Greeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Officers of the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beloved brothers in the Lord,

It is with great joy that we welcome you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate as brother hierarchs and officers of the blessed Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America.

We are particularly delighted to receive all of you here at the Sacred Center of Orthodoxy, the First-Throne and Mother Church of Constantinople, and we warmly greet you, as brothers accompanying our esteemed Exarch in America, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, and as hierarchs ministering in the United States: Your Eminence Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk (serving as vice-chairman of the assembly), Your Eminence Archbishop Antony of Hierapolis (serving as treasurer of the assembly), and Your Grace Bishop Basil of Wichita (serving as secretary of the assembly).

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Your visit here prompts us to share with you some personal insights and spiritual counsels, which we communicate out of paternal love and concern for the episcopal burden and responsibility that all of us ? with the grace of God, albeit unworthily ? bear as hierarchs entrusted with safeguarding and transmitting the fragile beauty and unity of the Orthodox Church.

(i) First, permit us to express our sincere pleasure and paternal satisfaction at the tremendous effort and parallel success of the first meeting of the Episcopal Assembly of the canonical hierarchs of North and Central America, which was held last May (from the 26th to the 28th) in New York. We were deeply moved on reading of the developments, deliberations and decisions of the first Episcopal Assembly, which clearly revealed the proper hierarchy and spiritual priority of values of our Orthodox bishops in the Americas, who are rightly concerned about the safeguarding of unity and the healing of canonical anomalies, especially the problem of the parallel presence of multiple bishops in one and the same city (contrary to Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council).

As you are all aware, these are precisely the values that guided the Synaxis of Heads of Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in October 2008 as well as their Representatives at the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambésy in June 2009 in order to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church in each region of God?s world. In this respect, we are especially moved as we witness our brother hierarchs in the Americas expressing and manifesting their sincere commitment and desire to adhere to the decisions of their respective Churches.

We are looking forward to the extensive work of the committees established by the Episcopal Assembly in accordance with the decisions of Chambésy. These committees will include all the members of the Episcopal Assembly and will contribute substantially on issues promoting Orthodox unity and pastoral outreach. Of particular importance is the committee charged with the preparation of the plan for the normalization of the canonical status of the region.

In this regard, we are pleased to inform you that, in response to the request (according to Article 13 of the Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference) submitted on your behalf by the Chairman of the Episcopal Assembly on North and Central America ?to partition the present region of North and central America into two distinct regions of the United States and Canada, and to merge Mexico and Central America with the Assembly of South America,? our Holy Synod has already taken the following measure: Inasmuch as it is difficult to convene a Synaxis of Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches specifically to respond to and deal with this request, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will issue formal Patriarchal Letters to our beloved brothers in Christ, the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, expressing the consent of the Church of Constantinople and anticipating their consensus regarding your request for the said partition and merge.

(ii) Second, we would like to express our heartfelt prayer for the unified application of the decisions passed unanimously at your first Episcopal Assembly. After all, what is most critical for us as Orthodox leaders is to apply the theology and traditions that we have received from the Church Fathers, ultimately to practice what we preach about the essential unity of the Body of Christ, which is never divided and which comprises many members even while constituting His One Church.

As the historic fifth Synaxis was conscious of and conveyed to the faithful, while we are grateful for the unity that we share doctrinally, liturgically and spiritually, nevertheless we must also respect and reflect this unity internally in our church life and order. For we must admit in all honesty that sometimes we present an image of incomplete unity, as if we were not one Church but a federation of national churches. Indeed, our only way of materializing and implementing such unity lies in our concerted efforts in good faith to cooperate selflessly for the greater good of Orthodox unity. The unity of our Orthodox Church does not depend on any centralized or external authority that can impose any decisions. Rather, our unity depends primarily on the grace of God and subsequently on our conscience and our consensus as responsible Orthodox bishops in accordance with the ecclesiastical and canonical tradition confirmed by the seven Holy Ecumenical Councils.

(iii) Finally, beloved brothers, we humbly convey to you our paternal exhortation that you not allow the seeds of discord to jeopardize the constructive work that has been achieved to date. Let us resist any temptation of division and overcome any tendency to regionalism or nationalism. In the Divine Liturgy, we pray ?having asked for the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life, to Christ our God.? Let this unity of faith and communion of the Spirit of God be the steady guide for all of our actions and interactions.

This commitment is both our calling from above but also our obligation to our communities. For, not only should our faithful not be scandalized by our divisive attitudes and actions, but they should experience the united response by their Orthodox leaders to crucial challenges and pastoral realities of our time.

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Beloved brothers, we truly rejoice at your willingness to take the time out of your busy schedules and travel such a long distance in order to meet with us today. We sincerely appreciate the fact that you accepted to visit the Phanar in order to meet with us in person. For, as the largest in terms of size and diversity, the Episcopal Assembly in America in many ways may serve as a significant example and an important model for what the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches envision for Orthodox unity throughout the world. This is precisely why every aspect and detail of your decisions and developments bear a heavy burden and wider responsibility.

We can assure you that ? together with the other Mother Churches who have embarked upon this sacred journey of preserving Orthodox unity ? the Ecumenical Patriarchate is following with much attention and interest the general developments in the twelve Episcopal Assemblies throughout the world in adherence to the decisions of the Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences. Moreover, we are gladly informed of particular developments of your own Episcopal Assembly, as these are relayed to us through its Chairman, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America.

For, with God?s boundless grace and abiding guidance, our ultimate supplication and hope is that we may be deemed worthy, in the foreseeable future, of convening as brothers in Christ in the Holy and Great Council, where we may stand ?in love with one another so that with one mind we may confess father, Son, and Holy Spirit.?

Beloved brothers, Christ is in our midst. Amen.