OCA releases strategic plan for public comment

Orthodox Church in America

Source: OCA Website

SYOSSET, NY [OCA] — The “Working Draft of a Strategic Plan for the Orthodox Church in America,” prepared by the Strategic Planning Committee of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council, is now available on-line in PDF format on the OCA web site at www.oca.org/PDF/NEWS/2010/2010-0624-strategicplan-v4.6.pdf.

The committee, which includes clergy and lay members representing a broad geographic spectrum, was commissioned by the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod of Bishops to develop a draft Strategic Plan for the OCA. According to the introduction to the Working Draft, “the goal is to provide an initial version of the plan in time for discussion and perhaps adoption at the 16th All-American Council in the fall of 2011.” As such, the draft is designed to elicit feedback from all segments of the Church. Based on the feedback received, the plan will be revised.

“This Strategic Plan is meant to be roadmap for us, as the Church, as we continue to witness to God’s Kingdom in the early parts of the 21st century,” according to Priest John Vitko, a committee member. “In developing this roadmap, it is critically important that we reach out to all the members of the Church for their prayerful input.”

The committee initiated this process by seeking and integrating input from His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah and members of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council.

“The Working Draft, as posted, captures our best understanding to date,” Father John added. “This summer, we will reach out to the broader Church for feedback and input and revise the draft accordingly.”

Subject to the blessing of each diocesan Bishop, interactive dialogues are being conducted at diocesan assemblies to garner input from delegates. The Working Draft also will be made available to other Church institutions and individual parishes and parishioners through a variety of means for their feedback and input.

Those wishing to offer input on the Working Draft are encouraged to send comments and observations to ocastratplan@oca.org. Hard copies of the draft will be made available for sharing at the parish level, while an upcoming issue of The Orthodox Church magazine will be devoted to the plan.

“By reaching out through all these means, we are hoping to get input from the full breadth of the Church,” Father John added. “Because we anticipate a significant amount of input, it will not be possible to respond to each one individually, but each and every comment or suggestion will be given serious consideration as the committee continues to evolve and revise the plan.”

Read it here (pdf):



  1. Nick Katich :

    Look on the Canadian Diocese website.

  2. Dean Calvert :

    Here’s the link on the OCA website – fifth item from the top on the right

    Everybody in this country should read this…a phenomenal piece of work.

    THIS is what the Episcopal Assembly should have been working on.

    Best Regards,

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Dean, I couldn’t agree with you more. What’s fascinating about this document is its honesty but also its willingness to ask for input from everybody. At the risk of sounding triumphal, I just can’t imagine a similar endeavor from the other jurisdictions.

  4. Dean Calvert :


    I would really encourage everyone to write to the OCA and let them know what you think…specifically. This was published in “draft form” for a reason. They did NOT want to convey the impression it was a finished product.

    On the other hand, it’s obvious that a lot of thought and serious consideration went into the document – very comprehensive and clearly not targeted at “just” the OCA membership.

    This is a document that could be, and should be, adopted by the entire American church…a plan for moving forward on this continent.

    Best Regards,

  5. Wrote up my thoughts and suggetions. Emailed them all to Archbishop Seraphim a couple weeks ago. He then forwarded them to the committee. That was before this generic email addy was published.

    I agree. It is an excellent document. But it will be only as good as they use it, which is what a strategic plan is meant to be…a “living” document.

  6. One thing jumped out immediately to me:

    The ‘Holy Synod’ can be so called, according to the document, only if the Metropolitan is present. Little though people know it, even at the Ecumenical Patriarchate the Holy Synod trumps the Patriarch should they so choose. Certainly if half the bishops plus one meet, whether the Metropolitan is present or not, they should be able to deem their meeting a meeting of the holy synod.

    • No. Apostolic Canon 34 doesn’t allow that. So it may be a meeting of the Holy Synod, but its decisons don’t stand without the primates stamp. Just like the primates unilateral moves are contingent on support from the Holy Synod. That’s how a local Church is defined.

      • Isa, the canons allow for a synod to meet to remove the patriarch if necessary. Nobody has or will ever credit a serious institution exists where the person the synod wants to remove has to agree to be present before they can remove him.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Isa, Harry, isn’t a more broad synod deemed necessary to remove a primate? Wasn’t Chrysostom removed by an “outside” synod presided by the Patriarch of Antioch?

