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Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate


[Editor’s Comment: The Archbishop-Elect demonstrates with his words, that he does not understand the history of the Orthodox Church in USA. How can he be a servant leader of the clergy and faithful here?]

Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Metropolitan Elpidophoros

By Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis
Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod

(Chapel of the Holy Cross, March 16, 2009)

Reverend Protopresbyter Nicholas Triantafyllou, President,
Reverend Protopresbyter Thomas Fitzgerald, Dean of the School of Theology,
Reverend and Esteemed Members of the Faculty and staff,

Dear Students,

It is an exceptional honor and a great joy for me to be here today, among you, with the blessing and permission of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the consent of His Eminence the Archbishop of America, in order to share with you some thoughts regarding the present condition of Orthodoxy in America and our Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position towards it.

You have, my brothers and sisters, the privilege to be citizens of a country which determines to a great extent the fate of many people on our planet; a country where pioneering technologies as well as ideas and philosophies have been discovered and disseminated. The cultural peculiarities and characteristics of the United States find also a reflection in, as it is only natural, and exercise an influence on the religious communities of this country. It is far from accidental that none of the “traditional” religions (coming either from Europe or elsewhere), remained the same once they were replanted on American soil.

The same change can be of course observed in the case of Orthodoxy, whose appearance and development in America was influenced by certain indeterminable factors.

The first and main challenge that American Orthodoxy faces is that it has been developed in a region which, from an administrative and technical point, is that of diaspora. By the term “diaspora” we indicate that region  whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction is been unfortunately claimed by a variety of “Mother” Churches, which wish to maintain their pastoral care over their respective flocks, comprised by the people who, over the years, immigrated to the superpower called USA.

In this way, the Orthodox faithful in America became organized according to their national origin and not according to the canon law of the Orthodox Church—that is, they organized themselves not in accordance with the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology which dictates that neither national origin, nor the history of a group’s appearance in a particular region but rather the canonical taxis and the perennial praxis of the Church, as codified by the Ecumenical Councils, has the ultimate authority.

According to such ecclesiological principles, in any given region there can be one and only one bishop who shepherds the Orthodox faithful, regardless of any nationalistic distinction. It was, however, the very opposite scenario that took place in America and today one observes the challenging deplorable condition where a number of bishops claim pastoral responsibility for the same geographic region.

A second challenge of the Church in America is that it was brought here by people who left their homelands at a time that these homelands were economically underdeveloped. Economic immigration created, from the very first moment, the need for these people to assimilate to their adopted land in order to achieve, as soon as possible, the high living standards of the privileged Americans and therefore to enjoy the fruits of the American dream. Towards that goal, they changed their names, they put an emphasis on the English language in every aspect of their lives, and at last they succeeded in becoming true American citizens, holding ever higher positions in the financial, commercial, academic, artistic and political life of this country. The negative aspect of this strong emphasis on cultural assimilation was the consideration of the faithfulness in one’s cultural background as an impediment to the progress and success in the American society. Thus, the complexes of an alleged inferior nationality or class that, in order to enjoy the fruits of the American dream, is supposed to eradicate any bond to its distinctive culture.

The third challenge of Orthodoxy in America concerns the manner of its ecclesiastical organization. The Orthodox faithful organized themselves in communities of lay people, who, in turn, became identified with the ecclesiastical community in the manner of the traditional organization of Christian communities. Thus, the parish (κοινότητα) being now governed by lay elected members, builds its own church, school and other such institutions, and provides the priest’s salary. Such communal organization improves, as it is right and desirable, the role of laity in church administration, and increases the sense of responsibility and participation in the life of the Church, offering thus the change to the Church to profit of its talented and able parishioners. On the other hand, however, four very concrete dangers lurk behind such a communal organization of the local Church:

  1. a) That the priest might become alienated from his administrative duties, and from being the spiritual leader of the parish would become a clerk of the parish council,
  2. b) That the parishioners would find it difficult to comprehend the rules according to which the Church is governed and instead they would follow their own secular reasoning,
  3. c) That the structures of the parish would become influenced by the prevalent Protestant models and thus they would replicate and imitate practices that are foreign to the Spirit of Orthodoxy, and
  4. d) That the parishes would degenerate into nothing more than membership clubs, invested with some ecclesiastical resemblance.

As you all know, one of the secrets for the success of the American miracle in its financial, political and technological aspects was precisely its desire to detach itself from the traditional models of the old world, its ability to break free from the established norms, its willingness to question whatever was considered as given or beyond any criticism. As it might have been expected, these tendencies soon found an expression within the life of the Church, sometimes in more extreme ways, other times in more temperate ways. Thus, soon Orthodox clergymen became indistinguishable from the clergy of other denomination; choirs in the western style were adopted; the liturgical tradition became more and more impoverished by being limited only to the bare essentials, etc.

