Thomas E. FitzGerald
8. TOWARD GREATER UNITY AND WITNESS
The quest for greater administrative unity among the Orthodox jurisdictions in America found concrete expression in the establishment of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) in 1960. Building upon the tradition of the earlier federation, SCOBA began to oversee the various inter-Orthodox activities and to coordinate ecumenical witness, which was born during the 1950s. It also became the focal point of efforts to establish a Provincial Synod of Orthodox Bishops, which would better serve the needs of Orthodox faithful and better reflect the organizational principles of Orthodox ecclesiology.237
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SCOBA
About two years after his arrival in this country to become head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1949, Archbishop Michael (Constantinides) convened a meeting of Orthodox bishops on 12 March 1952. Participating in this historic gathering were Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) of the Syrian (Antiochian) Orthodox Archdiocese, Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich) of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (Metropolia), Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) of the Russian Orthodox Synod Abroad, Metropolitan Markary (Illinsky) of the Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Bishop Orestes (Chornak) of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic diocese, and Bishop Bogdan (Spilka) of the Ukrainian Orthodox diocese. The latter two jurisdictions were dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, like the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese,238
The meeting was significant if only because the heads of the three Russian Orthodox jurisdictions met together. There were intense rivalry and disputes between these jurisdictions resulting from divergent claims of authority in America and very different understanding of the authority of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Exarchate was directly responsible to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Metropolia was in formal schism from the Moscow Patriarchate since 1924 but open to some form of mutual recognition. The Synod Abroad had only recently established its headquarters in New York as hundreds of its members came to the United States fleeing from further Communist advances in the Balkans and the Far East. The Synod Abroad was composed of Russian exiles who were staunch monarchists and who claimed that the Moscow Patriarchate had no authority because of cooperation with the Communist government. In addition to these significant differences, each jurisdiction saw itself as the rightful and canonical continuation of the old Alaskan mission.
At this historic meeting in New York, the bishops resolved to establish a consultative body. Like the federation that proceeded it, this body was meant to deal with common issues that affected the Orthodox in America. Since it was only a voluntary association, it was not meant to have any formal or canonical character. Unlike the federation, however, membership in this voluntary association was not restricted only to those primates who had a direct canonical association with an autocephalous church.
Despite the resolution of the meeting, no formal association of bishops came into existence. While this was a period of increased cooperation at the grassroots level, it would appear that the growing rivalry between the three Russian Orthodox jurisdictions precluded the development of a formal association of bishops. Indeed, among many of the Russian Orthodox hierarchs in America, there was little concern for cooperation at this time. Each of these jurisdictions was concerned with affirming its distinctive characteristics and attracting parishioners.239
A new phase in the development of greater conciliarity among the Orthodox in America began in 1960. SCOBA came into existence under the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos (Coucousis), the newly elected primate of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese.
Archbishop Iakovos was no stranger to the church in America. Bom in Turkey and educated at the famous Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, he came to America in 1939 to serve on the faculty of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He later served as the pastor of the Annunciation Cathedral in Boston from 1942 to 1954. During these years, he became well aware of the difficulties that affected Orthodoxy in America and the unique opportunities for its development. Prior to his election to head the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1959, he served for five years as the representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the World Council of Churches.
