Delegates and observers from across North America continued to arrive on Monday, July 23, 2018 at the historic Saint Louis Union Station Hotel, where His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, officially opened the 19th All-American Council [AAC] after the celebration of a Service of Prayer for the Beginning of a Council.
The members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America were present, as well as episcopal dignitaries representing the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Russia, Serbia, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and Finland. Clergy and lay delegates and observers, as well as youth participating in a special parallel program during the week, filled the assembly hall as a warm welcome was extended by Tom Chulick of the Saint Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce. His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago, representing the host Diocese of the Midwest and the Preconciliar Commission which he chaired, also addressed the assembly and thanked all those who helped organize the AAC. The Local Organizing Committee was represented by Archpriest Timothy Sawchuck and Robert Butchko, local AAC co-chairs, who presented a plaque commemorating the AAC to Metropolitan Tikhon on behalf of Lyda Krewson, Mayor of Saint Louis.
The theme of the 19th AAC—For the Life of the World, based on the classic work by the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann—was introduced by his son, Serge Schmemann, who spoke of his father’s inspiration and legacy. He explained that the book was originally written in the early 1960s as a study guide for a gathering of some 3,000 Christian college students in Ohio, at which Father Alexander was the keynote speaker. Serge went on to share numerous anecdotes concerning Father Alexander and his understanding of “the fullness of life, not reduced to pettiness and ‘religion’ with a small ‘r’” inasmuch as Christ came into the world “to inaugurate new life, not a new ‘religion….’ Wherever a Christian looks, he or she finds Christ and rejoices in Him.” This, Serge continued, was an expression of his father’s keen sense of “transforming every event, even the simplest of everyday acts, into a celebration of life…. And his embrace of life was contagious.”
A video, highlighting the reflections of OCA members on Father Alexander’s impact during his many years of ministry and punctuated by quotes from For the Life of the World, followed.
In his opening address, Metropolitan Tikhon highlighted the visionary ministry of Saint Tikhon of Moscow. Drawing on some of Saint Tikhon’s writings, he especially noted that during his tenure as Bishop and later Archbishop of North America from 1897 until 1907, he encouraged the active involvement of the laity in the life and mission of the Church in America and called upon clergy and laity alike to share their faith with others with the intention of inviting every member of the Church to “take part in the Body of Christ.” It is in this same spirit that the 19th All-American Council is now gathering in the ongoing attempt “to witness to the identity, unity and mission of our Church ‘for the life of the world.’”
Metropolitan Tikhon continued by sharing insights into his newly released booklet, Of What Life Do We Speak? Four Pillars for the Fulfillment of the Apostolic Work of the Church, printed copies of which were given to all registered AAC attendees. He went on to explain that the document “is not a strategic plan or program,” but rather “a framework for the ongoing work and growth of the Orthodox Church in America.” While, he added, it is “not intended to be comprehensive;” rather, “it is we who need to be comprehensive” in guiding the Church through today’s increasingly stormy waters. Themes introduced in Of What Life Do We Speak will serve as the subject of focused forums slated to be presented later in the week.
Metropolitan Tikhon also addressed a number of timely issues facing the Church today, internally and externally, including the forthcoming restructuring of the OCA Chancery team that will take place after the AAC, while inviting his listeners to rededicate themselves to the evangelistic mission of the Orthodox Church in America.