Against that gradual secularization of Orthodoxy in America, a reaction soon made its appearance in the form of a number of rapidly spreading monasteries of an Athonite influence, characterized by ultraconservative tendencies, attached to the letter of the law, and reacting to any form of relationship with other Christian denominations. All of this is nothing but the manifestation of the intense thirst for a lost spirituality and a liturgical richness of which the Orthodox people of America have been for very long now deprived, forced, as they were, to embrace the Church only in the form of a sterile social activism.

The traits of the American clergy today also appear to undergo certain differences.

The secularization of the parish life, as described above, fails to inspire young men and to cultivate in them the religious vocation, so that tomorrow’s pastors would be part of the very flesh of today’s parish. That vacuum in clerical vocation is covered by candidates who, being unusually older than what was perceived the standard age, have already on their shoulders the domestic burden of a family. Thus, they struggle to obtain the necessary degree that would secure for them among others the society’s respect.

Another great number of candidates to the priesthood come from converts, who possess little, if any, familiarity with the Orthodox experience; and, they are usually characterized by their overzealous behavior and mentality. It is of interest that the converts who become ordained into priesthood represent a disproportionally greater percentage than the converts among the faithful. The result of this disanalogous representation is that, more often than not, convert priest shepherd flocks who are bearers of some cultural tradition, but because their pastors either lack the necessary familiarity with that tradition or even consciously oppose it, they succeed in devaluing and gradually eradicating those cultural elements that have been the expression of the parishes that they serve.

It is particularly saddening that the crisis in priestly vocation has decreased dramatically the number but also the quality of celibate priests, who one day will be assigned with the responsibility of governing this Church. Lack of spirituality makes the monastic ideal incomprehensible and unattractive especially among the youth (with the exception, of course, of the aforementioned monastic communities with their own peculiarities).

Having attempted this general evaluation of the American Orthodoxy, allow me to consider briefly the Holy Archdiocese of America, this most important eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne.

The image we depicted above in rough brushstrokes holds also true for the Archdiocese. Thanks to the selfless dedication of our immigrants and under the protection of the first See in the Orthodox world, a strong Archdiocese was created that, in time, reached a level of maturity and excellence; and it is today the pride of the Church of Constantinople. The Archdiocese took advantage of the possibilities that a deeply democratic, meritocratic and progressive state, like the United States, was able to offer, in order that the Orthodox faith of our fathers take root deep in the American land.

To this effect, the active participation of the lay element was, as we have seen, very important. We believe that the younger generations of the omogeneia are free of the past’s prejudices and complexes, according to which, if you wish to succeed in America you have to forget your cultural patrimony and your language in order to be left naked, so to speak, in the thorny desert of the Wild West. Today’s omogeneia has overcome that denial and has come to understand that the secret of the American civilization’s success does not lie in the obliteration of one’s cultural background but rather in the free and harmonious co-existence of people and races who have come to this hospitable land seeking a life in freedom, in faith and in dignity. Our cultural heritage and our national conscience is not, by any means, an obstacle for our progress and for the successful witness to our faith, especially insofar as ecumenicity (οἰκουμενικότης) is the heart of Hellenism and by definition alien to any form of nationalism or cultural chauvinism.

The Holy Archdiocese of America under the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the most organized, well-structured and successful presence of Orthodoxy today. This is not accidental. This success was not achieved by foregoing its cultural identity. It was not achieved by ignoring the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It was not achieved by succumbing to the temptation of secularism. It was not achieved by imprisoning itself in the darkness of the extreme fundamentalism, nationalism and sterile denial.

Precisely because the Holy Archdiocese of America occupies such an esteemed position in this country, we are obliged to offer a self-criticism but also to defend ourselves against the unjust accusations that target this jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Examining, then, ourselves, I believe that we ought to be more careful towards the easiness with which we are ready to abandon our Hellenism, both as language and as tradition. As we have already said, it is nothing but a myth, the opinion that Hellenism is an obstacle to the creative and successful incorporation in the American reality. Hellenism is identified with its ecumenical character, and for that reason, it can never be nationalistic; for both of its manifestations, its culture and its Orthodox faith, are concepts that transcend the boundaries of the national.

I do not support the opinion that we can today oblige everyone to speak Greek, but I think that we have to offer that possibility to those who so desire, to learn Greek in well organized schools, by talented teachers. I think that we owe our children the possibility of choice. We owe to our culture the obliteration of contempt for a language that expressed the Gospel and became the vehicle for the most subtle meanings in the articulation of the dogma by the founders of our faith and Fathers of Christianity.

I do not support the opinion that the services here in America should be done exclusively in Greek. Simply, I do not understand how it is possible that any priest of the Archdiocese might not be able to serve in both languages. It is not understandable how an institution of higher education cannot manage to teach its students a language, even in the time span of four years!

