The inaugural Episcopal Assembly of the canonical Orthodox bishops in North America met this past week in New York. This is a new effort initiated by the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring canonical order and unity to North America (and other regions of the world where no canonical unity has been established).
The Episcopal Assembly issued an end statement which you can read. It gives a brief summary of what they believed they accomplished.
The opening address was given by Archbiship Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese, and outlined what the official hope and opinion of the Constantinople Patriarchate was regarding the Episcopal Assembly. Archbishop Demetrios was the Chair of the Episcopal Assembly.
A rousing speech defending the legitimacy in America of the Orthodox Church was given by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and one of two Vice Chairs of the event. Metropolitan Philip rejected the notion that the Orthodox in America are “diaspora” from the old world and defended the Church in America as legitimate and established and asked the old world patriarchates to recognize this as fact.
The Episcopal Assembly acknowledged that there is doctrinal and liturgical unity among the Orthodox, but what is lacking is Episcopal unity (thus ecclesiaastical unity) in the geographical region of North America. It is the lack of Episcopal unity that the Assembly was most directly addressing. The bishops acknowledged that there has existed some inter-jurisdictional cooperation especially on the local level and through SCOBA (the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America). They are trying to solve the canonical issue of Episcopal unity.
Their first work is going to be to create a registry of the canonical bishops, priests and local communities. They also plan to form committees to work on the issues of concern of the Episcopal Assembly including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical and legal. The Episcopal Assembly did acknowledge the work of SCOBA for the past 50 years and sees themselves as the successors to this work. The bishops decided that Canada should be treated as a separate Episcopal Assembly from the United States, and Mexico will be moved to join the Episcopal Assembly of South America for cultural and linguistic reasons.
Finally the bishops wrote:
We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) …
This invitation to join the bishops in this important work of the church should be considered seriously by clergy and laity alike. The Church as the Body of Christ consists of all of its members, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can work together to accomplish the Great Commission which our Lord Jesus Christ has laid upon us (Matthew 28:19-20).
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
The spread of Orthodoxy to America is supposed to be part of the work of the Orthodox Church, not just the result of the blowing winds of history which have scattered seeds to our continent. We are not diaspora but disciples. Let us hope that the Episcopal Assembly takes up that truth as they move forward. Perhaps this will represent the end of the beginning of Orthodoxy in America, and now we will be able to behave as Church, not as diaspora or daughter Church, but as the fullness of the faith which the local church always is in Orthodoxy.