To our beloved Orthodox Christian faithful throughout North and Central America:
All things should be done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14.40)
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We, the members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, gathered in Chicago for our fourth annual meeting on September 17-19, 2013, greet you with paternal love, as we offer glory and thanks to our Triune God.
Forty-three Hierarchs convened in the unity of our holy Orthodox faith, mindful of our responsibility to each other and to the whole Church as the Body of Christ. We recognize our responsibility to “do all things decently and in order” as our foremost duty towards His holy Church and the people of Christ, especially the youth. We belong to the Church, which believes in and manifests the grace of the Triune God and the power of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.
We opened our Assembly with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the sharing of the Holy Eucharist at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral (ROCOR) in Des Plaines IL. In professing our common witness and love for one another and the faithful entrusted to us by God, we shared the Holy Eucharist on a day when we also commemorated the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan and proclaimed the importance of religious freedom, especially for religious minorities throughout the world. We expressed our sorrow that, seventeen centuries after its promulgation, the Ecumenical Patriarchate today does not enjoy fundamental religious freedoms guaranteed by the Emperor St. Constantine’s edict.
In this regard, we urge people to remember that the Christians in Turkey, the Middle East and Egypt have peacefully coexisted with all people in the region for two thousand years. Furthermore, we appeal once again for the release of all those kidnapped, especially the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (brother of His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch) and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria.
However, during this intense period of conflict throughout the Middle East, inasmuch as we represent millions of Orthodox Christians in the United States, Canada and Central America, we express our grave concern over the escalation of political unrest and ongoing violence in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and more recently in Syria, but also the continuing threats and crimes against churches and people in Kosovo. In this regard, we repudiate any and all attacks on human beings, irrespective of race and religion, by means of violence, kidnapping, torture and killing. Moreover, we deplore the destruction of all places of worship. We are especially disheartened at the inexcusable indifference and unjustifiable inaction of authorities, which have failed to protect the Christian population and the broader public in these regions. Moreover, following the example of Jesus Christ, who blessed the peacemakers in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.9), we implore all involved parties and political authorities, especially those of the countries we represent, to pursue vigorously all peaceful means for the resolution of the conflicts and the termination of the murder of men, women and children.
We have also been apprised and are deeply concerned about the arrest and detention of Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as a result of exercising his fundamental human right of religious freedom. We urge our faithful to stand in prayer and solidarity for a prompt and positive resolution to this issue.
In his report as Chairman of the Assembly, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios raised the critical issues of a rising militant Islam marked by violence against ancient Christian communities throughout the world, including the Middle East, Nigeria, and the Philippines. He also referred to challenges created by the expanding secularism and scandalous poverty that characterize our contemporary world, emphasizing: “The sight of social injustice should trouble us. We should be worried if we find ourselves becoming ‘mere spectators’ in our world.” We commend the prompt and practical response by the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) as the Assembly’s agency to people suffering under conditions of war, famine and natural disaster. We also express our prayers in support of the families involved and for the repose of the souls of the victims in the Naval Yard tragedy last Monday in Washington DC.
Throughout the meeting, we had a candid and fraternal evaluation of achievement hitherto and work that remains outstanding in our ministry as Orthodox in this region, observing that, despite the geographical expanse of our regional assembly, we are nevertheless bridged by our love for God. Therefore, mindful of our obligations as well as the challenges in order for us to affirm and realize the vision of the Assembly of Bishops for our Church in the Americas, and cognizant of the diversity and unique issues in our traditions, cultures and administrations, we reviewed and deliberated on ideas and possibilities for canonical restructuring of the Church in America, which was presented by the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning under the leadership of Archbishop Nicolae. In this regard, we reflected on and reaffirmed our commitment to the decisions and expectations of the Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and the Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar Conferences.
Among the items on the agenda were reports from the Assembly’s Secretariat, its 13 committees, and 14 agencies and endorsed organizations. We praise God for the open and sincere spirit of deliberation and cooperation that prevailed during the sessions of the Assembly and celebrate the larger vision of unity that lies before us.
Upon hearing the report from the Committee for Youth, we were delighted to bless a proposal to plan a conference of Orthodox youth on the local, regional, and national levels from across all jurisdictions of the Assembly of Bishops in order to foster closer relationships among our youth, create common programs and ministries in response to their shared challenges, and advance a common witness toward greater unity throughout our territory.
For all these things, we ask for your prayers as the precious people of God and our beloved Orthodox faithful, while we pray that the abundant blessings of our merciful God be always with all of you.
Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman
Archbishop Justinian, 2nd Vice Chairman
Bishop Basil, Secretary
Metropolitan Antony, Treasurer
Bishop Ioan Casian