My brothers and sisters, I am not one of them who believe that there is a sacred language (lingua sacra) for the Church. I just wonder why in every Theological School in the world, the students are expected to learn the Biblical languages, and it is only in our School of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that such a requirement seems anachronistic, nationalistic or conservative.

Speaking now of your Theological School, do you think that the Church’s expectation that the graduates of this School know theology, canon law, Byzantine music, be able to celebrate the service of matins, vespers and the sacraments, be able to preach the Word of God and instruct our youth in the catechism is unreasonable or excessive?

My dear brothers and sisters, allow me now to return to the problem of the diaspora and the jurisdictional diversity that one observes in the USA.

First of all, allow me to remind you that the term “diaspora” is a technical term denoting those regions that lie beyond the borders of the local autocephalous Churches. It does not mean that the Orthodox people who dwell in these regions live there temporally, as misleadingly it was argued by His Eminence Phillip in a recent article (“The Word”). According to the 28th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council one of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch is precisely His jurisdiction exactly over these regions, which lie beyond the predescribed borders of the local Churches. The canon in question uses the technical term “barbaric” in order to denote these lands, since it was precisely referring to the unknown lands beyond the orbit of the Roman Empire.

On account of this canon, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suffered the unfair and unjust criticism of two American Orthodox Hierarchs: Metropolitan Phillip and the newly elected Metropolitan Jonah.

It is my duty to refute the injustice directed against the Mother Church of Constantinople for the sake of historical truth and for the sake of moral conscience.

Metropolitan Jonah, while he was still an abbot, in one of his speeches presented what he called “a monastic perspective” on the subject Episcopacy, Primacy and the Mother Churches. In the chapter on autocephaly and primacy, he claims that “there is no effective overarching primacy in the Orthodox Church.” He seems to be in opposition to the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because he considers that such an institution “is based on primacy over an empire-wide synod” and that this “has long become unrealistic.” What surprised me the most in this “monastic perspective” of His Eminence Jonah was the claim that allegedly “now only the Greek ethnic Churches and few others recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be what it claims to be.” It is indeed saddening the ignorance of this Hierarch not only on account of History and canonical order but even on account of the current state of affairs. How is it possible that he ignores that there is no Church that does not recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Perhaps he is carried away by the fact that the ecclesial schema over which he presides and which has been claimed as “autocephalous” in rampant violation of every sense of canonicity, is not recognized but by few Churches and it is not included in the diptychs of the Church.

Please allow me, by way of illustration, to sample a few other points of the same article that should not remain unanswered.

Metropolitan Jonah claims that in America “there is no common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic linguistic and cultural divisions.” Does His Eminence ignore the fact that under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America belong Greeks, Palestinians, Albanians, Ukrainians and Carpathorussians? Is this not proof enough of a common structure that supersedes ethnic and cultural divisions? Does he imply perhaps that SCOBA either constitutes a common expression of unity that supersedes such divisions?

The most provocative of his claims is that which asserts that with the formation of the so-called OCA “the presence of any other jurisdiction on American territory becomes uncanonical, and membership in the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America becomes the criterion of canonicity of all bishops in America.” It is perhaps a sign of our times that he who violated the holy canons par excellence, the most uncanonically claimed as allegedly autocephalous, makes now himself the criterion of canonicity and vitiates the canonical hierarchs as uncanonical. O tempora, o mores!

Instead of acknowledging the mercifulness of the other Patriarchates which, in spite the uncanonical status of the so-called OCA, accept it in communion, its representatives choose to subject them to such an unfair treatment that contributes nothing to the common cause of Orthodox unity. I would be interested to hear an explanation from His Eminence in response to the question, “How will the so-called OCA contribute to our common Orthodox witness in diaspora by electing bishops holding titles which already exist for the same city”. Especially our Ecumenical Patriarchate, not only is it not “unable to lead” as most unfortunately Metropolitan Jonah claims, but already since last October (in order to limit myself to the most recent example) has launched under the presidency of His All Holiness the process for the convocation of the Holy and Great Synod. I am not sure whether His Eminence, upon his ordination to the episcopacy, refused to put on the vestments of a bishop, which he, in the same article, and while he was still an abbot, had called as unfitting to the real nature of the arch-pastorship (p. 11).

