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Archbishop Nathaniel’s Response

Author: Archbishop (Arhiepiscopul) Nathaniel
November 10, 2008
Archbishop Nathaniel’s Response to OCA Council Questions, Nov. 10, 2008unofficial transcription in English from the recording found at

Your Eminence Archbishop Dimitri, Your Eminences, Your Graces, Rev. Fathers, Chairs, and Delegates…

I will address you on the one [question] that I alone am capable of [answering], which is the clarification about the Romanian Diocese, which is on page 2 of this [document], at least as we’ve received it.  As you all know, the Romanian Episcopate came into the Orthodox Church in America in 1960 and for those 10 years, [our] Bishop Valerian was, I think, the only non-Russian Bishop on the Holy Synod until 1970.  When the Autocephaly was proclaimed, our Episcopate again re-affirmed that it wanted to be part of the Orthodox Church in America.  So, from 1970 until 1990 we have [another] 20 years, and during those years the Episcopate was also under siege from abroad, as was the Russian Metropolia Greek Catholic Church, by those Communist agents of destruction in Russia and those who tried to in some way influence or control the Church in North America.  The Romanian Episcopate had [endured] the same thing and our Archpastor of beloved memory Archbishop Valerian suffered greatly for his constant efforts to keep the Church, the Romanian Church, the Romanian Episcopate in North America, a free Church, from out of the hands of Godless agents.  Archbishop Valerian retired in 1984, I was [previously] elected in 1980 as auxiliary Bishop, and then in 1984  I was nominated by the Episcopate Congress and then by the Holy Synod to be the titular Bishop, the ruling Bishop of the Episcopate.

So from 1984 until 1990, those 6 years, were years in which we continued to be aware of the pressures from abroad, but they weren’t quite as before, perhaps because I was an American and maybe it wasn’t so easy to make efforts against the Church as it was with a Romanian Government against a Romanian national.

So in 1990, when the Romanian Government changed, from that time on, the Episcopate responded to the needs of the Romanian people with financial assistance and other goods and things, and [it was] acknowledged that our Church, the Orthodox Church in America, at that time [collected] from the parishes in 1990-1991, over $40,000 in cash for that support through the Episcopate.  I re-acknowledge that now.  Thereafter, there were efforts on the part of some of our people here, clergy and lay people, to at least re-establish a benefit of concelebrating with the Romanian Patriarchal Diocese in North America, which had been established in 1952 by the Holy Synod of the Church of Romania, and from that time on we’ve been separated, 60 years as it were.  There was an effort to reconcile through the sharing of the sacraments, whereas before we didn’t concelebrate.  It wasn’t anything written.  It was just a fact.  They were “them” and we knew that there were differences of opinion.  But shortly thereafter [post 1990] we wrote a letter to the [Romanian] Patriarch, at that time of blessed memory Teoctist, and asked: “Who do you think we are and what does the Patriarchate consider about Archbishop Valerian and myself as successors to the first Bishop, Polycarp Morusca, who came [to America] in 1935 and died in Romania in 1958, estranged from his Diocese.”  The Patriarch responded: “Yes, we recognize your canonical status, we recognize that you have sacraments, we recognize everything about you.”  So, from that time on we concelebrated.  We did some things together, but not all that much.  As time went on and Archbishop Victorin [of the Patriarchal Diocese in America] fell asleep in the Lord, there was the absence of a Bishop, and then a new Bishop was elected, much younger than Archbishop Victorin.  It appeared that with the [post 1990] immigration of many Romanian faithful and also clergy (today probably 95% of my clergy are from abroad) there was a realization that the Communist government was no more, that perhaps it was time to reconcile as brethren, and that came about in the sense of establishing a Committee of five from both dioceses to work together to see if there was a possibility that the Archdiocese of the Romanian Patriarchate would come into the Orthodox Church in America.  There was also the invitation on the part of the [Patriarchal] Diocese to join with the Romanian Patriarchate.

On our part, we established that Committee and gave them our blessing, and with the consent of the Congress, to say yes, go forward and see what can be done to resolve this dis-union of 60 years, and the difficulties that are there of counter-parishes, counter-clergy, those things that are not from God - division.  And so, our Committees worked together and separately, and they came to a point more recently, in the last 5 years, to say if there a possibility at all of reconciliation of the 2 Dioceses and how would it be done.

