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A CALL TO GATHER TOGETHER AS A CHURCH “Reflections on IV Chambesy”
By Nick Katich
Source: Website

In the aftermath of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (“IV Chambesy”), no meaningful critical analysis or discussion has yet developed with regard to the raison detre of its decision and the rules governing the operation of the so-called episcopal assemblies mandated by IV Chambesy. To be sure, there has been some reaction which has generally either bordered on the cynical or the quizzical, but not on the critical.

The cynical reaction has seen nothing new or revolutionary in the outcome of IV Chambesy. It merely views the outcome in three parts: (i) Constantinople won and Moscow lost, (ii) the episcopal assemblies are nothing more than a glorified SCOBA and are doomed to be just as ineffectual in “creating” administrative unity or an autocephalous North American church, and (iii) the “mother churches” still view North American Orthodoxy as a dependent “diaspora” over which they are not willing to give up control and IV Chambesy is designed to pacify us for the moment and divert our zeal for unity and/or autocephaly.

The quizzical reaction fails to ask the “why” and dwells on the “why not”. Why didn’t IV Chambesy merely declare the North American church autocephalous? Is it that Constantinople and Moscow are at a stalemate on the “mechanism” and/or where the “mechanical” authority lies? Why didn’t Constantinople react favorably to 1994 Ligonier since it now allows an episcopal assembly to gather together again? Why didn’t IV Chambesy allow the episcopal assemblies to elect their own presiding officer? It is submitted that neither of these reactions are warranted given what IV Chambesy actually accomplished and the “why” of its decision and rules governing the operation of episcopal assemblies. These reactions, however, do have one thing in common. They both assume the truth of the proposition that North America is ready for unity and/or autocephaly and that, if unity and/or autocephaly would have been declared and acknowledged, to use a popular euphemism, the “mission” would have been “accomplished”. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the true message of IV Chambesy is a call to those in the diaspora, particularly in North America, to gather together and prove to the “mother churches” that North American Orthodoxy is capable of gathering together and functioning as a church and to present a framework for providing that proof. This paper also suggests that, as much as we want and hope for unity and autocephaly, much foundational work still remains to be done. Initially, it is necessary to dispel some of the reactions to IV Chambesy and to put them into perspective. Perhaps the starting point in such an analysis is Chalcedonian Canon 28. In that regard, IV Chambesy, first and foremost, represents a compromise, one which neither sanctions the position of Constantinople nor of Moscow. All of the “mother churches” are, to varying degrees, responsible for the utterly uncanonical situation which exists in the “diaspora”. Accordingly, IV Chambesy appropriately determined that the “diaspora”, in its various regional movements towards administrative unity and/or autocephaly, will be dealt with “collectively” by the “mother churches”.

Hence, a provision was agreed to that unanimity among the constituent jurisdictions which comprise the episcopal assemblies will be the norm. This is a major departure from Constantinople’s previous position that it alone has jurisdiction over the diaspora and it is a major concession on its part. However, it also represents a major departure from Moscow’s previous position that the initiation of missionizing activity is sufficient a basis for jurisdictional authority from that point forward.

That the legate of Constantinople shall preside over the episcopal assemblies is of minor significance since no one, even those of the author’s persuasion who take a view contrary to Constantinople’s interpretation of Chalcedonian Canon 28, would deny it the honor of the presidency in pan-Orthodox assemblies or liturgical celebrations and, until unification occurs, the episcopal assembly is still technically a pan-Orthodox assembly. Another, and most encouraging sign, is the fact that IV Chambesy contemplates that the episcopal assemblies and executive committees should not work independently as the imperial episcopacy since it provides for the creation of various committees consisting of both laity and non-episcopal clergy. This is most significant and provides a hint as to the true meaning and message of IV Chambesy which is further developed below.

Having put into perspective some of the initial negative reactions to IV Chambesy, another essential starting point in the analysis is to raise the threshold question of what would have happened if IV Chambesy simply said, as some have dreamt, “We recognize the North American church as the local church in North America. Now, go function as such”. What would have been the result? It is submitted that varying levels of chaos would have resulted, if not outright schism.

Apropos to that proposition, a pertinent “digression” is illustrative. In a series of homilies, St. Basil the Great explained the six days of creation which has become known as the Hexaemeron [i.e. the six days]. These were presented in the same way as they appear in Genesis, i.e. sequentially: on day one God did this; on day two God did this; and so on and so forth. His brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, a more profound thinker, had problems with the sequential exposition of creation because it failed to take into account the interrelatedness and interdependence of all aspects of nature and the laws of nature. Sequential creation, standing alone, does not imply an a priori design and purpose. It almost describes an intelligent but somewhat random creation. This, to St. Gregory of Nyssa, was problematic.

