Orthodox Bishops Issue Statement Affirming Need To Bear Public Witness Together on Matters of Spiritual and Moral Concern.


 Washington, DC – The largest gathering ever of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas concluded a three-day Conference today by issuing an official statement calling for coordinated action on, and witness to, the mission of Orthodoxy to have a decisive voice in matters of the spiritual, social and human needs of 21st century America.


The theme of the Conference, organized by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA),aimed at working on the implications, theological and pastoral, of the SCOBA Encyclical on the occasion of the Third Christian Millennium which was released on December 14,2000,entitled,”And the Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us”. The Conference started on Tuesday evening May 1st at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The final session was held Thursday, May 3rd at St. Nicholas Cathedral when the 34 hierarchs present approved unanimously, and enthusiastically, the following statement:




To our Beloved, The Faithful Clergy and Laity of the Holy Orthodox Church throughout North America,


We greet you in the name of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ: Christ is Risen!


At the invitation of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and the other Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), we have gathered together in Washington, D.C. for the past three days to discuss issues of concern for the entire Orthodox Church in North America. Numbering thirty-four Hierarchs we represent every canonical Orthodox Diocese, Archdiocese, and Church that our good and loving Lord has planted here in North America. It has been an historic meeting, only the second time we have gathered in such a forum. Mindful of the presence of our Lord, we have prayed together; we have engaged in theological reflection; we have come to know each other better; and here in our nation’s capital we have given witness to our Orthodox Christian faith.


As we came together, we were heartened by words of encouragement and prayer from the heads of our Holy Orthodox Churches. His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said, “the spiritual unity of the Orthodox Church and the harmonious collaboration among her Hierarchs, clergy, and people [must] be demonstrated, so that the existing organizational status not be interpreted as dissonance in faith and unity.” His Holiness Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria greeted us “with brotherly love and the belief that you will labor with endeavors worthy of praise for the benefit of Holy Orthodoxy.” His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist of Romania pointed to our gathering here as “a foretaste of whatever will fully occur with the help of God and by ways only known by Him for achieving the full unity of the Church of Christ on the American continent.”


The Millennium Pastoral Letter of the SCOBA Hierarchs And the Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us… formed the framework for our discussions and conclusions. This was extremely appropriate because that Letter is first and foremost a missionary document. It is the proclamation of the Gospel that brings us together even as it enlivens the Church. As the Letter says, “Our intention is to make the Gospel of our Lord and God the Savior Jesus Christ known and embraced by more and more people in this land to which God has called us.” [5]


In his opening presentation Archbishop Demetrios immediately drew our attention to the challenges facing us in North America both as Church and society at this dawn of the 21st century. He highlighted six areas for our reflection: the area of bio-ethics and bio-medical engineering; the challenges facing the institution of marriage and the family; the increasing relativization of everything where “truth” has become a matter of opinion; the developments in information technologies and the ways in which the Church might make use of these; the challenges affecting society and the environment; and lastly, the challenge of offering our society the gift of our Orthodox spirituality.


Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese offered us reflections on the important themes of the Millennium Pastoral Letter. He highlighted the need for us to “get back to basics” in theology by presenting to our faithful and to our society the “overarching vision of the divine economy as it has been outlined in our Orthodox tradition.” He said that we need to “look back to the sources of our Faith, but only to allow us to face forward again toward our future with a renewed sense of who we are as the Body of Christ.” He urged us to take up the Church’s missionary imperative “to unite the world into this baptismal faith, recapitulating it into the unity of Christ” while pointing to the “artificial jurisdictional boundaries in North America that hamper this mission.”


Bishop Seraphim of the Orthodox Church in America offered us pastoral and spiritual reflections on the practical application of our faith. In emphasizing the importance of the virtues of humility and simplicity, he pointed to the perceived gap between what we profess and what we actually do. He said that we must in particular direct our “work with the poor and underprivileged and homeless.” In emphasizing our own role as archpastors he reminded us that “we must be examples of forgiveness and reconciliation, and merciful dispensers of canonical medicines.”


