ADDRESS OF HIS EMINENCE
ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS OF AMERICA, CHAIRMAN
At the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America
Helmsley Park Lane Hotel
New York, New York
(May 26, 2010)
* * *
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies and Your Graces,
Beloved Brothers and Concelebrants in the Holy Spirit
Of the Holy Orthodox Churches of North and Central America,
I greet all of you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the
joy of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who on the Holy
day of Pentecost descended upon the Apostles and abides with the Church
and with us, today and forever.
I convey to all of you the greetings of His All Holiness Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew, who, in these very days, in fact in this very
hour, even as we are meeting here in New York, he is making a
reciprocal visit to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The images that we have
seen of the Patriarch of the First Church of Holy Orthodoxy meeting
with and being together with the Patriarch of the largest Church of
Holy Orthodoxy truly impart an inspiring and visionary message for our
Pan-Orthodox work, as a labor of unbreakable togetherness.
In the spirit of this important visit and brotherly encounter of the
two Patriarchs, we, too, are assembled together and joyfully repeat
with the Psalmist: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together
(Psalm 132:1). We are together in this place and at this historic
moment by the will of our merciful God, in order to continue and
promote the sacred work of the Church, the Body of Christ, as good
shepherds of the Flock entrusted to us by our Heavenly Shepherd and
1. We have come together during this festive and solemn week of
Pentecost, when, as we gratefully chant in the Kontakion of the Feast,
“the Most High God by distributing the tongues of fire on His Apostles
has called all people to unity.” In Pentecost, we celebrate the call to
unity for all human beings through faith and obedience to the one
Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, however, in
Pentecost, we celebrate the refreshing reality of the diversity,
wonderfully manifested in the extraordinary fact of the proclamation of
the one Gospel in many languages as a result of the advent of the Holy
Spirit. The relevant description in the Book of the Acts of the
Apostles is truly astonishing. For, upon hearing the proclamation of
the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the multitudes marveled:
And how is it that we hear, every man in our own tongue, wherein
we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in
Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about
Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and
Arabians: we hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:8-11)
As we behold the event of Pentecost, we observe that the
multiplicity of languages used by the Holy Apostle in proclaiming the
single Gospel is not a cause of confusion or conflict, but a reason for
thanksgiving and celebration. The one Gospel does not obliterate
linguistic, ethnic, or cultural differences and particularities. The
Gospel is clearly a call to unity, but as our history of 2000 years
demonstrates, it does not cause an eclipse of the diversity within the
Church. And this speaks directly to our case.
Indeed, as we consider the history of the Church, we see that
through the ages the Church promotes unity but resists homogenization
and reductionism. Remember the example coming from the Second Century
A.D., when the Early Church outrightly rejected Tatian’s effort to
compile a single or uniform Gospel text from the four canonical
Gospels, the so-called “Diatessaron.” In the mind of the Church, there
was only one Jesus; but this one Jesus Christ was revealed through four
Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And this Biblical
diversity offered to the Church a unique perspective, and a richer and
more textured understanding of the One Christ, Son of God and Son of
We strive for unity because the Lord asked of us to be one, but
diversity and differentiation are not to be feared. They are gifts that
are to be used for the glory of God. Our unity cannot exist to destroy
such differentiation; rather, our unity is meant to flourish as a
result of our natural diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or ethnic.
Is this not exactly the condition of our universal Orthodoxy today? Of
course, problems related to unity, or to differentiation, or to both,
always existed in the Church, starting already in the time of the
Apostles, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies. This is a
valid observation for us today.
We come together to face the problems that have arisen in our
region, where the Orthodox Faith has flourished for generations. As we
have grown and established ourselves, situations have been created that
need our attention and our wisdom.
Indeed, we have, as the Apostle Paul says: … one body, and one
Spirit, … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:
4-6) But our unity is not a theoretical premise viewed on a grand
scale; it is a calling for us, indispensable for our witness to the
Crucified and Risen Lord. It is a reality that has to be manifested in
the local parish, the diocese, the jurisdiction, the autocephalous
churches or the totality of the universal Church. Unity starts from the
elementary Church community, the local parish, as it happened when
Saint Paul asked the Corinthians that there should be no schisms among them (1 Corinthians 1:10), or when he urged the Ephesians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, (Ephesians 4:6).
