L to R: Bishop Longin (Krco), Bishop Irinej (Dobrijevic), Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic)

On September 7, 2019 Bishop Longin of New Gracanica-Midwestern America, Bishop Maxim of Western America, and Bishop Irenej of Eastern America published a statement, Regarding the Episcopal Council for North, Central and South America, the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox School of Theology, Constitutional Matters and Draft Child Protection Policies and Procedures, on the website of the Serbian Orthodox Dioceses in the United States of America.

While we do not have sufficient information to comment on the controversies addressed in the statement or in the “internet ‘postings’ and ‘e-petitions'” cited therein, the final paragraph stands out as particularly needing clarification on the part of Their Graces:

We further remind you that “petitioning” of any kind within the Holy Community of God is in direct contradiction to canons, laws, teachings and church-hierarchical structure of our Serbian Orthodox Church. Moreover, a petition is a mirror of the ethos and, in essence is a mainstay, of Protestantism and totally non-Orthodox in character. We again invite our Clergy and Laity to communicate any and all concerns, suggestions or comment on any of the issues described above directly to us, your Diocesan Bishops. As the community of the people of God in history moving on a path towards the Heavenly Kingdom, we continue to embrace that open dialogue with all.

No one disputes the immorality of deliberately disseminating false information through any means, whether Facebook and blog posts, internet petitions, or non-internet methods of communication—if this is indeed what has happened in this particular case.

Yet we are entirely baffled by the claim that “‘petitioning’ of any kind” in the Orthodox Church violates “canons, laws, teachings, and the church-hierarchical structure” of the Orthodox Church, or that a mere petition by members of the Church—a collective appeal for such and such action—somehow mirrors “the ethos and, in essence is a mainstay, of Protestantism.”

Which Orthodox canons, laws, and teachings forbid petitions?

What is particularly “Protestant” about a petition?

How do Their Graces propose to “embrace that open dialogue with all” if the clergy and laity of their flocks are only permitted to raise their concerns privately, as individuals, and not as a body, when their concerns are shared by and affect the whole body? How does this promote the transparency which the Church needs so very badly on all levels of her institutional and inner life?

Is it really constitutive of authentic Orthodox ecclesiology for an autocratic episcopate to demand docile, unquestioning compliance of the clergy and laity of their flocks? How do the men, women, and children of the laity exercise their share in Christ’s priestly ministry in the “chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pt 2:9) which is the Orthodox Church?

In what concrete ways does the episcopate perform its accountability to the whole body of the Church?

These are the kinds of questions which we feel need to be examined more deeply.

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