Let me add that the refusal to recognize primacy within the Orthodox Church, a primacy that necessarily cannot but be embodied by a primus (that is by a bishop who has the prerogative of being the first among his fellow bishops), constitutes nothing less than heresy. It cannot be accepted, as often it is said, that the unity among the Orthodox Churches is safeguarded by either a common norm of faith and worship or by the Ecumenical Council as an institution. Both of these factors are impersonal while in our Orthodox theology, the principle of unity is always a person. Indeed, in the level of the Holy Trinity, the principle of unity is not the divine essence but the Person of the Father (“Monarchy” of the Father); at the ecclesiological level of the local Church, the principle of unity is not the presbyterium or the common worship of the Christians but the person of the Bishop; so too on the Pan-Orthodox level, the principle of unity cannot be an idea nor an institution, but it needs to be, if we are to be consistent with our theology, a person.

The second article that I have to mention here is that of His Eminence the Antiochian Metropolitan Phillip under the title Canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council—Relevant or Irrelevant Today?

Metropolitan Phillip begins his argument with an entirely anti-theological distinction  of the holy canons into three categories 1) dogmatic, 2) contextual and, 3) “dead”.

I would like to know in which of these three categories, following his reasoning, His Eminence would classify the canons of the Ecumenical Councils that demarcate the jurisdictions of the ancient Patriarchates. Are they “contextual”—subject, as it is, to change? Does His Eminence believe that in this way, he serves the unity among Orthodox, by subjugating the holy and divine canons under the circumstantial judgment of some bishop?

Based on the above distinction, and although he accepts that canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council is not “dead” (since there is so much debate about it), he affirms that indeed it gives certain prerogatives to the Ecumenical Patriarch; on the other hand, however, he claims that this happened for secular and political reasons that have nothing to do with today’s state of affairs. Implicitly and yet all too clearly, Metropolitan Phillip implies that the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch can be doubted. The question then is: does His Eminence know of any Church whose status (Patriarchal or Autocephalous) was not decided according to the historical conditions that were current at the time? Or, does His Eminence know of any Church that has received its status on the basis of theological reasons exclusively? Every administrative decision of an Ecumenical Council is equally respected to perpetuity together with its dogmatic decisions. Imagine the consequences for the Orthodox Church, if we begin to re-evalutate the status of each local Church!

The correct interpretation of canon 28 is considered by His Eminence as “novelty”, by invoking only sources of the 20th century, while it has been scientifically established already by the late Metropolitan of Sardeis Maximos, the uninterrupted application of the canon in question during the history of the Church of Constantinople.

The question, my brothers and sisters, is rather simple:

If Constantinople was not given that prerogative by canon 28, how was she able to grant autocephalies and patriarchal dignities to the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Poland and Albania? Under the provision of which canon did Constantinople give the right of jurisdiction over the remaining of Africa to the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 2002?

And if the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not granted the Patriarchate of Moscow the privilege to bestow autocephaly as it pleases, then what gives it the right to do so on the expense of the Orthodox unity?

Summarizing my lecture, I wish to call your attention to the following points:

  1. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a Church that undergoes martyrdom, a Church that often has received unfair criticism, especially by those Churches which were most richly benefited by it. At no point, the spirit of nationalism took hold of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because that is incompatible with the concepts of Hellenism and Ecumenicity (ecumenical character) as well as with the Christian Orthodox faith. The proof of this emerges in the most decisive manner throughout the 17 centuries of its history, during which it never Hellenized, not even attempted to Hellenize, the nations to which it gave through its apostolic missions the undying light of Christ. What better example than the Slavic tribes which owe even their alphabet to the Thessalonian brothers Cyril and Methodios. I, who speak to you tonight, although I am an Antiochian from my maternal side, nevertheless I serve as the Chief-Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Church of Constantinople.
  2. The Ecumenical Patriarchate neither had nor has territorial claims against the sister Orthodox Churches. That truth is testified by the fact that, although the Patriarchates of the East were virtually destroyed during the difficult times of the 17th and 18th centuries; nevertheless, the Patriarchate of Constantinople was taking the care to have a Patriarch elected for those Patriarchates, supporting their primates in every possible way.
  3. The submission of the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not mean either Hellenization or violation of the canonical order, because it is only in this way that both the letter and the spirit of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils is respected. The Mother Church knows, however, that such a submission is difficult to be accomplished under the present historical conditions. For this reason, and by employing the principle of economy, it was suggested and it has now become accepted in Pan-Orthodox level, that there will be local Pan-Orthodox Episcopal Assemblies in the diaspora (like SCOBA in the US). The principle of presidency is followed, namely the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate presides over these Episcopal Assemblies in order to preserve the necessary element of canonicity.

As you surely know, last October, the Ecumenical Patriarchate summoned in Constantinople a Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The Primates accepted the proposal of Patriarch Bartholomew to move ahead with the Pan-Orthodox preparatory meetings, within 2009, so that the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church take place as soon as possible. For the record, please note that this decision was reached thanks to the concession on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which accepted that the Autonomous Churches will no longer be invited as to avoid the thorny problem of the Church of Estonia in the relations between Constantinople and Moscow.

