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Remarks by Archbishop Elpidophoros at the Special Session on the Charter

Remarks
By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the Special Session for the Vision of the Second Centennial:
The Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Centennial Clergy-Laity Congress
Marriott Marquis (Broadway South – 6thFloor)
New York, NY
July 6, 2022

Your Eminence Elder-Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon,
Your Eminence Metropolitan Prodromos of Rethymnon and Avlopotamos,
and Very Reverend Grand Ecclesiarch Aetios,
Your Eminences, beloved Brothers of the Holy Eparchial Synod,
Your Graces,
Reverend Clergy,
Esteemed representatives of our Church Institutions and Organizations,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I would like to thank all of you present here today for joining us at this most important Special Session of our Clergy-Laity Congress, where we have gathered to discuss the vision of our Sacred Archdiocese in its ongoing journey in America. Of course, a new vision goes hand in hand with a new charter. And having arrived at this critical juncture in our century-long presence in the United States, we must now examine and decide upon what our following steps will be as we progress into the next hundred-year-long chapter of our Church in this blessed land.

I express my wholehearted gratitude to His Eminence Elder-Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon for his remarks, and thank the Very Reverend Archimandrite Bartholomew Mercado as well for his thoughtful overview of the history of our Sacred Archdiocese’s Charters.

As all of us know, the charter is a text that is constantly changing over time in order to meet the contemporary needs of our faithful. With shifting eras and conditions, there comes a need to adapt to the present conditions and challenges that arise. It is very true that the Charter from 2003 served its purpose to the best possible extent when it was drafted at that time. However, we have arrived at a point now where we recognize the need for certain changes to be made, so as to better tend to the needs of our Church and its flock – changes that will bring harmony and cooperation among the Metropolises of our Archdiocese.

The spiritual care and wellbeing of our devout faithful constitutes the foremost priority and concern of our Sacred Archdiocese’s Holy Eparchial Synod, as well as that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its Holy and Sacred Synod. Our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch recognized the need to improve upon the current governing text of our Church here in America – being that we are all under the shelter, protection and care of the Mother Church of Constantinople as Her spiritual sons and daughters. And this is why we have been pleased from the very beginning with the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s desire to grant us a new Charter.

We received this news with much joy and understood it to be a gift from above – a special chance to reorient our Archdiocese with a new vision, which would be expressed in a new charter. Of course, this would be done in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate – with equal participation and representation from both sides. And I am sure that my fellow brethren hierarchs of the Holy Eparchial Synod can attest to this as well.

That being said, I would like to touch upon some very basic and straightforward events that have transpired, so as to clear up any misconceptions. The original intention of the charter survey and questionnaire was to be a tool to better gauge the desires and expectations of our devout faithful, who comprise the plenitude of our Sacred Archdiocese. Without this vital input and feedback, we would not be able to chart a course for our Archdiocese whose trajectory would appropriately reflect the needs of our people.

It was never meant to be mandatory or compulsory in nature. But in the end, it unfortunately became riddled with controversy and divisiveness. That is why it has now been withdrawn, so as to appease any rising tensions or growing misunderstandings that would be detrimental to the overall spiritual wellbeing of our faithful. For it is not our aim to fracture the unity of the Body of Christ in America, or to hinder and impede the operation of the Archdiocese and its Metropolises.

Yes, with the unanimous consent of the members of the Holy Eparchial Synod, we have agreed to withdraw the survey and questionnaire in order to preserve the peace and harmony that we have enjoyed over these last twenty years. Therefore, we are now involving ourselves solely with the drafting process of the charter and the vision that it will reflect for our common future.

Again, I would like to reiterate that the survey and questionnaire are not obligatory in order to achieve that which we desire. What we truly need is honest and open dialogue, joint collaboration and unity, inclusivity and creativity, in our collective actions and discussions.

My primary concern is to safeguard our unity and to not allow for any kind of division to infiltrate the flock of our Church. And what is my understanding of this unity, you may ask? 

Well, it is none other than the aim to be inclusive rather than exclusive. To not bypass any of the Metropolises or current structures in place. Instead, to focus on how to involve them even more in the drafting process of the charter and in the creation of our vision for the future. Unfortunately, what we tried to achieve in these aforementioned areas with the charter survey and questionnaire ended up being inconclusive and filled with divergent views. Now, we must try a different approach to address these matters, for which I stress the vital importance of our collective participation in order to achieve an end-result that truly reflects the overall picture of our Archdiocese.