Slightly more than a year after his arrival in the United States, Archbishop Iakovos set in motion a new proposal for a conference of Orthodox bishops. At his invitation, the representatives of eleven jurisdictions met on 15 March 1960 at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese in New York City. The ten bishops and one priest who were the official representatives of their respective jurisdictions resolved to establish a Standing Episcopal Conference. Archbishop Iakovos became its president.240
At the fifth meeting of the eleven presiding bishops, a formal constitution for SCOBA was approved. Although the conference did not contain representatives from every jurisdiction, it was certainly far more representative than the earlier federation. Like the earlier federation, however, the conference remained a voluntary association of the presiding bishops. Yet, the establishment of the conference was seen as a very significant expression of conciliarity that could lead to more formal unity.241
During the first decade of its existence, the conference became a very important forum in which the bishops, as well as the theological and pastoral staff, could meet regularly to deal with issues of common concern. Moreover, during the early years of its existence, the conference brought under its aegis a number of Pan-Orthodox committees and activities that had been established at the grassroots level in previous years. The conference also began to oversee and coordinate a unified Orthodox witness in ecumenical gatherings.242
Archbishop Iakovos spoke about the early accomplishments of SCOBA and its potential:
The cooperation of the Orthodox Churches within the Standing Conference has borne fruits: i.e., the body of the Orthodox Armed Forces chaplains, the pan-Orthodox Committee on Scouting, the Office of Campus Ministry for the benefit of our university students, the Ecumenical Relations Commission, and the Religious Education Publishing Commission. If this cooperation continues with the same sincerity toward our Orthodox faithful in America, perhaps it will have as its result one day the blessing of the Mother Churches to change the Standing Conference into a pan-Orthodox provincial synod, under the aegis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Such a provincial synod will contribute immeasurably to the perpetuation and growth of Orthodoxy in the United States.243
The establishment and early development of the conference took place at a time when the Orthodox Church throughout the world was also reaffirming its conciliar tradition. The most concrete expression of this renewed conciliarity was the four Pan-Orthodox conferences held between 1961 and 1968. At the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, representatives from the autocephalous and autonomous churches sent their representatives to these gatherings, which were held in Rhodes in 1961, 1963, and 1964 and at Chambésy (Geneva) in 1968.244
The most important result of these gatherings was that the age-old principle of conciliarity had been reaffirmed. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, political developments and wars had made it very difficult for the representatives of the regional Orthodox churches to meet together and to address common concerns. These conferences provided the opportunity for bishops and theologians from the various regional churches to meet one another and to begin to develop a consensus on critical issues affecting the entire church.
Two themes received the greatest attention in these conferences. First, the representatives resolved to begin the process of convening a Great and Holy Council, which would someday gather together Orthodox bishops and theologians from throughout the world. The term ecumenical council was carefully avoided. But in the minds of many, this gathering would certainly have the potential of being received as one. In order to prepare for this council, the conferences eventually settled upon ten topics, which would be examined in preconciliar meetings.245
Second, the conferences approved the presence of the Orthodox Church in ecumenical dialogue designed to restore the visible unity of Christians. This decision led directly to greater Orthodox involvement in the World Council of Churches. It also led to the establishment of bilateral theological consultations between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, the Anglican Church, the Reformed Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutheran Church.246
The renewal of Orthodox conciliarity at the worldwide level was very well received by SCOBA. There was a strong feeling that the breakdown of isolation among the Orthodox at the worldwide level could only help strengthen Orthodox unity in America. From its very inception, SCOBA became, in the words of Father John Meyendorff, «a symbol and a hope for all those who were consciously working towards a united Orthodoxy in America in accordance with the Orthodox understanding of the church and in agreement with the holy canons.»247
ECUMENICAL WITNESS AND DIALOGUE
The Standing Conference took very seriously the challenge of Orthodox involvement in ecumenical witness and dialogue. The fact that Orthodox Christians in America lived, worked, and studied in such close proximity with Roman Catholics and Protestants was a reality that could not be ignored. The Orthodox in America were not living in religious ghettos insulated from other Christians. Unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, the Orthodox in America were confronted with the tragedy of Christian disunity on a daily basis.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been opportunities for formal dialogue between Orthodox and Protestants. The historic encyclical of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920 called for the establishment of a Fellowship of Churches that would lead to greater understanding and dialogue. This proposal found a measure of fulfillment with the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The Orthodox churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Greece were among the founding members. Two American Orthodox jurisdictions, the Russian Orthodox Metropolia and the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese, also held independent memberships.248
The contemporary ecumenical movement entered a dramatic period of development in the 1960s. The Orthodox Church of Russia began to adopt a more moderate position regarding dialogue with the Christian West. This was signaled dramatically by its entrance into the WCC in 1961. The Orthodox churches of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Finland also joined the WCC in subsequent years. This meant that all the regional autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox churches were members of the WCC by 1966.249
At the Second Vatican Council (1963–1965), the Roman Catholic Church became more attuned to the need for dialogue with the other Christian churches and especially with the Orthodox Church. The historic meeting between Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem in 1964 was a significant sign of this new relationship. The historic lifting of the anathemas of 1054 between Constantinople and Rome in 1965 gave some the impression that the centuries-old schism was about to end.250
Especially significant about this new phase in ecumenical relations was that these developments were not simply affecting the clerics and theologians. Especially in America, the laity was becoming interested in the movement to overcome prejudices, to understand differences, and to work for Christian reconciliation.