  1. With regards to the United States, the submission to the First Throne of the Church, that is, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not only fitting with the American society and mentality but also it opens up the horizons of possibilities for this much-promising region, which is capable of becoming an example of Pan-Orthodox unity and witness.

The Mother Church of Constantinople safeguards for the Orthodox Church in America those provisions that are needed for further  progress and maturity in Christ.

Please allow me to conclude with the phrase of His Beatitude Ignatios, Patriarch of Antioch, during last October’s Synaxis of the Primates at the Phanar: “In the Orthodox Church we have one primus, and he is the Patriarch of Constantinople.”

Thank you for your attention.

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  1. In response to the question of primacy as presented by the brothers James and John, our Lord responded, “he who would be great among you must be the servant of all”. This jocking for primacy as presented by Elpidophoros is not consistent with biblical thought. Christians are called to service not control.
    Furthermore, the name of Lord and Savior is only mentioned once in his presentation.There are no quotes from scripture nor Patristic references. Canons are quoted as a scribe would argue the law in Judaism.

    The patriarchate must understand that there is no homogenia in America. At last count, 82 percent of all marriages are mixed. Parishioners do not know Greek except in some urban areas. Choirs sing Greek from phonetics, because they can’t read Greek. Worship must take place in a known language.

    Finally, a Hellenized GOA can’t fulfill its true mission of bringing people to Christ. At some point, the GOA must make a choice; is it the Body of Christ or a Greek club that does Church services?

  2. Thank you for resurfacing this talk. I was there, in an audience that was about one-third married, convert seminarians. Just gobsmacked.

  3. Steve Johnson on

    Hi All,

    Archbishop Elpidoforos makes a great case here and explains it at a level that most will not understand. Unfortunately, His Eminence (aka “HE”) may not understand the nuances of words and phrases of contemporary American society. We hope he becomes more aware of this and is sensitive to it. When discussing some ecclesiological points, HE would help his points if he gave specific examples that laymen would understand. I hope HE does not think he is lowering himself by doing this, or, that we should “elevate” ourselves to his level. HE appears to be very pious and sincere, and additionally does not appear to be a friend to fundamentalism. Thank the Lord. HE makes a great distinction between “Hellenism” and “Hellenizing”. There is a HUGE difference. More attention and education should be given to this at the Parish level to clear up the confusion between the two, and mitigate criticisms. Finally, we have an intelligent Archbishop that does not appear to be afraid to tackle issues head-on. Thank God! AXIOS!

  4. First off, America IS NOT the “DIASPORA.” America is an established, local Church and the people here are Americans and DON’T BELONG to any other country. So, his beginning premise is WRONG. Second, he brings up Canon 28 of Chalcedon as a clear avenue giving + Bart “PRIMACY” over America & ALL territories. Canon 28 says NO SUCH THING. Canon 28 ONLY gave the Pat. of Constantinople authority over certain territories around the Black Sea close to Constantinople. Again, his information is WRONG. Third, the term “PRIMACY” of the Bishop of Istanbul (Constantinople) ONLY meant that he was the “1st among equals.” He was the BISHOP OF THE EMPEROR and led the meetings when the Patriarchs gathered; he kept the official minutes and arbitrated in disputes among the Patriarchs – THAT’S IT! What + Bart has done and this man is emphasizing is that + BART’S PRIMACY GOES BEYOND WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY OUTLINED. In other words, + Bart has “USURPED” power & authority that isn’t his. This is exactly what the Bishop of Rome did and took him into heresy. The Bishop of Istanbul is just that and has NO AUTHORITY beyond his own territory – Canon Law. He cannot have dioceses in America, Australia, etc. He is operating in a non-canonical manner!

