Considering Chambesy: the Mother Churches

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.  

chambesyI 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?

chambesy2The 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.

Next:  Considering Chambesy: the Diaspora

11 thoughts on “Considering Chambesy: the Mother Churches

  1. Gregory

    The saddest and most shocking thing about the Chambesy documents is what is missing from them: any mention of Jesus Christ. The real function of the Church — embodying the living presence of Jesus Christ as precisely his body, to share his good news and saving grace with whatever territory, society or culture Orthodox Christians find themselves in, “for the life of the world” — is ignored. This is the real ecclesiological crisis of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, much of which seems bogged down in hubris and worry over ancient prerogatives, past glories, erstwhile homelands, ethnic identity, foreign patriotism, cultural preservation and geopolitical agendas that have nothing to do with embodying Jesus Christ for the salvation of ourselves and others — and may even thwart or betray the raison d’etre and actual mission of the Church, the body of Christ.

    Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko really hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Everyone in the Church — first of all her clergy and lay leaders — must be convinced that everything in the Church begins and ends with Jesus. This may seem too obvious to say, but it must be emphasized since it is so easily forgotten and so often betrayed. In many Orthodox Churches and church institutions in North America today and his gospel serve merely as a pretext for a variety of religious, ecclesiastical, social and political ideas and activities which have little, if anything, to do with the Lord’s mission in the world. These ideas and activities may be old-fashioned or modern, spiritualistic or secular, relativistic or sectarian, political or pietistic. They may also be sophisticated or simplistic, intellectual or popular, refined or vulgar. But whatever or however the are, they are not rooted in Jesus Christ as he really is. Nor are they guided and guarded by the gospel image and teaching of and about Jesus and God. Nor are they inspired, instructed and informed by the Holy Spirit who is always and everywhere the Spirit of God and of Christ.”

    Also disturbing is the Chambesy process’s dogged insistence on not allowing any input from Orthodox Christians in the so-called “diaspora.” Perhaps if the Old World churches heard of our life and experience in America, Asia and Australia from us firsthand, it might bring them different perspectives that do not naturally occur to them back home. Why refuse to speak and listen to brothers and sisters in the same family, at the same table? Where is there common sense or Christ in that?

    Some argue the New World churches are “too immature” to solve their own disorganization and order their church life, so the Old World churches, “more mature” by dint of centuries of existence, must do it for them. But there’s more pride than reason in such an argument. But if we are honest, the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem are shrinking shadows of what they were and are struggling for survival under Muslim and Israeli rule — and the resurgent Churches of Russia and Eastern Europe face the daunting challenge of recovering from decades of persecution, mass defections and sometimes even political compromise under atheistic Marxist rule. Each of the Orthodox Churches have plenty gone wrong to fix in their own backyards. Perhaps a little humility is in order?

    Furthermore, those of us born and living as Orthodox Christians outside “the traditional Orthodox Christian world” are not a “diaspora,” for we have not been “dispersed” from anywhere — this is our native home. And theologically, the very notion of “diaspora” is suspect, unless we’re speaking of the Church everywhere as a pilgrim people passing, as temporary guests on earth, through this world to the kingdom of God. Last I heard, “here we do not have a city that lasts forever,” — be it Constantinople, Moscow or Kosovo — “but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Have we cast aside that eschatological focus to become earthbound and moribund? If the Church is truly catholic — entirely whole, embracing all, universal — how can its identity be tied down to one particular quarter of the globe, the rest of which is a foreign and alien “diaspora”?

    God help us. As Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory remarked, oftentimes what is the glory of Orthodox Christianity is unfortunately not the glory of Orthodox Christians. A real repentance, in the sense of the Greek word it translates — “metanoia,” a change of mind and heart — must occur if the Orthodox Church is do what its Lord bids in the modern world. Resting on our laurels and arguing over precedents set in ancient civilizations that no longer exist won’t accomplish that. We need to begin with Jesus and keep him first and foremost in all that we do.
    But sadly, the Chambesy documents didn’t even mention him.

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  8. Cyril

    Thank you, thank you! Finally a mention of what’s been echoing in my head since I first read Chambesy.

    Chambesy doesn’t apply to me.

    I was drawn to Orthodoxy through an OCA monastery, was catechized and baptized by a German convert priest of a Romanian parish in a Greek baptistery. I am now a member of an Antiochian parish. Any reasonable definition of the the term “diaspora”, insistently applied in the Chambesy Documents to apply to the Orthodox faithful of America, cannot possibly be construed to apply to me or others in my situation. Even the most charitable reading of intention must defy Webster to extend the semantic meaning of the term to include me. I am not a “diaspora.” I am American. If future decisions are intended to include us, they should use more inclusive terminology, such as American Orthodox Churches (Orthodox Churches in America would be more appropriate, but the term is already taken). In the meantime, it appears that the local American faithful are free to pursue unity however the Spirit leads.

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