November 1, 2014

The Episcopal Assembly, the OCA, and the future Orthodox Church of the USA

By Fr. Thomas Hopko

Fr. Thomas Hopko

It’s not clear what is now happening for the establishment of an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States made up of the member churches of the former SCOBA. These are my questions:

  • What concrete steps are now being taken to establish an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States that would be recognized as a “sister church” by all the autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world?
  • What can Orthodox Christians in North America and around the world expect the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria to do with their North American “jurisdictions” to establish this self-governing Orthodox Church of the USA?
  • How will the future Orthodox Church of the USA relate to the dioceses and parishes in Canada and south of the US border that are now in North American “jurisdictions”?
  • And why should there be any problems regarding the OCA and its place in the US Episcopal Assembly and in the future Orthodox Church of the United States if the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and its North American missionary diocese was settled in 1970 and the OCA was always included in SCOBA?

It seems clear, at least to me, that the only real challenge in establishing an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the USA is the resolution of the current relationship between the old world patriarchates and their new world “jurisdictions”. There are no other problems. The Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria have to bless their North American “jurisdictions” to interact with each other in establishing the autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States. And the North American “jurisdictions” have to be willing to accomplish this task. That is all that is necessary.

The place of the OCA in establishing the self-governing Orthodox Church of the United States from members of the former SCOBA is irrelevant at this stage of the process. The OCA has already been blessed by its historical “mother church” to carry on its life as a self-governing “sister church.” One wonders, then, why the patriarchates with “jurisdictions” in North America (and why these “jurisdictions” themselves) are at all interested in the OCA at this point in the process of forming one Orthodox Church of the USA for all Orthodox Christians. “The ball”, as the saying goes, is solely “in the court” of the old world patriarchates and their new world “jurisdictions”. Discussion about the OCA at this point in the process is a meaningless distraction.

Let me offer a few more thoughts about the OCA in the present process.

Since its “pre-existence” as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, (popularly known as the “North American Mission” or the “North American Metropolia,”), and since it was declared “autocephalous” by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970, the OCA has sustained a clear and consistent position in all of its formal documents and statements. Since the Detroit Council of 1924 and at all subsequent “All-American Councils” it firmly stated that it cannot be a part, and still less a dependency, of the Moscow Patriarchate in any way. It defended its position as a “metropolia” with sufficient bishops, presbyters and people to carry on its life in its unique conditions under its own direction on the basis of an “ukaz” of St. Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow that decreed that the ecclesiastical conditions of the Russian Church at that time required such action. (In fact, St. Tikhon advocated for the autonomy and eventual autocephaly of the North American archdiocese when he served as its archbishop from 1896 to 1904.)

This position was formally recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970 when the Moscow Patriarchate granted autocephalous status to its multi-national missionary diocese and it became the Orthodox Church in (and not of) America.

Since becoming self-governing, the OCA never claimed to be the sole “canonical” church in America (whatever some misguided OCA zealots may say). It rather always contended that all the North American “jurisdictions” were “uncanonical” as long as they were not united in one church that would take its place among the world’s autocephalous Orthodox churches. Until that would happen, and by whatever arrangement (even, perhaps, through the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate according to its interpretation of the Church’s canonical tradition, especially the debated Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon), the OCA was always ready to be in Eucharistic communion and practical cooperation with all Orthodox churches in the world, first of all those in North America. And it was always ready to be included in the one fully united self-governing American church, however it would be established. And it consistently demonstrated this position when some of the “old world churches” and their North American “jurisdictions” at various times, for various reasons, refused to be in sacramental and practical communion with it.

The OCA position from its very beginning was stated in 1971 in a small booklet entitled Answers on Autocephaly. This OCA publication answered 20 questions concerning OCA autocephaly. Those desiring an accurate understanding of the OCA position from its founding should feel obliged to study this little booklet which is now posted on the OCA website. (Fr. Ted Bobosh’s “blog” recently referred to this little booklet as a personal publication of mine, which it was not. It was an official publication of the OCA.)

The clear and consistent OCA position has been as clearly and consistently rejected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Greek-led Orthodox churches from the beginning until the present day. Other Orthodox churches remained silent about it; and still do. And others offered their official recognition. But even in this strange and anomalous situation produced by a plethora of tragic historical events, all Orthodox churches in the world (except the old ROCOR and some sectarian “Old Calendarists” and “Traditionalists”) consistently offered the OCA de facto recognition while denying its status de jure. They did this just as they offered such recognition to the pre-existing “American Metropolia” known as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. They did so by continuing in Eucharistic communion with this ecclesial body, and by inter-acting and cooperating with it in practical matters in countless ways.

