By Peter Marudas
Behold now, what is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity? Psalm 132
In late May, a meeting of potentially enormous significance for the Orthodox Church in America will occur in New York City when all Orthodox Bishops in good standing in North and Central America convene for a first-ever Episcopal Assembly. This unprecedented gathering has received little attention in most Orthodox circles and virtually none in the wider religious and secular media.
Nevertheless, its implications for the future of Orthodox Christianity in the Americas are both hopeful and controversial. The historic Episcopal Assembly will take place shortly after the Great Feast of Pentecost – the Kairos – when the Holy Spirit inspired the disciples to establish the Church.
Until 18 months ago, the mere contemplation of such a meeting would have been considered unthinkable in view of long-standing and entrenched official opposition to even discussing the question of closer intra-Orthodox relations. In recent years, a few Orthodox hierarchs with some support from clergy and laity openly but unsuccessfully championed unity initiatives. But with the exception of Orthodox Christian Laity, no group has consistently or aggressively pursued Orthodox unity in America. In October, 2008 the unity landscape experienced an earthquake, when His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convened in Istanbul, a Synaxis (gathering) of the leaders of all Autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Churches; the entire leadership of world Orthodoxy.
At that meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew delivered a remarkable address about the dangers of division among the Orthodox in the so-called Diaspora and the pressing need for these believers to unify themselves in a way consistent with church tradition. Immediately, the assembled Orthodox leaders unanimously endorsed a communiqué calling for a process to address Diaspora issues – and to the shock of many – for the convocation of a Great and Holy Council of Orthodoxy; an encouraging announcement for those seeking greater Orthodox unity both here and abroad.