The Fifteenth All-American Council convened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 10-13, 2008. After seven consecutive councils during the summer months, this was the first All-American Council since 1980 to take place in the fall. “Members of One Another in Christ” was chosen as the Council theme.
In order to systematically gather input from the church-at-large in preparation for the council, a series of “town hall” meetings was held across the US and Canada over the preceding months. Just a few months after the Fourteenth All-American Council, the Church had become embroiled in turmoil with accusations of financial and administrative malfeasance at the highest levels. The Church’s long-time chancellor was released from his duties and eventually deposed from the priesthood. With ensuing unrest enveloping the Church for over two years, Metropolitan Herman retired from the Primacy on September 4, 2008, just two months before the Fifteenth Council. The Holy Synod accepted his resignation effective immediately. Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) of Dallas and the South was named Locum Tenens of the Metropolitan’s see, while Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim) of Ottawa and Canada was assigned to assist him and appointed Administrator of the Metropolitan’s See. There were those who for a variety of reasons suggested that a new Primate should not be elected immediately. However, a week after accepting Metropolitan Herman’s petition to retire, the Holy Synod issued a statement directing that the election of the OCA Primate take place during the previously scheduled Fifteenth All-American Council. The Preconciliar Commission adjusted the council schedule to include the primatial election.
As the council opened, a sense of tension was palpable among participants. The first session was devoted largely to reports on the town hall meetings, followed by discussion and questions posed to the Holy Synod. The deliberations focused largely on issues related to the crisis in the Church over the previous two years.
The following day’s proceedings began with an overtone of grief as Archpriest Stephen Karaffa, a delegate to the council, reposed after liturgy. The morning plenary session began with a presentation by the Special Investigating Committee (SIC), which had been created to probe allegations of administrative and financial malfeasance in the Church’s central administration, on the methodology of its work and a summation of its extensive written report. Much of the day was then spent in intense discussion of the report and its recommendations. During the evening plenary session, after a viewing of “An American Destiny” – a video on the history of the Church in North America originally produced for the Ninth All-American Council in 1989 - the Church officers provided oral summaries of their written reports. Following lengthy discussion of these reports, the OCA’s junior hierarch, Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth, whose episcopal consecration had occurred just ten days earlier, was designated by the Holy Synod to respond to questions that had been addressed to the hierarchs the previous day. In a 45-minute address, which became a pivotal moment of the council, he provided a substantive and compelling response, exhorting the Church to move forward in synergy and love in order to overcome the errors of the past and to allow healing to take place. Council participants left the session that night uplifted and encouraged.
Following the Divine Liturgy the next morning presided by Bishop Jonah, the election of the Metropolitan was held. A letter from Archbishop Seraphim, addressed and distributed to council participants, requested that he not be considered a candidate for the primacy. The first ballot produced 233 votes for Bishop Jonah and 212 for Archbishop Job with many other candidates lagging far behind. With no candidate receiving the requisite 2/3 majority (432 votes) in the first round of voting, a second ballot was held immediately. Bishop Jonah received 473 votes, while Archbishop Job obtained 364. These two candidates were presented for canonical election to the Holy Synod. After deliberation and voting by the Synod, Archbishop Dmitri announced the election of Metropolitan Jonah as the Church’s Primate. This was the first time under the current electoral system, which has been in effect since the election of Metropolitan Ireney in 1965, that the Holy Synod had chosen the hierarch with the most delegate votes to be the Church’s Primate. The plenary session concluded with the investiture of the Metropolitan and with his bestowing a blessing upon each council participant.
The Council continued with much discussion, particularly concerning finances, during which the Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, and auditors explained the complexity of investigating and rectifying numerous irregularities from the previous administration. In order to begin implementing the SIC’s recommendations, the undertaking of a strategic plan for the Church was officially approved during the Council. Additionally, an amendment to the OCA Statute was adopted mandating that the Auditing Committee would henceforth no longer be elected by the All-American Council but would be appointed by the Metropolitan Council, and that its members must have relevant professional experience.
Through arduous deliberations conducted in a spirit of respect and brotherly love, through crucial decisions, including election of a new Primate, and through a recommitment to administrative integrity and transparency going forward, the 15th All-American Council had cleared major hurdles. Delegates left the council joyful and hopeful that the Church was now on a course towards reconciliation, peace and restoration of trust and was ready to resume her mission single-mindedly after several years of turmoil.
At the time, the Fifteenth All-American Council was, arguably, the most substantive council in recent memory, echoing the early All-American Sobors, where crucial decisions touched upon the very survival of the Church.
Written by Alexis Liberovsky
OCA Archivist, Director of the Department of History and Archives.
- Minutes of the 15th All-American Council now available on OCA.org web site
- Video of Bishop Jonah's responses to questions at 15th All-American Council now available on OCA.org web site
- Reflections on 15th All-American Council posted on AAC blog
- 15th All-American Council a watershed event for Orthodox Church in America
- Updated Agenda for the 15th All-American Council
- Second day of 15th All-American Council: Tuesday, November 11, 2008
- OCA 15th All-American Council opens in Pittsburgh, PA
- Ancient Faith Radio 15th All-American Council Podcast page now active
- OCA Internal Auditing Committee report to 15th All-American Council now available online
- 15th All-American Council reports available online
- Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel announced as overflow hotel for 15th All-American Council
- 15th All-American Council featured on Ancient Faith Radio
- Guidelines for Election of Metropolitan and Prayers for 15th All-American Council now published online
- 15th All-American Council Proposed Resolutions now published online
- 15th All-American Council page now online
- Bible Study in preparation for the 15th All-American Council now available on OCA web site
- 15th All-American Council Exhibitor Applications now available on OCA.org web site
- Town Hall Meeting notes from Burr Ridge, IL, Carnegie, PA, South River, NJ, now posted on 15th AAC blog
- Hartford, CT Town Hall Meeting Notes now posted on 15th All-American Council blog
- Bethlehem, PA Town Hall Meeting Notes now posted on 15th All-American Council blog
- Cleveland area Town Hall Meeting Notes now posted on 15th All-American Council blog
- St. Vladimir's Seminary Town Hall Meeting Notes now posted on 15th AAC blog
- 15th All-American Council Registration Information
- Washington, DC, and Edmonton, AB, Town Hall Meeting Notes now posted on 15th AAC blog
- Preconciliar Commission holds consultation on 15th All-American Council
- Preconciliar Commission continues preparations for 15th All-American Council
- Hotel reservations now open for 15th All-American Council
- Email address for input on 15th AAC now active
- 15th All-American Council announced
- Metropolitan Herman to convene special Holy Synod session July 31; preliminary plans for 15th All-American Council announced