Thus, in 1960 the “American Metropolia” was a founding member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America. Before and after becoming the OCA it participated fully in all pan-Orthodox and inter-Orthodox projects and organizations such as CEOYLA, OCEC, EOCS, OCF, OTSA, IOCC and OCMC, as well as international organizations such as SYNDESMOS and international meetings of Orthodox theological schools. And it continues in this same relationship with virtually all the Orthodox Churches in North America and around the world until now.

The OCA also provided extraordinary services to all Orthodox churches in North America and throughout the world. It did so in the areas of theological education, publication of books, production of educational resources, and translation and printing of liturgical texts and music. It also provided countless leaders and participants in countless retreats, conferences, missions and charities, as well as in countless official and unofficial social, philanthropic, ecumenical and inter-faith activities in North America, and internationally.

OCA seminaries also trained hundreds of bishops, priests and church workers for Orthodox churches in North America and around the world. And patriarchs, bishops, scholars and church leaders of all Orthodox churches gladly accepted honorary degrees from its theological faculties. These include Patriarchs of Constantinople, Moscow, Antioch, Serbia and Georgia, and Orthodox luminaries like St. Justin Popovich of Serbia, Fr. Dimitru Staniloae of Romania and priests and theologians of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Moscow Patriarchate, Antiochian Patriarchate, Romanian Patriarchate, the Churches of Greece and Poland, and the Church of Finland. They also include Archbishop Anastasios of Albania and Archbishop Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Thus the only thing that matters today in the process of forming an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States is for the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria to work things out with their North American “jurisdictions” so that they, with the OCA, may all join together in the one autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States which will take its place in world Orthodoxy with the other self-governing Orthodox churches of the world.

May God grant that the resolution of the relationships between the “old world patriarchates” and “new world jurisdictions” be the foremost task and goal of the newly established US Episcopal Assembly. And may the OCA be rightly and wisely included in this process according to its unique conditions as it always has been, for God’s glory, the edification of Christ’s Church, and the salvation of many souls.

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Dean Emeritus
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
October 6, 2010
Feast of St. Innocent of Alaska

Comments

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    George Michalopulos says:

    As usual, Fr Hopko rises to the fore and succinctly lays bare the agendas of those who continue to denigrate the spirit of Ligonier. It is not for nothing that he will be remembered as the conscience of American Orthodoxy.

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    The time has come — in fact it is long overdue — for the piecemeal Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States to “take the bull by the horns” in order to establish one autocephalous Orthodox Church of the USA.

    We can no longer wait for the Patriarch of Constantinople — or any of the motherland patriarchs — to approve such a united agreement. It is not going to happen — not today, not ever — because these patriarchs are not willing to relinquish their authority over their various American Orthodox jurisdictions.

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      Kathy Dimitroff says:

      The Patriarchate of Constantinople will never agree to it because the Greek Church in America is its lifeline. There are only 900 Greeks left in Istanbul.

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    Dean Calvert says:

    After five months…Fr. Tom aptly puts a finger on the REAL problem. It is NOT the OCA, or it’s recognition (or not) by the various patriarchates.

    No…that is a sideshow…a distraction, a red herring even.

    The real problem is the willingness of the Old World patriarchates to allow their progeny to participate in the creation of a local autocephalous church.

    Bravo Fr. Tom…absolutely awesome job!

    Best Regards,
    Dean

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    Harry Coin says:

    Fr. Tom has done well again! Shining the light onto the hook underneath the bait. We need the bishops to talk productively, how can it be done without compromising our future? While at the same time recognizing that once we get past these shenanigans from overseas really the cause of the minority Christians in places like Turkey and Syria need our support and we have to step up somehow, peacefully.

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    Andrew says:

    Fr. Tom in this essay and his follow up essay Vatican II and Orthodox Bishops exposes the problems that are intrinsic to the Episcopal Assembly.

    After reading Fr. Hopko’s words I think we can all be honest that the first EA at the Helmsley Hotel was probably the high point of this endeavor. Its all downhill from here The EA is not going to address social issues nor lend itself to any type of public witness. More and more the EA is simply a bureaucratic tool to erode support of an United autocephalous American Church.

