St. Vladimir’s Seminary hosts OCL Open Forum : Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Michael share insights

OCL meeting

YONKERS, NY [SVOTS Communications] November 2014

An Open Forum sponsored by Orthodox Christian Laity [OCL] and hosted on the campus of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary here on 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 in the US, leading toward eventual unity.

The proposal’s draft is under consideration by all the hierarchs, under the direction of the Assembly’s Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, of which His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America is a member.

Forum participants were briefed by Alexei Krindatch, consultant to the Regional Planning Committee of the Assembly, about decisions made at the Assembly’s fifth annual meeting in Dallas, TX in September 2014. [See related stories here and Greek Archdiocese.

In his PowerPoint presentation Mr. Krindatch also included surprising demographical and geographical survey data he had gathered concerning the desire for a unified Orthodox Church in North America and the cultural identity of Orthodox Christians in US parishes.

In responding to participants’ questions following Mr. Krindatch’s presentation, His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York, who serves on the Assembly’s Theological Education Committee, shared some details of the draft proposal, which in its final form will be submitted to the upcoming Great and Holy Council slated to convene in Constantinople in 2016. Such a plan was initially solicited from all 13 Assemblies in 2008 by the Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches worldwide at the Fourth Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy, Switzerland. Bishop Michael said that the Assembly was working with the more conservative of two plans under consideration by the Canonical Regional Planning Committee, one of 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 Assembly bishops — had proposed a ten-year path toward a potential autocephaly, with an interim status of autonomy, to be overseen by all the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. It would have more directly and immediately addressed territorial canonical anomalies. Bishop Michael 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 29 Orthodox Christian bishops meeting in Ligonier, PA. That gathering, at which His Eminence, the late Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and chairman of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, presided, had generated much hope for an inclusive and universally recognized local Orthodox Christian Church in America.

But since the fall of communism, the relationship between US jurisdictions and their mother Churches in Eastern Europe has changed for the better. Churches in the US respect and love the heads of their mother Churches and desire to keep closer ties with them. Moreover, Bishop Michael continued, there is concern for the growing number of immigrants being served by parishes in the US, and each jurisdiction is dealing with new pastoral issues specific as a result.

Second, Bishop Michael explained that getting used to working together will afford the 53 bishops who comprise the Assembly a level of comfort. Nevertheless, he reminisced about the great personal enthusiasm and excitement he had felt as a young seminarian, and which the Ligonier gathering, which he witnessed as a priest, had promised. He urged Open Forum attendees 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 US.

Bishop Michael 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, Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, also contributed to the Open Forum discussion. He expressed his desire for one canonically unified, autocephalous Orthodox Christian Church in the US 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.

“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 US, 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.”

Archbishop Nathaniel further noted that during 2015, the entire Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the US will refine its chosen proposed plan for unity and will present it to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for consideration at the aforementioned worldwide Great and Holy Council. However, he reported, “at the forthcoming Great and Holy Council the matter of an Orthodox solution to administrative chaos in the US 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, the seminary’s Chancellor/CEO, Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield thanked the participants for their presence and reminded them that “historically, Saint 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 OCL and occurred within the context of its annual meeting, held on the seminary campus October 23–25, 2014. Additional information and a photo gallery may be found here, while Mr. Krindach’s PowerPoint presentation may be viewed here.