Address of Archbishop Demetrios at the 2011 Assembly of Bishops

Wednesday, July 06, 2011




At the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops Of North and Central America

Chicago O?Hare Airport Hilton

Chicago, Illinois

(May 25, 2011)

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Your Eminences, Your Excellencies and Your Graces,

Beloved Brothers and Concelebrants in the Holy Spirit

of the Assembly of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America,

Christ is Risen! XPICTOC ANECTH! Christos Voskrese!

1. I greet all of you in the Name of our Heavenly Father and God, and of His Risen Son our Lord Jesus Christ -- the Word, Wisdom and Power of God, and in joyful anticipation of the Holy Spirit, Who is coming to us in the Great and Holy Pentecost, in order to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

I convey to all of you the greetings and the blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who, as the First Throne of Holy Orthodoxy, is much desirous of encouraging and enhancing the unity of the Church, especially through the Pre-Conciliar Conferences and through the Assemblies of all Canonical Hierarchs in major geographic acres, as the present one.

2. Today, which is one year and one day after our inaugural Assembly in New York City, we convene in the great American City of Chicago, at the hub of one of the world?s busiest airports. It is not without significance that we have traveled many miles to be with one another, in a spirit of fraternity, peace, fellowship and above all Christian love. As Chairman of this Assembly I am grateful for your prayerful and irenic presence, and I am hopeful that we will be able to move our nascent body forward with positive steps that will lead to tangible results for all the Orthodox.

3. As we commence our work, please allow me to make mention of three of our beloved brothers who reposed in the Lord since our last Assembly. On August 18th of 2010, the late Metropolitan Christopher, who served as a Bishop for over three decades in the Serbian Church in America, fell asleep in the Lord. This year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos, who served for a quarter of a century as head of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese, reposed after a long battle with cancer. Both of these distinguished Hierarchs were First Hierarchs of their Dioceses and also officers of SCOBA ? secretary and treasurer respectively. They were great forces for Orthodox unity and cooperation and will be sorely missed. And now, barely two weeks ago, Metropolitan Epiphanios of Bryoula ? who was unable to attend last year?s Assembly due to illness, passed to his eternal rest on May 9th. May their memory be eternal.

4. Even as we mourn with the hope of the Resurrection the loss of these dear brothers, we also welcome new members to the Assembly: Bishop John of Caracas, who has been a member of the South American Assembly, has taken on the responsibility for the Old Believers communities in ROCOR, succeeding the late and ever-memorable Bishop Daniel, who passed away before last year?s Assembly; so we welcome him. We also welcome the newly ordained Bishop Matthias of the OCA here in Chicago, who received episcopal ordination on the Saturday of Bright Week. I must also note that Metropolitan John of the Ukrainian Church of Canada retired last July, and now Metropolitan Yurij, who was with us last year as Archbishop, has ascended to the primacy of that Diocese. There have been other changes as well among our ranks, and as you will note among your papers, the list of the Hierarchs with jurisdictional presence in the USA reflects these changes, as does the list for Canada. Mexico and Central America remain the same for the time being.

5. In addition, over the past year, there have been important developments in the functioning of the Assembly, and there have been important developments in the international scene of the Church universal. Allow me to look at both of these realities, for they will affect our meeting this week.

a) First of all, there is the functioning of the Assembly. As you know, our Assembly differs in virtually every respect from SCOBA, the former vehicle of pan-Orthodox cooperation and ministry in America. We not only represent every canonical episcopal presence in our region, but we ourselves constitute the Committee structure that effectuates the work of the Assembly. Of course, we can have advisory capacities among the clergy and the laity, but the substance and decision-making faculties belong only to the Assembly, as we have the spiritual, moral and ultimately the canonical authority of our Chief Shepherd Christ to provide for His Flock.

b) As for the Committees of the Assembly, thirteen in number, we will hear reports from those Committees that have had an opportunity to conference by phone or meet in person. For those that have not had such an opportunity, we can at least have some dialogue on the orientation and scope of each Committee?s work. I know that each Committee Chair was encouraged to take advantage of the time that we have together during these few days to assemble the members of their respective Committees who are present, and I hope that this has, to some degree, already happened last evening. If this body so deems, we can make time during our sessions, especially tomorrow, in order to empower each Committee to examine the steps that each must take in order to fulfill its mission to the Assembly and the Church at large. We may also consider other areas for consideration by the Assembly, and how best to serve these purposes.

c) In addition, we will have an opportunity to hear about the prospects for the Assembly fulfilling its own affirmation, as contained in the Message of last year?s meeting:

We as Episcopal Assembly understand ourselves as being the successors of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), assuming its agencies, dialogues, and other ministries.