  5. Another issue is: “Who can grant autocephaly?” Nowhere within the Canons of the Orthodox Church does it state that the Pat. of Constantinople has this authority. This is authority that + Bart has usurped. History shows, from the time of the Apostles, that wherever they went and established a “local church,” they ordained a bishop to lead that church ON ITS OWN. As the Church established the centers of the Church; Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch & Constantinople, these centers branched out establishing other churches. Eventually, these newer churches became independent and autocephalous. NO ONE GRANTED THEIR AUTOCEPHALY; it was ORGANIC. Then, the other Churches “RECOGNIZED” the new churches and they were all in Communion. Now, when the Muslims conquered areas of the Church like Jerusalem, Alexandria, etc. direction of these churches “VOLUNTARILY” came under Constantinople where the Emperor and his army was. The Greeks sent bishops and priests and never let go of these churches. Very shameful. The Church of Antioch regained its Arab presence. AUTOCEPHALY is pronounced by an established, local church and asks all the other autocephalous churches to recognize it. If they won’t they MUST state why with GOOD, CANONICAL REASON. Regarding Ukraine, Orthodox Canon Law states that there should be one autocephalous church per territory. Russia is a territory and Ukraine is another territory. The Ukrainian Orthodox should have had their own autocephalous church long ago. After Ukrainian oligarchs paid + Bart $25 MM and once completed, another $75 MM, + Bart “GRANTED” them autocephaly. It was said, + Bart was doing cartwheels down the main aisle at St. George’s. It should be noted, that after the Council of Florence where Constantinople signed and entered into Communion with Rome (heresy), the Constantinople bishop appointed for the Kievan/Rus returned home. His name was Isadore. When the Kievan/Rus people learned of what Isadore signed on for, they threw him out and announced they were now an AUTOCEPHALOUS CHURCH. And why, because Constantinople fell into heresy. Therefore, the Kievan/Rus’ claim as “THE THIRD ROME.” It took Constantinople over 150 years to recognize their autocephaly although Constantinople fell into heresy! The Kievan/Rus had to pay a great deal of money and jewels for Constantinople to recognize their autocephaly. The OCA will not pay the Bishop of Istanbul ANY such money for recognition!

  6. Canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council – Relevant Or Irrelevant Today?
    Metropolitan Philip Saliba

    Talk given by Metropolitan Philip, Primate of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese at the Conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, June 4-8, 2008.

    Met. Philip Saliba

    Of all the canons dealing with Church authority and jurisdiction, there is probably none more controversial and debated in inter-Orthodox circles today than Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in the city of Chalcedon in the year 451. Those of us familiar with Church history know that the Ecumenical Council was called to put an end to the ongoing Christological debates of the time. While this was the main focus of the Council, like other councils before and after, it dealt with other pressing issues of the day. Canon was no exception. It reads as follows:

    Following in every detail all the decrees of the holy Fathers and knowing about the canon, just read, of the one hundred and fifty bishops dearly beloved of God, gathered together under Theodosius the Great, emperor of pious memory in the imperial city of Constantinople, New Rome, we ourselves have also decreed and voted the same things about the prerogatives of the very holy Church of this same Constantinople, New Rome. The Fathers in fact have correctly attributed the prerogatives (which belong) to the see of the most ancient Rome because it was the imperial city. And thus moved by the same reasoning, the one hundred and fifty bishops beloved of God have accorded equal prerogatives to the very holy see of New Rome, justly considering that the city that is honored by the imperial power and the senate and enjoying (within the civil order) the prerogatives equal to those of Rome, the most ancient imperial city, ought to be as elevated as Old Rome in the affairs of the Church, being in the second place after it. Consequently, the metropolitans and they alone of the dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace, as well as the bishops among the barbarians of the aforementioned dioceses, are to be ordained by the previously mentioned very holy see of the very holy Church of Constantinople; that is, each metropolitan of the above-mentioned dioceses is to ordain the bishops of the province along with the fellow bishops of that province as has been provided for in the divine canons. As for the metropolitans of the previously mentioned dioceses, they are to be ordained, as has already been said, by the archbishop of Constantinople, after harmonious elections have taken place according to custom and after the archbishop has been notified.

    Proper Interpretation of Canon 28
    The issue of the proper interpretation of Canon 28 and its relationship to the so-called “disapora” is crucial, not only to the Church in North America, but to the relationship of all Orthodox churches worldwide to each other, and to their witness to the world. As Patriarch ALEKSY of Russia has said: “The question of the Orthodox diaspora is one of the most important problems in inter-Orthodox relations. Given its complexity and the fact that it has not been suffi ciently regularized, it has introduced serious complications in[to] the relations between Churches and, without a doubt, has diminished the strength of Orthodox witness throughout the contemporary world.” (For more information on the historical background of Canon 28, I recommend the book The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils, by the late Archbishop PETER L’Huillier, published in 1996 by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.)

    The issue of the proper interpretation of Canon 28 and its relationship to the so-called “disapora” is crucial, not only to the Church in North America, but to the relationship of all Orthodox churches worldwide to each other, and to their witness to the world.
    It is my opinion that there are three types of canons: 1) Dogmatic; 2) Contextual; and 3) “Dead” canons. Canon 28 is by no means a “dead” canon, since there is still great controversy over it today, and so many commentaries, both past and present, show how controversial it has been, to say the least. I believe that Canon 28, historically, is a contextual canon and not a dogmatic one; it gave the city of Constantinople certain rights as the New Rome for secular, political reasons because it was the seat of the emperor. At the same time, the Fourth Ecumenical Council considered (Old) Rome to be the first among equals. What does this say to us today? Let us begin by stating that the whole idea today of “Rome,” “New Rome,” and “Third Rome” would be absurd. If we want to give prominence to any city in Christendom, we should give it to Jerusalem, where the history of salvation was accomplished.

