Romanians Present Plan
To Leave OCA
Sources close to Syosset confirm that four priests of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America's (ROEA) Joint Dialogue Commission (JDC) presented a plan to the OCA's Synod of Bishops meeting on May 14th whereby the ROEA would leave the jurisdiction of the OCA in the near future. The plan envisions the 80 + parishes of the ROEA uniting with the 40 + parishes of the much smaller Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Two Americas (ROAA). The new "Romanian Exarchate" would have "optimal autonomy" under its own elected Metropolitan but would receive its chrism from Bucharest, not Syosset. The mechanics of the proposed 'unification' are as yet unclear, although contrary to widespread rumor, a vote will not be taken at the next ROEA congress, to be held over the Fourth of July weekend in Grass Lake, Michigan.
In response to an inquiry by OCANews.org concerning this story, the OCA issued the following press release this morning, Friday, May 23rd. It reads:
"The question of the relationship between Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and the Patriarchate of Romania is long standing, going back several decades. Currently, the ROEA, the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada, and the Patriarchate are in dialogue concerning their future relations. This was discussed at the 2008 Spring Session of the OCA Holy Synod, but no statements have been issued either by the Holy Synod or by the Romanian Episcopate concerning the nature or outcome of this discussion.
A decision on the part of the Romanian Episcopate to unite with the Romanian Archdiocese, and thus with the Patriarchate of Romania, would need to be made by the clergy and faithful of the Episcopate. At that point the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America would need to affirm the free decision of the Romanian Episcopate."
The Dialogue with Bucharest
In canonical affiliation with the OCA for the past 38 years (and for a decade prior to that with the Metropolia) the ROEA move comes less than three months after commissioners from the Episcopate met with representatives from the Romanian Orthodox Church in Bucharest, and less than four months after the new Patriarch of Romania, Daniel (Cibotea), was elected. As a March 11th press release of the ROEA explained:
"Prompted by the ongoing dialogue between the two Romanian Orthodox eparchies in North America, the Episcopate requested the initiation of direct talks with the Church of Romania. As explained in a letter to all parishes, the intent of such talks was to clarify and seek a mutual understanding of certain historical issues between the Mother Church of Romania and the ROEA, the plight of its departed hierarchs, and related issues.
Having received a favorable response to its request, the members of the Episcopate's Joint Dialogue Commission, led by His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel, traveled to Bucharest, Romania for meetings on February 25, 26 and 27, 2008. The Commission is composed of Very Rev Frs Laurence Lazar (Chair), Remus Grama, Catalin Mitescu, and Romey Rosco. While in Bucharest, the delegation participated in a Liturgy on St Policarp day at Antim Monastery, and was welcomed at Pasarea and Cernica Monasteries. On Sunday, February 24, His Eminence was invited to be the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral, assisted by the Episcopate and Cathedral Clergy. The next day, the delegation was cordially welcomed by His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel who personally monitored the ensuing discussions and hosted several meals and a working session in the Patriarchal residence. The Episcopate delegation and the specially constituted Patriarchal Commission chaired by His Eminence Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Nifon of Targoviste, with His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae (Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Two Americas), His Grace Bishop Ciprian Campineanul, Patriarchal Vicar, Patriarchal Councilors Frs. Mircea Uta, and Ioan Armasi, held several rounds of frank discussions in a promising spirit of Christian brotherhood. The talks resulted in a mutually agreed upon statement.
In addition to the above, and in terms of the unwarranted establishment of a self-proclaimed Romanian Exarchate in America, the JDC (Joint Dialogue Commission) hopefully helped the Church of Romania better understand American pastoral realities"
In fact, the Romanians apparently understood the Americans very well. According to sources, the talks, which had been ongoing for more than two unfruitful years, took a decided turn on Tuesday evening, February 26th, when the Patriarchial representatives offered the ROEA unity with the ROAA as an autonomous Exarchate under the canonical protection of Bucharest. Under Bucharest's plan the new Romanian Metropolitan in America would not sit on the Synod in Bucharest, but would be allowed to attend the meetings if he so desired. The Romanians were pitching, and the ROEA Commissioners liked what they heard. None of this has been made public, though, by Archbishop Nathaniel, his commissioners, or in the Agreed Statement that concluded the meeting.
