|On the eve of North America’s first Orthodox Episcopal Assembly
From aoiusa.org/blog and originally published in the OCA’s
|The journey of the Orthodox Church in North America is entering a new stage. This spring, following the Great Feast of Pentecost, some 60 Orthodox bishops will gather for the inaugural meeting of the Episcopal Assembly of North America mandated by the IV Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar conference at Chambesy, Switzerland, in June 2009. They will convene in New York at the invitation of Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, acting as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Jonah, has already affirmed the “Chambesy process,” telling the other hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Bishops at their meeting in the fall of 2009 that the Orthodox Church in America welcomes the creation of the Episcopal Assembly and regards the Assembly as an important and promising stage of the journey towards a fully united and self-governing Orthodox Church in North America.
In the Episcopal Assembly, all of the hierarchs - with one exception - will be bishops of patriarchates represented at the Chambesy conference of 2009. The one exception will be the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America. The OCA is not invited to the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar conferences, yet it is a member of SCOBA and will take its place in the Episcopal Assembly.
The autocephaly of the OCA, granted by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970, is recognized by four other Churches - Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. The Orthodox Churches are divided into three parts on the question of the autocephaly of the OCA - one third fully recognize the OCA’s autocephaly, one third withhold judgment, one third are strongly opposed. Nevertheless, in the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the OCA, the OCA is seen as a canonical Church, with legitimate bishops and valid sacraments.
During the decades of its autocephaly, the OCA has endeavored to be faithful to the Orthodox missionary vocation in North America, understanding the Orthodox mission in Alaska (1794) as the beginning of its history. The OCA also has endeavored to contribute to the building of a united Orthodoxy. The stated convictions and principles of the OCA have emphasized collaboration with the other Orthodox churches in mission and in the quest for unity. From time to time, voices within the OCA have slipped into triumphalism. These voices have been heard as making exclusivist claims for the OCA - claims suggesting that “others” must submit to the “canonical primacy” of the OCA in America. Such triumphalism is inappropriate, unjustified, and counterproductive. It also contradicts the Tomos of Autocephaly granted to the OCA by the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Tomos is clear that the new autocephalous Church is mandated to live in peace and collaboration with the other Orthodox churches in America while striving for the unity of all Orthodox.
For the OCA, the decisions of the Chambesy Conference of 2009 are a reminder of a previous stage in the history of the OCA. In the 1960s, the Russian Orthodox Church of North America - the “Metropolia” - appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras to take a strong initiative in resolving the canonical challenges and irregularities in America. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s response was - you must solve your problems with the Russian Orthodox Church. It was in following this advice of Patriarch Athenagoras that the OCA achieved both reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church and recognition of the OCA’s self-governing status in the form of the Tomos of Autocephaly.
Now the global pan-Orthodox process, led by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has achieved consensus on the question of Episcopal Assemblies in the so-called diaspora. The Orthodox Churches in America, including the OCA, are now invited to work together by consensus towards common mission and common witness. The hope expressed by the appeal to Patriarch Athenagoras in the 1960s is on the way to its fulfillment.
The Feast of Pentecost - both in June 2009 and in May 2010 - connects our pilgrimage of unity to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and on the apostolic community. We pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit may inspire us to build up of the Body of Christ in the spirit of mutual love and may equip us to collaborate in ministry and mission. And in the mist of the hard work this will require, we will depend on the joy to which Saint Seraphim of Sarov testified when he greeted all who came to him with the words “Christ is Risen, my joy!”
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PRAYER OF ST. EPHREM
O Lord and Master of my life,
leave me not with the spirit of laziness,
of despair, of domination, or idle words.
Rather, give me, your servant, the spirit of integrity,
of humility, of patience, and of love.
Thus, Lord, grant me the wisdom to see my own faults,
and not condemn my brother;
for You are blessed, now and forever. Amen.
Our Father, who are in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.