No Surprises as First Episcopal Assembly of Orthodox Hierarchs Concludes

HT: St. Andrews House

By Theodore Kalmoukos, The National Herald

Divine Liturgy concluding the Episcopal Assemby - 2010

Divine Liturgy concluding the Episcopal Assembly - 2010

BOSTON — The proceedings of the first Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North and Central America ended on Friday May 28, 2010 with the dissolution of SCOBA – the Synod of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America. As reported, the two-day Assembly was held at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York on May 27-28, 2010 under the chairmanship of Archbishop Demetrios of America. By decision of the Assembly, all organizations and joint action projects operating under SCOBA, such as International Orthodox Christian Charities, will operate under the auspices of the Episcopal Assembly from hereon in.

SCOBA was first established back in 1960 in order to bring the bishops of the various Orthodox jurisdictions operating in America closer together, and promote cooperation and increased synchronization of their ministries. The late Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America had played a key role in the organization’s founding, along with Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

The assembly came to a formal close with the celebration of the divine liturgy at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral, to mark the brotherhood and unity present at the assembly.

Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church had initially opposed the dissolution of SCOBA, but was eventually convinced and agreed with the majority of the hierarchs.

Other issues discussed included the requests made by Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto and all Canada and Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico and Central America to partition the present region of the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America into two distinct regions of the United States and Canada, as well as to merge Mexico and Central America with the Assembly of South America. These requests will be sent to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Episcopal Assembly.

Archbishop Demetrios of America served as Chairman of the proceedings, aided by Vice-Chairmen Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese and Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk, who is Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S. Bishop Basil of Wichita was elected as Secretary and Archbishop Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA was elected Treasurer.

The Orthodox Church in America also was represented at the Episcopal Assembly, with Metropolitan Jonah in attendance. Although the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not recognized the OCA’s Autocephaly, Metropolitan Jonah told TNH that the Church he heads has liturgical communion with all the Orthodox Church, despite statements to the contrary made by Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Rev. Mark Arey, Director of the Office of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, that OCA is not recognized by any Church with the exception of Moscow.

During the proceedings various committees were formed that will meet at regular intervals to discuss issues of common interest to all the Orthodox jurisdictions.

There were no direct statement regarding ecclesiastical autocephaly or autonomy, except for a few indirect statement by Metropolitan Philip in regards to the Orthodox Diaspora and Metropolitan Christopher of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. The American-born Metropolitan Christopher noted that the time is ripe for such an undertaking, but Archbishop Demetrios disagreed.

None of the bishops of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America made any mention of autocephaly or autonomy, while Archbishop Demetrios clarified the role, responsibilities, and goals of the Assembly, noting that coordinated cooperation was sought on behalf of all the Orthodox Churches.

The date of the next Episcopal Assembly was not announced.

May 28, 2010


  1. It is sad to me to know that most times in history when so many Bishops and Primates came together, that something really important was announced when they were finished.

    In North America they can meet and nobody even expects anything important to come out of it.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Padewan-learner Otsukafan: usually the great statements that came out of the great councils were put in the mouths of bishops years after the fact. Few of the bishops that meet in council realize the import of what they are doing when they are doing it. 😉

      Seriously, I believe that this council will be viewed as the continuation of Ligonier. Just by connecting the dots we can see that it was Ligonier and the possibility of future Ligoniers that drove the Old World patriarchates to come up with the concept of the Episcopal Assembly.

      • The 1994 Ligonier statements specifically used “Episcopal Assembly” language in an attempt to mirror earlier documents coming out of Chambesy. It wasn’t the other way ’round. The idea of the EA has been around for a while, and it predated Ligonier in 1994.

        • The 1994 Ligonier statements specifically used “Episcopal Assembly” language in an attempt to mirror earlier documents coming out of Chambesy. It wasn’t the other way ’round


          Furthermore, we have agreed that we cannot accept the term `diaspora´ as used to describe the Church in North America. In fact the term is ecclesiastically problematic. It diminishes the fullness of the faith that we have lived and experienced here for the past two hundred years.

          That doesn’t sound like Chambesy. Is “General Synod of Bishops” “Episcopal Assembly language?” How about this at Chambesy?:

          We maintain that it is critical that the Church in North America be directly and concretely represented at that and future meetings. How is it possible for there to be discussion about the nature of the Church in North America in our absence? We must be present to share the two hundred years of experience that we have had of preaching the Gospel and living the Orthodox faith outside of those territories that have historically been Orthodox.

          The Federation and SCOBA both predate Chambesy, btw, by quite a lot. Home grown and not foreign imposed.

          • George Michalopulos :

            Isa, good point, very good point, one that I myself often forget.

          • Yes, SCOBA and the Federation do indeed pre-date the Chambesy meetings.

