Mum's the Word at the Episcopal Assembly
from The National Herald on 5/28/2010,
Mum's the Word at the Episcopal Assembly Chaired by Archbishop Demetrios (updated)
by Theodore Kalmoukos
BOSTON – The first Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North and Central America was convened on Thursday by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York City.
This Assembly is the result of the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met in Chambesy Switzerland in June of 2009, after the extraordinary Synaxis of all the Heads of the Autocephalous Churches convened by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. This assembly, one of twelve that will be convened around the world in regions where there is no single Orthodox presence, will consist of the active canonical bishops who reside in the region designated as North and Central America. In every assembly, the chairman will be the senior bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The assembly is taking place behind closed doors. At the direction of Archbishop Demetrios, who is chairing the proceedings, the assembly proceedings are strictly off limits to the press, while the bishops in attendance have reportedly taken a vow not to speak to the media regarding the issues discussed, limiting themselves to the announcement that will be released at the close of the assembly. The assembly will wrap up on Friday with the celebration of the divine liturgy at the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in Manhattan.
The assembly was attended by 56 bishops in all, while the full expenses - including the bishops' air fare and cab fare - was covered by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Special grants were also made available by Leadership 100 and other sources, while the total expenses of the assembly have not yet been made available.
Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto and all Canada did not attend the proceedings, as reported by The National Herald's Greek language sister edition, on Thursday May 27, 2010. Metropolitan Sotirios refused, however, to disclose the reasons for his absence.
Two bishops from Canada did attend, however, to convey the request from the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in Canada - who met this past March - that their assembly remain separate and not be incorporated into a larger assembly of bishops from North and Central America.
There is also some dissension within, as Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), is being allowed to sit, but only as an individual bishop, not as the head of the OCA.
Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America. Despite reservations against inviting him to the episcopal assembly because the OCA's autocephaly is not recognized, he ultimately participated in the proceedings as a simple bishop, without asserting his position as a church primate.
Metropolitan Jonah said that he accepted his reduced role “with all humility.” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had asked Archbishop Demetrios not to invite the prelate because OCA’s autocephaly (the Orthodox term for churches that are self-ruled) is not recognized by the Patriarchate. Archbishop Demetrios declined the Patriarch’s request, but a compromise was agreed upon where the Metropolitan could participate as a bishop, which created some thorny technical problems about his authority. The OCA received recognition in 1970 from the Patriarchate of Moscow, with which the Metropolitan has ties, but that stepped on the toes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a rift that has continued.
Meanwhile, TNH has learned that Archbishop Demetrios was particularly worried ahead of the assembly, fearing possible alliances and surprises from the bishops attending the proceedings - especially in regards to the issue of the Orthodox Diaspora and autocephaly. In an interview in TNH's print edition (May 22-28, 2010), Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church openly questioned the existence of an Orthodox Diaspora and expressed reservations about the role of the assembly.
Prior to the start of the assembly's proceedings, Archbishop Demetrios held a meeting with the hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to brief them on the assembly and explain the positions that he would maintain throughout the proceedings. During the meeting, he reportedly did not hide his concern about the assembly's outcome.
Based on the information currently available to TNH, the first day of the proceedings went well, despite the comments made by a Romanian bishop and Metropolitan Philip, the Vice-Chairman of the assembly, regarding the state of the Diaspora in America.
The assembly began with an invocation delivered by Archbishop Demetrios, followed by his keynote address, in which he discussed the recent holiday of Pentecost and conveyed the blessings and wishes of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He also mentioned the Ecumenical Patriarch's historic trip to Russia, which is taking place.
Archbishop Demetrios was especially careful in his language regarding ecclesiastical unity and the cultural differences that exist between the different Orthodox Churches in America.
"We strive for unity because the Lord asked of us to be one, but diversity and differentiation are not to be feared. They are gifts that are to be used for the glory of God," he noted.
In addition, he added that "our unity cannot exist to destroy such differentiation; rather, our unity is meant to flourish as a result of our natural diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or ethnic," and asked himself "Is this not exactly the condition of our universal Orthodoxy today?"
Archbishop Demetrios also reminded his fellow bishops that "Of course, problems related to unity, or to differentiation, or to both, always existed in the Church, starting already in the time of the Apostles, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies. This is a valid observation for us today."
In regards to the issue of the Diaspora, Archbishop Demetrios explained that "The word 'Diaspora' is not being used in any pejorative sense; rather it is merely a description of places where no single Autonomous or Autocephalous Church governs all the Orthodox who live therein."