    Fr. Tom effectively calls the bluff of many by saying the Old World is either for an Autocephalous Church or it is not. In doing so he also exposes the Potemkin village of the Episcopal Assembly and questions its ultimate goal.

    After reading these articles one thing is for certain… Until we have leaders who follow a servant model of leadership the EA and quest for a self governing American Church is forever stalled.

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    Mostly very good stuff, but sometimes a little self serving. The OCA must also recognize how badly they have performed as a church because of the widespread corruption, moral and fiscal. A little humility here would be very refreshing. I do not think they were ready for autocephally, and that it was a very political, graft filled process. These things matter.

    The potential hegemony of the Ecumenical Patriarch is the real issue. His unity will not be wholly Orthodox, and that should be a GREAT concern. We may smile at meetings, but until somebody talks about the elephant in the living room of the Phanar, we will only have an artificial, organizational unity, to the detriment of Orthodoxy in this country.

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      Harry Coin says:

      I was noodling about ‘what would do it, what would it take?’. Perhaps if the old world patriarchates agreed and announced in advance their agreement upon something like: whensoever say 66% of the ‘canonical’ (cough cough) bishops agreed to form a synod the old world churches would recognize the conditions for autocephaly are met and it could be considered granted. Then the EA’s would have an understood goal and therefore meaning.

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      George Michalopulos says:

      Fr Seraphim, broadly speaking your analysis is truthful. However by harping on the OCA’s sins and overlooking the canonical atrocities committed by the other jurisdictions, your words buttress the false narrative that has been used far too long to maintain the increasingly untenable status quo. Simply put, your picture is half-painted.

      As for the particulars about “graft” exchanging hands in return for autocephaly, this would be egregious if true. However are the other jurisdictions immune from such malfeasance? Why does +Philip for example refuse to allow independent audits? How much was paid out by the GOA to the pedophile victims? Why did HOCNA leave ROCOR? Ad infinitum.

      Yes, you are correct, the subjugation of a united American Church to the EP would be a terrible thing indeed. Not because of the incumbent but because the corruption and intrigue found in those precincts is unalterable. You could say it’s in the DNA.

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    Andrew says:

    Here is a question: Does the EA have a charter, constitution or any set of operational guidelines that indicates how it functions, elects, votes etc? How does the EA resolve disputes and disagreements? Honestly folks, is there any accountability built into the EA at all? Or is it a matter of 79th Street pays the bill -79th street decides…….

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      Harry Coin says:

      Andrew, there was a day when ’79th street decides’. No more. Those who follow the handed down charter replace ’79th street’ with ‘The Phanar in Istanbul’. Note Met. Philip’s statement about how decisions are now taken in the GOA.

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      George Michalopulos says:

      excellent observation, Andrew. Never really thought about it. My feeling has always been that it’s just a make-it-up-as-it-goes-along enterprise. This is what happens when you have a Holy Synod made up of titular metropolitans.

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        Andrew says:

        George, let me toss out the following question to take thinking about the EA one step further.

        One question that needs to be asked is the EA concilliar at all? Let me give you an example: Lets say there is an issue before the EA of importance. First lets ask ourselves are the members allowed to vote? Second if they are allowed to vote lets say 2/3 of the bishops of the EA voted in a manner contrary to the wishes of the Chairman and the EP. What happens? Can the chair and the EP simply veto the results? Can 2/3 of the members of the EA be overruled by the chair?
        Nobody really knows now do they?

        The more you scratch the surface the more you really wonder about the the nature of this process. Unless there is a documented process of accountability and conciliarity the EA is one step away from anarchy and irrelevance. Just because all the bishops show up in the same place at the same time does not mean what transpires is conciliar.

        Given the Phanar’s vision of Church governance, I do not see the EA being conciliar at all. The Phanar is not going to risk engaging in a conciliar process at the risk of its political interests in the USA. How much money have they spent building this Potemkin Village?

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          George Michalopulos says:

          Andrew, you raise several interesting questions. I don’t know that anybody can know the answer to these questions. Maybe it’s better to just go back to the first principles of the EAs and look to see if they are coherent. You know, GIGO. Personally, they don’t look very coherent at all.

