His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah took part in the “Road to Unity” conference sponsored by Orthodox Christian Laity [OCL] at Antiochian Village here Thursday, October 29 through Saturday, October 31.
In his address to conference participants, titled “Unity in Our Time,” Metropolitan Jonah spoke of Orthodox Christian unity in North America, envisioning the creation of “a united territorial autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America, embracing all Orthodox Christians, with a single Synod and single hierarchy.
“This new American Orthodox Church would have its own primate, and entirely govern its own affairs,” Metropolitan Jonah continued, adding that it “must respect the great diversity of languages and traditions, and the different historical origins and processes that have produced each community.”
Central to the fabric of a united Church, Metropolitan Jonah added, is the need to “be missionary in every aspect of its existence, reaching out to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its patristic and Orthodox integrity to the peoples of North America, incarnating the Orthodox Church in North America, and enculturating North Americans into Orthodoxy.
“Each [North American] church, jurisdiction, and community has done this to its own degree, individually,” Metropolitan Jonah observed. “Now we must put it all together, keeping in mind the essential goal of the sanctification of our people, our communities, our nations. Each community has something of utmost value to offer to the whole. Each community has come into existence in America through tremendous struggle, hardship and sacrifice. All this has to be taken into account, valued, sanctified.”
Metropolitan Jonah opined that Church unity is rooted in the bonds of personal relationships.
“The challenge is simply to be together: to work together, to pray together, and for our children to grow up together, our seminarians to study and pray together, and our people to marry one another,” Metropolitan Jonah stated. “There is a gradual process of integration that will take generations, and will eventually result in a completely unique American Orthodoxy. But what is necessary now is to discern how to come together so that these other processes can take root.”
Metropolitan Jonah observed that a “new phase in the development of this American Church” is underway.
“This transitional period will be characterized, not by SCOBA, but by Episcopal Assemblies and their executive council, as charted out by the Chambesy Preconciliar Conference,” Metropolitan Jonah said. “But, it is a transition that will lead us, as quickly as possible, to our goal of a united autocephalous American Church.”
“SCOBA was unable to realize such a church on its own,” Metropolitan Jonah said, “as SCOBA is not itself a canonical entity… Thus, a transitional phase in which the various churches retain their ties, and their identities, and yet, can begin the process of integration, was necessary. The Chambesy accords make this possible.”
Regarding the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Jonah stated that, “The OCA is the forerunner of the new autocephalous American Church. We have an important role to play as the one ecclesial body in this land that has become fully indigenous and has tried to incarnate unity in diversity in a catholic vision.”
He also shared his belief that the OCA needs, “to cooperate with [the Chambesy] process. It is an opportunity to realize that, which is the core vision of the OCA in the first place, and to go beyond it.”
“The creation of canonical unity in America can be accomplished quickly, if we are all of good will, and determined to do it,” Metropolitan Jonah said. “The great challenge will be how to respect the diversity of traditions, and nurture it, while at the same time creating a flexible structure that will also nurture missions and outreach to the various populations of North America.”
Other key points raised by Metropolitan Jonah were the following.
- “Perhaps the most pressing issue in the resolution of how to come to unity is the question of conciliarity… What is obvious to me is that we will need to provide institutions for the clergy and laity to have a voice in the life of the Church, to contribute meaningfully to decisions, and to participate in leadership.”
- “While the Exarch of the Ecumenical See may have chairmanship over the Episcopal Assembly, it will be extremely important to transition to a freely elected chairman perhaps even before full autocephaly… For Americans, it is the election that gives legitimacy to the office holder.”
- “While we might argue that [the Orthodox jurisdictions of North America] were not included in [the Chambesy] discussions, the papers themselves contain an acceptable process that we can use during this transition. This is simply a process, and we can make the best out of it. It will take us to our goal. But we have to make sure that we stay on course.”
- “We might also argue that the presidency of this Episcopal Assembly, and its executive committee, was given as a kind of right pertaining to the Exarch of the See of Constantinople. To argue against this, however, misses the point that only the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the responsibility and authority in the Orthodox world to call together the other Churches, and in such meetings he presides, or his representative.
- “While some would argue this is an imposed solution by the Phanar, I think we can see this as an opportunity. Someone has to chair these meetings. Once we accept the challenge in the Chambesy documents themselves, that a canonical order be worked out, and that this is to be done as quickly as possible, another order could be decided upon.”
Since the announcement of the decision at the Fourth Preconcilair meeting in Chambesy, the issue of Orthodox Christian unity in North America has been the topic of much discussion among hierarchs, clergy and faithful here.
Recently, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, discussed the Chambesy statement at a meeting with SCBOA hierarchs during his current visit to the United States. Excerpts from Patriarch Bartholomew’s address may be read here.
Orthodox Christian media outlets, the Orthodox Christian Network [OCN] and Ancient Faith Radio [AFR] have both offered special programming on the theme of Orthodox unity.
An interview on OCN with SCOBA General Secretary, Fr. Mark Arey, on the Chambesy decisions may be heard here.
OCN is also posting a series of presentations titled “The Quest for Orthodox Unity”, which may be found here.
An AFR documentary titled “Unraveling Chambesy — Administrative Unity In Our Time” may be heard here.
Presentations from St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s 2009 Summer Conference titled “The Council and the Tomos: Twentieth-Century Landmarks Towards a Twenty-First-Century Church” may be heard on Ancient Faith Radio here.
Ancient Faith Radio has also posted all the presentations from the 2009 OCL “Road to Unity” Conference. These presentation, including that of Metropolitan Jonah, may be found here.