[SCOBA] Message of the Episcopal Assembly Of the Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs of North and Central America May 26-28, 2010

Putting aside all the speculations about where the American Church is headed for the moment, think about the true significance of the meeting. All in all, this is a very constructive event regardless of the divisions that exist. The divisions are real, but clearly the need to transcend those divisions is more pressing and that is a cause for optimism, even hope. We are seeing the self-identity of the Church in America emerge, and a critical step in that growth is that bishops get to know each other, learn how to work together, perhaps discover similar concerns and worries, and maybe, just maybe, discover they are more unified in purpose and intention than they previously knew.

How will it end? We don’t know, but we do know this: That the Bishops even met can be counted a success, just as Ligonier was a success even though it ostensibly failed. American Orthodoxy can be a dynamic force for bringing Christ to the culture (yes, I really believe this) and once the nascent creativity of the people of God is unleashed (yes, I believe this too), we might look back as this meeting as a milestone on that journey.


Episcopal Assembly
Of the Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs of North and Central America May 26-28, 2010

We glorify the name of the Triune God for gathering us at this first Episcopal Assembly of this region in New York City on May 26-28, 2010 in response to the decisions of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Switzerland, from June 6-12, 2009, at the invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Gathered together in the joy of the Feast of Pentecost, we humbly recognize our calling, in our unworthiness, to serve as instruments and disciples of the Paraclete, who “holds together the whole institution of the Church” (Hymn of Vespers of Pentecost).

We honor and express gratitude to the Primates and Representatives of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches who assembled at the Ecumenical Patriarchate from October 10-12, 2008 to affirm their “unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church” (Chambésy Rules of Operation, Article 5.1a) and emphasized their will and “desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements” (Message of the Primates 13.1-2)

We call to mind those who envisioned this unity in this region and strove to transcend the canonical irregularities resulting for many reasons, including geographically overlapping jurisdictions. For, just as the Lord in the Divine Eucharist is “broken and distributed, but not divided” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), so also His Body comprises many members, while constituting His One Church.

We are grateful for the gift of the doctrinal and liturgical unity that we already share, and 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.

We are thankful to almighty God for the growth of Orthodoxy, for the preservation of our traditions, and for the influence of our communities in this region. This is indeed a miracle and a mystery.

During our gathering, and in accordance with the rules of operation of Episcopal Assemblies promulgated by the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference, we established:

  1. A registry of canonical bishops (Article 6.1)
  2. A committee to determine the canonical status of local communities in the region that have no reference to the Most Holy Autocephalous Churches (Article 6.2)
  3. A registry of canonical clergy (Article 6.3)
  4. Committees to undertake the work of the Assembly, among others including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical, and legal issues (Articles 11 and 12)
  5. A committee to plan for the organization of the Orthodox of the region on a canonical basis (Article 5.1).

In addition to the above, we agreed that a directory would be created and maintained by the Assembly of all canonical congregations in our region.

We as Episcopal Assembly understand ourselves as being the successors of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), assuming its agencies, dialogues, and other ministries.

Moreover, at the formal request of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Canada, the Assembly will submit to the Ecumenical Patriarch, in accordance with the rules of operation (Article 13), a request to partition the present region of North and Central America into two distinct regions of the United States and Canada. Additionally, at the request of the Hierarchs who have jurisdiction in Mexico and Central America, the Assembly will likewise request to merge Mexico and Central America with the Assembly of South America.

As Orthodox Hierarchs in this blessed region, we express our resolve to adhere to and adopt the regulations proposed by the Pan-Orthodox Conferences and approved by the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and to do everything in our power by the grace of God to advance actions that facilitate canonical order in our region.

We confess our fidelity to the Apostolic Orthodox faith and pledge to promote “common action to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in our region” (Chambésy, Decision 2c). We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) as we eagerly anticipate the Holy and Great Council.

The Assembly concluded with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Friday, May 28, 2010 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City. During the Liturgy prayers were offered for the repose of the eleven victims of the current ecological disaster in the Gulf Coast, for the consolation of their families, for all those adversely affected by this catastrophe, as well as for all people living under conditions of war, persecution, violence, and oppression.

Of the sixty-six Hierarchs in the region, the following 55 were present at this Assembly:

Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman
Metropolitan Philip, Vice Chairman
Archbishop Justinian, Vice Chairman
Bishop Basil, Secretary
Archbishop Antony,Treasurer
Metropolitan Iakovos
Metropolitan Constantine
Metropolitan Athenagoras
Metropolitan Methodios
Metropolitan Isaiah
Metropolitan Nicholas
Metropolitan Alexios
Metropolitan Nikitas
Metropolitan Nicholas
Metropolitan Gerasimos
Metropolitan Evangelos
Metropolitan Paisios
Archbishop Yurij
Bishop Christopher
Bishop Vikentios
Bishop Savas
Bishop Andonios
Bishop Ilia
Bishop Ilarion
Bishop Andriy
Bishop Demetrios
Bishop Daniel
Bishop Antoun
Bishop Joseph
Bishop Thomas
Bishop Mark
Bishop Alexander
Metropolitan Hilarion
Bishop Iov
Bishop Gabriel
Bishop Peter
Bishop Theodosius
Bishop George
Bishop Ieronim
Metropolitan Christopher
Bishop Maxim
Archbishop Nicolae
Bishop Ioan Casian
Metropolitan Joseph
Metropolitan Jonah
Archbishop Nathaniel
Archbishop Seraphim
Bishop Nikon
Bishop Tikhon
Bishop Benjamin
Bishop Melchisedek
Bishop Irineu
Bishop Irinee
Bishop Michael


  1. Wesley J. Smith :

    Given this, and as a real show of good faith, isn’t this a perfect time for all jurisdictions to recognize the autocephaly of the OCA?

