Orthodox Unity - Bump in the Road or End of the Road?
Kevin Allen · February 23, 2014
Kevin's guest is Protodeacon Peter Danilchick, liaison for the Canonical Regional Planning Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops.
Mr. Kevin Allen: Good evening, and welcome to this special two-hour edition of Ancient Faith Today. We’ve been having a few of those this 2014, but it gives us more chance to go in-depth with our wonderful guests. And we’re streaming live. We’ll be opening the phone lines and taking your live calls. The call-in number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. I’ll announce the numbers again when the phone lines are open, probably at the half-hour, since tonight we have two hours. This program will also be available as a podcast download for later listening. Our chatroom is open: go to ancientfaith.com/ancientfaithtoday, and you’ll find the link to the chatroom on that page and you can chat with others as you listen. We’re also on Facebook on Ancient Faith Today, and we’re now on Twitter at #AFToday.
Well, tonight we are addressing a subject really of great importance and of concern and of confusion to many Orthodox. As you know, there’s been a planning process in place to achieve some form of coherent, canonical, and administrative unity among Orthodox jurisdictions in North America as well as other regions around the world. This task was given to the Canonical Assembly of Orthodox Bishops by the various mother churches in anticipation and planning for a great and holy Council planned for 2015.
As some of you know, there’s been some recent turbulence in this process at the Assembly here in North America. There have been recent statements of opposition to the specific proposed restructuring models of the Orthodox Church from the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese and from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), and in January 2014, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, which for disclosure purposes I should say is my jurisdiction, withdrew all of its members—bishops, clergy, and laity—from participating in the Canonical Assembly entirely over a dispute with the Patriarchate in Jerusalem in Qatar in the Arabian peninsula. We’re going to discuss all of this tonight.
So what is the status of the North American Canonical Assembly? Is Orthodox unity still on the table? Are we experiencing bumps in the road or does this mark the end of the road? This and these are the topics we’ll discuss with my guest tonight.
And my guest is the Protodeacon Peter Danilchick. Pdn. Peter is the liaison of the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, a committee charged by the mother churches to formulate a plan to organize all the Orthodox faithful of every jurisdiction in the region—North America—on a canonical basis. Dn. Peter serves at the Protection of the Holy Mother of God Orthodox Church in Falls Church, Virginia, which is in the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA. He has served 38 years as a deacon, more than half of them overseas in places like Japan, Singapore, Australia, Germany, and Hong Kong. While overseas, Dn. Peter served under, in most places, the Ecumenical Patriarchate; in Japan he was under the Autonomous Church which is under the Moscow Patriarchate, and here in the U.S. he has served parishes of both the Orthodox Church in America (the OCA) and the Antiochian Archdiocese.
So it’s my pleasure to welcome Pdn. Peter Danilchick to Ancient Faith Today. Welcome, Dn. Peter.
Protodeacon Peter Danilchick: Thank you, Kevin. I’m very happy to be here tonight with you all and with your listeners. Kevin, with your indulgence, I would just like to first dedicate my part of this program to a very special person to me: my grandson, Henry, who is six years old today…
Mr. Allen: Aw. Happy birthday!
Pdn. Peter: ...and to my other seven grandchildren and to all of our listeners’ children and grandchildren. We know that all of us really love our kids and we want the best for them, and especially we love our grandkids with our whole hearts. We need to give them a legacy. We need to bequeath to them a fully and perfectly united Orthodox Church. They deserve that. So, happy birthday, Henry! This one’s for you! Thank you, Kevin.
Mr. Allen: Happy birthday, Henry, from all of us, and God bless and many years.
Dn. Peter, let’s start with some background. I know that I’ve spoken to a lot of people; not everybody really knows all the background leading up to what’s been going on. So prior to the establishment of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America in 2009, the Ecumenical Patriarch, based in Istanbul, commonly referred to as Constantinople, convened meetings in Chambésy, Switzerland, at which all autocephalous churches were represented, and these meetings were to prepare the Orthodox Church for a great and holy Ecumenical Council, which as I understand is being planned—actually, finally, and thank God for it—for 2015.
So here’s my first question, Dn. Peter. What were the key decisions of all the Orthodox churches coming out of these preconciliar meetings [held at the invitation of Constantinople] that led to the establishment of the Episcopal Assemblies?
Pdn. Peter: Well, Kevin, these meetings were mainly focused on the issue of the so-called Orthodox diaspora. Now this word, “diaspora,” has a negative connotation for a lot of people here in this country, but it is best defined in a cold sort of sense as the Orthodox churches which are outside of the territories of the ancient autocephalous churches. This would encompass North and South America, Australia, western Europe, and so on. The hierarchs who participated in these meetings, as you referred to, were the heads or the representatives of all the autocephalous Orthodox churches whose autocephaly is recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the so-called diaspora, we have multiple jurisdictions from the overseas churches existing side-by-side with multiple bishops occupying the same and overlapping territories: many bishops in one city. All those at these meetings affirmed the situation [as] a canonical anomaly which is foreign to the doctrine of the Church, which calls simply for one bishop in one place. In addition, they called for a swift healing of this canonical anomaly, and further they called for a solution to this canonical organizational problem that’s in accordance with the ecclesiology, canonical tradition, and practice of the Orthodox Church. So in order to do these things practically, the people assembled at Chambésy—in toto, in consensus—everyone attached their signature to it.
They established twelve Assemblies of bishops in various regions, one of which is ours here: North and Central America. These Assemblies were given certain major tasks to accomplish, and we can discuss some of those later on if you wish, to show forth the unity of Orthodoxy, to work together, to address the pastoral needs of all Orthodox living in the region, to represent Orthodoxy to other faiths, to wider society, to cultivate theological education, and lastly—and this is the one that I think is the main topic of this discussion—to prepare a plan to organize the Orthodox of the region on a canonical basis.
Now I just want to point out that all of these tasks are critical. They all go hand-in-hand. Many of us focus primarily on the organizational issue to solve the canonical anomaly, and that is, of course, as I said, the central topic of this interview. However, one cannot have unity in the ecclesiastical structure without also having unity in the day-to-day building up of the Church, which is in fact a prerequisite. So that’s what the key decisions were, Kevin.
Mr. Allen: Let me just follow up on that, Pdn. Peter Danilchick. What authority does the Assembly actually and practically have? Does it have transitional administrative operative authority somewhat like a local synod would, or is it merely an advisory assembly that is to make recommendations for the future great and holy Council?
Pdn. Peter: Well, there are two basic things that it can do. It both has the responsibility of putting together this particular plan that has to be done for consideration of the great and holy Council, but the other thing is that it has to work together with everyone to manifest the unity of Orthodoxy, to work together towards common action. So it cannot, by decision of Chambésy, interfere in the rights and responsibilities of the other jurisdictions. That just is not able to be done. So it really is given both to make recommendations, specifically on the plan to remove the canonical anomaly, and also to work hard on manifesting the unity that we have right now and also that we desire to have. This is basically the kingdom which is and is to come, so to speak.
Mr. Allen: Okay, getting back to the principal concern and issue and topic of tonight, what were the major problems, or what are the major problems, both theological and practical, with what you described as “overlapping jurisdictions” such as we have in North America, and more than one bishop in one place? In Los Angeles, I know of at least four, possibly five, but we’ve got a Serbian bishop, we have an Antiochian bishop, we have at least one or two more in one place. So why did the mother churches who signed to this agreement see this as a problem? And please keep in mind that, as you know, ROCOR, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, has recently begun to argue that overlapping jurisdictions is not against the canons.
Pdn. Peter: Okay, well, I can express both of those items, including the ROCOR issue. First of all, again, the Chambésy document, as we stated already, states that the strict canonical order is one bishop in one place. This means, again, not just one bishop in one city, like in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but no overlapping geographical territories. As you know and as you’ve said, Kevin, we don’t have the situation, and we haven’t had it for almost 100 years. Lots of bishops in the same place all over America, violating the principle of one bishop in one place.
Now the simple problem is this: it seems normal. We are all used to it. Many people try to excuse it, but it’s still not right. The canonical order that Chambésy mentions is present in all the ancient canons, first mentioned [in] Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea, 325 AD, and this is extremely clear: there may not be two bishops in one city. All of these canons in further Ecumenical Councils, they’re all aimed at maintaining the territorial integrity of the bishop and his diocese.
Why is this important? Is this just a canonical issue or what is it? But if you go back to the New Testament, to the early Church Fathers, we see a tremendous emphasis on unity and oneness. Again, it begins with the famous chapter and quotes of our Lord Jesus Christ, the high priestly prayer, praying to his Father, in the gospel of St. John, chapter 17. This is one I think obviously we need to keep foremost in our mind:
Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [...] So the world may know that thou has sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
There are two things here, a theological reason and a practical reason. Theologically, we are made in God’s image and likeness, and a fundamental characteristic of that is that we are made one by grace as the Father and his Son are one by nature. Remember what Apostle Peter said in his second epistle: “We are partakers of the divine nature.” Practically, we participate in the mission of Christ, who said, “When I am lifted up on the Cross, I will draw all men to myself.” By our oneness, we testify to the fact that the Father has sent the Son and has loved him, and that’s what Jesus said, and if we aren’t one, then somehow that testimony is being called into question. It’s the oneness, unity—it’s part and parcel of our mission to all nations.
Now, when we go further and listen to what St. Paul said, many of those readings really show the tremendous emphasis that Paul placed on oneness. In Ephesians, particularly, he said: Christ Jesus our peace. He made us one. He’s broken down the walls of separation. We’re one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. And one of the most tender things that he said was in a letter to his beloved Philippians. He basically said: Make me happy. If you have any affection or mercy, complete my joy. Be of the same mind. Have the same love. Be of one accord and one mind. The word here, “accord,” in Greek, is “sympsychoi,” which literally means the same soul, the same inner life, the same desires. It’s ultimate; it’s complete unity.
