The first day of meetings of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America reflected a growing collegiality and cooperation among those present. Forty-three hierarchs representing 11 jurisdictions are in attendance. The morning began with hierarchs participating in a common celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in Des Plaines, IL.
“Today…we are here together in unity and joy in full awareness of the truth that the love of Christ has brought us together and is with us,” said Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman of the Assembly, in his opening remarks to the hierarchs. “As we stand with awe, having prayed the Divine Liturgy and received the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, we are not only in God’s presence but also more importantly, we experience His presence as one undivided Body—His Body.”
His Eminence asked the hierarchs to keep in mind a number of issues over the course of the next several days: the threat to Orthodox Christians in other parts of the world and the kidnapped Syrian bishops whose whereabouts are still unknown; the responsibility to offer a complete and authentic image and experience of Christ to faith-seeking Americans; and an acknowledgment of our many blessings and the accompanying responsibility to promote and share the Orthodox faith to those who are suffering and in need.
His Grace Bishop Basil, Secretary of the Assembly, initiated a candid conversation in the afternoon on the vision of the Assembly, and how the Assembly is to interpret and act on the Chambésy decision. Break-out groups followed, in which hierarchs shared their views and then reported back to the group at-large. Further discussion on this topic, including proposals for canonical restructuring, is planned for Wednesday.
An outcome of Tuesday’s meeting was the creation of a new committee to oversee agencies and endorsed organizations. The committee will review recommendations that have been made as to the relationship between the Assembly and its agencies and organizations, and determine criteria for future agency and organization endorsement. The committee’s members will be those hierarchs who serve as agency liaisons, with a chairperson to be appointed.
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops endorsed a proposal to plan for a North American Pan-Orthodox Youth Gathering of high school students. The proposal was put forth by the Committee for Youth. The gathering will enable Orthodox youth from all jurisdictions to come together, share in their faith, bear witness to the Church, and build bridges across our Orthodox family.
The gathering, which will be organized by jurisdictional youth departments, is slated to happen in 2016 or 2017. In the period leading up to the national event, local and regional youth activities will be planned.
The Assembly also reviewed a model for canonical restructuring of the Church in America, which was presented by the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning under the leadership of Archbishop Nicolae. The model was a further development of one put forth at last year’s Assembly meeting. The hierarchs engaged in a lengthy discussion and provided comments. Based on the feedback, the committee will continue the process of developing a model that will garner the consensus of the hierarchs. As an immediate step, the committee’s membership will be expanded to represent the viewpoints of every jurisdiction.
It was acknowledged that the unique history and experiences of each jurisdiction in the US results today in a range of responses to ecclesiastical unity. In particular, one of the major points of discussion was the pastoral care of recent Orthodox immigrants and the need for any future action to consider the needs of these communities.
Metropolitan Antony read a resolution congratulating Archbishop Demetrios on the 14th anniversary of his enthronement as Archbishop, which occurred on this date in 1999. Also given special acknowledgment was Bishop Maxim, who in the last year has authored four books.
In the final day of its annual meeting, the Assembly agreed to issue two statements—one on the Church’s unchanging position on marriage and one expressing grave concern over the escalating violence in the Middle East. The Assembly also released a message to the faithful on the conclusion of Assembly IV.
The three statements can be found here: statement on marriage; statement on violence in the Middle East; and message to the faithful.
In other business, the Assembly voted unanimously to re-elect Bishop Basil as secretary and Metropolitan Antony as treasurer. Archbishop Demetrios recognized and commended them for their devotion to the Assembly over the past three years. The Assembly also reviewed and approved the 2014 budget. The Assembly expects to hold its next meeting in September 2014. More documents pertaining to the Assembly, including the minutes and 2014 budget, will be forthcoming on the Assembly's website.
The hierarchs concluded the meeting by singing the Tropar of Pentecost: Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Befriender of man, glory be to Thee.