Friday, October 06, 2006
To our Beloved, The Faithful Clergy and Laity of the Holy Orthodox Church throughout North America,
We greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
At the invitation of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman, and the other Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), we gathered together in Chicago, Illinois from October 3rd to October 6th, 2006. Over four days we discussed issues of concern for the entire Orthodox Church in North America. We represent every member church of the Standing Conference that our good and loving Lord has planted in North America. Conscious of our need to give concrete witness to the unity of the faith we share, we gathered in Chicago at the heart of our North American continent, as the shepherds of this holy flock that has been entrusted to our care, building on the work of our two previous meetings in Ligonier, Pennsylvania (1994) and Washington, DC (2001).
Mindful of the presence of our Lord among us, we prayed together each morning and evening. Through spiritual reflections offered to us by two of the bishops among us, we heard and meditated on the words of the Holy Scriptures. We gratefully accepted the hospitality of the Greek Orthodox Parish of St. Haralambos and Taxiarchai to worship with them, and thus sharing the joy of our gathering with the faithful Orthodox Christians in Chicago. And finally, we prayed together during the sublime mystery of the Divine Liturgy at the Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, crowning the unity we share by partaking of the Holy Eucharist.
From the outset we were mindful of the changes in our world since the last time we gathered in May of 2001. The terrorist attacks on September 11th of that year have set humanity on a course of violence and brutality that has not left one corner of the world unaffected. During our worship we were called to reflect on the words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, “All violence is against the nature of God.” Our world needs the comforting message of the Good News, the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Each of us is called to bring the peace which our Lord gives to us to those around us. As the Church of Christ we are called to witness to the healing that the All-Holy Spirit brings to those at enmity with one another. We grieve over the senseless and inhumane killing not only abroad, but here at home, even in our schools, even among our children. We are especially mindful of the young men and women who have given of themselves to serve our nation in the Armed Forces. We offer our prayers to our Lord who is all-merciful to keep them safe and unscathed by the traumas of war, and bestow his boundless comfort on their families and loved ones. We also shed tears with those who have lost loved ones to terrible acts of violence.
When we gathered in 2001 we said the following: “We affirm the need to bear public witness together on matters of spiritual and moral concern. We have the profound obligation to address the crying needs of the society in which we live. We must reach out. These are issues of vital concern to the future of humanity and the planet. There are people suffering from economic and political injustices. Many in our society are morally adrift. We cannot remain silent. The oneness of our voice will help to provide spiritual direction not only to our own faithful, but will also offer a witness of the truth of the Gospel to those around us.”
Christ has come for the life of the world; through the Cross joy has come into all the world. We have a responsibility to bear witness to this life in Christ and to this joy. In the many reports heard and discussions held during these days, and especially in the encounters with people who are engaged in this good work, we begin to see our words put into action.
During these days we learned in more detail about the substantive work of the SCOBA Agencies and Commissions which have been energetically building up the common witness of our Church here and throughout the world in practical and tangible ways. We have carefully studied critical issues that the Church here must address if we are to be faithful to our responsibility toward you, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a vision of the Church that is at once faithful, grounded in tradition, and dynamic, prepared to address the challenges of the modern world. Our calling is to find ways in which to put this vision into effect.
We were inspired and moved by hearing the detailed reports from the many SCOBA Agencies and Commissions. SCOBA Agencies are chartered for a particular ministry done on behalf of the whole Church. Simply to list their names gives one a sense of the work being done by faithful Orthodox Christians in the name of the Church. The International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) ministers to the suffering of those afflicted by natural and human catastrophes, abroad but also here at home as we saw in its effort during the Katrina tragedy. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) promotes foreign missions and supports indigenous clergy throughout the world, but especially in Africa and Asia. The Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC) prepares religious educational materials and curricula for young and old. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is active on 230 college campuses. The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), building from a simple radio program, is becoming an ever increasing presence in the major media markets. Its weekly Come Receive the Light program is now available even over the internet. The newest Agency of SCOBA, the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), brings together Orthodox Christians presently ministering to those in prison and encouraging, building and expanding this ministry throughout the country.
SCOBA Commissions are specific committees of scholars and experts charged to offer counsel and resources for the work of the Church. We heard reports on the work of the Ecumenical Commission that is responsible for overseeing and coordinating each of the dialogues that are being held with other Christian churches and denominations. The Social and Moral Issues Commission provides scientific and theological reflection on contemporary issues in order to assist in the formulation of pastoral responses to the pressing questions we all face in today’s world. The Information Technologies Commission provides the Church with technological tools and services at the national, diocesan and parochial levels.
We held workshops on six important subjects, inviting men and women expert in their particular field to help us understand the changing dynamics and challenges within the life of the Church. These were: Issues in Coordinating New and Mission Parishes; Protecting the Church from Sexual Misconduct; Keeping Young People Connected to the Church; The Diaconate; Teaching in the Church: Witness in Society; and Internal Ecclesial Issues. Each of these subjects will require much more discussion and reflection, but we were grateful for the insights given us and the opportunity to talk with each other about things affecting every diocese and parish.
We also heard reports from some of the groups whose Christian work has been endorsed by SCOBA: The Orthodox Peace Fellowship; Zoe for Life; The Fellowship of the Transfiguration; Project Mexico; and The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion (OCAMPR).
At the May meeting of the SCOBA Hierarchs, composed of the Primates of each of our member bodies, the question was raised of the diversity of Canonical and Pastoral practices within and among the Orthodox traditions in North America. This is a difficult and delicate matter. The Orthodox Church present throughout the world has responded to the actual situations in a variety of ways as it has lived the truth of the Gospel within its canonical framework. In those places the diversity of world-wide Orthodoxy presents little if any difficulty. Here, in our context, this diversity of practice is interpreted by some as a perceived “disunity.” The SCOBA Hierarchs decided to refer this very important question to our gathering, the Bishops’ Conference. We recommended to the SCOBA Hierarchs that they establish a Commission on Canonical and Pastoral Issues. This Commission will allow thoughtful and prayerful examination of the issues and challenges of our different traditions, looking toward bringing coherence and unity to our expression of Orthodoxy. At the same time, it is our strong feeling that each of us, and our clergy and faithful, must respect and honor the legitimate differences that exist within our one Church.
We give thanks to our good and loving Lord for the gift of this time together, strengthened by the prayers of our beloved clergy and faithful all across North America. We look forward to the future, committed to building on the work we have done here. As we closed our work we gathered together for the Holy Eucharist, partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect sign of our unity. This experience renews us and reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, from Him who is the Father of lights.”
Glory to God who offers us this opportunity to witness to Him! Glory to Him who is always with us and upholds us! Glory to Him who breaths life into all that is!