The Assembly of Bishops and the Devil in the Details

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops issued a statement on their recent meeting in Chicago (read it on OCA News). Of particular interest are three statements on social issues:

We recognize the tremendous social pressures to conform to secular standards, but we exhort you to stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught (2 Thess. 2.15) so that your light is not hidden under a bushel but placed on a stand (Matt. 5.15) in order for all to see. Let our Orthopraxy attend our Orthodoxy. In this respect:

  • We must safeguard the sacrament of marriage in accordance with God’s will for the sacred union between man and woman and the sanctity of family as the fundamental nucleus of a healthy society. In this regard, we emphasize regular family worship, particularly at Sunday liturgy.
  • We must strive to eliminate the violence proliferated against innocents of every kind, particularly of women and the unborn. We call for responsibility by individuals, institutions and governments to ensure the welfare of every citizen.
  • We must resist the wastefulness and greed that dominate our consumer society, confessing that our spiritual citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3.20) in order that our witness be characterized by the compassion and mercy as well as the generosity and philanthropy that distinguishes our God who loves humankind.

How to say this respectfully…

Terms like “social pressure” or “secular standards” must be used with more precision. Secularism is a term with meaning and the question of the Church and believer in a secular society is an important one.

That said, how we should “safeguard the sacrament of marriage” needs much more clarification. Liberal Orthodox commentators have argued strongly that the Church has no business in the larger cultural debate about homosexual “marriage.” Some Bishops have spoken with deliberate ambiguity on the issue. On the other hand, since heterosexual monogamy “is the fundamental nucleus of a healthy society”, doesn’t this imply that the Church has an obligation to speak out and enter the larger cultural debate?

The abortion statement ties the defense of innocent life to a generalized notion of “welfare for every citizen.” This concept is a restatement of Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernadin’s “Seamless Garment” teaching and, while true on its face, is most often used to blunt criticism of the increasing ambivalence towards abortion in Greek Orthodox ranks (see: A patriarch who ‘generally speaking, respects human life’).

Abortion will be an issue for the Assembly down the road as long as the GOA ambivalence remains. The “Seamless Garment” critique correctly asserts that the Christian obligation to the neighbor extends from conception to death. The GOA abivalence erodes that obligation (even while it claims to defend it) because by relativizing the value of unborn life, the value of all human life is reduced. More broadly, ambivalence about the moral tradition towards the unborn fosters an ambivalence towards the moral tradition as a whole.

The statement about wastefulness and greed wont find any critics, but what does it really mean?

Most likely the statements were meant to speak to a growing chorus of criticism about the silence of some Orthodox prelates on vexing issues that the faithful deal with every day. This is good. But it is also clear that not enough thought went into them. The Assembly has a Church and Society Committee but my understanding is that they have never met. We really should expect better.


  1. As a member of the Committee for Church and Society of the Assembly of Bishops, which has yet to meet, I am hoping that the Committee will take up all three of these areas and begin to formulate statements and papers on each of these.

    There has been criticism that the Committee had no direction, I think this is a clear indication of a direction for the Committee. I hope that Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh calls a meeting of our committee very soon we can get to work, work that has been long in coming and is much needed in our Holy Church as we move forward.

    • This may seem a minor technical point, but I hope you’ll forgive me that it needs be pointed out that you (and I) are not a member of the committee. Membership in any of the AoB committees consists only of bishops. Anyone else is essentially a consultant. As such, the committees may well meet or confer without calling on the consultants for anything at all. So just because we are consultants does not mean that we know what’s really going on or not going on in the committee.

      I have no special knowledge on any of these things (nor am I making any larger point or claim here, NB), but it should be kept in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It would be nice for things to be published more often, especially in our information-hungry culture, but that they’re not is not necessarily an indication of inaction. My point is really just that being consultants to one of the committees does not make really make us authorities on its activities or lack thereof.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        I did not know this Fr. Andrew. Thanks for the clarification.

      • Yes! Just because a committee has not met, held a conference call, issued any statement or communicated with its “consultants” or the public in three years is not an indication that it is inactive or not functioning properly. There must be super double secret things happneing behind the scenes that we all do not kow about that only privileged “insiders” do.

