Council delegates focus on Mission, Education / Clergy Formation, Orthodox Unity; approve increased funding for church

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, opened the first plenary session of the 14th All-American Council with a Service of Prayer while clergy and lay delegates sang “Today the Holy Spirit gathers us together.”

Nearly 1200 hierarchs, clergy and lay delegates, observers, and guests gathered at the Sheraton Centre hotel here July 17-22, 2005 for the 14th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America.

In a series of daily plenary sessions, delegates considered five essential aspects, or “pillars,” of Church life—vision and identity as the Orthodox Church in America; relations with others, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox; clergy formation and development; parish health; and evangelization in North America—each of which was associated with the overall Council theme, “Our Church and the Future.”

Delegates also approved a resolution to increase income for the Church’s administration and ministries through the “fair share” funding provided by the OCA’s dioceses and their parishes.

The Council formally opened on Monday morning, July 18, with a Service of Prayer, the singing of “The Grace of the Holy Spirit has assembled us today,” and the singing of the national anthems of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. After welcoming the delegates and observers, Metropolitan Herman introduced His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, who shared his enthusiasm and that of the Canadian faithful for hosting the second All-American Council to be held within the Archdiocese of Canada. He then presented nominations for Council vice-chairs, the Very Rev. Gregory Safchuk and Dr. Alice Woog, and for the members of the secretariat; the resolutions, nominations, and credentials committees; and other Council bodies. After a vote to adopt the Council agenda, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, chancellor, welcomed a number of special guests, including His Grace, Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, representative of His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and general secretary of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. Bishop Dimitrios offered official greetings on behalf of Archbishop Demetrios.

The session also featured a presentation by Mr. Joseph Kormos, Council project team facilitator, which highlighted the key issues to be discussed throughout the week.


In his opening address to the Council, Metropolitan Herman emphasized that, while the Orthodox Church in America has a long history, as evidenced in this year’s celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery and the 35th anniversaries of the granting of autocephaly and the glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska, the future course of the Church begs the “responsible and right-ordered participation of the entire People of God in the Church’s life and work.

“This shared involvement in the Church’s life—by hierarchs, clergy, and laity alike—means that every Orthodox Christian, having received the Holy Spirit, may properly express concern for the Church, discuss the Church’s challenges and needs, and suggest insights and answers to the challenges faced by the Church, as long as this is in keeping with the Church’s Faith and Tradition,” Metropolitan Herman emphasized. “However, such participation and involvement in the life of the Church is not based on some form of ‘democracy’ which would make clergy and laity co-administrators of the Church, for the responsibility to assure that we remain in agreement with the Orthodox Faith and Tradition remains the role and responsibility of the bishops.”

Metropolitan Herman underscored the unique position of the Orthodox Church in America, as an autocephalous Church, to address its needs and future direction within the context of the All-American Council.

Metropolitan Herman, delivers his address to Council participants. He highlighted significant events since his election as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in 2002 and offered insights into the future direction of the Church.

“The experience of the Orthodox Church in America and its vision of Church life, as expressed through the All-American Council, are unique among the world’s local Orthodox Churches,” Metropolitan Herman observed. “We have an understanding of the Church which is not a narrow understanding. This broader, more involved, and more engaged understanding of the Church is reflected in the All-American Council. Convened every three years, the All-American Council is a microcosm of the diversity and unity of the Orthodox Church in America and of its unique role within the larger community of Orthodox Churches throughout the world.”

Metropolitan Herman went on to report on his ministry since his election as the Church’s Primate in 2002, focusing on his archpastoral visits across North America, his efforts to maintain and strengthen relationships with the sister Orthodox Churches around the world, and his concern for a variety of issues, including ecumenical relations, youth, the internet, theological education, and parish life.

In addressing the funding of the Church, Metropolitan Herman challenged Council participants to embrace generosity “in sharing the blessings we have been given by God.” While recognizing that “every diocese, parish, and Church member must strive to help in the fulfillment and realization of our Church’s mission,” he lamented “those who are indifferent to the needs of our parishes, dioceses, and Church.

