Hierarchical Concerns, Proposed Statute Revisions Reviewed by Holy Synod of Bishops

Matters related to the episcopacy of the Orthodox Church in America and proposed revisions to the Church’s Statute were among the numerous issues discussed by members of the Holy Synod of Bishops during their annual spring session at the OCA Chancery here March 15-18, 2004.

In recognition of his 21 years of Episcopal service, His Grace, Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman led members of the Holy Synod in singing “Axios - He is worthy!” after announcing Bishop Job’s elevation. Consecrated to the episcopacy in 1983, Archbishop Job served as Bishop of Hartford and New England for ten years before his election as ruling bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest.

In response to his personal request, members of the Holy Synod granted a leave of absence to His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey. For several years Archbishop Peter has faced a number of health problems which require further monitoring. Having thanked Archbishop Peter for his efforts on behalf of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, the Holy Synod named Metropolitan Herman as the diocese’s Administrator. In addition to his diocesan duties, Archbishop Peter also serves as chairman of the OCA’s Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations.

Metropolitan Herman, with the concurrence of the members of the Holy Synod, appointed His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of South Canaan, as Administrator of the Diocese of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania. Bishop Tikhon who was was consecrated to the episcopacy in February 2004, was also appointed Rector of St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Archimandrite Benjamin [Peterson] was elected to the episcopacy to serve as Bishop of Berkeley and Auxiliary to His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the West. A native son of the Diocese of the West and former dean of Saint Herman Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kodiak, AK, Archimandrite Benjamin will be consecrated to the episcopacy at Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco, CA on Saturday, May 1, 2004, with his canonical election taking place on the preceding evening.

In his report at the opening of the session, Metropolitan Herman offered a comprehensive review of his ministry as the Church’s Primate. He noted that during Holy Week 2004, he would be consecrating Holy Chrism at Saint Tikhon Monastery - a Rite that he will be celebrating for the first time as Primate. He also noted that he will attend the annual assemblies of the dioceses of Canada, the Midwest, and the South in the coming year as a sign of “the unity of the Church and the unity that is ours as brother hierarchs.” In the same vein, he reported that he has accepted invitations to pay official visits to the sister autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Georgia and the Czech Lands and Slovakia, the autonomous Church of Finland, and the Belarusian Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Such fraternal visits to the sister Churches “both give expression to and nurture our relationships with our sister Churches,” he noted.

Metropolitan Herman also reported on his informal meeting with His Eminence, Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in December 2003, and expressed pleasure that the relationship between the OCA and ROCOR “is now on warmer, more cordial terms,” even as the latter continues its dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate. Another positive sign is the participation of students from the ROCOR’s Holy Trinity Seminary, Jordanville, NY in the recent meeting of the Orthodox Inter-Seminary Movement, held at Saint Vladimir Seminary, Crestwood, NY in mid-March 2004.

Metropolitan Herman also noted the impending return of the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God to Russia, the need for consistent theological training for all potential clergy, and expressed pleasure that the initial first draft of the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America has been completed for the Holy Synod’s review. He also stated his conviction that greater accountability is necessary within the life of the Church, especially in light of the negativity that often circulates within lay and clerical circles. “In times in which it seems that everyone claims to have been victimized in one manner or another and in which personal responsibility for one’s actions is perceived as an option, it is time for us to call to accountability those whose primary victim is the unity of Christ’s Holy Church,” he firmly stated.

Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor, offered a detailed report on the work of the Chancery and its various departments, offices and other administrative units. Echoing many themes touched upon in Metropolitan Herman’s report, Father Kondratick informed the hierarchs that by June 2004 it is hoped that every parish and clergyman will have internet connection, thereby improving communication between the Chancery, the dioceses, and the parishes and eliminating the costly need for many of the present communications disseminated by mail. Among the other areas of Church life touched upon in the report was the forthcoming 14th All-American Council, slated to convene in Toronto, ON in July 2005. He also reported on the final plans associated with the return of the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God.

