Monday, March 30, 2015

OCA's Holy Synod responds to "Common Starting Point"

Important take-away statement:

For these reasons, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America strongly urges that all efforts continue to be made by the Assembly to fulfill the expectation of the Most Holy Primates for the proposal of a concrete plan for canonical unity. We submit that the most clear and direct path to this goal is the establishment of a local autocephalous Orthodox Church here in our region and recommend this to the Assembly for their consideration as the most effective way to fulfill the exhortation of His All Holiness in his video address in Dallas: “To move beyond what is mine and yours, to what is ours.”

(OCA) - In a document dated March 15, 2015, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America offered a response to the Chairman and Secretary of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America with regard to the “Common Starting Point” for Canonical and Regional Planning.

The text of the six-page document is available here (PDF).

As noted in the document’s introduction, the response is “an expansion of the Preliminary Response which was offered by our Synod on September 17, 2014, during Assembly V in Dallas,” adding that the current document “contains more specific reference to the ‘Common Starting Point’ for which all jurisdictions were asked to submit a red-line draft as a means to enhance the proposal, as requested by His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, the Chairman of our Assembly in his letter of October 15, 2014.”

By way of background, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA met September 15-17, 2014, to consider some proposals for canonical and regional planning within its region. It has been the mandate of the Chamb├ęsy process for each of the 13 Assemblies throughout the world to develop a plan for the canonical normalization of the Orthodox Churches in their respective regions so that these various plans could be discussed at the Great and Holy Council which is being planned for 2016.

Prior to the September 2014 Assembly, several jurisdictions had offered written responses to the two proposals that had been submitted by the Committee for Canonical and Regional Planning for consideration by the Assembly. During the Dallas meeting, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America presented a Preliminary Response to the two proposals that were being discussed. This Preliminary Response was posted on the OCA website on September 18, 2014 and may be accessed here.

While no conclusive decision was made by the Assembly about either of the two proposals under consideration, it was generally agreed that the second proposal (which called for a 10-year period of continued cooperation among the various jurisdictions) was more acceptable to many than the first (which called for a 10-year period of autonomy leading to autocephaly for our region).

Subsequently, a request was made by the Chairman of the Assembly, Archbishop Demetrios, for jurisdictional responses to the second proposal, which was re-labeled as a “Common Starting Point” for all the bishops’ consideration. The present formal response was then submitted on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America on March 15, 2015 after review by every member of the Holy Synod, as well as several canonical experts. It was also shared as a draft with the members of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council at their Spring Session and their feedback was incorporated into the final text.

The Holy Synod has blessed this document to be shared with the Church at this time so that all the clergy and faithful may be aware of its position and contribute to the wider distribution of the statements contained therein, which reflect upon the mission of the Orthodox Church in America and present a vision for the ultimate goal of a true local Orthodox Church in North America.


  1. The OCA's synodal statement is very well said. What reasonable objections could be made regarding their suggestions?

  2. " What reasonable objections could be made regarding their suggestions?"

    Well, where to start. Just as background, I am a convert, going on about 20 years now. Like many converts, I was at first interested in "American Orthodoxy" (as opposed to Russian, or Greek, etc.). I was an enthusiastic supporter of efforts like OCL, etc.

    No longer. In many important ways, it was my time in the OCA that opened my eyes. The financial scandal, and the subsequent Met. Jonah treatment was the final straw. To put it simply: the bishops of NA simply do not have what it takes to run the Church.

    The most recent evidence of this again comes from the OCA. Look how they have handled the scandal that is Fr. Robert Arida. It is apparent that they actually *support* his "angle", if I may be allowed to generously call such ideas. I don't mean to single out the OCA - my current "jurisdiction" is under the EP (not Greek) and after talking to my bishop (about what happened to Met. Jonah, amongst other things) I can safely say he is in no position to be a significant part of a "autocephalous Orthodox Church here in our region" either.

    Now, the clergy at the priest/deacon level in America is in a stronger position, and there are many many good ones (just look at how many of the priests in the OCA reacted to the Fr. Robert scandal). The bishops are another matter, and I can only speculate as to the reasons why.

    It is just not wise to allow this current generation of American bishops full reins. The problems of multiple overlapping jurisdictions, "foreign" interests of "mother churches" holding back "our" interests, etc.. simply do not rise to the level of the destruction that a poor episcopate would reap on the Faithful if they were given full oversight...


  3. It isn't the clergy... it is the laity.

  4. Well it took the Russian Church what, 500 years to autocephaly? We're only about one generation into the idea that the local American Churches are actual missions rather than "diaspora," though that term is apparently still in regular use. So counting from now, I'd say we've got another 3 - 4 centuries of Americans baptized, married and buried in the Orthodox Church (God willing) before we're ready for autocephaly. And in 2415 AD, I expect there will be a number of culturally distinct countries in North America where there are presently only two (or one, or three, depending on one's perspective).

    I'm not being flippant. It's just that my half-cent worth of opinion as a lay person is we are nowhere near ready.

    1. You know, I had not thought of it quite that way before. Also, I think you are on to something about this country - surely it will break up along the secular/non-secular divide at least because the current course is simply unsustainable.

  5. So in 3 or 4 centuries we'll be perfect.. or at least "good enough" to have our own church? Right. Got that. I guess then nothing would happen here then like what happened recently... in OCA? Nah. Yep.. you guys are right: Nothing like what happened to Met Jonah could've happened to St. Nectarous either... I mean... Greece had Orthodoxy in it's blood only .. what? Maybe 18 centuries before they were "ready"? And look how they blew it almost immediately? Isn't the moral of that story that no one is EVER ready? No has ever EARNED it? That'd be my thought.