“This indifference often develops first on the parish level when clergy and faithful, while often of good will, fail to rise to the occasion and respond to the Church’s ever-growing needs,” Metropolitan Herman observed. “Instead of denying the reality of the increasing cost of living and acting as the Church, we should rejoice that our needs are increasing, as this clearly shows that the Church’s mission is also growing and expanding. And this should lead us to the generous stewardship to which the Lord calls us.”

In his concluding remarks, Metropolitan Herman encouraged Council participants to embrace a “greater appreciation of our identity and a stronger affirmation of who we are and who we are called to be” by recognizing that the OCA “has been greatly blessed by the lives, labors, and holy examples of many saints.

“We are autocephalous, yet we are also well-experienced in living in relationship with the many jurisdictions also present in North America,” Metropolitan Herman concluded. “We know what it means to live in diversity, in circumstances without precedent, and we possess the creativity to address situations that can often be very complicated. We bring to this our commitment to good Church order and our reputation for adhering to the Orthodox Church’s ecclesiological and canonical principles. This is a gift we must share—and which we must share with boldness.”

Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, chancellor, delivers his address to the Council.

In his address to the Council, Father Kondratick echoed many of the same themes expressed by Metropolitan Herman. He offered the personal legacies of numerous hierarchs, clergy, and lay persons who had rendered outstanding service to the Church in North America during its two centuries of witness to the Faith as a challenge for renewed enthusiasm for the work and life of the Church.

“I cannot help but think that the spiritual and missionary legacy that has come down to us is indeed being fulfilled in our Church life today,” Father Kondratick said. “Although those concerned for the well-being of our Church are often tempted to think in terms of crises and problems, the truth of the matter is that, even if we are weak vessels, we are striving with God’s help to realize our vocation as the local Church on this continent. Our Council is dedicated to renewing and re-energizing our sense of this vocation. It is my hope that as we gather here, through the prayers of all the saints who have shone forth in North America, each one of us will be encouraged to return to our respective dioceses and parishes with a rekindled enthusiasm for the active support of the apostolic work of the Orthodox Church in America!”

Father Kondratick also reported on the work of the chancery and its staff and commended the nearly 300 individuals who, on a voluntary basis serve the Church’s departments, boards, and commissions. In addressing concerns expressed with regard to the Church’s finances, he noted that the decrease in contributions is not something unique to the OCA; rather, the trend has affected virtually every faith community and non-profit organization due to a variety of factors and economic trends. He also addressed issues related to the OCA’s transparency, inter-Orthodox and ecumenical relations, parish and mission development, clergy pensions, the internet, and matters related to abuse.

In conclusion, Father Kondratick offered a reflection on the witness and example of the North American saints and challenged Council participants to embrace their zeal and enthusiasm, even in the face of cynical criticism or worse.

“Saint Herman of Alaska’s… zeal and enthusiasm did not wane, and to read through his existing letters is to have this zeal and enthusiasm kindled in our own hearts,” Father Kondratick concluded. “In our reading of the letters, diaries, articles and other accounts of the missionary laborers in North America, we find ourselves spiritually refreshed and deeply moved. Are we not moved? Are our hearts not warmed? Do we not yearn to follow in their steps? Their common witness over the centuries constitutes a legacy for us: the legacy of Saints Herman and Innocent, of Saints Jacob and Alexis, of Saints Tikhon and Raphael of Brooklyn, of the holy martyred priests John Kochurov and Alexander Hotovitzky, of Archbishop Arseny and Metropolitan Leonty, of Metropolitan Theophan Noli and Bishop Policarp Morusca, and of so many others, known and unknown. It constitutes a legacy we believe comes down to us through them from our Lord Himself and His Apostles. By their prayers and through their example may our Orthodox Church in America live out the faith we have received in a God-pleasing and fruitful manner!”

[The complete texts of the addresses of Metropolitan Herman and Father Kondratick will be posted on the OCA web site at and appear in the August/September 2005 issue of “The Orthodox Church.”]