            The specific use of the phrase “Episcopal Assembly” which appears repeatedly in the Statement on the Church in North America was a deliberate reference to earlier documents coming out of Chambesy discussions on the “diaspora.” (More on this here.)

            If you get a chance to read Fr. Nicholas Apostola’s paper (can’t recall the name at the moment) that appeared in the SVTQ around that time, there’s a lot of detail on the Ligonier drafters’ (he was one of them) attempt to conform themselves to what was coming from Chambesy, most especially the Nov. 10-17, 1990, documents. This is actually all detailed in the “A New Era Begins” publication distributed by various folks.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Just curious, can anyone identify the bishops standing around the Holy Table. I definately see +Jonah there. Who are the others? Are they the primates of SCOBA?

  2. Christ's unprofitable servent, Seraphim :

    I have a number of important questions:

    # 1) At first I was skeptical about the the accuracy of the claims that Patriarch Bartholomew asked/told Archbishop Demetrios not to invite Metropolitan Jonah and the other OCA bishops to the Episcopal Assembly, but now I have seen enough information in the media to feel relatively comfortable believing that this is true, but I would like “proof”.

    Can anyone cite evidence to substantiate this?

    # 2) My understanding is that nobody was questioning the canonical status of the OCA bishops, as evidenced by the fact that they have pretty much always been in Eucharistic communion with all the other Churches & the primate of the OCA has always been a member of SCOBA, but, instead, it was the canonicity of their autocephaly that was being called into question by some. I thought that the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in refusing to recognize the OCA as an autocephalous Church, viewed it as part of the Patriarchate of Moscow similar to ROCOR.

    Am I wrong about this?

    # 3) If I am correct about # 2 (there was no question regarding the canonicity of the OCA bishops only the autocephaly) & if # 1 is true (Patriarch Bartholomew did indeed ask/tell Archbishop Demetrios to intentionally not invited the OCA bishops to the Episcopal Assembly) then what possible logic (I’m serious) could be behind this move given that all canonical bishops of the region were supposed to be invited?

    # 4) I have heard that Metropolitan Jonah does not have a seat on the Executive Committee of the Episcopal Assembly.

    Is this true?

    # 5) The documents from the 4th Chambesy conference (posted on the SCOBA website) are not very clear (one could even say contradictory) regarding who sits on the Executive Committee, for instance:

    The “Decision” document states in Section 2b):

    “These Assemblies will have an Executive Committee composed of the first hierarchs of the different jurisdictions that exist on the region.”

    The key word here being “jurisdiction”, which would mean that the Greek, Antiochian, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Russian, Albanian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, ROCOR, Moscow Patriarchate & OCA would each have their respective primates sitting on the Executive Committee, in a similar fashion to SCOBA.

    However, the “Rules of Operation” document states in Article 3:

    “The Episcopal Assembly will have an Executive Committee composed of the Primatial Bishops of each of the canonical Churches in the Region.”

    The key phrase here being “canonical Churches”, which raises a number of questions…

    Does Metropolitan Hilarion of the ROCOR “jurisdiction” have a seat on the Executive Committee or is ROCOR considered part of the “canonical Church” of Moscow, & if so does Archbishop Justinian hold the seat on the Executive Committee?

    Do the each of primates of the various “jurisdictions” under the Patriarchate of Constantinople have seats on the Executive Committee (ex: Metropolitan Nicholas of the Carpatho-Russian diocese, Bishop Ilia of the Albanian diocese, etc.) or do all these “jurisdictions” fall under the “canonical Church” of Constantinople meaning that only Archbishop Demetrios would hold the seat on the Executive Committee?

    I recall that Fr. Mark Arey, in an Ancient Faith Radio special entitled “Unraveling Chambesy” with Kevin Allen of The Illumined Heart podcast, stated that each “canonical Church” would have only one vote in the Episcopal Assembly. He went on to explain that all the “jurisdictions” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would only have one collective vote, and they would have to reach an internal consensus before casting their vote. Is this still the case?

    If all “jurisdictions” fall under their respective “canonical Church” with only one primate sitting on the Executive Committee then I suppose I can see the logic behind not granting Metropolitan Jonah a seat given that the OCA is not universally recognized as being autocephalous.

    However, this begs the question of how the OCA bishops will cast their votes, I would assume with the Patriarchate of Moscow, which opens up another can or worms because it forces the Patriarchate of Moscow to deny the autocephaly they granted to the OCA. I suppose either Moscow or Constantinople has to compromise on the autocephaly of OCA issue.

    If the primate of every “jurisdiction” (except the OCA) holds a seat on the Executive Committee then this is the epitome of hypocrisy and must be rejected because granting Metropolitan Jonah a seat does not equate with the recognition of the OCA’s autocephaly any more than granting Metropolitan Nicholas of the Carpatho-Russian diocese a seat acknowledges that that “jurisdiction” is an autocephalous Church. Logic dictates that it cannot work both ways.

