Readers who are more familiar with the Russian system of ecclesiastical titles (such as practiced in the OCA, ROCOR, and the OCU) should note that, according to the Greek system, an Archbishop ranks higher than a Metropolitan—and ipso facto, a Greek Archdiocese may consist of several Metropolises.
This explains why the Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America and the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine are called Metropolitans, while the Primate of the autocephalous Church of Greece is called an Archbishop.
Likewise, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has an Archbishop as its head and consists of several Metropolises headed each by its own Metropolitan.
Archbishop Elpidophoros reading his Enthronment Address. June 22, 2019.
Perhaps the most momentous event of recent days in North American Orthodoxy was the enthronement of Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on June 22-23.
By all accounts, the Archbishop has a winsome personality. Yet the concerns that Orthodoxy in Dialogue raised in our Editorial: Orthodox Popery Comes to America? or Time for a Greek Orthodox Revolt in America? of May 12 remain, namely:
- The hierarchy, clergy, monastics, and laity of the GOA had no role whatever in the election of their Archbishop—a role which the Archdiocese expressly requested. This top-down imposition of bishops without consultation stands in marked contrast with how the OCA selects its Primate and diocesan bishops.
- The Archbishop has no discernible pastoral experience and no experience of life in America.
- The Archbishop has distinguished himself as the apologist for a notably neo-papist understanding of Phanariot primacy in The Ecumenical Patriarch: First without Equals, which finds no resonance anywhere in modern Orthodox ecclesiology.
- The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America—once again—has no role whatever in the election of its president. The presidents of this and the other multi-jurisdictional “episcopal assemblies” around the world are ex offiicio the senior ranking hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in each given region. This seems to be predicated on the long outdated premise that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sole authority over “the barbarian lands” and the outright ecclesiological heresy of an “Orthodox diaspora” enshrined at the 2016 Council of Crete.
- The Archbishop’s relative youth (early 50s) and his birth in Turkey make him a prime candidate for Patriarch Bartholomew’s successor on the Ecumenical Throne. It seems plausible that Elpidophoros’ appointment (called an “election” in Phanariot parlance) was motivated in part by a power play to tighten the Phanar’s grip on the North American Church. If he becomes the next Ecumenical Patriarch, by his own admission he will consider himself to be “the first without equals.”
Numbers 3, 4, and 5 suggest yet another nail in the coffin of American autocephaly. As we noted a year ago in Orthodoxy in America: Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams?, the core purpose for which the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops was formed was to take concrete steps toward the creation of an autocephalous American Orthodox Church inclusive of all the present “jurisdictions”—and yet, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s own “Archons” consider any talk of American autocephaly to be treasonous. In this context the following stands out from the Archbishop’s Enthronement Address:
I sincerely pledge to devote myself—with all my heart, soul and mind—to the reaffirmation and reinvigoration of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in order that we may collaborate with greater unity, while witnessing with greater conviction and credibility to the broader American society.
The Assembly’s new president, appointed in Turkey without the consent of its member hierarchs from multiple jurisdictions, frames the organization’s purpose as one of “collaboration.” Yet its own About page describes its ultimate goal as not mere collaboration, but the creation of an autocephalous American Church:
The purpose of the Assembly of Bishops of the United States of America is to preserve and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church…. To accomplish this, the Assembly has…as an express goal…the organization of the Church in the United States in accordance with the ecclesiological and the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church.
…[T]he Assembly is a transitional body. If it achieves its goal, it will make itself obsolete by developing a proposal for the canonical organization of the Church in the United States. […T]he Assembly of Bishops will then come to an end, ultimately to be succeeded by a governing Synod of a united Church in the United States.
We would like to hear how the Archbishop plans to advance the cause of American autocephaly, or if he too considers any such talk as treasonous to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Or rather, we would like to see the Assembly reject the Phanar’s ecclesiastical hegemony in American church affairs and elect its own president from any of the 50+ canonical bishops in the US.
The accession of Archbishop Elpidophoros to his de jure and de facto primatial position in American Orthodoxy has repercussions far beyond the GOA. His appointment by the Phanar is far more consequential than a merely internal GOA matter.
Archbishop Sotirios of Canada
Lost in the brouhaha south of the border, here in Canada the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto became the Archdiocese of Canada on June 13, and Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto was elevated to the newly created rank of Archbishop of Canada. (It seems curious that The National Reporter should break this story on June 20 when—two weeks after the Phanar’s decision—we find no mention of it either on the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or that of the Archdiocese.) This places Canada’s Greek Orthodox Church and its Archbishop on a par with the GOA. Again, it seems plausible to see this move as a tightening of the Phanar’s grip on “barbarian lands.”
What does this mean for Orthodox unity in Canada? Probably nothing at all. Depressingly, Canadian Orthodoxy is even more ethnophyletistic than American Orthodoxy. The so-called “Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of Canada,” created as a separate entity from its US counterpart in March 2014, has no website and no discernible signs of life at all. A few years ago a brief report and photo of an Assembly meeting were posted to the Greek Metropolis’ website, but seem to have been removed.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (L) and Metropolitan Tikhon (R) of the OCA
More curious still, the website of the Orthodox Church in America reports that Metropolitan Tikhon concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Bartholomew in Cappadocia on the same weekend as Archbishop Elpidophoros’ enthronement.
Our readers will recall that the Phanar does not recognize the autocephaly of the OCA but has never broken communion with it or with the Moscow Patriarchate who granted its autocephaly. OCA bishops and priests have been concelebrating with the Ecumenical Patriarch since the days of the old Metropolia. Finally, as we noted in December 2018 in Ukrainian Autocephaly: An Awkward Spot for the OCA, the OCA Primate was invited for the first time to concelebrate with the Ecumenical Patriarch in March 2016.
But that was then and this is now. As we wrote in January and February 2019 (see The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) Ignores Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Bows to the Will of Moscow, Rejects the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), The OCA: Moscow’s Pawns in America & the American Region of “Russkii Mir”, Well, Well, Well. What Perfect Timing for the OCA to Reject Ukraine., and The Moral Bankruptcy of the OCA Synod of Bishops on Full Display), the Holy Synod of the OCA seems to have followed orders from its Moscow overlords not only by rejecting the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but by refusing even to enter into communion with it.
That Metropolitan Tikhon accepted the quasi validation of serving with the Ecumenical Patriarch comes as no surprise. What raises questions is what the Patriarch hoped to gain from issuing the invitation in the first place, or—if the invitation was made prior to the OCA’s rejection of communion with the OCU, as one of our sources tells us—from not rescinding it after such a public slap in the face from the OCA.
Will the OCA soften its stance toward the OCU as a result of private conversations and promises between Bartholomew and Tikhon? This remains to be seen.
In the meantime, on June 24-25 the OCA participated in a gala in honour of the Russian Orthodox Church’s redundant Metropolitan Onuphrius of Kyiv.