As the successor body to SCOBA, the Agencies and Endorsed Organizations are in need of direction from the Assembly, as to how and to what degree the relationship between these pan-Orthodox institutions and our Assembly will unfold. Under SCOBA, the Agencies were established as separately incorporated entities. Some of these agencies are more functioning than others, and they all perform admirable services to the Church, both here and abroad. However, there has been no uniform procedure for this incorporation, and as a consequence, the agencies are established in different states with differing regulations. Some of this was unavoidable, as at least two of the Agencies, OCMC, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, and OCPM, the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, came from jurisdictional ministries ? the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese respectively. Their establishment was conditioned by forces within these Archdioceses. For example, OCMC is located in St. Augustine, Florida. Why? Because the St. Photios Shrine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is in St. Augustine, and the OCMC grew up in that historical shadow.

But our responsibility is to address the relationship of the Assembly with these entities, as well as the pan-Orthodox groups that have in the past received an endorsement of their work by SCOBA, and other pan-Orthodox organizations functioning outside any canonical administration of the Church, yet interacting and interfacing with our parishes.

As we consider these reports and updates, and indeed the work that has been commenced, it is vital that we, as Bishops, determine for ourselves the approach that we will have with these agencies and organizations.  We have the responsibility to steer the Church, using the good rudder of canonical order and tradition, into waters that are free of danger and scandal.

6. And as we consider what is best for our current conditions on this continent, we must also bear in mind the inter-continental conditions of World Orthodoxy. This is because we belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are part of the Body of Christ, and as one member is affected, so also are the others affected. Indeed, even the convening of this Assembly has been affected by the international situation. As I informed all of you by my memorandum of May 12th, the Local Autocephalous Churches have not all weighed in on our unanimous request for the segmentation of Canada to be a regional assembly unto itself, and for the reapportionment of Mexico and Central America to South America. This is the status quo, even though Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had urgently requested consideration from all the Heads of the Autocephalous Churches on two separate occasions, even delivering a deadline for their answers of April 30th of this year. Nevertheless, with one of the Autocephalous Churches insisting on a Synaxis of the Autocephalous Heads in order to consider the request, and others that have not responded, we found ourselves in a delicate situation as these days approached. Of necessity we issued ? albeit late ? invitations to the Bishops in Canada and Mexico to join us, even though, in my letter to them in December 22nd of last year, I indicated a reasonable hope that our request would have been acted on by now. Moreover, given that the Canadian Conference of Orthodox Bishops held a meeting on March 17th of this year, and included all those Hierarchs who would rightly belong to such a regional assembly should it be granted by the Autocephalous Churches, I believe that it is clear that our Canadian Brethren are holding firm to their expressed wish to become a separate assembly. We can affirm that desire here if we so choose. The same can be said for Mexico and Central America.

7. By now, all of you are aware that at the last Pre-Conciliar Conference held in Chambésy in February of this year, the process came to an impasse over the final issues of autocephaly and the way it is to be proclaimed, and over the order of the Diptychs. This lack of consensus among the representatives of the Autocephalous Churches has cast into doubt whether the climate and preparatory work necessary of a Great and Holy Council will exist in the near future. And of course, this affects the final efficacy of our work in the Assembly. Although this may be the case, we, the Bishops of this region, still have the responsibility to carry on with the vital work before us, whether the calling of the Great and Holy Council is delayed or not. The progress that we can make through the Assembly is in no way hindered by any uncertainties that may lie ahead. We still need to have a complete registry of canonical Hierarchs, clergy and communities. We still need to look at our liturgical life and understand the unique traditions represented by our individual flocks, and work toward and commonly held, shared linguistic traditions for the English-speaking, Greek-speaking, Russian-speaking, French-speaking and Spanish-speaking faithful of the region. We still need to examine the canonical and pastoral practices that affect the lives of our faithful, so that as Orthodox Hierarchs, we uphold the unity of the Faith while at the same time we express the diversity of our flocks.