    • Don’t hold your breath.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Can’t happen yet Wesley. To recognize the autocephaly of the OCA is also to recognize the Metropolitan of the OCA as Patriarch of America. That would necessitate at the least a cutting of ties with the Mother Churches, something just not feasible at this time.

      • Wesley J. Smith :

        Now I know why it is called Byzantine!

        So, does this seem to those who are knowledgeable in these matters, that if in good faith, this could be the first step leading toward an overarching American Church, into which the OCA, ROCOR, GOA (not holding my breath there, either), Antiochians,etc. could merge?

        • George Michalopulos :

          Wesley, yes, but several things have to happen in my opinion, the first is that the people of God in America want unity to happen. To be honest I didn’t think that we were there, but considering the collapse in the global economy (and Greece being put into receivership), I’m rather more optimistic. Also, negative trends play into this as well. At the just concluded EA, we find that the Greek and Antiochian bishops in Mexico didn’t want to part of North America (even though Central America is part of North America), and the Greek bishop in Toronto didn’t want to play nice either. This removes two irritants to American unity because all of a sudden, the US hierarchy looks all the more American (if only by default). This is going to make it hard to play ethnic one-upsmanship because we’re all Americans.

          Also, let’s not forget the vanity of fallen men. Right now, the United States has 52+ canonical bishops (not titular ones), bishops of ordinary –if redundant–dioceses. With just these bishops alone, the US boasts the third largest episcopal college in the Orthodox world, right after Russia and Greece. This is a lot of clout in the international sphere. Eventually, this realization is going to sink in and simple, old-fashioned American cussedness will cause the American bishops to act in a more unified manner. Based on this alone, it’s possible that the American bishops will not wait until the fabulous Great and Holy Synod to convene to “normalize” the American situation. They may just do it on their own.

          In such a scenario, I could easily see autocephaly being taken.

          Of course, I can just as easily envision the Phanar being spooked by this image of unity and doing something hamfisted to disrupt it. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to believe that the phyletistic/hegemonist narrative has been exploded. To be fair, we can’t expect the Phanar to be the only focus of discontent and disruption, I fear that there may be rumblings in some other jurisdictions as well. If disruption comes, it can come from anywhere. However, if the bishops keep their nerve, it could blow away. I don’t think any disruptions on the horizon are long-lived, especially if they’re based on ethnocentric concerns. We’ll see.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Wesley, that’s the question of the hour (or in Orthodox terms perhaps, decade). As I see it, Orthodox unity will come about out of necessity, and although the bishops see the need (Ligonier in 1994 was the first concrete manifestation of that need on a hierarchical level), the barriers to it will just take time to overcome.

    I think that is happening, so now the questions shifts (admittedly speculative) to how that unity might take shape. It could be autocephaly — the autocephaly of the OCA makes that a real possibility (it would not require centuries of wrangling to finally achieve it); or all the bishops agreeing to some kind of autonomy/self-rule under the protectorship of an Old World Patriarch — which is what Constantinople is wrangling for with the American Church.

    So yes, the Episcopal Assemblies might be a step (in my view they are a second step, Ligonier was first) in the process of an emerging self-identity as an American Church; a necessary development for ecclesiastical independence. Others disagree of course and would prefer an autonomy under a foreign Patriarch (again, Constantinople seems very interested in the position). This will shake out in the next few years.

    • Fr. Hans,

      Something must be said about comprehensibility to those considering our faith in your writing about ‘church protectorship’– the plain and evident sanity regarding who it is that is acting in ‘Protectorship’ of whom.

      All the ‘EA’ appears to have done is to have the same people who met together on their own as SCOBA to meet now only subordinate to rules they had no part in creating.

      By the time the ‘EA’ makes a difference noticable to those considering our faith, will enough be left in our faith to promote it without having to explain to seekers ‘please to carefully avoid to trip over the elephants in the room, and kindly avoid to mention them to us– if you join, you’ll get used to it. Please, give generously.’


      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Harry, by the time the process is done, either the nascent creativity of the American Church will be unleashed, or, if under the grip of a protectorship, probably buried for good.

        Will the EA’s make a difference? Actually, I’m optimistic about this — not the EA’s in particular, but in the emergence of the American identity that happens through them (like Ligonier).

        I think too that it is becoming increasingly clear that protectorships are not viable.

        • George Michalopulos :

          You know, the only Protector that the Church has is the Holy Spirit. That’s the only one that we need. He may have been acting through this assembly to fortify these bishops to recognize His headship. If they’re open to it: watch out! If however they intend to play the same old SCOBA games, then we can’t reasonably expect anything more than Son of SCOBA. (Please note, I did not deride the canonicity of SCOBA, merely pointed out its overall fecklessness.)

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