OCL Correspondence with Archbishop Elpidophoros Regarding the GOA’s Process of Creating a New Charter (UPDATED)

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Source: Orthodox Christian Laity

UPDATE: Letter #7  – Orthodox Church in western, pluralistic democracies / Conciliarity and balanced co-ministry

(#7) Letter of June 8, 2021

June 8, 2021
Translation of the Relics of Theodore the Commander; Kalliope the Martyr; Melania the Righteous

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence,

Christ is risen! The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) again wishes you good health in these pandemic times as we continue with our suggestions for the new Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOAA) Charter.

The role of the Orthodox Church in pluralistic democracies like the USA and Canada is much different than the role of the Church in societies like Greece, where the Orthodox Church is the dominant religion and the Church and State often support each other. It is also vastly different than the Church in monolithic and non-democratic societies like Russia, where the Church is funded and protected by the State in exchange for keeping the largely Orthodox population placated and the government’s dictatorial and self-serving policies accepted, both domestically and internationally.

The Orthodox Church, like all other religions in western, pluralistic democracies is free from State interference, but it is also without State support. The Church must also be cognizant of religious comparisons, since so many faiths co-exist here.  In our western societies, the people play an important role in civic governance through free and transparent elections, constitutional guarantees, protected individual rights, an independent judiciary, etc. Active, informed participation in every aspect of political, civic, corporate, labor and non-profit activities is the norm in these democracies. These concepts are part of our societal makeup. We intuitively respect others, but we understand that trust is earned and must be mutual. Blind obedience is as foreign to our DNA as it is to Orthodox ecclesiology which expects its adherents to be “reason-endowed” followers of Christ.

It follows that Orthodox laity here must have a significant role in Orthodox Church governance. Adopting a new GOAA Charter is an opportunity for the Church to return to its roots as a conciliar Church.

The diminished role of the laity in our Churches here has contributed to the disenfranchisement and even loss of faith of so many of our brothers and sisters, as well as our children. A new Charter must enable the re-evangelization of those who have left for other faiths and those who now have no religious affiliations.

In summary, our seven Letters on the GOAA Charter topic suggest that significant decisional lay involvement in Church governance must be explicit in our Orthodox Church Charters and Regulations and that Amendment Procedures must be respected.  The concept that financial/ administrative/ legal matters are the responsibility of elected laity must be clearly stated. Transparent elections must be an intrinsic part of our Church processes. Church documents should ensure that commonly understood norms of procedural due process need to be respected and protected in all areas of administration and must preclude unilateral decisions removing elected lay leaders, nullifying elections, ignoring or refusing to enforce its own Regulations without recourse, etc. The Orthodox Church is a conciliar Church and a more balanced co-ministry between Clergy and Laity is essential to its survival here.

We hope that Your Eminence will accept our suggestions in the spirit of love in which they are offered.  The decline in active adherents in the Orthodox Church here over the recent decades is reflected in countless surveys.  A Church that is not growing is in the process of dying. An Orthodox Church structure that respects our tradition of the separation of Church and State and that promotes, rather than limits, the active participation of the laity in Church governance can reverse these losses and can welcome all seekers of the Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy as an indigenous faith whose promise is only limited by the vision of its faithful. We again ask for your prayers in these challenging times.

Yours in Christ,
Argo Georgandis Pyle, President                                   George D. Karcazes, Secretary

cc: GOA Holy Eparchial Synod / [email protected]

CLICK HERE to view the PDF version.


(#6) Letter of May 19, 2021

May 19, 2021
Hieromartyr Patrick, Bishop of Prussia

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence,

Thank you for your positive response to our April 22, 2021 request for participation in the drafting of the new Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). Having our President, Argo Georgandis Pyle and our Secretary, George D. Karcazes as members of the newly-established Advisory Committee will bring OCL’s over 30 years experience as a pan-Orthodox North-American organization to the Committee and hopefully contribute to the process.

Continuing our thoughts on the new Charter, we have previously made the point that the laity’s role in Church governance has eroded drastically over time. For this to be corrected, lay representatives, from the parish and up, should actually be ELECTED, not appointed or designated by the clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), thus making them only nominal lay representatives, doing the clergy’s bidding. Transparent ELECTIONS bring credibility and trust to lay involvement.

Effective, meaningful and decisional lay involvement must be reintroduced at every administrative level of the Church.  Parish Council, Metropolis/Diocesan/Archdiocesan elections must be free and open in order to assure that lay representatives do not merely endorse or acquiesce to Clergy directives.  Investing the Clergy with the power to disqualify or remove elected lay Council members for any, or no reason, makes a mockery of lay participation in Church administration.  The removal of any person (Clergy or Lay) from any position in the Church must only be for “good cause” and only after all norms of procedural due process have been followed.

