Clergy-Laity Congress Ends on Note of Unity
Patriarchate Asked to Address Concerns about Charter
Following more than eight hours of discussion and deliberations in the two opening plenary sessions by more than 700 official Congress delegates, the Congress approved a request that asks the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant the proposed charter "with such modifications as will reflect the major concerns expressed by the Archdiocesan Council, the Parishes, and the Clergy-Laity Congress." During the plenary sessions, the proposed charter was presented article by article, with explanation offered on key issues. Delegates had the opportunity to express their concerns and make recommendations for consideration.
An additional motion adopted at the sessions sets forth specific provisions. It calls for future archbishops to be selected from a list of three candidates proposed by the synod, and for future bishops to be selected by bishops of the GOA.
The motion also stipulates that future archbishops should have had a minimum of five years' service in America, and calls for laity and clergy involvement in church administration to be continued.
The charter now goes back to Constantinople, and further discussions are expected.
An earlier motion to "respectfully decline" acceptance of the Joint Draft of the proposed charter was ruled out of order. That motion would have requested the Ecumenical Patriarchate to withdraw the draft and grant autonomy to the GOA. Among the rules set forth at the start of discussion was one which stipulated that any motion rejecting the charter outright would be declared out of order.
In a departure from the contentious spirit that has governed debate over the charter, the overall tone at the Congress was one of unity and reconciliation. In his keynote address at the start of the four-day event, Archbishop Demetrios called for a "shining, pioneer, model and leading Orthodox Faith," and delegates appeared to have taken his words to heart.
In the past, critics of the proposed charter have characterized it as a ploy by a foreign power to exert authoritarian control over the GOA and seize parish property. Its defenders, meanwhile, have derided critics as "disaffected individuals" bent on circulating rumors and distortions.
For the most part, the plenary sessions were more informative than acrimonious. Members of the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL), a group that has voiced strong opposition to the proposed charter, repeatedly stressed their committment to the faith and their reverence not only for Archbishop Demetrios but for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios.
The Archdiocese, for its part, defused suspicions by allowing a discussion that many had thought might never take place. And Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios, in a message sent to the Congress, surprised his critics by stressing themes of growth and autonomy. "The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not have either the possibility or the intention to interfere in the self-governing of the Holy Archdiocese of America and of the Parishes and Communities or Institutions that are under it," the Patriarchal message read. "Neither does it have the intention to restrict the autonomy of the above that has existed for some time. On the contrary, it strongly desires and envisages the Holy Archdiocese growing in all respects - especially spiritually - so as to take more responsibilities and to engage in a more important role in offering the Orthodox message to the people of America."