In this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009). I am commenting as an Orthodox Christian who lives in the United States and not as a person who has any official capacity in the discussions being held about Orthodoxy in America. My comments are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions or official policies of any bishop, diocese, jurisdiction or autocephalous church.
I listened to Ancient Faith Radio’s Unraveling Chambesy – Administrative Unity In Our Time (Part 2) which included an interview with Fr. Mark Arey who was said to be the Secretary of SCOBA but who was speaking as an official representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch. I found that interesting. He wasn’t speaking as a representative of SCOBA. In fact SCOBA is probably now irrelevant since it was created by the initiative of local bishops in America to deal with common issues among the various Orthodox jurisdictions. It is now supplanted by an organization created by the so called “mother churches of Orthodoxy” and more controlled by, aligned with and beholden to the Patriarch of Constantinople. It also is to me interesting that the official Chambesy Documents are not listed on the SCOBA webpage but rather are on the webpage of the Greek Archdiocese. This too would be indicative of the position Constantinople is claiming in dealing with Orthodoxy in the world beyond the borders of ancient Byzantium.
The Episcopal Assemblies created by the Chambesy agreement orient the bishops toward the mother churches rather than toward each other. SCOBA has no place at the Episcopal Assembly table since it would be seen as a para-church organization. The local hierarchs have been re-divided along “ethnic” (patriarchal) lines. If SCOBA had created any sense of commonality among the “competing” jurisdictional bishops, the deck is being reshuffled and relationships reconsidered.
This is completely redefining the efforts toward inter-Orthodox co-operation in America. What remains to be seen is whether the OCA has any place at the Episcopal Assembly table. In any case the OCA (and the issue of its autocephaly) will now be subsumed in the Episcopal Assembly format chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch. This is all being done with the agreement of the Moscow Patriarchate. Additionally all of the recent hubbub in the Antiochian Archdiocese about autonomy and the role of the Metropolitan also will eventually be recast by the Episcopal Assembly to be dealt with canonically by worldwide Orthodoxy under the leadership of Constantinople, not locally by Englewood or even by Antioch.
Could Chambesy thus be seen as creating a “supra-patriarchal” structure in the Episcopal Assemblies to deal with the current non-canonical situation of the Church in the so-called Diaspora? The documents do say immediately each bishop will continue to function within and answer to his own current canonical structure – but the goal is to regularize the situation within the canons. It will be interesting to see how these multiple Patriarchal claims and interests will be dealt with. Does the Patriarch of Constantinople without an Emperor to back him have the influence or power to claim universal/ecumenical primacy (or even supremacy) over all other Orthodox patriarchates and bishops?
The venue for dealing with Orthodox unity in America has been shifted away from a discussion in and about the autocephaly of the OCA to a much bigger frame of reference: that of worldwide (and specifically old world) Orthodoxy. The issue of unity in America is not being treated as a local problem to be solved by the Orthodox in America but rather is being put into the canonical framework of Orthodoxy to be dealt with by the mother churches not by the local church.
Ancient Faith Radio characterized the work of Chambesy in this way: “To address and fix the problem of the so called Diaspora – the scattering of Orthodox faithful into countries away from the mother churches” because “Time has come and in fact is overdue to unify the administration of all jurisdictions.”
I have problems with the way in which the whole issue is being framed. For the perspective being taken in this is that all the Orthodox in America for example are in fact “Diaspora.” It is true that some Orthodox here in North America may have been scattered from the Old World, but many of us (I do include myself in this group) were not scattered here at all from the mother churches. Many of us like our parents and grandparents spent our entire lives here in America; not only have we no feel for being “Diaspora” but also we have no “ethnic” connection to old world Orthodoxy. We have embraced Orthodoxy here in America as Americans. We weren’t scattered here from the old world. We are coming at this entire issue from a completely different direction. We are here and seeking out Orthodoxy. We were not scattered here from the old world carrying Orthodoxy with us. We have chosen to follow Christ in an Orthodox manner (though accepting Christ’s words, that we have not chosen Him, but He chose us – John 15:16 – to carry out His mission here). We are here to be His people as Christians, not to preserve or advance Greek, Russian, Arab or some other so-called mother church ethnicity.