In expounding on his brother’s homilies, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote An Apologetic Explanation of the Hexaemeron. In it, he suggested that all of creation was made simultaneously. Relying on a passage in the Susanna portion of Daniel, “O eternal God, who knows…all things before they come to be” [SAAS, p. 1238, v. 42], which can also be translated as “who sees…all things before they come into being”, St. Gregory of Nyssa argues that the Father “designed” or “planned” all aspect of creation ahead of time and that, through the sheer exercise of His Will, according to his total “design” or “plan”, His Word brought everything into being simultaneously. The purpose of the allegorical sequential narrative of Genesis is to demonstrate for us the interrelatedness and interdependence of all aspects of nature and the laws of nature, rather than the actual sequence of creation.

If St. Gregory of Nyssa is correct, and our reason compels us to conclude that he was, God designed and planned all aspects of creation before the act of creation. Since the creation of something inherently presupposes a design or plan, it is necessary to ask ourselves what is our design or plan for the operation of a united and/or autocephalous North American Orthodox church? That was obviously the principal concern of IV Chambesy since the most significant charge given to the episcopal assembly is “the preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis”. IV Chambesy wants to see a “plan”. Why and what is the plan?

The various existing jurisdictions all have differing models of internal governance. Which model will govern a unified North American church? That is a critical question because each model has varying degrees of presbyter and lay participation. Will there be a church-wide assembly such as the OCA’s All-American Council, the Antiochian’s Convention or the Serbian’s Triennial Clergy-Laity Assembly with the broader scope of authority that they have or will it be more limited in scope of authority as now exists in the Greek Archdiocese? Or will there even be one at all? If there is such an assembly, regardless of its scope of authority, will the basic representational unit be the parish, as is now usually the case, or will it be the diocese as recently suggested by Metropolitan Jonah in considering reforms within the OCA? Although the number of parishes within each individual jurisdiction is now manageable, a united North American church will have over 2,000 parishes and that number will certainly make parish representation a logistic challenge. Logistical considerations aside, the ecclesial ramifications of the representational unit being the parish rather than the diocese must be thoroughly explored since, historically, the diocese has been the “canonical” unit of Orthodox ecclesiology. And, what will be the reaction at the parish level if the more ecclesiastically proper system of the basic representational unit being the diocese be chosen?

Also, of critical importance is what model will be used for the selection of the “first hierarch” and the diocesan bishops? Will the selection process for the first hierarch be a purely synodical model or will it involve clergy and lay participation and to what degree? Similarly, and much more importantly, what will be the model for the selection of diocesan bishops? Tension between the proponents and opponents of the imperial episcopacy is ever present even when the tension is pseudo-dormant. It will erupt like a volcano when the organization of a North American church is seriously undertaken. Also, how will the hierarchical authority function? Will it be more of a centralized model such as exists in the church of Russia or the church of Greece where a small synod effectively governs or will it be inclusive of all diocesan bishops as is the case in the church of Serbia?

Trying to decide these issues after the fact of unity rather then before the fact of unity will certainly result in much distress if not outright divisiveness. In my own experience while I was with the Serbian jurisdiction, actively involved in ending the 28 year schism and trying to bring about administrative unity, I witnessed an immense amount of resistance and hostility to administrative unity once the schism ended Eucharistically. It took eighteen years from 1991 when Eucharistic communion was achieved until 2009 when administrative unity was finally achieved, during which period much turmoil, acrimony and resistence emerged principally over “control of property” issues, notwithstanding that a “maximal” level of autonomy was being proposed for the North American Serbian Orthodox Church. Because of a failure to agree on “control of property” issues, administrative unity was finally imposed from above by the Patriarchate and, as a result of the imposition of that administrative unity, schism is once again threatened in various parishes in America, Canada and Australia. Other significant obstacles will need to be overcome in organizing a North American church. Each North American jurisdiction presently has a relatively small number of diocesan bishops. An immediately unified North American church would have in excess of forty bishops with overlapping, parallel territories. Unless a plan is agreed to in advance as to the boundaries of the new territorial diocese and who the bishops of those diocese will be, post-unity “turf wars” are certain to result. Bishops in overlapping, parallel diocese that are relatively financially well off and centered in major and prestigious North American cities and regions will be reluctant to give up a “prize” diocese for one of lesser perceived import. That is a fact of human nature. Drawing up diocesan boundaries will be easier than trying to achieve consensus on who will be installed as hierarchs in those diocese. Consensus will not be easy to achieve and transitional formulas will need to be evolved under a consensus principle. Each jurisdiction has a manageable number of diocese and parishes. Collectively, however, among the various jurisdictions, there are over 2,000 parishes of varying size and financial condition, some of which are in relatively close proximity to each other. In many cases parish consolidation may be necessary. In many cases, there is a large difference in the perceived autonomy and control over property that exists among parishes of the various jurisdictions. Over the last century, a congregational culture has emerged among the laity of North America and, over the last millennium, an imperial culture has certainly become entrenched among the hierarchs. Neither is in accord with the ancient church. However, much treasure has been wasted during the past century over property conflicts and we can’t let history repeat itself.

