Fr. Damick: Further impressions from the Episcopal Assembly

By Fr. Andrew Damick
Source: Orthodox History

Some more impressions, not terribly well sorted:

One thing that struck me about the event was its lack of staff. Normally, these kind of big church events are swarming with photographers, porters, subdeacons swirling about, etc., but this one was rather decidedly subdued. I was there to help one of the bishops, along with one other cleric, but most of the bishops had absolutely no staff with them at all. There was also very little support staff for the event in general. Most things were taken care of by the hotel staff in their usual capacities (wait staff, food service, maintenance, etc.). I didn’t see anyone else with a camera besides myself and the few taking shots with cellphones here and there. This event did not really present the appearance of much of an “event.” It was all so routine, orderly and low-key that I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had to remind himself that history was really being made.

One thing that seems to have generated some discussion here and there online is the apparent seating order during the meetings. While getting worked up about that strikes me as fairly petty, a close look at the order reveals that the officers were seated at the head table, followed by the bishops arranged by jurisdiction according to the diptychs, then arranged internally according to seniority. This put the OCA bishops at the ends of the tables (not with the Moscow bishops, by the way), which is exactly where they would want to be. So, whether you accept the OCA’s autocephaly or not, they were precisely where you’d want them to be.

Abp. Demetrios, who freely mingled and circulated with all present, was clearly looked to as a primate. I do not know what is in his heart, but he seems to me a serious, down-to-earth man with dignity and focus. He was quite obviously respected by all present. This was apparent everywhere he went.

Bp. Basil was indeed elected Secretary, as I wrote yesterday (but had not confirmed), and Abp. Antony was elected as Treasurer.

There was not politicking going on in the halls and at meals. There were just men working together. It was all almost routine, not particularly energetic. They were clearly comfortable with each other. This comfort and familiarity were evident this morning at the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan. I’ve been to liturgies where everyone was formal and stiff and concerned with what everyone else is thinking, but this was not one of those. These bishops were calm, prayerful, relaxed, and I was personally very deeply moved to stand in the altar with them as they received Holy Communion. There was nothing formal or perfunctory about it. It was really communion in every sense.

In speaking with a friend in the priesthood, he interpreted this apparent brotherhood very positively, saying that this may represent another step in the formation of a mutual identity. That interpretation certainly fits with everything I saw.

This was not an event with “drama,” or, if there was any drama, any symptoms of it were completely absent in the halls, at meals, in church, etc. I think those interested in some sort of major declaration, some dramatic moment, will be disappointed. One thing I noticed is that there were some other priests there on the sidelines, as I was, some of whom have been working toward events like this for many decades. What I noticed of them (and one in particular whom I admire; no guesses entertained—he’s not a man of any fame, but he has been quite instrumental) was that they were also relaxed, enjoying themselves (more than the bishops were, probably because they didn’t have to sit through the meetings!), and in good spirits. To me, that the real foot soldiers, mature engineers, and genuine architects of our coming unity (and it is coming, by the way; God will not be long mocked) are hopeful and satisfied means that a significant line has been crossed.

In historical landmark terms, SCOBA is now over. (Matthew Namee called Abp. Nicolae’s speech a “eulogy to the death of SCOBA.”) It served its time, and it’s now been superseded by something much more significant—all of our archpastors (not just certain ones), all encouraged to be present and working together by our hierarchies across the oceans. No matter how one may choose to read the politics of all that (even quite cynically), that all these men were present together in the same room and are now beginning the actual process of forming committees to work together on practical problems means that a mutual church life is being formed. This development is of no lesser historical importance than a dramatic declaration. Indeed, it is much more significant, since it is far more likely to have a lasting effect.

I went into my small part of the Episcopal Assembly a bit hopeful, certainly aware of the historical significance, but without any big expectations. I came away with more hope, and a strong feeling that things are moving smoothly, methodically, and very much in the right direction. The words from the official statement I think summarize what I saw quite well:

…we are inspired by our leaders, the Heads of all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who proposed that which we painfully yearn for in this region, i.e., the “swift healing of every canonical anomaly” (Message of the Primates 13.2). We are also grateful that they established a fundamental process toward a canonical direction and resolution.

May it be blessed.

Update: One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that apparently Jesse Jackson (yes, that one) showed up last night. (A couple of witnesses told me this, but I was not there.) He reportedly tried to hobnob with some of the gathered hierarchs at the hotel restaurant at dinner, but didn’t really make much headway.


  1. Why would Jesse Jackson want to hobnob with a ____________ of bishops?

    And what is a group of bishops called, anyway?

    Magdalena, only slightly tongue-in-cheek

    • George Michalopulos :

      Thank God for one time our bishops weren’t falling all over themselves to act like giddy bobby-soxers in the presence of a celebrity. This could be a turning point in American Orthodox history. We’ll know we’ve really turned the corner when they stiff-arm some of the Greek-American celebrities!

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Magdalena, I don’t know although this caught my eye too. For the historical record however, there has always been respect from those around Martin Luther King towards the Orthodox (Greek Orthodox in particular). When Abp. Iakovos walked with Dr. King at Selma, he was the first of highly visible Christian figures to do so (outside of the civil rights orbit) and opened the door for other Christian leaders to do the same. King supporters have always appreciated this and many feel warmly towards Orthodox Christianity as a result.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    One thing that struck me about this otherwise very good analysis, was the idea that a the “eulogy” of SCOBA had been given by Archbisop Nicolae, at least in one observer’s opinion. As a constant critic of SCOBA in the past, I’m not sure I get that, especially since SCOBA makes up the executive committee of the EA. Or am I wrong about that?

