The first council of the Orthodox Church in America in the 21st century was one of particular historical significance as it was marked by the election of a new Primate, due to the unexpected announcement in April 2002 of the impending retirement of Metropolitan Theodosius. The Thirteenth All-American Council, convened in Orlando, Florida on July 21-26, 2002, was dedicated to the theme: “The Parish Community: Our Life in Christ,” but all proceedings were overshadowed by the first primatial election in 25 years.
All previous primatial elections had been held in a church, but with increased attendance at All-American Councils over the intervening quarter century, there was no church building in Orlando or elsewhere in the Orthodox Church in America large enough to accommodate all of the participants in this election. At all prior councils since 1973, the plenary session hall and the chapel had been housed in two separate ballrooms. In order to create a more prayerful setting for the election and deliberations at the Thirteenth All-American Council, plenary sessions were held in the chapel. A beautifully carved wooden iconostasis, hand painted icons and the holy relics of several North American Orthodox saints were placed in the ballroom, transforming it into a chapel for the duration of the council. This setting was reminiscent of that of sobors before the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America.
With the primatial election about to take place, a sense of participation in a landmark event was palpable among the record number of council participants gathered. The council’s first day was devoted almost exclusively to the Address of Metropolitan Theodosius, followed by the reading of his formal petition for retirement and the synodal decision accepting it, and the election of his successor. In the weeks and months preceding the council, special petitions had been added to the litanies at all services in all churches throughout the Orthodox Church in America, imploring divine guidance in the election of a worthy Primate at the Thirteenth All-American Council. There was no apparent consensus among council delegates concerning who should be the next Primate. With 639 delegates voting, Bishop Seraphim (Storheim) of Ottawa and Canada received 267 votes, far short of the 426 votes needed for nomination on the first ballot. Archbishop Herman (Swaiko) of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania came in second with 141 votes, and a myriad of other candidates trailed far behind. As required when no candidate receives a 2/3 majority on the first ballot, a second round of voting took place immediately. On the second ballot, delegates must write in two names for their vote to count. Bishop Seraphim garnered 473 votes while Archbishop Herman received 223 on the second ballot. With the nomination of two candidates by the entire council completed, the members of the Holy Synod proceeded to the sanctuary for the canonical election of the Primate. After the hierarchs had deliberated at length, Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh, the Church’s senior hierarch, emerged from the sanctuary to announce that Archbishop Herman had been elected the new Primate of the Orthodox Church in America. A Service of Thanksgiving and the vesting of the new Primate in the insignia and accoutrements of the primatial office followed and each of the hierarchs, clergy and laity in attendance, individually, greeted Metropolitan Herman. Thus ended the opening day of the Thirteenth All-American Council.
To provide council participants with data as a basis for discussion on how best to improve parish life, the results of a Parish Profile Survey, conducted just prior to the council, were presented. Additionally, numerous workshops were offered - both before the formal opening of the council and during the council - on diverse topics related to parish ministry.
During plenary sessions, Father Thomas Hopko facilitated deliberation on the theme of the Council, “The Parish Community: Our Life in Christ”, based on his study paper “The Orthodox Parish in North America”, which had been disseminated church-wide in preparation for the council, and Father Andrew Morbey presented a Bible study titled “The Parish Community: A Life Worthy of the Gospel”. Lively discussion ensued.
Although no amendments to the Statute were presented at this council, two important administrative resolutions were adopted. Attorney Jonathan Russin, the OCA’s legal counsel, spoke to the council concerning “Property Held in Trust” and urged endorsement of a resolution on the issue, pending a Statute amendment at a future All-American Council. The trust relationship between parishes and dioceses expressed in Article X, Section 9 of the OCA Statute was more explicitly restated in this resolution so as to safeguard church property in case of civil litigation. After some debate, the proposed resolution was passed.
The second administrative resolution pertained to finances. In fulfillment of the mandate of the Twelfth Council, a presentation on “fair share” funding was presented to the council and a resolution to begin a radical change in funding methods, moving away from per capita assessment towards proportional giving throughout the church, at all levels, was adopted after some deliberation.
Funding for two church-wide initiative programs - seminarian internships and the FOCUS Education Program - had been adopted by the Twelfth All-American Council. A report on the implementation of these initiatives, along with comments from participants in the programs, was presented at a plenary session.
Additional council activities included adoption of resolutions on various issues, elections to church-wide offices, informational and educational luncheon forums, and a grand banquet honoring the retiring Metropolitan Theodosius, where a video tribute to him was screened. Numerous hierarchs and other dignitaries from the Orthodox Churches worldwide, as well as ecumenical guests, attended the banquet and observed some of the council sessions.
Building on youth programs and participation at previous All-American Councils, an expanded schedule of youth activities took place in conjunction with this council. Educational aspects of the program centered on the council theme, and at the council’s last plenary session, a youth presentation was delivered as a follow-up to the youth statements at the two previous councils.
The deliberations conducted at this council served to encourage participants to work more assiduously for the betterment of parish communities. This council was marked by the first primatial election held in a generation. It is significant that clergy and laity - both men and women - were involved in the nomination process, whereas, in most other Orthodox Churches, primatial elections are the prerogative of the hierarchy, exclusively.
Written by Alexis Liberovsky
OCA Archivist, Director of the Department of History and Archives.
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