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EDUCATIONAL FORUM ON UNITY

Author: Participant
December 19, 2008
- Orthodox Brotherhood Conference 2008

The highlight of this year’s Orthodox Brotherhood Conference (October 17-18, 2008) was the afternoon Educational Forum.

Its unity theme explored the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America (ROEA) Joint Dialogue Commission’s (JDC) Joint Unity Proposal from a historical, constitutional and practical perspective.This was the first time the Orthodox Brotherhood Auxiliary offered an educational component to its Conference.  It was also the first public educational forum in the Episcopate on the JDC’s unity proposal to objectively look at the Proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Joint Proposal unites the ROEA and the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America (ROAA) by leaving our 50 year relationship with the autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and merges the two Romanian bodies into a new autonomous body, the Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of America (ROMA) “under/with” the Patriarchate of Romania (BOR).

Mr. Dan Miclau, Brotherhood Auxiliary President, served as the Forum moderator. The three speakers included: V. Rev. Fr. Dimitrie Vincent, Brotherhood Spiritual Advisor; and Rev. Fr. Anton Frunza, Solia Editor of the Romanian section; and Archdeacon David Oancea, Chancellor of the Diocese.

The Program presenters each followed a different format: a Workshop, a Power Point presentation, and  Observations, which was followed by a period of question and answers.  The Program was very well received by everyone in attendance.  Fathers Remus Grama and Ian Pac-Urar, members of both the Brotherhood and JDC, participated and spoke to many points, and answered questions during the presentations.

Presentation #1: An Examination of ROEA Documents on Unity

The first presentation had the participants divide up into smaller groups examining the history of ROEA Unity efforts and JDC talks, answering specific questions and sharing their findings with the Conference body.  A workbook containing the External Relations Reports of the past 25 years (1984-2008) and the JDC Congress reports of the last 17 years (1992-2008) was passed out along with a worksheet.

The worksheet covered a range of information from the reports that included: the Romanian Patriarchate’s last unsuccessful attempt to convince Archbishop Valerian and the ROEA, using their standard line, to unite the two Romanian canonical bodies under the Church in Romania (1984); BOR recognizing the OCA and canonicity of the ROEA hierarchs (1991-92); the JDC is responsible to Bishop Nathaniel (1996); a simple return to the Romanian Patriarchate is unacceptable as reintegration should be with full autonomy and structural integrity (2002); ROEA to pursue direct talks with the “Mother Church” for reconciliation by means of a mutual agreement which would include the historical rehabilitation of Bishop Policarp and Archbishop Valerian (2007); and Archbishop Nathaniel and the JDC went to Bucharest in February of this year to discuss reconciliation over historical issues where His Beatitude Daniel proposed a mode for the unity of all Romanians in American called “maximal autonomy” (2008).

The goals of this educational exercise were to familiarize Conference participants with the ROEA documents, our external relations history, and the work of the JDC while taking into account new developments since the 2008 Congress; looking at progress, setbacks, consistencies and inconsistencies.

One striking fact that was clear to all is the JDC recently took a position contrary to the Episcopate’s historical policy and current position of 60 years.  Their Congress Report of 2007 states: “These talks do not imply any change in the jurisdictional or administrative position of the ROEA”.  Since that time, the Commission took it upon itself, without knowledge, support or approval of the Episcopate Council, the Church Congress or Episcopate membership, to which it is responsible and represents, to break with ROEA policy and the current status of canonical unity with the OCA.  Instead, the JDC co-authored, with their ROAA counterparts, the Joint Unity Proposal to establish ROMA under the canonical jurisdiction of BOR.  This fact was eventually acknowledged by Fr. Ian Pac-Urar.  However, “why” this happened was not explored, nor were the legalities of this move discussed.

Presentation #2:  Statute Revisions in the Church of Romania’s Constitution

The second speaker, Fr. Anton Frunza, presented the Church of Romania’s Constitutional revisions of November 26, 2007 and their implications for us.  His in-depth power point presentation was packed full of information.  He showed changes in the Romanian Orthodox Church Statutes and how it could undermine the Joint Proposal in various ways.

Fr. Anton informed the Conference audience that he spoke with Archbishop Nathaniel, Fr. Lazar and Fr. Pac Urar, and none of them were aware of the constitutional revisions while in Romania (February 2008), when they created their document (April 2008) or at this year’s Congress where the Joint Proposal, presented for ratification, was not accepted. Father reported that the JDC does not feel these constitutional revisions compromise the ROEA’s position and are not a reason to suspend ongoing talks, although he disagrees.

