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Decoding the Message

Author: Mark Stokoe
May 28, 2010
Decoding “The Message” [of the Episcopal Assembly]


ART. 5
26-28 MAY 2010 NEW YORK

The careful reader may discover much in today’s carefully drafted “Message” offered by the Episcopal Assembly which concluded its meeting yesterday evening.

First, it is not clear to whom the message is addressed: the first personage mentioned is “The Triune God”, who presumably knew what was happening before it did, and has little need to be informed. The second mention goes to the “Primates and Representatives of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches”. Third goes to “We, as the Episcopal Assembly…” In short the bishops were primarily talking to themselves and their “Leaders” abroad, which is probably a good thing since many of them have never spoken to each other before.

There were also prayers for the 11 victims of Gulf oil spill, and indeed “for all people living under conditions of war, persecution, violence and oppression.” The one group not mentioned were the 1.25 million Orthodox clergy and laity in America - except until the very end, and then in only in terms of  necessary “contributions” to their “obligations”.

In short, the “Message” has much to tell Orthodox America about their Bishops, and what the future may look like:

- SCOBA is dead; although its formal burial will be delayed as lawyers make sure the transfers are all legal. SCOBA’s monies transfer to the new Assembly, and its outreach programs will be subsumed as the ” …the Episcopal Assembly understands ourselves as being successors of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) assuming its agencies, dialogues and other ministries.”

- Unlike SCOBA, the Episcopal Assembly will be coordinated by a Bishop serving as the Secretary of the organization, rather than a priest. In this case it will be Bishop Basil (Essey) of the Antiochian Archdiocese. For those worried the Episcopal Assembly was simply a “stalking horse” for Constantinople, +Basil’s election should provide some small comfort. Although, since all the bishops present ” expressed (their) resolve to adhere to and adopt the regulations proposed by the Pan Orthodox conferences and approved by the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and to do everything in our power by the Grace of God to advance actions that facilitate canonical order in our region…”, it matters little who enforces the “regulations” …

- The OCA now has an official a seat at the table, albeit the lowest. Humility is good for the soul. Although less than half of the Orthodox Churches recognize the OCA’s autocephaly, the situation was finessed by the Assembly. +Jonah was denied formal recognition as a “Primate” of a local church, and so a place on the Executive Committee, but the OCA formally recognized as a “local community” with “no reference to the (other) Most Holy Autocephalous Churches”. Isn’t that what “autocephaly” means?

The important news is that former episcopal discussions of whether the OCA was “canonical” or not, based on whether one accepted claims of autocephaly or not - are now moot. Every  Orthodox bishop in America has formally signed off on the OCA’s “canonicity” and presence at the table - except for the 10 who didn’t show up. And since one of these was Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada, there could be a bump in the road up north…

- Speaking of which, the “Message” reveals that the first thing the Assembly did was to submit to Constantinople, as the convener of the Episcopal Assemblies worldwide, a “request to partition the present region of North and Central America into two distinct regions of the United States and Canada.” If tiny Switzerland and Leichtenstein can be a region, one wonders how +Bartholmaios can deny massive Canada equal status without the whole process losing credibility. Additionally “…the Assembly will likewise request to merge Mexico and Central America with the Assembly of South America.” (Interestingly, Bishop Alejo of the OCA’s Mexican diocese was also one of the Bishops not listed as present at the meeting, although photos of the meeting show he was. Reports from the Assembly indicate that Metropolitan Jonah spoke on multiple occasions to the Greek +Athenagoras of Mexico, and it appears some fences may have been mended.)

- In the short term, though, the goals of the Episcopal Assembly were very practical, as outlined in Archbishop Demetrios’ opening address. Lists were (will be) made of canonical bishops, canonical clergy, and canonical congregations. The Assembly was also able to organize committees for “liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical and legal issues”, each with three bishops. This committees will be fleshed out, presumably by the Secretariate, with lay and clerical members in the coming year. This is where the real work of forging an encompassing American Orthodox Church will be hammered out.