SCOBA responded in a number of significant ways to the emerging ecumenical movement and to some of the issues being raised in the American context. First, a statement entitled «The Discipline of Holy Communion» was issued by SCOBA on 22 January 1965. In this pastoral statement, the SCOBA bishops stated that they «viewed with satisfaction the progress in mutual understanding that is leading the separated Christian bodies closer to each other in faith and life.» With this in mind, the bishops urged the faithful to understand these historic developments and to become «instruments of peace and reconciliation.»251
At the same time, the bishops clearly stated that developments in the ecumenical movement did not mean that Orthodox Christians were free to participate in the sacramental life of other churches. The bishops reaffirmed the Orthodox position that the Eucharist is not principally the means toward unity but rather primarily the expression of communion with the church and the acceptance of its teachings. In their concluding words, the bishops said:
The Standing Conference would at this time remind the children of the Church as they pray, study and work for Christian reunion that the Eucharistic Mystery is the end of our unity not the means to that end; and that, therefore, decisions reached by Christian bodies outside the Orthodox Church have no significance of validity for the Orthodox Church or her members.252
Second, SCOBA approved on 12 October 1966, and subsequently published, a document entitled Guidelines for Orthodox Christians in Ecumenical Relations. This document was a clear result of the recognition that the Orthodox position on ecumenical witness and dialogue had to be given greater amplification. The primary purpose of this text, therefore, was to provide the clergy and laity of the eleven jurisdictions of SCOBA with concrete guidance for their participation in ecumenical gatherings. The document sought to express the principles of Orthodox involvement in the quest for Christian reconciliation that were not only rooted in the Orthodox understanding of the church but also responsive to the demands of a society that was religiously pluralistic.
This brief text could not answer every question that was being raised at a time when relationships among the Christian churches were undergoing dramatic changes. Yet, this document does have an important historic significance. It was the first attempt by Orthodox bishops and theologians to deal in a formal manner with some of the doctrinal and practical issues associated with issues of Christian reconciliation.253
The Standing Conference also authorized the establishment, and oversaw the activity, of a number of committees of theologians to meet with their counterparts from other Christian churches in the United States. Theological consultations were established with the Episcopal Church in 1962, the Roman Catholic Church in 1966, the Lutheran Churches in 1968, and the Reformed Churches in 1968. With varying degrees of fruitfulness, these consultations examined points of doctrinal differences and agreement. Despite the inherent difficulties in such endeavors, the establishment of these consultations has remained one of the most significant accomplishments of SCOBA.254
Father John Meyendorff expressed some of the Orthodox concern over their involvement in the ecumenical movement:
There will certainly be no Christian unity outside Orthodoxy: the uninterrupted, organic tradition of united Christianity is authentically preserved in the Orthodox Church. And it is our responsibility to make this truth to be accepted as a relevant challenge in the ecumenical movement. Unfortunately, Orthodox thought in this matter is too often polarized between two equally wrong positions: «open» relativism and «closed» fanaticism. The first accepts the naive Protestant idea that it is sufficient to forget about «doctrines» and practice «love» to secure unity. The second fails to accept the authentically Christian values of the West, which Orthodoxy simply cannot reject, if it wants to be faithful to the fullness of Christian truth.
