The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America concluded its spring session on Friday, March 21, 2014. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, chaired the session.
In his opening report, titled “The Apostolic Work of the Church,” Metropolitan Tikhon presented a working copy of his vision for the Church’s ongoing ministry for the immediate future. He highlighted the following aspects of his vision.
- Evangelization. The OCA recently received an immensely generous bequest of $1 million to be used for evangelization. He appointed a Focus Group, which met to examine possibilities and and to identify three possible choices for the Holy Synod’s consideration.
- Clergy Health. The spiritual, physical and psychological health of our clergy must be strengthened for effective mission and evangelistic ministry. By assisting the clergy in maintaining their health, the health of the parishes they serve will be ensured.
- Seminaries and Monasteries. It is critical to continue the examination and building up of the life of our three seminaries and numerous monasteries. Recently, a joint meeting with a number of members of the Boards of Saint Vladimir’s and Saint Tikhon’s seminaries was held.
- The All-American Council. In the spirit of the early Church, the 18th AAC in 2015 will appropriate the theme of the First All-American Sobor of 1907—“How to Expand the Mission”—at which Saint Tikhon presided.
- Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor, reviewed his diocesan and seminary visitations, and spoke of the urgent need to reinvigorate the Department of Pastoral Life, especially in light of the need to address clergy health.
- A detailed review of the work of the Chancery staff was presented by Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, Secretary. He also reported on ongoing plans for the 18th All-American Council, including potential agenda items and operational issues.
- Melanie Ringa, Treasurer, updated Holy Synod members on the financial status of the Church and the results of the most recent audit. She also reviewed possible scenarios for financing the Church, developed in conjunction with the diocesan chancellors and treasurers., for presentation at the 18th AAC.
According to Father Tosi, other highlights of the meeting include the following.
- The Holy Synod elected His Grace, Bishop Mark [Maymon] as Bishop of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania. [See related article.]
- The OCA Pension Board met with the Holy Synod to discuss its Strategic Plan, as presented by John Sedor, Board Chair. Mr. Sedor reported on efforts to increase membership in the Plan on the part of clergy and full-time Church workers. He emphasized that the Plan is stable and comparable to similar retirement plans. He asked that a representative be appointed within each Diocese to help educate the clergy and other potential participants on the Plan’s benefits and to assist them with the enrollment process. [See related article.]
- Jim Geoly, Esq., gave a presentation on First Amendment issues in the Church and reviewed legal issues related to sexual misconduct and procedures. He answered numerous questions posted by Holy Synod members.
- Dr. Albert Rossi and other members of the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee [SMPAC] reported on procedures and presented amendments to the Policies, Standards and Procedures [PSP] for consideration by the Holy Synod. Such amendments included the recusal of bishops, the effect of criminal convictions, and Registered Sex Offender policies.
- Cindy Davis, Coordinator of the Office for Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations [ORSMA], reviewed the work of the office and recommended on-line sites for obtaining background checks and sexual abuse prevention training. The Holy Synod resolved that throughout the Orthodox Church in America, level-one background check would be required of all bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers, as well as lay workers who have more than minimal contact with children. The background checks would be required at least once every three years.
- The Holy Synod once again reviewed the process of vetting candidates for the episcopacy. In closed session, they also reviewed potential episcopal candidates.
- As required by the OCA Statute, the Holy Synod heard reports on the life and work of all 14 OCA dioceses, presented by their respective hierarchs.
- The Holy Synod heard and approved a proposal submitted by the Commission on Liturgical Music of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey calling for the establishment of the Order of Saint Romanos to recognize individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to liturgical music in the Orthodox Church in America. Guidelines for the granting of future awards to well known composers, arrangers, teachers, and conductors were established. Four individuals were approved to receive the award. [Additional information on the awards will be forthcoming.]
- Recommendations for the use of the aforementioned $1 million bequest, made by Focus Group on Mission and Evangelization, were reviewed. It was decided to establish an endowment fund, which will be managed by a committee appointed for that purpose. Interest from the endowment fund will be used to sponsor an annual Mission School, to be held in various regions, to teach the theory and practice of missions and evangelism to clergy and lay people. The details of the Mission School will be forthcoming.
- Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky reported on a variety of matters with regard to the Department of External Affairs. Prof. Paul Meyendorff and Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko also briefed the Holy Synod on the situation in Ukraine.
- Archpriest Alexander Rentel updated the Holy Synod on the current work of the Statute Revision Commission. The draft of the revised Statute is expected to be available for review by the Church before the end of summer 2014. The Commission will provide opportunities for comprehensive discussion by all members of the Church in various forums. The revised Statute will be presented for adoption at the 18th All-American Council.
- The Holy Synod confirmed The Church Court Guidelines and Procedures for the Orthodox Church in America.
- As part of the series of departmental updates presented to the Holy Synod, Matushka Valerie Zahirsky reported on the work of the Department of Christian Education, while Archpriest Steven Voytovich updated the bishops on the work of the Department of Institutional Chaplaincy. In addition, Metropolitan Tikhon presented the report of the Board of Theological Education.
- Holy Synod members heard and approved recommendations of candidates for ordination to the diaconate who have completed a Diaconal Vocation Program.
- Archpriest Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, reported on the school’s ongoing work. He noted the Association of Theological Schools’ most recent site visit resulted in the granting of a seven-year accreditation. He also reviewed upcoming events and discussed various issues of concern in the life of the seminary, including financial issues. Archpriest Steven Voytovich, Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, summarized his first year as the school’s recently appointed Dean and spoke of challenges facing the seminary. Priorities include the need for married student housing, the ongoing necessity of obtaining scholarships for students, and other financial matters. His Grace, Bishop David, reported on the work of Saint Herman’s Seminary. He noted the need to expand opportunities for Alaskans to attend the seminary for training in pastoral work throughout the State, particularly in Native villages.
- The Holy Synod elevated His Grace, Bishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh and the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania, to the dignity of Archbishop. Other clergy awards, elevations, and gramotas, as proposed by the diocesan hierarchs, also were issued.
- The Holy Synod also reviewed a variety of clergy matters, including disciplines and awards.