Financial/administrative/legal matters are primarily the responsibility of elected lay members who report to the faithful at Parish, Metropolis/Diocesan and Archdiocesan Assemblies/Congresses. Using independent auditors and legal advice when needed makes these activities transparent and credible.  By shielding the clergy from matters financial/administrative/legal, for which they are often ill-prepared, they could not be held accountable for mismanagement of same. The clergy could then focus on what they have been trained, i.e., the spiritual well-being of their flock. In all cases, information should be shared so that a conciliar and transparent clergy-laity cooperation is achieved.

When a priest vacancy occurs, the Parish Council should either recommend candidates for hierarchal approval or ask the hierarch to suggest at least 2 potential candidates who then meet the Parish Council in order to gain Parish Council acceptance. Likewise, the clerics will obtain a better understanding of their potential new position and have the right to accept or refuse it. Since a symbiotic relationship must exist between clergy and laity at all levels, unilateral hierarchical assignments are simply not as effective as a collaborative approach to clergy postings. Also, Diocesan/ Archdiocesan Congresses should be comprised of delegations from each parish, the majority being ELECTED lay representatives, and the Parish Priest. These Congresses ELECT the Diocesan/Archdiocesan Councils and have the same laity-clergy ratios.

All Episcopal positions should be locally elected from eligible candidates who have either been born here or who have become naturalized citizens here. After a vetting process by the respective Diocesan/Archdiocesan Council and local Synod, at least 2 candidates should be presented to the respective Congresses for Episcopal ELECTIONS.

Transparent ELECTIONS are a form of “Axios-Anaxios” as originally intended (a question from the Altar seeking an answer from clergy AND laity, and NOT a pronouncement from on high) and should be viewed as an intrinsic part of our Church processes. 

Please know that we appreciate your kind attention, and we ask for your prayers and blessing.

Yours in Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President                           George D. Karcazes, Secretary

cc: GOA Holy Eparchial Synod / [email protected]

CLICK HERE to view the PDF version.


(#5) Letter of April 21, 2021
Followed by Response of Archbishop Elpidophoros on April 22, 2021

April 21, 2021
Holy Hierarch Januarius, bishop of Benevent; Holy Empress Alexandra

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence,

The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) wishes to congratulate you and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s (GOAA) Holy Eparchial Synod for detailing a clear Plan of Action for the development of the new GOAA Charter, as stated in your April 6, 2021 Communiqué of the Holy Eparchial Synod.

The Communiqué states that the new GOAA Charter should “…meet[s]the visions and expectations of the clergy and laity in view of the completion next year of the 100th anniversary…”. It envisions:

  1. “the establishment of a broader Committee, in which all the organizations and bodies of the Church and of the Omogenia will be represented,”
  2. “plus four representatives from each Holy Metropolis chosen by the respective hierarch.”
  3. “Every member of the faithful will be given the opportunity to send their opinions to a designated email address: [email protected]
  4. “The collection and organization of all opinions will be the responsibility of the Administration Committee of the Archdiocesan Council.”
  5. “…after receiving instructions from the Mother Church … the composition of members from the Archdiocese to the Mixed Drafting Committee for the new Charter with the members from the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be announced.”

As you may know, the OCL has supporters and Board members from many GOAA parishes as well as from parishes of every Orthodox jurisdiction across North America. Our 30-plus years as a pan-Orthodox organization gives us a combined knowledge and experience unique in North America. In this context:

  1. The OCL, through its GOAA parishioner leadership, wishes to be part of the broader Committee overseeing the development of the new GOAA Charter.
  2. The OCL will approach various GOAA Metropolitans with suggested GOAA parishioners for inclusion in their respective delegations.
  3. The OCL will ask its GOAA parishioner members/friends to send their thoughts on the new Charter to the designated email address.
  4. The OCL again requests to have OCL members and GOAA parishioners, George Matsoukas (OCL Board member and past Executive Director), George Pontikes (OCL Treasurer) and George D. Karcazes (OCL Secretary and Past-President) added to the Administration Committee of the GOAA (and now, on any of the Committees herein mentioned that are tasked with the new Charter).
  5. The OCL, through its representative members who are GOAA parishioners, including its President, Argo Georgandis Pyle, be considered as members from the Archdiocese to the Mixed Drafting Committee for the new Charter.

We thank you for considering these requests and please accept that we do so out of mutual love for Christ’s Church.  Your Eminence, in the spirit of transparency, would you consider releasing the relevant parts of the reports you made to the Ecumenical Patriarch regarding the need for a new GOAA Charter? This information would help in clergy/laity input to the new Charter. Also, releasing this would show an openness in clergy/laity interactions and be a concrete step towards forging a more meaningful co-ministry, so necessary in the GOAA and all Orthodox jurisdictions here.

Again, we thank you for considering our requests and ask for your prayers in these trying times.Yours in Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President                          George D. Karcazes, Secretary

cc: GOA Holy Eparchial Synod / [email protected]

CLICK HERE to view the PDF version.