The presentation pointed out flaws, inconsistencies and contradictions in the work of the JDC over historical, canonical and constitutional aspects of unity.  These include the JDC’s bias practice of wearing too many hats: being policymakers, ambassadors, presenters and educators. Their unwillingness to fully disclose crucial information on many occasions, the presentation of incomplete information, and the lack of thorough research that missed vital information, led to a decision taken by the Episcopate Council and Church Congress this past year which may have been quite different if things had been more transparent.

Fr. Frunza then made the following observations: 1) unity, as proposed, is rushed; 2) transparency is lacking; 3) we are presented select information on a need-to-know basis; 4) there is no serious attempt to inform and educate the clergy and laity; and, 5) there has been no real debate or dialogue within the Episcopate until now.

Fr. Frunza highlighted his observations by noting that when questions were asked at the Clergy Meeting or Congress, people were not given balanced pro/con answers.  The JDC, who chaired the meetings, responded in favor of their own proposal, even though it was constructed without full knowledge and information of the Church of Romania’s constitutional reforms, without the consultation and insight of a canon lawyer or the ROEA’s legal advisors’ examination of Michigan law on merger for non-profits. Furthermore, two individuals were unfairly slandered on the internet: Mr. Alex Popescu for his letter, and Fr. Dimitrie Vincent for the “Bulletin on Unity.”

Fr. Frunza shared his own experience and observations as a Romanian and Orthodox Christian growing up in communist Romania with the broken reality of the Orthodox Church and the culture of corruption throughout society.  He stated that the Church of Romania tends to see all Romanian Orthodox worldwide as their spiritual children, and the Romanian State sees those outside of Romania as citizens. Both attitudes disregard the fact that Romanian Orthodox who become citizens of the United States choose to leave and be part of a new culture and Church (ROEA, OCA), even though they continue to love their native country of Romania and Romanian heritage.

Fr. Frunza concluded by saying: “I did not come to the USA to help the Romanian State or the Romanian Church and have them follow me and consider me their subject.  Nor did I come to be silenced through threats.  I believe the members of the Episcopate need to know and be informed about the whole process [of unity].”

Presentation # 3: Observations and Comments

The third presentation was offered by Archdeacon David Oancea.  He took off his Chancellor hat and spoke as a concerned member of the Episcopate who has worked at the Vatra for 20 years, offering observations and comments.

He said the JDC members have had a long experience in this dialogue process while the experience of the rest of us has been limited to this year’s Congress.  Thus, the Joint Proposal came as a shock to many who believe unity is desirable so long as we don’t have to change our canonical identity.  He pointed out that the lack of transparency has caused the unity process, for many, to appear rushed and forced; if things are still so delicate that all issues cannot be put openly on the table, then perhaps we are not ready for the proposed unity.

Furthermore, the Archdeacon believes that we need to seek the opinion of the people and parishes. He said: “Unlike the Church of Romania, our Church depends on the laity and the clergy together [for financial support and administration]… I would hope that as this process continues, the laity would take their rightful place, step up to the plate, take responsibility, show up at meetings, be present at the Congress and really take the time, like you did today, to learn what this is all about and respect both sides of the issue.”

Speaking of the Brotherhood publication, “Bulletin on Unity”, Archdeacon David stated, “I really don’t believe they have tried to sow seeds of disunity or to attack anyone or cause problems or separations in the Diocese.  It is really an honest attempt to express the fact that we’re the Church too, and we need to talk about this.  We need answers, and we support the Church.”

Archdeacon David spoke with sensitivity and compassion, weighing and balancing the various ideas and views.  He cautioned about internal disunity as we pursue unity with the ROAA: “We do not want to create enemies in our own household.  Our first concern is to maintain unity within our own Episcopate, then seek unity with the Archdiocese… [taking] the proper time and give the consideration it needs.”

_______________________________

The new Conference format of including an educational component was so successful, that plans for a 2nd Annual Orthodox Brotherhood Education Forum” next October during the Orthodox Brotherhood Conference at Holy Cross Church in Heritage, Pennsylvania, is being considered.

6 Comments to “EDUCATIONAL FORUM ON UNITY”


  1. Administrator Says:

    Although the above article dated December 19 and signed “Participant” reflects on the Orthodox Brotherhood 2008 Conference, it focuses primarily on the Educational Forum on Unity section of that Conference. As you will note there are some differences with the 2008 Orthodox Brotherhood Conference summary dated December 1, 2008, available on this website and signed “Observer”. Different perspectives but all in all, similar.


