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• Cleveland, OHStatus Quo for Romanians

The 78th Congress of the OCA’s Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America was held October 1-2 at St Mary Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio. It was the first time in decades the meeting was not held over the 4th of July weekend at the Vatra, near Grass Lake Michigan. According to a press release concerning the Congress from the Episcopate “A great deal of time was then given to discussing the reports of the Legal and Financial Due Diligence committees called for by the 2008 Congress.” In the end the 2008 Unity Proposal was “refined”, a new 2010 Proposal accepted, with the caveat that the due diligence studies be completed before any union is considered.

In 2008 an earlier Congress had recognized the “Proposal to Establish the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitanate in North America” as an acceptable basis for talks toward creating a possible union of the two existing Romanian jurisdictions in the Americas, one currently under the OCA and the other under Bucharest. The goal of the 2008 Proposal was the creation of a successor Romanian “Metropolitanate” with a unique status of “maximal autonomy”, meaning it would be under the omophorion of the Church of Romania but not subject to its administrative jurisdiction. The due diligence studies , concerning finances and legalities, were seen as integral to any decision regarding a merger of the two entities. However, according to sources close to the Episcopate, there was an attempt by the JDC (Joint DialogueCommission) to override the agreed upon process by presenting an unauthorized, modified version of the 2008 Proposal at the Episcopate Council meeting this summer for adoption. This Assembly ended up agreeing to a “refinement” of the Proposal, at the same time affirming the need that the due diligence committees work proceed. As the Episcopate described it: after “hearing that the committees were not yet able to give a positive report”, and “....wishing to encourage progress, (the) Congress respectfully urged that the necessary information be gathered by the end of the year, so that the committee’s findings, essential to the process, would be completed in as timely a manner as possible.” According to informed sources, the financial and legal difficulties/problems between reconciling the two jurisdictions are so complex, such that it is unlikely they can be completed anytime soon. The decision, therefore, reflects the Council’s almost 50/50 split concerning the basic question of unity, such that both sides can now claim “progress” towards their desired outcomes.

• Sea Cliff, NY:  OCA-ROCOR Begin Talks Aimed at Restoration of Full Communion

On October 5, 2010, the first joint meeting of the Commissions of the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was held at St. Seraphim Church (ROCOR) in Sea Cliff, NY. according to a communique issued by the OCA on Wednesday: “The main goal of the meeting was to discuss and resolve issues that have in the past stood in the way of full Eucharistic communion between the two, and to come to an understanding of how they could pray and work together in the future.” On October 6, the meeting continued, following the Divine Liturgy at the Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Sea Cliff (OCA), “ ...celebrated by Bishop Tikhon of Phildelphia, assisted by Deacon Nicholas Olhovsky (ROCOR), at which clergy of both Churches communed.” The commission then reconvened “ continue discussions which resulted in a draft joint statement to be submitted for approval to their respective Synods of Bishops regarding the history and present relations of the two Churches, as well as and proposals for the future.”

Hartford, CT:  2010 Orthodox Census Released

There are roughly 1,044,000 adherents of the various Orthodox Christian Churches in the United States. This
figure includes 227,000 members of the Oriental Orthodox Christian Churches such as Coptic, Armenian, Syriac and Malankara Indian Orthodox Churches. American Orthodox Christians worship in 2,380 local Orthodox parishes which belong to 20 different national Orthodox Church bodies - including the 6 Oriental Orthodox Churches...”
So begins the fascinating 2010 Orthodox Christian Census from data now available from the Hartford Institute’s national “Religious Congregations and Membership Study 2010. The principal researcher of the Orthodox census was Alexei Krindatch, research consultant to the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). According to Krindatch, “ The data in the Census was obtained directly from local Orthodox parishes - not from the national church headquarters or regional judicatories (dioceses). Therefore the 2010 National Orthodox Census provides the most reliable and accurate information on the Orthodox Christian Churches in the United States.”

