The members of the 6th Episcopal Assembly of Oceania met in the Central Offices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia in Redfern, Sydney, on Thursday 8th December 2016 under the ex officio chairmanship of His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia.
Once again this Assembly provided the opportunity for the Hierarchs to recognise and reinforce their unity in the Orthodox faith.
Present were: His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos (Ecumenical Patriarchate); His Eminence Archbishop Paul (Antiochian Church); His Grace Bishop George (Russian Church); His Grace Bishop Siluan (Serbian Church); His Grace Bishop Mihail (Romanian Church); His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilochios (Ecumenical Patriarchate, New Zealand); His Grace Bishop Ezekiel (Assistant Bishop); His Grace Bishop Seraphim (Assistant Bishop); His Grace Bishop Nikandros (Assistant Bishop) and His Grace Bishop Iakovos (Assistant Bishop).
In the opening session, the Chairman, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia welcomed all Hierarchs on behalf of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He also welcomed His Grace Bishop Siluan from the Serbian Church who attended the Assembly for the first time and congratulated him for his recent elevation to the episcopacy.
Following this, Archbishop Stylianos expressed wholehearted congratulations to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the blessed occasion of his 25th anniversary as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.
Furthermore, Archbishop Stylianos made specific reference to the great success of the Great and Holy Synod held in June earlier this year in Crete. Despite negative voices from various quarters, prior to the Synod, Archbishop Stylianos noted that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, through his personal efforts and the courage of the Ecumenical Patriarchate convened a most successful Great and Holy Synod achieving what had not been accomplished over many centuries. This important event both affirmed the synodality of the Orthodox Church to the world and provided an opportunity to speak with a common voice on sensitive issues facing the modern world. Archbishop Stylianos took this opportunity to urge the faithful to read the official documents and the Encyclical issued by the Great and Holy Synod to the Orthodox faithful and the world at large.
Following this, all Hierarchs were provided with the opportunity to raise common concerns confronting the Orthodox Churches in Oceania and benefit from the experience of fellow bishops. In light of the discussion, the following decisions were rendered:
1. The Sacredness of Marriage: That the Christian understanding of marriage as a sacrament of the Church between a man and a woman – to the exclusion of others – drawing the couple closer to one another, to God and His eternal Kingdom be reaffirmed. In this context, it was noted that should the Marriage Act be changed, this would have destructive consequences on the institutions of Marriage and of the Family more generally. Once again, the significance of speaking with one common voice on this issue – together with others – was brought to the fore.
2. Safe Schools Program: The Assembly noted that even though the Safe Schools program introduced in Australia purports to be an anti-bullying initiative, nonetheless, the Assembly highlighted that the program is primarily concerned with exposing children and teenagers to material regarding gender fluidity contrary to the teaching of the Holy Bible and the Orthodox Church. For this reason, the Assembly denounced this program and considered it to be a vehicle of indoctrination in which process parents are being disempowered in the sexual education of their children.
3. Canonicity: It was decided to create a list of all non-canonical ‘Orthodox’ hierarchs and clergy in Australia and New Zealand to be published in the Assembly’s website.
4. University Chaplaincies: In light of proselytism that is taking place in Universities against Orthodox youth, it was decided to approach both the National Council of Churches of Australia and the respective State Councils in order to put an end to such practice by other Christian denominations. In this regard, the importance of establishing Orthodox University chaplaincies was also emphasized.
5. Orthodox Christian Hospital Chaplaincy Report: A report from the Coordinator, Mr Daniel Bellis was received with appreciation. This program coordinates visiting clergy and trains lay chaplains of all Orthodox Churches to offer pastoral care to different hospitals throughout Victoria. It was proposed that this Chaplaincy program be expanded to other Australian States.
The Assembly once again remembered and prayed for the safe return of the two kidnapped Hierarchs in Syria, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi (brother of His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch) and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop John Ibrahim. The Assembly expressed its concern with regards to the plight of the Orthodox Christian faithful in Syria and of all peoples of the Middle East.
Furthermore, the Assembly denounced the violence and bloodshed taking place throughout the world in the name of religion. It affirmed the importance of reminding the faithful that religion, far from dividing peoples, ought to unite them on the fundamental issues of human rights, social justice and peaceful co-existence. The importance of cultivating respect for all people irrespective of race, gender, language and religion was emphasised.