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U.S. Orthodox leaders have mixed but hopeful reactions to council

06 Jul 2016 – By Colleen Dulle

WASHINGTON (CNS) — During the week following the pan-Orthodox council, which wrapped June 26 in Crete, Greece, Orthodox clergy in the U.S. reflected on what the council would mean for Orthodox Christians here.

Going into the council, the most pressing issue for American Orthodox Christians was the question of the diaspora: how the church’s hierarchy should work in lands that are not traditionally Orthodox, but where different groups of Orthodox Christians now live, like in America and Australia.

In these places, various Orthodox churches like the Greek, Russian and Armenian coexist, meaning that a city like New York can have 10 bishops from five different Orthodox churches.

The final message and encyclical from the Holy and Great Council made no changes to the current structure but affirmed the importance of the governing episcopal assemblies, which bring together the different bishops in these regions.

“The council decided to encourage their (the episcopal assemblies’) continuation until the situation in the various regions matured for future development,” said American Greek Orthodox Father John Chryssavgis, who attended the council.

The American assembly, called the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, is the largest in the world, with almost 60 bishops.

Greek Orthodox Father Patrick Viscuso, a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, said the affirmation of episcopal assemblies is “actually a wonderful thing.”

“Episcopal assemblies are a first step for sorting out the canonical structure of the Church and bringing about canonical normalcy,” Father Viscuso told Catholic News Service in a phone interview from New Jersey.

He said the assemblies are helpful in terms of pooling the Orthodox churches’ resources, and that while they won’t eliminate the priority of ethnic identities in the Orthodox Church, they are a step closer to ensuring the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Father Chryssavgis, also a member of the theological consultation, deemed the meeting a success as it brought the Orthodox churches together to “present a unified, credible witness to their faithful and the rest of the world about their concern for today’s global challenges,” he told CNS in an email.

He lauded the civility and honesty of the council’s debates, especially after four of the 14 churches refused to attend.

“While there were numerous trials and temptations prior to the opening of the council, on the very first day of its sessions, one could discern the presence and power of the Holy Spirit,” Father Chryssavgis wrote.“Just as on that first day of Pentecost, in the upper room, the disciples of Christ faced their fears and spoke new languages, so too in that room in Crete, high above the Mediterranean Sea, the bishops of the Orthodox Church learned the language of communication and communion.

“After years, if not centuries of estrangement and isolation ... this was nothing less than a miracle,” he added.

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