BOSTON – Archbishop Elpidophoros of America launched a counter attack on the Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops of the United States with a letter dated June 29, 2022. Elpidophoros responded to the Assembly’s letter of June 27, 2022 regarding the election to episcopacy of Archimandrite Alexander Belya, Archiepiscopal Vicar of the Slavic Orthodox Vicariate, an action which has jeopardized the unity of Orthodoxy in America.
The Assembly’s letter was revealed on June 27, 2022 by the Greek and English electronic editions of the National Herald.
The bishops essentially notified Archbishop Elpidophoros that their communion may be interrupted, as in their letter they stated: “There are those of us who have explained to you that we find it impossible to concelebrate with him and the vicariate. Naturally, then, we cannot continue participating in the Assembly itself if this man is elevated to the episcopacy and thereby becomes an Assembly member. With great sorrow, we must question our ability to continue our in-person meetings and precious concelebrations.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros in his letter to Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Christian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Vice Chairman of the Assembly of Bishops states among other things that “as you may recall, I had announced the recent election of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as his upcoming ordination during our last executive committee meeting of the Assembly on June 16, 2022, and no one said anything or expressed any concerns nor opposition at the time.”
The entire letter of Archbishop Elpidophoros to the Assembly of Bishops follows:
June 29, 2022
His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
358 Mountain Road,
P.O. Box 5238
Englewood NJ 07631-5238
I greet you warmly with a salutation of peace and love in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is with great sadness and some surprise that I received your letter dated June 27, 2022. As you may recall, I had announced the recent election of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as his upcoming ordination, during our last executive committee meeting of the Assembly on June 16, 2022, and no one said anything or expressed any concerns nor opposition at the time.
The Assembly of Bishops is a unique place where Orthodox unity is fostered. In the 2020 Vision document, we all insisted that: “We commit ourselves to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) by adhering to the principles of canonical order, of liturgical concelebration, and pastoral cooperation on every level of our Church life.” However, our work towards unity is contingent on our ability to preserve our independence, as our bylaws suggest: “The decisions of the Assembly shall not interfere with the responsibility of each Bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction, or restrict the rights of his Church…” (Bylaws, section 1.5) The same prescription was also repeated in the decision of the Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) on ‘The Orthodox Diaspora.’ Thus, the decisions by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to allow the creation of a Slavic Orthodox Vicariate in America and to elect His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis adhere to the same rule that applies to other Orthodox Churches in the country with vicariates or ethnic dioceses. In light of the above, even the use of the Assembly’s stationery for your correspondence could be considered inappropriate and in contradiction with the mission of the Assembly.
Dear Brother, I have always been completely transparent with you and all our brother hierarchs with regard to the incardination and recent election of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis. I have heard your concerns, however, having received all the necessary documentation, including a valid release letter from the late Metropolitan Hilarion, and in absence of tangible proof of misconduct, based on our very thorough diligence process – and not on rumors – his canonical incardination was processed.
Furthermore, I have never received any correspondence from our beloved brother the late Metropolitan Hilarion, of blessed memory, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) regarding issues with the then V. Rev. Archimandrite Alexander Belya. In comparable circumstances, I have always preferred direct contact and an open line of communication, just as we have had many opportunities to work collaboratively in the past. On the contrary, the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR have decided to withdraw from their participation in the work and life of the Assembly of Bishops over the jurisdictional situation in Ukraine. I had hoped that the current war and unjust aggression by the Russian Federation in Ukraine would have created a sense of solidarity and justice among us and recommitted us all to Orthodox unity in America. Regrettably, we witnessed the opposite effect, so that many of our brothers were unable to condemn the cruelty of this unjust and illegal war, and even worse, sought to silence the Assembly from speaking out against these horrific and unchristian actions.
Your Eminence, Orthodox unity is vital a priority of my ministry in this country and the Assembly is the essential vehicle for such unity. The many accomplishments over the last past years, the spirit of fraternal synergy and the collaboration that brought us together during the time of the pandemic, and the various missions through the agencies and organizations that rely on the Assembly for auspices should be our focus. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Assembly continues its work, and it is my fervent prayer that you will sustain your commitment to this mission inasmuch as our witness in America is so dearly needed.
Praying that the Lord of mercy and compassion will inspire us to walk together on the way towards deeper communion, with unity being our ultimate witness to Christ’s sacrificial love, I remain,
With fraternal love in Christ,
ELPIDOPHOROS Archbishop of America