Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Updates from the Assembly of Bishops committees

I'm picking what I believe to be the interesting bits. You can read them all in their entirety here. Some committees did a lot. Some did very little. A primary impediment to action is lack of money followed by lack of use (the legal committee has not yet been asked to do anything) and then lack of clear consensus.

Agencies and Endorsed Organizations 2014 Report

Jointly with the Committee for Financial Affairs, the Committee for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations designed the study on "Exploring Orthodox Generosity: Why Our Parishioners Give (Relatively) Little and What Can Be Done About It." The goal of this study is to examine religious giving among the members of US Orthodox Churches from a variety of viewpoints, offering recommendations on what might be done in order to increase their willingness to donate to the needs of the Church.

Committee for Canonical Affairs 2014 Report

Currently, the completion of the clergy database is hindered by a fragmented approach to data collection on the jurisdictional level. A fully automated clergy database requires that all jurisdictions transition into a standard protocol for collecting and updating the information about their clergy. Of the total jurisdictions in the Assembly:
  • 5 utilize a fully automated system (AOCA; ACROD; GOA; OCA; ROCOR)
  • 2 utilize a semi-automated system (Bulgaria; UOC)
  • 2 utilize a manual system (Romania; Serbia)
  • 3 do not transfer any data (Albania; MP; Georgia)

Committee for Canonical Regional Planning 2014 Annual Report

A letter was sent in January 2014 by Archbishop Nicolae to the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate, ROCOR and the Bulgarian Church asking for specific proposals to remove whatever canonical anomalies exist. In response, in mid-February 2014, the Bulgarian Church, while maintaining her original positions, suggested that the Mother Churches receive an ecclesiastical province under their jurisdiction within a defined territory. As well, they would be able to have stavropigial churches outside that territory. The Moscow Patriarchate requested more time to consider her response. A letter was transmitted in January 2014 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) which expressed the belief that the present multiplicity of jurisdictions was not uncanonical and that continued ties to the Mother Churches were appropriate to care for their faithful. It stated further that a real canonical problem/ anomaly is the multiplicity of pastoral practices in the USA.

A meeting was held under the auspices of the Assembly Chairman, Archbishop Demetrios, on June 10 at the Greek Archdiocesan headquarters in New York City to discuss among the hierarchs representing the above jurisdictions and the Chairman of the Planning Committee possible ways to achieve consensus. The meeting basically confirmed the previously expressed positions of the jurisdictions.

At the upcoming Assembly V in Dallas, the Committee will conduct a discussion of two proposals – which are significantly different in terms of content and timeframe - for responding to the Chambesy mandate “to organize all the Orthodox faithful of every jurisdiction in the Region on a canonical basis.” Descriptions of these proposals are to be distributed to all bishops about two weeks before the Dallas Assembly to enable advance reading and reflection. Hopefully, the Assembly will be able to consider and come to a decision by the close of the Dallas meeting (or within a short time thereafter) on proposed plan principles to be presented to the pre-Conciliar Committee for the 2016 Great and Holy Council.

These principles would be designed to attract reactions and comments from the various Mother Churches – which will serve as valuable guidance for our Assembly’s efforts in 2015 to present a final proposal to the Great and Holy Council in accordance with Chambesy.

Committee for Ecumenical Relations 2014 Annual Report

At this meeting, several specific items were discussed to formulate recommendations to the Assembly and/or the Executive Committee as detailed below, in particular the revival of the Joint Roman Catholic-Orthodox Bishops Commission, which ceased to function in 2011 for practical reasons; and, the recommendation that the Assembly issue a formal statement regarding the violence in the Near East with a focus on the persecution of Christians. Likewise, various proposals by committee members and consultants will be explored at a regular meeting (in-person) of the Committee scheduled for the first week of November 2014, for the possibility of future recommendations to the Assembly.

Continuing the work of the Committee, a brief review of our only current bi-lateral dialogue, the Roman Catholic-Orthodox Theological Consultation (Metropolitan Methodios [GOA], co-President) and proposed dialogues, consultations and/or conversations was held with various recommendations. The Committee agreed to recommend that two informal conversations, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) respectively, be held to explore current thoughts about re-initiating a dialogue (ELCA) or commencing one (LCMS).

There was also a recommendation to revive the dialogue with the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) and explore the possibilities of engaging the Assyrian Church of the East, now headquartered outside Chicago, IL, which had proposed a theological dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

One issue of special ongoing concern is a matter of protocol and procedure. Consultant Rev. Fr. John Morris has aided us in a review and a preliminary revision of guidelines for ecumenical relations and activities to be proposed to the Assembly in the near future, building on the classic but now dated work of Rev. Fr. Robert Stephanopoulos. This work will be continued at a meeting of the Committee to be held in November, 2014.

There is still a need to obtain information regarding the level of ecumenical/interfaith engagement among the members of the Assembly, both in terms of jurisdictions and local/diocesan participation. It is proposed that an inquiry be undertaken to gain greater awareness of the scope of these activities and to identify key personnel (formal or informal) among the jurisdictions who regularly participate or represent their churches.

The Committee is aware that regular procedures will be necessary to ensure the proper staffing and membership of the various proposed and ongoing bi-lateral dialogues and consultations when vacancies appear. The process for that is currently unclear and proposed protocols for such needs will be developed over the course of the next several months. However, there is no current need, as far as the Committee is aware, for any changes at this time.

Likewise, the Committee is charged with oversight of various activities on behalf of the Assembly requiring coordination of ecumenical engagement as a matter of common Orthodox Christian witness. While there are numerous opportunities for the Assembly to engage in ecumenical/interfaith relations at various events where a united Orthodox Christian presence would be advantageous, it is also clear that participation in diverse ecumenical and interfaith organizations presents a different challenge. In the latter case, ongoing participation by various jurisdictions is often advantageous for two reasons: first, not all jurisdictions participate in the same organizations (national or localized) due to diverse concerns; and, second, in several organizations the presence of several jurisdictions permits an Orthodox Christian caucus to have increased influence through greater numerical representation and influence if and when votes are held. For both, the concern of the Committee is to ensure a diverse representation of our Orthodox jurisdictions. This echoes the concern of the Chair and members that a greater representation of the jurisdictions be present on the Committee (currently the members and consultants are all from the GOA, OCA, and AOCA).

Committee for Legal Affairs 2014 Annual Report

The Committee was not asked by any other Assembly committee to assist them with legal issues. The Committee stands ready to assist the Assembly on an as needed basis. Much of its preparatory work related to a united Orthodox Church in the United States is on hold until the Assembly informs the Committee to proceed.

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