We suggest that the Assembly address this matter by creating a permanent office and staff, not only to coordinate the committee work but also to energize and sensitize diocesan and local communities to undertake unity-related activities. The more we live unity, the sooner it will be realized.

Source: Orthodox Christian Laity | HT: Byzantine, TX

April 25, 2011
Bright Week
Feast day Great Martyr George

His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Basil
Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America
Secretary of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Christian Bishops

Christ Is Risen!

The officers and members of Orthodox Christian Laity hope this letter finds you, your family and the faithful of your Diocese in good stead and spirit. We also pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you and your brother Bishops with wisdom and courage as you prepare for the next meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. It is because of your direct responsibility in coordinating the Assembly’s activities that we are writing to you at this time.

We write, not as critics or monitors of your work and the work of the Assembly, but rather as supporters and advocates, for nearly twenty-five years, of Orthodox Unity in America. In this vein, OCL has sponsored many public meetings and forums attended by thousands throughout our country. OCL has also developed and distributed books and other written materials devoted to the cause of unity. It has collaborated with hierarchs, clergy and the laity from every Orthodox jurisdiction who have expressed a commitment to a truly united church. In this effort OCL has been in both spirit and action unequivocally inclusive and Pan-Orthodox.

We are encouraged that under your leadership, the Assembly has established its own website and committees with Episcopal chairs and members. We applaud these tangible actions which give form to the Assembly. Unfortunately, these steps are not yet fully reflected throughout our churches, neither at the highest ecclesiastical levels nor at the parish level. It is good to establish websites and committees, but unless their reality is projected by hierarchs and by clergy from the pulpit, ignorance of, and indifference to the unity effort will prevail. This lack of a growing unity consciousness is disappointing. It is a responsibility which rests not just with the hierarchy but with all of us, clergy and laity alike.

We are told that the unity effort is in its early stages and that the Assembly must proceed carefully in an organized manner to deal with a variety of complex ecclesiastical issues. The need for thorough committee work is understood, but it should not delay palpable unity-related activities which can be undertaken immediately: such as increased and highly visible Pan-Orthodox worship services throughout America.

With few exceptions, the Orthodox presently worship together only on the Sunday of Orthodoxy when attendance is often disappointingly low. In some regions, even this minimal activity has either been neglected or discouraged. Is it not fair to ask why Pan-Orthodox activities and initiatives at almost every level rank so low in priority? This example is cited to demonstrate that such activities need not wait for the formal committee work which the Assembly is laboring to commence.

In this respect, we offer an observation and suggestion. We know that pastoral and administrative duties of the hierarchy, their staffs and parish clergy are more pressing on their time and resources. Unless the Church’s leadership vocally, visibly, and urgently insists that unity matters, this present woeful situation will persist. We suggest that the Assembly address this matter by creating a permanent office and staff, not only to coordinate the committee work but also to energize and sensitize diocesan and local communities to undertake unity-related activities. The more we live unity, the sooner it will be realized.

If the Assembly seeks substantive and substantial participation of the laity in its committees and other work, it will be all the more likely that its mission will be achieved, particularly in light of the possibility that a Great and Holy Council could convene as early as 2013. With only fifty eight bishops and an estimated 1,000 priests in the various jurisdictions and active faithful of perhaps 1,000,000, it is clear that substantial involvement of the laity must be enlisted. We have every confidence that hundreds of devout men and women of diverse talents—many in retirement—would respond positively to calls for participation in the mission of Orthodox unity.

We also appreciate your efforts and that of others to discuss the Assembly’s work and more broadly the question of unity. Interviews on OCN’s Come Receive the Light and Ancient Faith Radio have been most helpful, but these efforts must again be reflected at the parish level. It is essential that unity initiatives and discussions at regional, metropolitan and local areas be sanctioned and promoted by the Assembly. We believe one way to encourage such activity is for the various jurisdictions to designate unity liaisons of both clergy and laity at diocesan and local levels.