    Kind of like communion, huh? Where no matter what prep you do... you're never EVER properly and fully prepared. Period. But somehow...there's always a line... no matter what. The fuss and bother of being ready? Either we need 18 centuries to STILL make a mess of things... or we can stop pretending anyone anywhere is ever prepared. Maybe the mess helps a new church maintain a proper aspect of repentance? Sure... it might. Say whatever. While I might agree with not drinking the Koolaid for "the we're ready" crowd... I'm equally reluctant to say there's more than a pose of virtue in the "stop the presses" crowd, too. Fact is... either you have autocephaly because it serves the purposes and needs of The Church's properly administering the evangelization of a people, or you don't. As they say in assessing all the races of our life, "Passing the baton is not a question of whether, but how." Therefore, perhaps the real deal lies in whether we can do it "better" than we've managed before? If you think we should, then what would you change? how would you change it, and why? If you think not, then what's the point of waiting?

    1. I hear what you are saying. Still, using the example you used of approaching the chalice, one makes *some* preparations, no? In consultation with ones spiritual father and/or parish priest, one confesses, fasts, etc. I suppose I am saying that we have not done the minimum yet - and this is certainly a judgement call and I could be wrong, but I don't see any evidence of it. I don't see in your post anything that contradicts my evaluation that this current generation of bishops simply are not up to the task of autocephaly. Sure, the "competent" mother churches make a mess of things, but there are different levels of "messes" and I don't want to see what sort of messes these guys would bring about. For example, we are facing a critical point in our culture, where the New Intolerance and the New Anthropology are going to tempt many of the faithful, particularly in the coming "hard" persecution that will in all likelyhood center around "non-discrimination" and "hate speech" laws. The current crop of American bishops are noted not for their preaching and leading on this subject - on the contrary, they are known for their deafening silence, if not for their outright support of a sort of complacency, a buying into the conceptual framework of the New Anthropology (such as Met. Tikhon's response to the Fr. Robert Arida scandal - which of course is ongoing).

      What would I change? Here I am out of my element, but whatever it is, I know the goal - what the change would lead to - and that is a higher level of administrative/spiritual competency than I see in the current generation of bishops (as a whole - there are the exceptions of course)...

    2. My impression is that autocephaly is not so much granted as acknowledged.

      Who would take an autocephalous US church seriously? The OCA already has a formal grant of autocephaly, but nobody acts like they do, and the OCA wisely doesn't make a big fuss over it.

      Autocephaly seems analogous to sovereignty: when you have it, you have it; and when you don't, you don't. The Yemeni government is no longer sovereign, the Houthi rebels are, and it doesn't matter what John Kerry says or what laws or decrees the deposed Yemeni governors issue. Similarly, the OCA doesn't act and isn't treated like a sovereign, autocephalous Church. So it doesn't matter what the Tomos says--the reality is the OCA is not autocephalous. Presumably that's why +Tikhon doesn't go around calling himself a Patriarch and excommunicating other bishops for phyletism.

      The autocephalous Churches are woven tightly to their host cultures through generations of baptisms, weddings and funerals. In the US, the culture views Orthodoxy as just another, more-exotic Christian sect. Declaring the Church in the US 'autocephalous' is a non-serious gesture. If you want to be taken seriously, it helps to be venerable, and I think we are at least a couple of centuries from that.

      If you want to become a venerable fixture in your culture, you need to raise up continuous generations in the Faith, and we don't seem to be very good at it. I'm not sure we ever will be, given the US's secular, democratic culture. There are just too many choices out there. What are our retention rates for our children? If they're below 60%, then I'd say autocephaly should be way down the list of our priorities.

  6. Jake & Anti-Gnostic,

    I think you're missing the point here.

    There are only 2 options for a U.S. church that is canonically organized as group of adjacent/contiguous bishoprics (plus AK & HI) in which their bishops participate in a unified synod: 1) autonomy under the jurisdiction of a mother church or 2) autocephaly. There are no other canonical solutions.

    Technically, the only real difference is confirmation of the primate by its mother church or by itself. However, practically speaking an autonomous church is influenced much more heavily by its mother church. Nevertheless, all the problems that you are describing remain, and to be sure every jurisdiction & its mother church over-seas has significant problems of one type or another. In fact, some of ancient patriarchates are in shambles. Perfection exists as an ideal only.

    Opinions abound, but what objective standards or guarantees are there that being autonomous rather than autocephalous will be a better option? Which mother church will safeguard the purity of Orthodoxy that we desire?

    So having said all that: What is your point? Really, I'm not being sarcatic.

    1. Speaking for myself (and not Anti-Gnostic); Their is a third option, that of the un-canonical status quo. Also, your right, some of the ancient patriarchates are in shambles, but I prefer the shambles I know to the shambles that I don't know that would be the result of this current crop of bishops getting the reigns. IMO, if I had to choose one of your options, I would go with an autonomous Church under Moscow (who has the best claim as to being the "original" mother Church). Of course you are right, there are no "objective standards and guarantees" this would be better - it is a judgement call and I make mine based on the reasons already stated.

      My point is that it is my honest hope, and sincere prayer, that the "Great Council" does NOT recognize/forms some sort of autocephalous NA Church, again for reasons stated.

    2. My only point is an 'autocephalous' US Church (South American? Canadian?) would not be a serious venture, and our tiny sect does not have a lot of credibility to squander.

      I have no answers. The Church's ecclesiology is based on an Imperial model that disappeared centuries ago.