The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America held its third annual meeting for all member hierarchs, that is, all active canonical bishops in its region. The meeting was held from September 10-12, 2012, at the Chicago O’Hare Hilton in Chicago, Illinois. Forty-three bishops were in attendance.
The first plenary session opened on Monday morning, and began with prayer, followed by an address to the assembled hierarchs by the Chairman of the Assembly, Demetrios, Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. [His address will soon be posted on the Assembly web site.
The Archbishop expressed the sorrow of all present for the loss of Metropolitan Constantine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the U.S., who fell asleep in the Lord since the last meeting of the Assembly. He also noted the absence of two brother bishops: Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, who retired in August 2011, and Metropolitan Jonah of Washington, D.C. Moreover, he welcomed the new bishops joining the Assembly since May 2011, the time of its last meeting: Bishop Sevastianos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Bishops Anthony, John, and Nicholas of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Bishop Daniil of the Bulgarian Diocese, Bishop Alexander of the Orthodox Church in America, and the newly-consecrated Bishop Pankratij of the Metropolis of Mexico.
Archbishop Justinian, the administrator of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the US and second vice-chairman of the Assembly, also addressed the hierarchs, reminding his brethren of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the southernmost Russian settlement in North America, Fort Ross in California, with its Orthodox Christian chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
With the legal incorporation of the Assembly, one of the chief items on the agenda was the adoption of By-Laws for its governance. A draft was provided by a provisional By-Laws Committee, working in concert with the Committee for Legal Affairs. After some deliberation by the Assembly to insure that the By-Laws conformed both to civil and canon law, they were unanimously approved by the bishops.
A proposal was presented to the hierarchs by Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, the chair of the Committee for Canonical Affairs, for a comprehensive directory of all Orthodox clergy in our region, in accordance with Article 6 of the Rules of Operation. This would augment the Assembly’s already existing directories of bishops, parishes, monastic communities, and theological schools.
The second item, which occupied the Assembly during the whole of its business session on Tuesday, was the canonical organization of the Church in the United States. Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas, the chair of the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, presented the findings of his committee on the chief issues involved. The assembled hierarchs were asked to discuss with one another important questions about the future structure of the Church in North America, models of administration, its organization geographically, as well as its relationship with the Mother Churches. This it did together as a body as well as in small groups. In this continuing process, designed to prepare a plan for presentation to a future Great and Holy Council of the entire Orthodox Church worldwide, there was consensus on the part of all bishops that the canonical norms of the Church must be observed and that all canonical anomalies in North America must be resolved, so that the witness and mission of the Church of Christ might be strengthened and increased.
The Chairman, Archbishop Demetrios, stressed that this work is not about fixing past mistakes. The current canonical situation in North America, inappropriate though it is, came about on account of immigration from the Old World and various historical circumstances. This work should be seen as a positive, and necessary, progression down the path of Orthodoxy in this country. The Assembly directed the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning to continue its work and resolved to continue earnest discussion of this issue. While the Assembly realized that it is impossible to provide a definite time-frame, it nevertheless recognized that it is incumbent upon them to have a plan prepared to present to the Most Holy Autocephalous Churches.
All of the deliberations of the Assembly were characterized by sincere and open discussion and brotherly affection and amity among the bishops.
The Assembly also approved a budget for the coming year that lays primary emphasis upon the work of the various committees and the Secretariat. It adopted a policy to govern its relationship with the former SCOBA agencies and endorsed-organizations as well as important guidelines governing the delegation of legal and financial authority within the Assembly. It was announced that an external audit would be conducted by the Assembly after the end of this calendar year.
On the second day of meetings, the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the hierarchs gathered at Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, where they prayed the liturgy together, commemorating the Beheading of the holy Baptist and Forerunner John (according to the Old Calendar), and partook in the unity of the Eucharist through shared fellowship in the holy Body and precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Church and only Source of unity. The Liturgy was served by Fr. Radovan Jakovljevic and Deacon Nikolaj Kostur and was presided over by Bishop Longin of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Following the Liturgy, Archbishop Demetrios led all present in a memorial service for those who died in the aforementioned terrorist attacks as well as prayers for mercy for the survivors and the families of all those who perished that day. [See related story.]
