The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America convened here for their spring session, March 17-20, 1997. A special feature of this semi-annual assembly of hierarchs from across North America was a session where the Metropolitan Council and four subcommittees reported to the Synod on Monday, March 17, at East Elmhurst, Queens.
The Synod of Bishops, which is comprised of ten hierarchs who serve as diocesan bishops of the Church in North America, meet in the autumn and spring of each year as required by canon law. An extraordinary combined meeting with the Metropolitan Council reviewed the work of four sub-committees of the Council which focused on Diocesan Structure and Administration, Diocesan Boundaries, Membership and the Role of the Metropolitan Council. Prior to the sub-committee reports, a major paper entitled “Our Common Memory and Common Task: An Introduction to the Issues Relating to the Administrative Sub-committees of the Metropolitan Council,” which was prepared especially for this joint meeting, was delivered by the Chancellor, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick.
The subcommittee report on diocesan boundaries was given by Fr Gregory Safchuk, pastor of St Innocent Church in Tarzana, California and member of the Metropolitan Council. His presentation highlighted the subcommittees discussion of non-territorial ethnic dioceses in the Orthodox Church in America, and the possible reformation of our territorial dioceses as they now exist, with the goal of maximizing resources.
Another sub-committee report on diocesan structures was given by Judge Harold Kalina of St Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis and member of the Metropolitan Council. Judge Kalina spoke of his groups goal of achieving consistent administrative structures in all the dioceses, including the role and responsibilities of diocesan officers and the diocesan council. After a prolonged review of the existing structure this group found the present structure, as delineated by the OCA Statute, is canonically correct.
The fundamental role of the Metropolitan Council was studied by a sub-committee chaired by Dr Alice Woog, also of St Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis and member of the Metropolitan Council. Her group studied the duties and responsibilities of the Metropolitan Council, as defined in Article V of the Statues. This sub-committee was asked to devise an outline of duties, responsibilities, and expectations of the Council and its members, not only to the Metropolitan Council itself, but also in their responsibilities as Council members to their respective dioceses.
A final subcommittee reported on Church Membership. This group was chaired by Fr Eugene Vansuch, pastor of St Nicholas Church in Bethlehem, PA and Council member. Their goal was to define what membership consists of in the Orthodox Church in America. As the subcommittee found, the Statute appears to be clear and concise on this topic, however, the implementation or process of fulfilling the Statute requirements has become a complicated and sensitive issue.
There appears to be little consistency among the many parishes as to the method of reporting accurate figures to the diocese and to the central Church.
As the Holy Synod convened at St Sergius Chapel here on Monday evening, the Address of the Metropolitan was the first item on the agenda. In his address to the hierarchs, His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS appealed to the missionary spirit of the Gospel as displayed by Saint Innocent of Alaska, the first ruling bishop in North America. “The Church will be looking to us,” said the Metropolitan, “to see if our Encyclical [on the 200th Anniversary of Saint Innocents Birth] goes beyond rhetoric and stems from a common vision we hold and proclaim for now and for the future.” His Beatitude also spoke about autocephaly, and the internal unity it implies among hierarchs of the Church. The central message of his address seemed be speaking with “oneness” of mind.
In the Chancellors Report, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick spoke on the findings of the Administrative Summit and Task Force. “The primary challenge of our Church,” he said, “is to continue the work initiated by the Administrative Summit. One of the obstacles identified at this summit,” Fr Kondratick stated, ” which inhibits our Church’s mission, is the lack of follow-up or implementation.” The Chancellor also addressed pastoral life and the important area of clergy support. “I hear the following words expressed at gatherings of clergy about the state of pastoral ministry in our Church: anxiety, fear, apprehension and isolation.” Despite severe budgetary cut-backs the central Church administration is desperately trying to implement the mandates and initiatives of the All-American Council, Holy Synod, and Metropolitan Council concerning clergy care.
The Treasurers Report was presented by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler. Fr Wheeler informed the hierarchs that all assessments for 1996, with the exception of $5,227, has been received from the dioceses. Because of the lack of income for Program Support during 1996 and overexpenditures in specific areas, cutbacks in scheduled meetings, development, travel and stipends were required to end the year with only a $20,000 budget deficit. Special attention was given to parishes reporting severe membership loses and those enjoying substantial gains. “We must ask ourselves if there are specific factors and/or common threads which have led to these declines or increases,” said Fr Wheeler. “While attention can be focused on geographic or economic factors,” the Treasurer stated, “there are instances of growth which seem to defy all simplistic explanations.”
The Director of Development, Fr Joseph Fester, reported to the hierarchs that, in response to the challenge of the fall meeting of the Metropolitan Council, $35,000 was raised through a special appeal of the Metropolitan. Fr Fester expressed his gratitude to the hierarchs for issuing a joint letter with the Metropolitan to parishes in their dioceses, encouraging them to join the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards. As a result of that initiative parishes are responding positively. For 1997 the annual FOS commitment drive will begin in September, in order to reach a goal of $300,000 set by the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod.
