In Opening Remarks, Metropolitan Philip Challenges Episcopal Assembly
• Complains Americans not consulted in Chambesy
• Defends SCOBA
• Criticizes notion of "Diaspora"
• Asks why OCA not included in ExecutiveCommittee
• Calls on Ecumenical Patriarch to move to USA
In his opening remarks to the Assembly of the Orthodox Bishops yesterday, Metropolitan Philip challenged the summoning, organization, composition and purpose of the Assembly, before he concluded with warning. "My dear brothers," the head of the Antiochian Church in America warned,"if we do not bury the burdens of the past between certain autocephalous churches, such burdens will bury us, and Orthodoxy in this country and throughout the world will become an insignificant dot on the margin of history.”
The 79 year old hierarch's statement was not unexpected, given remarks he made in an interview with the National Herald newspaper on May 22nd. (Read those remarks here.)
His remarks did, however, contrast significantly with the stated position of the OCA in its press release concerning the Assembly published this week on www.OCA.org. The OCA took a much more irenic tone, noting that prayers for the Assembly were being said in all OCA parishes and that " The bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, led by their Primate, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, will participate in the Episcopal Assembly, with a deep desire to make a good contribution to the fruitfulness of the gathering."
Thus it was left to Metropolitan Philip to first speak of the 800 lb. gorilla in the room - the attempted marginalization of the OCA by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At Archbishop Demetrios insistence the OCA bishops were included in the Assembly - for one could not expect to exclude the oldest Orthodox body in North America, with more than 600 parishes, 700 clergy, and 3 of the 4 accredited theological schools in the country, and be taken seriously as an attempt to forge Orthodox unity - no matter how one views the OCA's autocephaly. However, according to sources close to the process, the Archbishop was not able to secure Constantinople's agreement to have the Primate of the OCA join the other primates of the American jurisidictions in the Executive Committee. Thus the Assembly will vote through 8 church bodies, only 7 of which will be represented on the Executive. Hence +Philip's question: "If we share the same Eucharistic table which is the highest expression of Orthodox unity, can’t we work together on the Executive Committee?"
The Metropolitan also gave voice to a second structural question concerning the Assembly: exactly which regions should be present. Constantinople has decreed that North and Central America should be together: but as +Philip points out, the Central America bishops speak Spanish and share the same culture with the Latin America bishops that recently met in San Paulo, Brazil. It makes far more sense for them to meet with Latin America than North America, according to +Philip.
Once again the Metropolitan was touching a raw diplomatic nerve: one of the major reasons a Central American region was not created was that the Greek Bishop in Mexico has publicly stated he will refuse to meet with the OCA Bishop of Mexico. The Ecumenical Patriarchate attempted to finesse the situation by moving both to New York, seemingly oblivious to the cultural and linguistic problems. (In other regional concerns, it has also been suggested that the Canadian Bishops may seek the blessing of the New York Assembly to create their own, independent Assembly, for Canada. The Chambesy process allows the local Assemblies to regulate their internal order, so the idea may bear fruit, if not now, then at a later meeting.)
The Episcopal Assembly closes on Friday, May 28th. If the Assembly can create a functioning Secretariate, (most likely led by a non-Greek bishop) able to secure private funding that is required to keep the process moving, the Assembly may have a future beyond this week's meeting. Failing that, it is most likely to join the long series of failed attempts at inter-Orthodox cooperation over the past 75 years. (For a summary of those see Matthew Namee's article.)
The full text of Metropolitan Philip's remarks follow:
“Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and Brother Bishops:
My opening remarks this morning are taken from the Vespers of Palm Sunday, “Today the Grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together.” How wonderful and
pleasing to God for all of us to meet and discuss matters related to the life of our Church on this particular continent. I would like to take this opportunity
to thank the Chairman of SCOBA for his hard work to make this gathering possible.
The literature which we received from Chambesy via the Greek Archdiocese of America, raises some important questions.
ONE, Despite the vitality and the dynamic nature of Orthodoxy in North America, no member of SCOBA, not even the chairman of SCOBA, was consulted about what was discussed in Geneva. We received rules from our brothers in Switzerland which we
have nothing to do with. We have been on this continent for more than two hundred (200) years. We are no longer little children to have rules imposed on
us from 5,000 miles away. Orthodoxy in America has its own ethos. We have our own theological institutions, and we have our own theologians, authors,
publications and magazines. We do not intend to be disobedient to the Mother Churches; we just want to dialogue with them and give them the opportunity to
know us and understand us. We have been here for a long, long time and we are very grateful to the Almighty God that in our theology and worship, we do
express the fullness of the Holy Orthodox faith.
Fifty years ago our hierarchs, may their souls rest in peace, founded SCOBA which has done a splendid job despite our external limitations. We have
established the Orthodox Christian Education Commission which is chaired by a Greek Orthodox gentleman. We have established the International Orthodox Christian Charities which is directed by Constantine Triantafilou, a very good Greek Orthodox. We have established the Orthodox Christian Mission Center which is doing an excellent job and we have done many other things which time does not
permit me to enumerate.