The Assembly of Bishops has published a Message to the faithful, the full text of which follows.
MESSAGE TO THE FAITHFUL
To our beloved Orthodox Christian faithful throughout North and Central America:
You are the light of the world. (Matt. 5.14)
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We, the members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, gathered in Chicago for our third annual meeting of September 10-12, 2012, greet you with paternal love, as we offer glory and thanks to our Triune God.
Forty-three Hierarchs convened in the unity of our holy Orthodox faith, mindful of our responsibility to each other and to the Church as the Body of Christ. Some of our brother Hierarchs were absent due to personal illness or family loss. We recognize our calling to rightly teach the word of God’s truth as our foremost duty towards the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Church.
We remember in prayer the recent falling asleep in the Lord of our brother and concelebrant, Metropolitan Constantine of Irinoupolis, First Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. May his memory be eternal!
We acknowledge the challenges that lie before us and understand our accountability to one another so that our common ministry and witness may be blessed by God.
We reaffirm our commitment to the decisions and expectations of the Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and the Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar Conferences in an effort to safeguard and deepen Orthodox unity, to promote common pastoral action, to offer common witness in our region, and to overcome canonical anomalies.
Our unity was manifested in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the sharing of the Holy Eucharist on the occasion of the Feast of St. John the Forerunner (Old Style) as well as in joining our fellow Americans as we mourned the loss of thousands of innocent citizens 11 years ago on September 11, 2001, and prayed for the repose of their souls.
Among the items on the agenda was the work of the Assembly’s Secretariat, its 13 committees, and 14 agencies and endorsed organizations. We praise God for the positive spirit of cooperation that prevailed during the sessions of the Assembly and celebrate the considerable progress already achieved on many levels through the expanding activities of its committees.
In particular, discussion focused on the Assembly by-laws and the progress of the work by the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning. The last of these discussions constitutes the primary concern of the Assembly in its effort to enhance Orthodox cooperation, advance a common Orthodox witness and promote canonical normalization in this region. The Hierarchs spent the better part of the second session focusing – through presentations, deliberations and reports – on this paramount issue.
As we assemble in Chicago, we also take this opportunity to encourage all of you, the People of God, in a world exploited and polarized by greed, godlessness, and immorality. We call upon all Orthodox Christians to be faithful to their calling to be the light of the world.
We recognize the tremendous social pressures to conform to secular standards, but we exhort you to stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught (2 Thess. 2.15) so that your light is not hidden under a bushel but placed on a stand (Matt. 5.15) in order for all to see. Let our Orthopraxy attend our Orthodoxy. In this respect:
- We must safeguard the sacrament of marriage in accordance with God’s will for the sacred union between man and woman and the sanctity of family as the fundamental nucleus of a healthy society. In this regard, we emphasize regular family worship, particularly at Sunday liturgy.
- We must strive to eliminate the violence proliferated against innocents of every kind, particularly of women and the unborn. We call for responsibility by individuals, institutions and governments to ensure the welfare of every citizen.
- We must resist the wastefulness and greed that dominate our consumer society, confessing that our spiritual citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3.20) in order that our witness be characterized by the compassion and mercy as well as the generosity and philanthropy that distinguishes our God who loves humankind.
Finally, we pray for our oppressed and suffering brothers and sisters variously facing oppression or persecution in the ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as in the Balkans and throughout the world. We grieve the loss of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff in Libya. We condemn all forms of violence perpetrated in the name of religion and denounce all expressions of religious intolerance.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace at all times in all ways. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thess. 3.16,18)
Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman
Archbishop Justinian, 2nd Vice Chairman
Archbishop Antony, Treasurer
Bishop Basil, Secretary
Bishop Ioan Casian