8. As I stated last year, the problems that affect our faithful are manifold. I call them to mind again for your consideration:

a)    Some Orthodox jurisdictions receive persons from Roman Catholic and certain Protestant bodies into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism and chrismation, some by chrismation alone, and some merely by confession of faith.

b)    Some jurisdictions receive Latin clergy converting to Holy Orthodoxy merely by vesting, while others ordain.

c)    Some jurisdictions recognize all marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy as being real marriages (though certainly not sacramental) whether performed for an Orthodox or non-Orthodox, while others recognize no marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy whether performed for an Orthodox or a non-Orthodox. This results in a non-Orthodox married couple having to be married by the Church when they convert in one jurisdiction, while in another they are received without the need for an Orthodox marriage service to be performed for them.

d)    Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury suicides under certain circumstances, while others forbid the burial of suicides under all circumstances.

e)    Some jurisdictions bury a person who was cremated with all funeral rites in the church temple, others permit only Trisagion Prayers of Mercy in the funeral home, and some forbid any prayers anywhere for a person who was cremated.

f)     Some jurisdictions recognize civil divorce as complete and sufficient for ecclesiastical purposes, while others do not recognize civil divorce at all and insist on Ecclesiastical Courts.

g)    Some jurisdictions penance a person when he/she is divorced (either by civil or Church court), while others penance a person only after he/she enters into a second or third marriage.

h)    Some jurisdictions have in the past accepted clergy suspended or even deposed by other jurisdictions.

i)      Some jurisdictions ignore bans of excommunication pronounced by hierarchs of other jurisdictions.

We need to look carefully at the models of canonical regularization that we would present to a future Great and Holy Council, so that when we are called to give an accounting of our ministry here in this region, we shall be ready with an answer to the Church Universal, and help to canonize the region in accordance with Orthodox canonical practice and tradition. We also must apply ourselves to constructive interaction with our Mother Churches, so that our irenic and fraternal good relations can inform the international scene where political tensions often influence Church relations.

9. From the microcosm of the individual issues and problems that we set out to address, we must not forget the macrocosm of Orthodoxy and Christianity in the world. Of particular note is the increasing pressure on our Orthodox and Oriental Brethren throughout the Middle East. Whether it is our ancient Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the endangered Syrian communities of Iraq, the precariously positioned Coptic community in Egypt, or our afflicted brothers and sisters throughout the entire Middle East, we face instability, conflict, religious intolerance and outright repression. As an Assembly of Bishops, we have a responsibility to stand up for their rights and liberties, and make our voices known in the centers of power of the Western Hemisphere. I am hopeful that we will leave our meetings with such a statement of support and solidarity.

10. Ultimately, my beloved brothers in Christ, we have tremendous tasks before us all that weigh heavily on our shoulders. Yet, is this not what we accepted when the omophorion was first draped across our shoulders on the day of our ordinations? We have accepted to bear the burden of the flock, even unto diligently searching for the lost sheep and bearing it home rejoicing.

This is not a journey of a few miles or a few days. We find ourselves at every moment in the midst of our ongoing diakonia to the Lord and to the Church. Therefore, I commend to all of us words of the Festal Hymn of this day, the Leave-taking of the Feast of Mid-Pentecost:

At the middle of the Feast, my soul athirst ? drink from the waters of piety! For the Savior calls aloud to all: ?Let the one who is athirst come to Me and drink!? O Fountain of Life, Christ our God, glory to You!

For as the Apostle Paul reminds us, our God is able to make all grace abound toward us; that we, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work  (II Corinthians 9:8).

Therefore we have no fear that we are not equal to the challenges ahead, but trusting in the mercy and love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let us take up our yoke of service to Him and His Church. His yoke is easy; His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

11. Together, as sons of the Father, as brothers of the Christ, as partakers in the Same Holy Spirit, let us overcome every possible difficulty to present a unified witness to our Orthodox Faith, and that we make this Assembly the vehicle for transformation of our flocks who are conscious of their Faith, their history, and their value to our society.

And let us always remember what the Lord said to His Apostles after His Resurrection: As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you (John 20:21). This uniquely important commission is applicable also to us today. This astonishing honor and responsibility is truly transcendent. The commission becomes even more awesome and amazing indeed when we consider the perspective attached to it, a perspective revealed in the words of the Lord addressed to His Disciples immediately before His Passion: Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do (John 14:12).

Beloved Brothers, no matter how unbelievable this might sound, we really are called to do these greater works, about which the Lord spoke. This is our destiny. This is our mission: to make the greater works a living reality in our Orthodox communities. Because we believe in Him Who send us, as the Heavenly Father sent Him: the living Lord, Jesus Christ.