[ditty_news_ticker id="27897"] After Africa, a new source of ecclesiastical tension is appearing in the United States

After Africa, a new source of ecclesiastical tension is appearing in the United States

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Source: Orthodox Times

The ecclesiastical antagonism in which the Moscow Patriarchate is engaged against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the other churches that have recognized the Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine is shifting to a new geographical field.

So, after Africa, a new source of ecclesiastical tension is appearing in the United States against the background of the decision of the Archdiocese of America to place Archimandrite Alexander Belya as the vicar of the Slavic Orthodox Vicariate.

In fact, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to which the Archdiocese of America belongs, recently promoted Alexander Belya to the position of Bishop of Nicopolis.

However, a few days after his promotion, the other leaders of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America sent a letter of protest to Archbishop Elpidophoros of America.

The letter, however, was not signed by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) with which Belya was until recently affiliated.

The reason is that ROCOR has withdrawn from the Assembly, having fully sided with the Patriarchate of Moscow both on the issue of the Ukrainian church and the subsequent Russian invasion of the country.

For its part, the Archdiocese of America claims that it had for quite some time initiated all the procedures provided for by the church canon for Archimandrite Alexander Belya to join. It should be recalled that the transfer of a clergyman from one church to another is not a rare phenomenon.

Moreover, the Archdiocese had informed the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America of his imminent promotion, which was decided by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

However, what seems to have happened after the release of Alexander Belya from ROCOR (the bishop of the Russian church had issued a document granting the freedom to transfer jurisdiction to Archimandrite) is that this church decided in collaboration with the Moscow Patriarchate to proceed with his deposition.

In the letter of protest to the Archbishop of America, the Bishops of the Assembly refer to this matter, noting that “the canonical punishment (of Alexander Belya) and hence the deposition has been accepted by all of us as a canonical act”.

With this reference, the bishops seem to adopt the ROCOR version, according to which the deposition must have preceded the transfer of Alexander Belya to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

The hierarchs of the Assembly focus their criticism on the fact that they recognize the removal of the archimandrite as a “canonical act” and on the fact that they have reservations about his character.

However, according to the church canons, when a priest is released from a church to join a new one, the old church ceases to have any jurisdiction and is, therefore, unable to remove him.

In this context, the Archdiocese argues that Alexander Belya’s deposition occurred after his removal from ROCOR, according to the facts presented:

– In October 2019, Alexander Belya completed his transfer to the Archdiocese of America.

– In February 2020, the Russian church proceeded with the deposition of the archimandrite.

Regarding the moral issues raised by the bishops about the archimandrite, it is noted that Alexander Belya did not serve in their churches and was not under their jurisdiction.

Moreover, the Archdiocese of America, as an interested party intending to bring Belya into its bosom, claims to have conducted a thorough audit that revealed no tangible evidence of misconduct.

Archbishop Elpidophoros’ Response Letter: The vital priority of my ministry in the U.S.A is Orthodox unity

In his reply letter, Archbishop Elpidophoros expresses his surprise and bewilderment at the words of the hierarchs, given that they were fully informed of the developments and at no stage of the process had anyone expressed any objection or raised any concerns.

“It was with great regret and some surprise that I received your letter dated June 27, 2022. As you remember, I had announced the recent election of the Bishop-elect of Nicopolis, Alexander Belya, by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as his impending enthronement at our last meeting in the Executive Committee of the Assembly on June 16, 2022, and no one said anything or expressed any concerns or any objection at that time,” the Archbishop noted.

In his letter of response to Metropolitan Joseph, Elpidophoros expressed respect for the Assembly of Bishops in America, which he describes as a unique institution that fosters Orthodox unity.

As he says, “Orthodox unity is the vital priority of my ministry in this country, and the Assembly of Bishops is the key vehicle for such unity.

The many achievements of recent years, the spirit of fraternal synergy and cooperation that brought us together in the time of the pandemic, and the various missions through the agencies and organizations based on the Assembly of Bishops should remain at the center of our attention.”

Nevertheless, Archbishop Elpidophoros refuted the accusations directed against the person of Alexander Belya, assuring the hierarchs that the decision of the Archdiocese is based on the thorough audit it carried out and not on unfounded accusations.

“Dear brother, I have always been completely clear with you and with all our brother hierarchs about the incarnation and the recent election of Bishop Alexander Belya of Nicopolis.

However, I have listened to your concerns (expressed in the letter) and having received all the necessary documentation, including a valid letter of release (of Alexander Belya from ROCOR) from the late Metropolitan Ilarion, and in the absence of tangible evidence of misconduct, which is based on a very thorough vetting process that we conducted and not on rumors – we proceeded with his canonical ordination,” noted in the letter.

