A New Year: A New Bishop

Fr. Basil Zebrun
On March 31, 2009, at his request His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri was granted retirement from his duties as ruling hierarch of the Diocese of the South, Orthodox Church in America.  He fell asleep in the Lord two and half years later on August 28, 2011 (Old Calendar Dormition).
His Eminence was the founding bishop of the Diocese, established in 1978 by our Holy Synod of Bishops.  During his tenure Archbishop Dmitri's unique charm, modest approach to life, as well as his love of people and various cultures, and his faithfulness to Christ,  helped to lead thousands to Orthodox Christianity and to a better understanding of the Faith itself.
To this day the Archbishop remains the only resident ruling hierarch that the Diocese of the South has ever known.  His legacy of mission and evangelism -- consistent with the efforts of other beloved Church leaders -- defines the principles upon which our Diocese was established and by which it functions to the present day.  This year, members of the Diocese have the formidable task of nominating the next Bishop of Dallas and the South, who will help continue the vision and groundwork laid 37 years ago.
On Monday, February 16, clergy and lay delegates meeting at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Cathedral in Miami, Florida will convene for this sacred task during a Special Nomination Assembly called for by our locum tenens, His Eminence Archbishop Nikon.  On that day a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated in the morning, followed by the start of the Assembly itself at 1 pm.   The one day Assembly will precede a two and a half day Clergy Conference.
Christ the Saviour Cathedral was chosen for this event in light of its past and present position of leadership within the Diocese. Because the new bishop will be consecrated in Dallas, the city of Miami is important symbolically -- for the sake of history and continuity -- as the location for the Episcopal Nomination.  This choice also helps economically,  given the travel that will be necessary for the faithful on the East Coast at the time of the new hierarch's enthronement later this year in Dallas.
Basically the nomination process will be as follows, in accordance with our Diocesan By Laws. These may be found on thedosoca.org website.  The following is a slightly edited version of the section of the By Laws which addresses the nomination of a bishop for the Diocese of the South.
'The Chancellor of the Diocese, Archpriest Marcus Burch, will present the name(s) of the Diocesan Council's recommended candidate(s) to all those present. There is to be no debate ordiscussions of proposed candidates.  Following Fr. Marcus' announcement, the names of other vetted candidates will be announced to the Assembly. 
Blank ballots will then be given to all delegates and one name only shall be written on each ballot.  Any ballot with more than one name will be discarded.  If a single candidate receives 50% or more of the votes then he will be declared the nominee.  His name will be sent to the Holy Synod of Bishops (meeting in March) for their approval and canonical election.
If no one receives a majority of votes, then a second vote will be taken, choosing from the two top candidates on the first ballot. The man receiving the most votes on the second ballot shall be declared the Assembly's nominee and his name will be sent to the Holy Synod of Bishops.
If the candidate whose name is sent for consideration proves unacceptable for any reason to the Holy Synod then the Synod itself will elect a diocesan bishop for the South, in accordance with the Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America.  A date will then be set for the consecration and enthronement of the new bishop.'  At present the tentative month for the consecration and enthronement will be May 2015.
Since the retirement and subsequent repose of Archbishop Dmitri there have been people confused over the time taken to "vet" Episcopal candidates and call a Nomination Assembly.  At the same time there are those who see six years as acceptable and not unusual for the Orthodox Church generally, as well as for this particular situation, given the shoes that have to be filled by the incoming Bishop.
The legacy of His Eminence, as well as the distinct character of our diocese, require  a unique man having ideally, love for the people, a sensitivity to various cultures, a grasp of Orthodox theology as it compares with other Christian traditions, and a burning desire to make Orthodox Christianity known throughout the South. He must also have the relative strength to travel across a fourteen state diocese overseeing 70  established communities while launching additional Churches, monasteries, and perhaps a pastoral school or two.  Administering the Diocese of the South is a formidable task:  administering any Diocese is a difficult calling. The responsibility carries with it high expectations from the flock. If six years is the time given us by God to discern and elect the most appropriate candidate for the South then this period is relatively brief in light of the work that is to follow.  If more time is needed then so be it.
In February, as we gather in Miami for the nomination of our next ruling hierarch, we will call upon the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and discernment. Indeed we pray even now for such illumination. The Nomination Assembly will place itself under the providential care and guidance of God, as previous assemblies have always done. Whatever the outcome and whoever is presented as our next bishop we will celebrate his nomination. At the same time we are grateful now, as well, for the oversight given by His Eminence Archbishop Nikon during this transitional period. He has been a patient and loving father in Christ, encouraging the faithful to continue in their Christian endeavors, preparing us for this momentous occasion in the history of our Diocese.