    Does anyone know how the seats on the Executive Committee & the voting are determined because the official documents dealing with this matter are clear as mud?

    • I can only quickly say that I have many of the same questions, and some others. For instance, if the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Russians have a vote each, why is that not with the PoM and the Church CzLS (Prague) respectively?

      Btw, I see that EP Bartholomew in Russia announced that he is calling the great council. Maybe he wants to be more hands on with the seating arrangements.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Andrew, you raise a blizzard of good questions. Some I have attempted to answer in a paper published on this website (“Canonicity and Locality”). The short answer is that there are too many inherent contradictions in the Chambesy process, enough that it allowed everybody to see a “win” for their side (so to speak). When all is said and done however, the ROC “won” more in that it accomplished several things. Here they are in no particular order:

      1. the non-recognition of Estonia
      2. the advancement of the ROC up the dyptichs (to 3rd place), which means an automatic place on all presidiums in all the EAs
      3. the ability two have two votes in the North American EA (ROCOR/MP, the OCA’s vote is largely sympathetic to the ROC)
      4. the recognition of the OCA as a canonical church (and autocephalous? Probably)

      There are no doubt others. When all is said and done however, of all the patriarchates, only the ROC is able to subordinate the protocols of Chambesy to its own satisfaction. One could even say, override them. As an exaple, I cite the recent visit of +Hilarion to Alexandria, when he told the Pope that the ROC will set up its own churches on that continent. (As a concession, he said that Russia would pay for the education of natives in its seminaries. What’s a poor pope like going to do? say no?)

      • George: The Russian bishop being the 2nd Vice Chair in the NA/CA EA is not really the result of an “advancement.” It’s following the diptychs in order: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, etc. Since there are no bishops of Alexandria or Jerusalem locally, Antioch’s representative ends up 2nd and Moscow’s ends up 3rd (rather than 3rd and 5th, respectively). This is the standard order for the diptychs.

  3. Wesley J. Smith :

    I just read on another site that the OCA’s canonicity is now fully accepted, albeit not autocephaly. That’s a big step forward, isn’t it? Thanks.

    • Wesley, not a step at all. For example, depending on the year, Antiochian seminarians would go to St. Vladimir’s. People routinely had ‘Sunday of Orthodoxy’ vespers with all the local Orthodox parishes, communion here or there among the parishioners has gone on for years and years.

      It’s been a fact on the ground for a long time.

    • LOL. That step was taken when the OCA took her place on SCOBA.

      I notice that ROCOR has the statement on its website, where the ROCOR bishopsa are labeled as “Russian Orthodox Church,” and Met. Jonah and the Holy Synod are listed seperately “Orthodox Church in America.”

  4. You guys raise interesting points. I was thinking about the same during the weekend. I think the question is, “EXACTLY” what constitutes recognition?

    * Meeting with them officially – just occurred in NYC
    * Serving with representatives of the OCA – occurred last week in Moscow by the EP himself (with Fr. Zaccheus)
    * Being in a liturgy which commemorates the primate of the OCA – also happened last week in Moscow, with the EP present.

    To be honest, I’m not sure what else is left.

    What do you all think? Has the OCA been recognized in all but name?

    Honestly wondering if that wasn’t one of the results of last week.

    Best Regards

    • George Michalopulos :

      Dean, exactly.

    • I’m taking the position that Met. Jonah, Archb. Demetrios and Pat. Kyrill are taking the strategy that one can be a little pregnant just for so long. Since the “registry of canonical bishops” contains the OCA, the OCA (and its autocephaly) cannot come under the perview of the “committee to determine the canonical status of local communities in the region that have no reference to the Most Holy Autocephalous Churches.” Does the OCA sit on the “committee to plan for the organization of the Orthodox of the region on a canonical basis?” Notice that the EA names itself successor to SCOBA, but did I miss any reference to the executive committee of the EA? Met. Jonah has not given up his claims to autocephaly: how is the Phanar going to explain that away? They are going to have to either go into denial and cut off communion, or face reality as they were forced to in Russia.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Isa, excellent points all, as usual. However, I think we are coming close to a point that we can dispense with what the Old World thinks. Who cares? We’ve never been under any foreign patriarchates “protection” since the 1917. I mean, come on, has Bulgarian/Serbia/Greece/C’pole/Antioch/etc. every paid for the erection of one building in North America? Have they subsidized the salary of so much as one cantor? Did they even donate one solitary pew anywhere? “Protection” means something, otherwise it’s an word devoid of all meaning.

        I know I’ve harped on this incessantly, but the idea that the American church is “immature” leads me to ask: OK, so if we were under your “protection” then it’s you’re fault things are so bass-akwards here.

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