In reviewing the financial state of the Church, the Very Rev. Dimitri Oselinsky, OCA Treasurer, noted that, despite unexpected cash flow difficulties encountered during the first two months of 2004 due to the failure of one diocese to remit its fair share for 2003, the financial situation of the Church remained strong. This was also echoed in later reports on the OCA pension and insurance plans, which are growing and extremely strong. Father Oselinsky noted the ongoing need for deeper commitment to the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards and other forms of voluntary financial support on the part of individuals, parishes and organizations. The means by which this might be accomplished are being explored by Father Kondratick and the Very Revs. David Brum, John Dresko, and staff.

On behalf of the Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, Archbishop Peter, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, and Mr. David Wagschal gave a lengthy report surveying the current situation of Orthodox Christianity throughout the world. In addition to noting points of tension currently being experienced in some regions, they noted the positive relationships between the OCA and sister Churches, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They also detailed the work of the bilateral commission established in 2003 between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church in America to study ways of effectively ministering to the growing number of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Recent developments within the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas were also discussed, and the hierarchs expressed their joy at the recently granted self-rule status of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

On behalf of the 14th All-American Council Planning Team, Dr. Alice Woog and Mr. Joseph Kormos presented preliminary plans for the 2005 gathering in Toronto. Father Kondratick amplified the report by reporting on a number of logistical concerns, including the arrangement of displays and vendors and special needs with regard to US Customs. In response to Dr. Woog’s report, the hierarchs approved “Our Church and the Future” as the Council theme. Appointed to the Pre-Conciliar Commission were His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, Chairman; Fathers Kondratick, Brum, Dresko, Kishkovsky and Oselinsky; the Very Revs. William Evansky, Joseph Fester, Paul Kucynda, Alexis Vinogradov; the Rev. Alexander Rentel; Mr. Kormos; Mrs. Michelle Jannakos; Mrs. Faith Skordinski; and Dr. Woog.

The Very Rev. David Brum, Secretary to the Metropolitan, and the Rev. Alexander Rentel of Saint Vladimir Seminary presented a preliminary draft of the proposed revision of the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America. The need to update the Statute had been recognized for some time, and the committee charged with Statute revisions continues to work to clarify certain portions of the document. The hierarchs will review the draft by mid-May. The final draft will be sent to all parishes after the spring of 2005 session of the Holy Synod of Bishops to allow ample time for parishes to offer input and suggestions before the revisions are brought before 14th AAC delegates.

Father Fester reported on progress being made by parishes to add the names of additional insured, including the Metropolitan and diocesan bishop, in sexual misconduct insurance coverage, while Attorney Jonathan Russin fielded questions regarding legal liability concerns. Diocesan bishops will contact their parishes and insist on compliance with the policy and guidelines adopted by the Holy Synod. In a related matter the hierarchs approved standardized applications for parish work with children and youth, request forms for criminal records checks, reference contacts, questions to be added to existing applications for admission to OCA seminaries, and a questionnaire for admission to the ranks of clergy.

In other matters, the members of the Holy Synod:

Heard a detailed report on the OCA’s numerous departments by Mrs. Michelle Jannakos, Church Ministries Coordinating Secretary.

Reviewed reports on the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards by Father Joseph Fester, FOS Executive Director and on the OCA’s special appeals and planned giving programs by Mr. David Lucs.

Surveyed diocesan membership statistics, prepared by the Rev. Jonathan Ivanoff.

Heard a report by Mrs. Elizabeth Kondratick concerning the status of the OCA benefit, pension, health and life insurance, and personal assistance programs.

In addition to Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Peter, Archbishop Job, Bishop Seraphim, and Bishop Tikhon of South Canaan, other hierarchs attending the spring session included His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania; His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South; His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the West; His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska; His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston; and His Grace, Bishop Irineu of Dearborn Heights, Auxiliary to the Romanian Episcopate.

The fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops will take place October 18-23, 2004 at Saint Tikhon Monastery, South Canaan, PA. On Tuesday, October 19, 2004, the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Orthodox Church in America will host a banquet honoring Metropolitan Herman on the occasion of his 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.