But again, as we know, the Corinthians particularly were not like the Philippians. They were the bad guys; Philippians were the good guys. The Corinthians were the ones who had all kinds of parties and divisions in the Church. St. Paul said: Please agree. Be no dissensions among you. Be perfectly united and joined together in mind and in judgment. Again, later leaders such as St. John Chrysostom interpreted this to mean: You can only have one leader, not multiple ones. St. Ignatius of Antioch, when he wrote later, declared: Where the bishop appears, let the people be. He said “bishop” in the singular; he didn’t say the plurals. He [did not say] wherever the bishops are, then you can go. He said: Take heed to have one Eucharist, one altar, one bishop. Avoid divisions.
So the argument for one bishop in one place, one leader, no overlapping jurisdictions, that all may be one—it’s not just from canons, but it’s also from the New Testament, the early Church Fathers, and it’s all in accordance with the apostolic traditions, and these are foundations which we need to follow.
You talked about ROCOR, and that’s a subject which needs considerably more discussion amongst the people who are involved in these… Particularly we need a canonist in there. But ROCOR, for example, has in its letter—it’s on the ROCOR Synod of Bishops website, and anybody can read that—it referred to a seventh century canon and the Council of Trullo, which seemed to them to allow two jurisdictions existing on the same territory. Again, it was on an emergency basis at that time, but ROCOR considers the situation that we’ve been in for the past almost 100 years as kind of an emergency, special situation. The background there with ROCOR was that one bishop in this canon had to move; a bishop of Cyprus had to move to new territory for emergency reasons. And their reading of the canon was that the previous bishop stayed there as well, so therefore: two bishops in one place.
However, my understanding of that in accordance with certain canonical commentators, was that the existing bishop’s see was really moved to another city so that there would only be one bishop in one place. When the previous bishop left, then everything went back to the way that it was. Now, my personal feeling is this: ROCOR set forth this canon as basically justification for the present situation, and I really doubt that they would apply this to the long-term, or, as they put it in their letter, “the otherwise standard paradigm of a purely local structure.” So whether what they’re thinking is because of the way that we are now or the way that we can be, it’s something that we need to discuss a little bit further.
Mr. Allen: You know, Fr. Dn. Peter Danilchick, as you know, there are people, though, in various Orthodox jurisdictions—and I’ve heard this a lot—who believe that we already have oneness, we already have unity, or sufficient unity, between the canonical Orthodox churches in this country. One hears: We already have unity in faith, we have sacramental unity, we have theological unity, we can live out our faith in peace and freedom. So why is more unity required? they ask. How do you respond to that? I think you have responded, but specifically: We’ve got enough unity now; why do we need more?
Pdn. Peter: Well, I think it goes down to the personal level here, Kevin. I believe the crux of our present difficult situation is simply that we are comfortable in our divisions. It fits us like an old suit that we don’t want to give up, and try on a new one that might fit a little bit more tightly here, tightly there. We simply don’t work together. We don’t help each other in the way that a family would. I use the term “family” in a similar sense that St. Paul uses the term “body of Christ.” If we were faithful to our mission as Church, if one member suffers, then all suffer; if one is weak, the stronger members pitch in to compensate. We don’t have that situation today. Many people in the Church, many bishops and many clergy—not all—and many parishes—not all—feel independent from one another. If we were counseling the family that didn’t get together, who sometimes haven’t even met one another and who didn’t help each other, in fact, who don’t even know enough about each other to know if anyone needs help, we’d think something was wrong, big time.
Mr. Allen: It’s true.
Pdn. Peter: So to answer your question specifically, when I hear that we have unity in faith and sacraments as though that were some major accomplishment of each of us, I can’t help thinking these are gifts we didn’t do anything to earn or to deserve. They were handed to us. They were given to us as a gift. But then, when I hear the implied statement, “Isn’t that enough?” please forgive me. I hear an excuse. I hear an excuse for disunity, for laziness, for lack of caring. Frankly, the words of St. James in his epistle really jump right into my mind when I hear that. We see our brother in need, and we say to him, “Be of good cheer!” and then we go our separate ways. Right now we don’t even know if our brother is in need, and that’s a real problem, and that’s where unity in relationships, in structure, in administration, and in reality really comes in.
Mr. Allen: You know, you’ve spoken… Well, before we get to my next question, I’m speaking with Pdn. Peter Danilchick. We’re speaking about the road to Orthodox unity and where we are at this time. Our number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. I hope you’ll call in and weigh in with your comments, criticisms, questions. We’ll start taking your calls in a few minutes, probably five or ten minutes.
Fr. Dn. Peter, I spoke about this program with a priest who will remain anonymous, and he’s fairly well-known; he’s written quite a lot. He said to me that all this conversation about ancient, canonical order, he said, “Our inherited canons express certain specific historical experiences, not an eternal order of ecclesiology.” So how do we respond to those who feel that some of these prime canons can be ignored or modified or don’t apply, etc.?
Pdn. Peter: Well, our canons of the Church are basically established in order to deal with problems that are caused by people, people who ignore or who try to minimize or who try to subvert the Gospel and the apostolic tradition that we’ve received from the Fathers, from the apostles. The authors of those canons, holy bishops gathered in council, they gave directives to be applied at those times.
Now, my question is really: What makes us think that our times are so different from those? Bishops, clergy, and laity, are still subject to the same or perhaps even greater temptations than those who lived then. They had all kinds of issues; so do we. But the question still remains, and I think it’s a good one: Are the canons changeable per se? There have been a number of serious and deep papers written on this subject, but I believe that the principles boil down basically to this: The canons that we are examining and that we are thinking whether we should modify them, abide strictly by them, or change them in any way—do they reflect the unchanging doctrine of the Church as expressed in the Gospel and apostolic Tradition?
Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev wrote an essay on this subject called, very specifically, “Canons: Changeable or Unchangeable?” And he stated—and I’ll just state what he said here:
Dogmas are absolute truths, and canons are applications of those truths for the historical existence of the Church.
The canons [...] regulate the canonical structure of the Church so that it can more perfectly reveal the Church’s essence.
So my feeling is that when we talk about canons—and it’s a good subject to talk about—let’s go back to basics. Let’s go back to the Gospel and apostolic teaching on the essence of what unity really means, perfect unity. I would like to actually, if I have a couple of minutes on this one here, just wanted to chat a little bit more about what I believe or what the Gospel is really saying about perfect unity, Kevin.
We talked before about the famous quote from John 17, about being one. One of the things that always really struck me about that was that Jesus knew full well that he was about to be crucified and before that he was going to be betrayed, he was going to be denied, he was going to be deserted. But he still… All that he could think about was his disciples, and clearly, I mean, this was really important, so we ought to take his words there to be really, really important for us. On oneness he prays four times: four times, that we should be one. Our Lord obviously foresaw that we would be tempted to parse this word, “one”: what does “one” really mean? And we might come up with different definitions of what “one” means and what “unity” means, so he said explicitly, “That they may be one, as we are.” And again, that means one with each other as the Son and the Father are one.
The real clincher here is in verse 23 of John 17: “That they may be perfectly one, that the world may know that thou hast sent me,” he says, “and hast thou loved them as thou (the Father) hast loved me (the Son).” Now, why did he say “perfect”? “Perfect,” here in the Greek stems from the Greek word “teleo,” which means to carry through completely, to accomplish, to finish, to make full. An example of this verb is in the last words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.” In Greek, it’s “Tetelestai.” That means here that all that Christ was called to do on this earth is complete. Nothing can be added to that which was done by him. It’s perfect. And our unity, our oneness, must be as perfect as that which our Savior accomplished on the Cross.
And that’s the essence that the canons call us to remember and to manifest in our Church life, so when we’re talking about canons it’s not enough to compile chapter and verse of what this commentator and that commentator says, and so on. We need to be beyond the canons and see what Jesus is really saying to us and what the Fathers are saying to us.
Mr. Allen: I like it. I like that. And I’m speaking with Pdn. Fr. Peter Danilchick, and we’re talking about the road to Orthodox unity. Let’s go ahead and open the phone lines. The number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. We’re going to try to fit your calls in in somewhat of an orderly fashion, so you might be on hold for a minute, but you’ll be able to hear the program through your telephone.
Fr. Dn. Peter, as you know, there’s a current debate, and it would appear to me, but I will say that subjectively: it appears to me to be growing tension, maybe even a power struggle, if you will, between the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate in Moscow and within the Orthodox world. There even appear to me to be kind of camps, those kind of aligned with Constantinople and those aligned with Moscow. Do you sense that this tension is affecting these meetings here in North America and/or their outcomes?
Pdn. Peter: Yes, Kevin, I’ve read a lot of exchanges between these two patriarchates which indicate some significant differences of opinion, shall we say, and tensions concerning their relative positions. This is really regrettable, since historically these churches, these particular two churches, enjoyed a mother-daughter relationship for [over] 400 years: 988 to 1448. And one really hates to see these disagreements played out this way upon the world stage, so to speak. In a Christian family, especially one of such spiritual foundation, such deep and abiding history, we would hope and expect that differences of opinion could somehow be resolved in perhaps a more private venue, more respectful format. As with parents of human families who do not realize how their arguments can upset their children, I wonder whether these have recognized and realized the debates and tensions here do have adverse impact upon their own children and grandchildren in Christ. No matter how old you are, no matter how mature you think you are, you still hate to see your parents argue.
Now on camps and blocs, I’m really not sufficiently politically astute and connected to comment upon whether they exist in the worldwide Church. They may, but I certainly hope that they don’t. However, what I do know is that the entire notion of camps and blocs is completely opposite and antithetical, if you will, to the Christian concept of the body of Christ, as St. Paul repeatedly emphasized.
