OCA Holy Synod meets, issues statements on stem cell research, aftermath of terrorist attacks

By Archpriest John Matusiak, Director Orthodox Church in America Office of Communications

SYOSSET, NY—Members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, meeting for their regular fall session at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America here October 15-18, 2001, issued a statement titled “Embryonic Stem Cell Research in the Perspective of Orthodox Christianity.”

The statement affirms the Orthodox Christian conviction that “human life begins at conception [and that] human life is sacred from its very beginning, since from conception it is ensouled existence. As such, it is ‘personal’ existence, created in the image of God and endowed with a sanctity that destines it for eternal life.”

While applauding the US President’s initiative “in seeking a reasonable compromise between assuring protection of human life at every stage of its development, and exploring the potential therapeutic benefits to be derived from pluripotent stem cells” and in expressing “unambiguous opposition to human cloning,” the hierarchs state that they “cannot condone the manipulation of embryonic cells in any form for research purposes, including lives developed from destroyed embryos.”

[The full text of the statement appears on the OCA’s web site at Statement on Embryonic Stem Cell Research. and will appear in the October/November 2001 issue of The Orthodox Church newspaper.

METROPOLITAN THEODOSIUS PRESIDES. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, presided at the meeting, which opened with a Service of Prayer in Saint Sergius Chapel on October 15.

In his opening address, Metropolitan Theodosius thanked the members of the Holy Synod for their support and concern during his four month medical leave of absence, which concluded on September 1, 2001.

“Your prayers, thoughtful greetings, and other expressions of fraternal love were a joy and a consolation during the four months that I was away from the exercise of my primatial responsibilities,” Metropolitan Theodosius said. “For this I am deeply grateful.”

Metropolitan Theodosius also thanked His Eminence, Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania for serving as Temporary Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America during his leave of absence. He also acknowledged greetings and letters of support received from the Primates of other Orthodox Sister Churches throughout the world.

After reviewing a number of issues on the agenda of the Synod meeting, Metropolitan Theodosius concluded his address by stressing the importance of perseverance during these troubled times in America’s history.

“The days in which we live are clearly difficult ones,” Metropolitan Theodosius said. “The recent attack on innocent human life is a powerful reminder that the evil one is ever-vigilant in seeking to destroy those things which are good and true and right. How much more, then, will he attack Christ’s Holy Church in which He Who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life is encountered and proclaimed. As shepherds and overseers of the Holy Orthodox Church in America, let us unite in faith and prayer, beseeching the Lord to grant us His mercy and the strength we need to persevere as faithful stewards of His Church.”

Following his address, His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, expressed the joy shared by members of the Holy Synod on the restoration of Metropolitan Theodosius’ health and return to his primatial ministry.

Metropolitan Theodosius’ address was followed by the report of Archbishop Herman, in which he reflected on the life of the Church during his four-month tenure as Temporary Administrator and the report of Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, Chancellor. After reviewing and commenting on the various points on the Synod’s agenda, Father Kondratick offered congratulations to Metropolitan Theodosius as he celebrates the 40th Anniversary of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood on Monday, October 22, 2001.

ELECTION OF A RULING BISHOP FOR ALASKA. After briefing members of the Holy Synod on recent developments in the Diocese of Alaska, Metropolitan Theodosius, who has served as Locum Tenens of the Diocese for several years, noted that His Eminence, Archbishop Gregory, retired Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, had consented to preside at a Diocesan Assembly on Tuesday, October 30, 2001, at which time delegates will nominate a candidate for presentation to the Holy Synod for possible election as ruling Diocesan Bishop. A detailed report on the life of the Diocese of Alaska was delivered by His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Baltimore, who has overseen the life of the Diocese since mid-June 2001.

In a related matter, the Holy Synod considered the July 20, 2001 request of His Grace, Bishop Innocent of Hagerstown, MD, formerly of Anchorage, AK, to retire from episcopal ministry. Members of the Holy Synod voted to grant Bishop Innocent’s request, effective October 16, 2001. The suspension placed on Bishop Innocent on August 16, 2001 will remain in effect until members of the Holy Synod deliberate further on his situation.

