Disarray, Disunity and the Metropolitans

AOI has published an article by George C Michalopulos titled “The Role of Metropolitan and Its Relationship within the Episcopate: A Reappraisal.” This original work looks at the historical antecedents of the office of the Metropolitan from early Christianity to today. Along the way, we discover that although the office arose out of the episkopos (overseer) in the first centuries and lasted a millennium, the fall of Constantinople and the Ottoman oppression changed that early practice.

The Patriarch and his bishops, while still holding some authority over the Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans, lost their episcopal sees and the office took on bureaucratic functions along with the petty intrigues, corruptions, and loss of prestige that followed the historic catastrophe. We’ve inherited that model today, Michalopulos argues, and it explains in some measure why the American Orthodox are afflicted with jurisdictional confusion.

He also suggests how the episcopal hierarchy might be organized under a unified American Orthodox Church:

One idea is that the eight metropolitan districts set up by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1998 could serve as ecclesiastical provinces of the American Orthodox Church (the archdiocese of Washington, DC could be a ninth ecclesiastical province). The districts could be subdivided into dioceses, where an existing bishop elected by diocesan clergy and laity heads each diocese. An archdiocesan council of clergy and laity would elect the metropolitans. We already have enough active bishops in the United States to make this happen.

For example the southern United States has three bishops: the Archbishop of Dallas, the Metropolitan of Atlanta, and the Bishop of Miami (OCA, GOAA, and AOAA respectively). Between them distinct geopolitical boundaries can be drawn …

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  1. Michael Bauman :

    Although the article could have benefited from some proof-reading, I applaud its thesis. In my study of Orthodox history it has always seemed to me that we have suffered greatly from the antics the article describes. I just never documented it with formal research.

    It is nice to have my impressions validated. The entire Patriarchal system with its reliance on temporal power and bureaucratic corruption needs to be reformed and genuine hierarchy restored. The current status quo not only deadens evangelism but propogates heresy.

    In the meantime, we American Orthodox can demand that we be allowed to govern ourselves together, free of the old world. IMO there are only two possible choices for an American Metropolitan: Met. Jonah or Bishop Basil. Although +Basil would probably berate me for suggesting him.

    The first step, IMO, is for the OCA and we Antiochians to unite, hold an election and invite everyone else to join us. Easy, right? Simple, but not easy unfortunately, although I suspect that there would be little opposition from the laity.

  2. George Patsourakos :

    I believe that the failure of the various Orthodox jurisdictions in America to unite into one harmonious American Orthodox Church is due to the obsession of power by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The fact that the Patriarch reorganized the Orthodox organizational structure in the U.S. in 1998, and also converted Canada, Central America, and South America into separate metropolises — and no longer under the purview of the Archbishop of the United States — further illustrates this quest for power. In short, the Patriarch of Constantinople does not want a United American Orthodox Church, since such a Church would be autocephalous, thus weakening his control of Orthodoxy in America. Consequently, the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. must meet to establish such a Church and elect an American Orthodox Patriarch. Because Metropolitan Philip of the American Antiochian Orthodox Church has been a strong advocate for a United American Orthodox Church, I believe that he should initiate such a meeting. In any event, serious and prompt action must be taken to establish a United American Orthodox Church — a Church whose time is long overdue!

  3. George C Michalopulos deserves praise for this concise and well researched exposition of the problems the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has inflicted on America’s Orthodox Christians. He exposes the diamond studded Potemkin Village of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s leadership in the USA and shows the path that they have charted is moral and ecclesiastical suicide. His voice is a calm call for a genuine American Orthodox awakening! BRAVO!

  4. Michael Bauman :

    It is unquestionable that Patriarch Bartholomew has intentionally weakened Orthodox unity in the US. However, it is uncharitable to say it is only about personal power. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is dying in part because the Turks refuse to recognize it as anything other than a local institution. When viewed in that light, increasing the number of foreign bishops that report directly to the Patriarch could be designed to help raise the profile of the Patriarchate and to be used as a bargaining chip with Turkish authorities. The Patriarch’s courting of the Vatican can be seen in the same light.

    That the Patriarch fails to see that a strong, united Orthodox Church, strengthened and supported by his actions would do more to help the survival of the Patriarchate is sad. He makes defensive, fearful decisions that only weaken the Patriarchate because they weaken the Orthodox witness in the world. If he would have taken strong faithful actions to strengthen the traditional Orthodox witness, he and the Patriarchate would be in much better shape.

    We need to move forward in spite of the Patriarch.

    Unfortunately, we now have the specter of the Romanian’s in the OCA seeming to jump ship and heading for the cellars by ‘returning’ to the Romanian Patriarchate and the emotional ties to the Palestinians that exists in the Antiochian Archdiocese with its dhimmi flavor is a continuing problem.

