Future of Orthodox Unity Examined at OCL Open Forum

24 October 2014 • On-Campus  • Deborah (Malacky) Belonick

Bishop Michael and attendeesBishop Michael and attendeesListen to the Forum on Ancient Faith Radio, and hear Bishop Michael's reflections prior to the Forum

The Open Forum sponsored by Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) and hosted on the campus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary Friday, October 24, 2014, provided eye-opening access into the work of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Especially enlightening was the discussion of a proposed ten-year plan for greater cooperation among the canonical Orthodox Churches of all jurisdictions in the United States, leading toward eventual unity. The drafted proposal is now under the consideration of all the hierarchs, under the direction of the Assembly's Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, which includes as a member His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon (Mollard), Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

Forum participants were briefed by Alexei Krindatch, consultant to the Regional Planning Committee of the Assembly, about decisions made by the Assembly at its fifth annual meeting in Dallas, TX, in September 2014. In his PowerPoint presentation Mr. Krindatch also included surprising demographical and geographical survey data he had gathered, related to the desire for a unified Orthodox Church in America and about the cultural identity of Orthodox Christians in U.S. parishes.

In responding to participants' questions following Mr. Krindatch's presentation, His Grace The Rt. Rev. Michael (Dahulich), Bishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey (OCA), who serves on the Theological Education Committee for the Assembly, shared some details of the draft proposal, which in its final form will be submitted to the upcoming Great and Holy Council (to be held in Constantinople in 2016). Such a plan was initially solicited from all thirteen Assemblies in 2008 by the Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide, convened at the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambésy. Bishop Michael said that the Assembly was working with the more conservative of two plans under consideration by the Canonical Regional Planning Committee, the one "which initially unifies various ministries and departments to nurture a common life, while solving the territorial question more gradually."

The other plan — not fully supported by all the bishops — had proposed a ten-year path toward a potential autocephaly, with an interim status of autonomy, to beAlexei Krindatch presentationAlexei Krindatch presentation overseen by all the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. It would have more directly and immediately addressed territorial canonical anomalies. His Grace shared his thoughts on the reasoning behind the Assembly's consideration of the more gradual of the two proposals.

First, Bishop Michael noted, significant historical changes and new pastoral concerns have arisen since the question of unity was initially seriously addressed in 1994 by twenty-nine Orthodox Christian bishops meeting in Ligonier, PA. That assembly, presided over by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos (Coucouzis), then Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and chairman of the now defunct Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops (SCOBA), had generated much hope for an inclusive and universally recognized local Orthodox Christian Church in America.

But since Communism has fallen, the relationship between U.S. jurisdictions and their mother Churches in Eastern Europe has changed for the better. Churches here in the United States respect and love the heads of their mother Churches and desire to keep closer ties with them. Moreover, said His Grace, there is concern for the growing number of immigrants from motherlands to parishes in the U.S. Each jurisdiction is dealing with new pastoral issues specific to the needs of such migrations.

Discussion during forumDiscussion during forumBishop Michael shares his perspectiveBishop Michael shares his perspectiveSecond, His Grace explained that getting used to working together will afford the 53 bishops who comprise the Assembly a level of comfort.

Nevertheless, His Grace reminisced about the great personal enthusiasm and excitement he had felt as a young seminarian, and which the Ligonier assembly, which he witnessed as a priest, had promised. He urged Open Forum participants to support one another's local parishes — by attending Divine Services and parish functions. "Don't live the limitations. Show us by your actions that you believe in the same dream that I had as an 18-year-old" — the dream of one Orthodox Church in the U.S.

He also shared that at an earlier Assembly, an informal survey of its members had revealed that a majority of the bishops felt that the work of the Assembly would eventually result, either directly or indirectly, in autocephaly. He reiterated the OCA's continued position at the Assembly: it is autocephalous, but it is more than willing to join its autocephaly into an all-encompassing autocephalous Church that includes all Orthodox Christians in our country.

His Eminence The Most Rev. Nathaniel (Popp), Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate (OCA), also contributed to the Open Forum discussion. He expressed his desire for one canonically unified, autocephalous Orthodox Christian Church in the U.S. and candidly admitted his preference for the committee's more immediate plan for "an autocephalous Orthodox Church from the beginning," while acknowledging that fulfillment of such a plan would come only through a people filled with the power of God.

Archbishop Nathaniel offers his presentationArchbishop Nathaniel offers his presentation"The Church is one; it is the Church of Christ, living in various places around the world," he said. "And, as the Church is inspired by the Holy Spirit in the U.S., the 'solution' is the Holy Spirit.

"Let the Holy Spirit say 'autocephaly,' and let the bishops here say how to 'go forth,' " he urged, "It's the most efficient, pneumatic way...and, we ought to pray fervently for it."

His Eminence further noted that during 2015, the entire Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the U.S. will refine its chosen proposed plan for unity and will present it to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for consideration at the worldwide Great and Holy Council of Orthodox Christian bishops in 2016. However, he reported, "At the forthcoming Great and Holy Council the matter of an Orthodox solution to administrative chaos in the U.S. may not be a big item for the Church at large, but I have not yet seen their agenda; it is forthcoming."

At the conclusion of the Open Forum seminary Chancellor/CEO The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield thanked participants for coming and reminded them "Historically St. Vladimir's Seminary has been a place where you can ask tough questions; and this forum has reminded us of the vision ahead of us and the great challenges we face."

The Open Forum was designed by the OCL and took place within the context of its Annual Meeting, held on the seminary campus, October 23–25, 2014. Please check the OCL website for further details.

Read Mr. Alexei Krindatch's PowerPoint presentation.