Our Best Chance Yet: A historical reflection on administrative unity

HT: Orthodox News

By Matthew Namee

We’ve tried this before. Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity. Next week, from May 26-28, we embark upon a sixth effort — an effort which, compared to its predecessors, seems remarkably promising.

First, of course, there were the Russians. In the early 20th century, the Russian Archdiocese envisioned itself as the platform for Orthodox unity in America. Its sainted archbishop, Tikhon Bellavin, articulated an innovative vision to deal with the unprecedented diversity of ethnic Orthodox Christians in the New World. He proposed that the Russian Archdiocese be organized, not along territorial lines, but according to ethnicity — a bishop for the Russians, another for the Syrians, another for the Serbs, still another for the Greeks. St. Tikhon realized that the different ethnic groups needed their own ethnic hierarchs, and his first step in implementing this plan was to consecrate St. Raphael Hawaweeny as bishop for the Syrians. Separate, overlapping administrative units were created for the Serbs, and later for other groups (e.g. the Albanians), but St. Tikhon’s overall plan was never fully enacted. The tenuous unity that existed among the Russians, Serbs, and Syrians soon fell apart, and by 1920, any notion of American Orthodox unity under the Russians was dead.

Dead, but not forgotten. When St. Raphael, the Syrian bishop, died in 1915, he left no obvious successor. His flock divided into warring camps, one party favoring continued subordination to the Church of Russia, the other submission to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Eventually, the Russian Archdiocese consecrated Aftimios Ofiesh to be St. Raphael’s replacement. And, whatever else one might say of Archbishop Aftimios, he was nothing if not a visionary. In 1926, he proposed the idea of an autocephalous jurisdiction, the “American Orthodox Catholic Church,” which would transcend ethnicity and embrace all the Orthodox in America. The Russian Metropolia — successor to the Russian Archdiocese, and predecessor to the OCA — granted Archbishop Aftimios his wish in 1927. Archbishop Aftimios went around acting like he was the head of an autocephalous Church, but few paid any attention to him, and even the Russian Metropolia soon withdrew its support. As hopeful an idea as the AOCC might have been, it never had any real chance of uniting all the Orthodox in America.

Archbishop Aftimios effectively destroyed his already fringe jurisdiction in 1933, when he married a girl young enough to be his daughter. But two of his top assistants, the convert priests Michael Gelsinger and Boris Burden, continued to dream of a united American Orthodox Church. They spearheaded a 1943 effort that resulted in the “Federation,” which was to SCOBA what the League of Nations was to the UN. The Federation included the primary Orthodox jurisdictions in America (Greek, New York Antiochian, and Moscow Patriarchal, along with Serbian, Ukrainian, and Carpatho-Russian), with the glaring exceptions of the Russian Metropolia and ROCOR. In its short life — measured in months, as opposed to years — the Federation achieved some modest but still significant accomplishments. It managed to get Orthodoxy recognized by the Selective Service, exempting Orthodox priests from military service and allowing Orthodox Christians in the military to put “Eastern Orthodox” on their dog tags. Just as significantly, the Federation led to the legal incorporation of several jurisdictions. My own Antiochian Archdiocese is still governed by that legislation, from the 1940s.

In the end, though, the Federation fell apart. There were probably dozens of reasons for the failure, but, in my view, the biggest was simply that the bishops involved in the Federation weren’t committed enough to its success. Well, most of them. One man who was deeply committed to the vision of the Federation was the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir. He kept the Federation going, on paper only, through the whole of the 1950s. In 1960, the Federation was reborn as SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. The “big three” jurisdictions — Greek, Antiochian, and Russian Metropolia — were led by three larger-than-life figures, Archbishop Iakovos Koukouzis, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich. Among many, the unification of all the American Orthodox jurisdictions seemed imminent.

A decade later, though, there was still no administrative unity. The Russian Metropolia had entered into talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, and in April of 1970, Moscow issued a Tomos, granting autocephaly to its formerly estranged American daughter. The Metropolia became the “Orthodox Church in America” — the OCA, and in the words of an official brochure published at the time, “invite[d] all of the national Orthodox church ‘jurisdictions’ in America to join with it in unity.” This marked the fifth major attempt to unify the various jurisdictions.