Between these two positions–which are both unfaithful to the present Orthodox reality–lies the road of a conscious and sober participation in the ecumenical movement, implying no compromise, but much love and understanding. This road is the right one, not simply because it is the «middle road,» but mainly because it reflects the truly catholic spirit of the Orthodox faith.255
AN OPPOSING PERSPECTIVE
While SCOBA was the national church body that brought together the primates and other leaders of the major Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, there were a small number of other jurisdictions claiming to be Orthodox who were not part of the conference. These other jurisdictions generally did not accept the Orthodox conciliar developments and the expressions of Orthodox ecumenical witness that were supported by SCOBA.
The Russian Orthodox Synod Abroad was one such jurisdiction. Popularly known as the Karlovtsy Synod or the Synod Abroad, it had been invited to send a representative to the organizational meeting in 1960 that led to the establishment of SCOBA. Although the Synod Abroad had a representative at Pan-Orthodox meetings in 1952 and 1959, it refused to participate in the meetings that led to the birth of SCOBA.
As we have already noted, the Synod Abroad established a diocese in the United States in 1927. A tentative unity was established between the Synod Abroad and the Metropolia in America between 1935 and 1946. Aligning themselves with the Nazi opposition to Communism, the leadership of the Synod Abroad moved their headquarters to Berlin in 1945. Five years later, in 1950, the headquarters was again moved to New York City in conjunction with the migration of thousands of Russian Orthodox from Eastern Europe and the Far East. With a slight increase of parishes in the United States, the Synod Abroad continued to see itself as the Russian Orthodox «church in exile,» having the responsibility of preserving not only the Orthodox faith but also Russian language and culture until the day when Russia would be freed of Communism and its faithful could return to their homeland.
The initial reason for the Synod Abroad's aversion to the developing conciliarity in America was its repudiation of the activity of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Synod Abroad refused to recognize the legitimate authority of the Patriarchate of Moscow and its clergy since 1926. Never abandoning its allegiance to the old Russian monarchy, the Synod Abroad claimed that the Patriarchate was thoroughly controlled by the Communists after the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925.256
The Synod Abroad made the bold claim that it was the free and legitimate Russian Orthodox Church in exile. With this declaration, the Synod Abroad consistently opposed those Orthodox conciliar movements both in America and worldwide in which the Patriarchate of Moscow had representatives. Referring to the representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Anastasy of the Synod Abroad said:
We must avoid as a pestilence every kind of contact with them. You know that these people with thoroughly buried consciences will never cease from waging war on us, although they constantly change their methods of warfare. At times they openly attack us and at times they utilize a circumventing maneuver in order to conceal their true purpose. Often they appear as angels of light, in order to delude even the chosen ones if possible.257
Within the American context, therefore, the Synod Abroad would not be a part of any organization at which there was a representative of the Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Moscow. In refusing the invitation to the meeting of 15 March 1960, Metropolitan Anastasy, the primate of the Synod Abroad, said that neither he nor any other bishop of theirs would sit at the same table with the representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow.258
This perspective of the Synod Abroad was also reflected in its view of the Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes in 1961. Because a delegation from the Patriarchate of Moscow was present, members of the Synod Abroad began to question the very authenticity of this and subsequent Pan-Orthodox gatherings. Referring to the first Rhodes conference, one member of the Synod Abroad declared that it was «a gathering even more shameful, for the primacy of the Soviets garbed in Church vestments was recognized in a free Orthodox milieu. And through this, a question mark arose over all of free Orthodoxy with regards to its gracefulness, whether it still remained in Christ or had already gone over to the anitchrist.»259
In addition to being a vocal opponent to the authority and the activities of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Synod Abroad took a number of actions that reflected its anti-Communistic political ideology and its unwillingness to contribute to greater Orthodox unity in America. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, the Synod Abroad received from the Russian Orthodox Metropolia the parishes that refused to commemorate at liturgical services the Patriarch of Moscow. Likewise, in 1958 the Synod Abroad accepted a group of anti-Communistic, immigrant clergy and laity from the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate. A few years later, in 1963, the Synod Abroad accepted a like-minded group clergy and laity from the Bulgarian Orthodox diocese. In this case, the Synod Abroad even consecrated Father Kyril Yonchev as a bishop and established a new diocese especially for those staunchly anti-Communistic Bulgarian Orthodox immigrants who repudiated the authority of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria.260
The Synod Abroad also became a vocal opponent of Orthodox participation in ecumenical dialogues and organizations. This position appears to have become more acute after the conciliar decisions of the Pan-Orthodox conferences of 1961 and 1963 and especially after the entrance of the Patriarchate of Moscow into the World Council of Churches in 1961.
