SCOBA Bishops’ Assembly (1995)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
SCOBA Bishops’ Assembly
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 1995]

From 30 November to 2 December, 1994, there assembled for the first time together a large majority of the canonical bishops in North America whose jurisdictions comprise the Standing Committee of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. Until this time, common concerns and interests have been addressed by a small committee of representative bishops of SCOBA. Now we had the opportunity for many more bishops to sit together and to discuss some of the main concerns facing us at this time.

The first significant aspect of this historic assembly was that in meeting together this way, we had a very pleasant taste of what it would be like to be living normally in North America as a single Orthodox Church. It was pleasant because it was an event in which the Holy Spirit moved powerfully amongst us, and it reminded us of the foundational canonical requirement – that the Orthodox Church be visibly one on every territory. It is one in all the historical lands, but not in the missionary territory. As a result, to outsiders (and even worse, too often to our own faithful) we appear to be like a group of “denominations” like the Protestants. To a great extent, this unnecessary division paralyses our witness for Christ at every level. It was thus pleasant to be assembled together because we seemed to be feeling and acting as our “true selves”.

The second significant aspect has some controversy attached to it. This controversy is the consideration of the term “diaspora” as applied to ourselves, the Orthodox in North America. The term, by the way, has its origins in the scattering abroad of the Jewish people by the Babylonians and the Romans, and in this context has a racial meaning. We were certainly in agreement that as Greeks, Syrians, Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, etc., we might be considered to be culturally in diaspora – that is, scattered abroad from homelands. However, this sense of diaspora also has limited application, since after two or three generations of living here, the ties and sense of link to some homeland or other is much looser, more secondary. Most of us here in Canada, for instance, understand ourselves to be clearly Canadians first, and whatever our ancestry might be, second. It is not that we necessarily want to forget or even reject our inheritances. We certainly retain them as much as we are able. However, our context and life is Canada, and Canadian culture sits first in our life and consciousness. It is different with the Church.

The Church can never be in diaspora in this way. If it were, then we must say that the Ukrainian and Russian Churches are in diaspora from Greece, and the Greeks are in diaspora from Palestine. The Church, as planted in every place on the earth, becomes an integral part of each place where she lives : Eastern Europe, Canada, Korea, Indonesia, India, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Palestine. It is her responsibility to baptise every place and every culture where God plants her. This is how our “Mother Churches” came into being also. Currently, in preparation for the projected Great and Holy Council of the world Orthodox Church, this term “diaspora” is being studied. We asked to have the possibility for direct contribution to these deliberations, rather than have the “Mother Churches” decide for us without our direct participation.

The third aspect is that of mission and evangelism. We could see clearly that our history from the beginning in North America has had a major missionary thrust. It was and is so in Alaska. It was so also at the turn of this century, when under the then Archbishop, Saint Tikhon, there were translations of services into English, and conversions were being encouraged. We were very concerned about our mission to our own people in terms of education : the need to deepen the spiritual and theological formation of our flocks. We agreed to co-operate as much as possible in helping to deepen the Orthodox self-awareness of our people, and to further Orthodox Christian education. We also agreed to co-operate in missionary planning. Connected with this also is the attempt to deepen co-operation in charitable work, both locally and abroad.

Perhaps the most important decision made at this historic meeting was that we should meet once every year. It is my profound hope and prayer that above all, we will be able to accomplish at least this. After all, it is through praying together and through talking together that all else can become possible. I ask all to pray for this, as well for as the other possibilities of our life which we do not yet see. May we live to see our Orthodox Church in North America be visibly one. May we live to see one Church in which all our national and linguistic heritages will be cared for with compassionate consideration, and which at the same time reaches out to those who are searching for the Truth. Thus, we will have begun in earnest the evangelising of North America.