Analysis: What Is the Relationship of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

The question that became the title of this article, “what is the relationship of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to the Ecumenical Patriarchate” is raised often at many parishes of the Archdiocese, not necessarily only by those who have negative views about the Patriarchate, but rather out of ignorance. It is no secret that the majority of the congregants in the parishes unfortunately do not have sufficient knowledge, not only about the basics and essentials of the Faith, but also about the basics of the structure and administration of Church.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, our local Church, belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which means that its canonical, spiritual, and ecclesiastical links are to the First-Throne (Πρωτόθρονη) Church of Constantinople, whose Holy Synod, over which His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presides, is the Primary Authority (Πρωτουργός Αρχή) of our Archdiocese of America.

Thus, the Archdiocese of America is an Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, and more specifically, one of the many eparchies of the Throne Abroad, such as the Archdioceses of Australia, Thyatira and Great Britain, Canada, the metropolises of Europe, the Dodecanese, etc. This means that the primary Archbishop of the Archdiocese of America is Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on whose behalf the Archdiocese is formed ecclesiologically and canonically. That is why when the hierarchs Liturgize they commemorate his name in the “first remembrance” of the Divine Eucharist, saying “among the first remember, Lord, our Archbishop and Patriarch Bartholomew; grant him to Your holy churches…” Also, the enthronement of an Archbishop and the metropolitans is done on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the official Patriarchal Letter is read.

But because the Patriarch cannot be simultaneously in the Archdiocese of Constantinople, in the Archdiocese of America, Australia, Canada, in the metropolises, etc., he nominates and proposes to the Synod a ‘representative’. The Synod elects him to act on the Patriarch’s behalf in the Eparchy of the Throne, and he is called the Archbishop of those places. In our case here, due to the geographical breadth, the distances, and the many pastoral needs and requirements, local metropolises have also been established, which are not autonomous, but constitute the one and indivisible Archdiocese of America. The metropolitans and the archbishop form the Eparchial Synod. In other words, there is a form of division of pastoral and administrative responsibilities and at the same time a means of ‘control’, so that nothing is done “by the dictate of the First,” but also nothing is done “by the dictate of the majority without the First.” (Τίποτε να μην γίνεται «δίχα της γνώμης του Πρώτου» και τίποτε «να μην γίνεται δίχα της γνώμης των πλειόνων»).

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivers his homily at the Thyranixia Service of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

I should note here that in the past I had written about the need to change the administrative structure of the Archdiocese and dissolve the ‘Metropolitanate System’ given the way it was working, for either it should have been done right and in a manner that was ecclesiologically correct to begin with, or should have been avoided, foreseeing the collapse of the Archdiocese under Demetrios, which ultimately led the Church to a dual bankruptcy, administrative and financial.

Of course, the hope was that the leadership of the Archdiocese would be undertaken by someone who would study its issues extensively and thoroughly, and would staff it with capable, correct, and balanced people.

The revocation of the 2003 Charter and especially the way it was done was an uncalled-for move and unfortunate decision. It continues to create problems for the Archdiocese, the Patriarchate, as well as Patriarch Bartholomew, who is getting the blame and the dysphoria from everywhere. But those who are well-informed about what has transpired behind the scenes and have knowledge of the developments know well that the Patriarch was nudged and manipulated by Archbishop Elpidophoros to revoke the Charter, to dethrone Metropolitan Evangelos from the Metropolis of New Jersey, and to suspend for three months Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, first in rank in the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of America.

It is unjust that the glorious and successful thirty-year Patriarchy of Patriarch Bartholomew has been cast into a shadow by such decisions which didn’t benefit the Church in America – rather, it was been disturbed by the confusion it has created.

At any rate, on Thursday June 9, 2022 during the meeting of the Synodal Committee of the Eparchies of the Ecumenical Throne Abroad at the Phanar was decided that Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, upon his return from Constantinople, will convene the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which will then send an official request to the Ecumenical Patriarchate asking for the reversal of the revocation of the Charter of 2003.

Specifically, on the one hand, one Patriarchal announcement revoked the Charter, and on the other hand the latest announcement of the Archdiocese stated that it will be in effect until the new Charter is prepared.

As we revealed, the new Charter will be discussed at the 2024 Clergy Laity Congress. These people are not being serious because statutes and persons are being burlesqued. I will simply remind her about the revealing interview of Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago to TNH, which totally exposed Archbishop Elpidophoros from whom the Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew, and the Omogenia were hoping and expecting so much.

It is really of great interest what Article 25 of the Charter says: “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.”

The goal of returning to the ‘Iakovos Era’ of monism and monarchy, about which there is a relevant question in the questionnaire that was distributed regarding the new Charter, raises many questions. Is the present day similar to the time of Iakovos? Are the pastoral, administrative, community structures, and needs identical to those of that time? And yet, many who have knowledge and opinion both from among the multitude of the Church of America and the hierarchs in the Phanar ask: is the current Archbishop another Iakovos in stature?

Our people, including some in key institutional positions, see, think, evaluate, and inquire based the choices made by Archbishop Elpidophoros so far, during his three years on the Archbishopric Throne. What they have seen has left them astounded. They ask, “how he can administer the entire Archdiocese when he can’t make the right choices for the Chancellor’s position, the priests of his Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral, and the St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine?” And they also ask: “should he be set free and left without restraint to do as he pleases, without any dialogue and discussion, with full control over administrative and financial affairs?”

Even if we assume that the Metropolises will be abolished, or no will no longer operate as they do today, so that they will be left without ‘autonomy and surplus value’ (αυτονομία και υπερτιμία), I must ask: what is the administrative structure that will replace them that can be both functional – within the proper Orthodox canonical and ecclesiological framework – and also be a ‘check’ on the Archbishop, that is, that constitutes what the Americans call a system of ‘checks and balances’?

Speaking about the Charter – our Church’s constitution, if you prefer – let us say a few words about it, emphasizing that it is nothing more than a text of practical guidelines, which functions as a document that set terms and limits for the administration of the Archdiocese. Of course, the essential terms and limits of the operation of a local Church are defined by the Gospel and the Holy Tradition of the Church, but we shouldn’t forget that the Charter also has a legal dimension that matters to the civil authorities in New York, where the Archdiocese is officially incorporated, but also in the states where the Metropolises and the parishes are registered and functioning.

And one more thing – in the theological and ecclesiological context, the administration of the Church is a sacrificial extension of the Eucharist. Of course, today these ideas are incomprehensible, and the reality is different, as, unfortunately, the local Church not infrequently turns from a sacred place of love and unity into an arena of attacks and counterattacks, to the point where one wonders “is this thing the Church? Is it truly the Body of Christ?”

Returning to the Charter. As I have already written, it is actually granted by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Synod as the Principal Authority (Πρωτουργός και Χορηγούσα Αρχή), precisely because the Archdiocese is an Ecclesiastical Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, that is, of the Ecumenical Patriarch.



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