The Agreed Statement
But what was made public was enough to cause a stir. The Agreed Statement reads:
"After 60 years of separation from the Patriarchate of Romania, representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America Ð His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel, Very Rev. Frs. Laurence Lazar, Remus Grama, Catalin Mitescu, Ian Pac-Urar, and Romey Rosco Ð met at the Patriarchal Palace in Bucharest, on February 25-27, 2008, with representatives of the Patriarchate of Romania His Eminence Archbishop Nifon, His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae, His Grace Bishop Ciprian Campineanul, Very Rev. Frs. Mircea Usi and Ioan Armasi with the intent of seeking a historical reconciliation, and have jointly agreed to acknowledge the following realities:
1) The break between the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America the historical diocese of Bishop Policarp (Moruca) and the Patriarchate of Romania was the result of the instauration of the communist regime in Romania, and expressed the will of its faithful and of the 1947 Episcopate Congress, whom that Congress officially represented. Given its unrestricted freedom in the free world, the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of
America acted in accordance with its duty to denounce, to reject with the utmost clarity, and to disassociate itself from the evils of atheistic communism, which had separated the diocese both from its Mother Church and from Bishop Policarp, of thrice-blessed memory, whom the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America continued to acknowledge as its ruling hierarch up to the time of his falling asleep in the Lord (1958).
2) The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, rejecting communism, found itself compelled to sever its canonical ties to the Patriarchate of Romania, conscious of the fact that, by doing so, it was defending the faith and identity of the Romanian Orthodox community on the North American continent, particularly in those days when the interference of the communist government of Romania in the life of the Church was blatantly evident.
3) Under the critical and dramatic circumstances of those times, when Bishop Policarp was held against his will in Romania, Vicar Bishop Valerian (Trifa) dutifully sought a solution that preserved the canonicity of the Episcopate, taking the best possible course of action available in those particularly difficult times.
4) The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America never rejected or denied the Patriarchate of Romania as its Mother Church but, given the reality of the 'Iron Curtain', the only remaining means for her canonical survival was to affiliate canonically with the 'Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North and South America' (known as the 'Metropolia', which eventually became the Orthodox Church in America). Within the OCA, the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America always maintained the status of an administratively autonomous diocese.
5) The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America recognizes that the hierarchs and faithful of the Church of Romania suffered and struggled greatly through the terrible, unprecedented circumstances of the communist oppression. But the actions of the communist government of those times also imposed great suffering on the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, as well as upon her hierarchs of thrice-blessed memory: Bishop Policarp and Archbishop Valerian, Confessors of the Faith, who were persecuted, slandered and marginalized.
6) We happily note that, after the fall of the communist regime, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Romania recognized, in 1991, the canonicity of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, and the apostolic succession of her hierarchs. Since that time our relationship has been marked by fraternal dialogue and liturgical concelebration with the Patriarchate of Romania as well as with the hierarchs and clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the two Americas, by exchanges of hierarchal visits, and by very significant aid provided to Romania through the efforts of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.
7) On the basis of the above acknowledgements, we ask each other for mutual forgiveness, in the name of our predecessors, for any ways in which we may have offended one another, and we ask Almighty God to bless us, and to guide us on the path toward a common vision of the Romanian Orthodox presence in America, and toward the strengthening of the unity of all Orthodox people on the North American continent.
8) Having recognized the errors of the past, and having asked each other for mutual forgiveness, the representatives of the Patriarchate of Romania and those of the ROEA express their sincere desire for the realization of the unity of all Romanian Orthodox on the American continent, in a canonical relationship with the Church of Romania."
La Revedere (that's 'Goodbye' in Romanian...)
The handwriting was on the wall, but few in the OCA chose to read it. Archbishop Nathaniel has remained quiet about the pending plans for departure through several Synod meetings, although he is reportedly opposed to the reunion. He has yet to fully inform his own Episcopate Council of the full details of the reunion plan, let alone his priests or parishes.
What, or rather who, is pushing this move to leave the OCA? At the top of the list is the new Patriarch who has affirmed that it is his responsibility, or rather duty, to provide for all Romanian Orthodox who so desire to be served by Bucharest, no matter where they find themselves throughout the world, or in whose canonical territory. The Romanian Church recently re-established itself in Moldova, although that country's Orthodox parishes have been under the protection of the Moscow Patriarchate for the past seventy years. Ironically, the new Patriarchate's rhetoric parallels that of the Moscow Patriarchate itself, who has been busy establishing Russian parishes throughout the world, such as in Finland, to the consternation of the local autonomous Church of Finland.
The Romanian Patriarchate is so determined to see the reunification take place, that he has written to his own Archbishop in America, Archbishop Nicholae of the ROAA, that should the proposed 'reunion' fail to take place by this July, the Patriarchate will establish yet another jurisdiction in the United States as a place where all those who wish to be an autonomous part of the Romanian Church may do so - even if this means gutting both the ROEA and his own existing ROAA. To the ROAA, which suffers from a multi-million dollar debt, that threat of losing parishes is as real as the one to the ROEA.