        Sorry, Fr. Andrew I have heard excuses for inactivity like yours for years in Orthodox circles. They are not true. They are simply excuses for mediocre witness to the Orthodox faith.

        Its all nice to get carried away about being a bishop’s consultant but why not just admit the obvious -the committee you “consult” on is not working?

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Don’t hold your breath Fr. Met Savvas is busy defriending people from his Facebook account who believe in the First Amendment.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    I hope Met. Savas isn’t so bound by his Progressive ideas that he hamstrings the Committee from constructive work. Do you think he can engage opposing viewpoints?

    • Not sure I know him well enough to answer that question. My hope would be that Bishops were chosen for these committees because they have some kind of expertise in a given area.

      To Fr. Andrew’s point above, I don’t believe people see that distinction what they see in inaction by the committee, there has not been a statement issues by this committee yet nor has a meeting of the “members” taken place in person or by phone and still remains one of, if not the only one, that has not met in person or by conference call.

  3. macedonianreader says

    I understand the importance of safeguarding against violence against women and our call to shield and protect the widow, I have heard, read, and seen some horrific things.

    But there never seems to be any talk about against whom most of the violence takes place: Young, black, males.

    Not understating the importance of abortion since I put this issue in a category of it’s own., if there’s a war on any subject in American society it’s against young, black, males, not women in general.

    Unfortunately, if any of our Bishops want to pursue the politics of progressives, they would be put in a difficult position justifying that it wasn’t just these politics that have caused this war against young, black males. Mostly through the Department of Education.

  4. None of that was my point, really.

  5. macedonianreader says

    Apples and oranges Father-brethen. Fr. Andrew was merely speaking to admin. definitions, not making any sort of claim on activity.

    Easy now.

  6. I was replying to what Andrew wrote above. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have gotten threaded as I intended.

  7. My concern with the assembly format is along the lines of the old ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strip where time and time again ‘Everyman’ Charlie Brown would consent to run to a football held just so by the ‘all about me girl’ Lucy Van Pelt. Lucy would hold the ball perfectly until Everyman Charlie Brown got a good run full speed heading to kick the held ball, convincing himself that this time, this time he’d really do right by taking a right good kick.

    And, every time, after all the energy had been spent, at the last possible moment, Lucy would betray Charlie Brown and yank the ball away. Everyman Charlie Brown would have already committed to his kick at his best speed, — but! With nothing there now thin air– his best energy spent, he couldn’t stop. It was too late he noticed. He’d flip up and wham on to the ground. And, Lucy would come up with some excuse said through chuckling lips.

    Well those ‘Charlie Browns’ would age and pass on, and the next group, a smaller group, would have enough ready to throw their lives and savings into the project, with the same old Lucy dons saying the same tune, different day.

    What did my elders see in the 1970’s with the Greek Charter? A Clergy Laity Congress, the highest legislative body in the church. And they trusted the spiritual men on the synods. Now what do we see? A Patriarch who traveled to embrace Fidel Castro and, being the ‘Green Patriarch’, after embracing the tyrant comes to scold us about our polluted river (without noting it is through long effort now so clean the fish are safe to eat). Our bishops scurrying for Turkish citizenship and a shenanigans ‘new charter’. Well clearly that hen was plucked, so now it’s the ‘Episcopal Assembly’ version.

    What did Charles Adjalat see in the AOA? Self Ruled! In black and white. Months of joy and possibility! Money was raised, people joined, cheering in the streets! Years pass by… and lo… we learn in Arabic ‘Self Ruled’ translates to ‘We own you’. He resigned, and it was a very sad day.

    What of Russia? Maybe it makes great sense for the church to become an arm of the Russian Civil authority and partisan about individual politicans in power. I don’t live there, I don’t know. Last century this was done and when the people rejected the government so conflated with the government was the church it too was rejected leading to fantastic world Atheism– blunted and improved partly due to the USA’s balance. Maybe this time being the same as the state will be different over there. I think being closer to the people is a better plan, more in line with Tradition, but as I say I don’t live there. I think lots who might join here would see it as I do that otherwise. There too we see the church mind that deems it wise to jail unarmed foul mouthed women for years for making a fuss in a church not during a service. Tradition holds when insulted by words one turns the other cheek. We also see air-brushing a gold watch off their Patriarch’s arm, and plenty more involving money and real-estate and strong arming clergy neighbors?

