A Preliminary Response of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America to proposals with regard to canonical restructuring, a topic of discussion at the fifth meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America in Dallas, TX September 15-19, 2014, was issued and distributed to all bishops on September 17.
The text of the Preliminary Response reads as follows.
PRELIMINARY RESPONSE OF THE HOLY SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
TO THE PROPOSALS FOR CANONICAL RESTRUCTURING
September 17, 2014
“The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: ‘Go ye unto all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature’ [Mark 16:15].... We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light, and joy with others who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them….” [St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 1903, San Francisco].
The fourth gathering of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America (ACOB) took place on September 17-19, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. At that meeting, the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning presented a Proposal for Canonical Administrative Restructuring, which was discussed in detail at several sessions by the assembled bishops.
According to the minutes of Assembly IV, “[t]here was a general sense that there was no agreement on the proposed model at this time, but that the model was a good starting point for further discussion and development.” In addition, the suggestion was made that, “following the conclusion of Assembly IV, there should be discussion within each jurisdiction about the proposals.”
More recently, the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning has forwarded to all the bishops of the Assembly an updated proposal for canonical restructuring in our region along with a second unsolicited proposal from an interested group outside of the Committee. These are being discussed at our Assembly gathered here in Dallas. Several jurisdictions have already offered responses to the most recent proposals or expanded on the comments they have made about last year’s Proposal.
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America is presently considering its own fuller and more comprehensive contribution to the present discussion but offers the following points as an outline of some principles which we feel should be considered by the brothers of the Assembly:
- The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America remains committed to the work of the Assembly of Bishops and is grateful to the Most Holy Patriarchs and Primates for initiating the process that has taken us from the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference in Chambésy, Switzerland in June of 2009 to our present expectation of a Great and Holy Council in 2016.
- We likewise remain supportive of the efforts of the Assembly of Bishops within our region, which has met now for five years in a row, in a spirit of mutual love and respect, with a view to fulfill the mandate of the “swift healing of every canonical anomaly” in our region and to propose, by consensus, a plan for canonical reorganization to be submitted in time for the Great and Holy Council [Message of the Patriarchs 3.12].
- In particular, we offer sincere thanks to Archbishop Nicolae, the Chairman of the Canonical Regional Planning Committee, along with all its members and consultants, for their excellent initiative and work to date. We recognize the exhaustive research and complex reflection that were required to address the issue of canonical organization in our region. We also acknowledge the many hours of discussion and review that have gone into the drafting of the initial 2013 proposal and the subsequent proposals presented to this Assembly.
- We also would like to acknowledge the concerns expressed on the two proposals that we are considering here in Dallas, including those referring specifically to the canonical implications of the proposals, the duty of the Mother Churches to pastorally care for the flock of their particular ethnic and cultural heritage and the need address current variations in pastoral and ecclesiastical practice. These are legitimate concerns that must be carefully addressed in any plan that is put forward. We also emphasize that the principle of consensus, which has been operative on the global level through the Synaxes of the Holy Patriarchs and the Chambésy process, as well as within our own Assembly, must be preserved as we look to finalize our Assembly’s proposal to the Great and Holy Council.
- We note that the two proposals most recently distributed to the bishops articulate two different approaches to the question of canonical restructuring. The first (from the Committee) proposed a 10-year path towards a potential autocephaly via an interim status of autonomy to be overseen by all the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The second (from an unsolicited source) proposes a similar 10-year plan but with the emphasis on common and concerted joint local effort of the members of the Assembly in addressing a number of specific areas (pension, theological education, missions, etc.).
- Although both plans present concrete solutions, the Holy Synod of the OCA feels that both options require further discussion and analysis both within the Assembly and within each of our respective jurisdictions. Nevertheless, in terms of a principle of approach, we remain committed to the vision of a fully functioning and canonical local Church in our region. Therefore, we continue to maintain the principle that the best solution for this region is a canonically and administratively united local Church with a properly functioning Holy Synod.
- We acknowledge that the status of the Orthodox Church in America as an autocephalous Church is not universally recognized within the Orthodox world. We likewise re-affirm that we do not consider our autocephaly as an obstacle to a broader autocephaly, which is, in fact, envisioned within the Tomos of Autocephaly, granted to us by the Russian Orthodox Church. In the words of His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri, of blessed memory, who was bishop here in Dallas: The Orthodox Church in America is autocephalous not in order to be self-sufficient and isolated, but in order to be in living communion and close contact with all Orthodox Churches… The Orthodox Church in America received autocephaly not in order to be master of Orthodox unity in America but in order to be a servant of this unity.
- At the same time, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America fully acknowledges that attention needs to be legitimately directed to the question of the pastoral and administrative care of particular ethnic/cultural groups. The cooperative work that has been undertaken by all the brothers gathered here, not only through the work of the Assembly, its Committees and Agencies, but for many decades before. We are confident that the universal dimension of the Orthodox Church, reflected in the beautiful diversity of the Orthodox presence in the United States, should remain a hallmark of our Church here. Is it not possible that an administratively united Church might offer a more effective means to collectively and in brotherly fashion assist the bishops of the Assembly in the care of the diversity of our faithful?
- As such, we ask our brothers of the Assembly to consider a broader question: For what purpose has God, in His infinite Wisdom and Providence, brought us together in this country? Is our answer a positive response to the Lord’s commandment to “preach the Gospel to every creature”? Is our answer to look to the model provided St. Tikhon at the turn of the last century, and to “share our spiritual wealth … with others who are deprived of these blessings”? In His High Priestly Prayer in St. John’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ prays to the Father and asks that “they may be one, as we are”. How is this to be realized if we place limits on our responsibility to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? St. Paul tells the Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Gal. 3:28] Does this not direct us to see no difference between the immigrant from Russia and the one from Indonesia, between the one from Africa and the one from Central America? Does this not direct us to see the Agnostic, the Protestant, the Buddhist or Taoist in the same way we see the marginal Orthodox Christian?
For these reasons, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America strongly urges that all efforts continue to be made by the Assembly to fulfill the expectation of the Most Holy Primates, as re-iterated by His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, in his inspiring address to us this morning, that we offer a proposal which “moves beyond words to actions” and which “puts our theology into practice.” We submit that the most clear and direct path to this goal is the establishment of a local autocephalous Orthodox Church here in our region and recommend this to the Assembly for their consideration as the most effective way to fulfill the exhortation of His All Holiness: “To move beyond what is mine and yours, to what is ours.”