Release, statement mark closing of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America
From May 25-27, the second annual Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America gathered for its meeting at the Chicago O'Hare Hilton. There was a total of 45 bishops in attendance. In addition, nearly all of the members were present at the Assembly: the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the Albanian Orthodox Diocese; the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese; the Patriarchate of Moscow, including the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas; the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church; and the Orthodox Church in America. Not represented were the American Carpatho-Russian Diocese, as they currently have no bishop, owing to the recent repose of Metropolitan Nicholas; the Georgian Orthodox Church, whose bishop resides in Georgia; most of the bishops of Canada and Mexico, as the Canadian bishops anticipate their own assembly, as do those of Mexico and Central America who have requested to join the Assembly of South America. The Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church were detained by the business of their Synod in Belgrade, which was in session at the same time, and by delays in travel caused by the volcanic ash over Europe, and so were not able to attend.
The meetings convened on Wednesday morning with an opening prayer by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, the chairman of the Assembly. He asked the Secretary, Bishop Basil, to read to the Assembly a letter from the Patriarch of Serbia, Irinej, extending his blessings, support, and fraternal best wishes for the work of the Assembly in North America and asking the Assembly's understanding of his need to ask the Serbian bishops to remain in Belgrade for the work of their synod.
Both the agenda for this meeting and the minutes of the last Assembly, held in May 2010, were unanimously approved. The Chairman then delivered his address to the Assembly, in which he remembered the three member bishops who had fallen asleep in the Lord since the last Assembly: Metropolitan Christopher, Metropolitan Nicholas, and Metropolitan Epiphanios. He welcomed also the new members: Bishop John of Caracas, who was appointed by ROCOR to oversee its Old Believer parishes in the USA, and Bishop Matthias of the OCA, who was consecrated shortly after Pascha of this year. He noted also the retirement of Metropolitan John of Winnipeg, the head of the Ukrainian Church in Canada and the election of his successor, Metropolitan Yuri.
At the conclusion of his address the Chairman invited the first Vice-Chairman, Metropolitan Philip, and the second Vice-Chairman, Archbishop Justinian, to address the Assembly. Both hierarchs stressed the need for increased cooperation among all the bishops through the agency of the Assembly.
The Treasurer of the Assembly, Archbishop Antony, presented a report to the bishops on the financial resources available to the Assembly. Each of the churches contributed funds to the Assembly, for the work of its thirteen committees. The cost of the Assembly meeting itself, it was noted, was not funded from these contributions, but will be covered by the contributions of individual donors.
This past year the work of the Assembly focused on the establishing of the Secretariat and the completing of its initial tasks. The Secretariat represents a cross-section of the Church, including bishops, priests, deacons, laity and monastics. Bishop Basil, the Secretary of the Assembly, presented a report on the work accomplished by the eleven-member Secretariat during the course of the past months. This consisted primarily in: i) regular monthly meetings of the Secretariat; ii) regular communications to the member bishops about the business of the Assembly; iii) the creation of a website to disseminate information about the purpose and work of the Assembly (www.assemblyofbishops.org), and most importantly, iv) the creation of the thirteen committees of the Assembly and the documents and guidelines necessary for their operation. They also created a diverse list of consultants for each of the committees, made up of professional and knowledgeable men and women recommended by their bishops. These consultants are available to assist with their professional expertise the member bishops of each committee. The Assembly expressed it's unanimous support and appreciation for Bishop Basil and the staff of the Secretariat for its accomplishments.
The Assembly heard reports from each of its thirteen committees. Nearly all of the committees had either met prior to the Assembly meeting, or were able to meet while in Chicago. Unfortunately, the Secretariat's Coordinator for Committees, Bishop Maxim, who has worked so hard and efficiently for the creation and the guidance of the committees, and who was scheduled to give the reports, was not present, owing to the pressing business of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The reports were instead presented on his behalf by the Secretary, Bishop Basil, and the respective committee chairmen.
Three decisions by the Assembly stand out as particularly important. Firstly, the Assembly expressed its desire to define more carefully its relationship to the agencies and endorsed-organizations which it inherited from SCOBA. It was felt that the bishops should do more to enable the success of these ministries in North America, and they agreed that the guidelines previously used by SCOBA were not adequate for the Assembly. These guidelines will be revised by the Secretariat's Coordinator for Agencies and Endorsed-Organizations, together with the liaison bishops for the various agencies, to allow the Assembly a more active participation in and support of the various ministries under its oversight.
Secondly, the Assembly agreed on the great importance of the role of our military chaplains, who give spiritual support to our dedicated men and women who serve in the armed forces and are subject to the many hardships of deployment and combat. They decided upon the need to develop clear guidelines for Orthodox Christian chaplains, and to create a single, unified endorsing agency for all military chaplains with the Department of Defense. In addition, it is a desired goal of the Assembly to facilitate a gathering of all active Orthodox Christian military chaplains.
And thirdly, the Assembly stressed the great importance of the Church's ministry to the youth, and as a result, has endorsed three projected conferences to bring together Orthodox youth workers from all over North America. It is hoped that this will help to encourage them in their ministry, eliminate redundancy and divided resources among the various churches, and create a common vision for youth ministry in the Church in North America.
The Assembly decided that it was prudent for itself to be incorporated as a legal entity, as this would bring the Assembly a number of benefits and would further its ability to act as a body. It therefore authorized the proper agents to move ahead with the work of incorporation. In addition, the Assembly reaffirmed its petition of last year to the mother churches, for the partition of the Assembly, by establishing Canada as a separate region, and joining Mexico and Central America to the region of South America. This represents also the desire of the Canadian, Mexican and Central American bishops. Lastly, the Assembly drafted and approved an official message to be issued in its name to the all Orthodox Christian faithful living within the region. [The complete text of the message appears below and on-line at http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/news/documents/assembly-message-2011.]