          Personally, I think that a complaint against the primate from 1/3 of the bishops should be enough to convene a tribunal to consider removal (which should be done only with 2/3 of the vote of all bishops). What do you think?

          • George, something like that. If the synod comes across as subordinate to the primate even to the point of the many not being able to get together to take decisions because one of them can’t or won’t come?? Plainly that will leave the OCA right back to square 1 and might as well go home now.

          • It was Pope Theophilos of Alexandria. Part of the issue was Constantinople was autocephalous, but had no jurisdiction delineated, and hence no real synod of its own.

            You need 12 bishops to depose any bishop.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Personally, I think that just by having real dioceses, and this means the diocese of the capital city itself, a lot of the problems that plague the ethnic eparchies will go away. Not all problems, just most. Why do I say this? Because in the present situation, there was no accountability within the dioceses –bishop to people, people to bishops. This OCA just took a major step in the right direction in rectifying this with the election of the most recent bishops in Pittsburgh and in Chicago. (The process anyway.)

          MY contention is that –and my recommendation to the OCA strategic draft committee–that the dioceses be formed according to strict legal directives, with clearly defined legal terms. In other words, a legal corporation with the Bishop as Chairman of the Board, the Chancellor as Chief Executive Officer, etc. Who is the bishop? how he’s elected? who is a member? how does he get to vote? an amendment process for the dissolution of the diocese into additional dioceses (or more accurately expansion), etc. These things have to be spelled out chapter and verse. Of course the Holy Synod should have the final say (as per apostolic canon 34) but the activity within the diocese should arise from within it.

          As long as votaries of the EA keep preaching “semi-autonomy” and the American church never receves complete autocephaly, we will never have accountability or transparancy. This means that it’s up to the OCA to do the heavy lifting necessary to point the way. Do it, and the others will come around.

        • That’s a different matter. Sort of like the Senate impeachment. Ordinariy, the VP presides. The Chief Justice presides only in an impeachment. Of course, the primate must be given three opportunities to come and make his case before being deposed. If he comes, that problem is solved. If he doesn’t, after the third time, he can be deposed in abstentia.

  7. There is:

    The belief that the spiritual fruit of an ascetic life of all the faithful contributes to the building up of life in the Church.

    Then following there is: The belief that monasticism is an integral part of the life of the Church.

    This allows the inference that monastics are not ascetics, as they appear to need their own statement of existence by legalistic fiat, without life lived qualification the foregoing. Is this so the other categories of life get the idea they ought to get used to the idea of paying for ‘monastics’ ‘just because’? They are not to work for themselves?

    Otherwise, why is there not also a line having to do with justifying the existence of married people? Unmarried non-monastics? What?

  8. ‘weaknesses’ and ‘opportunities’ both have a place for related significant entries.

    ‘weaknesses’: As the past twenty or so years have shown: No viable, understood process leading to mechanism for timely correction should any of the foregoing calls in this document to love, consensus, actual and not merely administrative relationship ,and good personal and pastoral judgement be ignored by those with the administrative power so to do. Without such this document becomes aspirational, not actually meaningful.

    ‘opportunities’: The process including the creation of this document is an opportunity to correct the foregoing weakness that has brought such a tremendous inheritance to this difficult period.

  9. Scott Pennington :

    ● A secular culture that has impacted our Church life through: promoting a social gospel that minimizes the need for ascetic life; focusing on just the current life and not on eternal life; a tendency to oppose science and religion; and the emergence of a sense of Orthodox fundamentalism rooted, in part, in a static and narrow experience of Tradition. Consequently the Orthodox Church might be losing its authentic voice . . .”

    They might want to consider removing the italicized portion of this paragraph. A healthy appreciation of the Athonite monastic developments in this country and possible dialogue on unity with ROCOR would be better served by laying off the “fundamentalist” label. Many pious Orthodox have never accepted the OCA’s definitions with respect to “Big T tradition versus little T tradition”. “Static and narrow” sounds like the language used by the Supreme Court’s progressives to describe the originalist legal philosophy espoused by such justices as Antonin Scalia. Its opposite is the “living Constitution” that can be molded into anything you want. Hopefully, those who continue the practices observed across the centuries and across the different Orthodox cultures are of great value to the Church, not a danger, and compose at least part of its “authentic voice”.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      The real problem with the sentence is that “fundamentalist” is a term without any concrete meaning (it has too much “surplus meaning” as a friend of mine likes to say). It can mean just about whatever anyone wants to read in it. If they see a problem, they need to define it with more specificity.