It’s interesting to recall what St. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth who were quite a burr under his saddle, I’m sure. Immediately after he greeted them as ones called to be saints—this is right in the first chapter—he complained that they were divided and contentious. I mean, what were they contentious about? Truth, salvation? No, I don’t think those. Each one of them said, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Christ.” They were respecters of persons. They wanted to hang their hat, as it were, on an earthly leader, instead of concentrating first on Christ, and in return Paul upbraided them, reminded them to remember the Cross and not the wisdom of the world. According to St. Paul, God chose the foolish things of the world, the weak, the base, things that are despised, for us to glory only in the Lord. So my bottom line here is basically: Let’s get together in Christ as brothers and sisters, talking to each other, members of his body, not as political camps and blocs. That whole thing is of the devil as far as I’m concerned.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, but I fear there are some blocs. As an example—and I may be getting myself into troubled waters here, but, you know—in January of 2014, ahead of a pan-Orthodox meeting called by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople for this March, for an example, our primate of Antioch, John, flew to Moscow and had private meetings, a private pow-wow, if you will, with the patriarch of Moscow. I know I’m reading tea leaves here, because nothing was said that talks about camps; he may very well have been there to elicit the patriarch’s help in Syria, since President Putin has the ear… or the patriarch of Russia has the ear of President Putin, I don’t know, but it seems that these kind of… There seems to be some camps going on: those that support the Ecumenical Patriarch and want to see things come under him and those that don’t and others.
But having said that, unless you want to respond to that, I’ve got a call…
Pdn. Peter: Let me just respond very shortly on that.
Mr. Allen: Sure, please.
Pdn. Peter: I think this is one of the issues that, when you talked about what’s the negative impact upon us… All of this kind of speculation… And it’s very normal; I do it myself. All of this speculation, all this questioning, all this wondering and so on, this is really a waste of energy. It’s a negative energy, and we have to focus on positive energy. Now, my understanding of this particular meeting [between] Antioch and Moscow, was that this meeting between the patriarchates was what they call the normal irenic visitations—that’s the formal term that they give—with other patriarchs that would follow the enthronement of a new patriarch, and in this case, John X of Antioch. So this was one where he had gone to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I believe he visited with Alexandria, with Jerusalem, and the next one that’s in the diptychs would be [the] patriarchate of Moscow. That’s what my understanding is, at any rate.
Mr. Allen: All right, well, I’ll stop reading tea leaves, then.
I’ve got a call here from Jim from Houston. Jim, are you on the line? Welcome to Ancient Faith Today.
Jim: Good evening. How are you?
Mr. Allen: Doing very well, Jim, and please ask Fr. Dn. Peter a question… or comment.
Jim: I’ll try to be as brief as I can. I have a tendency to ramble; forgive me.
I’m a convert, and, like many other converts that I know, schism really was the thing that drove me out of Protestantism. The more I learned in school and in church about what the Bible says… As you’ve already mentioned several times, it’s quite clear from the Scripture that Christ wanted us to be one Church, and it’s easy to see the situation that we have now as understandable: it arose incidentally and accidentally, and that’s fine. That doesn’t bother me, and I was happy to become a part of the craziness that we have because it’s better than the crazy thing I was leaving.
But if this situation falls apart, which I pray it doesn’t, but if the situation we see now arising of objections and rejections and things, if that continues and this really doesn’t come forward, at that point it will be very difficult not to see our situation as one that we’ve chosen, and in a sense, schism in practice without the scandal of schism on paper, because we can hide behind the notion that we’re in communion with one another, despite the fact that people are publicly raising objections of, “Oh, we don’t want to be united with that group because they’re saying things in public that we think are bad theology.” So it makes me wonder, well, then, could you really concelebrate with that person if you have these objections? And if you can’t concelebrate with them, you’re not really in communion, which means we’re in schism; we’re just pretending we’re not.
At that point, for people like me who converted, it would be really difficult to say—and I don’t know where I would go—but it would be really difficult to say, “How do we not see this as schism without the sort of scandal of admitting that that’s what it is?”
Mr. Allen: Okay. Good question. I’m wondering if “schism,” though, doesn’t refer to theological schism, but, you’re right, it’s also ecclesiastical separation as well. You’re right. So, Fr. Peter, how do you respond to that one?
Pdn. Peter: Well, first of all, Jim, thank you very much for your question. I’ve lived a couple of terms, so to speak, in Houston, Texas; it’s a great town. We love the people there. Your concern is one which is very, very well taken, and it’s something that I think that our bishops need to hear more about. I’ve mentioned before that we’re comfortable, and I’m not comfortable; I’ll tell you, I’m extremely uncomfortable, and I’ve been uncomfortable for a long, long time, but others may tend to be very comfortable: bishops, priests, and also a lot of laity, as well.
I believe, talking about a couple of items that you mentioned, is, first of all, you asked a question or thought about a question: this situation, we could excuse the past because it was accidental, it was done for pastoral requirements, and for other historical reasons, but now we have the chance to rectify this, and what are we doing about it? I think positively the convening of the Assembly is definitely the answer to that question. This is what we’re supposed to do; this is our job. But another one of our jobs, really, is to be Christians, and one of those jobs of the Christian is like St. Paul said, at the end of Ephesians, again, is to say we have to put on the armor, the shield, and the armor and the sword, and so on, and we basically have to fight. After we have done all that we possibly can, we stand. We don’t fold, we don’t give up, we don’t run away: we take our lumps. I think of all the martyrs whom we revere and honor in the early Church and throughout all the ages of the Church—there’s never been an age when there haven’t been martyrs—we have to be martyred; we have to be witnesses. It’s not going to be comfortable; it’s going to be dirty, and we’re going to get dirty.
The other point is about different theologies, and I don’t think this is necessarily different theology, but it’s definitely different pastoral practice, and we can talk about that a little bit more perhaps later on, because that’s one of the things that ROCOR called attention to. And we know we have different pastoral practices, but what we have to do as brothers, we have to work it out. We don’t just say, “I’m leaving.” It’s kind of like a family. You have a problem. You have a husband and a wife; they may have problems, they may have things in the past. They have baggage that doesn’t become apparent until they’ve been married for a few years and they have kids. And then the problems come up, and they say, “Uh oh. Where are we now?” And it might take them the rest of their life to work those problems out, but they’ve got to; they’re not going to run away. They’re not supposed to separate; they’re not supposed to divorce just because they have problems.
So I think the whole idea of schism is probably not the right word to apply here, but what we do have to talk about is: Are we mature enough to discuss these things? And my claim is: We sure better be mature! We don’t have the option not to be mature. We don’t have the option to not work this stuff out, because there are souls depending on us, and those of us who are clergy—deacons, priests, and those of us who are bishops—this is part of our responsibility, and the laos tou Theou, the people of God, need to help us in this. You need to support us, you need to tell us that you’ve got issues, and we need to talk to you, and we need to talk with you. I really appreciate your question, Jim. Thank you so much.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Jim, for the call. Appreciate it.
Jim: Thank you so much for the thoughtful answer.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. And we’ve got a couple of calls holding. I’m going to take John from Maryland next, but before I do: Fr. Dn. Peter Danilchick is my guest tonight. He’s the liaison of the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning with the Canonical Assembly of Orthodox Bishops here in North America, charged with the responsibility to make proposals to the bishops for Orthodox administrative unity in this country. The numbers are 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. Looks like I’m past the half-hour, but I think we’ll just keep on going; we’ll take a break a little bit later.
Dn. Peter, are all… Again, I want to clarify for listeners that may not be up to speed on the Assembly, then we will take the call from John from Maryland, and I’ve got a call from Nick from Beverly Shores. Are all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. that are in our diptychs, that are recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, represented in the Canonical Assembly of Orthodox Bishops here in North America?
Pdn. Peter: That’s a simple answer. Yes, they are. Every single one of them is represented. That’s right.
Mr. Allen: Now, as you know and as I mentioned coming into the program in the intro, my jurisdiction, the Patriarchate of Antioch and now the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, our primate, Metropolitan Philip, following the demands of the synod in Syria, withdrew. What happened?
Pdn. Peter: Well, I honestly don’t know, other than it was caused by a dispute between the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem over the consecration of an archbishop for Qatar, which the patriarch of Antioch says is in his territory, but that archbishop was consecrated or enthroned by the patriarchate of Jerusalem. That’s the basic reason for it. Now, as to why the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, why they withdrew, I really don’t have any motivation on the holy synod of Antioch. I can guess that this was meant to place pressure on other churches to intervene in that Qatar crisis between Antioch and Jerusalem. Anyone can make his or her own guess. It would be helpful, obviously—we’ve talked about tensions and tensions spilling over up and down the line, so to speak—if a straightforward reason were provided. Again, going back to the Gospel, Lord Jesus said:
I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, for I have revealed to you everything that I heard from my Father.
That’s what Jesus said.
All that we know in this situation is, frankly, two brothers are fighting, and one decides to basically ground his own children from cooperation with other cousins, even those belonging to brothers who are not involved, and there are twelve other brothers in this case. And we frankly need to better understand the rationale for that. I read the mention about the meeting between John X and Patriarch Kyrill in Moscow. I read the common statement of them, and was encouraged by them. It quoted Christ’s words, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and it emphasized the great importance of Orthodox unity in the spirit of love and openness. I’m very hopeful that these hierarchs are and will be placing these words into action.
But the bottom line for me here is that my personal belief is that this suspension provides more motivation for the Church in America to be able to chart and pursue her own destiny according to God’s will for her, obviously. But independent of all these other problems and tensions and disagreements, these just are really to distract us from our tasks for the benefit of our people. We will still love and support our mother churches, but we need to love and support our own children here in this country. They’ve been and others will be in the future entrusted to our care, and we can’t do that effectively as this situation now stands. It is an issue.
Mr. Allen: And I’ve heard people say things like, “What does Qatar have to do with the situation in Europe or America?” and “Why is the U.S. consistently being used as a pawn between mother churches in terms of power and leverage?” and things like that. But, practically speaking, is the Assembly going to move forward without Antioch’s involvement, and what impact, Fr. Dn. Peter, do you think it will have? I understand, for an example, that the IOCC, an Assembly agency, recently donated, for an example, hundreds of thousands of dollars for aid to Syria. So there are probably some practical consequences that are going to come from Antioch’s withdrawal, and, again, I’m speaking of my own jurisdiction.