***

Returning now to the suspension of the charter by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in October of 2020, I would like you to know that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on a new charter was very challenging and greatly delayed due to the adverse effects that the coronavirus wreaked upon our world. While we had sent our initial appeal to the Mother Church back in April of 2021, that was unfortunately delayed, too.

This is why we have now decided to request from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reinstate the charter, since it is clear that we will not have a completed text until the next Clergy-Laity Congress in 2024. Indeed, this is too long of a time to be without any charter, even though we never violated the charter even while it was suspended. The only violation that I personally initiated was the convening of the Holy Eparchial Synod at least twenty-five times over these last three years (instead of the normal practice of twice a year, as the charter indicates.)

We discussed this issue at length at our previous sessions of the Holy Eparchial Synod, and this same concern was shared by all of my fellow brethren hierarchs. Therefore, it was agreed upon by unanimous decision to petition our Mother Church to reinstate the former charter.

Unfortunately, and to our dismay, a significant amount of inaccurate information has been conveyed to our precious faithful. This has been deeply saddening to witness, as it is detrimental to our mission as a Church, as an Archdiocese and as your spiritual shepherds.

It is not mine or anyone else’s intent to sow the seeds of dissention and mistrust into the hearts and souls of our flock. Rather, it is our collective mission as your shepherds – and my profound responsibility and duty as your Archbishop – to avoid any scandal and to preserve the faith undefiled.

This is why I am here today in front of all of you in solidarity with my fellow brother hierarchs of the Holy Eparchial Synod. We understand the need for honest and open dialogue, and this is why we have opened this session up to all of you, whom I thank again wholeheartedly for joining us.

As an expression of genuine fatherly love and concern, it is my aim to calm any troubled spirits or hearts. Therefore, in paternal openness, I wish to work together with all of you – the pious sons and daughters of our Archdiocese – in order to fashion a new vision and a fresh course in our Church’s journey here in America.

It is imperative that our shared vision addresses the future of our youth, our overall growth as a Church and our religious education programs. We need to revisit our mission as a Church here in the United States, and to explore how to minister more appropriately and more effectively beyond the confines of our own Orthodox communities.

By spreading the salvific message of Christ’s gospel for the spiritual edification of our fellow American compatriots, we simultaneously present a genuine example of what our Church’s presence and mission is within the world. With these primary aims at the very core of our vision and foundation, we can improve upon our national ministries and outreach, and be joined with one another in God-pleasing unity.

And so, I would like to close my remarks by clarifying the remaining tasks and steps that now lie ahead of us for the timely completion of the charter’s drafting.

Currently, we are waiting to be informed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate if they will indeed reinstate the former charter, for which we have already petitioned them.

Next, we will receive word from the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the creation of a mixed commission on the charter, so as to draft and review a new text. As I already mentioned, this esteemed body will consist of clergy and laity alike – as it happened with the former charter – and it will reflect an equal balance and representation of our Mother Church and our Sacred Archdiocese.

Thereafter, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will need to discuss and decide if the charter review process will continue from where it left off previously, when it was placed into abeyance in October of 2020, or if the entire process will begin anew. We need to understand that the impetus for a change in the charter comes from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not the Archdiocese. So, Article 25 of the Regulations does not apply to any changes that the Ecumenical Patriarchate may request. It only applies when the Archdiocese proposes to change the charter. However, we will continue to solicit comments and recommendations from the Holy Eparchial Synod, the Archdiocesan Council and the Clergy-Laity Congress as to what they believe needs to be implemented in our joint efforts to envision the future of our Church in America.

Lastly, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will need to clarify if we will be engaging in the complete rewriting of the entire charter, or if we will merely be revising certain sections of it.

Either way, my beloved brothers and sisters, your participation in this effort is vital to the success of our endeavor. I am not worried about potential dissention or disagreement or even discord. In fact, this is a healthy sign of honest and open dialogue. Criticism doesn’t always have to be negative. It can be positive and fruitful, too. And this is precisely what we all desire. For if there is indifference, then that is a serious sign of stagnation and major strife.

While tempers may flare, and tensions may sometime rise, we are here to move above and beyond those passions and that instinctive excitement, so that we may prevail as one family in a spirit of harmony and understanding, unity and respect.

And so, let us conduct ourselves in a dignified and graceful manner, so that we may elevate ourselves and our collaboration, and properly honor the theme of our Centennial Clergy-Laity Congress, which pays homage to our collective “Legacy, Renewal [and] Unity.”

Thank you kindly for your gracious attention!

We now very much look forward to hearing from all of you and ask that you please listen carefully to our moderator, the Reverend Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Panagiotis Papazafiropoulos, who will instruct you on how to share your comments, thoughts and ideas with us in an orderly manner.