The numbers offer some nice surprises for the OCA: the mainline OCA has the most parishes of any Orthodox group in the USA, 551, as well as the highest number of regular attendees of services among all adherents of the major Orthodox bodies in the county.  Some 40% of OCA members attend services regularly. Interestingly, the average OCA parish is much smaller that the usual jurisdictional church; the average OCA parish composed of 154 persons, as opposed to over 900 for the Greeks, and almost 600 for the Serbs. In the past ten years, despite the Time of Troubles, the number of OCA parishes has grown 21%, while the OCA’s Romanian Archdiocese has grown 121% (mainly through immigration). California and Pennsylvania have the greatest number of Orthodox parishes ( 255 and 250 respectively) while Alaska and DC have the most Orthodox as a percentage of the population ( 1.93% and 2.15%) North Dakota seems to have the fewest Orthodox Christians. (The aptly named blog “FrontierOrthodox” is published in Fargo.)

On the sobering side, Krindatch reports the OCA has just under 100,000 adherents (96,000). One confusing aspect of the Report is that Krindatch separates out the EP’s Albanian diocese (with 2 parishes) as a “national church”, but ignores the OCA’s Albanian Diocese which with 14 parishes, is seven times larger, and does really cover the nation. Likewise the OCA’s Bulgarian Diocese which has 10 parishes is ignored, but he does list the OCA’s Romanians seperately. The Patriarchal Romanians are missing altogether. This is not very helpful, and a situation one can only hope will be overcome in future reports.

(You can download the full report here.)

• Washington, DC:  Fr. Velencia Asks to Leave OCA, Assistant Pastor Requests Leave of Absence

The fallout from the Koumentakos case continued as Fr. Ray Velencia, who had been placed on an involuntary leave of absence, requested to be transferred to the Greek Archdiocese. In a letter this past week to the Council and Faithful of his former parish, St. Matthew Church, Fr. Gregory Safchuk, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Washington DC wrote:

Dear Council Members and Faithful of St. Matthew Church,

As part of my duties as Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington DC, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, has appointed me, to be priest in charge of St. Matthew Orthodox Church. I write to you now in that capacity and hoping that we can work together to serve God and help bring some resolution to the recent conflicts in your parish.

Last month, in response to the many concerns voiced by parishioners regarding internal parochial
conflicts, pastoral issues, actions and personalities, His Beatitude, in consultation with Archpriest
Alexander Garklavs (Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America) and myself, took the action
of placing Fr. Ray Velencia on a two month involuntary, paid leave of absence beginning on September 25th. Our intention was to utilize this time to continue looking into the various issues that had been raised, conduct interviews and prepare recommendations which
might help resolve the problems. In addition, we had hoped that we could prevail upon Fr. Ray
to accept some guidance and evaluate his own pastoral approach to the situation.

During an informal meeting with Fr. Ray on Thursday, September 30th, at which were present
also Fr. Duane Johnson, Pauline Garrett, Robert Garrett, and myself, Fr. Ray presented
Metropolitan Jonah with a prepared printed statement acknowledging willingness to release Fr.
Ray from the Orthodox Church in America for eventual reception by a hierarch of the Greek
Archdiocese of North America. Fr. Ray asked that Metropolitan Jonah sign this statement of
intention to release, as he (Fr. Ray) no longer desired to be a priest in the Orthodox Church in
America. After carefully hearing a lengthy explanation by Fr. Ray regarding his thoughts on this
subject, His Beatitude signed the statement and set the wheels in motion for Fr. Ray to leave the
OCA and be received by the Greek Archdiocese. At that same meeting, Fr. Duane Johnson also
voiced his desire to be placed on a leave of absence for health reasons, and to be released as well
from all pastoral responsibilities for St. Matthew Parish effective October 4th.

Given that some have characterized the response to this situation as an attempt to remove Fr. Ray
from St. Matthew Church, I feel it to be imperative to state that Fr. Ray himself has requested to
be released from St. Matthew parish and the OCA by his own choice....”

Unfortunately, the website attacking Ms. Koumentakos, that was at the center of the lasting controversy concerning Fr. Velencia, has not as yet been taken down.

• Chicago, IL: Midwest Diocese Episcopal Selection Process Concludes Successfully

As reported earlier, the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest successfully concluded its episcopal selection process by nominating a single candidate for canonical election by the Synod of Bishops last Wednesday. What has not been reported previously, but deserves mention, is that this is the first time in the 70-odd years of the Diocese that its bishop has been freely elected by the Diocese itself. All previous occupants of the OCA See of Chicago were appointed to the position, with the technical exception of the late Bishop Boris. (+Boris was “elected”, albeit in Soviet-style, in that only one candidate, proffered by the Synod, was allowed on the ballot.)

- Mark Stokoe


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