Pdn. Peter: Well, I think that, Kevin, that problem is pretty much solved. The Antiochian efforts in the Assembly agencies such as IOCC, OCMC, OCF, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, and so on, those are going to remain unabated. The Antiochians that are working in there, they’re still going to work in there. However, when we’re talking about the Assembly of Bishops as a group as well as all of the committees—we have 13 committees working for the Assembly, in the Assembly—the loss of those Antiochian bishops, again, hopefully temporary, that’s going to cause a significant disruption in the Assembly’s work, despite all the efforts to ameliorate the vacuum that’s being presented to us.
I’ll say this personally, and I think everyone else in the Assembly is going to say the same thing, we’ll especially miss Bishop Basil of Wichita. He’s the secretary of the Assembly. His contributions have been absolutely invaluable. Now, there’s an interim secretary who’s been appointed, Fr. Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides. He’s a very capable individual, and he has the charge to ensure that the work of the Assembly continues uninterrupted, and we pray that God’s strength and power is going to be visited upon Fr. Nathanael.
But there’s other people besides the secretary. We have very important Antiochian bishop members of the various working committees: chairman Archbishop Joseph for Pastoral Practices, a major issue; Bishop Thomas for Youth—this is something that we really need to have in the future. And these committees are really performing yeoman work within this Assembly. In addition to that, we’ve got clergy and lay consultants, such as Fr. [Josiah] Trenham, who appears on your program; Eric Namee, and Anne Glynn-Mackoul, many others. We have Antiochian CPAs who are priests who were working on our Committee for Financial Affairs, and many others. They’ve made significant contributions to the work of unity through the Assembly, and they are regrettably not able to participate.
So one ecclesiastical decision, 7,000 or so miles away, has very adverse impacts here at home—our home—and on each and every Orthodox Christian in America. Now, the good point, which still needs to be made, is that the members of the Assembly Executive Committee met last month as well as the first hierarchs of the jurisdictions except, of course the Antiochian Archdiocese; they reaffirmed their commitment to the Assembly process. Our next Assembly will be held in Dallas in the middle of September 2014. They noted with concern this temporary withdrawal. They expressed their brotherly commitment to this full restoration at the earliest possible time. We need to pray for them. We need to pray for everyone: the patriarchate of Antioch, Metropolitan Philip and his synod here, as well as all Antiochian bishops, clergy, and laity. They are super important parts of the Assembly.
Mr. Allen: Okay. Thanks. I’m speaking with Fr. Dn. Peter Danilchick, and we’re going to take a short break, and then I have two calls: one from John from Maryland, Nick from Beverly Shores. We’re going to take your calls, gentlemen, so hold on. The number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. Hang in; we’ll talk to you on the other side.
Mr. Allen: Welcome back to Ancient Faith Today, and we’re speaking with Pdn. Peter Danilchick, who is the liaison for the Committee of Canonical Regional Planning for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops here in North America. We’re going to be getting to the proposals that were made and some of the turbulence… Well, we are talking about some of the turbulence. We’ll get down deeper there. And I also want to say, before we take our call, Fr. Dn. Peter, you mentioned you’re uncomfortable with the current situation? I hate to inject my own opinions into things, but I, too, am uncomfortable with this situation, and have been for a very long time. If there are any of our wonderful bishops listening, I hope they hear that, because there are many of us in Orthodox media and around the country that want to see this resolved. So thank you for mentioning that.
I have a call from Nick from Beverly Shores. Welcome to Ancient Faith Today. Please ask your question or make your comment. Appreciate your holding so long.
Nick: Not a problem. Thanks, Kevin. I have a question for the protodeacon. When Chambésy first came out, I was very encouraged, and one of the reasons I was very encouraged was I personally know the Serbian representatives that were there at Chambésy, and I really thought that this was going to be a very serious effort to correct these canonical anomalies. The question has come up in my mind, and I want to be extremely blunt about this, is the fact that to achieve unity is one thing; to achieve unity in what method and under what jurisdiction is another question. I listened very intently to Pdn. Peter’s and Bishop Savas’ and Bishop Peter’s video that was on YouTube recently at the Cleveland meeting, and Bp. Savas kind of threw me for a loop when he made the comment that if there was a question or if Chambésy was about autocephaly, Chambésy would have never happened.
Mr. Allen: Let me just interject for our listeners. “Autocephaly” [means] self-headed. That is, running your church yourself.
Nick: That’s correct.
Mr. Allen: Carry on, Nick.
Nick: My question is this: We can talk about the for the Bulgarian letter and the decision, the ROCOR letter, etc. Isn’t it a fact that the real issue here is not how we’re going to achieve unity… I mean, that’s a complicated question, not dealt with very easily. Isn’t the real issue here that Constantinople only envisions unity in North America as either an autonomous or a dependent body under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and some or all of the others, particularly the Slavic branches, would envision it as an autocephalous entity? And it seems to me to be an either/or proposition: either North America’s going to be autocephalous or it’s going to be, like the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, and that is really what is behind this whole mess that’s been created over the last few months?
Mr. Allen: Well, Nick, that’s the proverbial elephant in the Assembly, in my humble opinion, and I had that slated for a later question, but, you know what? you got it out there, and that’s fine. Dn. Peter, I’d love to hear your response to that one.
Pdn. Peter: Well, thank you, Nick. I really appreciate that. I don’t know if you’re from the Serbian Church or not, but I’m very happy to have the additional job of being the principal assistant to Bishop Maxim of the Serbian Western Diocese in his role as coordinator of all of these 13 committees, which is in itself a herculean task, so I’m happy to help him on that, and he’s just a tremendous leader for all of us there. So thanks to him on that.
On the subject of the elephant in the room, I was joking to Kevin before the meeting started that I knew of such a thing as a Trojan horse, but I didn’t know about a Greek elephant except if Hannibal were Greek, and I don’t think he was ethnically Greek. Although I know a lot of people think that they know what the bishops are thinking, I’m not sure if they know what all of the bishops are thinking. I know what Metr. Savas said. I was sitting next to him, and I was as surprised as you are, Nick, to hear that. I guess “surprise” is a little bit too strong of a word. I really wish that he hadn’t had that feeling, and I had hoped that there wasn’t any real truth in that.
But be that as it may, I don’t believe that the bishops… The bishops have not really had any discussions among themselves, at least in public that I have heard, in such a blunt manner as to under whom such a unified Church will be placed, whether it will be autonomous or autocephalous. We’ve had discussions about trying to expose different feelings, and there are people who say we ought to be autonomous. Some people say we ought to be autonomous under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and a large number of other people say that we really ought to be autocephalous.
Let me just talk a couple of minutes about autocephaly and maybe say some things that might be a little bit controversial to some of the people. As Kevin has introduced me, I’m a deacon of the OCA, and I would have liked to have said, to be able to say that the whole question of autocephaly had already been answered 43 years ago when the Moscow Patriarch granted autocephaly to the old Metropolia, now the Orthodox Church in America, and I was there at that council—but I won’t, then. I certainly can’t, because that autocephaly is not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and a number of the autocephalous churches.
However, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that that event 43 years ago really was a catalyst for raising a host of questions about just what a local autocephalous church consists of: whom does it minister to, what is its role in a democratic and pluralistic society, and how to solve what Fr. Alexander Schmemann called the “ecclesiastical confusion” that we are laboring under? I think what we need to do in the Assembly of Bishops, what I would recommend, is to look at this thing from a total grassroots, tabula rasa perspective, not what we think this patriarch will accept, what we think that patriarch will accept. That’s not really the attitude of mature individuals, mature persons. That’s the attitude of a couple of people, children, talking together and saying, “What do you think Mommy and Daddy will say? Will they get angry when we propose that we do this or we go out or we do that?” That’s not the attitude of mature adults, and we need to forsake that attitude. We’ve been doing this for a long time.
One of the points I hope that we’ll be discussing seriously is: What is required for autocephaly? What is required for autonomy? The upcoming great and holy Council is supposed to talk about those things, but I think that our churches here… And we are responsible for our churches, too, all of us: laity, clergy; it’s not just the bishops. We are, all of us are, responsible. Obviously, we are obedient, we love our bishops, they have the final word, but still they need to hear from us.
According to a very distinguished former professor of canon law at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Professor Alexander Bogolepov, of blessed memory, who I had the pleasure once when I was quite young of hearing him speak, he says there are four prerequisites that are required for autocephaly. First, a church must have a certain number of parishes and parishioners. We have almost 2,000 parishes in the United States that are Orthodox, and we have probably over a million parishioners—check one. Two, the possibility of training new clergymen. We have some world-class theological seminaries and educational institutions—check off number two. Three, a hierarchy that’s canonically capable of making subsequent appointments of new bishops. And that was talked about even when people had three or four or five; we have 50 bishops. 50 bishops—check number three. Number four—and this is the hard one—it must be sufficiently mature to organize its own ecclesiastical life.
Are we sufficiently mature? That’s a question that has to be answered by the bishops, and I believe it’s the primary question facing the Assembly. Frankly, I cannot believe that the bishops would answer, “No, not yet. We are still children. We need to report to our parents. We need to even tell them what we might be thinking about doing before we even propose it to them.” I firmly believe that we are mature enough, but we need to work together to realize that particular maturity. We have to grow up into Christ, like St. Paul says. We are not called to be children; we are not called to be tossed to and fro by every wind that comes from the offshore direction. We are called to come to the measure and the stature of the fullness of Christ. And that’s it!
I’ll just finish with this: even if all of these prerequisites were satisfied according to the canon law and historical practice of the Church, autocephaly needs to be approved by the mother church, and also, practically, it must be recognized by all of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches, especially the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But this is normally the most difficult step of all. It’s the one that entails considerable controversy, a considerable time delay.
And just a couple of cases in point: The Church in Russia was a daughter church of Constantinople for 400 years: 988 to 1448. At that time, it declared itself independent or autocephalous. The Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized its new status 140 years later. We can tell similar stories: Greece, 17 years; Albania, 15 years; Romania, 20 years; Bulgaria, 72 years. Every situation is different; everything is complicated. State government changes. Political tensions. They grant the autocephalies and the autonomies, but they exchange strident letters. Inter-church relations are strained. Communions are even suspended. So it’s a long road, but it’s one that we have to walk, as St. Paul said. We have to run the race, we have to put our hand to the plow, we have to expect difficulties, and we have to talk to each other, and we have to not look back.
