- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

A group of Orthodox lay leaders convene in Chicago today to galvanize a movement for a single American Orthodox church free of Old World ethnic politics.

The 14th annual meeting of Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) represents mostly Greek church members, but in its push for a single church in the United States will hear also from church leaders in the Romanian and Russian branches.

"We believe Orthodoxy in America is mature enough to be self-governing, without cutting spiritual ties" to its roots abroad, said Peter Marudas, an OCL board member and former chief of staff for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat.

Proponents of a single American Orthodox church say it would downplay ethnic differences, promote English in worship and organize itself under a cooperative council of bishops, advised by the laity, that could act independently of senior church leaders abroad.

The Chicago summit comes a few months after the Antiochian Christian Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States voted to seek autonomy from its historic patriarch in Jerusalem.

"Now, with the Antiochians firmly on the record, we feel the opportunity to energize the other Orthodox jurisdictions, particularly the Greek Orthodox," Mr. Marudas said.

Archbishop Demetrios, the new leader of the United States' largest Greek Orthodox archdiocese, has rejected the idea of a United Orthodoxy in America, except for a pan-Orthodox bishops' council, of which he already is chairman.

If some of the awkward political, ethnic and financial burdens could be lifted from Greek Orthodox believers in the United States, Mr. Marudas said, the church could evangelize in America and address crisis levels of young people marrying outside the tradition.

"We think this could be the moment for Orthodoxy in America," he said.

The U.S. church that has Russian roots, the Orthodox Church in America, gained self-governance in 1970, though it honors its ties to the Moscow Patriarchate, seat of the senior spiritual leader, and Russian culture.

The Greek church, however, has always been closely supervised by the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch, who is stationed in Istanbul, and the church hierarchy in Greece.

An attempt for a unified American Orthodox church was made in 1995, but it was seen mostly as the former U.S. Greek church leader's effort to position himself to be the next ecumenical patriarch, who is called the "first among equals" in world Orthodoxy.

Archbishop Demetrios and his top counselors now are considering a new charter for how the church will operate in the United States and in its relationship to Istanbul and Athens.

The laity group, however, worries that discussion of the new governance is not taking place openly, though the charter report is due next summer, before the Greek church's "clergy-laity" conference.

"We don't really know what is in the charter," said Mr. Marudas, who said it may weaken the governing role of nonclergy.

Meanwhile, he said, the Chicago meeting will plan for an "educational push" among the U.S. Orthodox jurisdictions Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Antiochian, Serbian, Russian for consensus on a united church.

"In 10 years, the whole situation here will be different in Orthodoxy. There's a growing consciousness," he said.

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