The Orthodox Church both at the worldwide level and in the United States viewed ecumenical witness as an expression of the mission of the church. However, one of the bishops of the Synod Abroad viewed ecumenical witness as «a path which leads to the embrace of godless communism and prepares for the kingdom of the anti-Christ.» He declared that those Orthodox who participate in ecumenical forums «mutilate the teachings concerning the Church of Christ and adjust it to the demands of the current mode.»261
Between 1965 and 1969, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznessensky), who became primate of the Synod Abroad in 1964, wrote four public letters of protest that opposed the conciliar movement in Orthodoxy as well as Orthodox ecumenical witness. These letters not only further isolated the Synod Abroad from world Orthodoxy but also depicted the Synod Abroad as the «remnant» in which the faith is held in purity free from all forms of modernism, Communism, and ecumenism. Because of this, some in the Synod Abroad viewed it as «the only Orthodox Church remaining in America and the entire world whose hierarchy stands fully behind traditional Orthodoxy and against the approaching union.»262
During this same period especially, the Synod Abroad became a haven for those clergy and laity of other Orthodox jurisdictions in America who opposed Orthodox ecumenical witness. Certainly, the Synod Abroad continued to maintain a strongly Russian identity and character. However, because of its opposition to developments in the Orthodox world, it began to attract persons who were not of Russian background but who were opposed to the policies articulated by the auto-cephalous churches and by those jurisdictions that were part of SCOBA. On this trend, one member of the Synod Abroad said:
It is through no intention of its own that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has become, in these critical times for world Orthodoxy, a veritable beacon and haven for Orthodox clergy and faithful of all nationalities who strive to learn and preach the truths of Orthodox Christianity in harmony with a fully Orthodox hierarchy.... Whole Orthodox Churches are being led by a hundred forms of worldly influence into forgetfulness of Orthodoxy and into outright apostasy; and Orthodox bishops in every Church and jurisdiction are either taking the lead in this suicidal movement or maintaining what has now surely become a traitorous silence.263
These extreme sentiments were to be expressed in the publications and tracts produced in many quarters of the Synod Abroad. In somewhat less of an extreme manner, the views were more formally expressed by the Council of Bishops of the Synod Abroad in their meeting in Montreal in 1971. There, the bishops formally repudiated the developments in the Patriarchate of Moscow. They also declared that ecumenism «was a heresy against the dogma of the Church.» Although the Synod Abroad represented less than fifty parishes and perhaps less than 1,000 parishioners in the United States, the words of their bishops only further alienated this body from other Orthodox both in this country and throughout the world.264
PROPOSALS FOR A PROVINCIAL SYNOD
Throughout the first decade of its existence, it was obvious that SCOBA had become an important vehicle for common witness and limited cooperation among the jurisdictions that voluntarily became members. It had far outlived its predecessor. It was viewed by many as an important expression of Orthodox unity in the United States. Despite the vocal opposition of some smaller groups, such as the Synod Abroad, SCOBA expressed the concern for greater unity and the desire for ecumenical witness that the vast majority of Orthodox in America affirmed.
However, there always had been a serious defect in the organizational status of SCOBA. The conference began as, and had always remained, a voluntary association of bishops who were related to particular jurisdictions. Each presiding hierarch had maintained his own ultimate autonomy in relationship to other SCOBA bishops. Each jurisdiction had maintained its own distinct independence and characteristic features. Finally, most of the jurisdictions associated with SCOBA had been actually provinces of mother churches in Europe or the Middle East. This meant that the pastoral needs of the Orthodox in America had sometimes come into conflict with policies of the various mother churches.
