My Reflections on the 18th All-American Council

26 Jul

Dear Friends of Holy Ghost Parish,

I just returned from Atlanta, Georgia, where I represented our parish—along with Marion Gulash—at the 18th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), from July 20–24. The council is a church-wide gathering of all OCA parishes in North America (including Canada and Mexico), which occurs every three years. At every one of these councils, we gather to discuss and vote on major church business on a national level, hold elections, attend workshops presented by various departments of the OCA, worship together at liturgical services, and greet long-time friends.

As I flew home on the plane, so many positive impressions about this year’s gathering ran through my mind and heart. I want to share them with you, to give you an inside look at what’s happening in the OCA in 2015.

What a multi-cultural Church we have!

  • I met people not only from the “Lower 48” states, but also from Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada—and how exhilarating it was to witness our Alaskan priests serving the Akathist to the “Sitka Mother of God” icon!

What a mature Church we have!

We were able to tackle serious issues, and begin to deal with them:

  • We discussed and voted on important revisions in the OCA Statutes, fleshing out sections that needed more details, such as:  governance of monasteries and seminaries; and clarification on the qualifications for the important position of Metropolitan, to ensure maturity and wisdom in that office holder.
  • We discussed and voted on a complex resolution regarding financial support for the Church. The Holy Synod of Bishops confirmed that proportionate giving is the most proper way for dioceses to support the work of the Church. As a Church, we are moving much closer to funding the Church fully through Christian stewardship.
  • We discussed the issue of “spiritual abuse,” and the Synod of Bishops accepted the responsibility to further explore this important issue to safeguard the church from damaging behavior that sometimes arises among clergy, or between clergy and laity, and that constitutes abuse of authority and power in ways unbecoming to Christians.

What a beloved Church we have!

  • Metropolitan Leo of the autocephalous Church in Finland sent a letter of encouragement to the OCA, identifying the similar journeys of the Church in America and the Church in Finland, both of which departed from their Mother Church in Russia because of historical circumstances during the Bolshevik Revolution, and both of which have faced the challenge of spreading the gospel of Christ and Orthodox Christian doctrine within Western cultures. “Look to the future,” he advised, “and not the past, and refuse to become simply a ‘folk museum’. Rather engage the society, and you will grow as we have!”
  • Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev, of the Church in Ukraine, spoke about expanding the mission in North America by being a good example of holiness within the culture.

What a generous Church we have! 

  • When a representative of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) gave a presentation from the floor about the tragic situation of Syrian Orthodox Christian refugees who have fled their country and now are housed in woefully deficient camps, one of our parish priests, Fr. John Zdniak of St. Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, got up and encouraged delegates to dig into their pockets and spontaneously take up a collection for the cause. Out of the pockets of the over 550 delegates came $12,000 to help our suffering brothers and sisters overseas, especially the children among them.

What an extraordinary Metropolitan we have! 

  • A wonderful and great spirit of unity and hope surrounded this particular All-American Council, and I would have to say that the reason for this resided in one person: His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who came across as a self-effacing, simple but profound, loving, and caring father to each one of us. All of us recognized these qualities in him as he made presentations, deliberated, playfully joked, and spoke with us personally. He emanated self-abasement not self-aggrandizement, and he was totally approachable in his attitude toward all of us.

So, my friends, although we have been a self-governing Church only since 1970 (45 years), we have accomplished much in this land of North America. We have had our times of trouble, but we also have learned valuable lessons from our past mistakes, and we have matured through our sorrows.

We have learned (as the Gospel lesson from Matt 14:14–22 today likewise reveals), that the weak and the small get God’s attention. The little boy in today’s Gospel had only 5 loaves and 2 fishes to share, but Jesus took the little this lad had and fed over 5,000 people. God can do so much, if we will continue to place ourselves in His hands!

Finally, may we at Holy Ghost Church realize that we are part of a larger whole, part of the Orthodox Church in America, and may we find more and more opportunities to connect with the greater body of the Church. Thank you for sending Marion and me to the 18th All-American Council, as part of that effort.

Kindly, in our Lord, your Pastor, Fr. Steven Belonick

P.S. I  encourage you to listen to all the plenary sessions of this extraordinary council on Ancient Faith Radio: click here.

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