Read closely. What are the greatest fears? The autocephaly of the OCA (wild card) and the Ligonier Council (precedent). The times are changing folks. The lumbering bureaucratic structures that have sublimated the nascent creativity and energy of American Orthodoxy under the weight Old World self-interest might be loosing their grip. There is more anxiety here than is being revealed.
The National Herald, Friday, May 21, 2010
By Theodore Kalmoukos
Nearly 60 hierarchs will descend on New York from May 26-28 for the first Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops from the United States, Canada and Central America, under the chairmanship of Archbishop Demetrios of America, and the stage has been set for some clashes about the direction the church should take, and the role of self-rule of some. The Assembly will convene at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, and its expense will be assumed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, through the Leadership 100 grant to the Office of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations and other sources. The meeting is the result of the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met in Chambesy, Switzerland in June of 2009, and it is one of 12 that will be convened around the world in regions where there is no single Orthodox presence.
The Bishops of the Diaspora, living in the Diaspora and possessing parishes in multiple regions, will be members of the Episcopal Assemblies of 12 regions. At the center of the Assembly will be the issue of the Diaspora, meaning the existence of more than one Orthodox Bishop in the same place (city.) Also participating is the former Russian Metropolia, known today as OCA, which was given autocephaly in 1970 by the Patriarchate of Moscow. The National Herald has learned that that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had initially instructed Archbishop Demetrios not to invite the OCA, but Demetrios sent them invitations to attend. The Archbishop discussed the issue during his recent visit to the Phanar three weeks ago.
In an exclusive interview with The National Herald, Rev. Mark Arey Director of the Ecumenical Office of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is in charge of the Interfaith and Interorthodox matters, said in response to a question about whether the Orthodox Church in America will also participate in the Assembly, that, “The Bishops who comprise the so-called OCA will participate because they are canonical bishops who live in the region meet the criteria of an invitation.” He explained that, “all Bishops were invited individually, meaning that the invitations did not go out to any jurisdictional head.” He stressed the point that “the Bishops of the OCA will be present and participate as individual Bishops.”
As far as the Metropolitan of OCA Jonas, he said, “He was invited as a bishop and my impression is that he will come and participate as an individual bishop.” But Father Arey said Jonas would not participate as the Metropolitan of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. “No, obviously not, because the autocephaly of OCA is not recognized by the sum total of Orthodoxy, it is only recognized by a few churches.”
When asked about a Eucharistic Communion with them, he said, “I cannot answer officially, I can only give my opinion, because since 1970 before even I was converted to Orthodoxy decisions were made that the former Russian Metropolia which was not in communion with Moscow, but it was in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate when it was granted so-called autocephaly as a way of bringing them back into communion with Moscow. I think worldwide Orthodoxy at the time did not reject communion with them, a few churches did for a little while, I think the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not co-celebrated with them.”
He added that, “All of the various Mother Churches which have presences here in the United States have always been in communion with the OCA. Even to this day the OCA faithful commune in our parishes and our parishioners can commune in a OCA parish, we are not out of canonical communion although we do not recognize the legitimacy of the so called autocephaly in any way.”
Is there any hypocrisy? “I see complexity more than hypocrisy to be honest with you,” he said, adding that, “hopefully this Assembly will be one of the vehicle that looks on all of these issues and study solutions.”
As for the aim of the meeting, he said, “In the regulations the aim is for the Assembly to try to propose to the Great and Holy Council that will meet eventually in canonical solution to the anomalies of the region and those anomalies are many, but the biggest anomaly is to have more than one bishop in one place.”
Could this be achieved without establishing an American Autocephalous Church? He said, “absolutely yes.” But how? “Well, that actually will be the decision of the Great and Holy Council only a universal Council of all Orthodox can canonize the situation.”
He went on to say, “I think that there are varieties of transitional models, I think there are varieties of autonomy and semi-autonomy which exists in the Orthodox World today. The Church of Crete is a semi-autonomous church.” As for the idea of a semi-autonomous Church, he said, “Some of this has become an issue of semantics.”
Is Assembly heading toward the creation of an American Autocephalous Orthodox Church? “I do not know, that is my honest answer,” he said, adding: “In generations from now it could be a possibility but sometimes people speak of these things. I have heard people saying it from other jurisdictions that America should be a Patriarchate. I think and I say it with respect to others but there is a certain level of immaturity. Sometimes we speak too quickly, I am a convert myself and my family came to this country three hundred years ago, America is not that old and I love this country.” Where does Archbishop Demetrios stand on this issue of autocephaly? What would happen if some Bishops, including those of the OCA get up and proclaim autocephaly?
Father Arey said, “The Archbishop is ex-officio the chairman of the Assembly. It is interesting to know that there two vice-chairmen as well the Antiochian and from the Russian Patriarchate. The Assembly has competencies and these competencies do not relate to declarations and proclamations and all these types of things that people might imagine. The Assembly has serious constructive foundational work to perform in terms of taking over the ministries of CSOBA and all the work that SCOBA has done for 50 years and at the same time creating a process by which canonical solutions come as proposals. The Assembly is transitional and temporary and that is the great difference with SCOBA which you know was standing (permanent.)”
He also said that, “The Assembly’s job is to witness to Orthodox Unity chiefly which we already have through the Eucharist and then to work on solving canonical issues and then make proposals to the Great and Holy Council, and not to declare anything.” He said, “We are making it easy for everybody to come and this is one of the reasons why they are coming, but I want to point one think which I think is very important that there has not been a meeting like this before. You cannot compare Ligonier in 1994, Chicago in 2006 which were Assemblies that the SCOBA sponsored.” He said he didn’t know the cost, but said, “The other side of the coin is that is very significant that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese remains by far the largest and in some people’s estimations over twice as large as every other Orthodox presence in the United States combined.” Without the presence of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese would there be no SCOBA or Assemblies? “It would be very, very difficult for any Pan-orthodox movement in any form to exist without the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.”
THE LIGONIER EFFECT
He said he didn’t see any danger of breakdown in the meeting. “I did not speak of the Bishops obviously, I spoke in the blocks sphere; if you see the Internet, sometimes there are people who speak without responsibility and without a deep sense of historical Orthodoxy; I do not think there any dangers. I think one of the brilliant aspects is the Chambesy documents both the decision and the regulations are comprehensive but they are limited in terms of process. The Assembly has specific competencies; outside of those competencies it has no role. It is not that someone can stand up and say I proclaim that we are this or that.” But how different or how similar is this Assembly from Ligonier in 1994? “I think the way Ligonier was spawned after the fact created all different impression of what Ligonier actually did or did not do. Ligonier was an Assembly that was called by SCOBA which was never authorized as a Pan-Orthodox process, it was something local,” he said. As to the pronouncements of the Ligonier, plus the revelations certain hierarchs made to The National Herald at that time and whether there was some type of an ecclesiastical coup toward the creation of an autocephalous Church, he said, “I think it might have been the intention of some people.”
But he said the Ecumenical Patriarchate didn’t err in revoking Ligonier. “No, I am no saying that, I do not think the Patriarchate of Serbia made a mistake either because they recalled their Bishop. There were some serious reactions, but I think the difference is the Ligonier was not part of something greater but the Assembly of Bishops is in fact completely part of a process that has been authorized and basically pre-approved by all the Mother Churches and we are working with specific guidelines to do constructive work.”
The regions will be broken down this way:
North America and Central America
Australia, New Zealand and Oceania
Great Britain and Ireland
Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg
Italy and Malta
Switzerland and Lichtenstein
Scandinavian countries (except Finland)
Spain and Portugal