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Antiochian Unity, the Assembly of Bishops and World Orthodoxy

From the October 2014 edition of The Word

The Conference on Antiochian Unity held at Balamand University, June 25–29, was a source of great joy and pride for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Our Metropolitan Joseph was asked to moderate the wrap-up session, Fr. Michel Najm offered a key paper, and members of our delegation were placed on every workshop of the Conference. In this way, we could dialogue and share with representatives of each of the Antiochian archdioceses throughout the world. It was obvious from the way the conference was structured that the underlying goal was to promote and develop lay and clergy cooperation and leadership at every level of the church. God has blessed His Church with great resources. He has called clergy and lay workers alike to develop skills in every kind of social, medical, educational and ecclesiastical ministry.

While every archdiocese of the Patriarchate has made progress in developing structures for these varied ministries, the North American Archdiocese has been the most deliberate and successful in this area. We were able to share practical experiences to help others reach their goals. We were not there, however, just to give. The American delegation had much to learn about the obstacles and challenges of the other archdioceses as well, and gathered information about global trends that have affected Europe and the Middle East. No doubt, many of these challenges are coming our way, too. In any case, because of global communications, everyone will share the best and the worst of all situations. The collaboration of the Conference on Unity was surely beneficial to all.

Coming from all areas of the globe, Antiochian Orthodox are challenged to understand and articulate what being Antiochian means. The Antiochian jurisdiction is a Church that speaks many languages and encompasses many nationalities and ethnic heritages. This challenges us to think critically and creatively. We want to understand who we are and what is unique about our gifts and heritage. Antiochian Orthodox have always born Christian witness that is incarnational, practical, relevant, and dynamic. Our understanding of God assuming flesh, embracing humanity and sharing every aspect of our lives are what I understand to be the gift of Antioch. Antioch has championed all
that is good about humanity and expressed it in concrete and practical terms.

I have been asked how the Conference on Antiochian Unity fits into the world-wide Orthodox movements for geographical restructuring. While I claim no better opinion than any other observer, it seems to me that many (autocephalous) Churches are struggling to understand their rights and responsibilities regarding the opening of churches in different lands. How best can they meet the needs of their people in new worlds, lands that often are already served by other Orthodox Churches? It is my hope that all Orthodox Christians will work with honesty, charity and integrity when wrestling with the very real issues that confront us today. We are, after all, one Church, and jurisdictions and Mother Churches are not in competition with each other. We belong to the one Body of Christ and we are all answerable to Christ and each other for our efforts.

Concerning the attempts to discern God's will in the structuring of church boundaries, I feel compelled to say that I believe we all must not only approach each other with respect, but we must confess to God and each other those temptations that come from our fallen nature. We Orthodox Christians – bishops, clergy and laity alike – are called to get past our sins and test our motivations and actions. I don't know what is best for the people of God's Church, but what is good for the Church must also be good for her people. I cannot imagine that a church structure that does not meet the needs of the people, that is not good for the Church, is God's will.

We must seek what is pleasing to God. I trust that God will lead us as we attempt to strengthen the Church of Antioch through our unity and cooperation, and as we discern His will for restructuring the Church in our own North American lands, and throughout the world. This structuring will involve all of the Mother Churches, and so it is right for us to pray for them as well as for ourselves.

Bishop John