      • Scott Pennington :

        Fr. Johannes,

        Agreed. It is hard to tell exactly whom they have in mind. “Fundamentalism” is really a Protestant idea in any case. It comes from a series of publications in the early 1900’s called “The Fundamentals”. Among other things, those early fundamentalists affirmed a set of basic Protestant dogmatic assumptions and were generally closed communion. Evangelicals don’t actually qualify by that standard, but are nonetheless often labelled as such by liberals.

        Anymore, anybody more conservative than the speaker can be labelled “fundamentalist”. That is probably what they had in mind. And that is why I made my observation.

        Notice, they see the outside secular culture as a liberal threat, but see internal conservatism as the internal threat. That thinking is a bit “narrow”.

        Fr. Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of St. Vlad’s, writes a book that says, in essence, that the state should treat same sex unions the same as marriage and the leadership of the OCA is worried about Old Calendarists?

  10. Dean Calvert :


    Re: They might want to consider removing the italicized portion of this paragraph. A healthy appreciation of the Athonite monastic developments in this country and possible dialogue on unity with ROCOR would be better served by laying off the “fundamentalist” label. Many pious Orthodox have never accepted the OCA’s definitions with respect to “Big T tradition versus little T tradition”.

    At the same time, a respect for monastic traditions is stated in the first section. Also, I’d guess the OCA runs the largest, and most completely integrated set of monasteries in the country. I say “completely integrated” because, while the Athonite monasteries have clearly established a presence here, they have created quite a bit of discord among the local parishes, and operate outside the diocesan structure for the most part. That comment is based on conversations with Greek Orthodox priests from communities in the area.

    On the other hand, in our area (Michigan), Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction is revered by just about everyone in the area (Romanians, OCA, Antiochians, GOA) and operates in a way that keeps them very closely integrated into the community. They are truly a jewel of the Orthodox community in the Midwest.

    Best Regards,

    • Scott Pennington :


      I’m happy that the OCA has a well integrated monastic system. Perhaps the reason the GOA does not is the hostility many within it feel to the traditionalism of the Athonites. There is an organization, I believe out of Chicago (where all good things originate, apparently), whose mission is to oppose the Athonite communities.

      “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”

      Given that ROCOR has a commission studying what obstacles remain preventing closer ties with the OCA, and given that since they are already in communion, to further ties may imply unity, it may be wise to avoid undefined labels like “fundamentalist Orthodox” and to state that such a phenomena is at odds with “authentic Orthodox” witness. Just let them say “non-canonical Old Calendarists” (such as the schismatic Greek Old Calendarists) if that is who they mean. If not, let them specify exactly what “fundamentalism” they object to. That’s the wiser and more charitable course.

      As it stands, it sounds like a blanket denunciation of everyone who leans to the right of current practices in the OCA. Since perhaps the majority of Orthodox on earth live in Eastern Europe, and for the most part they are more conservative than the OCA, the statement could be construed as being critical of the authenticity of the Orthodoxy of the majority of the Orthodox. We tend to forget that we here in America are a tiny little part of world Orthodoxy and the OCA is a minority even of our tiny little corner.

      On the other hand, nobody kicks a dead dog. The line may be in reaction to attempts within the OCA to move it further toward traditionalist practices. If so, in an odd way, it is encouraging.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Scott, I agree with you for the most part. The OCA should define what it means and not use the blanket label “fundamentalist.” As for the Athonite monasteries, they would be unobjectionable within ROCOR and the more conservative OCA dioceses, so I think that that’s rather a red herring. What makes them stand out (read: objectionable) is the worldliness/secularism that has overtaken most of the GOA. Dean however is right, they need to be integrated into the GOA diocesan structure, the question however is can they? given the worldliness of many of these parishes.

  11. Scott Pennington :


    Glad you chimed in on this. Being in the OCA, do you have an idea of who they were referring to as “Fundamentalist Orthodox”? I’m making assumptions but I would imagine they had some particular group(s) or individual(s) in mind.

    I should also say, on the whole, the proposed document seems to me to be a very good effort (commenting as an outsider, of course).

    • George Michalopulos :

      Scott, though I’m in the OCA, I really couldn’t speak to that. Again, the diocesan structure is so rigid within the OCA that what went on in Syosset had no bearing at all on the parishes. My guess is those who take a more legalist/rigorist approach to things.