The response of the Romanian Archdiocese is that, inasmuch as the world at large, the Orthodox world as they would see it, does not recognize the autocephaly, the unique autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, they were not prepared to come into the Orthodox Church in America.  So, on our part we said let’s see if something can be done whereby both Dioceses can [still] come together, but in a unique way, unique to the American situation, [for] which as we all know, there is no canonical response; or at least some would say there is none, and some would say yes there is, and that would have been through the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America.  So, we came to work out and really struggle with how this could be done, what would it entail and how would it look. What came out was a document, a proposal from the part of both the Archdiocese and the Episcopate to unite in some way that would be as “autocephalic” as could be, but without of course being autocephalous in the way that the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church became autocephalous.  With the election of a new Patriarch, Patriarch Daniel of Romania, and with the effort of the Dialogue group as we called it, there was a consideration as how autonomous could this new entity be, without calling it autocephaly.  And so there came up a term which was created, “maximal autonomy”.  Those of you who have [seen] it on our website can read the 20 point [document], which is not finalized.

The best I could say about it is that the relationship with the Romanian Patriarchal Church or the Church of Romania would be [limited and] if there was [such a new] Metropolia, the Metropolitan alone would commemorate the Patriarch of Romania and the Holy Chrism would come from there [Romania].  [There] would be complete administrative autonomy in the election of all hierarchs and [complete administrative autonomy] in a local Synod which would have no relationship to the Synod in Romania.  The Statutes would not be subject to the Holy Synod nor to the Church of Romania and this would be guaranteed by the Romanian Church [which would] not re-establish itself in North America.  That’s about where we are with that process.  It hasn’t been presented to the Holy Synod in Romania, although they are quite aware of it.  It is still in the area of being hammered out.

At this time there are 4 members of the Dialogue Committee here; Fr. Lawrence Lazar, Fr. Catalin Mitescu, Fr. Remus Grama and Fr. Ian Pac-Urar.  I don’t think they came because I was going to get this question, but I am glad to see them here along with other members of my Diocese.  The question is: “How do the [OCA] Bishops view this?”  That document of process, the Proposal, which has not yet been proposed officially, I presented it first to our Holy Synod this year, then to my Diocesan Council, and then to my Diocesan Assembly.  So, I brought it to the Holy Synod first, this proposal, which some of the Hierarchs were very disappointed [with].  Others didn’t make a judgement per se, and others said “let’s see what happens in the end”.  His Beatitude, Herman said; “well, inasmuch as you haven’t asked anything we are not going to say anything, because it’s a proposal not yet made.”  Over the years, since 1990 I believe, or 1991-1992, whenever there was any kind of a breakthrough or development, or any kind of action that I thought the Holy Synod should know about [I reported it].  In fact I was questioned more than one time by His Beatitude Theodosius and there should be in the archives of our Church a rather large volume of my reporting to the Holy Synod along the way. There was nothing hidden by me nor my Diocese. Over the years, there were articles and opinions printed in the ‘Solia’ newspaper to which you can all subscribe, that would help us greatly if you would.

And where does it stand today? It stands just [there]: a proposal yet not proposed, and so you are going to ask me: “How does this help Orthodox unity in North America or does it?”  I was pleased when the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia reconciled itself with the Church of Russia and I saw that you were pleased as well when yesterday we welcomed a representative of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in America and I thought: “Well, maybe as the autocephalous church in North America, we should protest: Why are you re-establishing here?”.  And I thought: “maybe we should protest the presence of the Patriarchal Russian Churches still in North America, and maybe as a Holy Synod over the years, we ought to have protested the presence of the Greek Archdiocese, the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Serbian Diocese, and on and on and on, if we are the local autocephalous church with our own territory.”  However, I did read the Thomos which, in some of the articles that I’ve written, I thought was a little bit weak, because I wanted unity in North America and we should speak out and bring everybody to the line. But the Thomos said that the Church of Russia, in granting the autonomy, the autocephaly, recognized that in time, those other jurisdictions, by the Grace of God, would come to recognize that they were welcome into the OCA, and that with time this would happen. And, so on the review, not a few times, of that document, the document of the Thomos, I thought, “that seemed to be the hope of the Church of Russia in 1970” and it continues to be the hope of the Orthodox Church in America today.