One of the greatest challenges before us remains the imperative need for strengthening the unity of the Orthodox Church on the North American continent. The question is how to perfect the unity that is given to us as “a gift from God.” [143]. It is clear to all of us that “the future of our Church lies in our willingness to work together.” [145]


We affirm the value of the present structure of the Standing Conference as the preeminent vehicle for our cooperation and as a sign of unity that our Lord wills for our Holy Orthodox Church here in North America. We are encouraged by the fact that the SCOBA Hierarchs meet on a regular basis to strengthen our common witness. This vital work of SCOBA needs to be communicated better to all of the Hierarchs here and abroad. Based upon this blessed experience of gathering here, we affirm the importance of all of the bishops meeting on a yearly basis. We also affirm the importance of the working commissions of SCOBA for our common ministry and encourage greater engagement by members of the hierarchy in the activity of the commissions. We also have a number of practical suggestions that seem to us within our power to accomplish and are necessary ways of strengthening and perfecting the unity we share.


The first is to strengthen and expand the current SCOBA commissions. Each of these either provides or has the potential to provide a rich opportunity to deepen our witness here. Some work very well; others need our genuine attention. For example, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), both organizations chartered by and responsible to SCOBA, provide a service to the Church not only here in North America, but also worldwide. The various dialogues that the Orthodox Church here in North America has with fellow Christians, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Episcopalians, have always come under the coordinated supervision of SCOBA. The Orthodox Christian Education Commission, one of the oldest SCOBA Commissions, has coordinated religious education, produced religious education materials, and provided a forum for all Orthodox Christian religious educators. The Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA) has provided a forum for our theologians to gather and reflect upon the important theological concerns confronting the Church today. The same is true of the Military Chaplaincy Commission which over the years has provided Military Chaplains for all Orthodox Christians serving our nation’s armed forces. Each of these has worked extremely well and has broad representation and participation from the SCOBA jurisdictions. More recently, the commissions on Scouting, Campus and Youth Work, and Contemporary Social and Moral Issues have been reorganized.


We clearly recognize that if this work is to be done fruitfully, we must commit ourselves to providing sufficient staff and resources.


As shepherds of one flock of Christ in this land, we realize that we participate in the same ministry and that we face the same challenges as pastors and teachers of the faith. We affirm the need to bear public witness together on matters of spiritual and moral concern. We have the profound obligation to address the crying needs of the society in which we live. We must reach out. These are issues of vital concern to the future of humanity and the planet. There are people suffering from economic and political injustice. Many in our society are morally adrift. We cannot remain silent. The oneness of our voice will help to provide spiritual direction not only to our own faithful, but will also offer a witness of the truth of the Gospel to those around us.


We rejoice in the fact that in many places there are positive expressions of Orthodox cooperation and witness. We see in this the Body of Christ in action. In these places, jurisdictional distinctions have not inhibited the witness to the unity of the Church. In fact, in our discussions we have come to see this kind of common testimony to the Gospel of Christ grow and take ever more practical forms. We give thanks to God who has enabled us to join together not only for prayer, but also for common ministry in service to the poor, in nurturing the young, and in encouraging all in their life in Christ. We affirm this activity, and we commit ourselves to encouraging, strengthening, and regularizing this sort of cooperation throughout the land.


We give thanks to our good and loving Lord for His having given us this time together. We also were strengthened by the prayers of our beloved clergy and faithful all across America. Many of them were generous benefactors for this event. We are also grateful to the Washington area parishes, and especially the Cathedral parishes of St. Sophia and St. Nicholas for their hospitality.


As we closed our work here we gathered together for the Holy Eucharist. Each of us partook of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no more perfect sign of our unity. Our experience of the Divine Liturgy renews us and reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, from him who is the Father of lights.”


We are deeply conscious of the fact that we are bearers of the Tradition. It is the Tradition of the Gospel of Christ that unites us to the Apostles themselves. This is for us both a profound burden and a source of joy, for we know that we are servants of God’s people. “The Church is not a museum, and we are not Her curators. The Church is a living and breathing community, the Body of Christ.” [136] In this land we are strengthened by the witness of countless saints in every place and every time who proclaim the Gospel of Christ in word and deed.


Glory to God who offers us this opportunity to witness to Him! Glory to Him who rose from the dead! Glory to Him who breathes life into all that is!