All this shows that SCOBA was simply a consultative body. It had never had any genuine authority over and above the jurisdictions that constituted it. Any decision that it made ultimately had to be approved by each of the jurisdictions and in some cases by the mother churches. Indeed, this is the fundamental reason SCOBA could not deal with the critical organizational challenges that confronted American Orthodoxy. Paradoxically, SCOBA was in a better position to cultivate a common ecumenical witness than it was to deal with serious issues of division within American Orthodoxy.
From its beginning, SCOBA was not able to gather together regularly all the Orthodox bishops in America for any type of consultation. According to its constitution, membership in the Standing Conference was limited to one bishop from each jurisdiction. Normally, this would be the presiding bishop of each jurisdiction.
SCOBA was never able to establish a national association of clergy. While SCOBA was able to foster some clergy associations at regional and local levels, it was simply not able to bring about any genuine sense of common witness and common support among the Orthodox clergy as a whole. Indeed, throughout most of their histories, the various seminaries and graduate schools of theology have been primarily concerned with preparing future clergy to serve the particular needs of persons in particular jurisdictions. Only recently have the two graduate schools of theology begun to take more seriously their obligation to rise above narrow interests and to serve the greater needs of the Orthodox in America.
SCOBA was never able to bring together clergy and laity from all the jurisdictions to discuss common concerns and to fashion common resolutions. Each of the particular jurisdictions has had its own national gathering of delegates that met either annually, biannually, or triennially. There has been no serious and consistent attempt to establish any contact among the delegates to these jurisdictional gatherings.
SCOBA was always hard-pressed to deal effectively with points of differences between jurisdictions. Relationships between the jurisdictions had frequently been strained when a parish or a clergyman sought to move from one ecclesiastical body to another. Relationships had also been strained when differences arose over the qualifications for ordination, the requirements for marriage, and the manner in which new parishes are established. SCOBA had little ability to adjudicate differences or to provide guidelines for relationships among the jurisdictions.
Finally, SCOBA was not able truly to speak and act in the name of the Orthodox Church in the United States. For all practical purposes, SCOBA was not able to express the position or the view of Orthodox Christianity in relationship to other religious bodies, to ecumenical bodies, to charitable agencies, or to governmental agencies. This has been painfully evident on many occasions.
Father John Meyendorff expressed with clarity the need for Orthodox unity in America when he wrote in 1968:
We must be united. The nationalistic feelings which currently separate the Orthodox Church in America into a dozen or more jurisdictions is sinful, uncanonical and impractical for further progress. It is sinful because it is contrary to Christian love. It is uncanonical because it contradicts the clearest statements of the Ecumenical Councils: «That there not be two bishops in one city (First Ecumenical Council, canon 8). It is impractical for the obvious reason that a unified Church of some 3,000,000 communicants would be much more able to face the problems we face now in our individual jurisdictions.265
From the time of SCOBA's formation, there were movements to alter its fundamental consultative character and transform it into a genuine provincial synod of bishops. This provincial synod would have to have all the characteristic dignity and authority accorded to it by Orthodox canon law. It would also have to have the recognition of the autocephalous churches acting with the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This synod of bishops not only could be an effective, canonical expression of full Orthodox unity in this country but also could be a positive force to guide the development of unifying structures at the regional and local levels.
Even at the first planning meeting for the new conference in 1960, a memorandum was presented by Metropolitan Antony (Bashir) that emphasized the need to form a genuine synod of bishops and not simply a consultative body. «Our failure to form one united jurisdiction in America,» said the Metropolitan, «is a constant reproach as well as an absolute violation of the sacred canons and must be corrected. This can be done by forming an American Synod composed of the chief hierarchs of each national jurisdiction who shall retain their present autonomy in internal matters, but act together in common issues, and plan a corporate union at the earliest opportunity.»266 While he had been one of the founders of the earlier federation, Metropolitan Antony clearly recognized that the success of a new organization depended upon it being a genuine synod.