    Who would that inspire to join here as ‘mature decision makers good for growth here they control the AMERICAN ORTHODOX (cough cough softly now– foreign controlled) EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLY?” And now, lately, we hear in the OCA noises about re-assertions from overseas, how welcome it would be, and perhaps, for due considerations of course, the ‘autocephaly obstacle’ could be softened in due course.

    History has taught the proper translation: Make sure there’s nowhere to go when the trap springs shut.

    But, wait, Lucy now offers an Episcopal Assembly! Let’s let the same folk shout it’s title to get Charlie Brown going again: Say it LOUDLY: AMERICAN ORTHODOX EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLY (and a slight pause during the clapping in a soft voice finish the title) controlled overseas by folk who’ve shrunk spectacularly over the last 100 years so mature are they. They speak of us as immature– when the majority of our families have been orthodox for centuries, immigrating whole communities, Orthodox longer than other churches existed before managing their own affairs!

    The content of our teaching does not call a Vaticanistic model Orthodox, but that’s what this is: a structure cementing growth-zapping foreign control. Hello? Folk who want a Vaticanistic model already have that choice a nearer drive to their home as it is now. They aren’t here now because we’re pining for Rome. And, noting Rome’s news in the press, those RC laity staying are impressive indeed but the clergy aren’t making that model such a membership magnet if the abused youth body count tallied in the courts is any just measure.

    So that’s the struggle to get parish level church folk really behind this episcopal assembly effort. It just seems like an invitation to our generation to repeat what our parents gave greatly of themselves to build (it did not come from afar, almost no money to build any of it came from there!) So, we see and we know how it worked out.

    Are there words in the structure of the episcopal assembly that can be trusted? We’ve heard them before: Clergy Laity Congress – after 40 years of trust: Oops! Not the highest legislative body. Self – Ruled!! Oops! We own you overseas. Putin ‘Miracle of God’ – Pat. Kyrill.

    We laity wake up every day and work at other things besides the ‘distant church sacred centers’, we work on our lives, our faith, our families, right here. While those overseas church document phrase-writers wake up every day thinking about the effect a word here has on a phrase there too far separated for everyman to comprehend– but just what courts need to see so it means ‘we own you’? They know all the lawyer-ly angles. We everymen saw our Fathers and they trusted these overseas spiritual men. But, here we are. Asked to build a AMERICAN ORTHODOX EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLY (foreign controlled.) Who will give of their energy to run hard and give give this time, seeing the eyes of our now elderly parents? What reason is there that one can trust? Given the past, it won’t be words on paper. What else could serve?

    • Will Harrington says

      Good points all. I wonder, throughout the history of Orthodoxy, how many local churches were actually granted their autocephaly before they defacto took it? If it was summer and I didn’t have a whole stack of papers to grade, I would have to do some research and answer my own question.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Harry, you need to concentrate your ire on the laity in the GOA. They honestly don’t care about the things that you and I care about. Going after the ROC in such a gratuitous manner does nothing to help your cause. Even if 1/4 of what you say about the ROC/Russian state/Putin is true, you can’t escape this unalterable fact: they gave autocephaly to their North American archdiocese. The Phanar never will.

      But don’t blame them, blame the laity who continue to put up with Phanariote nonsense.