Today, of course, there is still no administrative unity. Five decades have passed since SCOBA was created, and four since the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to the OCA. SCOBA has been useful — it has fostered cooperation, if not actual administrative unity, and its many agencies are doing great work. For its part, the OCA did bring in Romanian, Albanian, and Bulgarian jurisdictions, although in every case the OCA group has a non-OCA counterpart jurisdiction. I think it’s safe to say that, despite the best efforts of many great people, neither SCOBA nor the OCA will be the platform for future administrative unity.

Before we get to Attempt No. 6, we should ask — why did all five past attempts at unity fail? Why could neither the Russian Archdiocese, nor the American Orthodox Catholic Church, nor the Federation, nor SCOBA, nor the OCA, succeed in bringing all the jurisdictions together into a single ecclesiastical entity? The answers, of course, are many and complex, but several common threads are apparent. The Russian Archdiocese, the AOCC, and the OCA were all unilateral efforts, led by a single group which tried to get the others to join it. The Federation and SCOBA were “pan-Orthodox” endeavors, but the leaders lacked a common vision, and, worse, the support of their “Mother Churches.” Yes, the Mother Churches may have granted permission for their American jurisdictions to join SCOBA, but they certainly didn’t share a vision of administrative unity in America.

There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.

Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which holds its first meeting this coming week, includes every single Orthodox bishop in America — every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.

There is no guarantee that the Episcopal Assembly will succeed, and if it does, it’s not clear whether that will be in 5 years or 15. But one thing, to me, is certain: all of us — all who share a desire for canonical unity in America — should throw our support and prayers behind the Assembly, and beg the Holy Spirit to guide its work, just as he guided the work of the Ecumenical Councils themselves. Because, make no mistake — this is the best chance we’ve ever had, or may likely have for many decades to come. May it be blessed by God.

This article was written by Matthew Namee, and was originally published at www.orthodoxhistory.org.


  1. Dean Calvert :

    Sorry Matthew, but our “best chance” occurred at Ligonier, which ironically is not even mentioned in the piece. Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, lost his nerve, and paid the price.

    At that meeting, the following “Statement on the Church in North America” (see below) was issued. It’s as true today as it was then.

    Ligonier I, the First American Council of Orthodox bishops, is the benchmark for the upcoming conference – not some romantic notion of the “Mother Churches”, each of which is frankly nothing more than a “front man” for various foreign governments and interests.

    If the assembled hierarchs have the courage to continue the work of Ligonier, i.e. the creation of a united, independent and autocephalous American Church, they will be applauded.

    If not, they should all stay home and give the money to the poor.

    Best Regards,
    Dean Calvert



    Adopted Text

    We, the Orthodox Hierarchs in the United States and Canada, assembled at the Antiochian Village, Ligonier, Pennsylvania from November 30 through December 2, 1994, do first and foremost offer most sincere gratitude to the venerable Fathers and Hierarchs of our Mother Churches beyond the seas for their love and concern exhibited by the prominence given to the `diaspora´ on the agenda for the forthcoming Great and Holy Council evidenced in the Adopted Texts of the Preparatory Commission.

    We await the next meeting of the Commission referred to in the Adopted Text of November 1993. We maintain that it is critical that the Church in North America be directly and concretely represented at that and future meetings. How is it possible for there to be discussion about the nature of the Church in North America in our absence? We must be present to share the two hundred years of experience that we have had of preaching the Gospel and living the Orthodox faith outside of those territories that have historically been Orthodox. We would humbly ask His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to seek a way, through the venerable Hierarchs of the Standing Conference to accomplish this representation. We also humbly request the Primates of the other mother Churches to support this initiative. The demands upon our Church’s life by an unbelieving society do not allow for any further delay in this process. Episcopal assembly supports the repeated requests of SCOBA for its officers to be granted an audience with His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the other patriarchs and Primates of the Mother Churches to discuss the North American reality.

    Furthermore, we have agreed that we cannot accept the term `diaspora´ as used to describe the Church in North America. In fact the term is ecclesiastically problematic. It diminishes the fullness of the faith that we have lived and experienced here for the past two hundred years.

