Archbishop’s Congress Address: September 9, 2023 - Seattle, Washington


Archbishop’s Congress Address: September 9, 2023 - Seattle, Washington

Welcome Bishops, clergy, and lay delegates!

Reviewing the list of clergy and delegates, we note that some of you are “First-time members” of a Congress.

I intend this to be a useful review of why we are here together in an annual Congress session of our Holy Orthodox Episcopate in this wonderful facility of the Three Hierarchs Parish in Seattle, Washington.

Fr. Ioan Catana is the parish priest here. He, his Preoteasa Floarea, and the parish agreed with goodwill to host the 91st Congress.

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest Deanery. Fr. Gabriel Agoston is the Dean.

Before I begin, Iet’s recall that ours is a unique Episcopate or Diocese, unique because we cover Canada in 6 provinces and 27 states in The United States, almost the whole North American continent. Delegates and visitors from throughout the Episcopate, welcome!

The essential reason why we are here is because we believe in God, and believing in Him, we act and live our faith as the cornerstone of our existence, our lives, our families, our homes, our Parishes, our Episcopate, our eternal future.

When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, at one point, we confess, we state: “I believe in one God…,” and at the conclusion of the Confession of our personal faith, we state: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.” Thus, we recognize and confess that our lives in this world are incomplete.

Saint Paul, in his Second Letter to the people of Corinth, reminds them, and in our time, us: “For all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

Of course, the "judgment seat of Christ" is the final judgment... but let's remember that it is not only Christians, but also Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists... all peoples... will be brought before this court. Everyone will stand in front and give an answer...

Thus, we are not here as a “society” of whatever particular subjective and temporal purpose. We are here as a body, the Body of Christ, the Church.  Through our Baptism, we became part of that Body. We are “in the body” now, but as we all know, one day, we will leave this body.

Back to our review. You know that this is the only time we are all present together, representing our parishes and monasteries as a unit within the Episcopate. This Congress does not review what activities your parish is doing; you do this in the first 6 weeks of each year at the General Assembly of the Parish – when reports are presented from the Parish Priest, the Parish Council, the Treasurer, and auxiliary organizations of the parish, just as we will have similar reports here for the whole Episcopate.

By “Church,” we are referring primarily to the gathering of believers in God. The Church is not simply a physical building of cement and bricks, but lives, our lives/souls, our souls. “Church,” meaning people called by God to live in the confession that God IS.

We are not “A” church but “The Church” as we confess in the Creed: “ I believe in One, Holy, Catholic [universally the same] and Apostolic Church.”

The Church is THE Church, the “one” Church; for those reasons, it is “Orthodox,” right believing/right teaching. Again, we state and confess this every time we recite the Creed. The Church is the same everywhere, teaching and worshipping, living the Christian Orthodox life: in Romania, Greece, Antioch, Japan, America, it is the same: it is one!

The teaching, goals, and services are universally the same, everywhere, through all time. Thus, the Church is not a passing society of limited scope. The Church is organized, but she is not an organization. The Church is a living Body, the Body of Jesus Christ.

What, then, is a diocese or episcopate? It is the basic unit of the Orthodox Church. It is not the parish; a group of parishes make up a Church. In our instance, it is the Romanian Diocese or Episcopate; it is a Church because it has a Shepherd, a Bishop; and a Bishop has a flock, clergy, and faithful over which he watches. A Bishop without a flock is not a Bishop. A parish without a Bishop is not a parish.

So why we are here, representing multiple parishes but one diocese, and what we will do is the same structure as any other Diocese of our Autocephalous Church.

Furthermore, a Diocese or Episcopate is part of a larger unit composed of the unity of all Dioceses in a given area, and in our instance, this is North America: Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It is called the “Orthodox Church in America,” the OCA.

It is totally self-ruling, not dependent on any Church body inside or outside of the previously mentioned three nations. In 1970, some but not all Autocephalous Churches recognized the Autocephalous status of the OCA.

So, our parishes are joined into a Diocese/Episcopate, and our Episcopate is part of the unity of other Dioceses into the Orthodox Church in America, each one also having its By-Laws and Congress or Annual Diocesan Assembly while also being cognizant of the OCA Statutes.

The sum total of these Dioceses is guided by the Bishops of all the Dioceses of the OCA, called the Holy Synod of Bishops. The word “Synod” is from the Greek meaning “the same path or way” or “we act together.”

The Holy Synod has an elected head. At this time, he does not take the title of Patriarch. He is His Beatitude, Tikhon, whose title is “Metropolitan of All America and Canada.”