Is, or would the existence of a separate, Romanian Metropolia in North America be a rejection of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America?  Some would say yes, some would say, let’s see what happens with it. What the proposal does, is that it brings together two groups of the same church, Mother Church, for us the Romanians, as it has for the Orthodox Church in America with the Church of Russia, which we continue to say is the Mother Church, which it is of the Orthodox Church in America. And so, what would happen in time.  This Metropolia, according to the proposal, which again I say you can read on the website, [which is still a] proposal in the making, may be, according to what we consider, an option for other jurisdictions as well. If the Mother Churches, other churches who have daughters here, are not prepared to give the blessing for them to come into to the Orthodox Church in America, perhaps, what will be in time, is a flowering of maximally autonomous Metropolias in North America working together, overcoming that tie, as was brought up a number of times here, with the foreign Churches or foreign Mother Churches. So I think that’s about where our process is at this point. It’s not a completed action. It may be that it won’t be. It may be that what we are asking for, won’t be accepted by the Romanian Church, although it appears to be [acceptable] at this point, and we don’t perceive any kind of rejection of it.

Some of our people, clergy and lay people, both older generation and some recently coming here from abroad, would rather we don’t have any connection at all with the Church of Romania, even if it is just naming the Metropolitan or the Patriarch and receiving Chrism.  Others of my 95% clergy are fellow students with many of the Hierarchs. Their people here don’t see a difference of why we’re not joined together. It’s not so much for them a rejection of the autocephaly as it is the idea of the unity of this group. Now, I’m sure that many of you are thinking: “… it’s just an ethnic solution…”

I can’t convince you otherwise, except to say perhaps that the Orthodox Church in America has its own substrata as a church from the Church of Russia. There are many converts to the church; there are many English, all English speaking American communities and so, for all of this, what we can say only is that, if there is something to come of it, and we don’t know yet, we would then hope that the church, the Orthodox Church in America, will itself review and see if this a possible answer, a possible step toward that total answer of a totally administratively unified church in North America, with all jurisdictions together, serving not only this nation of the United States, but Canada and Mexico as well.  Perhaps sometimes those of you who are part of the OCA don’t pick up the nuances that we strangers do.  On the presentation today it was the American flag.  It had everything to do with the United States. I looked at Canada’s Archbishop Seraphim and he just shrugged his shoulders.

Over the years, we’ve met at the Councils of the Church.  Not one time was my Diocese invited to serve a Romanian Vespers, as though it’s something non- Orthodox, nor to have a liturgy in Romanian, just so that you could see, or, an Albanian liturgy or Bulgarian.  So, if the richness of the Church is to be recognized as Saint Innocent and Saint Tikhon established in their own will for the Church in North America, we hope that perhaps, you our brothers and sisters in Christ will recognize that this may be a possible benefit to all Orthodox Christians in North America.  And when the time comes to present to the Holy Synod a finished proposal, before we present it to the Church of Romania, I would hope that the Fathers of the Holy Synod, which have over the years listened to me and given me guidance, will also weigh very carefully, what is good for the Church as a whole.

Thank You.

5 Comments to “Archbishop Nathaniel’s Response”

  1. Jon Marc Teusink Says:

    Will the ROEA seek the blessing of its ecclesiastical authority, the Holy Synod
    of the American Orthodox Church/OCA, if it decides, as a diocese, to unite itself
    with the ROAA and the Bucharest Patriarchate?

    If not, then how does the ROEA intend to justify its schism from its Holy Synod? Will this be in the name of ‘Orthodox unity in America’?

  2. Administrator Says:

    There seems to be no choice than for the Romanian Diocese to obtain permission from the OCA if it wants to leave the OCA and join the Orthodox Church of Romania. Canonically, it seems evident that without this permission the Diocese cannot leave the OCA without becoming schismatic. It would also be very difficult for the Romanian Church to accept the Diocese without OCA release. Even in the Romanian Patriarchate’s “canonical” perspective, they see the OCA as a branch of the Russian Patriarchate, and as such they would need an official release before accepting the Diocese in question.

    Interestingly, Archbishop Nathaniel concluded His Nov 10, 2008 OCA remarks with the following:

    “And when the time comes to present to the Holy Synod a finished proposal, before we present it to the Church of Romania, I would hope that the Fathers of the Holy Synod, which have over the years listened to me and given me guidance, will also weigh very carefully, what is good for the Church as a whole.”

    Does this not mean that His Eminence believes OCA Holy Synod approval would be needed prior to moving further ahead?

  3. George D. Karcazes Says:

    As a member of the former Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, which was involuntarily dismembered, and had a Charter impossed upon it — so that it regressed from a de facto “autonomous” Church under the late Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory into a collection of “Metropolises” reporting directly to Istanbul, it is difficult to see how dismembering the OCA will advance the goal of an administratively united Orthodox Church in North America under a single synod of canonical bishops.

