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Church

Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops of America Replies to Archbishop Elpidophoros

BOSTON – The Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops of America sent the following reply to Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. In their letter, they insist they will interrupt Eucharistic Communion with him and the Archdiocese if he proceeds with the ordination of Archimandrite Alexander Belya to the episcopacy.

The full letter of the Assembly follows:

“His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

10 East 79th Street

New York, NY 10075

Your Eminence, Beloved Brother in Christ,

Greetings in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

We have received your individual letters to us in response to our common request for reconsideration of the planned consecration of Alexander Belya. We delayed answering you because we did not want to detract from the joy felt by all Orthodox Christians in this land at the consecration of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and Shrine at the World Trade Center and the celebration of the Greek Archdiocese’s centenary during your recent Clergy-Laity Congress. We pray, despite this difficult situation we face, that those occasions were full of blessings for you and all the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of your Archdiocese.

Since you have often expressed concern that our Orthodox witness is hampered by acting as a confederation of churches rather than one Body of Christ, we were disappointed that you replied to us not as a unifying Chairman to the Assembly partners but merely as the head of one jurisdiction to the individual presiding hierarchs of other jurisdictions. This disappointment is compounded by Your Eminence’s choice to disregard the impact this proposed episcopal consecration will have on all of us, not just the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Beloved Brother in Christ, our letter acknowledged the right of your Mother Church to elect Alexander Belya but, at the same time, lovingly asked you to reconsider this decision in light of the consequences for Orthodox unity. Curiously your letters to us merely restated this right (which we have never disputed) while completely ignoring our concerns.

In the words of the holy Apostle Paul, ‘All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but the other’s wellbeing’ (1 Corinthians 10:23- 24).

Our letter asked Your Eminence to remember, as Chairman of the Assembly, that your actions impact all our jurisdictions. Surprisingly, your letters in response reprimanded us for our choice of letterhead. Yet it is precisely because we wish to maintain our unity in the Assembly that we are expressing our concerns in this way. As a majority of the Executive Committee, we are addressing our Chairman in order to prevent harm to the Assembly. This is a matter of vital importance to this body, and it should indeed be addressed in this way – corporately and in an official context– regardless of nitpicks over procedure.

Our previous letter expressed concern that creating even more nationalistic ecclesial bodies would further confuse the faithful and muddy our canonical situation in this land. Your response to us, in turn, made a passing reference to preexisting ethnic jurisdictions that joined the OCA during the chaotic era of the Cold War (not dissimilar to the ethnic Albanian, Carpatho-Russian, and Ukrainian jurisdictions in America that exist within your own Patriarchate). Your justification for creating your own new ethnic vicariates – if the OCA has something similar, why can’t we? – is not pastorally sound logic and ignores the historical context that gave rise to those realities.

Likewise, establishing a vicariate within an existing ethnic jurisdiction with the sole intent of poaching dissatisfied people of another canonical jurisdiction is unprecedented and could prove to be destructive and undermine our stated goal of unity. In this particular case, the so-called Slavic Vicariate is actively soliciting churches and clergymen from other canonical jurisdictions to join it (see their webpage, www.slavonic.org/en/ requirements).

This is uncanonical and, frankly, offensive to all of us. Needless to say, Your Eminence would not appreciate one of our jurisdictions creating a Greek or Cypriot vicariate in order to take advantage of discord among members of your own community. We are painfully aware of your very recent attempt to procure a blessing from your Patriarchate to create a Moldovan/ Romanian vicariate under your Archdiocese, based in Chicago, despite the existence of two Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions in America. We are grateful to the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for its wisdom in declining to bless your proposal.

Our letter asked Your Eminence to reconsider a decision that would further complicate the return of our Russian brothers to the Assembly. Instead of addressing this concern, your letters deflected and changed the subject to whether or not individual jurisdictions have condemned the invasion of Ukraine strongly enough. Let us, however, focus on the matter at hand.

Our letter charitably refrained from detailing our concerns about Alexander Belya. Your replies seem to discard all of our concerns as mere hearsay, so we are compelled to specify the two most glaring examples, putting aside some of the more personal ones. First, you received Belya in October 2019, after he was canonically suspended by his competent church authority on September 3, 2019. Any prior ‘general’ letter of release (which itself is not canonically normative) purportedly signed by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, our brother of blessed memory, would thus mean little to nothing from a canonical perspective, even if it were authentic. The fact of Belya’s suspension is beyond dispute, and (to our knowledge) he has not even appealed the canonical judgment as provided in the canons. You often point out that, while the Russian Church broke communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not reciprocated this action and thus remains in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church. If this is so, how do you explain receiving a clergyman from a Church with which you are in communion without first resolving with that Church the matter of his canonical discipline? You stated that Metropolitan Hilarion ( and ROCOR, more generally ) never contacted you, but did you bother to make inquiries with them in light of this strange letter of release and knowing that the former Archimandrite was under suspension and investigation for serious canonical and ethical charges?

Second, Belya has brought a civil lawsuit against the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in direct violations of both Holy Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:1- 8) and the Holy Canons (Canon 9 of the Council of Chalcedon and Canon 6 of the First Council of Constantinople). This fact alone should prevent him from becoming a bishop. We cannot recall another instance in which a man has been proposed for consecration to the episcopacy in America and, by extension, membership in our Assembly of Bishops while carrying on such a clear and public violation of the canons. In addition to being blatantly uncanonical, this lawsuit threatens the legal interests of all our jurisdictions and, indeed, all hierarchical churches in the United States. The Roman Catholic Church has even offered their legal services to ROCOR because they realize the devastating consequences of such a lawsuit as this, which is being actively prosecuted by a cleric supposedly under your omophorion. We do not understand how you can endorse the episcopal consecration of the very man who is pursuing such an anti-hierarchical action against a fellow Orthodox jurisdiction, which could be detrimental to all of us – first of all, to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America!

Your Eminence, Beloved Brother in Christ, the issue we have brought to you is a simple one: will we function merely as a confederation of jurisdictions or as the Body of Christ in America? We are called to rise up to the challenges of this historical moment rife with civil discord, rejection of the evangelical commandments, famine, pestilence, and war. Our broken culture needs the Orthodox Faith, not a broken Orthodox Church in this land. This moment requires more from us hierarchs than simply a reassertion of our jurisdictional rights, especially when doing so harms our united witness to a land thirsting for the life-giving Faith ‘once and for all delivered to the saints.’

Once again, we ask Your Eminence and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to show an example of love and service, for the sake of all the Orthodox Christians of this land, and to uphold the canonical order bequeathed to us by the Holy Fathers, particularly when it comes to such a fearsome responsibility as choosing men for the Sacred Episcopacy. We reiterate our position, which cannot be compromised, that we cannot and will not concelebrate with Alexander Belya or his vicariate, and we cannot continue to participate in the Assembly if this man is elevated to the episcopacy and thereby, according to the Chambésy rules, joins the Assembly as a member. You are, of course, free to consecrate him; we, in turn, are free to avoid any dealings with him.

We offer our fervent prayers to the Holy Apostles for a renewal of the conciliar spirit manifest when they met in Jerusalem and declared: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’ We ask Your Eminence to join us in this spirit of conciliarity and to work together in a manner that transcends the narrow interests of our separate jurisdictions.

With love and great esteem in Christ our Lord, we remain,

Your brothers and concelebrants,

Metropolitan Joseph, Vice Chairman

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Bishop Longin

Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central and South America

Metropolitan Nicolae

Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas

Metropolitan Joseph

Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia

Metropolitan Tikhon

Orthodox Church in America

CC:

His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the USA.”

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