          Are there good things in them? yeah, it killed Canon 28 after a fashion. But good things happened in the Soviet Union as well (they put the first man in space). That’s very thin gruel indeed. But when we get to brass tacks, what are we left with? An unworkable project whose unstated purpose was to frustrate unity in the US and failing that, try to subjugate the colonial eparchies (and the OCA) to the EP.

          will this happen? Doubtful. Should we want it to happen? Heavens no! I guess what I’m trying to say is that the entire project was unOrthodox from its inception, hence it’s bound to fail.

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    troon rose says:

    By chance have the Monks of Mt Athos written officially or unoffically about this process? If so, the link(s) to original material would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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    “Fr Seraphim, broadly speaking your analysis is truthful. However by harping on the OCA’s sins and overlooking the canonical atrocities committed by the other jurisdictions, your words buttress the false narrative that has been used far too long to maintain the increasingly untenable status quo. Simply put, your picture is half-painted. ”

    Absolutely, my picture was not complete, because I made a short comment. I disagree with you – I did not ignore anything or give a false narrative – I made a short comment. If we were having a longer discussion, the sorts of things you mentioned would come out.

    The big elephant, that nobody has the guts to talk about is that the EP is unfit to rule here, because of his power mongering and ecumenism. Will anybody in a position of power and authority call him on his excesses? He has done things that he should be brought to trial for.

    God has allowed this uncanonical situation. I am not sure why, but it could be to protect Orthodoxy. With all the chiefs arguing and posturing, it has been impossible for any really bad apple to take over and trash everything. That does not justify our disunity, but perhaps it must be this way. I do not want the EP’s Orthodox and piety. I do not want Metrolitan Philip’s piety and strong man tactics. I do not want the mess the OCA is in to be multiplied by 1000.

    I want a church that respects tradition, and true piety. The unity that is being proposed will not do that, in my strong opinion.

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      Eliot Ryan says:

      Very well said Father. The cause of unity failure can be summed up in a few words: lack of trust. Lack of trust is detrimental to any sort of relationship but it is often beneficial to maintaining safe boundaries.

      The two Romanian epharchies are separated not due to ethnic reasons, nor because the Romanian Patriarch does not want unity. They are separated because of the brutal intervention of the secular Communist authorities in Church’s affairs. This led to lack of trust and confidence within the Church. The root of secularism was Protestantism; this is a fact, even though today there are elements within fighting against its sour fruits. We are living here in the mist protestant wisdom and philosophies. Do we have any warranty that a “really bad apple” won’t “take over and trash everything”?

      Perhaps, the higher cause of disunity is the lack of love. Often, comments here reflect the lack of love towards the “old world”, towards our “parents”. They might be bad, but they are the ones who gave us life. Honoring our parents means that we honor the life that was given to us.

      The good news is that the lack of unity does not prevent any of us from prayer, vigil and inner struggle.

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    Yianni says:

    Fr. Seraphim wrote: “God has allowed this uncanonical situation. I am not sure why, but it could be to protect Orthodoxy. With all the chiefs arguing and posturing, it has been impossible for any really bad apple to take over and trash everything.”

    I agree.

    Notice that all of the talk of “unity” centers around some kind creature called “administrative unity” leaving out the herd of “elephants” in the room, namely the great differences the various jurisdictions have in living out the faith (praxis).

    There are great differences in the reception of converts. Orthodox marriage. Confession. Communion. Fasting. Monasticism. Ecumenism. And let’s not forget the Calendar. Tradition vs. tradition. Piety vs. Laxity. Etc.

    All of this talk, talk, talk about “administrative unity” doesn’t even begin to address the differences in how we, the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) live out the faith.

    I predict that we will see a further shaking up and out of the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) where natural allies will join together, like with like. Traditionalists with Traditionalists. “t”raditionalists with “t”raditionalists. Old Calendar with Old Calendar. New C. with New C…You get my point.

    I agree with Fr. Seraphim that God is allowing this to happen during these evil days in which we are living in order to protect the faith so no one American Patriarch can mess up the whole Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA).

    We will all make our alliances. Join our teams. As to which grouping will be the true keepers of the Faith? The truth will out. God will reveal it in due time.

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      George Michalopulos says:

      Yanni, an excellent analysis. I think many of us who are more traditionalist/conservative have been feeling this situation instinctively. You’ve put it in words that vocalize our intuitions.