All of the proceedings over the course of the two days were characterized by a strong fraternal spirit of charity among the brother bishops. This was reflected nowhere more clearly than in the fact that all decisions of the Assembly were made with complete unanimity.
2011 Message of the Assembly of Bishops
Christ is Risen!
"Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-giving, and Undivided Trinity."
By the grace of God, we forty-five Hierarchs gathered in Chicago IL, on May 25-27, 2011, for the second meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. Several Hierarchs were prevented from attending due to personal illness, while our Serbian brothers, participating at a prolonged assembly of bishops meeting in Belgrade, were also unable to attend. All of us experienced what the Psalmist joyfully declares, "how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps. 132.1)
We draw inspiration from this resurrectional liturgical period, within which we have assembled, standing at the midpoint between the light of Pascha and the grace of Pentecost, the crossroad between the possibility of new life and the reality of renewed communion, the merging of the melody of unity and the beauty of diversity.
We call to mind our brother Hierarchs who have fallen asleep in the Lord during the past year: Metropolitan Christopher of Libertyville and Chicago (Serbian Diocese), Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (Carpatho-Russian Diocese), and Metropolitan Epiphanios of Bryoula (Ecumenical Patriarchate). May their memory be eternal!
In our deliberations as Orthodox Hierarchs, we manifested a spirit of conciliarity, expressing our commitment to proceed on all matters in collegial and collaborative manner reflective of the unity that characterizes the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church within our regional Assembly. In this respect, we once again affirm our desire and willingness to work toward "the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements" (2008 Message of the Primates 13.1-2), following the decisions of the representatives of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches regarding the "unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church" (2009 Chambésy, Rules of Operation, Article 5.1a) and the promotion of "common action to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in our region" (2009 Chambésy, Decision 2c).
In accordance with our determination and decision during the 1st Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops (May 26-28, 2010), we focused and acted upon our understanding that we are successors of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), assuming its agencies and ministries. Therefore, among the items on the agenda was the work of the Assembly's 13 committees, its Secretariat, and its 14 agencies and endorsed organizations.
We offer thanks to God for the positive spirit of cooperation that prevailed during the sessions of the Assembly. We are pleased to report to our faithful what the committees of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops reported to their brother Hierarchs. The work of these committees will constitute the principal service of the Assembly, meeting frequently and regularly in order - with the participation also of lay members - to materialize the remarkable unity of the Orthodox Churches in this region. In this regard, we are inspired by the words of the Risen Lord: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20.21); and 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)
Thus, in addition to official reports by the Chairman, the Vice-Chairmen, the Treasurer, and the Secretary, the responsibilities of the following committees were discussed extensively: Canonical Affairs, Canonical Regional Planning, Church and Society, Clergy Affairs, Ecumenical Affairs, Financial Affairs, Legal Affairs, Liturgy, Military Chaplaincy, Monastic Communities, Pastoral Practice, Theological Education, and Youth. Moreover, the coordinators of the various agencies and endorsed organizations, formerly under the aegis of SCOBA, will convene with respective Hierarch liaisons in order to determine the criteria of their relationship and establish appropriate channels of communication with the Assembly.
In particular, the Assembly warmly received and unanimously encouraged the creation of a common ministry for our military chaplaincy and our youth.
Our prayers are offered to God at this time for those who have suffered from the extreme weather conditions in the last weeks, especially and most recently the tornadoes and flooding in Missouri and Oklahoma in the United States, and throughout the region of our Assembly, where epic catastrophe has struck numerous people with death, devastation, and damage. May God grant rest to the souls of the departed and may the gentle breeze of His Spirit grant the victims the strength to rebuild their lives. We fervently encourage our parishes to offer generous material, financial, and spiritual support.
We cannot remain silent in the face of atrocities and persecutions committed against Christian minorities by fundamentalists and extremists, in Palestine and Egypt, especially against the Christians caught up in the upheaval of the Arab Spring, which has unleashed long-oppressed diverse sectarian animosities. In particular, the Christian communities in Palestine and the Middle East have been drastically reduced and compelled to emigrate as refugees. We urge political leaders throughout the world to stop ignoring the manifestations of intolerance, discrimination and open persecution against all religious communities - Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike - living in contentious regions and countries of the world, notably in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
In light of the designation of June as "internet safety month," we exhort our priests and parishioners to raise awareness and secure appropriate protection for our children and communities from the many and diverse prevalent dangers, including pornography, cyberbullying, perils by predators, risks of geotagging, and in particular dissension in the Church. Technology is not sinful; but the abuse of technology is a sin and a crime. We encourage our faithful to disseminate relevant internet safety literature, organize internet safety classes, utilize parental controls, and take rigorous advocacy measures to pressure wireless companies and carriers to mandate protective options.
Finally, we are united in wholeheartedly acknowledging and fervently blessing the tireless ministry of our parish clergy and their families, the honorable presbyters and deacons in the service of Christ, the brothers and sisters of our monastic communities, and all those who do charitable work, those who serve our holy houses of worship, those who labor, teach, and chant, and all the people of God, who await His great and rich mercy.
Truly the Lord is Risen!
Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman
Metropolitan Philip, 1st Vice Chairman
Archbishop Justinian, 2nd Vice Chairman
Archbishop Antony, Treasurer
Bishop Basil, Secretary
Bishop Ioan Casian