"Episcopal Assemblies" Proposed
For Diaspora by Geneva Meeting
In a communique issued yesterday by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, held in Chambesy, a suburb of Geneva, Switzerland, from June 6-12, the Old World Orthodox Churches announced they had agreed “to create new episcopal assemblies in some regions of the world to order the question of the Diaspora.” The agreement, long sought by Constantinople, stated that the “new episcopal assemblies” would be chaired by “bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the given region”, and in their absence, “the bishops in accordance with the order of the Diptichs of the Churches.”
The communique was issued in French, Greek and Russian - but not in English. Delegates to the conference included four representatives from the Serbian Church; three representatives each from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Church of Greece; two each from Antioch, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Jerusalem, Georgia, and Poland; and one each from Alexandria, Romania, Albania and the Church of the Czech and Slovak Lands. There were no representatives from the actual “Diaspora” (North or South America, Asia, or Western Europe) - nor from the Orthodox Church in America, or any of the autonomous Orthodox Churches (Finland, Japan, etc.).
In a separate press release announcing the decisions of the Conference, the Russian Orthodox Church set forth its understanding of the limited scope and authority of the “new episcopal assemblies”. The Russian Church stated: “The decisions by such bishop assemblies will be made in conformance with the consensus of the Churches represented therein. The powers of Episcopal assemblies neither allow the interference into the eparchial jurisdiction of each bishop, nor limit the rights of his Church - most notably the right to maintain direct contacts with international organizations, public authorities, civil corporations, the media, other (Orthodox) Churches, civil institutions and ecumenical organizations, as well (contacts) with other religions.” (Read this release in Russian or French here.)
Current “episcopal assemblies” in France (AEOF) and America (SCOBA) are already headed by local hierarchs of Ecumenical Patriarchate. In another press release immediately before the Conference, both the Moscow Patriarchate’s Diocese of Korsun (Western Europe) and The Movement for Local Orthodoxy in Western Europe (OLTR) expressed their concern with the work of the current Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France (AEOF), though. According to the two, the current work of the AEOF “inevitably raises tension and discontent”, as its Constantinopolitan head is “more concerned with interests of the Church which he represents”. His election “by the total assembly of AEOF bishops would provide him more legitimacy” according to the critics, but that is not the course chosen by the Chambesy Conference.
In a subsequent interview given by a hierarch of the Russian Church, Bishop Evstraty (Zoria), the Head of Information and Publishing Department of an Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction not affiliated with Moscow (Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Kyiv Patriarchate), called the Pre-Conciliar Conference in Chambesy “ a significant diplomatic victory for the Patriarchate of Constantinople." The Bishop called the decision “ inconvenient” for the Moscow Patriarchate and the agreement represented a real “concession” on the part of the Russian Church. The Bishop went on to state that: “.. it seems to me behind all these events there is a shadow of the Ukrainian church question. Constantinopolitan church diplomacy is, in many respects, defined by presence of this question. This could be seen in the past year during the celebration of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', or in a question of the transfer of Bishop Basil (Osborn) to the jurisdiction of Constantinople. It seems to me, that the Patriarchate of Constantinople uses the the Ukrainian church question to put pressure upon the Moscow Patriarchate, to encourage it to accept those decisions which it otherwise never would accept.” The Church in Ukraine, formerly an integral part of the Russian Church, is currently divided into three jurisdictions, with one part still affiliated with Moscow, one part independent, and one of whose American and Canadian branches are affiliated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
So what does this agreement mean for the OCA, and in turn, the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America? This coming week, June 18-20, St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood NY, hosts a conference titled, “The Council and the Tomos: Twentieth-century Landmarks towards a Twenty-first-century Church.” The conference will address the significance of the OCA’s presence in North America, “it’s future paths and possibilities open to it - including its interface with the multi-jurisdictional Orthodox Christian communities in the U.S. and Canada in light of the above decision.” Since both the Chancellor of the OCA and one of the AOCA Chancellors will be present and speaking, the SVS Conference may give some indication of a response to this decision by the Old World about the New.
The text of the Chambesy Communique, in a translation provided by OrthodoxReport.com follows:
“Saturday, June 13, 2009
IV Pre-Conciliar Pan-orthodox Conference
Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Chambesy, 6th - 12th June 2009
At the invitation of His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, following the consensus of their Beatitudes, the Primates of the most holy local Orthodox Churches, as expressed during their meeting held in the Phanar from 10th to 12th October 2008, the Fourth Pre-conciliar Pan-orthodox Conference met at the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambesy, Geneva, from 6th to 12th June 2009.
The work of the Conference began with the pan-orthodox concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, on the day of Pentecost. They were held under the chairmanship of His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon, delegate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the contribution of the Secretary for Preparation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Jeremias of Switzerland. The Conference was attended by delegates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, at the invitation of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Primates of Local Orthodox Churches greeted the participants at the Conference by messages sent or forwarded by their delegates. The members of the Conference have sent letters to all the Primates of the local Churches, asking their prayers and their blessings for the accomplishment of their task.
In accordance with the wishes of the Primates and representatives of the local Orthodox Churches expressed in the message published at the end of their meeting at the Phanar (October 2008), the Fourth Pre-conciliar Pan-orthodox Conference was charged to examine the question of the canonical organization of the Diaspora Orthodox. The Conference decided its agenda at the opening meeting of its work.
The Conference reviewed the documents prepared by the preparatory inter-orthodox commission at its two meetings in Chambesy, i.e. that of 10th to 17th November 1990 and 7th to 13th November 1993 and the document prepared by the Canonists’ Congress meeting at Chambesy from 9th to 14th April 1995. These documents, specified, corrected and supplemented, have been approved unanimously.
The Conference expressed the willingness of Orthodox Churches to solve the problem of the canonical organisation of the Orthodox Diaspora, conforming to ecclesiology, tradition and canonical practice of the Orthodox Church. The Conference decided to create new episcopal assemblies in some regions of the world to order the question of the Diaspora, i.e. the Orthodox faithful installed in areas beyond the traditional boundaries of the local Orthodox Churches. The presidents of the Assemblies are bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the given region, and in their absence, the bishops in accordance with the order of the Diptichs of the Churches. All the bishops of the Orthodox Churches who exercise their pastoral ministry in the communities existing in each of these regions are members of these Assemblies. The Episcopal Assemblies are for the mission to manifest and promote the unity of the Orthodox Church, to exercise pastoral diakonia to the faithful of the region and to render to the world their common witness. The decisions of the Episcopal Assemblies are taken in accordance with the principle of unanimity of the Churches represented within these Assemblies by bishops.
After amended and supplemented, the Conference also approved the Proposed Regulations of Episcopal Assemblies by defining the fundamental principles of organization and operation thereof.
The remaining topics of the Holy and Great Council, i.e. the method of proclaiming of autocephaly and autonomy, and the order of Diptichs, will be discussed in future meetings of the preparatory inter-orthodox commission and will be submitted for approval to the following Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences.
Chambesy on 12th June 2009.
The President of the Conference
John of Pergamon”