INTERCHURCH AND ECUMENICAL RELATIONS. In the absence of His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey, who was unable to attend the session due to hospitalization, the Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky delivered the report of the Office of Interchurch Relations and Ecumenical Witness, highlighting current events in the lives of the Orthodox Sister Churches and in ecumenical and interfaith circles.

In a related discussion, His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, reviewed the ongoing dialogue with representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate in North America, noting that common liturgical celebrations by clergy and laity of both dioceses have been renewed.

Of special interest was the statement of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Russia to the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia [ROCOR], inviting the latter to reconciliation. Members of the Holy Synod agreed to address a letter to His Eminence, Archbishop Laurus, Deputy of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, reflecting “on the life and mission of the Holy Orthodox Church in America, in Russia, and around the world.”

“Although the mission of the Orthodox Church in America is directed especially to the peoples of North America, our eucharistic communion with the Church of Russia and the other Orthodox Churches is a bond of peace and unity, giving testimony to the universality of the Orthodox faith,” the letter states. “We value both our eucharistic communion with the Russian Orthodox Church and the gift of autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church…. We are surely called to unity, both in the universal Orthodox Church, and in America - eucharistic unity, unity in the preaching of the Gospel, unity in mutual repentance, and reconciliation. May our calling to unity put us on the path which will lead us towards an end to schism and alienation.”


• SCOBA. Members of the Holy Synod reviewed recent activities sponsored by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas [SCOBA]. Metropolitan Theodosius expressed pleasure at the participation of all OCA hierarchs in the SCOBA conference in Washington, DC in early May, 2001. A similar gathering is tentatively scheduled for October 2002.

• Treasurer’s Report. The Very Reverend Dimitri Oselinsky, OCA Treasurer, presented the Operating Budget for Financial Year 2001 as of September 30, 2001, together with a report of all 13th All-American Council assessments received to date. The Very Reverend Stavros Strikis, OCA Comptroller, presented the Proposed Budget for 2002, which was accepted by the Holy Synod.

• Discussion on “Fair Share” Program. The Very Reverend John Dresko presented a report on alternatives to the current per capita method for funding the fundamental work of the Central Church Administration. He also reported on his visits to several diocesan assemblies, at which he offered presentations on the proposals developed to date.

• Church-Wide Initiatives. Members of the Holy Synod were updated on the two Church-Wide Initiatives initiated after the 12th All-American Council. The hierarchs reviewed the FOCUS Curriculum web site, the centerpiece of the Education CWI. Work continues as scheduled under the direction of Dr. Constance Tarasar. The Seminarian Internship Program CWI experienced a successful second year, and members of the Holy Synod agreed that, in advance of the 13th All-American Council, all parishes and previous CWI donors be informed that a floor appeal will be made to continue this program for the next Triennium.

• Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Members of the Holy Synod offered full support to a proposal of the Reverend Michael Anderson, Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, to initiate a regionally-based Church-wide youth ministry effort reflecting the Church’s vision, mission, and expectations. The theme for the first year of the new program, slated to begin in fall 2002, will be “Jesus Christ: The Way, the Truth, the Life.

• Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Metropolitan Theodosius’ Primatial Ministry. The Holy Synod will be the official host for all activities during the week scheduled to honor the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of His Beatitude’s Primatial Ministry. In addition, a special Synodal Citation will be prepared and presented during the forthcoming celebration in 2002.

• Other reports. Members of the Holy Synod also heard reports on the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards, the OCA Pension Board, and other administrative bodies.

PASTORAL LETTER. In light on the ongoing concerns as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, members of the Holy Synod issued a Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Laity of the Orthodox Church in America. The letter is posted on the OCA web site at Pastoral Letter and will appear in the October/November issue of The Orthodox Church newspaper.

In addition to Metropolitan Theodosius, Archbishop Kyrill, Archbishop Herman, Archbishop Nathaniel, and Bishop Nikolai, other hierarchs attending the session were His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South; His Grace, Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the West; and His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada. His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey did not attend due to his hospitalization. His Grace, Bishop Innocent, also did not attend.