At the same time, the Archbishop reminds us that he never received any correspondence from the late Metropolitan Ilarion of ROCOR regarding issues concerning Archimandrite Alexander Belya.

As he explains, his desire was to always keep direct contact and an open line of communication. However, this vital communication for Orthodox unity in the USA was undermined by ROCOR’s decision to withdraw from the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America.

At this point, Archbishop Elpidophoros expressed his regret that the Russian attack on Ukraine not only failed to further forge Orthodox unity but led to the division of the Assembly of Bishops.

As he points out, “I had hoped that the current war and the unjust attack by the Russian Federation on Ukraine would have created a sense of solidarity and justice among us that would have bound us all to Orthodox unity in America.

Unfortunately, we have seen the opposite result, as many of our brethren have failed to condemn the cruelty of this unjust and illegal war, and even worse, have tried to silence the Assembly of Bishops of America from speaking out against these horrific and un-Christian actions.”

Finally, the Archbishop stresses the collective responsibility that exists to ensure unity and to continue the work of the Assembly.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Assembly continues its work, and it is my fervent prayer that you will maintain your commitment to this mission since our ministry in America is so necessary.”

Source: ANA-MPA

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22 Comments

  1. Joseph Lipper on

    ROCOR’s abandonment of the Assembly of Bishops and general refusal to make any contact with Archbishop Elpidophorus is exactly why we now have this kerfluffle about Fr. Alexander Belya’s upcoming ordination. If ROCOR had maintained it’s membership, there would be no conflict about this today.

    ROCOR should seriously consider breaking with Moscow and joining the EP. That might not sound realistic right now, but it would be a canonically Orthodox solution to the current mess they’re in. It’s certainly worth exploring. Given the current cold war we are in with Russia, the EP has compensated for this by showing a willingness to having a separate Slavic Vicariate in the U.S. (as with ACROD and UOC-USA also.) There is a canonically available path for a unified Orthodox presence in America if people are willing and actually want it.

  2. I’m starting to think the OCL just doesn’t get it, the Greek Archdiocese is in terminal membership collapse and many laity have left for ROCOR precisely because they have managed to uphold Orthodoxy. This article reads like a Orthodox Times article treating Elpidophoros as a martyr and all of the other bishops from the assembly as somehow being wrong.

    If that is not the case then my apologies, but, your goal of Orthodoxy unity in America is doomed to fail if it is.

  3. As long as bishops refuse to follow Canonical guidelines of Church administration in America, there will be no Church unity. There is a Canonical autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, yet, foreign bishops won’t let their bishops go. Compounding this, + Kirill believes he controls all the Churches in the world and + Bart believes the same. Very stupid. Let those two fight it out and die doing it. Here in America, all the bishops of the assembly need to sign a declaration that they will join the OCA and stop the stupidity. Exactly WHY do American bishops feel they need to be tied to their foreign controlling bishops who keep taking American money?

  4. George D. Karcazes on

    “Nikolai”,

    Why do you keep playing the only string on your violin?

    Not even the OCA bishops expect all the other jurisdictions to abandon their parishes and “join the OCA”.

    Nobody wants the OCA to abandon its “Autocephaly”. The answer must come from the Assembly of Bishops. ROCOR has no business being in America. Moscow granted Autocephaly to the OCA a half century ago. All the ROCOR bishops should be the first to take your advice and join the OCA,

    Then, as part of the Assembly, they can join with the all the other bishops, including the OCA in declaring themselves to be a united, Autocephalous Orthodox Church of America.

    Read the Declaration recently issued by friends of OCL. It appeared in both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times on July 5th.

    It is also on this website. Read it and add your name. There is nothing in it you will disagree with.

    Finally, I agree that Moscow and Istanbul look like they will never agree. We need to extricate the Church in America from their disputes. A united Orthodox Church in America can continue to support the Mother Churches that do not have National Churches supporting them [Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria] just like the Declaration states.

    If the GOA refuses to join, so be it. Under its present leadership it is likely that they will miss the moment, but all is not lost. Uniting 13 out of 14 “jurisdictions” is not a “schism”. It is simply doing what’s possible at this moment. It is refusing to sacrifice the good in pursuit of the perfect.

    If, as Menas states, the GOA is in “terminal membership collapse” the left-overs will eventually come over to the only canonical church in America. If the GOA sees that it is alone, reasonable people will see the light and understand that uniting in a single, canonical, local Church does not mean abandoning Orthodox Churches abroad that are captives of regimes that oppress them.

    Sign the Declaration. Ask your many followers to sign. Three OCA Hierarchs have already signed.