Some jurisdictions have ecclesiastical courts for the purpose of passing on issues of divorce, discipline and the like, while others do not. These are just some of the “administrative” differences that need to be resolved in order to start functioning as a united, local church in North America.

Apart from these “administrative” differences, there exist a thorny number of “core” differences involving church “practices”. There are differences in calendar, which has been an extremely divisive issue among some in the past. Schisms have resulted due to a view by some that anything but the traditional Julian calendar is or borders on heresy. There are significant differences in liturgical practice, particularly in the audible versus inaudible anaphora, an issue that has been recently particularly divisive in the Serbian church, for example. Liturgies in Serbia have been disrupted over the last several years by shouting and near brawls during the liturgy by lay adherents of the silent practice when certain bishops began a return to the audible, ancient practice. There are differences in liturgical language which have to be overcome. There are subtle theological overtones between the ancient “Greek” practice and the “Russian” innovation of interrupting the anaphora with the troparion of the third hour. There are significant differences in the lay reception of the Eucharist, namely frequent versus infrequent communion. There are jurisdictions (I’m most familiar with the Serbian, but I believe the same is the case with ROCOR) where communion by the laity has been strictly denied unless it has been preceded before each reception by week-long fasting and mandatory confession! There are other jurisdictions where communion comports with the true, ancient tradition of the church, i.e. the reception of communion at every liturgy by all faithful, unless one is under some epitimia. This is a fundamental ecclesiastical and liturgico-theological issue that compels uniformity to the ancient practice but which will be hard to overcome against those who prescribe to the neo-disciplina archani. And, if the neo-disciplina archani point of view prevails, there are those of us that will unhesitatingly rebel. This, perhaps, may be the most significant core issue to overcome.

Then, of course, one needs to consider the pervasive phyletism into which Orthodox consciousness has evolved throughout the world. In a relatively ethnically homogenous society, institutionalized phyletism, i.e. the local church’s identification with the ethnic nation is not as problematic since it stays below the surface because of a lack of daily interaction with various other ethnicities at the parish or diocesan level. However, phyletism of a less benign character has found fertile ground in the “diaspora”. Those who reject phyletism and advocate a unified North American church, in my opinion, are a significant minority, but a minority nonetheless. We of that minority tend to gravitate towards one another, meet in conferences, believe that most others share our vision and we preach to the choir, so to speak. I would venture to guess that a poll, at least of Serbs, Greeks, Russians of ROCOR and Ukrainians, would reveal that the majority of faithful, and even clergy, would rather maintain the status quo rather than risk a loss of their national identification and character. Because the status quo has existed for over eighty years in North America with relative contentment among the laity and clergy, the fact that the status quo is contrary to Orthodox ecclesiology and that phyletism is a nefarious heresy is simply not in the majority’s consciousness as something in need of alteration. Overcoming this will be a most interesting challenge. It will take some thoughtful and creative attention to correct the ecclesiology, overcome the heresy and yet maintain the good things of our vast cultural diversity within the framework of the hoped for unity.

All of these concerns have arisen as a result of historical “accident”. That is why IV Chambesy indicated that “historical reasons” require a transitional period to overcome these concerns. Because resolution of these concerns must be taken in a systematic fashion to avoid conflict, chaos and schism is the reason why IV Chambesy also indicated that “pastoral reasons” likewise require a transitional period to overcome these concerns. That is why IV Chambesy proposed “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” in its decision and rules governing the operation of the episcopal assemblies. [Emphasis added].