    • Met. Jonah’s absence on the executive committee would prove you wrong. Do we have a list of who is on the Executive Committee. I for one would like to see if the Phanar’s Albanian bishop of two parishes got on.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Isa, yeah, you’re right, I didn’t catch that. However, it’s possible that that might be rectified in the near future.

    • SCOBA has been dissolved. Of course the members are all still there in the EA, though sometimes in different roles.

      • Tamara Northway :

        The most glaring problem I see is that the role of Metropolitan Jonah has been diminished considerably with Episcopal Assembly gathering from what his role was in SCOBA. If we want the second largest jurisdiction (lay and clergy) to be a part of supporting the Episcopal Assemblies of the future, then I would hope that the Bishops on the Executive Committee would elect Metropolitan Jonah to this group in order to
        increase the lay and clergy support for this endeavor which will hopefully bring unity to our continent.

        • Tamara Northway :

          It is almost absurd to believe that the church with the most seminaries and in all likelihood, educates most of the priests that serve our Orthodox communities, has been relegated to a third class status in this new Episcopal Assembly gathering.
          I can only speculate how disappointed and angry some members of the OCA must feel at seeing their beloved, hierarch, Metropolitan Jonah, reduced to the role of just a bishop on the Episcopal Assembly. I realize Archbishop Demetrius has risked his future by even allowing the Metropolitan to attend the Episcopal Assembly but how preposterous is that statement when we realize that most of the American Orthodox saints came from the Orthodox Church in America.

          • George Michalopulos :

            Tamara, you are absolutely correct. However, let us not forget that God is on His throne and despite the machinations of venal men, it is He who prevails, not duplicitous bishops.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Not challenging the premise here, just trying to define “dissolved.” Would “superseded” be more accurate?

        • I think dissolved is probably correct in legal, corporate terms, but superseded is certainly better in terms of the incarnational reality.

          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            By superseded I had something different in mind, along the lines of, say, the US Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation, or English Constitutional Law superseded the Magna Carta.

            To be honest, the term “incarnational reality” always strikes me as fuzzy logic; no one seems able to provide a clear definition of the term. I think what people really mean by the term is that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of men, which is to say in space and time. IOW, there are not two “realities;” only one (there is no “incarnational reality vs “regular” reality). How one perceives that reality (how one “sees” that singular “reality”), is the key.

            I’m not saying you this is your definition of the term, so please don’t misunderstand me. I’m only saying that the term doesn’t clarify much, as least to my eyes.

        • How about absorbed into rather then the other terms suggested?

  4. And what makes anyone think that the GOA which ignored the constitution of SCOBA and its rotating presidency will not bully its way to control the EA? Rules are for the little people in the pews after all.

    What will happen when the EA goes out with a whimper and can’t even get quorum? Will 79th Street just pay the travel tab again and hustle through what it wants rules or no rules? We pay you obey.

    And what of all these pan-orthodox ministries like OCF etc? Are they now to be run by the wonderboys of 79th street? The same people who spent stewardship dollars and brought us the Patriarchal video game?????????

    SCOBA got liquidated. It remains to be seen what will happen to pan-orthodox ministries like OCF. Will they be liquidated and those people who are inconvenient to the omogenia (race) tossed over board?

    • The ignoring of the rotating presidency of SCOBA was with the consent of the other jurisictions. Met. Anthony Bashir started it by defering to Archb. Iakovos. The topic of going by the book only came as the Phanar was getting more high handed.

      Again, the problem of Met. Jonah’s empty seat on the executive committee is the only thing necessary of immediate rectification.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Don’t jump the gun Andrew. It is not at all clear that SCOBA got “liquidated.” I’m not pessimistic here. Yes, it is going to be a bumpy ride but I see the EA’s as part of a process (hence “superseded”) that will (may? — but actually I believe “will”) get stronger.

      Don’t forget, SCOBA, despite its shortcomings, still framed the necessity of a unified American church in concrete. This is significant (its the “vision thing”) despite some it its inherent institutional weaknesses.

      • To effect legal transfer, they are going to have to formally dissolve SCOBA. If the EA is really the successor to SCOBA, then Met. Jonah should be sitting on the executive committee.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Isa, the more I read on this blog, the more I realize that a lot of these things (such as “legal transfers” if indeed SCOBA is “defunct”) haven’t been thought out. It’s really rather amateurish. That means that if the GOA is serious (I mean the other 8 bishops other than +Demetrius) about becoming members of a true American synod, then +Jonah is going to have to be given his rightful seat on the Executive Committee.

          Because we allowed Ligonier to be sabotaged by overseas interference, we are going to pay in time and money (legal fees) for things that would have been resolved at least 10 years ago.

          No doubt there are countless other obstacles that will become apparent in due time.

  5. Michael Bauman :

    Fr. Hans, the term incarnational can get fuzzy and it is important to clarify. Personally it means a reality that partakes of both the human and the divine. For instance, to say there is an invisible Church is a denial of the incarnation. Equally bad is to look at the physical as separate from God.

    The EA is the vehicle now, so does it really matter whether SCOBA is superseeded or disolved?

    Abp. Nicolae’s speech engendered the most hope in me because he recognized that we here in America are truly Orthodox and that the Old World assumptions and ways of doing things are just won’t fit here.

    The Holy Spirit is calling all of us to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the life of the Church here and now. We are called to do what we can do whether anyone else does it or not.

    Met. Joseph has repeatedly said that unity would not come until all of the Ligoner bishops had died. In part this was a reference to the children of Israel’s 40 years in the desert and not making it into the promised land, but also a poltical/human reality. There are quite a few still with us and it looks as if they will be with us awhile yet by God’s grace.

    Hope in God allows us to concentrate on what we need to do and can do, cynicism always focuses on others and what they are not doing or should be doing.

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