The bulk of the remaining plenary sessions were devoted to the five “pillars” upon which the Council theme was built. In each instance, panel presentations on each pillar were offered, after which delegates participated in workshops and offered a wide range of reactions, recommendations, and ideas for strengthening the life of the Church, which were synthesized by a summary team in regular reports at the beginning of each session.

  • The panel for the presentation on parish health stressed the importance of education of and formation of clergy and laity alike as foundational for successful evangelization and the health of parish communities.
    Vision and identity. Consistent with references in the addresses of Metropolitan Herman and Father Kondratick to the “missionary legacy” of the Orthodox Church in America, delegates expressed a vision of the Church as essentially missionary, one by which the fullness of the Gospel was brought to North America to be proclaimed, rather than preserved. While the missionary imperative finds its roots in Alaska, it is also discovered in the work of Saint Alexis Toth, the vision of the late Metropolitan Leonty, who consistently referred to the Church in North America as “the Mission,” and the ongoing work to revitalize older parishes while planting new communities, especially in regions which in the past had little or no Orthodox presence. The OCA’s autocephalous status, which reflects an understanding of the Church as serving all who would receive the Gospel, rather than a “diaspora” sharing the same ethnic, cultural, or linguistic background was emphasized by clergy and lay delegates alike during workshop sessions.

  • Clergy formation and development. Delegates lodged strong, yet positive, opinions on a variety of issues related to clergy formation. The central and traditional role of seminary training was affirmed, along with the importance of providing appropriate funding for theological students, the idea being full funding. Many delegates offered proposals for continuing education, distance learning and satellite programs, and other forms of ongoing formation. Of special interest was an emphasis on pastoral rather than theoretical skill building, resource sharing, mentoring, and internship programs for seminarians. Many delegates expressed serious concern for the reestablishment of the summer internship program, suspended in 2005 due to diminished free-will offerings. A number of clergy who had participated in the internship program spoke of the benefits they gained from the experience.

  • Parish health, evangelization. Delegates stressed the importance of education of and formation of clergy and laity alike as foundational for successful evangelization and the health of parish communities. As in the workshops on clergy formation, strong feelings were expressed with regard to the need for experiential and practical, skill-based education for every member of the Church, regardless of level or age. Regular personal contact among members of the Church to share skills, provide mentorship and direction, and receive and offer spiritual and pastoral care was also emphasized. In connection with this, the talents of retired clergy were acknowledged, with many suggesting that they be called upon to share their experience in a variety of areas that would benefit parishes and individuals alike.

    Numerous delegates also noted the need for sensitivity with regard to multi-cultural ministry and evangelization, not only to traditionally Orthodox immigrant groups, but also to Hispanic, Asian-American and African-Americans. It was interesting to hear numerous delegates relate their experiences in successfully opening their parishes to neighborhood groups and the broader communities in which they exist rather than abandoning the “old neighborhoods” altogether. Similar experiences were shared in a luncheon forum, one of several conducted throughout the week, on ministering to the needs of immigrants and minorities.


  • Relations with Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Delegates clearly noted that parish health and successful evangelistic ministries cannot be pursued independently of the quest for Orthodox unity in North America. While the importance of inter-Orthodox cooperation in the quest for administrative unity in North America surfaced as a central concern, the reality—that such unity is not likely in the immediate future—should not hinder the work of the local parishes in developing and strengthening cooperative efforts and ministries in an effort to proclaim and witness to the Gospel.

    In his remarks at the closing plenary session, Metropolitan Herman, while noting that “sooner or later, in God’s time, unity will take place,” reminded the delegates that “nothing comes about unless we all work together to make it happen.” Using the dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia as an example of how God guides the Church in ways that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable, he assured clergy and laity alike that the Holy Synod of Bishops “supports all of your good intentions and works, regardless of what they are.”

