A jurisdiction of one of Christianity’s oldest churches will hold its national convention in Baltimore this week, marking the second time this month that a major Christian faith tradition held its largest regular rally in the city.
The Orthodox Church in America — one of the largest Eastern Orthodox Church jurisdictions in the United States — launches its “Pan American Council” Monday at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor.
More than 1,000 officials, bishops, clergy, and parishioners from the 228-year-old world church branch are expected to attend the five-day conference, where they will address business, will network, hear from delegates from its 14 dioceses and may consider resolutions on issues such as the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The Right Reverend Alexander Rentel, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, said delegates will deal with mysteries such as pension plans and the election of new officials, but more broadly will “look closely” at the continuing shortage. of priests, encouraging the involvement of young people and making sure to hear from some of the most “remote” dioceses of the jurisdiction, including those of Alaska and Mexico.
About one in five American Orthodox Church parishes lacks a full-time priest, Rentel said, calling the situation a “vocations crisis.” He said delegates will consider solutions to the problem throughout the conference.
The conference agenda makes no reference to the war in Ukraine, which is now in its sixth month, but that does not mean that delegates will not develop and present a resolution on the subject since the congress. , Rentel said, a practice he calls common at conferences.
Regardless, the OCA has made it clear that it opposes the invasion by Russian Federation forces of the adjacent Orthodox nation. The head of the jurisdiction, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, issued a statement in February condemning the action. Church officials have done the same several times since, and the branch has raised more than $730,000 for Ukrainian refugees.
“No Christian can remain dispassionate or lukewarm in the face of suffering or remain silent in the face of such evils that are being perpetrated,” Metropolitan Tikhon said in a statement in March.
By some measures, the Orthodox Church in America is a modest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy, a communion that claims approximately 220 million adherents worldwide. The jurisdiction’s roughly 90,000 baptized worshipers put it second in North America, far behind the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which claims between 450,000 and 2 million, depending on the counting method used.
But OCA’s 700 parishes on the continent, including more than 550 in the United States, are the most numerous for any Eastern Orthodox branch, dwarfing the Greek Orthodox (about 525) and Antiochian Orthodox (275) branches.
In many ways, it reflects the unofficial motto of his adopted nation: “e pluribus unum”, or “among many, one”. Immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Albania and other mainly Eastern European countries founded OCA parishes. It is one of the few Orthodox branches in North America not affiliated with any national or ethnic group, and its official liturgical language is English.
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The church traces its founding to the 1790s, when a small team of Russian Orthodox monks established a mission in Kodiak, Alaska. It spread south and east over the next century and more. The Russian Orthodox Church granted the branch autonomy – and gave it its current name – in 1970.
Jurisdiction leaders and members have held churchwide meetings every three years since 1907, with few exceptions. This week is the first to be held in Baltimore, home to St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church. Located in Butchers Hill in southeast Baltimore, the 82-year-old congregation is one of seven OCA parishes in the state. Others include Saint Matthew’s Orthodox Church in Columbia and Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Annapolis.
The jurisdiction chose Baltimore, Rentel said, in part because the city is located in the Diocese of Washington, DC, the diocese of which Metropolitan Tikhon is archbishop.
The conference was originally scheduled to take place last July, but with the coronavirus pandemic still sweeping the area at the time, church officials decided to postpone it for a year.
The postponement also led to a change in planning. The theme for last year’s event was to be “hope in a time of despair,” but Tikhon, a 56-year-old Boston native whose secular name is Marc Raymond Mollard, told a conference virtual last year that he believed most Americans “lived” this theme for a year and a half while dealing with the pandemic.
He and church leaders changed the theme to “becoming vessels of grace” — a nod, Tikhon said, to the need for the OCA to commit all possible resources to strengthen its witness as as the incarnation of Christ. This, he said, has to do with the need to educate and support more priests, but also means that believers in the OCA must be committed to its mission, from the faithful in the pews to the leaders. of the seat of jurisdiction in Syosset, New York, and beyond.
“We need priests to baptize, marry, bury, confess, comfort, advise, teach, support and help our faithful,” Tikhon said. “We need musicians, catechists, monks who inspire asceticism and unceasing prayer. Above all, we need Christian human beings who are ready to be the church, and to me that’s really what’s most prominently expressed by the All-American Council.