At the eleventh regular meeting of SCOBA on 22 January 1965, the Commission on Unity presented a bold report that reviewed the reasons it was desirable to change the fundamental character of SCOBA. The report also affirmed that greater unity does not preclude legitimate diversity in practices, customs, and languages. The report recognized that the unification of the jurisdictions could not be achieved immediately. Rather, there must be a gradual unification by degrees. The first degree would be the canonical unification of the Orthodox episcopate in America.
The report then proposed that the Standing Conference petition all the autocephalous churches to be recognized as «the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America.» The proposal stated that this synod would achieve a high degree of coordination by having authority to approve all episcopal consecrations, to be a court of appeal for bishops, to establish ecumenical policy, to oversee inter-Orthodox chaplaincies, and to be responsible for communications with other Orthodox churches. The proposal stated that the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would serve as the president of the synod and that each national jurisdiction would be represented by one bishop.267
The proposal was formally opposed by the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Exarch and the bishop of the Bulgarian Orthodox jurisdiction. However, the proposal passed with the approval of six representatives. Then, SCOBA adopted unanimously the following recommendation: «The report of the Ad Hoc Commission [will] be submitted to the Mother Churches by the respective hierarchs, accompanied by a personal letter of explanation, and a request for blessing and action and that the Chairman submit the Report to the Ecumenical Patriarchate with an additional request, signed by the Chairman and the Secretary, that it be placed on the agenda of the next Pan-Orthodox Conference at Rhodes.»268
Subsequent meetings of SCOBA in 1965 and 1966 considered the responses that gradually came from some of the autocephalous churches. While not opposing the proposal in principle, the Ecumenical Patriarchate requested further study of the American situation. It subsequently indicated its willingness to approve the establishment of a provincial synod. The Church of Antioch believed that the topic should be placed on the agenda of the Pan-Orthodox Conference. Strong negative reaction, however, came from the Church of Russia and the Church of Serbia. It was clear that on the worldwide level, there was no clear consensus coming from the autocephalous churches regarding developments in America.269
A more modest proposal was offered by SCOBA on 9 May 1968. A majority of the hierarchs voted to send three representatives to the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Conference scheduled for Chambesy (Geneva). The task of the delegation would be to initiate discussion among the representatives of the autocephalous churches on the topic of forming a united church in America. Within five months, however, the Ecumenical Patriarchate informed Archbishop Iakovos, the chairman of SCOBA, that the subject of Orthodoxy in America could not be placed on the agenda because its topics had already been determined.270
Once again, at the 18 May 1968 meeting of SCOBA, the representatives approved an appeal to the organizers of the Pan-Orthodox Conference and authorized Archbishop Iakovos to write letters directly to the heads of the autocephalous churches regarding the situation of Orthodoxy in America. After noting a number of reasons greater unity is desirable, the Appeal to the Pan-Orthodox Conference says:
All of us and all our faithful priests and people are aware of this pressing need as we are hampered in all of our common efforts by divisions not of our own making which stand as unavoidable obstacles to our spiritual and ecclesiastical welfare and progress. We cannot overstate the seriousness of our need for some early canonical solution to our jurisdictional confusion which is unprecedented in the history of our Orthodox Church and in absolute violation of its well known structure....
Therefore, we respectfully request that an immediate canonical basis be formed with the agreement of the Autocephalous Churches for the creation of one Orthodox Church in America which will provide for the pastoral care of the several cultural and national entities in America, and guarantee the common witness and mission of Orthodoxy to the West.271
It is difficult to determine all the reasons that prevented the mother churches from responding favorably to the request from SCOBA. But, two reasons seem to predominate during this period. First, many of the mother churches were simply reluctant to relinquish any authority over their particular dioceses. Despite the clear witness of the traditional principles of ecclesiology, many of the mother churches believed that their dioceses were made up of «their people,» and they had legitimate authority to care for them. The mother church was usually unwilling, therefore, to lose the support that came from the daughter diocese in America. Second, there often was no clear consensus within the jurisdiction itself. Within each jurisdiction, some argued for greater unity. Yet, the movement toward greater unity was opposed either overtly or covertly by others who preferred to maintain the distinctive character of their jurisdiction.