Response of Archbishop Elpidophoros on April 22, 2021

CLICK HERE to view the PDF version.

April 22, 2021

Mrs. Argo Georgandis Pyle, President Mr. George D. Karcazes, Secretary Orthodox Christian Laity
P.O. Box 6954
West Palm Beach, FL 33405-6954

Dear Mrs. Georgandis, Dear Mr. Karcazes,

I greet you warmly in the grace and peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In response to your letter dated April 21, 2021, and taking into consideration your concerns and requests, kindly k.now that Mr. George Karcazes has already been placed on the newly-established Advisory Committee for the Charter by virtue of his selection as a representative of the Holy Metropolis of Chicago. Nevertheless, with this present letter, I am pleased to appoint Mrs. Argo Georgandis Pyle as my personal addition and appointee to the aforementioned advisory committee – effective immediately.

Thanking you for your earnest desire to assist in this significant undertaking for the continued wellbeing and spiritual welfare of our Sacred Archdiocese and its Christ-loving plenitude, I extend to you and all the esteemed members of OCL my archpastoral blessings and wholehearted prayers for a blessed Pascha, and wish you good health and strength in the sacred and solemn days ahead leading up to our Lord’s Holy Resurrection.

With paternal love in Christ,

+ ELPIDOPHOROS
Archbishop of America


(#4) Letter of April 12, 2021

April 12, 2021
Holy Hierarch Basil the Confessor, Bishop of Parium

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence,

OCL’s continued input on Church concerns is expressed in good faith to improve and strengthen clergy-laity operational interactions for church advancement. Our February 16 letter mentioned how unilateral decisions made by senior clergy in areas where prevailing Archdiocesan Charters required lay input invalidate, at least morally if not legally, the decisions taken. This type of action leads to mistrust and is a source of discord in the Church which requires a balanced and collaborative co-ministry between clergy and laity.

We reviewed the Charters and Regulations of various Orthodox Churches and the common theme is that each Holy Synod of Bishops is the supreme canonical authority in their respective Church, responsible for all matters spiritual, doctrinal, canonical, sacramental and hierarchical. Equally, the Church’s Clergy-Laity Congress (or equivalent) is the highest administrative and legislative authority in their respective Church. It establishes operating budgets, manages assets, maintains financial controls and is responsible for all legal matters.  The Executive Committee implements the decisions of the Church’s Clergy-Laity Congress.  It cooperates fully with the Holy Synod for the good-functioning of the Church.

The Patriarch/Metropolitan/Archbishop of their respective Church is always head of the Holy Synod and most often the presiding officer of the Church’s Clergy-Laity Congress and its Executive Committee. However, as a means of re-establishing the historic decisional role of the laity in the Church, it might be advisable to have a layperson elected as a co-presiding officer to cover administrative/ legal agenda items and a priest elected as a co-presiding officer to cover canonical/spiritual agenda items. The Executive Committee should also be elected at this official Clergy-Laity Congress.

With the head bishop remaining as the titular head of the Executive Committee, a lay co-President could cover administrative/legal agenda items of that committee and a priest co-President could cover canonical/spiritual agenda items. Similarly, the Chancery could have a lay co-Chancellor and staff responsible for administrative/ legal issues, while a priest co-Chancellor and staff would be responsible for canonical/ spiritual issues.  The Chancery staff could then report to their respective Executive Committee Co-Presidents, cooperate fully with the head bishop and Holy Synod, and be employees hired by the Executive Committee.

These structural, administrative suggestions are based on appreciating the qualifications and potential contribution of both clergy and laity in Church governance. The clergy is prepared for its canonical/spiritual functions by attending seminary and lay people are trained in diverse professions including administration, finance and legal issues. It would be unreasonable to ask clergy to fill and/or be responsible for roles they are not prepared to handle, much as it would be unconscionable to ask an accountant or lawyer to serve as a priest without required training and preparation. By dividing tasks according to experience and educational preparedness, the Church would function more cohesively. Each one’s roles would be clearly understood and we would have competent individuals capitalizing on the strengths of both clergy and laity. In this way, a more balanced and transparent co-ministry between clergy and laity would be achieved.

Again, we thank you for your kind attention and ask for your blessing.

Yours in Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President                           George D. Karcazes, Secretary

cc: GOA Holy Eparchial Synod / [email protected]

CLICK HERE to read the PDF version


 

(#3) Letter of March 8, 2021

March 8, 2021
Ven. Hierarch Theophylactus the Confessor, bishop of Nicomedia

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence:

Thank you for your letter of February 4, 2021, to which we responded on February 16, 2021. In the meantime, our Board has continued to discuss how Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) can be most helpful in the drafting of the new Charter. As you may already know, OCL has supporters and board members from parishes in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese as well as from parishes of every other Orthodox jurisdiction across North America.  This combined knowledge and experience is at your disposal.

