Monday, August 31, 2015

Will the 6th Assembly of Bishops Result in Canonical Order?

We would do well to remember the words of the saint whose feast we celebrate today...

"He Himself warns us in His Gospel, and teaches saying: 'And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.'And does anyone think that there can be either many shepherds or many flocks in one place?"

- St. Cyprian of Carthage
The Unity of the Church

(OCL) - Canonical Orthodox Churches have always been Churches in specific geographical areas. Where the Bishop is, so too is the Church. The Church is not a colonial extension of bishops ruling or directing from other geographic areas. Canonical order is bishops in a geographic area meeting as a Synod, electing their own head and working with clergy and laity to build up the body of Christ.

This is not true for the Churches outside the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. In the USA, the situation is chaotic. We have 14 parallel jurisdictions of Orthodox Bishops directed from foreign lands. In 2008, the Autocephalous Patriarchs set up a process for Assemblies of Bishops to meet and develop blueprints in the lands outside of the Roman Empire, so that the Church in these lands could be canonical. Presently, they exist in canonical disorder. Since 2009, the Assembly of Bishops of the USA and Central America has been meeting once yearly - all together some 58 bishops of 14 different jurisdictions or groupings. Their sixth meeting will be held September 15-17, 2015 in Chicago. In between sessions, they have met in various committees. The work of some of these committees, especially studies on College Students, Pastoral Practices and Regional Planning, have been noteworthy. The great accomplishment of these six years has been that the Bishops have met each other, some for the first time, and a sense of fellowship has emerged. See the Assembly website ( for more information.

But where is the plan for Canonical Unity? Will we see it or learn about some of its details after the September 17 Chicago meeting? Which Bishops will be absent from this meeting? Will a consensus emerge? A draft document was supposed to have been developed by June 2015, but the bishops could not agree on a document. Seventeen members of the Secretariat and committee heads, excluding Antiochian Archdiocese members, instead traveled to Istanbul to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew. There have been no reports posted on the Assembly of Bishops website about the substance of this meeting.

The clergy and laity are prayerful that the Holy Spirit will guide the Bishops to create canonical order, which is to make the Assembly a Synod and elect a head. All other details related to a unified, self-governing Church in the USA will be resolved by the Synod working with the clergy and laity. As a result, the Orthodox Christian Church in the USA will have the opportunity to be renewed and become a truly mission Church.


  1. "Cananical Unity" is oversold. Why would we suddenly be a "mission Church", or why would any of the other rather glowing promises of "relevancy" to western secular culture be suddenly fulfilled by a normalized canonical order?

    Don't get me wrong, I am for it (eventually) - it's just not the evangelical panacea many of its supporters seem to think it is.

    Also, the Orthodox Church in the heavily secularized "western" countries has a deep secularization problem of its own. About 1/2 of those standing next to you during liturgy believe the cultures answers to "what is man", "what is marriage", abortion, etc. A small but significant (and increasingly bold and vocal) percentage of the bishops and clergy are also secularized. This means that it will be VERY likely that in the near and medium future some clergy, bishops, and even whole "jurisdictions" will apostatize on some pressing issue (say, on "blessing" homsexualist sex and/or "marriage", or womens ordination). In an environment like this, the multiple and overlapping jurisdictions will be a blessing as the Faithful will be able to depart the madness of their "church" and go to the local Orthodox Church and bishop that actually remains Orthodox.

    1. A similar situation happened in the 1970's in some exceptionally bad RC dioceses. Local Oriental and Byzantine Catholic churches suddenly experienced an uptick of people trying to escape "Clown Masses" and other such nonsense. Some even took refuge in Coptic or Byzantine Orthodox churches for a time.