The Structure of our Diocese is made clear in the Constitution of 7 Articles and the By-Laws of 15 articles. The book is entitled: “Constitution and By-Laws” of the ROEA.

Every Diocese has a “Congress/Sobor” at least once a year or every two years. The Agenda of the Congress is based on the fact that we have properties, funds, and governments that guide in the non-profit organizations area, such as incorporation and financial oversight. This is because the believers are also citizens subject to civil laws.

As a note, our governments recognize basically two forms of church organization: hierarchal and congregational.

But it is also true that we ourselves, without government over-shadowing, report to one another what God has blessed us with in our lives, parishes, and Episcopate. 

Even in the apostolic times, there was a need for oversight, as Saint Peter reminds us in Acts when some believers lied about donating to the Church; they died on the spot when their dishonesty was revealed. There was also the reason for deacons. They were to take care of widows and the practical needs of the community…we also have deacons here.

The Agenda of the Congress, the power of the Congress, does not cover what we believe (this is the Faith - One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.)  The source of our Faith is Holy Tradition, written and oral, the Sacred Scriptures and the spoken teachings of the Apostles, handed down, which guide the Church as one: Bishops, clergy, and faithful together under the caring eyes of the unity of Bishops in a Holy Synod.

A Congress covers the activities relating to the Diocese in the religious and civil arena, as I stated. We will note the activities of the Archbishop and Vicar Bishop, of the various Commissions and Departments. The Congresses established these Departments and Commissions over the previous 90 years.

We will review the financial operation of the Episcopate. An outside of Church firm of certified public accountants audits this.  All activities reported indicate the year-long work of the Episcopate Council as assigned and carried out by the Chancery/Vatra. It also includes the next budget and any possible proposals.

The Congresses over the past 90 years have revised the By-Laws. They are available in printed form and online in both Romanian and English. The English language is used for clarity’s sake in relationship to the rest of society, except Mexico. A Romanian language secretary will take notes if a delegate prefers to speak in Romanian. Also, as may have been and may be repeated, we ask that no one record the sessions so that the speakers feel free to speak their observations with a peaceful mind.

Delegates, please remember that you are members of your Parish Council and are to report back to it and even the General Assembly about the work of the Congress.

In conclusion, I offer personal observations that are not specified in my Hierarchal Schedule listing of Archpastoral visits.

I remind the clergy and delegates of the pressing need for the parish to respond to members of all ages: the very young, the teens, the college students and married couples, the seniors, and the elderly. Modern society is a “Me first - Me alone” isolationist approach to human living. The family and the Church are portrayed as “outdated,” “out-moded” entities, contrary to what Saint Paul taught the first Christians. We are a body, just as the family unit is the fundamental body of society.

I share with you that in most of my visits to parishes, there is an absence of young people, teens and up. I look over the congregation and note their absence.

Our Lord tells the story of an individual who found something precious and went off to purchase it. Our young people need to know that the most precious “something” is the Orthodox Christian Faith. This is the meaning of life, a preparation for eternal existence.

They must live their Orthodox faith from childhood up. The home, your home,  every home, is a  micro-church,  a “Little Church.”  Children observe us adults and learn or not learn from what we do. Of seven days of the week, young children may attend church services only for an hour on Sunday, an hour! But they do not have a driver’s license, so they depend on Mom and Dad to drive them. Teens and others who have a license drive away from the Sunday services! I repeat that the home is the “Little Church” for the remaining six and a half days of the week.

The Faith must be nourished by adults who want to share with the next generation the household of faith. Some say that the Liturgy is the same every time. It is partially true that the structure remains the same, but it is a “fixed” menu: it is the Lord’s supper to which we are called, “With the fear of God, with faith and with love”…to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Reverend Clergy serve Vespers and Matins, which are treasuries of changeable hymns of instruction and praise. On the one hand, we want to know more about our Faith; on the other hand, we do not engage in these services. We should not relegate these occasions to the end of our list of “to-dos.”  

I  was told this true event. A father usually prayed together with his three children before they were put to bed. One night, a business acquaintance came for supper. After supper and a chat between the men, the children came to their father and reminded him it was time for bedtime prayers. The father told them he would come later because he was engaged in conversing with his guest. The business acquaintance protested, saying that he did not want his presence to interfere with family prayers. He asked if he may be present as they prayed the usual evening prayers. The father was abashed, but then all gathered before the icons with the guest and prayed. This is a true story.

The Universal Church of the Creed is lived in the diocese, in the parish, in our own lives, but first of all, in our own homes, the “micro-church.” How about your home?

Glory to God for all things!

+NATHANIEL, Archbishop

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