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The Orthodox Christian Laity - The Quest for Unity of the Church in America
By Lee Kopulos - Lay Chairperson

The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) is a voluntary independent movement of Orthodox Christian laity and clergy seeking to encourage spiritual renewal and active participation of the laity in church governance. Founded in 1987, the OCL is National and not-for-profit with tax exempt status as a 501©3 organization. It welcomes and includes among its members faithful from all canonical jurisdictions in America. In this Nation, the Church faces many challenges in its service to mankind. This pluralistic society requires a strong and informed laity keeping its eye on the vitally important missionary responsibility as given by the Lord's Great Commission. The OCL actively informs the faithful through publications, resolutions, position papers, open forums and media releases. Orthodox faithful can keep current on OCL matters by logging onto the internet at www.ocl.org. Also, the OCL owns and operates the well known website for worldwide news on Orthodoxy at www.orthodoxnews.com.

While the OCL seeks to help renew and educate the faithful, it recently (1998) made as its primary objective, a serious and concerted effort to bring the various canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in America under one roof, unified and self-governed. It must help accomplish this goal because:

  • Orthodoxy in America is in violation of the sacred canons of the Church which require that there be "one Bishop in each city serving his people as one shepherd over a united flock" as stated by the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 A.D.
  • Needs to grow and be nurtured so as to meet the challenge of the Apostolic Mission of the our Lord & Savior who has compelled us to "go and make disciples of all nations…. baptizing them and teaching them all I have commanded you…." Matt 28:19-20.
  • Reduce the wasteful duplication of time, talent, and financial resources to maintain these separate institutions, administrative structures, outreach & church growth programs, publications, public relations, media relations and theological schools support.
  • Allow the Church to speak with ONE voice so as to effectively address the Nation's issues of a social, political, religious, and ethical nature. We are the Ancient Church of the Apostles and have much to offer the American public and its religious institutions and Government.

    Where are we currently on the unification of the Church and self-governance?

    Currently there are at least 14 separate Orthodox jurisdictions in America! Three of these jurisdictions are critical toward reaching the self-governance goal. The "Big Three"as we like to call them, each have Archdiocese with large numbers of faithful, numbers of churches, financial strength and leadership. First, is our own Orthodox Church in America (OCA) which is the only self-governing church in America as established in 1970. Next, the Antiochian Archdiocese (AOCA) which just recently obtained self-rule (autonomous) status from the Patriarchate of Antioch on October 3, 2003.. Last, the Greek Archdiocese (GOA) which is the largest Archdiocese in membership and number of churches. However, the GOA is currently in a state of flux being tied to the Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). It seems reasonable to assume if the GOA could achieve self-rule (autonomous) status then it would be possible to integrate the "Big Three" into one Patriarchate here in America. Currently the OCL is working diligently on the GOA seeking to bring it to self-rule status. However, Istanbul is not cooperating.

    At the 2002 Clergy/Laity Congress of the GOA in Los Angeles, the OCL and various delegates spearheaded additions to its American Charter which, in effect, would give it self-rule (autonomous) status from Istanbul. The Istanbul Patriarchate ignored this request and instead put in place a "New Charter" in 2003 without an approval by a Clergy/Laity Congress. The document limits the clergy/laity participation in the election of Archbishop and Diocesan Bishop, allowing the American church to merely submit opinions.

    On Feb.3, 2004, a broad-based group of 37 GOA faithful filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court requesting an interpretation of the language in the governing document of the GOA as set forth in the current 1977 Charter. It asks the Court to instruct the Archdiocese to abide by the rules and cease violating provisions of the current Charter. This action is underwritten by many GOA Faithful through a special fund established by the OCL. The lawsuit does not ask for monetary damages. This case has a great chance of proceeding to judgment for it involves neutral principles of corporation and contract law, not Orthodox doctrine. Hopefully, the Court will rule before the next Clergy/Laity Congress to be held in New York, July 25-29.

    Mr. George Matsoukas, Executive Director of OCL, said, "We take this action with a heavy heart." "But, it was necessary because the hierarchy refused to discuss the situation."

    Lee Kopulos - June 10,'04