For this transitional period, IV Chambesy has essentially created a quasi-synod in the guise of an “episcopal assembly”. Although ethnic jurisdictions and their day-to-day governance temporarily remain status quo, the quasi-synod has been given a significant authority, i.e. “the preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis”. That directive to the quasi-synod forms the very soul of IV Chambesy. For years, the preaching to the choir has consisted of lamentations on our part that the North American faithful have not been given a role in the formal discussions of the ecclesiological solution of the diaspora. The 1994 Ligonier conference finally “asked” for such a role. Although it was “shot down” at the time, in a certainly uncharitable reaction to the fact of the conference; now the request has been granted, but it has been granted in a way that is more expansive than originally requested. IV Chambesy, in my view, has gone beyond 1994 Ligonier. However, it has also thrown down the gauntlet: (i) don’t ask for a consultative role, (ii) you are the role, (iii) come up with a plan that will overcome the “historical accident” and will avoid the “pastoral concern” and (iv) do this now, or you may be unpleased with the result of a failure to act (more on that later). IV Chambesy, therefore, is a triumph for 1994 Ligonier and it actually goes beyond what 1994 Ligonier ever asked or hoped for. It is now our challenge to gather together and prove to the “mother churches” that North American Orthodoxy is capable of gathering together and functioning as a unified church. The challenge now is how best to proceed with the task that has been assigned to us.

First and foremost, our episcopal assembly needs to be convened as soon as possible. Although IV Chambesy requires it to meet at least once per year, it clearly allows for more frequent meetings. It would be my suggestion and hope that the episcopal assembly initially meets semi-annually during the planning process. The executive committee essentially already exists in the guise of SCOBA, but it will require at least one additional representative, namely ROCOR. IV Chambesy requires the executive committee to meet at least quarterly but, again, it allows for more frequent meetings. Once the planning process is underway, it would probably be efficacious for it to meet monthly. In this era of teleconferencing, monthly meeting should be no problem and would be cost effective.

The real heart of the planning process is the creation of committees consisting of Bishops, clergy and laity which are contemplated by IV Chambesy’s rules governing the operation of the episcopal assemblies. The committees should be as ethnically balanced as possible with a diversity of points of view also represented, but the ultimate criteria should be to gather the best possible minds to engage the process. At this stage, three key committees come to mind.

First, there should be a committee to draft a proposed foundational document (sometimes called a constitution or statute) for the operation of a united North American church. Most of the jurisdictions have such a document although they differ in many key respects. The committee should be charged with studying all of them, but it should not be wedded to any particular model. The committee should consult with all of the present hierarchs and prominent clergy and laity to get their critical analysis of their respective foundational documents and to obtain their input as to their respective visions of the best model of organization and governance for the united North American church. Second, there should be a committee to develop a plan for the geographical distribution of the new diocese. In each jurisdiction, there exists a relatively small number of bishops each with a large geographic diocese. We have become accustomed to that fact in North America. However, that is not a desirable model. Diocese should be compact so that the bishop can visit most parishes during the course of a year. We now have infrequent contact with our bishops and they with us. Let us not forget that the faithful gathered together with the bishop in the liturgy is the wholeness of the church. With approximately 2,000 present parishes and approximately 40 present bishops, diocese of approximately 50 parishes is easily achievable. Whatever number of parishes constituting a diocese is determined to be ideal, it must also be balanced against compactness and present realities.

Another aspect of developing a plan for the geographical distribution of the new diocese is to give due consideration to the number of parishioners and what the financial condition of each new diocese would be. That some diocese will end up with greater collective wealth than others may be unavoidable. However, an effort at balance must be strived for. Each diocese will have to be able to sustain itself financially. Accurate figures as to parishioners and the financial conditions of parishes need to be obtained and parish cooperation in this regard must be sought. The era of underreporting by parishes and exaggeration by present diocese and jurisdictions must end. Reality must prevail. Third, there should be a committee of the best theologians, together with bishops, clergy and laity, to discuss and try to arrive at a consensus on the “core” ecclesiastical and liturgico-theological issues, particularly (i) the calendar, (ii) the lay reception of communion, (iii) the silent versus the audible anaphora and (iv) the interruption of the anaphora with the troparian of the third hour. I would strongly encourage such a committee to consult with those of the laity who have experienced both traditions (i.e. differing communion and anaphora practices) and determine the “effect” on their church life under each tradition. If no consensus can be achieved, then a practical solution must be sought that allows for the continuation of each “tradition” on a parish basis or on some other transitional basis.

Other committees may come to mind during the organizational and planning process and each committee needs the flexibility to break down into work groups of subcommittees. Teleconferencing and other technologies should be utilized as often as possible so that the committees and its members can, as often as is necessary, share information, brainstorm and arrive at working consensus with respect to their respective tasks. The various committees should also have the flexibility of interacting with one another to achieve a common end product.