    Moreover, as we reflect on the ways in which the Church in North America has matured, it is important to recognize that much has been done as the natural and organic response of Orthodox Christians who share the same faith while living together in one place. We celebrate and build on already existing structures. Some are formal. The first of these is SCOBA itself. There are in addition various agencies of SCOBA such as the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC), the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA), the Orthodox Christian Missions Center, and other North American-wide pan-Orthodox efforts. There are also less formal structures such as the joint meetings of our theological schools and seminarians, the joint monastic assemblies, the local councils of churches and clergy brotherhoods, and sacred art and liturgical music associations. They give witness to the strong foundation upon which we continue to build.

    To this end, all of our efforts should be coordinated within an overall ecclesial framework. This would provide the freedom and flexibility to allow us to organically become an administratively united Church. As in any Orthodox ecclesiological framework for a local Church there are three levels. The first is the national, or in our case continental. The second is the regional or diocesan. And the third is the local or deanery. All of these depend upon and grow out of the parish which is the primary place where Christians express and encounter their faith.

    On the national or continental level the body which coordinates the life of a Church is the Synod of Bishops. We have had in SCOBA an Executive Committee that has guided Church Life in North America for over thirty years. In convening this present Conference of Bishops, we find ourselves to be an Episcopal Assembly, a precursor to a General Synod of Bishops. We express our joy that in addition to the regular meetings of SCOBA, this Episcopal Assembly will convene on a annual basis to enhance the movement toward administrative ecclesial unity in North America.

    The regional level presents a special challenge because this is one area in which few models of cooperation presently exist. Bishops who live within a given region of North America should meet and concelebrate regularly. They should coordinate activities, encourage clergy, and laity to get to know one another and to work together and initiate concrete joint programs. In essence, they should duplicate regionally what SCOBA has pioneered on the continental level for the past thirty-three years.

    The local level is where the greatest diversity of models presently exists. These range from very informal clergy or lay associations to highly structured clergy brotherhoods or clergy and lay councils of churches. The bishops of a given region should continue to encourage the clergy and laity of their parishes to work together with other parishes in their area. Without imposing any one model, bishops should seek to formalize and regularize those models that already exist. In areas where there are as yet no such structures, bishops should work with the clergy and laity to develop a model that is appropriate in that locality. The principle is to encourage diverse models within a canonical ecclesiological framework.

    The Church in North America also benefits from our various monastic communities. Their meeting together should be encouraged by their hierarchs so monastics might share their spiritual experience and wisdom with one another and with the whole Church of a given region.

    We would like to emphasize again: this is presented as a broad outline or framework within which the whole Church in North America can grow to manifest the deep unity of faith that we share in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father who sent Him, and the Holy Spirit who continually makes Him known to us. The visible unity of the Church is a profound witness of our love for Him and for one another.

    Finally, we would like to thank and bless our Christ-loving flocks: the pious priests, deacons, monastics, and laity — who, praying and laboring together, incarnate the oneness which our Church on this continent already enjoys. We ask for their prayers and support, as we pledge to work with them for the glory of God and His Holy Church.

    For more information concerning Ligonier: the First American Council of Orthodox bishops, see http://www.standrewhouse.com/ligonierreferenceinfo.htm

    • Dean has it: Ligonier was the standard. That it goes unmentioned now in ‘high places’ tells the story that the foreign interests might like to be a collective distant Vatican.

      But my hope is with Fr. Peter: Having been brought together these people ought to do what’s right for the people for whom they are given to care — right here, right now, while there are still enough of us to make a go of it.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Harry, I find myself agreeing with you completely. I remain unconvinced that Ligonier wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I remember Ligonier –the excitement was palpable. There is no way that it can be subsumed as merely a project of SCOBA. It may have been started by SCOBA but it was way more than that. You’re right, it’s the gold standard. If the EA approaches just 1/4 of the enthusiasm generated there, it will be considered a rip-roaring success.

        • Isa Almisry :

          I’m hoping the EA rapidly gets out of control and pulls a Ligonier. Now that we have already seen how it is done.