We urge the Assembly to widely disseminate information about developments here and abroad that might affect the pace and nature of Church unity in America. Frequent updates on the deliberations of the Assembly or the Chambesy meetings, even if contentious, will help the faithful understand the complexity of the issues and how much time it may take to for them to be resolved.

Your Grace, OCL’s commitment to a united and canonical Orthodox Church in America is based on our Lord’s command that we “be one”. We take that to mean in spirit, body and worship. Following the historic and inspiring decisions taken concerning unity by the Synaxis at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2008, OCL promptly endorsed and engaged in activities supporting the actions taken by the leaders of World Orthodoxy. When OCL learned that an Assembly of Bishops was to be formed and convened, our members, on short notice, happily expressed their support in tangible ways, including significant financial assistance. OCL genuinely anticipated that a path toward Orthodox unity in America had finally arrived. OCL seeks no special status, but only to energize and expand the involvement of the People of God in the work of the Assembly.

We realize, Your Grace, that you and your fellow bishops carry a great and historic responsibility for ending the division of our Church in America. It is for this reason that we hope our observations and suggestions may prove helpful to the Assembly as it moves forward. In the end, the divine mandate for one united Church is a command to all the faithful. It is in response to this imperative that Orthodox Christian Laity has and will continue to pursue the unity of our faithful in America in all appropriate ways. We look forward to your response.

We pray that our Risen Lord may guide you and your brother bishops wisely and prudently in this most holy task.

Most Respectfully,

William Souvall, President
Orthodox Christian Laity 

cc: 

His Eminence Most Rev. Archbishop Demetrios of America, Chairman
His Eminence Most Rev. Archbishop Antony Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Treasurer
His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Maxim, Coordinator for Committees
His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Andonios, Coordinator for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations

Comments

  1. George Michalopulos :

    Maybe we Orthodox in America aren’t ready for the prime-time. If anything, Bill’s letter is just as much an indictment of the laity as it is among the hierarchy.

  2. Unity under a foreign power would lead to more loss and less growth than our present divisions along ethnic origin lines. Our present circumstance rightly reflects the natural immigration patterns from overseas to here. Folk looking from the outside in do not indict Orthodox disunity because they feel, mostly correctly, we did the best we could as we learned English and made our lives.

    But if we choose to ‘come together’ in the context of submission to remote administration by a foreign power, we will be seen, correctly, as freely choosing without the budens of new immigrants and with full knowledge and ability to choose otherwise, to distort ecclesiology in favor of geopolitical ethnic entanglements. A church with ‘Orthodox’ in the title can expect to die quickly if the doing doesn’t reflect the title on the door.

    Those who wanted an ordained young never married pope or group of ethnic overseas popes can already go to many places that offer that. We’re late to that party and it isn’t one our own preaching suggests we ought to join.

    The right path is for the varous groups to gain autocephaly or something like it, then coalesce with those already similarly situated.

    The goal, if we want to grow and not close the church doors as we marry our neighbors, is to remain in communion with all while choosing our own leadership here.

  3. Scott Pennington :

    Yawn.

    “People walking sideways, pretending that they’re leading . . . ”

    The Assemblies (or whatever they’re calling them this week) deserve to be ignored in toto. The reason is that no jurisdiction besides the OCA (and that is certainly not uniform within the OCA) has any intention of this turning into a united autocephalous Orthodox Church. Not the slightest intention.

    The whole thing was concocted to give the appearance that the patriarchs and their American hierarchs are moving toward climbing some tall hill to a united American church, whether autonomous under Constantinople or autocephalous. The truth is that if the will was actually there, it could be done and over with in 6 months.

    Autonomy under Constantinople is probably a non-starter for the OCA and ROCOR. Autocephaly is a non-starter for Constantinople and, under its present leadership, the AOC.

    In short, the whole thing is a thinly veiled lie, nothing more. What you will see is an indefinite churning of a bureaucracy that leads to nowhere. That’s all you’ve seen so far because the principals have no remote intention of getting to the point they say they wish to reach.

    It reminds me of Augustine’s statement, “Lord, grant me chastity and continence – – but not yet.”

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