This is the final blog In a series in which I am commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009). The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, followed by 6 other blogs with the Considering Chambesy: The Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch being the predecessor to this the last blog in the series. All of the ideas expressed and questions raised are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in the USA, and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization. I am commenting here on the Chambesy document RULES OF OPERATION OF EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLIES IN THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA.
The bishops at Chambesy decreed that the Competency of the Episcopal Assemblies includes:
Article 5.1.e. The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.
Basically this means that any current plan or existing agency is being shelved while the new Episcopal Assembly revisits the entire issue. Nothing precludes the Bishops of the North American region from bringing the OCA, SCOBA or Ligonier (watch You Tube videos of Ligonier) into the discussion, but obviously no past work is being considered binding on the new Assembly. The emphasis on being canonically correct is an appropriate ecclesiastical concern, but we must also never lose sight of the fact that it is our Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the Church, not any one bishop. We all answer to Christ and will be judged by Him for what we decide and do. It is Christ who must be the sole Lord and Master of our Church, it is Christ not just canons which the Church must incarnate, and it is Christ we must each bring to the Church as the priesthood of all believers. In our effort to be canonically exact, we will do well to remember the warning of our Lord to the Jews in John 5:39-40 : “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
Article 5.2.a. The definition of the scope of these competencies should in no way interfere with the responsibility of each Bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction, or restrict the rights of his Church, including its relations with international agencies, governments, civil society, mass media, other legal undertakings, national and treaty organizations, as well as other religions.
The above point in some ways seems to back track from any serious effort to deal with the problems caused by multiple and competing jurisdictions. Basically it says that the Episcopal Assemblies have no authority to change anything about what any one bishop may be doing or refusing to do. The Episcopal Assemblies not only are temporary and “acanonical” but they also have no authority to challenge the “responsibility” of “each bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction.” No bishop can apparently be asked to change what he is doing within his eparchy, at least not at the Episcopal Assembly stage, which would seem to undermine the effort for attaining Orthodox unity in relationship to other religions, the state and the media. Each bishop can attend the Episcopal Assemblies without fear that the Assemblies will interfere with how they currently do things and what they currently do. This may be a necessary limitation put on the Episcopal Assemblies to help insure that all bishops will participate by guaranteeing them that no risk is being posed to their claimed powers, prerogatives and privileges. At this stage, no bishop is being asked to practice self denial in order to attain Orthodox unity.
Article 6. It must record every decision relating to clerics promulgated by their bishops, in order that this decision is applied among all the Orthodox Churches in the Region.
Article 6 will have an interesting effect on all jurisdictions specifically as related to clergy. It is making uniform and thus mandatory that all bishops will respect decisions promulgated by all other bishops. The jumping of jurisdictions by clergy should come to an end among the canonical jurisdictions at least. In this one instance bishops are being required to honor the decisions of the other bishops not of their eparchy.
Article 10.1. The decisions of the Episcopal Assembly are taken by consensus.
2. In matters of more general concern which require, by the decision of the Assembly of Bishops, a Pan-Orthodox approach, the Assembly’s chairman refers it to the Ecumenical Patriarch for further Pan-Orthodox actions.
I mentioned earlier that Article 10.1 uses the word “consensus.” I do not know what exactly this means to the bishops – that no votes will be taken? Or that only unanimous decisions will be promulgated? What happens if on critical issues consensus cannot be reached – does the discussion end? Can one stubborn or irrational bishop by refusing to agree on some critical issue bring the entire process to a halt? If so every bishop has a veto in his back pocket – don’t agree on an issue and nothing can be done about it. What happens if a bishop after leaving the Assembly renounces the Assembly’s decision or says he was pressured into agreeing? What happens if the consensus of one region’s bishops are different than or even contrary to the consensus reached by the Episcopal Assembly in a different region?
A “Pan-Orthodox approach” is another phrase for which I do not know its meaning. In common American parlance it seems to mean “multi-ethnic” but I do not know how this applies to what the Chambesy bishops were thinking. The article says when an Episcopal Assembly has decided that a matter requires a pan-Orthodox decision – the solution is referred to the Ecumenical Patriarch for “Pan-Orthodox actions.” Does this imply that the EP is thus generally Pan-Orthodox in his thinking and decisions and always takes into account the interests of every different ethnic Orthodox (mother church)? (It seems to me many non-Greek Orthodox do not see him in this role at all but see him as mostly representing the interests of Greek/Hellenic Orthodoxy). Does he get to define what Pan-Orthodox means? This is where I begin to suspect the EP is keeping a veto on all decisions.
I am not sure that “Pan-Orthodox” is always the right decision. If this means nothing more than different ethnic traditions will be tolerated, well and good. If this means that in the territories of the so-called “Diaspora” that every parish will now have to use the panoply of mother church languages for every service, then I would object. Just like in Acts 15 where the Apostles decided it is not necessary to become a Jew In order to become a Christian, so too I hope Orthodoxy will not try to impose on all the nations of the world that its citizens must become mother church ethnics in order to be Orthodox. This is one of my fears of the Chambesy approach – the mother churches are not only laying universal jurisdictional claims over their “Diasporas” but they are also intending to make all converts not into disciples but into Diaspora. We are commanded to make disciples of all nations, not to make Hellenes of them nor to Russify all peoples. We do not need to embrace some mother church ethnicity to become members of the true church.
So are the Episcopal Assemblies, the fruit of Chambesy, the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? They are by definition a temporary step, and not a traditionally canonical one at that. They are not the canonical solution to “the problem.” They do however mark a concerted effort to actually try to do something about the current state of affairs of the Church in the territories beyond Byzantium and Holy Russia. They realistically acknowledge there is a problem in need of a solution. They acknowledge there is a viable Orthodoxy which exists beyond the boundaries of the ancient mother churches. They propose working toward a way to normalize within the canonical tradition the status of this Orthodox Church which lies beyond the boundaries of the mother churches. It does mean for me that Orthodoxy is acknowledging the existence of the new world and the realities of the 21st Century – which means we are not purely looking to the past, but are facing our present and thinking about the future. The temptation for the mother churches will be to try to force the new world Church into the past and into ancient boundaries rather than connecting themselves to present realities. The Lord said to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. He did not command us to force all nations into imperial Byzantine territorial structures and administrative divisions. He told us to make disciples not Diaspora. To do that the Orthodox leadership will have to be apostolic – like the apostles in Acts 8 and 11. For the apostles followed where the Spirit led them. They heard about the spread of Christianity into Samaria and Antioch, and they recognized that the Church already existed among new people – not Diaspora but converts. They didn’t try to control the Spirit but rather they empowered these new Christians to carry on the apostolic ministry of the Church wherever it spread. They could not pretend that they were leading the Spirit, but they followed the Spirit and gave apostolic recognition to what the Spirit was doing and gave apostolic authority to these new Christians.