        • Allow me to add another vote for Anarchy. A little anarchy would truly be the work of the Holy Spirit. I would love to see those 79th street Masters of the Universe sweat big time. Which overpaid adminstrator’s head would explode first?

          In the meantime there is something inherently wrong with 50+ monks committed to the ascetic life of Orthodoxy meeting at the Helmsley Hotel. I mean the rooms at Ligonier if I remember do not have televisions, pay per view, or room service. Those bishops had no distractions in Ligonier. All they could do was pray, eat and talk to each other. That alone almost brought forth an American Church.

          I can’t see that happening at the Helmsley Hotel. It looks more and more like a corporate retreat.

          • What he’s proposed is ‘archy’ not ‘an-archy’. If we’re going to survive it can’t be ‘xeno-archy’.

    • George Michalopulos :

      You know, Dean, the contrast between the Ligonier Statement and the Chambesy ones can be boiled down to one question: Where is Christ in all this? In Ligonier His presence suffuses it completely.

  2. Fr. Peter Dubinin :

    I pray it is blessed. In many areas of life I have conducted myself according to the saying, “something is better than nothing.” If the EA provides the reason for gathering and the forthcoming council provides the how to, ref. autocephaly, it will be just a matter of time before the administratively united Church in America truly becomes an Orthodox Church for all Americans – native born and naturalized; no more looking over our shoulder to see if we have anyone’s approval save that of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. The sheer number of Americans coming into the Church now and in the future will make it a uniquely American Church – Hispanic, African-American, Native American and white American. I pray the ethnics who populate our ethnic Orthodox Churches will lead the way in expressing love and welcome (after all as many of us have been reminded so frequently, they have been Orthodox from birth; what could we converts and retreads possibly know or have to contribute to the faith) to all in this country who are on a spiritual journey to the Church; even though it will mean they very quickly become a smaller and yet smaller minority within the Church in USA.

  3. Scott Pennington :

    Where to begin?

    “The tenuous unity that existed among the Russians, Serbs, and Syrians soon fell apart, and by 1920, any notion of American Orthodox unity under the Russians was dead.”

    This glosses over a lot. There was widespread recognition that the Church in America was under the omophorion of the ROC before the Russian revolution. It was not unanimous, but a number of different ethnic groups applied through Russia to their home countries in order to obtain clergy. The thing that destroyed this was a) the Russian revolution itself and b) the creation of GOARCH by then Archbishop Meletios IV.

    “The Russian Metropolia — successor to the Russian Archdiocese, and predecessor to the OCA — granted Archbishop Aftimios his wish in 1927.”

    This, to say the least, is debatable. Not in the least because at one point the Metropolia was under ROCOR. Both ROCOR and the OCA consider themselves the successor to the Russian Archdiocese.

    “The Russian Metropolia had entered into talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, and in April of 1970, Moscow issued a Tomos, granting autocephaly to its formerly estranged American daughter.”

    And this was quite odd given that the Metropolia had not been in communion with the ROC for over 30 years.

    “The Episcopal Assembly, which holds its first meeting this coming week, includes every single Orthodox bishop in America — every one. No jurisdictions are left out.”

    Well . . . perhaps, but the OCA was excluded from the planning and it is clear that the Phanar a) does not want them there because b) it does not want them pushing for the EA’s to become a real synod.

    “This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.”

    That statement is just flat out absolutely false. The Romanian Synod has already indicated that they are not on board. They want all Romanians to return to Romanian jurisdiction. Moreover, what you leave out is that the Chambesy documents do not allow for the EA’s to work as synods or become synods on their own. Furthermore, the documents specifically state that the autocephaly of an American Church could not be granted except by a Great Synod. Much of what is in the blueprint for these EA’s guards the prerogatives of the Mother Churches and assures the continued jurisdictional separation of the various churches in America.

    Also, just to be thorough, when you describe the history of efforts toward “administrative unity” in America, would it not be forthright to mention Ligioner? I mean, this article seems to have this air about it that many have tried for such unity and somehow it just fizzles, but now that the old world churches are “calling for it”, it is immenent.