We are most grateful, and specifically thank you for forwarding our thoughts and ideas concerning the proposed new Charter to the Administration Committee of the Archdiocesan Council. We note from the current Yearbook of the Archdiocese that although the chairman of the committee is identified, the other members of the committee are not. In the interests of continuing our dialogue relating to the subject of the Charter, we respectfully make the following requests:

  1. That the following three individuals: George Matsoukas, George Pontikes and George D. Karcazes be added to the Administration Committee as “Ex Officio” members (i.e., with a voice, but not a vote). All three are active members of their local Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Parishes; all have served for many years on the Parish Councils of their respective parishes; and all three have served as delegates to numerous Clergy-Laity Congresses as delegates of their Parishes.
  2. That the names of the current members of the Administration Committee, the procedure and timeline that has been established for the development of the Charter to replace the “suspended” Charter of the Archdiocese be provided, including any preliminary draft.

Thank you for your prayers and for your consideration of these requests made in furtherance of our mutual love for our Church and for transparency and accountability in all matters relating to its administration.

Yours in Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President         George D. Karcazes, Secretary

CLICK HERE to read the PDF Version


(#2) Letter of February 16, 2021

February 16, 2021
Martyrs Pamphilius & Valens; Holy Hierarch Flavian, archbishop of Constantinople

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
10 East 79th Street

New York, NY 10021

Your Eminence:

Thank you for your response to our February 2, 2021, letter regarding a proposed new Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

In our letter of February 2, we made the point that: “the role of the laity in our Church has diminished, and this should be corrected so that Church governance regains a more balanced co-ministry between clergy and laity”.

The diminution of the role of the laity in Church governance over the years is a recurring theme heard from OCL leaders, supporters and others. It is documented by Paul Manolis in “The History of the Greek Church in America: In Acts and Documents,” published in 2003, as well as by other authors. The definitive document on this topic might very well be Dr. James Counelis’ 1982 article, “Historical Reflections on the Constitutions of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America 1922-1982,” comparing the various Charters (1922, 1927, 1931 and 1979). Counelis clearly demonstrates how the laity’s role has eroded drastically over time from substantive to advisory to pro forma.

Two glaring examples of the marginalization of lay participation in the governance of the Archdiocese are the unilateral decisions involving the Charters of 1979 and 2003 made in violation of the Amendment Procedures set forth in those Charters.

Article XXIV of the 1979 Charter states:

“The Charter herein may be revised upon request of the Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress as the need therefore arises. Revisions thereto shall be submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for approval and ratification.”

Article 25 of the 2003 Charter states:

“The present Charter regulating the affairs of the Holy Archdiocese of America as an ecclesiastical institution, may be amended in its entirety or in part after a proposal of the Holy Eparchial Synod submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate following the appropriate procedure in the Archdiocesan Council and the Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress, and after the approval of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to which the proposal has been submitted.”

No Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress requested that the 1979 Charter be revised.  All Amendments to the Charter proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate raised by the Archdiocesan Council and voted upon by the Clergy-Laity Congress were ignored by the Patriarchate.  Likewise, to our knowledge, the Holy Eparchial Synod did not submit a request to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for any revision (much less a suspension) of the 2003 Charter.

The changes unilaterally imposed are in contravention of the Amendment Procedures detailed above. Does this not invalidate these Charter changes/suspensions, on a moral, if not on a legal basis? Remarkably, we have discerned no lay participation in these changes. Depriving the laity of its historic and Orthodox role in Church Governance alienates the faithful and divides the Body of Christ.  Any new Charter must not only include wording on Amendment Procedures that require lay input, but must also forbid and control for any contravention to them. Any further overhanded disregard for the Charter may result in the new document having no meaning whatsoever.

Please accept these ideas on the new Charter in our shared belief that a full and open collaboration between clergy and laity is the cornerstone of our Orthodox Christian faith.

In Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President         George D. Karcazes, Secretary

CLICK HERE to read the PDF version.


CLICK HERE to view OCL’s Initial Exchange of Letters with His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros

Following the initial exchange of letters, below is the continuing correspondence regarding the new Charter for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese:

(#1) Letter of February 2, 2021

February 2, 2021
Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

His Eminence, Archbishop ELPIDOPHOROS
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
8 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075-0192

Your Eminence:

The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) thanks you for your recent messages and we pray for your good health in these pandemic times.

We also appreciate the opportunity to share some of our ideas with you regarding the proposed new Charter for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Having heard from many of our leaders, supporters and others on this issue, a common thread ties them together: the role of the laity in our Church has diminished, and this should be corrected so that Church governance regains a more balanced co-ministry between clergy and laity.
Comparing the role of the laity in the original Charter of 1922 with the succeeding Charters of 1927, 1931, 1977 and 2003, we see a steady and disturbing erosion of the laity’s role in Church governance.