      Again, if I may bring up the Athonite monastaries (I know, GOA), in my rather limited experience, I’ve experienced tremendous grace there and not legalism or judgmentalism. So the picture is rather more complicated than we polemicists often make it out to be.

      • I think the writers of the statement are assuming familiarity among readers with what ‘fundamentalism’ means in an OCA context. In some quarters of the OCA this tendency shows in a style of church life which is out of the mainstream, characterized by harsh criticism of the New Calendar, elaboration of ‘conservative’ liturgics (e.g. silent Anaphora), overt rigorism, disdain for ‘worldly’ churches and churchmen, and a generally adversarial attitude toward secular culture which verges on a sectarian, not Catholic expression of Orthodox Church life.

        Opinion has it that fundamentalism is a response (at least in part) to a crippling inferiority complex among some clergy regarding the OCA’s status among churches. Priests searching for authenticity take influence from ‘mullahs’ that often lead the community into conflict (e.g. Resaca, GA). An attempt to exemplify the perceived best and institute akriveia can convey a rough sense of a serious piety in places where life outside church is seen as dark and chaotic.

        I think the culture of the OCA is progressing along several tracks, to reference the recent work of Alexei Krindach,author of the PAOI-sponsored survey of Orthodox church life in North America. One of the tracks might be called fundie, though I have never been in circles where the term was used. Coming from California, the only usage I ever heard of the fundamentalist label was in a sermon published in the Diocsesan newsletter by His Grace, Bp. TIKHON, entitled something like “I am a Fundamentalist”. His Grace was ‘taking back’ the term for Orthodoxy, explaining his view of church life which I suppose he must have intended to be seen as uncompromised.

        So, the term still needs to be unpacked as I am not entirely clear what they mean by it in our context.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Revised: 5:30pm, EDT.

          The term was borrowed from the great split in American Protestantism that occurred around the early 1900’s between liberals and conservatives. “Liberal” ideas, especially German literary criticism was introduced into the seminaries (Princeton Seminary was a flash-point) and a split developed about the authority of scripture which led to a crisis of authority within Protestant ecclesiology that continues to this day. The liberals were called “Liberal”, and some on the Conservative side later appropriated the term “Fundamentalist.”

          The term is relatively new (maybe 60 years old or so). (Read anything by George M. Marsden, an outstanding — and readable — historian of American Protestantism and culture to learn more.) It self-described the believers who were committed to the “fundamentals” of the faith. This is why you see some modern Protestant conservatives still embracing the term.

          Today in popular culture the term has been ripped from its historical context and used as a pejorative. Karen Armstrong (“History of God”) for example uses it to mean any person or group who holds to a cohesive set of beliefs — dogma, actually. That’s roughly how it is used in the popular media as well. It functions as a euphemism and is often used to heap scorn on what the secular censors see as rigid and unenlightened thinking (read fidelity to certain religious dogmas). The “fundamentalist” is always the person who holds a view contrary to the views of the secular censors (political correctness in religion).

          Euphemisms function to hide other ideas, attitudes, even policies. The term “fundamentalism,” because it has the euphemistic character in popular usage, should be avoided in the OCA study. It has no specific meaning (at least the specific meaning is lost to all but specialists), is needlessly offensive to some, and throws a pejorative cast over discussions that could benefit from a little more clarity and good will. The fact that we already see three or four opinions about what the the term might mean (along with a few gallons of emotion invested along with it) in our discussions here proves the point.

        • Scott Pennington :

          Fr. John,

          You may be right, and that is truly sad.

          As I mentioned above, if all they are doing is preaching to the choir about, “those inauthentic people on the fringes, you know who you are.” then it seems pretty childish for what purports to be a responsible document.

          If “opinion has it that . . .” “fundmentalism” is a response to a crippling inferiority complex centered around insecurity regarding the OCA’s status, then I would agree that an inferiority complex is not the most healthy motivation for insisting on orthopraxis. Or, alternatively, ascribing good practice to emotional disorders might simply be a tactic of the critics of traditionalism, substituting for substantive discussion of the rationales behind the different practices. Who can say?

          It is indeed unfortunate to hear an Orthodox clergyman refer to other Orthodox clergy as “mullahs”. For example, although I am no great fan of Patriarch Bartholomew, I refrain from referring to him as “Black Bart” as some critics have done. Simply offering a reasoned critique of his views and practices seems sufficient to me.