My dear brothers,
We are faced now with a very serious procedural nightmare. We are, supposedly, here to discuss a new organization to replace SCOBA. The question is: Was SCOBA dissolved and if so, by whom? And when?? SCOBA has a constitution which is fifty
years old. If this constitution has to be amended, let us then amend it according to correct procedures. No one can dissolve SCOBA except SCOBA itself.
SCOBA has organized Bishops’ Assemblies before Chambesy told us to do so. The first Assembly was held at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania in
1994, under the chairmanship of our brother, Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory. The second Bishops’ Assembly was convened in Washington, D.C. and the
third Bishops’ Assembly was convened in Chicago, Illinois, both under the auspices of SCOBA and the Chairmanship of His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios.
TWO - The second point which I would like to note is concerning the term “Diaspora” which was used several times in the literature which we received from
Geneva. I remember, there are many of you who were at the Antiochian Village in 1994 and should remember that the term “Diaspora” was unanimously rejected by our assembly. We are not in Babylon; we are in North America, the new world. We are dealing here with second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth generations of American Orthodox and they refuse to be called “Diaspora.”
I believe that some of our churches in the Old World are in “Diaspora.” In Jerusalem, for example, we have 2,000 Orthodox Christians left. In Constantinople, the glorious capital of the Byzantine Empire, I was told that
there are only 2,000 Greek Orthodox left. And the Turkish Government, until now, refuses to let us open that famous Theological School of Khalki, despite the intervention of the presidents of the United States. In Iraq, hundreds of
Christians were slaughtered and thousands had to flee Iraq to the Syrian Arab Republic. We are free here in North America -- free to teach, free to preach, free to worship, free to write books and sometimes criticize even the presidents of the United States. We have the full freedom of expression in accordance with the United States Constitution. It is important to note here that the Holy Synod of Antioch, to my knowledge, never discussed the Chambesy decision and the rules
of operation in order to formally bless this effort.
THREE - Some of the communiqués which were issued by the fathers in Geneva were good. I don’t understand, however, why Central America was joined to North America. The Antiochian Metropolitan of Mexico and Central America informed me
that he wanted to be with the Orthodox Bishops of South America. The reason is: he has nothing in common with North America because he represents a different culture all together. As a matter of fact, he traveled to Brazil to attend the Bishops’ Assembly which met at the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Sao Paulo.
I hope that, in the future, this matter could possibly be addressed. In the communiqué which was issued from Geneva dated June 6-12, 2009, I read something very interesting and very hopeful. It says and I quote: “The conference expresses the common desires of all Orthodox Churches for a solution to the
problem of the canonical organization of the Orthodox “Diaspora,” in accordance with the ecclesiological and canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox
Church.” The same communiqué includes these bright words: “The mission of the Bishops’ Assemblies is the proclamation and promotion of the unity of the Orthodox Church, the common pastoral ministry of the Orthodox faithful in the region, as well as the common witness to the world.” Here we see a clear emphasis on the unity of the Orthodox Church. What is needed is the translation
of these inspiring words into concrete action.
Other pleasing words appeared in Article III of the rules which state: “The Episcopal Assembly will have an executive committee composed of the Primatial
Bishops of each of the canonical churches in the region.” From this text, I understand that no canonical bishop should be excluded from the assembly. If we
share the same Eucharistic table which is the highest expression of Orthodox unity, can’t we work together on the Executive Committee?
Article XII of the rules is very promising. It states, “The Episcopal Assembly may establish its own internal regulations in order to supplement and adjust the
above provisions, in accordance with the needs of the region and in respect to the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church.”
My dear brothers,
You can see that Article XII of the rules is very flexible and it gives us the freedom to “establish our own internal regulations.” Thus, no Primate of any
jurisdiction should be excluded from the Executive Committee. Furthermore, the Executive Committee should be strong enough to prepare an adequate agenda for
these Episcopal Assemblies. The Mother Churches must realize that Orthodoxy in America is the best gift to the world. And instead of being crushed by the
burdens of the past, let us formulate a clear vision for the future. Thomas Jefferson, one of the fathers of our American revolution, once said: “I love the visions of the future rather than the dreams of the past.”
If I have a vision for the future, it is this: Jerusalem has less than 2,000 Orthodox left. Istanbul has 2,000 Greek Orthodox left. The future of Orthodoxy in the Middle East is uncertain. Thus, for the sake of international Orthodox unity and Orthodox unity in North America, we should with one voice, beg His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch to leave Istanbul and move to Washington, D.C. or New York City and head a united Orthodox Church in this hemisphere. All
of us, I am sure, will be blessed to be under his omophorion and Orthodox unity in North America will cease to be a dream, but a reality.
My dear brothers,
If we do not bury the burdens of the past between certain autocephalous churches, such burdens will bury us, and Orthodoxy in this country and throughout the world will become an insignificant dot on the margin of history.”