Report From the "Unity Forum"
of the Orthodox Brotherhood
The Orthodox Brotherhood Conference, held last October 17-19, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio included an afternoon Educational Forum exploring, from a historical, constitutional and practical perspective, the unity proposal of the Joint Dialogue Commission (JDC) of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America (ROEA). The Unity Proposal joins the ROEA and the Patriarchal Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America (ROAA), merging the two Romanian dioceses into a new autonomous body, to be called the "Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of America (ROMA)". (Read the "Unity Proposal" here). The new Metropolia will be "under/with" the Patriarchate of Romania, thereby severing the ROEA's 50-year canonical relationship with the Orthodox Church in America and its predecessor, the American Metropolia. This was the Episcopate's first public educational forum on the JDC's "Unity Proposal" to examine the plan's strengths and weaknesses.
Mr. Dan Miclau, Brotherhood Auxiliary President, served as the Forum moderator. Speakers included the V. Rev. Fr. Dimitrie Vincent, Brotherhood Spiritual Advisor; Rev. Fr. Anton Frunza, Solia's Romanian Editor; and Archdeacon David Oancea, Chancellor of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate. Fathers Remus Grama and Ian Pac-Urar, members of both the Brotherhood and JDC, participated, addressing many pointsand answering questions.
Presentation #1: An Examination of ROEA Documents on Unity
The first presentation had the participants divide up into smaller groups, examining the history of ROEA unity efforts and JDC talks. A workbook containing the External Relations Reports of the past 25 years (1984-2008) and the JDC Congress reports of the last 17 years (1992-2008) was passed out along with a worksheet. The worksheet presented a range of information from the reports that included:
• the Romanian Patriarchate's most recent (1984) and unsuccessful attempt to convince Archbishop Valerian and the ROEA to unite the two Romanian canonical bodies under the Church in Romania;
• documents relating to the Patrarichate's recognition of the OCA and canonicity of the ROEA hierarchs (1991-92);
• documents indicating that the JDC is responsible to Bishop Nathaniel (1996);
• recognition that "a simple return to the Romanian Patriarchate" is unacceptable as re-integration should be with full autonomy and structural integrity (2002);
• documents suggesting that the ROEA should pursue direct talks with the 'Mother Church' for reconciliation by means of a mutual agreement - which would include the historical rehabilitation of both Bishop Policarp and Archbishop Valerian (2007); and
• a brief overview of the circumstances by which Archbishop Nathaniel and the JDC went to Bucharest in February of 2008 to discuss reconciliation over historical issues, at which time His Beatitude, Patriarch Daniel proposed a new model for the unity of all Romanians in American called "maximal autonomy" (2008).
The goals of this educational exercise were to familiarize Conference participants with the ROEA documents, the external relations history of the ROEA, and the work of the JDC, while taking into account new developments since the 2008 REOA Congress, in the context of looking at progress, setbacks, consistencies and inconsistencies on the road toward Romanian ecclesial unity in North America.
One striking fact that became clear to all is that the JDC recently took a position contrary to the Episcopate's historical - and current position - of some 60 years. Their Report to the Episcopate Congress of 2007 states: "These talks do not imply any change in the jurisdictional or administrative position of the ROEA". Since that time, the Commission took it upon itself, without knowledge, support or approval of the Episcopate Council, the Church Congress or Episcopate membership, to break with ROEA policy and the current status of canonical unity with the OCA. Instead, the JDC co-authored, with their ROAA counterparts, the Joint Unity Proposal to establish the new "ROMA" Metropolia under the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Romania. This fact was eventually acknowledged by Fr. Ian Pac-Urar. However, why this happened was not explored, nor were the legalities of this move discussed.
Presentation #2: Revisions in the Church's Statute
The second speaker, Fr. Anton Frunza, presented the Romanian Church's constitutional revisions of November 26, 2007 and their implications for the ROEA. An in-depth power-point presentation showed how changes in the Romanian Orthodox Church Statutes could undermine the Joint Proposal in various ways. Fr. Anton informed the Conference that he had spoken with Archbishop Nathaniel, Fr. Lazar and Fr. Pac Urar - and none of them was aware of the recent constitutional revisions while in Romania (February 2008), or when they created their document (April 2008), or even later, when they presented the Joint Proposal for ratification at the annual REOA Congress (July 2008). The JDC has stated they do not feel these constitutional revisions will compromise the ROEA's position in the negotiations and, therefore, are not a reason to suspend ongoing talks. Fr. Frunza disagreed.