2. Beloved brothers in the Lord, being mindful of the above
and the need to resolve any related problems, we have come together in
accordance with the decisions of the Heads of the Most Holy
Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, who, at their Holy Synaxis at
the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October of 2008, expressed their strong
… desire for the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that
has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements,
such as in the so-called Orthodox Diaspora, with a view to overcoming
every possible influence that is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology.
This specific expression of the will of the Heads of the worldwide
Orthodox Churches was introduced in essence and with great precision by
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his opening
address to the aforementioned Synaxis, when he stated:
With a sense of our Church's obligation before God and History in
an age when the unified witness of Orthodoxy is judged crucial and
expected by all, we invite and call on you fraternally that, with the
approval also of our respective Holy Synods, we may proceed to the
following necessary actions:
(1) To advance the preparations for the Holy and Great Council of
the Orthodox Church, already commenced through Panorthodox
(2) To activate the 1993 agreement of the Inter-Orthodox
Consultation of the Holy and Great Council in order to resolve the
pending matter of the Orthodox Diaspora.
As a result of the pertinent resolutions of the Synaxis, the Fourth
Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference convened at the Orthodox Center
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy from June 6th to the 12th
in 2009, charged with the task of preparing the ground for the
appropriate actions. In its Communiqué the Pre-Conciliar Conference
The theme of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Panorthodox Conference was, in
accordance with the will of the Primates and the representatives of the
local Orthodox Churches, as expressed in the Message of their Holy
Synaxis at the Phanar (October, 2008), is the discussion of the subject
of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora. The relevant
decision regarding the agenda was agreed upon by the Conference at the
opening of its proceedings.
The Conference examined the texts prepared by the Inter-Orthodox
Preparatory Committee in its conferences at Chambésy, namely: a) from
November 10-17, 1990; and b) from November 7-13, 1993; as well as the
document of the Conference of Canon Lawyers held in Chambésy from April
9th to 14th, 1995. These texts, together with the relevant
clarifications, supplements, corrections and additions, were
unanimously agreed upon.
The Conference expressed the common desire of all Orthodox
Churches for a solution to the problem of the canonical organization of
the Orthodox Diaspora, in accordance with the ecclesiology, canonical
tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church. The Conference decided
to establish new Bishops Assemblies in certain regions throughout the
world in order to resolve the problem of the Diaspora, namely for the
Orthodox faithful that have settled outside the traditional boundaries
of the local Orthodox Churches. The Presidents of these Assemblies are
the primate hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in that region or,
in their absence, the next in order of the Church Diptychs.
The members of these Assemblies include all those recognized by
all Orthodox Churches as canonical bishops, who shepherd the existing
communities in each region. The mission of the Bishops Assemblies is
the proclamation and promotion of the unity of the Orthodox Church, the
common pastoral ministry to the Orthodox faithful of the region, as
well as their common witness to the world. The decisions of the Bishops
Assemblies are made on the basis of the principle of unanimity of the
Churches, which are represented therein by bishops.
Beloved Brothers in Christ, it is precisely these suggestions,
proposed by the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference and fully
approved by all Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, that
have brought us here today when we celebrate the fullness of the
presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Thus, we have
arrived at this important moment in our history.
3. Before proceeding with our work these days, let us call to
mind the geographical regions in which the Episcopal Assemblies like
ours will be convening. They are as follows:
(1) North America and Central America.
(2) South America.
(3) Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
(4) Great Britain and Ireland.
(5) France.(6) Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.
(8) Italy and Malta.
(9) Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
(11) Scandinavian countries (except Finland).
(12) Spain and Portugal.
In accordance with the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference:
The Bishops of the Diaspora, living in the Diaspora and possessing
parishes in multiple regions, will be members of the Episcopal
Assemblies of those regions.
Allow me an observation here. The word “Diaspora” is not being used
in any pejorative sense; rather it is merely a description of places
where no single Autonomous or Autocephalous Church governs all the
Orthodox who live therein. In fact, the Message of the Primates,
included in your folders, uses the expression, “so-called Diaspora.” I
am aware that some of us take offense at the word, but I ask that you
apply your understanding to the bigger picture, and that we try to find
a word better than the “so-called Diaspora” to describe our situation.
