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Is Orthodox unity possible in America?

By HARRIS P. JAMESON

When the Orthodox bishops met in Ligonier, PA this past year and pledged to strive for administrative unity, many wondered if this could be possible within our life-time.

Rev. Stanley Harakas wrote in The Hellenic Chronicle issue of February 2 that the Ligonier conclave did not emerge out of the blue. He emphasized that at a preparatory commission meeting for a Great Council, it was recommended "that the Orthodox in each country or region, form assemblies of Bishops to coordinate the cooperative work of the Orthodox churches in order to foster Orthodox unity."

The November/December, 1994 issue of Odyssey, a Greek magazine contained an interview with Archbishop Iakovos. The reporter stated, "You said if the Church is going to be a vibrant institution, it's going to have to accept that English will dominate. Does that extend to a belief that there's going to be one native church here that won't be the Greek Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox Church, one that combines all the ethnic churches?"

His Eminence responded, "My vision is that all these ethnic churches will be united under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I would like all Orthodox in the US to be united, so that we may have one strong voice for the American authorities. Otherwise, they cannot survive by themselves."

Archbishop Iakovos by answering as he did suggest that administrative unity in that sense would mean an autonomous church — a self-ruled church governed by a prelate selected by the Patriachate, rather than an autocephalous church, which would be self-ruled with the authority to elect or appoint its own leader or head.

It has been stated repeatedly that in order to unite the jurisdictions in America, canon law has to be amended, changed or dissolved, which can only be done at a Great Council. The last Great Council was held in 787 which means that over 1200 years have passed since the Orthodox Church convened a Great Council.

The question is, when will the Orthodox Church have a Great Council? Theologian Ernst Benz wrote in The Eastern Orthodox Church back in 1960 that, "Nowadays, the entire Orthodox Church recognizes the necessity for a reform of the canon law, parts of which apply only to long-outmoded conditions." So, the Orthodox throughout the world are waiting for a Great Council, which has been long overdue.

Does this mean that unless a Great Council convenes, the administrative unity of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the Americas would be in jeopardy? According to Benz, "Nevertheless, the individual Orthodox Churches to this day cling to the traditional formulation of the law; where difficulties in its application arise, they try to solve the dilemma by dispensation."

What is dispensation? In the Faith of Our Fathers — Olympic Press —"Dispensation is permission granted by ecclesiastical authority for something not usually permitted by the canon law." So, does this mean that administrative unity of the Orthodox Church in America can be allowed by the Patriachate by dispensation? The application of the law of dispensation could depend upon how much the Patriachate wants administrative unity in America.
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Does the Patriachate really want administrative unity of the Orthodox Church in America? At the Chicago Clergy-Laity Congress, the Patriarch's representative, Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy, said that the time has come to push ethnicity aside, so there is reason to believe the Patriarchate wants it.


The last Great Council in 787 reflected a Mediterranean and Near East world. Twelve hundred years have past and Orthodoxy needs to have a Great Council to answer many questions, resolve existing situations and examine the existing canon law for relevancy. If there was a time in history when unity is needed, it is now, so we can enter the next century with vision, direction and hope.

[ The Hellenic Chronicle - February 16, 1995, p. 8 ]