So that’s my story on autocephaly. Thank you, Nick. I hope I’ve answered your question a little bit.
Nick: You have.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Nick.
Nick: May I ask a quick follow-up?
Mr. Allen: Go ahead, Nick.
Nick: The plan that was presented and that was sent back for consideration, is that plan not one that was designed to reflect the current situation of the GOA, and was that plan not inherently pregnant with the concept that the unification of the Church of North America would reflect the structure of the GOA under the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
Mr. Allen: Let me just inject in here. Fr. Dn., I don’t want you to go into the proposal quite yet, so can you answer that question without going into the specifics, because I want to build a little bit more of a foundation first?
Pdn. Peter: Yeah, to answer your question very briefly, Nick, it wasn’t designed to reflect the present situation of anybody. We understood that different people have different ecclesiastical structures, and again I have to give my compliments, my kudos, to Alexei Krindatch, who is the research coordinator, the one who’s done huge work in terms of statistical analysis. He’s the only one who could actually have taken this and put the numbers together. This was all done from the tabula rasa standpoint, and it wasn’t done with any kind of feeling that it would be swayed by the Greeks or the OCA or the Antiochians or ROCOR or anything like that. It was done purely: How do we want the Church to be?
Now, that being said, we put it out there in order for people to react. We did not put it out there, we did not put the plan out there so that people would say, “Wow, that’s a wonderful plan. Let’s accept it right now. Let’s go for it,” because we knew that that wasn’t going to work anyway. But we put it out there so that people could discuss it, they could argue, they could dissent, because we wanted all of that stuff put out into the open. And, as we might talk a little bit later, that’s where the Bulgarian opposition and that’s where the ROCOR opposition surfaced. We didn’t hear that before that. So I think we did a good thing, but we did it because no one could accuse us—and we wouldn’t want to be accused anyway—of having it aligned with any particular structure that was in place today.
Mr. Allen: Nick, we’re going to get into the specifics of the proposal in a minute or two or three, so we will get to that. Thanks a lot, Nick. Appreciate your call.
Nick: Thank you.
Mr. Allen: Let’s go ahead and take John from Maryland. John’s been holding patiently for several minutes. John, are you on the line?
John: I am on the line. Can you hear me now?
Mr. Allen: We hear you better than we heard you before. Thanks for your call. What’s your question or comment?
John: All right. Okay, well first off I just wanted to send prayers out to the Ukrainian people tonight. I hope we can pray for that.
But about unity, I guess my question is to Fr. Peter: What exactly would administrative unity look like in America? I mean, I go to an OCA church. There’s a Greek church down the street from me. How do we… Do we shut down one of the churches and the other one remain open? I’m willing to do that for administrative unity; I think it’s pretty important, but I’m just wondering: how would that actually work, when we already have overlapping churches?
Mr. Allen: John, you’re pressing me to ask the question that’s going to come right after your question, so let me defer it. I want to lay one more piece of tie down, and then we’ll come right back to that question, because what you’re asking is: What was the proposal and what does it consist of? I’m not quite ready for that, but we’re going to get there soon, so thanks for the call. We’ll be right at that question; keep listening. Thanks.
Mr. Allen: So, Fr. Dn. Peter, let’s just defer that question for a minute; not for very long. In 2013, at the fourth North and Central American Assembly in Chicago, the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning, chaired by Archbishop Nicolae of the Archdiocese of Romania, of which you are the liaison, presented a lead proposal and several secondary proposals for reorganization of the multiple Orthodox jurisdictions for the consideration and discussion of the bishops. This is the first year that this happened, so it appeared to those of us sitting in the stands that, boy, everybody’s getting along really well, there are no problems. Part of it is, as we look back, is nothing specific was actually proposed for anybody to disagree with.
So let’s begin with the lead case or the model proposal which involves reorganizing the various, the 11 or 12 pan-Orthodox dioceses in this country into what is being called ecclesiastical provinces. Could you explain, please, what that is?
Pdn. Peter: Well, let me back up just a little bit on that, Kevin.
Mr. Allen: Sure.
Pdn. Peter: There were basically two principles, real basic, but I thought constructive principles in the Chambésy decision. First it required that there should be the territorial integrity, the one bishop in one place; that was clear. Secondly—and this is a little bit more difficult, and it’s one which people talked a lot about—is that there should be appropriate care for the people of specific cultures and ethnicities. So let’s lay number two on the side of the first one. The Chambésy decision said it’s the common will of all the most holy Orthodox churches that the problem of the diaspora be resolved as quickly as possible and that it be organized in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology, canonical tradition, and so on: the existence of only one bishop in one place. So we did that.
So the Chambésy principle of territorial integrity—one bishop in one place—meant that the existing multiple and overlapping jurisdictions had to be replaced by a new system which in our model we call ecclesiastical provinces, and what these are are groupings of dioceses, so the way we have the whole structure is that we have provinces which cover a fair, multi-state area, like the Great Lakes Province, we which had kind of posited. Again, this is all on paper; it’s not a final decision. This is something that’s in a draft for people to look at see whether it makes sense and maybe to start working on it. Say, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan might be one of those provinces, and they would have various dioceses within them, at least two; one of them will be the head diocese, the archdiocesan see or the metropolitan—you can call it whichever you want. There would be no overlapping of territories for either provinces or dioceses. Each would be geographically separate. And we gave illustration in Chicago, that there would be nine of these provinces, and that would leave us 18 dioceses, although that number could be more or less, and I’ll talk about why.
Now, we have almost 1900 Orthodox parishes in the United States. Again, the work that’s been done by research coordinator Alexei Krindatch. And we have some 800,000 adherents. Adherents are defined as those who regularly or occasionally attend a particular Orthodox parish according to the survey that he did, not the Christmas-and-Easter people; it’s the people who really are attached to a parish. So if we take those numbers and we put them, let’s say, spread them over nine of these provinces, they’ll have between 150 to 300 parishes a piece, 70 to 110 thousand adherents a piece. It’s the first attempt to define these geographical borders.
Now, the nine provinces would be, starting up in the Northeast: New England, New York State, Pennsylvania and New Jersey being one, the Atlantic States, the South, Great Lakes, Midwest, the West, and the Pacific.
We’d have a national synod that would be chaired by a national primate. That national synod could either be formed by the heads of the provinces, so you’d have nine people on the synod, or it could alternatively be composed of all diocesan bishops. The election of that primate would be by all of the bishops. But the heads of these ecclesiastical provinces, whether they’re called archbishops or metropolitans—and again, Greek and Slavic practice are a little bit different—they would share the provincial synods, but they would have no direct authority over other diocesan bishops. They’d be first among equals; they’d have the responsibility to the meetings, to address various situations impacting the life of the Church. This [what] is an older brother in a mature family would do. But each diocesan bishop would shepherd over the folk in all of the parishes within his territory.
The important part here, and the part that makes people nervous, both bishops and people, [is] that full control would be regardless of rubrics in parishes of ethnic traditions. All our recommendation currently to be was that all of the parish traditions, languages, ethnic traditions, would be retained as is, but what that really means is that we need to retrain the bishops, because you will have a bishop over a diocese which will have a blended mix of Russian, Greek, American, Romanian, Bulgarian, and so on, and that person could be Antiochian, or that person could be a Russian bishop or an American bishop or whatever. So it would require understanding, retraining, reeducation, people talking to each other, and so on. Again, a lot of the bishops are going to have to relocate. That makes it even more difficult for everyone. Over half of the bishops’ residences are clustered in four major metropolitan areas: New York City/New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco.
Some questions were raised about: Are the bishops on board? Do they really want to do this? Well, just think of it yourself. You’re in a company, and your boss comes to you and says, “Look, you have the wonderful task of creating a new restructuring of our department.” The only problem is that the wonderful job that you do will result probably in your being moved, or it might even mean that you’re being retired. If you’re in a regular job someplace in a secular institution, you’re still expected to do your job. You’re almost expected to pull in the artillery on your own position, in a military sense. You don’t want to do that, but you do it.
Even more so, my feeling, and the feeling of a lot of people, is that we’re in the Church. Bishops are supposed to be shepherds of the flock. They’re supposed to be sacrificing their lives for the flock, so they should be the first ones to say, “Call on me. I’ll do whatever the Church really wants us to do.” And that’s what our expectations are, but we have to recognize they’re people, too, and we need to be patient with them, we need to pray for them, we need to support them. So it’s not going to be easy, but that’s the outline, Kevin, of what we had in mind.
Mr. Allen: So nine total provinces in areas that have an aggregate of maybe 100,000 or so adherents; one bishop, one place; no overlapping territories; some bishops would have to move locations… I guess the big question is, you know, and you mentioned this: who decides all of this?
Pdn. Peter: Well, this cannot be decided, I feel, by any… Okay, the overall plan that gets put together would have to be… Well, first of all the Assembly has to agree on it, and agree by consensus. Then it would have to go to the great and holy Council, and they would have to agree on it. My feeling is that the only people who really know how to do this are the people on the ground. Our bishops have to do this. Our bishops have to make up their own minds. They have to decide who’s going to move where, and of course it’s got to be a friendly decision. It’s got to be cooperative, collaborative, and all that sort of thing. But they have to do it. They’re not going to be told by anyone who’s either in Moscow or Constantinople or Sofia or anyplace, again, because they’re too far away. You wouldn’t do that in a regular international corporation. You’d have the people on the ground doing it. So that’s what my feeling is; that’s what I would recommend, anyway, to them, whether they listen to me or not.
Mr. Allen: No, of course. But one of the concerns is that—and I’m going to be equally blunt, as Nick was, and I hope my listeners in our audience will accept the bluntness here—many people feel that our bishops and primates are taking their marching orders from the mother churches; that local considerations are, in some cases, not at the top of the agenda; that foreign political situations, power struggles, various different issues like that are coloring this whole consideration, this whole review; and that the needs of the American faithful are secondary. I’m sorry to say it that way. Do you have response to that? And then we’ll take a break.