Despite these conflicting views, significant attempts to express better the unity of the Orthodox Church in the United States found a valuable expression in the work of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, especially between 1960 and 1970. As a consultative body bringing together the heads of eleven jurisdictions, SCOBA became a significant association that began to oversee and direct many of the grassroots Pan-Orthodox organizations that had come into existence. At a time when the ecumenical movement was gaining momentum in the United States, SCOBA was instrumental in organizing and directing a unified Orthodox witness.
Moreover, the various appeals of SCOBA to the autocephalous churches were a sure sign that the Orthodox in the United States were on the threshold of a new period of witness and mission that would be best served by a provincial synod of bishops. This synod would bring together all the canonical Orthodox bishops in this country. Such a body would better serve the needs of the Orthodox faithful and better reflect the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology. Although preliminary efforts did not meet with complete success at the time, they did help to bring greater attention to the situation of the Orthodox in the United States.
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Appreciation for insights into themes discussed in this chapter is extended to Fathers Timothy Andrews, John Zenetos, and James Christon.
Antony Bashir, «The Bishops Meet,» The Word 4:5 (1960): 3–5.
Joseph Hayden, Slavic Orthodox Christianity in the United States: From Culture Religion to Sectarian Church, (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1973), pp. 125–143.
William Paul Schneirla, «The Bishop's Conference,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 4:1 (1960): 47–48.
Serafim Surrency, The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America (New York: Saints Boris and Gleb Press, 1973), p. 62.
Alexander Schmemann, «The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 6:1 (1962): 42–43.
Archbishop Iakovos, «The State of the Church Address, July 20,1968,» Congress Album (New York: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, 1968), p. 40.
Vasilios Stavridis, Istoria tou Oikoumenikou Patriarcheiou (Athens, 1967), pp. 206–207.
Towards the Great and Holy Council: Introductory Reports of the InterOrthodox Commission in Preparation for the Next Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church (London: S.P.C.K., 1972).
Thomas FitzGerald, The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Quest for Christian Unity (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1990), pp. 8–9.
John Meyendorff, «The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops,» in Constance Tarasar and John Erickson, eds., Orthodox America 1794–1976 (Syosset, N.Y.: Orthodox Church in America, 1975), p. 243.
FitzGerald, The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Quest for Christian Unity, p. 7.
Ibid., p. 10.
Ibid, p. 14.
«The Discipline of Holy Communion,» St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 9:1 (1965): 8.
Guidelines for the Orthodox in Ecumenical Relations (New York: Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops, 1966).
Nils Ehrenstrom, ed., Confessions in Dialogue (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1975), pp. 57,117, 89,113.
John Meyendorff, Witness to the World (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987), p. 17.
«Epistle of Bishops at the Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to the God-Loving Flock Now in Dispersion, October 18,1958,» Orthodox Life 6 (1959): 10.
«Pastoral Address of Metropolitan Anastasy, October 18, 1958,» Orthodox Life 6 (1959): 8.
«Letter from Metropolitan Anastasy to Archbishop Iakovos, June 19, 1960,» Archives, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
Archimandrite Constantine, «The Spiritual State of the World and the Task of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia,» Orthodox Life 4 (1962): 11.
Arthur Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), pp. 83, 79.
Archbishop Nikon of Washington, «Archpastoral Epistle,» Orthodox Life 3 (1962): 6.
Eugene Rose, «Witness of Orthodoxy,» Orthodox Word 4:6 (1968): 268.
Eugene Rose, «Orthodoxy in the Contemporary World,» Orthodox Word 5:6 (1969): 232.
«On the Heresy of Ecumenism,» Orthodox Word 7:6 (1991): 297.
John Meyendorff, Witness to the World (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987), p. 212.
Metropolitan Antony Bashir, «Memorandum to the Prelates Invited to the Inter-Jurisdictional Meeting,» The Word 4:5 (1960): 8.
Surrency, The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, p. 66.
«Report of the Ad Hoc Commission on Unity,» in Surrency, The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, pp. A149-A150.
Ibid, p. 67.
Ibid, p. 70.
«Appeal of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America to the Forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Conference,» in Surrency, The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America, p. Al 51.