      • Goerge: As the parishes shrink and the money dwindles, the focus on what it takes to survive gets sharper and sharper. And as that happens, more and more will see the only way forward will not incorporate the absent guidance nor funding needs of distant overseas ‘spiritual centers’, ‘overseas’ spiritual locations all have seen grow in authority these many years, years the local situation shrank. Those over there are seen to take money, consume contributed efforts and otherwise regarding growth, charitably, inspired not at all if one counts noses and not press releases. If they were growing over there we’d be falling over ourselves to learn from them. As I’ve written before, we choose to do the Imam’s work for him, all he needs to is point to our modern nearly entire ‘never married’ non-widower, never a parent, bishop population and wink, while we produce a book that directs our leadership to be ‘married a husband of (at most) one wife), a Gospel requirement we dropped hundreds of years into church life since early death of spouse meant lots of bishops and priests were widowers anyhow. We keep it now though those reasons don’t exist but those who benefit don’t really care enough about growth outside their own ethnic group. Why is this practice maintained despite the fantastic failure to inspire any Islamic around them? The gold book they parade about the church with, the Gospel book held by them high above their heads– that book directs other than they now do. A hint, possibly? It’s this being all super-critical about the favored rules, dismissive of the rest, applying them differently to liked vs. disliked folk that chafes.

        My real fear is the everyday folks will think the distant centers have the situation so locked up, and are so accomplished at put-downs and shenanigans and word-twisting and cover-ups and ‘benefit extractions’– the locals will just quietly fade away with little fuss. And that the folk overseas, so caught up in their own issues, seeing this in the form of ‘occasional reports’, will simply shrug off the loss, and move on, maybe to a gala reception with a few wealthy travelers, or with those few here who are absolutely loyal— and near enough to retirement ‘they’ll be ok’ as the phrase goes. Any younger priest who is super-excited about foreign decision making would do well to set up a paying job outside the parish, and soon. The few big-big parishes will be okay, since all it takes is a few big-big donors to keep them that way. But that will only last so long. It’s all about inspiring the locals and the foreign control aspect can’t be hidden and is at odds with the teaching that is all we have to attract the locals.

        I have no need to ‘escape the unalterable fact’ you so charmingly mention since I wasn’t ever opposed to it, in fact unlike some folks I think the OCA’s independence provides a path to Orthodoxy not offered anywhere else. It would be a shame if that were to end, because our charge is to increase participation here. I notice the website content you promote always takes a fond but not quite stated possible view of reverting to a less orthodox foreign control model for the OCA. Maybe some ‘grand reunion with Rome’ so the ‘churches can breathe with both lungs’. Maybe if they’d allow married clergy fewer would be breathing the air of prison cells for sexual crimes against male youth. Their leadership is in much worse shape than ours. Look at the abuse youth body count! George if the Orthodox wanted to be Roman/Vatican Catholic there’s lots of ways to do that a closer drive to home.

        ‘My cause’ is survival and growth for our ‘wholistic Orthodox faith’, not so much about loyalty to persons in a position to grant, ah, what’s the phrase? ‘tangible blessings’?

  8. Harry, what a wonderful reflection that says so much about the current state of affairs.


  9. M. Stankovich says

    It is very interesting to view this interaction as a layman in that 1) if it were not for an aggressive internet “pursuit” of Orthodox perspectives other than a weekly parish bulletin (and it was, quite literally a stumbling internet pursuit that landed me here a year ago), I would have none; 2) when an “Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops issued a statement,” to whom is it directed and with what intention (e.g. Fr. Ioannes seems to think they “were meant to speak to a growing chorus of criticism about the silence of some Orthodox prelates on vexing issues that the faithful deal with every day“); and Fr. Andrew writes that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ” and that simply because there is an absence of “speak” is not “necessarily an indication of inaction.” These statements strike me as quite curious in that it would seem reasonable to inquire, then, why do they exist?

    Now, I have openly stated here that I have great difficulty conceptualizing “answers” and “instructions” that address vexing social issues in global terms. I see significantly more efficacy in the Lord’s direct effort: “he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry, and come down; today I must stay in your house.’ And coming down at once, he gladly welcomed him.” (Lk. 19:6) And later, “Today, salvation has come to this house [for regardless that he is a sinner], this man too is a son of Abraham.” (19:9) Seriously, was that so hard? This, too, leads me to recall the instruction of His Holiness Alexei I, long-suffering Patriarch of Moscow in the 1970’s, who attempted to explain to priests and choir directors – and allow me the latitude of paraphrase to the best of recollection – “The people do not desire the lofty words of the oratory nor the voice of the opera. Rather they wish the words and the music that touches their hearts and spirits and motivates them in the daily Christian life.” Preach the Gospel, sing the Ancient Tones. Holy Cow.