    In the area of ecumenical relations, concerns over the Church’s participation in agencies such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches were expressed. It was noted that such matters remain within the competency of the Holy Synod of Bishops. In his presentation, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, assistant to the chancellor for external affairs and inter-Church relations, echoed the sentiment expressed in Metropolitan Herman’s opening address, in which he recognized the tensions that exist as a result of the Church’s participation in ecumenical organizations while sharing even greater concern for the Church’s responsibility to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel. He also described the connections between the ecumenical participation of most of the Orthodox Churches, both in North America and globally, and the Orthodox Churches’ common witness and common theological voice in ecumenical organizations and events. He noted that ecumenical participation certainly requires careful consideration and discernment. As further proof of our historic commitment to this task, it was reported that the Holy Synod of Bishops had blessed the OCA’s participation as a founding member of Christian Churches Together, thereby providing yet another opportunity to proclaim the Gospel on this continent. It was noted that in the Tomos of Autocephaly, the OCA is charged to “maintain direct relations with all other churches and confessions, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.”


    While no specific resolutions were presented to Council delegates, a number of serious proposals and ideas were shared in a final presentation offered by the summary team. While lack of sufficient funding surfaced as the main obstacle to accomplishing many of the Church’s goals, delegates did offer specific long and short-range proposals in three broad areas.

  • Mission. While delegates affirmed the missionary nature of the Church and, as a long-range goal proposed establishment of 50 new missions and 50 revitalized parishes within the next five to ten years, the establishment of a national evangelization program topped the list of proposals delegates felt could be reasonably implemented. Other proposals included the introduction of courses on mission into the seminary curriculum, the appointment of mission directors in every diocese, and an increased visibility and profile for the annual mission appeal. Consideration of mission as the theme of the 15th All-American Council was also proposed. It was also recommended that the Department of Evangelization develop specific recommendations to implement these long and short-range goals before the 2005 fall session of the Holy Synod.

  • Mr. David Wagschal and Mrs. Valerie Zahirsky, spokespersons for the Council summary team, report on recommendations offered during the plenary sessions.
    Education and formation. With funding an ongoing obstacle for many wishing to pursue theological educations, especially as the number of married students continues to grow, delegates recommended that within five to ten years, full funding for all seminarians studying for the priesthood be available. Delegates also shared strong feelings for the development of skill-based educational resources and mentoring and internship programs, adding that within ten years such programs should become a normal part of clergy formation. Delegates offered two recommendations that could be implemented within the next three years: the creation of national “Orthodox Life” conferences and the establishment of an ongoing pastoral education and care program directed by seasoned clergy. The revitalization of the summer internship program was recommended as a priority that could be implemented within the next three months. It also was recommended that the development of the means to implement the long and short-range proposals be referred to the Department of Christian Education.

  • Orthodox unity. Four general recommendations emerged within the area of Orthodox unity. Delegates reaffirmed the role of the Orthodox Church in America as a leading voice for Orthodox unity. They also recommitted themselves to the prayerful support of Metropolitan Herman and the members of the Holy Synod in their ongoing efforts to promote Orthodox unity. The development of inter-Orthodox collaboration, especially on the local level, was affirmed as a principle of action. Delegates also recommended that the bilateral commission between the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America be reestablished.

    An entire plenary session on Thursday, July 21, was devoted to funding the vision and ongoing mission of the Church. The Very Rev. John Dresko, chairman of the Department of Stewardship, offered a presentation on the Church’s financial needs and the proposed 2006 budget of $2,600,000.00. He stressed that insufficient funding limits the implementation of the Church’s vision and mission and generates deficits due to a lack of adequate income for necessary as well as unavoidable expenditures. In line with the report of the Very Rev. Dimitri Oselinsky, treasurer, he reported that deficit reduction and repayment of borrowed funds are important issues.

    In reviewing implementation of the fair share resolution passed at the 13th All-American Council in 2002, Father Dresko stated that delegates to that Council felt assured that adequate funds would be generated to meet the Church’s budget.

