At their regular autumn session here, October 21-24, 1997, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America directed that the year of 1998 focus on Church Growth and Missionary Outreach. In reviewing the supporting membership of all Dioceses the hierarchs discussed in great detail the serious issue of diocesan and parish financial membership throughout the Church. They also directed that membership and missionary outreach be placed on the agenda of the Clergy Conference scheduled for June 1998 at St Tikhon’s Monastery/Seminary.
The four-day session of the Holy Synod was chaired by His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS. In his address to the hierarchs, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America highlighted the danger of growing fundamentalism in our Church.
Fundamentalism, in its biblical, patristic or liturgical manifestations, “freezes the Tradition of the Church in a specific time or place,” said the Metropolitan, and “neglects the fact that… this Tradition of the Church is a living and vibrant witness which reveals the Church in all its fullness….”
He encouraged his brother bishops not to permit this burgeoning “fundamentalist approach” to confuse and weaken their evangelical and missionary responsibilities.
Because of the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to America this year, many bishops, clergy and faithful are hearing numerous reports of unity initiatives and possible solutions to the problem of multi-jurisdictions existing in North America. While Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW continues his travel throughout the United States, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS asked the bishops to reflect on the meaning and status of autocephaly. Administrative independence for the Orthodox Church in America is not a tenuous existence; autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in America is a reality. His Beatitude also warned of rumors and possible solutions to the canonical impasse existing in America that are being discussed in many circles. There is no question, however, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate must be involved in promoting and establishing canonical unity among all Orthodox Churches in America. “In light of the Patriarchs visit,” stated Metropolitan THEODOSIUS, “we must remind clergy and faithful of our Church that our autocephaly must serve as a humble witness to what all the Orthodox in America are called to be ..., that the Church of Christ can live and grow in America, and that the concept of diaspora is not only false but detrimental to a faithful understanding of what the Church truly is.”
Finally, the Metropolitan requested the bishops, as they all welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch to America, to “convey to him in every honorable way our desire to see jurisdictional pluralism come to an end.”
The Chancellors Report was delivered by Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick. Fr Kondratick informed the hierarchs that Church membership and mailings lists for the newspaper indicate another annual decrease in the financial supporting membership of the Orthodox Church in America. This decline in financial supporting membership Churchwide, which has been reported since 1989, “challenges the very missionary foundation of our Church,” according to Fr Kondratick, “because of their long-term effects.” There are growing communities, however, where Church growth, mission and evangelism are witnessed at the very core of parish life. He reviewed the recent success of the Parish Ministries Conference where members reported on renewed enthusiasm in dynamic communities throughout our Church.
The Chancellor reported on plans for the upcoming Pastoral Ministries Conference, scheduled for June 9-11, 1998 at St Tikhon’s. The purpose of this conference will be multifaceted, and will provide clergy the opportunity to discuss common concern with others, to learn and share skills and resources to aid their ministry, and to encourage brotherhood among clergy. It is hoped that this conference will engender similar gatherings of clergy throughout the entire Church.
Protodeacon Eric Wheeler distributed the 1996 Audited Financial Report of the Orthodox Church in America. After reviewing membership lists from the dioceses, the Bishops discussed the need to address the issue of supporting parish membership in the dioceses and parishes. It was resolved that the important work of revitalizing the missionary outreach and evangelical activity of parish priests be placed on the agenda of the Parish Conference this summer, and that 1998 be devoted to Church Growth and Missionary Outreach.
Fr John Reeves, the proposed Director of Church Growth and Evangelism Ministry for 1998, delivered a proposal to the Bishops on revitalizing Church Growth and Evangelization within the life and ministry of the Church.
His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel of Detroit distributed for final review copies of the “Guidelines for Clergy,” compiled under the guidance of the Holy Synod by the Pastoral Life and Ministries Program Unit.
Following an extensive review of the guidelines, the Bishops made corrections, updates and clarifications to the present text. An updated version of the Guidelines will be sent to hierarchs and members of the Pastoral Life Program Unit for final review and approval, before printing and distribution in both paper form and on our website.
A report on youth and young adult ministry was given by Deacon Michael Anderson. He reported on his involvement in summer camp programs during the summer of 1997, which included his attendance at St Eugene’s Camp in Northern California, St Tikhon’s Camp, and the FROC Ohio District Camp, Farmingdale, Ohio. Deacon Michael also reported on the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC), as he serves on the Task Force that was established to examine ways to better actualize and integrate the work of the FROC for the whole Church. The Holy Synod recommended that Bishops continue to work within their own dioceses to inspire energetic clergy and laity to participate in and support the work of the FROC.
The hierarchs heard reports from the Office of Development by Fr Joseph Fester, International Church Relations by Fr Leonid Kishkovsky and Professor John Erickson, Parish Life Ministries by Dr Constance Tarasar, the Church Planting Grant Program by Fr Paul Kucynda, Humanitarian Aid, prepared by Arlene Kallaur and delivered by Paul Hunchak, Pastoral Life Ministries by Fr Alexander Garklavs, and the 12th All-American Council by Paul Hunchak.
The entire Holy Synod of Bishops participated in three events in New York associated with the visit of His All Holiness, Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople. His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS and all Bishops participated in the historic meeting of Orthodox hierarchs with the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Greek Cathedral in Manhattan on October 24, the pan-Orthodox Vespers that followed, and the academic convocation Saturday morning, October 25 at St Vladimir’s Seminary.
The following hierarchs joined Metropolitan THEODOSIUS in the four-day Synod meeting: Archbishop KYRILL of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania; Archbishop PETER of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey; Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas and the Diocese of the South; 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.