The Standing Conference

The movement towards greater cooperation and unity among the Orthodox jurisdictions found renewed expression in the establishment of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) in 1960. Under the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos (1911-2005) of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, SCOBA initially brought together the representatives of eleven jurisdictions. Although SCOBA remained a conference and not a formal synod, many came to view SCOBA as a first step towards greater administrative and ministerial unity. Unlike the Federation, SCOBA included the Russian Orthodox Metropolia as well as the Moscow Patriarchal Exarchate. From the beginning, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (the Synod Abroad) refused to cooperate, citing its opposition to those who recognized the leadership of the Church of Russia. Building upon the earlier experience of the federation, SCOBA immediately began to coordinate the various national pan-Orthodox activities that had begun in the previous decades. This included programmes related to religious education and campus ministry. SCOBA supported the establishment of the Orthodox Theological Society in 1965, an important body bringing together theologians from most jurisdictions. SCOBA also took responsibility for establishing formal bilateral theological dialogues with the Episcopal Church (1962), the Roman Catholic Church (1965), the Lutheran Church (1968), and the Reformed Churches (1968). The activities of the SCOBA jurisdictions, especially their ecumenical witness, were consistently opposed by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, centred in the United States since 1950, and by a number of other small parishes and groups which championed the 'old calendar' but which were not in communion with any autocephalous Church.

The initial achievements of SCOBA occurred at a time with the Orthodox churches at the global level were also engaged in a process of renewed conciliarity. Between 1964 and 1968, four pan-Orthodox Conferences took place and began to address issues affecting all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. These meetings led to the establishment of a conciliar process designed to prepare for the convocation of the Great and Holy Council. Among the topics which deserved attention by the Churches was the so-called diaspora, the developing Church in America, western Europe and elsewhere. In light of these developments, the bishops of SCOBA in 1965 proposed to the auto-

cephalous churches that it be recognized as an Episcopal Synod, having full authority to govern the life of the Church in America within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A similar proposal was made in 1968 with the request that the American situation be placed on the agenda of the global pan-Orthodox Conferences. While no direct action was immediately taken by the autocephalous churches, the appeals of SCOBA indicated that the situation in the United States could not be long ignored.

The conciliar process both in America and at the global level was shaken in 1970 when the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly, self-governing status, to the Russian Orthodox Metropolia, then led by Metropolitan Ireney (Bekish) (1892-19 78). From that time, the Metropolia has been officially known as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). This unprecedented action regularized the formal relationship between the Metropolia and the Church of Russia, which had been lost in 1924. However, the autocephalous status of the OCA was not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and most of the other autocephalous churches. The disputed status of the OCA, led by Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazar) (b. 1933) from 1978 to 2002, immediately increased tensions among the jurisdictions in the United States. It also led to new discussions related to the presence of Orthodoxy in the United States of America and the meaning of autocephaly. While not recognizing the autocephaly of the OCA, the Ecumenical Patriarchate determined to cooperate with it in the hope of encouraging a more comprehensive resolution for America. Moreover, in 19 75, the Patriarchate of Antioch unified its two diocesan jurisdictions dating from 1936 under Metropolitan Philip Salibia (b. 1931) in the newly designated Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. He frequently joined Metropolitan Theodosius in calling for greater unity.

Throughout the early 1970s, the Ecumenical Patriarchate initiated a number of discussions on the themes of the preconciliar process. A new list of ten topics for study was agreed upon by the representatives of the autocephalous churches in 1976. This list included the topics of the diaspora and autocephaly. After dealing with a number of other topics, the theme of the diaspora was examined in meetings of the Pre-Conciliar Conference in 1990 and 1993. In light of these discussions, a historic meeting of 29 Orthodox bishops was held in 1994. This meeting produced significant statements: 'The Church in North America' and 'Unity, Mission and Evangelism'. Both of these texts emphasized the importance of Orthodox unity and witness in America. The meeting also proposed that all the bishops meet regularly to discuss issues of common concern. Another meeting was held in 2000 with about 40 bishops present. Between these meetings, in 1995, the Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to regularize and receive a number of Ukrainian Orthodox bishops, clergy and parishes. The historic visits to the United States of Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios in 1990 and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1998 both reaffirmed the responsibility of the patriarchate for America and placed emphasis upon the need for greater canonical unity.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the SCOBA member jurisdictions are: the Albanian Orthodox Diocese (Bishop Ilia), the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (Metropolitan Nicholas), the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (Metropolitan Philip), the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Joseph), the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (Archbishop Demetrios), the Orthodox Church in