The laity are co-responsible in Christ’s Church, along with the clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), no more, no less. Their role has diminished drastically over time from substantive, to advisory, to pro forma. This should not be the case in the Orthodox Church.

The new Charter for the Archdiocese should restore the historic role of the laity in the governance of the Church. The Charter and following Regulations should explicitly state the role of the laity in all administrative and financial matters, including independent and transparent auditing, while respecting the spiritual, hierarchical and conciliar nature of the Church.

The interdependency of clergy and laity should be at the core of the new Charter. The laity’s roles and responsibilities in administrative/ financial matters and in clergy nominations/elections should be clearly defined. Likewise, the spiritual and hierarchical roles and responsibilities of the clergy should be clearly set forth. Both should be scrupulously adhered to. The collaboration of clergy and laity should permeate the entire Charter.

We thank you for your attention and ask that you pray for OCL supporters, Orthodox Christians and all those suffering the ravages of the ongoing worldwide pandemic.

In Christ,

Argo Georgandis Pyle, President
George D. Karcazes, Secretary

CLICK HERE to read the PDF version.


LETTER FROM ARCHBISHOP ELPIDOPHOROS

February 4, 2021

Mrs. Argo Georgandis Pyle, President Mr. George D. Karcazes, Secretary Orthodox Christian Laity
P.O. Box 6954
West Palm Beach, FL 33405-6954

‘Dear Mrs. Georgandis, Dear Mr. Karcazes,

I greet you warmly in the grace and peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Having received your letter dated February 2, 2021, I would like.e to thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with me. Kindly know that I appreciate your time and effort in compiling your recommendations, and have shared them with the Administration Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, whose membership, as you k.now, mostly consists of lay individuals.

Thanking you once again for your input, I extend to you and all the members of OCL my archpastoral blessings and prayers, and remain

With paternal love in Christ,

+ ELPIDOPHOROS
Archbishop of America

CLICK HERE to read the PDF Version

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18 Comments

  1. I question whether the Greek Archdiocese is genuinely interested in input for the Charter. If they were serious, they would provide some more details and direction, such as: the reasons for creating a new charter at this time; working timelines/deadlines; a survey inviting responses on proposed provisions that differ from the current charter; some specific topics that are open to discussion. Otherwise, the process has the appearance of a sham.

  2. If the past informs how the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its minions at the Archdiocese approach the changing of Charters, it is fair to suspect that the Patriarchate has already prepared the Charter it wants to impose on its colony in the US. The hoopla about input is just window dressing.

    Having opened the door for “input,” the question is: how many laity in the Greek Archdiocese are informed and care enough about restoring the proper role of the faithful in the governance of the Archdiocese?

    The Patriarchate and Archbishop are relying on the passivity of their American colonials. If the laity remain passive in this process, the decline in the Archdiocese since the removal of the late Archbishop Iakovos by the Patriarchate in Turkey will accelerate.

  3. You know the phrase, “No taxation without representation!” Well, these “OVERSEAS” bishops learned that they will give Americans TOKEN say of how they will run their own churches with their own American bishops, but in reality, it’s all a facade. The American Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, etc. are still looked at as “CASH COWS.” These overseas bishops wish to extract as much money as they can without POing everyone. The Canons are clear; no bishop or Patriarch can have a diocese outside their own territory. America IS NOT the territory of Constantinople, Moscow, Damascus, etc. America is a territory unto itself and therefore, MUST have its own INDEPENDENT (autocephalous) Church. We do in the OCA. ALL Orthodox need to become part of the OCA and dump foreign bishops who come here only to COLLECT more money!

    • Anthony Weir on

      I agree with the writer wholeheartedly! I have not been treated very well by the Metropolis of Boston. I and others feel it is a Dictatorship! There was even a Petition to depose the two at the top. I signed it. This is perhaps why I haven’t been ordained a Deacon. I completed the Diaconate Program at Holy Cross in 2012! I no longer wish to be a Deacon. Thanks.

  4. The OCA’s “Autocephaly” is not universally recognized by all the Orthodox Churches. Nevertheless its Bishops have been permitted to participate in the Assembly of Bishops which was authorized by all of the “Mother” Churches more than a decade ago.

    What progress have the OCA bishops made in convincing their brother bishops to become a part of the OCA? Have they even tried? Has the OCA, which was granted its “Autocephaly” by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1979 been able to convince Moscow to bring parishes it still has in the territory of the US and ROCOR to become a part of the OCA? Why not?

    If the OCA cannot even get its own former Mother Church to let go of Parishes it has in the same territory as the OCA how would the Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, etc., agree to become a part of the OCA?

