Petition by the Laity for ONE American Orthodox Church

With all due respect to our bishops, we laity find the present divisions within our beloved Orthodox Church to be intolerable. Saint Paul admonished the early Church, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Contrary to our Lord’s will (e.g., Mark 9:50; John 17:22-23), it seems that some of our hierarchs fail to make progress toward the oneness of the Church a sufficiently high priority. Therefore, it falls upon us laity, as well as the clergy who wish to join their voices with ours, to make our heartfelt concerns heard. It is our hope that if the sheep bleat loudly enough, then they they will get our shepherds’ attention and care (John 21:16). For the sake of our Christian witness to the world, we humbly but urgently request that the following actions be taken with all due expediency in order to restore unity to the Orthodox Church in our nation and around the world:

World Orthodox Unity

1. The patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople must overcome their differences and be reconciled to each other. This requires a swift resolution to the non-canonical and contentious situation in Ukraine, where there are two national Orthodox Churches: the traditional Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). If this devastating state of affairs and the consequent rift in the Orthodox Church cannot be resolved in a timely manner through diplomatic channels between the two patriarchates, then it should be resolved by the decision of a pan-orthodox council.

2. A pan-orthodox council should be convened as soon as possible with participation by all Orthodox jurisdictions without exception. The purpose of this council would be to resolve all of the following longstanding issues that contribute to disharmony within the Orthodox Church:

(a) It must be clarified as to what extent the Patriarchate of Constantinople has authority to make decisions that affect the worldwide Orthodox Church.

(b) The confusing division within the Orthodox Church caused by disparate observance of the two ecclesiastical calendars must be resolved.

(c) In consideration of the fact that the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox Churches have come to a mutually agreeable resolution of their past theological differences, the Oriental Orthodox should be welcomed into full eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church.

(d) It must be resolved what are, and what are not, appropriate ecumenical relationships with non-Orthodox Christian institutions and with organizations of other creeds. Ecumenical overtures should be made first to the ecclesial bodies which have the closest theological and practical affinity with the Orthodox.

American Orthodox Unity

3. The Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops should formulate a concrete plan with an approximate timeline that specifies steps that will be taken toward establishing a unified American Orthodox Church. This plan should contain the following resolutions regarding longstanding issues that have caused disharmony between the Orthodox jurisdictions in America:

(a) There must be an end to the current non-canonical situation in which more than one ruling bishop presides over a specific municipal area and its environs. There should no longer be any overlapping jurisdictions.

(b) All parish and monastery worship services (including sermons, Bible readings, and hymns) must be served in English alone, or in the vernacular tongue of the local community. Services may be provided in a foreign language only as a rare exception.

(c) There should be uniform and official service books published in English for every Orthodox parish and monastery in America, according to the rite used.

(d) The Western Rite should be a fully-accepted alternative to the Byzantine Rite.

(e) Ethnic designations (e.g., “Greek,” “Russian,” “Antiochian,” etc.) must be removed from the names of Orthodox parishes and monasteries operating in America. Ethnic designations may be retained on legal documents if deemed unavoidable.

(f) Parochial and diocesan budgets should no longer have line-item expenses for ethnic cultural activities and language instruction. Parishioners may contribute separately to those activities, if they so desire.

(g) Western European saints from before the time of the 1054 schism, and American saints should and be given the same consideration for commemoration as are the saints from traditionally Orthodox lands.

The Editors

(All readers who would like to sign the petition are urged to “like” and comment below.)

Author: Lawrence B. Wheeler

B.A., M.Div. Former Anglican priest, convert to Orthodoxy.

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