    George

  5. You see George, you are so locked up in the GOA that understanding “WHAT” the OCA is seems to be lost. In the 1960’s when SCOBA was formed, +Iakovos, + Ireney, + Anthony & Philip and others ALL wanted to correct the non-canonical situation of ALL the Orthodox Churches in America. They all agreed to work together and work toward formulating an autocephalous church that they ALL would join. + Iakovos was adamant that this was the best thing for Greek Americans and all other Orthodox. When Fr. Schmemann was able to make this a reality, the Romanians joined the OCA, the Bulgarians, and others, but both + Iakovos & + Philip reneged, probably due to threats from overseas. Both should have moved forward in 1970 and joined the OCA. You continue to mention ROCOR. ROCOR was non-canonical and wasn’t considered as a serious entity, but a fringe element. Today, ROCOR is still a fringe right-wing element within Orthodoxy. You also state that not even all the OCA bishops expect OCA unity. Many of these bishops are just wrong and narrow-minded.

    Understand why the OCA was formed – it was formed to end the skata. + Bart has made it clear, no unity unless it is under him – a non-canonical situation. Foreign bishops should not be involved in our American Churches.

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Hi Nikolai,
      I honestly didn’t know Mr. Karcazes was still GOA. Now, if I may; the autocephaly of the OCA is disputed by most of the Orthodox Churches. Nikolai, in my town, there are five Roman Catholic churches, and no Orthodox churches; the closest Orthodox church is the OCA in the next town. They have been a mission church since 1980 and still maintain that status. In other words, it hasn’t grown in over forty years…

  6. Peter: The OCA isn’t disputed. The OCA is in Holy Communion with ALL Orthodox Churches throughout the world. The Greek Churches, under + Bartholomew, decided not to “FORMALLY” recognize the autocephaly of the OCA because + Bartholomew believes ONLY HE can grant autocephaly – BALONEY. Case in point, after the Council of Florence, 1431–1449, where Constantinople accepted UNION WITH ROME. All the GREEK bishops signed except +Mark of Ephesus. When +Isidore, the Bishop of the Rus returned to Kiev and the people learned that he had signed the document of union with Rome, the people threw him out of the land of the Rus and declared their church AUTOCEPHALOUS. All the Greek bishops had fallen into heresy. This was the beginning of the Rus and Kiev to declare itself, “The Third Rome,” the leader of Orthodoxy. It took Constantinople over 100 years and the transfer of much gold & jewels for Constantinople to FORMALLY recognize the autocephaly of the Rus, yet, Constantinople fell into heresy. The OCA will not pay Istanbul for its autocephaly; legally granted by its mother church, Moscow. Regarding your comment about the OCA mission in your area, it takes years and time for any mission to grow. A dynamic priest may go there and it may boom overnight!

    • Joseph Lipper on

      Nikolai, what you may not realize is that probably any autocephalous church that breaks communion with Russia will have defacto broken communion with the OCA also, or at least will no longer recognize the OCA’s autocephaly. Such a scenario certainly could happen in the present world circumstances.

      The churches of Georgia, Czech Lands, Poland, and the OCA have all received administrative autocephaly from Russia. Yet all four have made separate appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to receive autocephaly also. The Church of North Macedonia just received autocephaly from Serbia, and they too have sent a separate appeal to the EP. If this wasn’t of importance, then none of them would do it.

      • Cato the Elder on

        Joseph,

        So, exactly how does this “autocephaly” stuff work? The OCA received a Tomos from Moscow fifty years ago. So they’re autocephalous, right?

        How does their autocephaly still depend on Moscow? What does “administrative autocephaly” mean?

        Aren’t Poland, Georgia and the Czech Lands fully autocephalous? Don’t they, like the OCA, choose their own presiding Hierarch? Make their own chrism?

        I understand that among the many things that Constantinople and Moscow don’t agree on is how and by whom autocephaly can be granted. Moscow says there’s a canon that gives a mother church the right to grant autocephaly to any of her “daughter” churches. The EP says: “Not so fast, there’s another canon that says that only Constantinople can grant autocephaly!” Didn’t some National Churches breaking away from the Ottoman yoke (Greece, et al?) declare their own autocephaly, which was later recognized as fait accompli by the EP? You’d think any competent canonist would be able to resolve this, but of course Moscow and the EP don’t know how to resolve disputes.

        As far as asking both Moscow and the EP, isn’t that like covering all your bases.. sort of belts and suspenders since these Old World protagonists can’t take care of something as simple as this?

        Here’s a solution, free of charge: The EP picks a canonist and Moscow picks a canonist. If they don’t agree they pick a third canonist whose decision is binding. Easier than a Holy and Great Council where they can’t agree on the shape of the table.

  7. George D. Karcazes on

    Friends,

    While I remain a member of my local GOA parish (less than two miles from my home) I have signed the Declaration that appears at the top of the opening page of this website.

    Have you, Nikolai. or Menas, Peter Ray, or Mr. Lipper signed it?