The fact is that Orthodoxy is dispersed throughout the world in
places where multi-jurisdictional realities have ensued from a whole
complex of facts, not the least being immigration. The vital presence
of our Churches throughout the world bears witness to the ongoing work
of pastoral care of our flocks who have moved around the globe. It also
bears witness to the continuous preaching of the Gospel that has
brought an abundance of converts to the Faith. Neither of these
realities stands in opposition to the other. They are merely the facts
of our existence and they should be cause for celebrating the unique
gifts and talents that all of our communities bring the Church
Beloved Brothers in the Lord, with that said, allow me to set the
stage, as it were, for our deliberations, by refreshing our collective
memory of the work of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference,
whose decisions and conclusions form the very basis for our work.
In the “Decision,” subscribed to by all Patriarchates and
Autocephalous Churches through their duly appointed representatives,
there was an exceedingly important acknowledgement of a basic reality
that we face. As the Decision puts it:
… 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, based on the principles and
guidelines set out below. Of necessity, this preparation will not
extend beyond the convening of the future Great and Holy Council of the
Orthodox Church, so that it (the Council) can proceed with a canonical
solution of the problem.
4. I would ask that all of us pay special and close attention
to the language of the Decision. Three very important points are made
here about the nature of our work as a Bishops’ Assembly.
(1) First, the uncanonical overlapping of episcopal jurisdictions is
not only admitted, but also understood within an historical and
pastoral context. All of us who are bishops of the Church, and who have
vowed to uphold the sacred canons of the Church, are fully aware that
the uncanonical condition of the status of Orthodoxy in the so-called
Diaspora is due not only to multiple claims on same titles, but the
overlapping of territorial jurisdictions. This jurisdictional disorder
is fully acknowledged. The unattainability, as well as the
impracticality of an immediate transition to the canonical norm of the
Orthodox Church is seen in the wider context of history and in the
current conditions is basically called transitional. We must patiently
and prudently find solutions to the disorder that afflict the Body of
Christ in our region, and to provide healthful alternatives. This does
not mean that we should tolerate further abuses – for example, when
parishes are organized next to existing parishes, and titles are
(2) Second, inasmuch as we are in a time of transition, we need to
recognize that our Episcopal Assembly is neither designed nor empowered
to be a permanent solution. We are literally a temporary situation,
designed to foster the kinds of relationships that will produce a
functional, canonical model that is appropriate for the region, and
that can be presented to the Great and Holy Council when it convenes.
In this regard, this Episcopal Assembly bears no resemblance to SCOBA,
the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the
Americas, founded fifty years ago.
As you well know, SCOBA was neither a conference of all the bishops
in the region, nor was it an authorized construct of the universal
Church with a clearly defined functioning methodology. What SCOBA was,
was a useful and productive vehicle of Pan-Orthodox cooperation. But
unlike this Assembly, it could not produce definitive results in
overcoming jurisdictional disorder. Even the three Bishops’ Assemblies
sponsored by SCOBA: Ligonier in 1994, Washington, DC in 2001 and
Chicago in 2006, could not move beyond the self-contained parameters of
SCOBA, which provided a working but limited context.
Now, the work of SCOBA should not be underestimated, since it is
delivering to this Assembly a legacy of noteworthy Pan-Orthodox
ministries and agencies, theological dialogues, and a model for
cooperation. However, as we, the Members of the Assembly, embrace the
ministries and dialogues of SCOBA, we must exercise wisdom and
discretion. We must take care to organize these functions in accordance
with the intentions and guidelines of the foundational documents of the
Assembly, issued by the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference
and approved by all Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches.
This is not as easy as it sounds, for we have each been growing, to
a large degree, in a certain isolation. It is as if the various
Orthodox jurisdictions in the region are self-contained units, which
have been growing through the decades, as each jurisdiction has sought
better and better ways to serve its clergy and faithful. If we are
unable to overcome the accompanying isolation, then there is no way to
overcome any jurisdictional disorder.
Our task is not to envisage a Church based on our own agendas or
limited vision. Our task is to work within the parameters recognized by
the universal Church, and to do so, as His All Holiness Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew reminded us during his Apostolic Visit to the
United States last October, when he said there is a need for:
… “thinking outside the box,” so that we may construct models of
ecclesiastical polity and governance with foundations sunk deep in the
venerable tradition of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church –
and at the same time are relevant to the spiritual needs and societal
conventions of the world within which our faithful live.
This is a tall order indeed, but one that will fulfill the
aspirations of all the faithful, and not the limited agendas of a few
(3) Thirdly, our task is to prepare the ground for the planting, not
necessarily to reap the harvest. This Assembly does not constitute a
final canonical ecclesiastical entity. Rather, it functions out of the
canonical ecclesiastical entities and members, in order to exercise the
competencies with which it has been endowed by the decision of the
Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches. We are not authorized to go
beyond these competencies in any way.