Next on the list would the growing number Romanian immigrant priests and parishioners, most in the OCA, who have openly campaigned for a return to Bucharest now that the Communists have been removed from power. Not a few American-Romanian priests, disparaging of the OCA for past slights and present woes, are among them.
On the other hand, it has been reported there are many ROEA priests and parishes wish to stay with the OCA rather than become part of a united Romanian diocese, one defined once again more by ethnic identity than American future.
Ironically, it was the JDC commissioners, who defended the plan to the OCA hierarchs precisely as one "encouraging unity in America". They were at a loss, however, to explain exactly how the creation of a united Romanian, or even the new third Romanian jurisdiction, would be a step forward toward this goal; or how any of it applied to mission in America.
To American Church stalwarts in the ROEA (both native born and immigrants who want nothing to do with Bucharest) the advocates of unity argue that if +Nathaniel is elected Metropolitan of the new autonomous Exarchate, he will be given a seat on SCOBA, therefore giving him a place to "make Orthodox unity happen". Unfortunately for them, the last 15 years of American Orthodox Church history after Ligonier would argue against that possibility, no matter the Archbishop's known dedication to the cause.
Given the almost total silence regarding the proposal by both the ROEA and ROAA, and the deadline implied by the Patriarchate, any number of questions remain unanswered, even now, just six weeks before the next ROEA and ROAA congresses. There will not be a vote to rejoin the Patriarchate at the ROEA Congress at least, because they are now inside the window of required notice for such a change. However, the Commission members may move to accept the Agreed Statement by simple majority, and then push to move forward with reunification through a legislative Congress as early as this fall.
Even this plan, however is fraught with questions. Will the expected vote on the Agreed Statement require only a simple majority of priests and lay delegates, or a two-thirds majority to pass? If the ROEA then votes this fall to leave the OCA, when will the separation and re-unification take place? Will Archbishop Nathaniel, remaining silent in the discussion, stand for election as the Metropolitan of the new jurisdiction? Will the OCA territorial dioceses make provisions for those who may wish to stay?
The Statement of Affilliation
The last question is not idle. According to the 1970 Statement affiliating the ROEA with the new OCA:
The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate acknowledges and accepts the Orthodox Church in America as the sole Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.
1. The parties hereto agree that the canonical jurisdiction of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America includes the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and its parishes.
2. It is further mutually agreed that the canonical jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America over the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America manifests itself as follows:
a. The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America will receive the Holy Chrism and the Holy Relics from the Primate;
b. The name of the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America will be elevated during the Divine Services by the Bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America;
c. The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America is the highest spiritual authority in all canonical matters;"
Furthermore, Article Three section D states:
"The Congress of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America is the sole legislative body of the Romanian
Orthodox Episcopate, having the right to approve and amend the Constitution and By-Laws of the Episcopate, provided that such amendments do not contradict any of the terms of this agreement;"
In short, the OCA's blessing is needed for any 'reunification' to take place in an orderly, canonical fashion. Otherwise, it is just another schism, a woeful reminder of our past come to haunt America and Canada yet again.
Questions for the OCA
The need for the OCA's approval explains the cryptic final statement of the OCA's press release:
"At that point the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America would need to affirm the free decision of the Romanian Episcopate."
The Synod's decision, either way, does not answer the fundamental, difficult and sobering question we must ask ourselves: Why could not Romanian unity in America be accomplished under the aegis of the American Church, rather than Romanian Church? The Pre-Conciliar Commission wants to ask: "What is right with the Church?" But the more important question may be, "What is wrong with the OCA?" How is it that we were never a real option. but a mere flag of convenience for so many, for so long? And even more importantly, what is going to be done about it?Are we going to make changes we need to, repent and improve - or simply try to place a fig leaf on yet another failure by claiming it doesn't matter? Or worse, that the creation of yet another Orthodox jurisdiction in North America is a positive step?
Has the OCA so lost its vision, the vision of 1970, of being a foundation and means of Orthodox unity in the Americas, that the OCA bishops will let 25,000 members depart in silence, abdicating that vision in word as well as deed? This Memorial Day weekend the question must be asked: With a Synod and an administration that seems unable to rouse themselves beyond the 'crisis of the day', does the scandal-plagued Metropolitan in South Canaan still care about America, the OCA and its founding vision, or just about relics and borrowed icons?
He cannot stop the continuing decline of the OCA.
Will we? Or will we join him in his denial, and continue to watch the OCA fade?