    How to say this respectfully…

    Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, perhaps you have forgotten that which moves are the words of the Psalms – the prayerbook of the Church – on your lips, and not your thoughts on politics and global economics. Perhaps there is a tremendous lesson for you in Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s recollection of his first visit to Cairo, where the service of Daily Vespers in the Pope-Patriarch’s packed cathedral lasted for hours; then, immediately following, Pope Shenouda himself, of blessed memory, brought a chair to the center of the church, with an old amplifier and microphone, and answered handwritten questions about the Faith, collected in a bowl passed among the young people who gathered. And I will add my own observation of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) who, from a one-bedroom apartment, fashioned himself a chapel, a full recording studio, and a living quarters. From there, he managed to produce a sermon for the laity on living the Orthodox Faith that was broadcast into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe everyday by the Voice of America for more than a decade. To this day, there are Orthodox faithful who consider Vladyka Vasilli their “spiritual father,” having never once met him.

    The lofty instructions of our Fathers Ignatius and Chrysostom ring hollow in diocese so vast that the yearly (or less) visit of the bishop is no more reflective of “where the bishop is, there is the Church,” than one could expect of total – albeit “friendly – strangers. In reality, functionally, unless for some specific reason an individual parish “distinguishes” itself enough to be brought to the attention of the bishop, the “vexing issues of the faithful” are addressed by the parish priest. Or are they? Is, as Fr. Andrew writes above, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ” and that simply because there is an absence of “speak” is not “necessarily an indication of inaction” true at this level as well? And how would we know? Am I hearing the “authority” of the bishop, of which Ignatius chastens presbyters & deacons they must never presume to supplant, OR is the priest’s Orthopraxy more attendant to Orthodoxy than the bishop? Somehow you have to guess that each and every individual we refer to as Confessor of the Faith experienced the moment of “existential nausea”: “My spiritual father fails me.” And despite having led them dutifully for forty years in the desert, “That great Moses,” said St Chrysostom, could not accompany them to the promised land because of his lack of moral authority.

    When I was a kid, I would visit with an elderly Syrian widow (she was Sarah, and her deceased husband was Abraham!), sometimes for lunch. She once told me the story of how the Patriarch would visit the villages, sometimes accompanied by others, usually alone, in his cassock and riding on a beautiful white horse. He would pray in the church, visit the priest, pray in the cemetery, visit the sick, sit for coffee/tea, speak with the children, even chop wood for an elderly widow or two. He had a bag with little gifts, candies, beads, always something to give. The way she described it was quiet, warm, no paparazzi, no raucous laughter. “How often did he come?” “It wasn’t once a week, but he was no stranger.” Hmm.

    It seems to me that our bishops need to realize that our Church needs Bishops. And these must be Bishops who in their person – as in the person of the Master – will look into the tree and call to us out of the crowd and today bring salvation to this house; and who can say, “to do so, I’m prepared to chop a little wood.”

  10. Let not anyone kid themselves that the selection of Met. Savas was anything other than intentional and was predicated not on a perceived potential diminution of his “progressivism” but precicely because of his progressivism. When you get a chance, if you have not already done so, listen very carefully to the interview that Met. Isaiah gave to Fr. Trenham, which you can find on AFR as well as the AofB websites. He laid out very nicely the Phanariot response of what the Church should be doing in the public square regarding these issues and, guess what? Mum should be the word. Listen and hear.

    [audio src=]

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      I listened to the audio Nick, closely just as you said. His Eminence says the same thing I hear in a lot of places: the divisive issues (he chose abortion and gay marriage) are “political” issues. Well, yes, but they are political issues second, cultural issues first. And America, having no institution of moral adjudication on the grand questions (when the Supreme Court weighs in we get monstrosities like Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade, Carrie Buck, and so forth), the cultural issues necessarily spill into the political arena.

      Met. Isaiah seems to counsel nothing short of full blown cultural retreat. I don’t see how it really differs from the secular attempt to rid the public square of discussion of religion and morality. The Church doesn’t do that in Greece or Russia. Why should it here?

  11. Comment moved to: Bishop to Critics: Shut Up!


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