Apart from initiating, coordinating and engaging in a planning process, the episcopal assembly has been given various other charges, two of which are inextricably related to the planning process. They 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.

Based on these two charges, a committee should be set up to generate and coordinate the preparation and publication of various papers which promote a unified and autocephalous North American church to as wide an audience as possible. Although the creation of a separate publication under the authority of the episcopal assembly and/or executive committee would be desirable, publication can also be cost-effectively achieved by dissemination through the existing diocesan and jurisdictional publications. This would reach the widest possible audience.

Representatives from the educational, philanthropic, publishing and missionary departments of the various jurisdictions, including those affiliated with SCOBA but not tied to any specific jurisdiction (such as the IOCC in the case of philanthropy) should be formed into separate educational, philanthropic, publishing and missionary committees to coordinate the various jurisdictional efforts on a North American church-wide basis and to meld those efforts into a common effort. The IOCC is a perfect model of a common effort. The same can and should be achieved in the educational, publishing and missionary efforts. What can be done in common should begin to be done in common. A speaker’s bureau should also be established for speakers to go to and address nationwide jurisdictional assemblies, diocesan assemblies, local parishes and other Orthodox gatherings to promote the concept of a unified and autocephalous North America church and to condition the faithful to this coming reality.

Although it is customary in most localities to have a pan-Orthodox celebration of vespers on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, localities and the local clergy associations should be encouraged to have frequent pan-Orthodox celebrations of the Divine Liturgy at least on a quarterly basis. It is, after all, the celebration of the Eucharist that gathers us together, makes us a community and expresses the fullness of the church in each local celebration.

What a better way to overcome phyletism and build a sense of oneness than for two, three or more parishes of differing jurisdictions to get together quarterly with their respective priests, and possibly with one or more of the local bishops, and celebrate the Divine Liturgy together. Although there may exist differences in practice, the hierarchy and clergy can work those out and expose themselves and us in the process to the variety of practices. Major League Baseball, after all, has overcome its differences in practice during the World Series by having the designated hitter rule in effect when the game is played in the American League venue but not in the National League venue. It seems that the only time we have a pan-Orthodox celebration of the Divine Liturgy is when an important dignitary visits or when an important event is celebrated. It is submitted that every Sunday is an important event, a time for us all to gather together as a united church in North America, to experience our oneness and to celebrate and fulfill our wholeness.

It is suggested that all of these things, done together and in a coordinated fashion, will result in the development of a complete and workable plan for unification and will raise our collective level of consciousness to the reality and totality of our oneness. The opportunity has been given to us by IV Chambesy. This was followed up by a timely discussion of the past development of our present situation at the June conference coordinated by St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary.

It is now hoped that the upcoming conference of October 29-31 hosted by the Orthodox Christian Laity at Ligonier will be well attended and that the focus there will be on the future and a discussion on the implementation of IV Chambesy. And it is prayed that it will be followed up shortly thereafter by the early convocation of the North American Episcopal Assembly to begin the formal process of gathering together as the united North American church.

In concluding, one should note that IV Chambesy requires in Item 4 of its decision that the episcopal assemblies “have the responsibility to complete the regulation of their operation in the specifications approved by this Conference, and to apply this regulation as soon as possible, and certainly before the convening of the Great and Holy Council”. Furthermore, in Item 1 (a) of its decision, IV Chambesy “affirmed that it is the common will of all of the most holy Orthodox Churches that the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora be resolved as quickly as possible….” Finally, in Item 1 (b) of its decision, IV Chambesy stated that “Of necessity, this preparation [i.e. the preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis] 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 to the problem”.

It is clear from the above quoted portions of the IV Chambesy decision that, if we do not come up with a plan, one will be imposed on us by the Great and Holy Council and, in my view, it may not be a plan with which we will be content, perhaps one in which there is canonical order but no autocephaly and no clergy-laity assemblies and the like.

Further, in my opinion, IV Chambesy did not indicate that a resolution of the canonical problem in the diaspora can only be resolved by the Great and Holy Council. It only established its convocation as a deadline and that the problem would, one way or another, be resolved at such a conclave. There is no reason to believe that a comprehensive plan, based on a strictly canonical order, could not be approved and ordered implemented by the Synaxis of Primates, with the concurrence of their respective churches.

Therefore, because it will take time to complete the preparation of a plan over which there will be consensus, it is imperative that the process be engaged as soon as possible To paraphrase Matthew 23:37, perhaps, at the conclusion of this process, the Lord will say to us “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, [and now, acting together] you were…willing” to which we will sing “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.

© Nick Katich, Esq., On the Eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration, 2009