    The answer to the canonical mess of Orthodoxy in the US lies in the hands of the faithful who still attend and support their parishes. They need to know that there is an Assembly of Bishops which was charged with coming up with a plan to bring the jurisdictions together into a single, canonical Church in the territory of the US. They haven’t acted because the faithful have not demanded that they act. The answer will not come from Istanbul, Belgrade, Budapest, Bucharest, Moscow or Damascus. The Assembly will act only when the faithful in the US demand that they act.

    If that doesn’t happen.. and soon.. the remnants of the Orthodox Church that our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents established the US will quietly pass from the scene.

  5. Cato: The OCA is “DE FACTO” recognized by ALL Orthodox Churches worldwide. All the OCA clergy & bishops concelebrate with ALL Orthodox bishops & clergy worldwide. The Bishop of Istanbul decided NOT to “FORMALLY” recognize the OCA’s autocephaly out of jealousy. + Bart has taken the position that only “HE” can offer autocephaly which is TOTALLY WRONG. The OCA was granted autocephaly by its mother church of Moscow. So, all the Russian affiliated churches recognize the OCA’s autocephaly unconditionally while + Bart and his affiliates “FORMALLY” do not. It is silly, stupid & non-canonical and why? Because + Bart wants ONLY HIMSELF to offer and have ANY autocephalous church blessed by him. He knows that under Orthodox Canon Law, when an autocephalous Orthodox Church exists in a territory, ALL Orthodox Churches are required to join it. In fact, Canon Law dictates that foreign bishops (patriarchs) CANNOT have dioceses outside of their own territory. America is not the territory of Istanbul, Moscow, Damascus or any other foreign country & bishop. According to this, only the OCA is canonical. Understand this, the Rus proclaimed themselves autocephalous when Constantinople fell into heresy by signing with Rome at the Council of Florence. It took Constantinople over 200 years to recognize the autocephaly of the Rus and only after they paid Constantinople huge amounts of gold & jewels. The OCA will pay + Bart NOTHING. Even consider this, recently, the Ukrainians wanted to completely separate from Moscow and “stick their thumb” in Moscow’s eye, gained recognition of their autocephaly from + Bart, BUT only when Ukrainian oligarchs paid a huge amount of money to him. + Bart IS NOT an Orthodox Pope and he does not wield power & authority over all Orthodox.

    Now, + Bart will be coming to the U.S. to bless the opening of the Greek’s new edifice at the World Trade Center this Fall. Why isn’t this church an American Orthodox Shrine for ALL Americans? The original St. Nicholas church down there was a small chapel. This is nothing but Greek HUBRIS not Orthodoxy!

    • Theophilus on

      Nikolai,

      I agree! The St. Nicholas Shrine at the World Trade Center should have been a pan-Orthodox American Orthodox project.

      The OCA, as the only Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the territory of North America should have taken the lead in restoring “the only House of Worship destroyed by the terrorists on September 11, 2001”.

      Why didn’t the OCA rally SCOBA and the leaders of the Antiochian, Serbian, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian jurisdictions on its North American territory to participate in this National effort?

      Even if Greek HUBRIS had rejected the offer and turned down OCA’s attempt to enlist all Orthodox faithful in North America to support this effort, everyone would know that the OCA was serious about its de facto Autocephaly and wasn’t just waiting for “everyone to just join the OCA”.

      It is likely that the recently retired Vicar and de facto decision-maker of the Greek Archdiocese, who probably authorized all the cost-overruns and other missteps that plagued this project for two decades would have turned down the OCA’s offer.

      But what a missed opportunity! OCA needs to walk the walk in addition to just talking the talk. As the only American Orthodox Church in North America, its advocates need to be more than just anti-Greek or just Kyrill and Putin apologists.

      • Theophilus:

        What you must understand about this is that the original St. Nicholas was a very small chapel. The 9-11 Commission said that it would replace the chapel. Somewhere along the way, this small chapel became a giant cathedral type edifice. The GOA was not about to give up any claim to St. Nick’s. In fact, it was probably designed that way so only certain people could oversee the money raised for the project. And, embezzlement was the game. Now, after emergency funds have been raised, + Bart will be coming in the Fall to consecrate the church and proclaim how great Hellenism is.

  6. Cato: You are INCORRECT! “DE FACTO” the OCA’s autocephaly is FULLY recognized by ALL Orthodox Churches worldwide. The OCA bishops and priests have served with ALL Patriarchs. Istanbul refused to “FORMALLY” recognize the OCA’s autocephaly since + Bart did not approve it first. NOWHERE in Canon Law does it say that only the Bishop of Constantinople (Istanbul) has this right. The OCA, originally the Metropolia, the Russian mission to America and First Orthodox Church established on American soil, was logically given its autocephaly by its Mother Church since it achieved maturity in 1970. Understand, the Rus declared themselves autocephalous when Constantinople fell into heresy at the Council of Florence, 1431. It took Constantinople 200+ years to recognize the autocephaly of the Russian Church and only after receiving much gold & jewels. The OCA will pay + Bart NOTHING as the Ukrainians did. The current Assembly of Bishops is nothing more than a “Bishop’s Tea Party” with no real substance; unlike SCOBA which accomplished something. Both + Iakavos & + Philip are gone. They worked together. HOWEVER, they reneged on their promise to join the OCA setting Orthodoxy backward and stagnant in America.

