In response to the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met in Chambésy Switzerland in June of 2009, over fifty hierarchs assembled in Manhattan in May 26-28, 2010, to lay the groundwork for more complete unity of Orthodox churches in North America.
Historian Matthew Namee tells us why, despite some glaring tensions highlighted in the opening addresses of both chairman Archbishop Demetrios and vice chairman Metropolitan Philip, the recent Episcopal Assembly may be the best chance yet at achieving what we've all been longing for:
Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity. [. . .]
There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.
Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which [held] its first meeting [May 26-28, 2010], includes every single Orthodox bishop in America—every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively. [Read Namee's full article here.]
As His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese reminds us in his opening address as the Episcopal Assembly,
We can never forget that the unity of the Church is not an option. We are united in faith expressed in worship, but we are also united in faith expressed by action. The unity we find when celebrating the Liturgy together must also be expressed in the way we organize ourselves internally and in our outreach to the world. Sometimes, we might be tempted to withdraw into ourselves because of the frustrations we feel with the dissensions in our parishes and the squabbling in our dioceses. However, we can never allow ourselves to accept factions and divisions within the Church as a permanent reality. It makes a lie of what we say we believe. This is true both in our search for a closer unity within the Orthodox Church especially here in North America, as well as in our search for unity with the other Christian Churches.
In saying this we always need to remember that unity is a gift from God. We may argue for the need for a more coherent ecclesiastical structure, but even when we have achieved success at creating a better organizational framework, we still experience this unity as a gift from God, not the result of our efforts. We know that any agreement or constitution is not worth the paper it is written on if the necessary good will and love are lacking. Only God can give us this.
We are called by some the “diaspora.” Others reject this designation. There is certainly a dynamic tension. Let me suggest that in the push and pull of what we were and what we are yet to become we find the “now and not yet” of the coming Kingdom. The development of our Orthodox Church in a pluralistic “new world” has forced all of Orthodoxy to grapple with the missionary imperative of the Gospel.
Let us all pray with fevour for a fully united Orthodoxy in our lifetime and likewise for unity between East and West.