    “After various discussions at the 13th All-American Council concerning the total amount of budgeted income, we agreed upon a per capita equivalent, de facto keeping in place the same system that has contributed to our current difficulties,” Father Dresko observed. “We immediately budgeted up to the maximum allowed by our income, instead of gradually building to it, limiting budget spending and allowing for an annual increase. When we apportioned by fair share the maximum amount to the dioceses, the reported financial supporting membership again declined; we actually are receiving less in budgeted income in 2005 than was received in 2002.”

    This, Father Dresko added, has been aggravated by the fact that annual, voluntary, and development giving have fallen far short of the yearly budgeted amounts, presenting the Church with further difficulties in meeting the annual budget needs of the Church. He also noted that in order to meet diocesan budgetary needs, virtually every diocese has at some point increased its annual assessment by at least the rate of inflation.

    While Father Dresko reported that annual and voluntary giving and thoughtful budgeting are high priorities, he emphasized that without increased funding—equal to $20.00 per year per adult member—ongoing deficits are inevitable.

    “We have heard comments and even arguments about spending—percentages of this and percentages of that,” Father Dresko stated. “We can argue all we want about spending…. But this measure is not about spending; it’s about giving. And God simply commands us to give.”

    Before presenting the fair share proposal to the delegates, Father Dresko reported that multiple proposals were presented to the Metropolitan Council in April 2005, at the request of the Holy Synod of Bishops.

    “We must note that the annual support needed from the dioceses for the day-to-day operation of the OCA’s central Church administration is $2,710,000.00,” Father Dresko stated. “All the proposals hoped that increased annual and voluntary giving will lead to reduced fair share amounts in the future.”

    Father Dresko then presented the fair share proposal adopted by the Metropolitan Council on April 15, 2005 and subsequently reviewed by the Holy Synod.

    The text of the proposal presented to Council delegates reads as follows.

    “Resolved, that the amount of income support each year (2006, 2007, and 2008] be $2,600,000.00. This amount will be apportioned out to the territorial dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America using a formula of OCA membership percentage (i.e., if your diocese is 15% of the supporting diocesan membership of the OCA, it will be asked to support 15% of the fair share income amount). Parishes shall forward to their diocesan treasurer the reported financially supporting membership number no later than September 30 of each year. The diocesan treasurer shall forward to the OCA treasurer the diocesan reported financially supporting membership no later than October 15 of each year. That figure shall be used to recalculate the fair share for the following January 1. These amounts to be apportioned will not be raised. If membership changes, the amount will be a different proportion for each diocese. Each diocese shall forward one-twelfth of its respective fair share amount to the OCA chancery no later than the 15th of each month.

    A vote was taken for the Fair Share Proposal which resulted in 237 votes in favor of the motion and 175 against the motion.

    “The Primate of the Church will request dioceses that do not participate in the fair share support of the Orthodox Church in America to raise the support they do send ($74,000.00 actual in 2004) to $110,000.00 in 2006, $120,000.00 in 2007, and $130,000.00 in 2008.

    “In order to reduce the dependency of the Orthodox Church in America on the mandatory, imposed fair share on dioceses and members of the Church for budgetary funding, a concentrated effort shall be made to build the annual, planned, and development giving to the Church. A full-time director of development will work with the director of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards [FOS] to strive to meet the following income goals: In 2006, $400,000.00 from FOS and $450,000.00 from development; in 2007, $430,000.00 from FOS and $550,000.00 from development; and in 2008, $450,000.00 from FOS and $650,000.00 from development. In the event that annual and development giving exceed these annual goals, the fair share amount for the supporting dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America shall be reduced in the following year by an amount equivalent to the excess raised. For example, if annual/development giving in 2006 totals $900,000.00 (+$50,000.00), the fair share amount for 2007 will be reduced by $50,000.000 (making it $2,550,000.00).”

    After discussion, delegates voted on the proposal as presented by Father Dresko. Using voting cards, a first vote was taken, but results were inconclusive due to problems with the verification of credentials. A second vote was taken, which resulted in 237 votes in favor of the motion and 175 against the motion.