    Met. Jonah was quite correct in his observation that the OCA is the only jurisdiction not under the thumb of a foreign power (or at least a foreign sympathy). I personally think that Met. Jonah needs to take the lead. However, he may need to tend to the healing of his own flock in more direct ways first as he still has much to do to restore order, trust and virtue to the OCA.

    Obviously there is a lot of roadblocks, but they only indicate the greater need that unity be accomplished. The role of we lay folk is pivotal.

  5. Scott Pennington :

    A few observations:

    I’m not sure why Mr. Michalopulos chose to talk about the situation of Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican “metropolitans” residing in different sees in the same country as normal. Sees held by heretical bishops can and should be considered vacant. I don’t think there would be anything uncanonical about having an Orthodox Metropolitan of Rome (or Canterbury), so long as the Orthodox and Roman Catholics (and Anglicans) disagree on doctrine.

    I personally think there are much more serious problems present in the Orthodox Church in the United States than the jurisdictional problem. If the jurisdictional problem were solved tomorrow, these problems would remain. They revolve around complacency with a decadent culture. Certainly there might be some matters resolved by unification – I have in mind jurisdiction picking in order to avoid the discipline in ones own jurisdiction – however, I’m not at all convinced that the consensus that might prevail in such a unified jurisdiction would be an improvement. I don’t see the practices of traditionalists prevailing in such a synod.

    Eventually, progressive liberalism (PL) will self-destruct. The Church can withstand it, but I think it would be wise to remember that PL is the actual philosophy held by many Orthodox, especially those who are cradle, ethnic Orthodox and have not “reverted” to taking the traditional faith seriously. It might be a good starting point for the hierarchy, whatever their jurisdiction, to draw clear lines, and vocally, and frequently, about what is and is not acceptable Orthodox moral (and theological) teaching. Drawing lines as in shunning Orthodox pro-choice politicians and enforcing eucharistic discipline. Our Archbishop Demetros gave an invocation at the Democratic National Convention. The Democratic platform is aggressively pro-abortion. Why are so many people concerned about where jurisdictional lines are drawn and not concerned with endorsement of evil? If the hierarchs are not willing to shun evil and exercise discipline now in disunity, then unity is fool’s gold. Yes, it would solve the problem of an uncanonical situation. But that’s not the most serious problem we face by a long shot.

    For what it’s worth.

  6. George Michalopulos :


    excellent points all. I tried to address the debasement of the office of the metropolitan (and the episcopate in general) in historical –not polemical–terms. As for my comparisons to the RCs and Anglicans, it was for historical purposes only. That is to say that the office of metropolitan has an ancient Christian referent by which we can measure all other usages (including our own).

    As for point #2: again, you are correct but that’s not what I was concerned about. I will say this however: had we been more forthright and less canonically promiscuous, then perhaps our own moral situation might be better. I agree that there is way too much accommodation w/ the “real world” among way too many Orthodox (bishops included). But I feel I can go out on a limb here and say this because consider our conservatism in other ways, primarily the liturgy. Regardless of jurisdiction, we Orthodox are far more unified in liturgical practice than not. Plus we don’t have the ritual buffoonery that happens in way too many RC and ECUSA parishes. So yeah, we Orthodox can be –and usually are–way more conservative. This however can disguise a moral rot for which I don’t blame clergy as much as the laymen in question.

    Third, PL will self-destruct or be overtaken by Islam. Our job as Orthodox is to maintain the Faith. I fervently believe that tens of thousands of Americans will join us because they’ve had it w/ the mainstream churches. Plus thousands more will join us because we have been true to the Faith.

  7. Scott Pennington :


    Perhaps I misunderstood the purpose of your article. I may have read into it some of the utopian musings I hear from those who think jurisdictional unification is a panacea for what ails the Church in America.

    I did enjoy your article’s history lesson. I started out at an OCA parish, then moved, then actually joined the Church at a Greek parish. When I was a catechumen, I saw that the picture of the Archbishop was central and higher in our narthex than that of the Metropolitan. That seemed strange to me until my priest explained the Greek order. I never did really understand how that order developed though, so thank you for writing about it.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    Scott, you’re welcome. I for one do not think that administrative unity is going to be a cure-all (I’m definately no utopian). However, when we talk about the “good order” of the Church, it means many things, not the least of which is that the bishop should be the chief executive of the diocese and that all unity in teaching, morals, ritual, flows through him. This is what is meant by “Catholic Church.” It’s not a power trip but a mechanism used by the Holy Spirit to keep the Church orthodox.

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