A meeting of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations was held by teleconference on Wednesday, August 13, 2014, with Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos (GOA), Committee Chair, presiding. Attendant at this meeting were committee members Archbishop Melchisedek (OCA) and Bishop Alexander (AOCA).
Consultants included in this meeting included Anne Glynn-Mackoul (AOCA), Rev. Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky (OCA), Rev. Fr. John Morris (AOCA), and Mr. John Paterakis (GOA). Also present were Committee Liaison, Very Rev. Fr. Nathaniel Symeonides (GOA), and Rev. Fr. David Bissias acting as meeting secretary. Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald was unable to be in attendance and communicated with the committee with thoughts through electronic mail. Also, Rev. Thomas Hopko was unable to be in attendance.
At this meeting, several specific items were discussed to formulate recommendations to the Assembly and/or the Executive Committee as detailed below, in particular the revival of the Joint Roman Catholic-Orthodox Bishops Commission, which ceased to function in 2011 for practical reasons; and, the recommendation that the Assembly issue a formal statement regarding the violence in the Near East with a focus on the persecution of Christians. Likewise, various proposals by committee members and consultants will be explored at a regular meeting (in-person) of the Committee scheduled for the first week of November 2014, for the possibility of future recommendations to the Assembly.
Continuing the work of the Committee, a brief review of our only current bi-lateral dialogue, the Roman Catholic-Orthodox Theological Consultation (Metropolitan Methodios [GOA], co-President) and proposed dialogues, consultations and/or conversations was held with various recommendations. The Committee agreed to recommend that two informal conversations, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) respectively, be held to explore current thoughts about re-initiating a dialogue (ELCA) or commencing one (LCMS).
There was also a recommendation to revive the dialogue with the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) and explore the possibilities of engaging the Assyrian Church of the East, now headquartered outside Chicago, IL, which had proposed a theological dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
One issue of special ongoing concern is a matter of protocol and procedure. Consultant Rev. Fr. John Morris has aided us in a review and a preliminary revision of guidelines for ecumenical relations and activities to be proposed to the Assembly in the near future, building on the classic but now dated work of Rev. Fr. Robert Stephanopoulos. This work will be continued at a meeting of the Committee to be held in November, 2014.
There is still a need to obtain information regarding the level of ecumenical/interfaith engagement among the members of the Assembly, both in terms of jurisdictions and local/diocesan participation. It is proposed that an inquiry be undertaken to gain greater awareness of the scope of these activities and to identify key personnel (formal or informal) among the jurisdictions who regularly participate or represent their churches.
The Committee is aware that regular procedures will be necessary to ensure the proper staffing and membership of the various proposed and ongoing bi-lateral dialogues and consultations when vacancies appear. The process for that is currently unclear and proposed protocols for such needs will be developed over the course of the next several months. However, there is no current need, as far as the Committee is aware, for any changes at this time.
Likewise, the Committee is charged with oversight of various activities on behalf of the Assembly requiring coordination of ecumenical engagement as a matter of common Orthodox Christian witness. While there are numerous opportunities for the Assembly to engage in ecumenical/interfaith relations at various events where a united Orthodox Christian presence would be advantageous, it is also clear that participation in diverse ecumenical and interfaith organizations presents a different challenge. In the latter case, ongoing participation by various jurisdictions is often advantageous for two reasons: first, not all jurisdictions participate in the same organizations (national or localized) due to diverse concerns; and, second, in several organizations the presence of several jurisdictions permits an Orthodox Christian caucus to have increased influence through greater numerical representation and influence if and when votes are held. For both, the concern of the Committee is to ensure a diverse representation of our Orthodox jurisdictions. This echoes the concern of the Chair and members that a greater representation of the jurisdictions be present on the Committee (currently the members and consultants are all from the GOA, OCA, and AOCA).
CONTINUING ACTIVITIES AND CONCERNS
The Committee is planning a meeting in person during the first week of November, 2014 to implement any of the Committee recommendations above approved by the Assembly as well as ongoing activities and concerns. These additional concerns include the following:
1. The Committee is currently reviewing “guidelines” for ecumenical relations as developed under the former SCOBA for use at all levels of ecclesial life. Consultant Rev. Fr. John Morris has undertaken a review and revision of relevant documents on behalf of the Committee which will be discussed at our next meeting. It is expected that the Committee will make a recommendation to the Executive Committee—if these recommendations are prepared prior to the 2015 meeting—or to the entire Assembly at its 2015 annual meeting. This is related, in part, to the following concern.
2. It is apparent, in light of all the above, that the Committee will need to recommend common protocols and procedures for the Assembly’s common ecumenical and interfaith activities. Currently, there is some uncertainty and ambiguity regarding these. For example, the Bi-lateral Roman Catholic-Orthodox Theological Consultation consists of numerous Orthodox members. The concern is that in the future current members will eventually need to be replaced for any number of reasons. Likewise, other consultation and dialogues may occur in the future requiring the appointment of Orthodox participants. It is unclear how that should be accomplished. Furthermore, the concern of the Committee is that there needs to be a clear protocol when the Assembly itself chooses or is asked to participate or be represented in any given ecumenical or interfaith event (many of which might be annual affairs) to ensure the diversity of our Assembly is represented when possible, but also to coordinate between jurisdictions and/or hierarchs when more than one will be participating. These recommendations, if prepared before the 2015 Assembly Meeting, could be presented to the Executive Committee for approval and adoption.
3. It is also worth exploring the means by which our jurisdictions are represented and participate in ecumenical or interfaith organizations. Currently, we participate in standing organizations (for example, the National Council of Churches in Christ, or “NCCC”) by jurisdiction, with some more active in such organizations than others, and some refraining from participation in any given organization for diverse reasons. There is no sense that there is a need to change the status quo in this regard. However, with the mandate to formulate a plan to solve the so-called "canonical anomaly” of overlapping jurisdictions, this may be a concern in the future. Currently, in many of these, such as the NCCC, there is actually an advantage to numerous jurisdictions being represented as this increases our common Orthodox witness and organizational influence vis à vis other traditions.
4. Through the services of Alexei Krindatch, an inquiry of all jurisdictions will be made as to current ecumenical and interfaith activities, including bi-lateral talks, membership in organizations and participation at local levels (if any). Identification of formal/informal clergy, staff, or other personnel designated for ecumenical or interfaith activities is also necessary.