Pdn. Peter: Well, I certainly hope that’s not the case. All of us know that we, as clergy and laity, are expected to be obedient to our bishops. Our bishops are, in turn, expected to be obedient to their own synods that are existing here in this country. So those people who are reporting to overseas synods or patriarchs, they have to be obedient to them. And so, to a certain extent, you might say, they have to take their marching orders from them, but at the end of the day, Christ is in charge. He’s the one that we’re all supposed to be looking towards. Those of us who are subject to authority, whether we’re bishops or clergy or laity, know that those people to whom we are subject need our input. They need our feedback. They need our prayers. And one of the things that they need is our love.
To love someone doesn’t mean that you agree with them in everything that they do. Sometimes, especially from parents to children, and sometimes children to parents, if you really love your father, you love your mother, and you know that they’re doing something that could be done better, you don’t just sit there and say nothing. You try to work with them. I think that [in] the spirit of love and of communion that sometimes may mean you get slapped down. You may get punished. You may be a martyr in some small way. Maybe you’ll be a martyr in a big way; you might get exiled to some place that you don’t want to be. But if you’re a Christian, at the end of the day, you need to do that, because, quite frankly, power, position, authority, prestige means, as St. Paul says, he counts these as refuse; it’s garbage. For the love of your fellow man, and you’re bringing that fellow man to Christ.
Mr. Allen: Amen to that. Well, we’ll be taking a short break, and when we come back I would like to ask the question about one of the concerns that is very prevalent among many of the jurisdictions and their clergy about the ethnic ministry and the various issues that come up with the different traditions we have in this country and whether that will be dealt with. The number to call is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. We’re coming into our final stretch, so give us a call if you have any questions or comments.
Mr. Allen: Well, thank you, and welcome back to Ancient Faith Today, and I am speaking with Pdn. Peter Danilchick about Orthodox unity and the Canonical Assembly and where we are on things. Fr. Dn. Peter, following up on that, one of the concerns that was mentioned in the letter from the secretary of the synod of ROCOR here in the States… And I’ve spoken with others in various jurisdictions, especially in the more ethnic jurisdictions. Their concerns are that those who are émigrés and those who don’t speak English and those who are connected to their ethnic background and roots would be not disregarded but kind of swept to the side or their needs would not be understood or met by bishops that don’t speak the language, don’t understand, and so on. They’re concerned, as you pointed out, about the changing of rubrics and traditions that connect people liturgically to the Church.
So there’s another component, though, which leads me into this question, to this lead case or model of these ecclesiastical provinces which you very nicely explained which are called ethnic vicariates. It’s a fancy term, but explain what ethnic vicariates are, how they relate to the ecclesiastical provinces, and so on and so forth, please.
Pdn. Peter: Thank you, Kevin. Yes, of course. The decision that was reached in Chambésy, the second one of those major basic principles in addition to the “one bishop, one place,” was to express concern for the development of common action to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in the region, and it said in there that the diversity of ethnic, of national traditions may secure the unity of Orthodox in the communion of faith and the bond of love.
Now, what we did in terms of the Committee’s work and in terms of what the model might look like for an administratively unified Church in the United States was to include in that model informal associations of parishes of the same ethnic background and which strongly maintain their ethnic identity. Alexei Krindatch, again, did a national survey back in 2011, and the survey report was that over 50% of the parishes surveyed had a strong ethnic identity and culture which they were trying to preserve. Now, these informal associations we called ethnic vicariates, and that denotes an auxiliary function that would assist the presiding provincial hierarch.
These associations would be organized at the provincial level. They would report to the provincial bishop, archbishop, or metropolitan. The reason why we did it at the provincial level is we thought that, first, a national association might be too much like the original jurisdictions; on the other hand, the organization on a diocesan level might be too granular, too inefficient. Now, these associations would have no governing role, no structure in an ecclesiastical sense. At all times, the individual parishes would always be under the full authority of the diocesan bishop. But the main purpose of this is really kind of an emotive and spiritual, cultural preservation of the identity that these parishes wanted to have.
Again, people asked me: Is one of the responsibilities of the Assembly of Bishops to turn all the languages of the Liturgy into English? I said: Absolutely not! We have nothing whatsoever with that. We want to preserve what is there, but we want to bring it under the jurisdiction of one particular bishop in any one place. One of the reasons for that is, quite frankly, those of us like myself who have been raised and educated and served in many, many different backgrounds—Russian, Greek, Antiochian, Japanese, and so on—see the tremendous richness, the diversity of all of these traditions. The people themselves are absolutely wonderful in their own spaces, so to speak, and they have so much also to speak to one another.
We sought to preserve this by means of these ethnic or national associations—not national, really, but ethnic associations—which would support the work of these people. For example, if somebody wanted to have a Byzantine music workshop in a particular area, or a workshop in the choral religious works of Rachmaninoff or something like that, that they would be able to have that; they would know that they would have foundation, certainly, of the other parishes in that diocese or in that province, which might want to come. But hopefully what would happen is if you had one of these music workshops, you’d have people streaming in from all of the other traditions.
For example, in my own home parish in Falls Church, Virginia, we have a matins service on Sunday morning according to Byzantine chant; we have trained Byzantine chanters in our parish with education as well in how to chant, but then we go into the Liturgy and it’s done in a polyphonic fashion, with OCA music or Romanian music and so on, so we have that mixture so people are comfortable in both of those milieux. This, I think, in terms of the grassroots unity of the Orthodox in this country, this is something that will really help us to not only become more united, to preserve what’s going on, but also to be able to reach out to other people as well.
Mr. Allen: Thank you, and I do have a follow-up to that, but before I ask it… Our number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. I have one call coming in, and the lines are open. We’re coming into our final stretches, so if you have any questions or comments on this very important topic, give us a call.
Dn. Peter, doesn’t the creation of ethnic vicariates or associations… Let’s take the example of the ecclesiastical province that you pointed out in the Great Lakes area—Ohio, Indiana, Michigan. Okay, so you’ve got a Greek association; you’ve got an Antiochian association; you have a Romanian association; you have a Serbian association; you have an American assoc-... Doesn’t this in a way create kind of ethnic subsets of these ecclesiastical provinces that, in a sense, yes, maybe it does work to preserve ethnic tradition, but doesn’t it also possibly create further fragmentation based on ethnic lines?
Pdn. Peter: I don’t really have the fear, Kevin. I think that you’ve got that in the base case. If there’s any fragmentation, it’s there in the base case. What we’re talking about is a kind of smoothing that out, making sure that what people want to retain is going to be retained. Also, let’s face it: the bishops who are going to be in either as provincial bishops or diocesan bishops, they’re going to need help. For example, if they have a group of Carpatho-... I know, for example, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, the new head—not new any more—the bishop of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese, that’s one of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; he’s ethnically Greek. He’s an American, but ethnically Greek. But I know for a fact that he’s studying Carpatho-Russian history and Carpatho-Russian culture in order to more effectively minister to his people.
He’s now a Greek-American who’s learning Carpatho-Russian culture, but it’s going to be so much more difficult, frankly, when you have one bishop, who, let’s say, is from Russian background, and he’s trying to understand Greek, and he’s trying to understand Serbian and Carpatho-Russian and so on. If he has kind of a cadre of people who are really fired up, they’re enthusiastic, they love their culture, they love their language, they love their rubrics, even, and they love the music, liturgical music, and they are there as his trusted advisors, they’re there as his experts, they’re there to help him to work into the parishes, to understand the people, I think that that could be an absolutely wonderful thing.
Also, people don’t want to feel isolated. They don’t want to feel like an island. They want to have people that they are comfortable with. This is the natural human sort of magnetism within ourselves to want to couple and to be with people whose identity we share. When we do this in this unified structure, other people are going to be invited in, and we’re only going to become richer and more diverse as a result. I’m fully convinced of that.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. Our number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346.
You know, Fr. Dn. Peter, following up on that, I had a conversation—I won’t mention names or jurisdictions—with a prominent clergyman of a particular jurisdiction who heard from his bishop that the proposal that you have just described of ecclesiastical provinces and ethnic vicariates was very different from that description you are now giving. I said this to the clergyman; I said I’m not sure that your bishop is on the same page as I understand that page to be written, and that is: this particular bishop told this particular clergyman that what this proposal wants to do is to put one bishop in charge and to demote the other diocesan bishops to essentially ethnic advisors.
Pdn. Peter: Let me put it this way: that’s a complete misunderstanding of what the proposal is. Each diocesan bishop will be a full ruling bishop in the traditional sense of the word. He does not have… He is not being supervised by the provincial bishop. The provincial bishop is just the elder brother who sits as the head of the synod, basically, of that particular province. Each diocesan bishop—and you can’t change this; this is ecclesiastical canon law—the diocesan bishop is the diocesan bishop. He’s not a vicar bishop; he’s a diocesan bishop. He’s a ruling bishop. So that’s what we have in mind here anyway.
Mr. Allen: So again, just to drill down a little bit deeper: say in Ohio, Indian, Michigan, you’ve got a provincial metropolitan or bishop or whatever his title becomes, and then you have diocesan bishops in different cities within that three-state area, and those diocesan bishops would also be assigned to various ethnic associations or vicariates, but that would be a separate role from their ruling diocesan function. Is that what I’m getting?
Pdn. Peter: No, I’m sorry. I must have misspoken on that. These ethnic associations or vicariates, our idea is, our proposal anyway, is that these would not be headed by bishops…
Mr. Allen: Ah!
Pdn. Peter: ...in order to ensure that there’s no confusion. They would probably be headed by senior priests, people who are respected within that community, and people who are significant or sufficient gravitas, let’s say, in the community. The bishop’s going to listen to that person; when he says, “Oh, we’ve got an issue here. Maybe you’re not serving right or you’re not addressing the needs of this particular ethnic area,” he’ll listen to that senior priest. But not a bishop, because that would diffuse, dilute the direct line that a diocesan bishop has to his diocesan overseeing.
