BALTIMORE — 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 prominent Christian faith tradition has held its most important regular gathering in the city.
The Orthodox Church in America — one of the largest jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox church in the United States — kicks off its “All-American Council” on Monday at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor.
More than a thousand officials, bishops, clergy members and parishioners of the 228-year-old branch of the worldwide church are expected to attend the five-day conference, where they’ll address business concerns, network, hear from delegates from its 14 dioceses and might consider resolutions on issues such as the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The Very Rev. Alexander Rentel, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, says delegates will deal with such arcana as pension plans and the election of new officials but more broadly will be “taking a hard look” at an ongoing shortage of priests, fostering the involvement of young people and making sure to hear from some of the jurisdiction’s more “far-flung” dioceses, including those in Alaska and Mexico.
Roughly 1 in 5 Orthodox Church in America parishes lacks a full-time priest, Rentel said, terming the situation a “vocations crisis.” He said delegates will consider remedies to the problem throughout the conference.
The conference agenda makes no reference to the war in Ukraine, which began in February, but that doesn’t mean delegates won’t develop and present a resolution on the subject from the convention floor, Rentel said, a practice he calls common at conferences.
Either way, the OCA has made clear it opposes the invasion by Russian Federation forces of the adjacent Orthodox nation. The head of the jurisdiction, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, issued in February a statement condemning the action. Church officials have repeatedly done likewise since, and the branch has raised more than $730,000 for Ukrainian refugees.
“No Christian can remain impartial or lukewarm in the face of the suffering or remain silent when confronted with such evils as are being perpetrated,” Metropolitan Tikhon said in a statement in March.
By some measures, the Orthodox Church in America is a modest branch of the Eastern Orthodoxy, a communion that claims about 220 million adherents around the world. The jurisdiction’s approximately 90,000 baptized followers place it second in North America, far behind the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which claims between 450,000 and 2 million, depending on the method of counting used.
But the OCA’s 700 parishes on the continent, including more than 550 in the U.S., are the most for any Eastern Orthodox branch, eclipsing the Greek Orthodox (about 525) and Antiochian Orthodox (275) branches.