    The old world synods and patriarchates (Moscow excepted) are far, far from knights in shining armor. They have loathed the idea of an American Orthodox Church because it would snatch their protectorates/ATM machines away from them. Moreover, Constantinople has already torpedoed what looked to be serious, imminent unity in 1994.

    When you see serious timelines, when you see territory being reallocated, when you see some bishops being retired or reassigned to mission work, when you hear about money changing hands to satisfy each and every autocephalous church to grant permission to create a new American Orthodox Church – – then you will know the time is nigh.

    Until then, it most certainly is SCOBA II. Wait and see. Even the author of the piece is talking 5-15 years. The whole thing could be done in 6 months if the will were actually present among the Orthodox here and in the mother countries. It isn’t.

    What is possible – – and frankly, what seems likely given the hype that we continually hear about this stuff – – is that some faction composed of those in the various jurisdictions who are committed to Orthodox unity might try to hijack the process or, more politely, push it where the old country synods would not want it to go.

    I’m not sure that much good would be accomplished by this though. Everyone is attracted to the new shiny thing. Everyone thinks that it’s the cats meow and will greatly facilitate peace, love and understanding – – hope and change, even. But consider that the composition of this great, new force for the glory of God – – the American Orthodox Church – – would be the same groups with the same cultural and religious attitudes as exist now. I leave to your imagination how these various groups would coexist harmoniously in a church led by the bishops of what presently is the largest of the American jurisdictions.

    Why not just let sleeping dogs lie and let the various jurisdictions compete to spread Orthodoxy in America? Those who do so most successfully deserve to dominate whatever unified church emerges here. Most likely by the time we compose a significant percentage of the population here (10%, 20%?) administrative unity will work itself out. At most, at present, the Orthodox are perhaps 1.7 percent of the populace.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      Scott, if I may, I believe your first point of criticism re Matthew’s analysis is more a less a restatement of what he said. At most, you both may be talking past each other.

      As to your second, point, the Metropolia granting “…Aftimios his wish in 1927” that would seem to be accurate. I don’t really know if ROCOR at that time subsumed the Metropolia. I realize that this is a bone of contention between ROCOR and the OCA (or at least its historians) but from what I’ve read, the term “metropolia” was the au courant term used to describe the Russian-American archdiocese in North America.

      Otherwise, I completely agree with you. If I may add some more obstacles to unity: the pay of priests from jurisdiction to jurisdiction is widely variegated. In order for the GOA to purchase its hegemony over the American church (see my comment [no. 6] below), hundreds of priests are going to demand inclusion in the GOA’s pension and health plans and then demand a more uniform pay scale. If you think that the $40-50K price tag for getting 65 bishops together annually is going to burn a hole in the fat-cats’ pockets, just wait until 1500 non-GOA priests start lining up demanding their fair share of the pie. Another obstacle: the preponderance of poorly paid priests can bend the pay curve downward for many of the better paid GOA priests. Won’t that be fun?

      One more quibble: given the triumphalism of the GOA and the overall tribalism of the other ethnic jurisdictions, your picture of the EA being a SCOBA II is optimistic. In retrospect, SCOBA will look far better than the EA. (I pray I’m wrong but I fear I’m being realistic.) Unless and until the ethnarchs realize that they’re here in America to stay, forget about it. They suffer from the beaten wife syndrome, always going back to Slobovia to get their warm fuzzies.

      • Scott Pennington :


        Regarding the first comment, I thought that it was relevant to mention the context of how the whole notion of Russian jurisdiction fizzled. I wasn’t really disagreeing with Matthew so much as elaborating. The piece tends to make the old world primates look like saviors and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to point out that in the past as well as currently this is not necessarily the case.

        Regarding Aftimios, I wasn’t actually addressing that particular assertion, just the proposition that the Metropolia was the successor of the Russian Archdiocese. This, of course, has never been the understanding of ROCOR. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth fighting about and is academic. I tend to see both churches as the successors of the Russian Archdiocese.

        There is something that has been alluded to by some here that really deserves further consideration when considering the arrangements within a united American Orthodox Church (AmOC). Will an AmOC be organized along canonical lines or along the lines St. Tikhon envisioned which have some resonance in the OCA now?