After hearing an update from the Council Manager, Fr Myron Manzuk, the Bishops approved a recommendation from the Metropolitan Council that possibilities of securing a hotel in July 1998 be investigated in Toronto, Denver, Orlando, or the Washington, DC area. Should it prove impossible to secure hotel facilities in these cities, then the 12th All-American Council should be moved to July 18-23, 1999. Fr Manzuk’s comprehensive report showed that the original site of Detroit had to be abandoned, because the hotel defaulted on mutual agreements. The Metropolitan Council authorized the Council Manager to investigate these new sites as a result.
In a session devoted to Pastoral Life Ministries, the hierarchs reviewed a listing of parishes awaiting assignment of a full-time priest. Fr Kondratick also presented a list of clergy awaiting reassignment, in addition to five military chaplains who will be retiring from active duty service this year. Fr Alexander Garklavs, Chairman of Pastoral Life and Ministries Program Unit, delivered a report on the work of his unit. The bishops recommended that, in addition to the Synodal Clergy Guidelines in preparation and near-ready for publication, additional Synodal Papers be addressed dealing with Pastoral, Liturgical and Spiritual issues under the supervision of the Pastoral Life Ministries Unit. In his report on the Personal Assistance Program, Deacon John Hopko received authorization to negotiate contract renewal of the Program. The Personal Assistance Program has been successfully caring for our clergy, Church workers and their families.
In a session devoted to episcopal concerns, the hierarchs reviewed a list of possible episcopal candidates as they discussed the future of our Church in America and what steps must be taken to prepare for newer generations of Orthodox Christians on this continent. Church growth, evangelization and new membership occupied the central theme of this session, as the hierarchs read the report of Fr Eugene Vansuch and his subcommittee of the Metropolitan Council on membership.
Special attention was also given to the report of the Treasurer on this topic. The Bishops directed the Mission and Stewardship Program Unit to investigate programs of Church Growth, Evangelization and Mission for development and implementation on the parish level.
Recognizing that successful growth and nurturing of faith in the parish community is due to pastoral abilities, the Synod recommended that each diocesan bishop schedule frequent meetings of their clergy in formal and informal settings to discuss issues of Church growth and missionary outreach.
Archbishop PETER of New York, Episcopal Moderator for Witness and Communications Ministries, presented an update of International Church Relations. Following his report, a discussion ensued focusing on the new ecclesiastical situation in North America, vis-à-vis SCOBA, and the results of the OCA’s discussions with the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow in February. Professor John Erickson, Fr
Leonid Kishkovsky, and Fr Gregory Havrilak were present for this discussion, which reviewed the positive results of talks in Moscow with Patriarch Aleksy and Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev; in Istanbul with Patriarch Bartholomew; and in Helsinki, Finland with Metropolitan Leo. It was reported that both patriarchates acknowledged the significant role and ministry of the Orthodox Church in America in the life and witness of Orthodoxy on this continent.
The Holy Synod invited the Executive Director of Military Chaplaincy, Fr Gregory Pelesh, to present a status report on the 24 priests serving in the armed forces of the United States. Fr Pelesh, who is the senior ranking Colonel in the US Air Force, reviewed each chaplains current assignment and possible future transfers. He emphasized the serious need to recruit qualified priests to serve in the military, in view of the fact that seven chaplains will be retiring from active duty service this year.
In her report as Unit Coordinator of Education and Life Ministries, Dr Constance Tarasar discussed the upcoming Parish Life Conference at St Tikhon’s Monastery July 30-August 2, 1997. This conference, which was enthusiastically endorsed and supported by the bishops in a spirited discussion at this session, is a response to the countless workers throughout our Church seeking an opportunity to share their experiences in parish ministry. Participants will have an opportunity to share their experiences in parish ministry and to learn new skills in the numerous workshops to be featured. Each diocese was asked to send a representative to the conference in order to serve as a resource person for the diocese. The Program Unit, which is under the episcopal guidance of Bishop Job of Chicago, is available to prepare and present education conferences on a diocesan, deanery or parish level.
Deacon Michael Anderson, Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, updated the bishops on the Vocations Video. The final product, which includes a workbook and study guide to accompany the video, has been completed and mailed to parishes of the OCA.
Following the diocesan reports and a Service of Thanksgiving, the Spring Session of the Holy Synod of Bishops for 1997 come to an end.
Participating in this four-day session were the following hierarchs: Archbishop KYRILL of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania, Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas and the Diocese of the South, Archbishop PETER of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, Archbishop HERMAN of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, Bishop NATHANIEL of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, Bishop JOB of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest, Bishop TIKHON of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West, Bishop SERAPHIM of Ottawa and the Archdiocese of Canada, and Bishop INNOCENT of Anchorage, Auxiliary for the Diocese of Alaska.
His Beatitude, THEODOSIUS, Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All American and Canada, chaired the four-day session.