Responses of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America to Bishop Elpidophoros
BOSTON — The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America has sent the following response to Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. In their letter, they insist that they will interrupt Eucharistic communion with him and the archdiocese if he proceeds with the ordination of Archimandrite Alexandre Belya to the episcopate.
The full letter from 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 in response to our joint request for reconsideration of the consecration project of Alexander Belya. We have delayed responding to you because we did not want to detract from the joy felt by all Orthodox Christians in this country at the dedication of the Greek Orthodox Church and Shrine of St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center and the celebration of the centenary of the Greek Archdiocese at your recent Clergy-Laity Congress. We pray, despite this difficult situation we face, that these occasions will be full of blessings for you and all the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of your Archdiocese.
Since you have often expressed your concern that our Orthodox witness is hindered by acting as a confederation of churches rather than a Body of Christ, we were disappointed that you answered us not as a unifying president from the partners of the Assembly, but simply as the head of one jurisdiction to the individual presiding hierarchs of the 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 recognized 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 only reaffirm this right (which we have never contested) while completely ignoring our concerns.
As the holy apostle Paul said: “Everything is lawful to me, but not everything is useful; everything is permitted, but not everything edifies. Let no one seek his own, but the good of another” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
Our letter asked Your Eminence to remember, as President of the Assembly, that your actions impact all our jurisdictions. Surprisingly, your response letters chided us for our choice of letterhead. However, it is precisely because we wish to maintain our unity within the Assembly that we are expressing our concerns in this way. As a majority of the Executive Committee, we address our President in order to avoid harming the Assembly. This is a matter of vital importance to this body, and indeed it should be approached in this way – in the corporate setting and in an official context – regardless of nit-picking about procedure.
Our previous letter expressed the fear that the creation of even more nationalistic ecclesial bodies would further confuse the faithful and confuse our canonical situation in this country. Your response, in turn, made a passing reference to the pre-existing ethnic jurisdictions that joined the OCA during the chaotic Cold War era (much like the Albanian, Carpatho-Russian, and Ukrainian ethnic jurisdictions in America that exist in within your own Patriarchate). Your rationale for creating your own new ethnic vicariates – if the OCA has something similar, why not us? – does not make pastoral sense and ignores the historical context that gave rise to these realities.
Likewise, the establishment of a vicariate within an existing ethnic jurisdiction for the sole purpose of poaching disaffected people from another canonical jurisdiction is unprecedented and could prove destructive and undermine our stated goal of unity. . In this particular case, the so-called Slavic Vicariate is actively soliciting churches and clerics from other canonical jurisdictions to join it (see their web page, www.slavonic.org/en/ terms).
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 to take advantage of the discord between members of your own community. We are painfully aware of your most recent attempt to gain the blessing of your Patriarchate to create a Moldavian-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 refusing 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 have diverted and changed the subject to whether or not individual jurisdictions condemned the invasion of Ukraine strongly enough. Let us focus on the subject at hand, however.
Our letter charitably refrained from detailing our concerns about Alexander Belya. Your responses seem to dismiss all of our concerns as mere hearsay, so we are forced to specify the two most egregious examples, setting aside some of the more personal ones. First of all, you received Belya in October 2019, after he was canonically suspended by his competent ecclesiastical authority on September 3, 2019. brother of blessed memory, would therefore mean little or nothing from a canonical point of view, even if it was genuine. The fact of Belya’s suspension is indisputable and (as far as we know) he did not even appeal the canonical judgment as the canons provide. You often point out that, while the Russian Church has severed communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not reciprocated and therefore remains in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church. If so, how do you explain receiving an ecclesiastic from a Church with which you are in communion without having previously resolved with this Church the question of its canonical discipline? You stated that Metropolitan Hilarion (and ROCOR, more generally) never contacted you, but did you bother to inquire with them in light of this strange release letter and knowing that former Archimandrite was under suspension and investigation for serious canonical and ethical charges?
Second, Belya brought a civil action against the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia in direct violation of Holy Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:1-8) and 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 was proposed for consecration to the episcopate in America and, by extension, membership in our Assembly of Bishops while continuing such a clear and public violation of the canons. In addition to being blatantly uncanonical, this lawsuit threatens the legal interests of all of our jurisdictions and, indeed, of all hierarchical churches in the United States. The Roman Catholic Church has even offered its legal services to ROCOR because it realizes the devastating consequences of a lawsuit like this being actively pursued by a cleric supposedly under your omophorion. We do not understand how you can endorse the episcopal consecration of the very man who pursues such anti-hierarchical action against another Orthodox jurisdiction, which could be detrimental to all of us – in the first place, to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of ‘America !
Your Eminence, beloved Brother in Christ, the question we have presented to you is simple: will we function simply as a confederation of jurisdictions or as the Body of Christ in America? We are called to take up the challenges of this historic moment marked by civil discord, the rejection of the Gospel commandments, famine, pestilence and war. Our broken culture needs the Orthodox Faith, not a broken Orthodox Church on this earth. This moment demands of us, hierarchs, more than a simple reaffirmation of our jurisdictional rights, especially when it harms our united witness of a thirsty land of the life-giving Faith “once for all delivered to the saints”.
Once again we ask Your Eminence and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to set an example of love and service, for the good of all Orthodox Christians on this earth, and to respect the canonical order bequeathed to us by the Saints Fathers, especially when it comes to such a formidable responsibility as choosing men for the Sacred Episcopate. We reiterate our position, which cannot be compromised, that we cannot and will not concelebrate with Alexandre Belya or his vicariate, and we cannot continue to participate in the Assembly if this man is elevated to the episcopate and so , according to the rules of Chambésy, joins the Assembly as a member. You are, of course, free to consecrate it; we, in turn, are free to avoid all commerce with him.
We offer our fervent prayers to the Holy Apostles for a renewal of the conciliar spirit manifested 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 way 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 President
Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Antioch of North America
Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central and South America
Romanian Orthodox Metropolis of the Americas
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the United States, Canada and Australia
Orthodox Church in America
His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States.