    The second part of the Canon dealt with the Dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace. Canon 28 gave Constantinople jurisdiction over the metropolitans of the barbarians and those three provinces or dioceses, which today are only Bulgaria, Northeastern Greece and European Turkey.

    We can also ask, Is this Canon dealing with a dogmatic issue or a pastoral administrative one? In my opinion it clearly deals with an administrative question. If Antioch or Alexandria had become the seat of imperial power, likely this Canon would have made either of them New Rome. If we were to follow the reasoning of Canon 28, in fact, then Russia could rightfully claim, as it did historically, to be the Third Rome, and the Church of Greece could have made the claim to be the Fourth Rome during the captivity of the Russian Church under Communism.

    Given the lack of a new Great Council, common sense would dictate that, with the current captivity of the church in Constantinople (whose indigenous flock totals just a few thousand), there is no reason for Canon 28 and it is no longer relevant today. We do have a problem, however: we have a responsibility to the past and the councils of the past, but there is no Great Council to address this issue. We must therefore explore other solutions.

    The Relevance of Canon 28 Today
    Constantinople’s Long Arm
    While the Canon is not relevant to the question of different “Romes,” it is profitable for us to look at its relevance today, especially to the subject of administrative organization in North America. We are well aware of the complex issues regarding the so-called “diaspora” and the desire of our Orthodox people, especially in North America, to have an administratively united church. As you must know, there are basically two interpretations of this Canon that extend back into history. Some claim that this Canon implies that Constantinople has authority over all territories outside the geographical limits of autocephalous churches.

    Patriarch ALEKSY of Russia has stated that “…until the 1920’s the Patriarch of Constantinople did not in fact exercise authority over the whole of the Orthodox diaspora throughout the world, and made no claim to such authority.”
    Those on the other side of the argument say that this interpretation is, in fact, misinterpretation. Archbishop PETER in his book, The Church of the Ancient Councils, states that “such interpretation is completely fantastic.” For those holding this view, any autocephalous church can do missionary work outside her boundaries and can grant autocephaly to such missions. Archbishop PAUL of Finland, in summarizing the position of the Orthodox churches, has stated in the reports submitted in 1990 to the Preparatory Commission for the Great and Holy Council that “the Patriarchates of Antioch, Moscow and Romania strongly oppose the authority of Constantinople over the diaspora and [maintain] that the theory remains an anachronism as far from the modern age as the year 451 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council is from the Twentieth Century.”


    Read the entire article on the American Orthodox Institute website (new window will open).

    Posted: 27-Jan-2009


  7. George D. Karcazes on


    The issue of which ancient canon applies…how autocephaly is “granted”… or simply “taken” and eventually “recognized” is obviously in dispute. Recognizing that is unsettled, it was on the agenda for the Holy and Great Council, which had been in the planning stages for almost a century. The Council was delayed because of political and geo-political issues: World Wars; Communist control of Russia,, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria in Muslim majority countries; the collapse of the Soviet Union and restoration of the power and influence of the Moscow Patriarchate under the patronage and control of Putin and the Russian State.

    The divisions between Constantinople and Russia was so intense that it led, among other things, to the removal of the issue of autocephaly from the agenda of the Council, before it was set to meet. Finally, the disputes proved to be so insurmountable that Moscow and those controlled or beholden to Moscow boycotted the Council in Crete. The events in Ukraine have not brought the sides closer together.

    The Assembly of Bishops in the US was authorized by ALL of the autocephalous Churches in their meeting in Chambesey, Switzerland more than a decade ago. The Assembly was charged with developing a plan for the Church in the US to become “canonical”. What that means is that it must become one body, administratively united under a single synod of canonical bishops, with no more than one bishop in any territory. Their work has been stymied, because all of these bishops (except the OCA bishops) must look to the synods in the Old World for instructions.

    Waiting for Moscow, Constantinople, Antioch and the others to come to an agreement on “who is in charge” of the faithful in the US is a fool’s errand. The faithful in the US, especially the clergy and enough bishops who value their flocks more than blind obedience to the foreign synods that appointed them, must join together in a coalition of the willing and declare themselves to be a local synod, elect their own head bishop and announce to the mother churches that they look forward to being recognized as an autocephalous sister church. The Church of Greece (which Met. Elpidophoros does not mention in his response to Met. Philip) after Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, declared itself autocephalous. Its autocephaly was only later recognized by the other autocephalous churches as a fait accompli.

    Another model, familiar to us Americans, is the American colonies in 1776. The colonists declared their independence from Great Britain after listing all of their grievances to the world. It took another ten years before they met again in Philadelphia and agreed upon a Constitution that would permit the country to become the “One Nation under God” that we all live in today. The faithful Bishops, Clergy and Laity of America must declare their autocehphaly, and together work out the details in synergy with one another. The Church in America has bishops, clergy, theological schools, institutions and faithful laity.