    • Nikolai,

      Nice play on words. Is de facto the same as de jure? While Moscow and Istanbul fight over titles and territory Orthodoxy in North America is divided and shrinking.

      Why is Moscow (and ROCOR) keeping parishes on US soil after having granted the OCA its “Autocephaly” fifty years ago? Did the Tomos from Moscow hold back a few Parishes? Why? Was the Tomos sort of.. partial? If, as you say, America is not the territory of Moscow why does the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR have parishes in America?

      Moscow is challenging Constantinople’s primacy (of Honor). Constantinople pushes back by claiming that it is “the first WITHOUT equal.. instead of being content with its historical position as the first AMONG equals”?

      So, Moscow has “Moscow affiliated” Churches? Like those that joined Moscow’s last minute boycott of the Holy and Great Council? Why does the Romanian Patriarchate have parishes in North America when most Romanian American parishes are under the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA? Why don’t Antioch, Belgrade, and the other foreign Patriarchates with parishes in North America instruct their bishops in the Assembly of Bishops to agree to join together as a united American Orthodox Church?

      If the OCA is autocephalous why doesn’t it issue a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Greek Archdiocese and the other Orthodox “jurisdictions” in its territory in North America? Is the OCA willing to accept parishes, including their bishops, clergy and properties and defend any litigation that may be brought against it and them by these foreign Patriarchates in US Courts?

  7. Well, there is so much to unpack here. First, SCOBA had decided from its beginning that all the bishops would work toward an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America and ALL would join it. In 1970 when this became a reality thanks to Fr. Alexander Schmemann who was the advisor to SCOBA. The Romanians joined the OCA, the Bulgarians, the Albanians and others. However, the Antiochians under Met. Philip and the Greeks under Archbp Iakavos reneged. Also, the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR had very few parishes in the U.S. and they were allowed to remain as they were. You see, the ONLY future for Orthodoxy in America is to join in ONE autocephalous church without any foreign bishop intervention- as Canon Law requires. There cannot be more than one autocephalous church in a territory. What was supposed to become a reality in 1970 is still pending due to ethnic stubbornness.

  8. Let’s clear something up! When SCOBA was established in 1961 by all the American Canonical Orthodox Bishops, it was an “ORGANIC” organization. Formed as a clearinghouse among the bishops, sharing information and working together on issues i.e., Orthodox Christian Education. An organization that was forward-looking to a unified Orthodox Church in America as the early minutes of the organization indicated. In 1994, SCOBA held the Ligonier Conference to kick-start a real effort in unifying all the Orthodox. Arbp Iakovos and Met. Philip led this endeavor and it was a very productive meeting. HOWEVER, one bishop in particular, the Ukrainian bishop, complained to Istanbul that Arbp Iakovos was about to separate the GOA from Istanbul. IMMEDIATELY, Arbp Iakovos was retired, all the Greek bishops were required to report directly to Istanbul and + Spyridon was appointed by Istanbul to take his place. One of the very first decisions + Spyridon made was to refuse to be in SCOBA. He stated, Istanbul required, that a NEW bishops organization be formed according to the dyptychs. Every year the bishops of SCOBA elected who would lead it along with a Secretary. This NEW format placed the GOA bishop as head, then the Antiochian bishop, then the Russian while COMPLETELY IGNORING the OCA bishop. SCOBA was never meant to be organized in this manner. This NEW Episcopal Assembly put Istanbul in COMPLETE control of ALL the American bishops and their discussions. What was an organization by and for all the American Bishops became an organization controlled by OVERSEAS BISHOPS. How sad setting the prospect of REAL UNITY and AUTOCEPHALY back 50+ years!

    What should happen? ALL the bishops in the Assembly should stand up and have COURAGE. Announce to their FOREIGN OVERLORDS that they are joining the OCA as Orthodox Canon Law dictates taking all of their parishes with them. Foreign bishops have NO authority outside their immediate diocese; including Istanbul, Damascus, Moscow, etc.

  9. Nikolai,

    A minor correction: SCOBA did NOT include “all the canonical Orthodox Bishops” in the US. It was a “Conference”.. not a Synod, nor an Assembly. It consisted only of the heads of several jurisdictions.