5. At this point, please allow me to refresh our memory and
awareness on the competencies of our Assembly. They are listed in the
Rules of Operation of the Chambésy Documents, Article 5.
The competencies of the Episcopal Assembly are:
(1) 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.
(2) The coordination and leadership of activities of common
interest in areas of pastoral care, catechesis, liturgical life,
religious publishing, mass media, religious education, etc.
(3) The relations with other Christian Churches and other religions.
(4) Anything that entails obligations of the Orthodox Church in Her relations with society and government.
(5) The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.
Each one of these competencies will require tremendous effort on our
part, and we will surely have to reach out in our Orthodox Communities
for expertise both from the clergy and the laity. Legal issues, issues
of financial transparency and accountability, accountability and
behavior of the clergy, regulations of parishes and monastic
institutions, philanthropic and cultural initiatives, educational
institutions, etc; these are the substance of the work of canonical
normalcy and regularization.
6. We all know of the problem of overlapping
jurisdictionalism, but allow me, before closing, to raise other issues
of canonical normalcy and regularization that also need to be addressed:
(1) Some jurisdictions receive persons from roman Catholic and
certain Protestant bodies into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism and
chrismation, some by chrismation alone, and some merely by confession
(2) Some jurisdictions receive Roman Catholic clergy converting to Holy Orthodoxy merely by vesting, while others ordain.
(3) Some jurisdictions recognize all marriages performed outside
Holy Orthodoxy as being real marriages (though certainly not
sacramental) whether performed for an Orthodox or non-Orthodox, while
others recognize no marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy whether
performed for an Orthodox or a non-Orthodox.
(4) Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury suicides under certain
circumstances, while others forbid the burial of suicides under all
(5) Some jurisdictions bury a person who was cremated with all
funeral rites in the church temple, others permit only Trisagion
Prayers of Mercy in the funeral home, and some forbid any prayers
anywhere for a person who was cremated.
(6) Some jurisdictions recognize civil divorce as complete and
sufficient for ecclesiastical purposes, while others do not recognize
civil divorce at all and insist on Ecclesiastical Courts.
(7) Some jurisdictions have in the past accepted clergy suspended or even deposed by other jurisdictions.
And this list is by no means exhaustive. This means there is serious
work ahead, and this may not sound very appealing. Some of us may wish
to avoid this difficult work and settle for easy pronouncements about
unity, but the Gospel compels us otherwise.
7. Beloved brothers in the Lord, even as we gather together
in the wake of the Feast of Pentecost, we humbly recognize our calling,
in our unworthiness, to serve as instruments and disciples of the Holy
Spirit, the Paraclete. We offer thanks and glory to the God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit, for rendering us worthy to gather together in
prayer and deliberation as Hierarchs and Members of the historic first
Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America in response to the
decisions of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in
Chambésy from June 8th to 12th, 2009, and in preparation for the Holy and Great Council.
We express gratitude to the Primates and Representatives of the
Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, who assembled at the Ecumenical
Patriarchate from October 10-12, 2008, affirming their “unswerving
position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church”
and emphasizing their will and “desire for the swift healing of every
canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and
And now we proceed with our specific tasks in our Assembly today and
tomorrow. Our tasks include: work for the promotion by our Church here
in America of the genuine, total and life-giving message of the Gospel;
work for coordinating and enhancing our pastoral, liturgical,
educational, cultural, philanthropic and missionary activities; and
work for contributing to the preparation for the Pan-Orthodox Synod to
be convened when God gives His blessing, with a plan for establishing a
full canonical order where such order is needed.
There is no limit to our noble activities, there is no limit to our promising faith perspectives. Our Lord said: All things are possible to the one who believes (Mark 9:24). He also said something even more astonishing to His apostles, Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do
(John 14:12). We are united to the apostolic task in which—unbelievable
as it sounds—we are called to produce works greater than those produced
This is our true challenge. This is our ultimate mission. The fields
are ready and waiting for sowing and harvesting. With the help of God,
our Great God, let us face the challenge. God has opened to us a door
and no one can shut it (Rev. 3:8). Let us go out to the fields. This is
God’s time. This is our time.Photos are available at: http://photos.goarch.org/main.php?g2_itemId=3009