As once can clearly see, the potential for the Episcopal Assembly to become a vehicle for real unity is great; although the road, if it exists, is long.

Finally, the drafters of the “Message” are to be congratulated for not using the word “Diaspora”. Archbishop Demetrios’ address, while offering an excellent overview of many of the problems facing Orthodoxy in America, (as well as a preview of most of the Assembly’s decisions) suffered from this notable failure. (Read that speech here.) Metropolitan Kallistos Ware famously banished the word “diaspora” years ago, suggesting that we begin to speak of  “areas of emerging local churches” instead. That seems to be the whole point of the Episcopal Assembly, no? That our bishops are not in “Diaspora” but have recognized that we are an “area of an emerging local church”? And if that is not the case, then any further “Messages” will most likely end as this one awkwardly seemed to have begun - with bishops meaning well, but talking to and mostly about, themselves.

9 Comments to “Decoding the Message”

  1. Administrator Says:

    Mr. Stokoe underlines that “the OCA now has an official seat at the table, albeit the lowest”. The OCA was “formally recognized as a ‘local community’ with ‘no reference to the (other) Most Holy Autocephalous Churches’. Isn’t that what “autocephaly” means?” SURELY!

  2. Administrator Says:

    Dl. Stokoe subliniaza ca “OCA-ul acum are un loc oficial la masa, chiar daca este ultimul”. OCA a fost recunoscut formal ca o ‘comunitate locala’ fara nici o referinta la o (alta) Biserica Autocefala’. Nu este aceasta ce inseamna “autocefalia”? DESIGUR!

  3. George Osborne Says:

    One of the (as yet) unspoken fallouts from the Episcopal Assembly is the position of the Russian Church. The Synod reunited with the Mother Church with an avowed purpose to preserve its distinctive “Russianness” and affiliation with the Motherland and its old imperial pretensions. It was said that while the Synod would be canonical it would no longer be Russian. I say this because of the care the Greek and Antiochian Churches took to exclude and sanitize the term “diaspora.” The Russians seem to be taking the tact that all Russians and would-be Russians are under their omophor regardles of location. The Diaspora may be dead in Antioch and Constantinople, but I assume you, dear reader, it is very much alive, well and a matter of church polity in Moscow!

    I note with interest that there were no published comments from a Russian bishop and certainly they didn’t seem eager to embrace Metropolitan Jonah and stand as advocate for him, a task seemingly left up to Metropolitan Philip.

    I would say that the real 800 lb elephant on the table is not the position of the OCA vis-a-vis membership on the Executive Committee but the 8000 lb. wooley Mammoth which is the position of the Russian Church. Moscow is not willingly going to sede one millimeter of ground to Constantinople over the issue of who is the defining Autocephalous Church. In this incipient brew-ha-ha it is going to be a tag team match with the Russians and its clients in the Ukraine and Slavic countries on one one side versus a denuded Constantinople, Greece, Jerusalem and the numerous Greeks in North America on the other. While Constantinople depends on the Greeks in North America to fund its work, Russian doesn’t have the problem, it seemingly has plenty of rubles to build new monasteries, seminaries, and churches. If the future of a unified American Church comes down to money to fund the Assembly, Moscow will laugh all the way to the bank.

  4. Anon Says:

    I just wanted to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Osborne’s assessment. It will be interesting to see how the new representative for the Moscow Patriarchate interacts with ROCOR in America. And it is a first in my lifetime to hear of a ROCOR metropolitan taking communion in an Orthodox Church on the new calendar (based on the published reports, the Divine Liturgy was held on Friday and the hierarchs partook of the sacrament — and the Greek Archdiocese is on the new calendar, correct?).

