April 25, 2011
Feast day Great Martyr George
Rt. Rev. Bishop Basil
Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid- America
1559 North Woodlawn
Wichita, Kansas 67208-2429
Christ Is Risen!
The officers and members of Orthodox Christian Laity hope this letter finds you, your family and the faithful of your Diocese in good stead and spirit. We also pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you and your brother Bishops with wisdom and courage as you prepare for the next meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. It is because of your direct responsibility in coordinating the Assembly’s activities that we are writing to you at this time.
We write, not as critics or monitors of your work and the work of the Assembly, but rather as supporters and advocates, for nearly twenty-five years, of Orthodox Unity in America. In this vein, OCL has sponsored many public meetings and forums attended by thousands throughout our country. OCL has also developed and distributed books and other written materials devoted to the cause of unity. It has collaborated with hierarchs, clergy and the laity from every Orthodox jurisdiction who have expressed a commitment to a truly united church. In this effort OCL has been in both spirit and action unequivocally inclusive and Pan-Orthodox.
We are encouraged that under your leadership, the Assembly has established its own website and committees with Episcopal chairs and members. We applaud these tangible actions which give form to the Assembly. Unfortunately these steps are not yet fully reflected throughout our churches, neither at the highest ecclesiastical levels nor at the parish level. It is good to establish websites and committees but unless their reality is projected by hierarchs and by clergy from the pulpit, ignorance of, and indifference to the unity effort will prevail. This lack of a growing unity consciousness is disappointing. It is a responsibility which rests not just with the hierarchy but with all of us, clergy and laity alike.
We are told that the unity effort is in its early stages and that the Assembly must proceed carefully and in an organized manner to deal with a variety of complex ecclesiastical issues. The need for thorough committee work is understood, but it should not delay palpable unity-related activities: which can be undertaken immediately such as increased and highly visible Pan-Orthodox worship services throughout America.
With few exceptions, the Orthodox presently worship together only on the Sunday of Orthodoxy when attendance is often disappointingly low. In some regions even this minimal activity has either been neglected or discouraged. Is it not fair to ask why Pan-Orthodox activities and initiatives at almost every level rank so low in priority? This example is cited to demonstrate that such activities need not await nor be connected to the formal committee work which the Assembly is laboring to commence.
In this respect we offer an observation and suggestion. We know that pastoral and administrative duties of the hierarchy, their staffs and parish clergy are more pressing on their time and resources. Unless the Church’s leadership vocally, visibly, and urgently insists that unity matters, this present woeful situation will persist. We suggest that the Assembly address this matter by creating a permanent office and staff, not only to coordinate the committee work but also to energize and sensitize diocesan and local communities to undertake unity-related activities. The more we live unity, the sooner it will be realized.
If the Assembly seeks substantive and substantial participation of the laity in its committee and other work, it will be all the more likely that its mission will be achieved, particularly in light of the possibility that a Great and Holy Council could convene as early as 2013. With only fifty eight bishops and an estimated 1,000 priests in the various jurisdictions and active faithful of perhaps 1,000,000, it is clear that substantial involvement of the laity must be enlisted. We have every confidence that hundreds of devout men and women of diverse talents --many in retirement--would respond positively to calls for participation in the mission of Orthodox unity.
We note your efforts and that of others to discuss the Assembly’s work and more broadly the question of unity. Interviews on OCN’s Come Receive the Light and Ancient Faith Radio have been most helpful but these efforts must again be reflected at the parish level. It is essential that unity initiatives and discussions at regional, metropolitan and local areas be sanctioned and promoted by the Assembly. We believe one way to encourage such activity is for the various jurisdictions to designate unity liaisons of both clergy and laity at diocesan and local levels.
We also urge the Assembly to widely disseminate information about developments here and abroad that might affect the pace and nature of Church unity in America. Frequent updates on the deliberations of the Assembly or the Chambesy meetings, even if contentious, will help the faithful understand the complexity of the issues and how much time it may take to for them to be resolved.
Your Grace, OCL’s commitment to a united and canonical Orthodox Church in America is based on our Lord’s command that we “be one”. We take that to mean in spirit, body and worship. Following the historic and inspiring decisions taken concerning unity by the Synaxis at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2008, OCL promptly endorsed and engaged in activities supporting the actions taken by the leaders of World Orthodoxy. When OCL learned that an Assembly of Bishops was to be formed and convened, our members, on short notice happily expressed their support in tangible ways, including significant financial assistance. OCL genuinely anticipated that a path toward Orthodox unity in America had finally arrived. OCL seeks no special status, but only to energize and expand the involvement of the People of God in the work of the Assembly.
We realize Your Grace that you and your fellow bishops carry a great and historic responsibility for ending the division of our Church in America. It is for this reason that we hope our observations and suggestions may prove helpful to the Assembly as it moves forward. In the end, the divine mandate for one united Church is a command to all the faithful. It is in response to this imperative that Orthodox Christian Laity has and will continue to pursue church unity in America in all appropriate ways. We look forward to your response.
We pray that our Risen Lord may guide you and your brother bishops wisely and prudently in this most Holy task.
William Souvall, President
His Eminence Most Rev. Archbishop Demetrios of America, Chairman
His Eminence Most Rev. Archbishop Antony Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Treasurer
His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Maxim, Coordinator for Committees
His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Andonios, Coordinator for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations