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Orthodox Unity in America in Danger – Bishops Express Concerns

BOSTON – His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America has jeopardized the unity of Orthodoxy in America through the election to the episcopacy of the Rev. Archimandrite Alexander Belya, Archiepiscopal Vicar of the Slavic Orthodox Vicariate. The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America sent a strongly-worded letter dated June 27, 2022 to Archbishop Elpidophoros in protest. They notify him that, “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 had revealed the news of Belya’s election by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in his News Release of June 15 in which he wrote: “Finally, with sentiments of joy and gratitude toward the Mother Church, the Holy Eparchial Synod was informed of two matters from the Ecumenical Patriarchate: a.) that the list of eligible candidates for ordination to the episcopacy has been approved, and b.) that the Very Rev. Archimandrite Alexander Belya, Archiepiscopal Vicar of the Slavic Orthodox Vicariate, was elected today as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese with the episcopal title of the once-renowned Diocese of Nicopolis. The date of his Ordination to the Holy Episcopacy will take place at the Cathedral of St. Matrona of Moscow in Dania Beach, FL, on Saturday, July 30 of this year.”

Below, TNH reveals the full text of the letter of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America:
“His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

10 East 79th Street

New York, NY 10075

Your Eminence, Beloved Brother in Christ,

We greet you with our prayers and best wishes in anticipation of the Feast of the holy Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

We, presiding hierarchs of member jurisdictions of our Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America, write to you, as Chairman of the Assembly, to express our grave concern for the precious unity of the Holy Orthodox Church in this land. It was with pain of heart and great dismay that we learned from Your Eminence of the decision to proceed with the episcopal consecration of Alexander Belya, a former cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, whose canonical discipline and ultimate deposition is accepted and recognized as a canonical action by us all. In addition to our canonical concerns, we have serious questions about his character based on past direct and indirect interactions with him and his family. We feel duty bound as your brothers and concelebrants at the Holy Altar to plead with you and your Patriarchate to reconsider this decision for the sake of our common devotion to Orthodox unity and canonical order.

While we wholeheartedly respect and uphold Your Eminence’s right, as the Archbishop of the Greek Archdiocese, to make decisions about the internal order of your jurisdiction, and we fully appreciate the role of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in choosing candidates whom they deem appropriate for the episcopacy, we ask Your Eminence to consider the wider effect this action will have on the rest of Orthodoxy in the United States. The reality of our overlapping jurisdictions (which is only exacerbated by the proliferation of ethnic vicariates in your Archdiocese) necessarily means that we are all living in the same proverbial pond, and when we make decisions such as these, there are ripple effects that go well beyond our perceived boundaries.

Moreover, this action threatens to further erode our Assembly of Bishops and its blessed mission “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church” in this land, as expressed in the Article 5.1a of the Rules of the Episcopal Assemblies in the Orthodox Diaspora. As one with a unique responsibility to bring this body together and facilitate its mission, you must feel the weight and seriousness of this threat most acutely.

All of us are concerned about the deterioration in relations between the Most Holy Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow that has led to a break in canonical communion and a suspension of the participation of the Moscow Patriarchal Parishes and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the work of the Assembly. We must refrain from creating even greater impediments to the return of our Russian brothers to the Assembly. Moreover, we must flee from any action that risks the broader Pan-Orthodox unity that exists among all of us. As is well known to Your Eminence, many of us officially protested the creation of the so-called Slavic Vicariate precisely because of its consequences for our Orthodox unity and the questions raised about the canonical status of Alexander Belya. 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.

Your Eminence, beloved brother in Christ, we worked so hard to increase our unified witness during the days of the pandemic, and because we do not want to take a step back from this, we are compelled to express our unanimous concerns regarding this intended consecration. As we approach the Feast of the Holy Apostles, having celebrated the bestowal of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete that calls us to unity – we respectfully entreat you and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reconsider this decision, which imperils the unity for which we yearn.

Asking your prayers for us, we remain with esteem and love,

Your brothers and concelebrants,

Metropolitan Joseph, Vice Chairman

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Bishop Longin Serbian Orthodox Church in North,

Metropolitan Nicolae Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas Central and South America

Metropolitan Joseph Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese

Metropolitan Tikhon Orthodox Church in America of the USA, Canada, and Australia

CC:

His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

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

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