    I for one am delighted to see ROCOR part of this new process as it is incredibly overdue. There is an enormous amount of growing up that has to occur all across the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. ROCOR is not some sort of right-wing fanatical fly-by-night group as some in the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese might think. The OCA is a great jurisdiction but they are not the center of the American Orthodox universe and do not speak for all Orthodox Christians in America despite their autocephaly from Russia, and despite everything that many of their hierarchs may believe. The Antiochian Archdiocese is a great archdiocese except it, too, is mired in its own byzantine intrigue and can’t seem to speak with any consistent voice in America (by the way, when’s the audited financial report coming out?).

    My big point in all of this is that it’s good to see some new blood and new perspectives in all of this. For too long SCOBA has been around but not really accomplished a great deal in terms of uniting Orthodox Christians in America. Yes, they have managed to support a few worthy programs, but they have done almost nothing in terms of forging a united Orthodox Christian Church in America. So maybe it is time to shake things up and let some other people take a stab at it. I never thought in my lifetime that ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate would ever be back in eucharistic communion, and yet the Holy Spirit found a way to resolve their differences. Perhaps if new leaders from among the various jurisdictions America take the lead we might finally see a united Orthodox Church on this continent.

  5. Sean O'Clare Says:

    Mr. Osborne, I agree with much of what you suggested. As I read through the notes and saw the photos, the one question that kept coming up in my mind was: “What of the Russian Church and the Russian Patriarch?” I somehow seriously doubt that the Church in Russia which represents tens of millions of faithful will suddenly cede authority or jurisdiction to a Greek Patriarch whose local Church represents a few thousand. While I admit the autocephaly of the OCA does present some unique challenges, and I admire the way Met. Jonah handled himself in all humility, the real question is: What will Moscow do? Decades ago the fear was that the USA would split into two competing churches, Greek vs. Everyone Else. Met. Philip blocked this move by not aligning with the OCA (and everyone else), but the risk is still very much there.

    So the question remains (especially since beyond Met. Jonah’s remarkable movement), and because no authority ever willingly gives up power … “What will Moscow do?”

  6. Anonymous Says:

    We should speak of an emerging church rather than diasora. My family is fifth generation and from western Europe. Iwould need to be dissected and sent to multiple countries.

  7. Fr. Remus Bleahu Says:

    Nemoianu’s article “Wolves in Sheepskins” is a disgraced to us the Romanian or any clergy. He is not a clergy. He doesn’t know the cannons of the Orthodox Church.

    He is paid by Archibishop Nathaniel to write that article. By the way he is not that inteligent to do it either. Someone did it for him and he just signed it. The article should not be publicided !.

    He owns an appology to all the Romanian Orthodox Clergy !!!!
    The OCA News should check him or others before they publish anything. It is a shame !

  8. Un Preot Neinsemnat Says:

    Cu toate ca nu apreciez articolele d-lui Nemoianu (care bat mai mult spre propaganda), trebuie sa observ ca parintelui Bleahu i-ar trebui sa fie de rusine engleza proasta ce o scrie dupa atatia ani in America!

  9. alexandru nemoianu Says:

    Inasmuch as I am concerned, Remus Bleahu can have any opinion about yours humbly he wants. The books, articles and studies I have authored are my calling card, and are there on public display for everyone to appreciate and/or criticize.

    Bleahu should understand that I have never pretended to be a clergyman. (By the way, is he still an Orthodox Priest even though he seemingly is not under the omophorion of any Orthodox Bishop here?) I am a lay person, an historian and writer. I consider the possibility of betraying our Vatra roots by leaving the OCA and subjugating ourselves to BOR, to be a travesty and consequently, I argue against it.

    If Remus Bleahu wants to discuss this issue intelligently he should stop attacking me personally and start attacking the rationale behind this position. He, like others who have tried, cannot develop any argument in favor of submitting to BOR, other than non-Orthodox ones. For this reason I and others with similar opinions receive the personal attacks – understandable but not defensible. Yes, his apologies are in order and expected!

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