Mr. Allen: Just to clarify: the diocesan bishop would have the same function that he has now, possibly in a smaller geographical area, and he would have an ethnic association coordinator or coordinators working with and for him.
Pdn. Peter: Actually, the association coordinators would work at the provincial level.
Mr. Allen: Okay.
Pdn. Peter: And they would be available to support any of the work of the diocesan bishops. We didn’t really want to confuse the job of the diocesan bishop. He has enough work to do, managing what he has.
Mr. Allen: Right. And learning, as you say, about the different languages, traditions, and rubrics, as this thing will go in force. Yeah.
Pdn. Peter: Exactly.
Mr. Allen: We have a caller from Moscow, Russia. I’m very pleased to welcome Adam from Moscow to the program. I’m not sure: is it morning or evening in Moscow, Adam?
Adam: Early morning.
Mr. Allen: So you’ve been up all night listening. Thank you.
Adam: Actually, no. I missed two-thirds of the show, I guess.
Mr. Allen: Thanks for calling. You sound like you’re an American?
Adam: Ah, yep. Sure am. Born and raised.
Mr. Allen: Great, well, it’s good to have you. I’m sorry for the time-lag here; I’m cutting you off. Please ask your question or make your comment.
Adam: Sure. Well, my question/comment is a concern about… I want to see American unity, of course, but my concern is about maintaining any unity that we gain, and I see people in the same communion believing different things. People will be standing next to me in church or [in] online communities that disagree on matters of doctrine and practice, like approving of so-called gay relations in the Church or women priests. I’ve seen people walk from my church because they don’t like the icons on the ceiling and other issues, and I’m wondering: What is the good of or how do we deal with the general tendency to schism? I’d be happy to see the external unity, but I wouldn’t want to… The Catholics are certainly unified, and a good doctrine doesn’t prevent them from being all over the place. So I’m not sure if that makes sense as is or I need to clarify that.
Mr. Allen: So your question is: How do you deal with doctrinal disunity within this discussion of administrative unity? Is that what I’m getting?
Mr. Allen: Okay. Fr. Dn. Peter?
Pdn. Peter: Yeah, thank you, Adam. I appreciate that. Your comment and your concern is kind of echoed or echoes the concern that ROCOR had expressed in its letter that came from their holy synod of bishops. Just to kind of capsule what that was, they commented that there were anomalies, what they call anomalies, in pastoral practice that concern them: various divergent practices regarding interfaith marriage, reception of converts, fasting, processes for confession and communion, clergy reception from other faiths, and so on. That’s all very, very well taken. I don’t believe that they talked about doctrinal issues, although the subject of approach towards ecumenical movement and so on [was talked about]; that’s something that also is of concern to them and of concern, frankly, to everybody.
But in terms of the pastoral practice issues, many of those, and perhaps all of those that ROCOR is concerned about are already being looked at by the Assembly Committee for Pastoral Practice, and, in fact, that Committee just produced… They went out and did a survey of these practices, and it was really a good thing, because they noticed that even a lot of jurisdictions did not have any handbook of what these practices ought to be, so there wasn’t perhaps so disciplined an approach to that. However, they put together a report that’s still in draft stage—it’s almost 200 pages long—on all of the jurisdictions and their responses to these questions.
From the standpoint of ROCOR’s concern, I’m really, really happy that Bishop Theodosy from the West Coast, of ROCOR, is actually on that Committee. The liaison from the secretariat to that Committee is Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) of San Francisco who is also from ROCOR. So with those two representatives on this committee… And I believe the seriousness of all of these issues, which had been addressed in fact, if I recall… And you can go back, Adam and anyone else, to the 2011 Assembly of Bishops meeting that was held I think in May, and if you look at… There are three addresses of Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochians; Archbishop Justinian, Moscow Patriarchate; as well as Archbishop Demetrios, the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Archbp. Demetrios goes through every single one of these—not every single one of them, but a lot of these different divergent practices, and he says in there—and this is again almost four years ago—that we have to work on these. This is what I talked about in the very beginning, is that we not only are going to have to put together a plan, but we have to have common action in terms of building up the day-to-day body of the Church, community building up.
And we need to work on all these issues. We need to adopt parallel tracks. The bishops need to work on the plan. The bishops need to work on working together. All of these practices, these problems, these difficulties and different opinions, positions, that has to be worked on. We can’t just go do things sequentially; we need to do things in parallel, because time is of the essence. The Lord Jesus is coming, and what will he find on this earth when he does, in fact, finally come? I’m confident that these issues will get the attention that they deserve, is my bottom line on that.
Mr. Allen: Adam, thank you very much for your call and question, and have a good morning in Moscow.
Adam: I will. Thanks.
Pdn. Peter: Thank you, Adam.
Mr. Allen: Thank you, Adam. Well, I’m going to take our last caller. It’s Kevin from Tennessee. Kevin, thank you for holding so faithfully.
Todd: Kevin, actually it’s Todd. I mentioned you, and I think he got confused that my name was Kevin.
Mr. Allen: Oh, sorry.
Todd: Yes, Todd from Chattanooga. Hi.
Mr. Allen: Hi, Todd.
Todd: I had a question that I put out in the chatroom, and people seemed to think it was of use, and the more I think about it, maybe it is of use. It’s [a] Roman Catholic question. Here is basically how I judge it now. You used to use the word “in parallel,” and I’m sorry, that word does sort of capsulate what I’m thinking here. How does this internal dialogue [work] among the Orthodox about: Who runs this thing? What is primacy within our ranks? Does that discussion parallel the debate going on with Roman Catholics? As we get our own house in order—that’s my language—and we talk to Roman Catholics in a way that is more fruitful, and can dealing with Roman Catholics about the question of primacy help us also get our ranks in order? How does this all work?
Mr. Allen: So your question is: How does the question about primacy with Catholics relate to discussions about primacy and unity within the Orthodox jurisdictions?
Todd: Right, yes.
Mr. Allen: Okay, Fr. Peter, if you can wrap your arms around that rather broad question.
Todd: Is it? I’m sorry.
Pdn. Peter: Well, I think that sometimes these… There have been at least recently two very separate communications with the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate on this whole subject of primacy, and the first one, from the Moscow Patriarchate, was dealing with the question of primacy in terms of Orthodox-Roman Catholic discussions, theological discussions, and evidently that position that they took on primacy was taken badly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which fired back a missive on that subject. So this is an area that I think needs to be worked out by those patriarchates. This is something that’s going to be an issue at the great and holy Council. Again, frankly speaking, the whole question of who’s in charge is probably not the really burning question that impacts our Church. I mean, it’s an interesting one, it’s an important one, it’s something that people who are basically at that pay grade really have to talk about and come to some decision, not by exchanges of letters, but maybe by talking to each other. We live in an age when we have jet planes, and we can go and we can talk to people. We don’t necessarily have to write letters. I think that more discussion on these subjects by the patriarchates is going to be really important. I don’t think they’re going to listen to me, of course, but I think we ourselves need to be really, really careful that we ourselves don’t waste an ounce of energy in terms of trying to scope out things that really don’t concern us if we are not spending the time on things that should concern us. Maybe before the end of the program we can chat a little bit about what the laity can do, Kevin. I think that that’s an important thing for us.
Todd: Thanks a lot, Fr. Deacon, for answering.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Todd. Appreciate your call.
Todd: All right. Good night, guys. Bye-bye.
Mr. Allen: Good night.
Fr. Dn. Peter Danilchick, we’re coming kind of to the last leg of our program, but I do have several others, and I will ask that last question you just mentioned towards the end of it, because I think the involvement of laity is important. But subsequent to Assembly meetings, as we’ve been discussing throughout, the Bulgarians and the Russian ROCOR bishops who made statements and sent letters announced that their mother churches did not want to give up their authority in the U.S. I found that a very revealing statement, and that their ties to their ethnic communities are essential to them. I did not hear a lot of conversation or statements about the fact that the American public and the 20% of those who are non-affiliated with any church are essential to them. What I heard is their ethnic communities are essential to them. As we’ve been discussing, ROCOR has even made the case or is making the case that overlapping jurisdictions is not non-canonical; I think you’ve answered that well.
So with that in mind, my question is this: Given the fact that it seemed clear that the mother churches, including Moscow, to which ROCOR reports, whom they’re under, and the Bulgarians, who were also represented at Chambésy, agreed that overlapping jurisdictions and multiple bishops in various cities is an anomaly needing to be fixed. I’m wondering why this turnaround in principle to what the mother churches supposedly agreed to at Chambésy five years ago. What’s going on?
Pdn. Peter: That’s a really good question. I did also note that, of course, the representatives of the Bulgarian and the Russian Church, Moscow patriarchate, did indeed sign that. In fact, it was even signed by the present patriarch of Bulgaria, who at that time was a metropolitan of the Bulgarian Church. Well, it came as a surprise to a lot of people. The Bulgarian bishop, Daniil, offered a written statement at the Assembly meeting in Chicago. The Russian bishops there supported that later in time; as we’ve mentioned, the ROCOR synod offered its own position in a written statement. Now, I’d just like to kind of summarize three of the main points that were kind of big points to me which came through in these very detailed, very lengthy, very thought-provoking documents, and really I must say, I really can’t do proper justice to them through just a few words. I really apologize for that and to Bishop Daniil and to the synod of ROCOR.
But firstly, I think it’s very clear that there’s a very deep feeling of pastoral concern towards those people who immigrated to America from those countries, and further, this feeling, as you mentioned already, Kevin, it’s upheld in a belief that only the mother churches which nurture them can provide that pastoral help, continue the cultural identity that for them is very, very important. And then, secondly, they refer to several canons which provide, according to the writers, a canonical basis for the present situation of multiple jurisdictions and overlapping territories. And lastly, the ROCOR letter expressed the belief that the different jurisdictions and churches are already united in a bond of love, despite the territorial overlap, and that bond is enough for them. On the other hand, they emphasis that severing the bonds with the mother churches will have adverse consequences, and we’ve talked already about these divergences in pastoral practices.