Fr. Frunza made the following observations:
1) unity, as currently proposed, is being rushed;
2) transparency is lacking;
3) information is being presented on a need-to-know basis;
4) there is no serious attempt to inform and educate the clergy and laity; and,
5) there has been no real debate or dialogue within the Episcopate - until now.
The JDC's unwillingness to fully disclose crucial information on many occasions, their presentation of incomplete information, and the lack of thorough research that missed vital information, led to a decision taken by the Episcopate Council and Church Congress this past summer, which may have been quite different had things been more transparent. (Read that story here.)
Fr. Frunza noted that when questions were asked at the Clergy Meeting or Congress, people were not given balanced pro/con answers. The JDC members, who chaired the meetings, responded in favor of their own proposal, even though it was constructed without full knowledge and information about the Church of Romania 's recent constitutional reforms, without the consultation and insight of a canon lawyer, and without the ROEA's legal advisers' examination of Michigan law regarding mergers of non-profits. Fr. Frunza noted that individuals who questioned the union were unfairly attacked: Mr. Alex Popescu for his letter, and Fr. Dimitrie Vincent for the "Bulletin on Unity."
(Read that 'Bulletin' here).
Fr. Frunza concluded by sharing his own experience and observations as a Romanian, and as an Orthodox Christian, growing up in Communist Romania with the reality of an oppressed Orthodox Church and the culture of corruption that existed in Communist Romanian society. He stated that the Church of Romania tends to see all Romanian Orthodox worldwide as their spiritual children, and the Romanian State sees all those Romanians outside of Romania as its citizens. Both attitudes disregard the fact that Romanian Orthodox who become citizens of the United States may have chosen to leave and become part of a new culture and Church (ROEA-OCA), even though they continue to love their native country of Romania and their Romanian heritage.
Fr. Frunza concluded by saying: "I did not come to the USA to help the Romanian State (or the Romanian Church) and have them follow me and consider me their subject. Nor did I come to be silenced through threats. I believe the members of the Episcopate need to know and be informed about the whole process [of unity]."
Presentation #3: Observations and Comments
The third and final presentation was offered by Archdeacon David Oancea. He took off his Chancellor's hat and spoke only as a 'concerned member of the Episcopate', one who has worked at the Vatra for 20 years.
Deacon Oancea pointed out that JDC members have had a long experience in this dialogue process - while the experience of most others has been limited to this year's Congress. Thus, the Joint Proposal came as a shock to many who believe unity is desirable - so long as the Episcopate didn't have to change its canonical identity. He pointed out that for many the lack of transparency has caused the unity process to appear rushed and forced. If things are still so delicate that all issues cannot be put openly on the table, then, perhaps, said Dn. Oancea, the ROEA is not ready for the proposed unity.
Furthermore, the Archdeacon stated that the ROEA needs to seek the opinion of its people and its parishes. He said: "Unlike the Church of Romania, our Church depends on the laity and the clergy together [for financial support and administration]. I would hope that as this process continues, the laity would take their rightful place, step up to the plate, take responsibility, show up at meetings, be present at the Congress and really take the time, like you did today, to learn what this is all about and respect both sides of the issue."
Speaking of the controversial Brotherhood publication, "Bulletin on Unity", Archdeacon David stated: "I really don't believe they have tried to sow seeds of disunity or to attack anyone or cause problems or separations in the Diocese. It is really an honest attempt to express the fact that 'we' are the Church too, and we need to talk about this. We need answers...."
Weighing and balancing the various ideas and views, Dn. Oancea cautioned about internal disunity, even as the goal of external unity is pursued. "We do not want to create enemies in our own household," he said.
"Our first concern is to maintain unity within our own Episcopate, then seek unity with the (Patriarchal) Archdiocese [taking] the proper time and giving it the consideration it needs."
The Orthodox Brotherhood has announced that it plans to offer the "Educational Forum on Unity" on CD and as an audio feed on its website in the near future. A new website, www.ROEANews.info, dedicated to answering the "due diligence" questions needed before
"the question of unity can be answered" has also been established.
- Mark Stokoe