          To put it another way, I understand perfectly well that the leadership of the OCA is criticising those whose practices somehow don’t pass muster as being “mainstream” within the OCA. It would be useful not to have to guess what those objectionable practies are, however, since it is not possible to assess whether these practices are somehow foreign to Orthodoxy over the ages or just to its modern, neo-Orthodox expression in the one corner of Orthodoxy in the Western world (which is itself only a small corner of world Orthodoxy).

        • Geo Michalopulos :

          BTW, now that you brought it up, does anybody know what’s happened to Alexei Krindatch? he was at Berkely doing great work there but he seems to have been removed. Any ideas?

  12. I’ve read the working plan twice now and I don’t see anything like “a blanket denunciation of everyone who leans to the right of current practices in the OCA.” While the term “fundamentalist” is possibly not the best word to use, one could raise similar objections to terms such as “secular culture” and “social gospel.” All of these carry, as Fr Hans points out, a surplus of meaning. But it is precisely a surplus of meaning that makes, among other things, the liturgical poetry of the Church so rich. We always say more than we intended and thank God for it!

    At the same time, I would argue within the context of the paragraph, the meaning of “fundamentalist” is clear. It is being used to describe a particular orientation or stance relative to the Tradition of the Church. Specifically, the working plan sees as a threat to the spiritual health of the Church a growing tendency among some to understand, and present, the Tradition of the Church in a “static and narrow” fashion. If that includes some members of the ROCOR or the various Old Calendarist jurisdictions and supporters of Elder Ephrem (whose monasteries though Athonite do not exhaust either Orthodox monasticism in general or its Athonite expression), it also includes clergy and laity in the OCA and the other SCOBA jurisdictions.

    While fundamentalism is a threat, it is hardly the only threat to which the text refers. Of greater concern is how many in the OCA–specifically, the “Holy Synod, Priests, laity”–would prefer to proceed as if the events of the last several years had not happened. The criticism directed to fundamentalists is mild compare to what is said about those who those in the OCA who have not focused their “lives on Christ,” have to offer a true and zealous witness to Christ, and instead live lives that are increasingly fragmented and isolated from the main Body of the Church.

    Forgive me but I think the criticisms of the term “fundamentalism” are simply off base.

    In Christ,


    • Scott Pennington :

      “It is being used to describe a particular orientation or stance relative to the Tradition of the Church. Specifically, the working plan sees as a threat to the spiritual health of the Church a growing tendency among some to understand, and present, the Tradition of the Church in a “static and narrow” fashion.”

      Perhaps, but what does “static and narrow” mean? It does sound like totally subjective language used to condemn something that differs from ones own practice. Particularity would be helpful instead of broad language describing some nebulous threat, the exact nature of which we’re left to speculate about. The label could just as easily be used by the OCCA (the non-canonical “gay Orthodox Church”) to describe the OCA. If they are talking about those who baptize converts putatively thought to have already been baptized, or about those who criticize ecumenical efforts, or about those who do X, Y or Z, or neglect to do A, B and C, then they should have the courage to be specific. Otherwise, the line is almost useless to anyone. I can assure you that even the more conservative elements in ROCOR would not consider themselves “fundamentalists” or “narrow and static”. Probably the Ephraimites wouldn’t either. If they’re just preaching to the choir (“They know who they are.”), it seems childish.

      If they do not define what they perceive as “fundamentalism” or by what benchmark they measure “static and narrow”, the criticism is valid. It seems perfectly reasonable to assume they mean those Orthodox who have more conservative views than their own. Again, in light of the practices in world Orthodoxy as a whole, the criticism of those who are more conservatively oriented than the median of the OCA seems fairly small minded.

      Bottom line is that if they want to categorize someone’s idea of orthopraxis as being inauthentic, they ought to expect to be asked to clarify and defend their statement. They could avoid the entire matter by simply removing the line.

  13. Michael Bauman :

    “The way is narrow….”

    We need to have a dynamic tension between those who hold to the old ways in what many would deem to be a fundamentalist manner, and those who seek to expand the application without compromising the essence.

    To me the greater threat lies in abandoning the Tradition in favor of a moderism with the patina of the Tradition.

    I’ll be happy to put up with a few fundamentalists and even a few anxious extremists for the sake of the overall health of the Church.

    Forgive me, Fr. Gregory, but you seem all too willing to accomodate the modern in ways that leave me with many questions.

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