South America's “Episcopal Assembly” Off To Bumpy Start in Sao Paulo
The first gathering of the “Episcopal Assembly of the Orthodox Churches [sic] in South America” met April 16-18 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. According to a statement by the host, Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: “All the Orthodox Churches participated in this meeting (Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarchate of Antioch, Patriarchate of Moscow (including ROCOR), Patriarchate of Romania) with the presence of ten hierarchs, the only one missing being the Bishop of the Patriarchate of Serbia, because of his participation in the meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops in Serbia.” This statement was later amended with the discovery that two hierarchs of the Polish Orthodox Diocese in Brazil had not been invited, an oversight which was later admitted by the organizers to be “unintentional” and was “caused by a lack of accurate information about the Polish Orthodox Diocese in Brazil”.
This explanation was questioned by many, since the diocese of several hundred persons in multiple parishes, led by an Archbishop and Bishop, has existed for decades. Fr. Andrzej Kuzma, one of the representatives of the Polish Church at Chambesy in June 2009, was quoted on an website that reports on the Polish Church as stating that “The hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have their own way of interpreting the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon and have difficulty in recognizing the canonicity of our diocese in Brazil.” (The Polish diocese in Brazil was a missionary outgrowth of the Polish Orthodox Diocese in Spain and Portugal, which was an indigenous Church created in the 1980s when a member of the former royal family of Portugal converted to Orthodoxy and later became a monk and bishop. At the insistence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the former Polish jurisdiction in Spain and Portugal was transferred to the control of Constantinople in August 2006. The diocese in Brazil was not.)
One other source of confusion concerning the meeting was the fact that Bishop Alejo of Mexico (OCA) was not invited to the gathering of South America bishops. He is scheduled to attend the North American Assembly in New York, to be held at the end of May instead. This is explained by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in that originally three Assemblies were discussed: one each for North America, Central America and South America. In fact only two Assemblies were established: one for North America and one for South America. Since the OCA Mexican Diocese has no parishes outside of Mexico, while the Constantinopolitan and Antiochian Dioceses in Mexico include both Central and South American parishes, those hierarchs were invited to the South American gathering, while +Alejo was not. This explanation is not fully accepted either, as Metropolitan Athenagoras stated publicly late last year, when he was under the impression there would be a separate Central American Assembly, that he was not going to invite Bishop Alejo to that proposed gathering either.
According to the official press release concerning the Sao Paulo gathering “The meeting discussed the adoption of a Spanish version of the documents approved in Chambesy, and the situation of each Orthodox Church in South America was presented.” The Assembly established a 5 member Executive Committee for the 10 member group, and set forth several recommendations to be dealt with on an inter-Orthodox level. although no details were given.
- Mark Stokoe