    Met. Elpidophoros and the late Met. Philip Saliba do not agree on the interpretation of a 1,568 year-old canon. Constantinople and Moscow cannot even agree to discuss, much less resolve their differences. Let them keep talking, or refusing to talk with, at or over each other. America needs an Orthodox Church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic…a church that is growing, reaching out to the American people and bring Christ’s message of love to those who are seeking it. The need is urgent; it cannot wait on Constantinople and Moscow.

    History will record whether the faithful Orthodox living in America, clergy and laity together, will answer the call.

    • Amen!
      The time is NOW. Whether through textbook canonicity or merciful “ekonomia”, the Orthodox in America need one universally-recognized independent Church (with HQ in the US).
      God willing, there are enough “adults in the room” to do what is right before another soul is lost for “not being Greek enough”, or “not being Russian enough”! Hundreds of thousands of English-speaking Americans can no longer be a “diaspora”.
      “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. (Gal. 3:28)

  8. June 24, 2019
    Metropolitan Tikhon guest of Ecumenical Patriarchate at annual pilgrimage to Cappadocia

    Orthodox Christian faithful who trace their roots to Cappadocia filled the Church of the Mother of God here on the Sunday of All Saints—June 23, 2019—as His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon concelebrated the Divine Liturgy.

    Metropolitan Tikhon and a delegation representing the Orthodox Church in America that included Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Chancellor, and Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak had been invited by His All-Holiness to participate in the annual pilgrimage to Cappadocia in conjunction with a three-day pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

    His Eminence, Metropolitan Paisius of Lerou Kalimnou also concelebrated with His All-Holiness, His Beatitude, and the OCA delegation.

    At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, His All-Holiness warmly welcomed His Beatitude, recalling the many occasions on which Metropolitan Tikhon, representing the Orthodox Church in America, had visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He also spoke of the close friendship that has been built as a result of those visits.

    His Beatitude responded by thanking His All-Holiness for the invitation, and especially for the opportunity to experience the martyric witness of the deserted caves and church ruins across the Cappadocian region. The complete text of Metropolitan Tikhon’s address appears below.

    During the pilgrimage, Metropolitan Tikhon and the OCA delegation had the opportunity to visit the ancient cave churches and monasteries that dot the region, as well as churches that had been closed following the exchange of populations between Greece in Turkey in 1922.

    Address of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon to
    His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople
    Sunday of All Saints
    June 23, 2019
    Your All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew,

    It is a great joy for me to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with Your All-Holiness, together with His Eminence, Metropolitan Paisios, and the brothers who serve with us, on this great day of the Feast of All Saints, when in the glory of Pentecost we honor the great cloud of witnesses offered to us in the holy men and women of our Orthodox Christian faith.

    When I travel abroad, I normally bring the prayers and greetings of the faithful of North America to the place where I am travelling. But after these days, when I have had the honor of walking — at the invitation of Your All-Holiness — in the lands of Cappadocia, I feel that it is rather I who am receiving, on behalf of North Americans, the prayers and embrace of the martyric witness which resound from the deserted caves and the ruins of church temples around us.

    In today’s Gospel, the Lord said to us: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” These lands echo with the trials and loss of the past, but these clouds of past sufferings are made brighter by the hope offered to us by Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

    It is this hope, this faith, this joy which we find fulfilled as we gather as brothers and sisters in Christ in the celebration of this Divine Liturgy, which is the goal of our pilgrimage in life. We have all come here because we are seeking that which was lost: our homeland, our families, and our churches. But this seeking is also for something deeper in our hearts, as the Psalmist says: “As the deer pants after the fountains of water, so pants my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsted for God, the mighty, the living; when shall I come and appear before the face of God” (Psalm 41:1).

    I come from America, the land of freedom, the land of abundance, the land of hope. It is to this land that many from Anatolia fled, and it is the land to which many emigrated from Eastern Europe, from the Middle East, and from other places where difficulties were to be found. But there are difficulties to be found in America as well, and we have been working, through the process of the Assembly of Bishops, to find solutions by which all the Orthodox in our lands might offer a strong and united witness to Christ and His Holy Church, in imitation of the great saints that we celebrate today and in fulfillment of the exhortation made by Your All-Holiness, that we all need “to move beyond what is mine and yours, to what is ours.” This is the goal for us as Orthodox Christians: to move beyond what is mine and yours, to what is ours – and what is ours is Jesus Christ and the communion of the saints.

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking, as our parents and grandparents did, to Jesus Christ, Who gives us life and Who gives us hope.

    Thank you, Your All-Holiness, for your prayers and for your hospitality.

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