Considering Chambesy: The Decisions

chambesyIn this series of blogs I am commenting on what is emerging in the Orthodox world as a result of  the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, and third Considering Chambesy: The Issues.   All of the ideas expressed here are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in America and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.

According to the Chambesy document THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision the goal of the bishops was

that the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora be resolved as quickly as possible, and that it be organized in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology, and the canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church.    b) Likewise, it is affirmed that during the present phase it is not possible, for historical and pastoral reasons, for an immediate transition to the strictly canonical order of the Church on this issue, that is, the existence of only one bishop in the same place.  For this reason, the Conference came to the decision to propose the creation of a temporary situation that will prepare the ground for a strictly canonical solution of the problem… 

chambesy2As stated in a previous blog the definition of “the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora” is for me a key issue.  What is “the problem” which they are trying to resolve “quickly”?   And by quickly do they mean expediently or expeditiously?  The question is important because one has to consider whose agenda is being served?   Were the bishops interested in what we in America think our problems are as Church or had they decided they knew what the problem was and are intent on imposing their solution on us?

No compelling reason is offered as to why it is not currently possible to solve the canonical problem immediately.   Was it an unwillingness of the bishops to sit together and deal with painful and difficult issues?   It is possible they themselves don’t really understand what the problem of the Orthodox in the so-called Diaspora really are and so they are trying to offer “proper” solutions even though they don’t understand the problem?

Interestingly the very terms in which they define “the problem” – canonical order – is exactly what they say is not for a variety of reasons possible to attain at the present time.  So they decided to create “a temporary situation” to replace the current temporary situation.  However the “temporary situation” which they are creating is not the solution but only “prepares the ground” for a strict canonical solution.    Do they have the authority to create even temporarily a non-canonical situation?  If they can create a non-canonical situation temporarily then why not consider the possibility that the canons are inadequate for the current world order and admit maybe we need a solution not envisioned by the canons because Byzantium has long disappeared from the face of the earth and the canons and the Holy Fathers who wrote them were not so prescient as to create a canonical church structure for the 21st Century world which they could not even imagine.   The canons make no provision for the Orthodox Church being in territories in which there exists a total political and religious separation of church and state.  The canons give power and honor to the Patriarch of Constantinople over the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria because Constantinople was the Byzantine Emperor’s city and for no other reason.  Constantinople is no longer the capital of that empire and there is no Byzantine emperor residing there.   So maybe we need a far more creative solution to “the problem” of our canonical power structure.   We need not just a temporary “acanonical” solution but one that actually accepts current reality and does not try to impose ancient ideas which do not resonate with current realities.

The work and the responsibility of these Episcopal Assemblies will be the concern for manifesting the unity of Orthodoxy, the development of common action of all the Orthodox of each region to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in the region, a common representation of all Orthodox vis-à-vis other faiths and the wider society in the region  THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision

The Episcopal Assemblies are the “acanonical” temporary situation which Chembasy created to deal with “the problem.”   Orthodox unity and common action in North America would be a good thing.  SCOBA did bring this about somewhat.   What the “pastoral needs” of a region are received no definition in the document.   Here again it seems to me that it is precisely the local churches in a region who could best define their pastoral needs rather than have imposed upon them the notion that the problem is they are Diaspora.

5.  The Episcopal Assemblies do not deprive the Member Bishops of their administrative competencies and canonical character, nor do they restrict their rights in the Diaspora.  The Episcopal Assemblies aim to form a common position of the Orthodox Church on various issues.   THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision

Saints of the 20th Century
Saints of the 20th Century

The temporary situation created by Chambesy  does not change each existing bishops role in relationship to their current flock – “nor do they restrict their rights in the Diaspora.”   I am curious as to exactly what “the rights” of the existing bishops are which are not being changed or curtailed by Chambesy.  The “rights” language is even interesting because it is not traditional Orthodox language but emerges from liberal Enlightenment ideology.  Do the members of the local churches also have “rights” which they must assert and defend so that they can remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the Gospel?  Does the laity have “the right” to require the leadership of the Church to live up to the commands of Christ including the Great Commission of Matthew 28?     Do parishes and parishioners have “the right” to demand that the church leadership live and work in the 21st Century rather than trying to recreate the past?  Is it possible that the Holy Spirit which blows where it will might work outside the framework of ancients canons which represent past history rather than current realities?

The very issue which is the problem in the regions beyond the world imagined by the Byzantine Canons is that each bishop is seen as holding universal jurisdiction throughout America – the overlapping diocesan boundaries, having more than one ruling bishop in a city – are at the heart of the problem of canonical order.  But this situation Chambesy leaves in place even if it claims the new order of Episcopal Assemblies is temporary.

Next:  Considering Chambesy: The Articles Governing the Assemblies