America (Metropolitan Herman), the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese (Metropolitan Nicolae), the Serbian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Christopher), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Constantine).

In addition to the SCOBA jurisdictions, there are a few dioceses and groups of parishes which use the term 'Orthodox' in their title. Some of these claim to profess the historic Orthodox faith but are not in communion with any autocephalous church. With its headquarters in New York since 1950, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is in this category. There are some parishes serving primarily Greek immigrants who are ardent supporters of the 'old calendar' and who repudiate the activities of the SCOBA jurisdictions, especially their ecumenical witness. Such groups are viewed as schismatic since they are not in communion with any autocephalous church. Finally, there are also some groups and parishes which use the term 'Orthodox' in their title but whose relationship with the historic Orthodox Church is non-existent.

SCOBA continues to be an important body serving Orthodox cooperation and unity under the leadership of Archbishop Demetrios (b. 1928), the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The primates of the nine jurisdictions meet twice a year. With membership including clergy and laity, twelve SCOBA commissions deal with pan-Orthodox matters related to topics such as ecumenism, religious education, youth ministry, missions, and international charities. SCOBA established a formal dialogue with Roman Catholic bishops in 1981. In 2000, it began a dialogue with Oriental Orthodox Churches. On the occasion of the new millennium, the bishops issued a historic pastoral letter titled 'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us' which spoke about the responsibilities of the Church and the Orthodox Christian in contemporary society.

The challenges which the Orthodox face in the United States are great and serious. The ongoing division of Orthodoxy into separate jurisdictions continues to weaken its mission and witness. Within most of the jurisdictions, the process of acculturation has not always been easy. In many of them there are some who continue to view the Church chiefly as the preserver of ethnic identity. As some of the jurisdictions move beyond their reliance upon ethnic loyalties, however, they are obliged to speak more clearly about the distinctive features of the Orthodox Christian faith within a religiously pluralistic society. They must express the faith in terms which are understandable and develop ministries which respond to the spiritual needs of people living in this complex society. Within this society, the Orthodox need to distinguish between Old World cultural practices and perspectives that are not essential to the faith and those affirmations that lie at the heart of the faith. In emphasizing the importance of worship, the proper role of the laity in the liturgical life of the church, as well as in the philanthropic and administrative function, needs to be strengthened. This means that a new spirit of mission must be cultivated and that the proper relationship between clergy and laity must be expressed at all levels of Church life. In addition, the role of women and their contribution to the Church needs to be better acknowledged. With its profound belief in the loving Triune God and the theocentric nature of the human person, Orthodox Christianity has much to offer American society and contemporary Christianity in America. Yet, this offering can be made only if the Orthodox take seriously their obligations to US society and to all its people.

Today, there are about 5 million Orthodox Christians in the United States gathered into over 1,500 parishes. There are about twenty monasteries, three graduate schools of theology, a college and a number of other schools and charitable institutions associated with the Church. The Orthodox in America sponsor missionaries in Africa, Albania and Asia. Likewise, the International Orthodox Christian Charities presently provide humanitarian assistance in thirteen countries. Through their writings and lectures, Orthodox theologians from the United States are influencing the Church in many other parts the world. While still affected by jurisdictional divisions, duplication of efforts, and parochialism, Orthodoxy in the United States is no longer viewed simply as a 'dispersion' composed primarily of immigrants intent upon returning to their homeland. Rather, it can only be viewed properly as an emerging local Church. The Orthodox Church is comprised primarily of Americans of a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who all treasure the faith of Orthodox Christianity.

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