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One Small Step for the Midwest...

Although the announcement of the names of three nominees for the OCA Bishop of Chicago was made last week, the more significant announcement concerned the process by which the Diocese is going to choose its nominee. The decision by an expanded Diocesan Council, blessed by the locum tenens, Metropolitan Jonah, to culminate its open selection process by submitting one name to the Synod for canonical election, was another small, but significant step forward, in the long history of conciliarity in the OCA. For the first time the largest diocese of the OCA will not be given, or assigned a bishop, de facto or de jure, but will have fully and meaningfully participated in an open and transparent process that will culminate in his canonical election. In this it joins the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania whoalso nominated their own Bishop late last year.

A Tradition of Conciliarity

In 1905 the OCA, then the North American Diocese of the Russian Church, under its chief hierarch, St. Tikhon, convened the first All-American Sobor, bringing together clergy and laity to discuss and deal with, under the leadership of their hierarchs, the issues facing that mission. That tradition was expanded by the participation of bishops, clergy and laity from America in the historic 1917 Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the Russian Church, as a whole, fell under Soviet rule, its American daughter continued the tradition of St. Tikhon and the Local Council by holding regular All-American Sobors throughout the dark years; culminating in the acceptance of autocephaly by the 14th All-American Sobor, which became the 1st All-American Council in 1970.

The OCA was not alone in continuing this practice of conciliarity; but in few other places is it such an integral part of the everyday ethos of a local Church. This very fact testifies to the inculturation of the Orthodox Church in America. Truly we are not a diaspora, but of this nation.

Thus, it was no surprise that the late Archbishop Job blessed, in what was to be his final Diocesan Council meeting before his untimely death, an open process for the nomination of a successor. (Read about that process here.) At the Diocesan Council meeting held last week the actual procedures for the election of the nominee had to be reviewed, as this was the first time that multiple serious nominees would be put forward. (Archbishop John, the vicar of the diocese since 1947, was appointed the Diocesan Hierarch by the Synod in 1955; Bishop Boris, also a vicar, and the Administrator, was uanimously "elected" in 1978; and Archbishop Job was transferred by the Synod to Chicago in 1993.)

The open selection process revealed a significant problem. If the recent New York election procedures were followed (that is, submitting two names to the Synod for consideration after the second ballot) it was entirely possible, indeed, probable, that after hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel and expenses, and nine months of work, the 200 or so diocesan delegates would most likely return to their homes and parishes without a decision. Indeed, as the Synod would have met two weeks earlier for its Fall Session, it is entirely likely it would be a month, or months, before a final decision would be known. Such an outcome was not what anyone present desired -  or would agree to plan for such an outcome. It would be a sad ending for what was intended to be an uplifting process...

And so, through consideration of multiple alternatives, discussion and debate it was agreed that since the nominees will have all been "vetted" as being suitable for election, that only one name should be sent forward - even if it took two ballots to achieve that consensus.   The Diocese, in cooperation with the Synod, will choose its own hierarch. Cooperation, conciliarity and trust will carry the day - no matter who is nominated. Not a bad way to start one's ministry, is it?

And that, friends, is an important step forward, not only for the Diocese of  the Midwest, but all dioceses currently seeking an Archpastor, the whole OCA, and for all Orthodox in America.

-Mark Stokoe


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