    Having two “Romanian” entities in North America does present a problem - but from my limited viewpoint it seems that bringing the “Patriarchal” Romanian entity into the OCA is more in line with the direction the Church needs to go in, than moving the “united” Romanian Church out of the OCA.

    The “Mother” Churches need to allow their “Daughters” to become their “Sisters” - and the OCA, under its new leadership needs to be strengthened so that it can resume its dialogue with the “self-ruled” Antiochian Archdiocese leading to a “coalition of the willing” of Orthodox Churches in North America that can bring about the unity that we must have.

  4. Fr. Peter Dubinin Says:

    Archbishop Nathaniel’s response to the question was very well stated. I am a firm believer in the autocephaly of the OCA. It could be however, that the situation in America is so unique, so not old world, that the goal toward which he and all of us are striving could be obtained in the way he “proposes.” The element I hear in the Archbishop’s response which resonates with me is, if we are to all unite administratively, then it will have to be by all coming to the table as brothers and sisters, all jurisdictions, metropolia as equals. There of course must be a first among these; this is where the OCA comes in - after all we are in North America and not in a country overseas. This of course places a significant responsibility on the membership of the OCA to do everything within their ability to make our non-American brothers and sisters welcome. I do believe and practice in my parish that multiple languages be used - especially when we come to the “Our Father.” Divine Liturgy is always so powerful, but this last Sunday when the “Our Father” was recited not only in English but also in Greek, Georgian and Slavonic, I nearly wept. I realize each of us is ethnic in some capacity; what is good needs to be acknowledged and celebrated (though not necessarily with an ethnic festival on the church grounds). My main concern is that we always remember it is the Gospel which is the power of God for our salvation and not ethnicity. Our national origin or race will not save us from God’s judgment. Therefore, when the Gospel reveals to us some element of our ethnicity that is not in line with it, it is either discarded or Baptized. Orthodox in America, we need our brothers and sisters in Christ from throughout the world to populate our parishes; otherwise we too will commit the sin of phyletism as we are so quick to label our ethnic brethren (only ethnic because theirs is an ethnicity different from my own). We are at an impasse; for the OCA to insist that all jurisdictions must be administratively united through its structure may be “canonically” correct, but is it in keeping with the Spirit of Christ? Does this approach not intimate that perhaps we (OCA) stand ready to receive the prodigal back into the fold? To which the prodigal responds, I thought we were brethren? What happened that we should be “welcomed” back to the fold as some kind of prodigal? The incident the Archbishop recalled at the ACC reference the flags is not lost on me. I am a patriot - goodness, I am a chaplain in the United States Army; but I insist no national flag be displayed in the foyer, nave and of course never in the altar of my parish. Yes, we are Americans, we pray for the president and civil authorities, the members of the armed forces and their families; but everything that is “American” must take second place to the Gospel. I do not believe the flag of any nation ought to be displayed within any ecclesial gathering or event. Otherwise, we in some small way, contribute to the issue which plagues us in USA - what can we find to further divide us. OCA needs to take the lead, but I fear we are contributing, oftentime unwittingly to the problem. God merciful be to me a sinner.

  5. Administrator Says:

    Overcomplicating issues is often a way to mask the unacceptable as a means of attempting to make it acceptable, to make the naked Emperor seem clothed, even though “what you see is what you get”. Why is organizing Orthodoxy in North America so unique, so different than organizing Orthodoxy in France, in Germany, Sweden, Australia? Of course it isn’t. Organizing Orthodoxy in non-Orthodox lands is a difficult problem, particularly since all Orthodox Churches, with the exception of the OCA, are State-run and when national foreign affairs goals “become” veiled religious goals. The old-world Churches are attempting to expand their role and importance beyond their borders as directed by their overlord governments. Those Slavic, eastern European, Balkan and Middle Eastern governments need political platforms in developed foreign countries and they attempt to forge and then control a Diaspora to promote their own political ends in those influential countries. This has nothing to do with religion. Those in countries with a culture of freedom and democracy and where there is a clear distinction between Church and State should learn to protect this distinction and never let another Orthodox Church command any rights beyond their own territorial borders. Whenever they do, all we should see is the naked truth i.e., political neo-colonialism cloaked in religious robes, ethnic phyletism of the lowest order. Simple. However, one would expect an American army chaplain to understand these issues and warn us about this type of anti-patriotic activity, and not the other way around.

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