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    Constantine says:

    I have been watching this from a distance. When I ask my priest what is going on, he tends to just move on to another subject. I have been through four church splits, some in small local churches and some in an International Church Fellowship (we are converts).

    What is going on from my own observation is exactly what happened in the four churches that we say split. When there is a striving for power and control there will always follow corruption.

    What drew us into the Orthodox Faith was the authenticity of the Church and it unity in history. We found what we were looking for after a very long journey. The only good division is one dividing themselves from the world and uniting themselves with the Orthodox Church.

    I hope and pray that all the pride, power struggles, and division will end, how else can the house stand?

    A new convert and his wife.

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      thanosloukas says:

      Your comment is unfortunately true. I have paid close attention to his dilemma within the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
      The first thing, you as a new convert to the Orthodox religion here in America have to make sure! That you align yourself and your family with a traditional and stead fast Orthodox Priest. Choose your parish priest for your soul as you would choose your doctor for your health!

      Long story short, what so called Fr. Thomas Hopko is trying to make clear ostensibly, is that the Church is trying to head into a new self governing position. This means leaving the Patriarchate which oversees the direct and indirect works of its church body throughout the world including of the old world, because now this is the new world. Hmmmm.

      In reality, the church is going to try to accomplish this by covering our eyes so to speak, so they can form the alliance with the Vatican once and for all (see the Balamand Treaty 1993 Balamand Lebanon). The Orthodox Church here in America has fallen away from the traditions of the so called OLD WORLD Church, which by the way is still the Historical Church of TRADITION, way of the Holy Fathers.

      Fr. Hopko fails to tell his readers that he is for the UNIA “ Balamand treaty 1993”.

      Therefore, you may have to change churches again. Believe me I have. We the Orthodox, still have a few good priests here that we can align ourselves for our salvation.

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        Chris says:

        I think the Old World Church has fallen away from Historical Church Tradition of the Holy Fathers as well.

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        Isa Almisry says:

        In reality, the church is going to try to accomplish this by covering our eyes so to speak, so they can form the alliance with the Vatican once and for all (see the Balamand Treaty 1993 Balamand Lebanon). The Orthodox Church here in America has fallen away from the traditions of the so called OLD WORLD Church, which by the way is still the Historical Church of TRADITION, way of the Holy Fathers.

        the Churches which signed Balamand, which isn’t in the canonical territory of the OCA. It’s in the patriarchate of Antioch “where the disciples were first called Christians.” “The Patriarchate which oversees the direct and indirect works of its church body throughout the world including of the old world, because now this is the new world. Hmmmm”: by this I take it you mean the Phanar. I’ve seen how it hss nearly destroyed and killed off the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, something the pagans, Muslims and Crusaders couldn’t accomplish. Hmmmm.

        you may have to change churches again. Believe me I have. We the Orthodox, still have a few good priests here that we can align ourselves for our salvation.

        Your bishop in the Orthodox diptychs of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

        Btw, on the Fr. Hopko, not so called but in reality: a few years ago a priest’s wife fell asleep while he was hospitalized. They were in another jurisdiction, but Fr. Hopko went to the hospital room the day of the funeral, and he celebrated the full office for the priest, so that he could join in the prayers for his wife.

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          thanosloukas says:

          Dear Isa:

          The Church of Antioch was there! Get your facts straight and leave church politics where they belong.

          I think you should read the the so called treaty and closely look ta the “Attendees”.

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    Although we cannot know what the future will hold, it appears that the meme of failure appears to be coursing through the entire Episcopal Assembly project. For evidence of this growing perception of incipient failure, please go to Mark Stokoe’s excellent website http://www.ocanews.org and read the essay about the abortive rapprochment between the OCA’s Romanian episcopate and the Romanian patriarchal jurisdiction. Also, Bishop +Nikon of the OCA’s Albanian diocese laid down some firm markers against any type of unity that results in the loss of the OCA’s autocephaly.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This statement by Fr. Hopko and the following comments present some good questions about the goal of the Episcopal Assembly and Orthodox administrative unity. Right now I wonder if it is best that when one jurisdiction misbehaves, that there remain another one to go to. But if we were united maybe corrections would be made more internally in a conciliar way, and there would be less opportunity for one rogue to lead others astray? I also kind of like the way reconciliation is occurring one jurisdiction at a time like seems to be happening with the OCA and ROCOR. [...]

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