    Read it carefully. I cannot imagine that any of you disagree with what the Declaration sets forth. The events of the last few years, to say nothing about the last few months, offer stark proof of why the Church in America needs to be Autocephalous. We need to be freed from the Constantinople/Moscow controversies.

    As a united, canonical American Church — a sister Church of the other Autocephalous Churches — we can prosper and grow and even teach our sisters how to navigate in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural environment.

    Let’s have a discussion about the Declaration. On another website, it has been called “the most consequential document of our generation.”

    Do you agree?

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Yes, Mr. Karcazes,
      I agree with the declaration and have wholeheartedly signed it. Thank you!!

      • George D. Karcazes on

        Thank you Peter! I hope that you and others, especially those who comment on this OCL website will also sign and encourage others to sign. Whatever our viewpoints on other issues, this is one Declaration that everyone should be able to endorse.

        Also, thank you, Andoni! Nice to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and yours!

        George (also a Papouli)

    • Anthony Carris on

      George, you’re on target with your thoughts. May you continue to sacrifice your time and talents for this noble cause … your ascetic supporter Andoni ☦️☕️

  8. Cato: There are NO Canons that state who can and who can’t grant autocephaly. Istanbul wants this authority, but none of the Churches have agreed to this. In fact, any existing church in a territory where no other church is autocephalous can declare itself autocephalous. Now, the caveat in this is that all the other autocephalous churches ACCEPT their autocephaly via inter-communion. A signed document of acceptance would also be nice. In the case of the OCA, its mother church, Moscow, granted the former Metropolia autocephaly in 1970. St. Tikhon, who was the Moscow Patriarch during the Revolution, declared to all dioceses and missions to operate as autocephalous since the Moscow Patriarchate was disbanded by the God-denying Communists. Now, there is a Canon stating that where an autocephalous church exists, ALL other churches are to join it. In 1970, the Antiochians & the GOA led SCOBA to believe they would join the OCA, but both reneged. So, here we are today in la-la land because +Iakovos and +Philip didn’t have the foresight to bring their churches into the OCA. Stupid!

  9. As an addendum, +Iakovos was threatened that he would be defrocked and lose all benefits granted to him by Istanbul. +Philip was also told to toe the line. As long as foreign bishops and powers control our American churches, there will be no unity of all the American Orthodox Churches.

  10. George Karcazes on

    Nikolai,

    “As long as foreign bishops and powers control our American churches, there will be no unity of all the American Orthodox Churches.”

    And all the people said: AMEN!

    Isn’t that the point of the Declaration?

    The answer must come from the Assembly of Bishops, which is recently showing some signs of courage. They are the audience the Declaration addresses. They need to know that the people support unity and autocephaly

    The other audience are people like you, who know the issues and are involved.

    Sign the Declaration.

    Encourage all you friends to sign.

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Yes, Mr. Karcazes,
      I’ve been surprised that Nikolai hasn’t signed the Declaration yet. I hope and expect that he will. We all need to sign this important document.

  11. My signing your document means nothing. I am no one, just one who knows Canon Law and the history of the Orthodox Churches in America. In 1970, it was the bishops who needed to sign & act. Today, it is the same!

  12. George Karcazes on

    Peter Ray,

    I guess it’s time to give up on “Nikolai” who doesn’t use his own name on this site. He posts here principally to boast that he “knows Canon Law and the history of the Churches in America.”

    Perhaps he has actually added his real name to the Declaration. Claiming he is “no one” is an unconvincing attempt at false modesty.

    The Declaration acknowledges that it is the bishops who need to act. Gathering widespread support among the clergy and laity is consistent with OCL’s dual mission of education and advocacy. Those who add their names to the Declaration are sending a message to the Assembly of Bishops that they will support those bishops who summon the courage to act.

    Complaining about what bishops failed to do in 1970 is akin to cursing the darkness rather than lighting a candle.

    Constructive suggestions on how to get thousands of names added to the Declaration would be helpful. Have you sent the link to everyone on your contact list? .

    • Peter Ray Millman on

      Yes, Mr. Karcazes, As always you make eminent good sense. I have done so. I’ve learned a lot from you and Nikolai. Thank you!!

  13. George: You can collect all the signatures you want – it doesn’t matter. The foreign bishops who control many of the bishops of the assembly are the problem. So, how should this really go? All the bishops of the Assembly need to sign a document declaring themselves independent of any & all foreign bishops and synods. Then move forward to join in autocephaly. No foreign bishop or synod will willfully grant American bishops independence since America is their cash cow. + Bart took millions back to Istanbul last Fall. If these American bishops really want independence, they must take it. Why don’t they? They are afraid of their own people rebelling against them and being defrocked & replaced from overseas.

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