    [The complete text of Father Dresko’s report will be posted on the OCA web site at and appear in the August-September issue of “The Orthodox Church.”]

    Metropolitan Herman, presided at an akathistos hymn in honor of the North American Saints which was celebrated on the evening of July 19th.


    The celebration of daily Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy provided the essential context in which the Council’s deliberations and sessions took place and served as a tangible reminder that, above all else, God’s people are a worshipping people. Daily sermons challenged delegates and observers to deepen their commitment to Christ and His Body, the Church, while scripture readings set the tone for each plenary session. Council participants also sang the Akathistos Hymn in honor of the North American saints in celebrating the memory of those who, as Metropolitan Herman stated, “established the vision and path to which we continue to commit ourselves.”

    The Very Rev. Michael Westerberg and Mrs. Elizabeth Kondratick, group leader and administrative secretary of the Orthodox Church in America pension board, reported on the condition of the OCA pension plan. It was noted that the plan is not only financially stable, but growing. Clergy not currently participating in the plan were strongly encouraged to do so.

    Throughout the week, Council participants took advantage of nearly two dozen luncheon forums exploring a wide variety of topics, including Christian education, outreach to the homeless and needy, ministering to new immigrants, the use of technology in the Church, evangelization and parish development, and the Christian family. The lively presentations and discussions were extremely well attended and afforded participants an opportunity to share ideas and common concerns.

    A full schedule of activities and outings organized by the Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry was organized for the Council’s 250 youth observers. Assisting the Rev. Michael Anderson, department director, were dozens of volunteers and chaperones. Religious discussions and programs for all ages and outings to Niagara Falls and other attractions provided a wealth of opportunities for inspiration and fellowship. Young adults also enjoyed a cruise and participated in an afternoon of ministry at one of Toronto’s soup kitchens. Delegates enjoyed a presentation by the youth and young adult observers at the closing plenary session.

    The week was also punctuated with receptions for graduates of St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s seminaries as well as a reception for members of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards. The FOS reception featured the formal introduction of Archpriest Eugene Vansuch as the new FOS Executive Director while His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman also bestowed a Synodal Gramota to Archpriest Joseph Fester and thanked him for his 10 years of service to the Church as FOS Executive Director. His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania and the Bulgarian Diocese, the senior member of the Holy Synod of Bishops, delighted diners during the grand banquet on Thursday evening, during which Metropolitan Herman delivered a stirring address on his hopes for the Church’s future. Representatives of numerous Orthodox jurisdictions and other faith traditions and civic leaders also attended the banquet.

    The Rev. Michael Anderson, Director of the Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries, offers a presentation with the youth and young adult observers at the closing plenary session.

    Elections for representatives to the Metropolitan Council, pension board, and audit committee were also conducted. Elected to serve six year terms on the Metropolitan Council were the Very Rev. Theodore Boback and Prof John Erickson. The Very Rev. Constantine White and Dr. Faith Skordinski were elected to three year terms, while the Rev. John Maxwell and Ms. Eleana Silk were elected as alternates. The Very Rev. Dimitri Oselinsky and Mr. David Drillock were elected to serve six year terms on the pension board. Elected to serve three year terms were the Very Rev. John Steffaro and Mr. Gregory Sheshko. The Very Rev. John Zdinak and Mr. Nicholas Lezinsky were elected as alternates. Elected to the audit committee were the Very Rev. Paul Suda and Mr. David Donlick, with Mr. Frank Tkacz serving as alternate.

    Prior to the celebration of the final Service of Thanksgiving marking the official closing of the Council at noon on Friday, July 22, delegates passed resolutions thanking His Grace, Bishop Seraphim, host hierarch, and the local planning committee for their tireless efforts in organizing the Council and the members of the summary team. Council participants also sang “Memory Eternal” for the late Protopresbyter John Meyendorff on the 13th anniversary of his repose.

    Additional information, reports, and Council resources will appear in the August-September issue of “The Orthodox Church” and posted in their totality no later than September 20 on the OCA web site at,