  2. Christopher Orr Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘The Unity Forum of The Orthodox Brotherhood’:
    2009-01-09
    Archdeacon David Oancea said: “Unlike the Church of Romania, our Church depends on the laity and the clergy together [for financial support and administration]. I would hope that as this process continues, the laity would take their rightful place, step up to the plate, take responsibility, show up at meetings, be present at the Congress and really take the time, like you did today, to learn what this is all about and respect both sides of the issue.”

    This identifies a key difference between the Orthodox churches of the Old World and the New: financial support. In a country where the Church is supported by the government or where the Church has use of churches and building that have been built up and preserved over centuries, there is little need for lay financial support comparable to that required in a growing Church in a traditionally non-Orthodox country. This gives Orthodox Christians in North America far more ‘input’ than is otherwise canonically ‘required’ - though such working together is something always put forward as right and good, fitting for spiritual fathers (bishops) and their spiritual children.

    The danger should also be noted, however. It is possible for rich Orthodox Christians to wield too much power and to misuse the Church for their own purposes, e.g., cultural and linguistic preservation, political influence, etc. It is also possible for a foreign government to agree to fund their peoples’ Orthodox Churches abroad and thus misuse their influence toward phyletistic and purely secular ends, e.g., the Church jurisdiction becomes a tool of the country’s government.

    While financial support is a lever by which laity and lower clergy have wielded influence - to good ends in the recent OCA scandal to less worthy ends in other phyletistic jurisdictions - there is danger in reducing influence in the Church to money and power. There is another way. It must always be remembered that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ - the Church is His, and not ours, not our bishops’, not the laity’s, not our financial backers.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘The Unity Forum of The Orthodox Brotherhood’:
    2009-01-09

    Unity of the Romanians under the old country? Why? How could this possibly be good for Orthodoxy in America? Possibly it is good as an ethnocentric idea, but hardly forward looking - certainly backward! The Romanians who joined the OCA had the proper theological vision of Orthodoxy in America. Old country bishops and patriarchs offer nothing. Certainly none of us should forget where we or our forefathers came from, but we are in America. There IS an American Orthodox Church and it is still evolving. Are we Americans of many nationality backgrounds who worship the same faith HERE, or are we foreign nationalists worshiping in America?


  4. Daniel E. Fall Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘The Unity Forum of The Orthodox Brotherhood’:
    2009-01-09

    We don’t need the same Bishop to be Orthodox do we?


  5. Anonymous Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘The Unity Forum of The Orthodox Brotherhood’:
    2009-01-11

    It is so interesting how an organization of the Episcopate occupies itself with the discussion of this issue instead focusing on its mission and calling! It seems to me that the Hierarch of the diocese was no aware of this agenda point and the organization goes against its Hierarch with meetings and agendas that stir more disunity in the diocese. Instead of asking and encouraging the people of the diocese to prayer and illumination from the Holy Spirit to discern the way to go, the best way which the Brotherhood choose was to go a create websites and send out letters to stir trouble. The best way would have been to address their concerns to the Hierarch of the diocese directly to clarify those concerns. The Episcopate Congress voted (in great majority) to move on the proposal and from this point on we shall all ask God to illumine us and guide us not cause more unproductive and unnecessary means to counteract the work of the diocesan hierarch and the JDC. It is a shame that the Brotherhood had found itself in this position instead of focusing on their own projects and works for the Church! May God help us and guide us in this decission and lead us to unity in his Holy Church!


  6. Alexandru Nemoianu Says:

    The Orthodox Brotherhood is doing a wonderful job. In the Orthodox Church, the laity always had an important, decisive role; not only in administrative or economic matters, but in theological matter as well. The “lay theologian” has always been an accepted figure in Orthodoxy: some of the most learned Byzantine Patriarchs, Photius for example, were laymen before their appointment to the Patriarchate. The importance of the laity was also recognized by many outstanding hierarchs, among them Romania’s Andrei Saguna.
    It is tragic and ironic that those who boast being “alumni” of the Saguna seminary in Sibiu very conveniently “forget” that it was Andrei Saguna who, in his by-laws of the Transylvanian Mitropolia, stated that in all decisive activities the representation should be, for each cleric, two laymen.

    But what is really outrageous is the fact that out of expediency some clergy of the Episcopate “look down” at laymen and try to stop them from expressing their opinions in such a crucial matter as the Unity under Bucharest question. In my opinion this is a terrible idea. Imagine our Episcopate leaving the OCA in order to subordinate (”unify”) under the Romanian Patriarchate. History has proven that it is useless to attempt to solve religious differences of opinion by ignoring the real root problem and suppressing freedom of speech.

    Even more tragic, some members of the clergy are pathetically confusing what should be, among them, brotherly love with gang solidarity. It should be the moral duty of all and each lay person to express their opinion and to protest the very dubious project of subordination to a foreign body.


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