    +Spyridon did not refuse to be in SCOBA, he objected to having to be “elected”. Prior to +Spyridon, +Iakovos was automatically chosen without opposition every year. +Spyridon thought the same courtesy should be extended to him. That was only one of many mistakes +Spyridon made. He apparently didn’t understand that he not only couldn’t fill +Iakovos’s shoes, those shoes were gone. In addition to losing Canada, Central and South America, and both the Atlantic & Pacific oceans.. his territory in the US had been reduced to New York and D.C. He had become an Archbishop of an Archdiocese that had no “Dioceses”. Those Dioceses having been replaced by Metropolises with Metropolitans reporting to, and commemorating the Ecumenical Patriarch instead of the Archbishop.

    I agree that the all of the Bishops in the Assembly should have the courage to declare themselves to be a Synod, elect their own presiding Hierarch and declare that they are a single, Autocephalous American Orthodox Church. They have been meeting for more than a decade. Have you seen any signs of that kind of courage on the part of any of them yet? Your only solution is for everyone to join the OCA.

    If neither ROCOR nor Moscow show any willingness to “join the OCA” why would anyone else?.

    Clearly “joining the OCA” is not the answer.

    The answer can only come from the Assembly of Bishops. Perhaps it is too much to expect them all to stand up courageously at the beginning. What if only half of them were to stand up? What if all of the OCA Bishops and some of the Antiochian and some of the GOA bishops and a few others declared themselves to be a Synod and elected their own presiding Hierarch announcing the establishment of a new, united Autocephalous Church in North America?

    What do you suppose the reaction of the foreign Synods that elected them would be?

  10. Cato:
    SCOBA did consist of ALL the canonical bishops of North America. The canonicity of ROCOR was questioned yet, they were invited to attend, but rarely did. + Iakovos wasn’t automatically elected to lead SCOBA. Other bishops also served as President of SCOBA – I’ve seen the minutes. Further, + Spyridon DID REFUSE to attend SCOBA after + Iakovos. The Assembly of current bishops IS NOT what SCOBA was meant to be. Again, the current form of the Assembly according to the Diptychs with hierarchy only puts FOREIGN BISHOPS in control of the American Church; exactly what SCOBA didn’t want. The focus of SCOBA was to work toward a UNIFIED, AUTOCEPHALOUS Orthodox Church in America which was provided in 1970 via the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The current Assembly only works to keep the American Orthodox Churches DIVIDED. Exactly what Istanbul wants. Istanbul will only accept a unified American Orthodox Church under itself – contrary to Orthodox Canon Law. Foreign bishops have NO authority outside their own immediate territory. This includes Istanbul, Damascus, Moscow or any other foreign bishop (patriarch).

  11. George D. Karcazes on

    Nikolai,
    I just saw this exchange.

    I do not always agree with Mark Arey [when he was a GOA priest he described himself as an “Ecclesiastical Bureaucrat”] but he knows a lot about the inside workings of the GOA and other jurisdictions, and he was involved with SCOBA. He posted an article on Public Orthodoxy, which was then posted on this OCL site; I believe the title was “The Golden Age of Ligonier…” (https://ocl.org/golden-age-ligonier-myths-orthodox-unity-america/).

    In it, he confirms that ALL of the canonical bishops in the US were NOT members of SCOBA. Look it up. I think you’ll agree he’s right.

  12. George:
    ALL the canonical bishops WERE members of SCOBA. ROCOR’s canonicity was questionable and weren’t full members, but invited to attend. Same with the Ukrainians. Look George, I was very close to the situation and what took place along with the players.

  13. In 1961 when SCOBA was created, the “Big 3” pushed its agenda forward and were united in this effort. The heads of the Metropolia, the GOA and Antiochians. The Romanians attended, the Bulgarians, the Serbs were observers along with others. The main focus of SCOBA, outlined in the minutes of the earliest meetings, was to work together on issues concerning all i.e., Christian education (the OCEC was created), to be a clearing house regarding all Orthodox in America and speaking in one voice and to work on creating an ORTHODOX AUTOCEPHALOUS CHURCH IN AMERICA that all parties would join. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was asked to join SCOBA as its canonical advisor. In 1970, Fr. Alexander was able to have the MP grant autocephaly to the oldest Orthodox Church in America and its daughter church, the Metropolia. The SCOBA minutes declared that the name of this new, canonical church would be The Orthodox Church in America (OCA). + Iakavos & + Philip reneged in joining the OCA immediately while the Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians and others did. Interestingly enough, + Bartholomew & Istanbul theologians put up a forceful attack against the OCA calling it non-canonical and stating that ONLY Istanbul could grant autocephaly. Fast forward to Ligonier, + Philip and + Iakavos wanted to make a push toward autocephaly. Immediately + Iakavos was retired by Istanbul and his replacement refused to join SCOBA forcing the Assembly of Bishops to be established with FOREIGN BISHOP CONTROL. Basically, destroying any attempts by the GOA going toward autocephaly. The Antiochians retreated into their ethnic ghetto mentality with no real vision for the American Church. (To learn more, see if you can obtain the minutes of SCOBA by Fr, Paul Schneirla. Either at SVOTS, his own private library or ???)

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