12th All-American Council
Logistical circumstances forced postponement of the Twelfth Council for one year. As this council convened in Pittsburgh, PA on July 25-30, 1999, it faced the daunting task of setting the tone of church life in the Orthodox Church in America, and perhaps even for all Orthodox Christians in North America, entering into the 21st century and the third millennium of the Christian Era.
The selection of its theme, “ON BEHALF OF ALL AND FOR ALL,” was an effort to discern the true nature of what the Church must do to express the fullness of Christ. It was hoped that this council would draw on the conciliar experience of the Orthodox Church in America at all of its All-American Sobors and Councils in the twentieth century and, in synthesizing that experience, find the ways and means to guide the Church into the next century and the new millennium.
The Twelfth Council, in building on the accomplishments and the tone of the last several councils, was marked by an exceptionally positive spirit among council participants. Even during the few disagreements which surfaced during plenary deliberations, the debates were characterized by a much more tempered tone than at previous councils. This spirit of harmony was enhanced by the Primate’s Address to the council, his Grand Banquet Address, the Report of the Chancellor and a panel discussion on autocephaly that focused the council on the vision of Orthodoxy in North America. The single-mindedness of council participants was tangibly expressed in the approval of statute amendments on Orthodox Church in America membership, a resolution on “A Fair Share System of Support,” and the adoption of two forward-looking Church-wide initiative programs. Five Church-wide initiative proposals were prepared so that the council might choose one to fund and enact. However, numerous spontaneous pledges of support from the floor of the council netted such a substantial sum that the adoption of a second initiative program also became possible. The adoption of these two programs (seminarian internship and parish education), along with the impromptu outpouring of financial support for them, was an astounding emotional high at this council.
Another moving aspect of the Twelfth Council was the presence of Dimitri Penkovsky and Dmitry Petrov together with their wives. While working for IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), these two men had been captured and held hostage in Chechnya. During their captivity, fervent prayers for their release were offered for them throughout the Orthodox Church in America. In their presentations to the council, Messrs. Penkovsky and Petrov recounted the horrors of their ordeal in captivity and gratefully acknowledged the prayerful support of the Orthodox Church in America. They and their wives were each presented with the Order of St. Innocent – Silver Medal by His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS.
In its format, the Twelfth Council included plenary sessions, a panel presentation, workshops, open forums, unit hearings, luncheon forums and an amplified youth program. As a follow-up to the youth statement at the last council, the youth participants in this council presented a new statement entitled “Our Mission for the Church.”
Among the highlights of this council were the riveting presentations by Bishop KALLISTOS (Ware) and Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan. These presentations focusing on the council’s theme by two noted Orthodox scholars in theology and church history respectively infused the council with a more profound understanding of the theme as expressed in the ancient theology and history of the universal Orthodox Church. They inspired council participants to work harder in order to enable the Orthodox Church in America to more powerfully live out the council theme in faithfulness to the timeless Holy Tradition, which has been entrusted to all of us to discern and pass on to future generations.
Indeed, all the proceedings of the Twelfth Council were permeated by a consciousness of its theme and the search for its full realization in the life of the North American Church. While drawing on the experience of the past councils of the Orthodox Church in America in the 20th century, the Twelfth Council set a new tone for forthcoming councils, and in its forward-looking decisions delineated the Church’s priorities for the immediate future.
Written by Alexis Liberovsky
OCA Archivist, Director of the Department of History and Archives.