Again, this message continues to come as quite a surprise to some of the bishops in the Assembly, but one of the things I’ve been doing [is] a little bit more reading to try to understand this better over the past month or so, and some of these messages in fact were already present in some of the responses of the churches in previous preconciliar discussions, the discussions leading up to Chambésy, but definitely not in Chambésy; they’re not in the Chambésy language.
In those preconciliar submissions, both the Russian and it was the Romanian churches also suggested that ethnic identity could justify the continuing presence of overseas churches beyond their original territories. There was a recent publication of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Theological Quarterly, rather, on a conference that was held in Volos on ethnic, ecclesiological, and national identities, and Professor Meyendorff was in that. He notes that even the statute of the Church of Russia that was published in 2000, it extends the jurisdiction to “persons of Russian origin residing abroad and voluntarily accepting its jurisdiction.” So that’s consistent with that.
On the other hand, canon 28, which we haven’t talked about, of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, that’s certainly been interpreted by the Church of Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Patriarch of Alexandria in these preconciliar contributions to imply exclusive jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the lands of the diaspora, and that position, of course—not of course, but that position was challenged by the Russian Church and has been for some time. But I think one of the things that we need to notice is that none of these approaches appeared in the Chambésy, only a desire for unity, one bishop in one place.
So we have a lot of overseas agreement—we still have it—about issues that are unfortunately not within our ability to control or perhaps even to influence, but we do have to address the impact on us of these issues, whether we want to or not, to fulfill our responsibility. So we need to get together in person with all of the people involved with sufficient time to discuss these issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and really to try to find some kind of middle ground.
But I’d just like to finish this comment. I’ve had some discussions with people on whether there really is any middle ground, and I hear things on both sides. I’ve talked to at least one person whose ecclesiological and ecclesiastical experience in these matters I really respect [who told] me in no uncertain terms that there is no middle ground. Others are more optimistic. They say that we need to just try to find it. For me, I just feel we need to talk to each other openly, charitably; we need to respect one another; we need to find an agreed-upon solution, because, simply, that’s what Christians do. We don’t give up.
Mr. Allen: You know, one of the middle-ground positions that I’ve heard of—and maybe you could briefly respond to this one, because we’re going to start running out of time—one of the middle-ground positions—I’ve heard some that are opposed to administrative unity in the forms that have been suggested—is: why not expand the role of the Assembly of Bishops by granting defined administrative powers to the Assembly, but without abrogating or aligning the individual jurisdictions?
Pdn. Peter: Yeah, I’ve heard that, too, on a number of different parts, including my own diocesan bishop. That kind of process would give essentially synodal-type powers to the Assembly, power to create new sees, centralization of rubrics and practices, approval of clergy transfers between jurisdictions, and so on. Again, a number of bishops and clergy have called for establishment of kind of a national synod composed of all the bishops, and some of them, in fact, are calling for doing that unilaterally and without permission or approval from the mother churches.
Mr. Allen: Interesting.
Pdn. Peter: The issue here, though, is that—and, again, we’re going according to Chambésy; we’re not developing our own new rules—we want to be basically beyond reproach, as St. Paul says; that we’re sticking to the rules as they have been given to us. We’re not going beyond it; we don’t want to be criticized that we’re going beyond that. The Chambésy rules basically prohibit the Assembly from interfering in the affairs of jurisdictions, and the Assembly is not an interim jurisdiction. These sorts of synodal-type powers basically would make it a synod, and according to Chambésy it’s not a synod and it doesn’t have the ecclesiastical authority that implies. So we’re kind of stuck, let’s say, at that point.
Mr. Allen: Okay, so it’s not within your purview, then, is what you’re saying, as the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning to put that forward, nor is it in the purview of the bishops. Okay, I get that.
As we’re coming to a close, Fr. Dn. Peter—and this has been a great interview; thank you so much for devoting the time and the effort to both this process and to this evening—there’s supposed to be a great and holy Council planned for 2015 from what I’m hearing. What happens if the U.S. bishops can agree, cannot agree on any structural changes between now and then? Do they just have to work that out among the mother churches at the great and holy Council, and they’ve been charged with doing it, so what happens?
Pdn. Peter: First of all, Kevin, I have no idea whether such a council will be held next year or not. It sounds very premature to me, given where we are. However, whenever such a council is held, I would hope that our Assembly would submit a plan for removing the canonical anomaly that we have been speaking of for the past couple of hours. I would not speculate on what might happen if we did not have a unanimously accepted or consensus plan or whether the Assembly might decide to submit a majority plan with a minority case. Maybe that’s the best that we could produce. Maybe everybody but one or two go forward, and those people join later. That’s up to the bishops to decide. They have that responsibility, but, again, on the Committee we have the responsibility of coming up with our best thinking on this, but then they can take it and do what they want with it. And I hope they’ll do what Christ wants them to do.
Mr. Allen: And my last question, as we’re coming to the close is, you know you mentioned the role of laity and what we can do in this process, and I know one is to pray, and I do, but how do we voice our opinions, and will that, in your opinion, have any effect on the outcome with our bishops? I know people have many opinions, because you hear them at coffee hour, you hear them on Facebook, you hear them in discussion groups. I’m not sure if our bishops are really privy to these opinions. What are your thoughts on that?
Pdn. Peter: Well, I think first of all, Kevin, actions are more important than words or opinions. Our parishes need to be examples of unity to our bishops. They need to be shining examples, a unity that’s expressed around the Eucharistic table, first of all, a unity in love, unity in welcoming, unity in outreach to all the others who present themselves at our parish doors who need our friendship and our help. Personally I would say the greatest act for unity would be welcoming in our parishes with joy and with enthusiasm. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve gone to parishes—of course, I get a big welcome because I’m clergy—but people who’ve come with me, or even my wife sometimes, she says hello to ten people, and they look at her and walk away, or there’s one person who strikes up a conversation. That can’t be! We’re supposed to be… We [should] not be subject to Nietzsche’s curse: “Christians have no joy.” And if we don’t have that joy, well, forget about it. We’re not going to have any kind of unity. We need to start there first.
The second thing is that it’s standing outside our own parishes. We need to extend ourselves practically. We can call or email a person at another parish, inviting them to come to our church school teacher workshop or choir workshop. My feeling is, you know, a lot of people say, “I don’t know anybody at another parish”—then go to that parish as a visitor for a couple of Sundays. Get permission from your parish rector to do that so you don’t cause a scandal. Go, introduce yourself, get to know people, make connections, be able to call them and to be able to invite them. Our parishes can sponsor pan-Orthodox youth and college retreats and social gatherings.
Already there are clergy brotherhoods, and that’s a major force for change in our country. In Cleveland, Ohio, where we did that forum, that comes to mind immediately. They do tremendous things, and every city can do that; it can be replicated, can spill over to every parish.
The last thing is, I would say, we can speak with our bishops. First of all, bishops ought to see what we’re doing, and they ought to come to our parishes and they ought to be able to ask us, “What are you doing for unity? Tell me what you’re doing. Tell me how I can help.” But what I would do, I would paraphrase John F. Kennedy; I would say, “Ask not what your bishops can do for you. Ask what you can do for your bishops.” Maybe our bishops need a line of volunteers waiting for him outside of his office in the diocesan chancery, saying, “You know, Your Grace, Your Eminence, we want to help. Tell us what we can do to help you.”
Every one of us has our job to do, without complaining, without whinging. There’s no room for negativity here. We need to take our personal criticism that we have of people, perhaps negative energy, turn that into positive action. We need to be the leaven that leavens the whole lump, and maybe our parishes, our people individually, they can be the catalyst through which progress can be made, and we all work together, laity, clergy, and bishop, to bring about the unity that we need, that we must have.
Mr. Allen: And I just want to make a closing comment on my part, and that is that it may come across that I’ve been negative about some things or critical or cynical, and I think it would be good to encourage our listeners to assume the best, not the worst, of our bishops, even though that can be hard at times. We don’t always know the full picture, and we can assume some things based only on partial information. So that’s important, I think; at the end of the day, we have to have faith in God, we have to have faith in our appointed leaders, as you say, and to love them. That would be my closing thought.
As we come to a final close, Pdn. Peter Danilchick, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to say as we close on this? Is there anything left remaining that you’d like to add to this conversation?
Pdn. Peter: The only thing that I would say is I’m very much struck, Kevin, by what St. Paul said as being a fool for Christ, as being the refuse of the earth. I think that we need to really adopt that mentality so that we’re not deluded by power, by privilege, by status, by wealth, or by whatever. I came across a quote of Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of London of blessed memory, whom I served with a number of times. He did a meditation on St. Joseph of Volotsk, and I’ll do a short quote.
St. Joseph knew nothing else but love. He did not care about consequences nor what people thought, but only that we who have known Christ and who know who Christ is must bring Christ to those who are hungry and in need of help, and if it costs you your life, well, it costs you your life.
I feel the spirit of sacrifice, of witness, of love that knows no boundaries, knows no fear. We have too much fear. There is no love in fear. Perfect love conquers fear, the Bible tells us, and that’s what we need above all. So, thank you, Kevin. Thanks to your listeners. God bless you all.
Mr. Allen: Thank you very much, Pdn. Peter Danilchick. Thank you for you faithful service to the Church, for being my guest tonight. This is very informative. And thanks to all the listeners who called in tonight.
And please join me on March 9 for what I think is going to be a really interesting topic. It’s going to be about Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism, with my guests: Fr. Brendan Pelphrey, [who] has been a long-time [missionary] who has dialogued with Buddhist lamas around the world, including the Dalai Lama, and he is an authority on Buddhism; and ex-Buddhist and now Orthodox Christian R. Todd Godwin. So we’ll have a very interesting conversation on March 9.
Many thanks to our production team this evening: to our engineer, John Maddex; our producer, Bobby Maddex; our call screener, Troy Sabourin; our chatroom moderator, Fr. John Schroedel; and to my production assistant, Jennifer Trenery.
Please tune in next week at the same time for the live call-in program, Orthodoxy Live with Fr. Evan Armatas. Good night. Have a great week.