        This is a very serious matter because of the differences in practices of the various jurisdictions and the inevitable consequences that would result from a strictly canonical organization. To give just one example: What happens when a Greek bishop orders a Russian priest to commune an elderly Greek lady who a) has not been to confession in years, and b) whose husband or father may have founded the parish? I assure you this is not just a hypothetical. This precise situation would arise within a very short time of unification. Among the Greeks, confession is often known as the “forgotten sacrament”. A friend of mine heard a Greek lady call into a radio show on Orthodox practice versus Catholic practice and state, in all seriousness, that confession was not a sacrament in the Orthodox Church. In my old parish, my old priest told me that there were any number of people in his parish that had never ever been to confession. I do not state any of that out of disrespect for different perceptions of piety or in criticism of particular individuals, just as a statement of fact. Of course, in Russian parishes, if you don’t confess within the week before the liturgy, you can’t receive. OCA standard, I believe, is once a month.

        There are any number of divergences like this that would be the occasion for contention. Right now, people can go to the jurisdiction which reflects their understanding of orthopraxis.

        These types of issues would have to be resolved by a synod composed in the majority of Greeks and Antiochians. If the new AmOC were to be organized on strictly canonical lines; i.e., not overlapping ethnic based dioceses, then these issues would need to be resolved uniformly throughout the new church. That would likely be most traumatic for everyone involved and, given the predominance of the more liberal practicing jurisdictions, it is likely that the more liberal practices would prevail. I do not see ROCOR clergy and parishioners, and probably many in the OCA, being able to accept that result. They would very likely not want to be part of the new church. Otherwise, in effect, creating an AmOC might very well be a victory for the cultural forces that have liberalized American Orthodoxy in the past decades.

        Personally, in order to keep the peace, if unity were to be established I would prefer at least some non-geographical dioceses. Of course, this raises the question: If it’s not going to be canonically organized, why bother?

        • Isa Almisry :

          Somewhere here George, I and others elaborated on this. My solution would be Archbishops, each which represent a Greek usage, Arab usage etc., (sort of how the OCA bishop of Boston presides over New England, and also has jurisdiction over the Albanians. I would have the bishop be a bishop of appeal for Albanians anywhere on the Holy Synod, rather than him having jurisdiction outside New England. Then there is the example of the ROCOR bishop of blessed memory, defender of the Old Rite) with suffragans who represent other traditions in that archdiocese. That, in addition to regular bishops. That, btw, is the real intent of canon 28 and the “barbarians.”

          • If the right to appeal to the Synod or to a Lesser Synod responsible for ethnic ‘disputes’ is given to each parish, then having a bishop charged with representing and defending a traditional right would be powerful. The ‘ethnic’ bishops would need to be diocesan bishops with a vote on the Synod rather than suffragens not normally allowed to vote. To address this, one would simply need to give the ‘ethnic’ bishops a micro-diocese. I have often thought a resident bishop in a monastery, seminary or retreat center would fit this bill – they would be the true diocesan bishop of that place and have a full, diocesan vote on the Synod. For instance, the Antiochian ‘ethnic’ bishop could sit at Antiochian Village; the Russian ‘ethnic’ bishop could sit at Jordanville; the Carpatho-Rusyn ‘ethnic’ bishop could sit at Christ the Saviour Seminary; and the Greek bishop could sit at either HCHC or in Astoria or at St. Anthony’s Monastery in AZ; etc. These would be balanced out by the primary, geographically based bishops responsible for parish life across all ethnicities and local traditions. (‘Ethnic’ is really just shorthand for local tradition[s] and language).

        • George Michalopulos :

          Lot here to chew on Scott. Isa has definate ideas in this regard. Personally, things should be strictly canonical –one bishop, one city. In cities with a lot of different ethnicities, I think that vicariates can be established. they would report to the diocesan ordinary but for advice, Isa’s idea of a specialized bishop (e.g. “Serbian usage”) could be implemented. The ethnic parish would still have to receive permission from the local bishop through his ethnic vicar to approach the particular ethnic bishop who may be five states over (and who is himself a diocesan ordinary for the city in which he lives).

          Regarding your concerns about Confession, you are quite right. It’s scandalous the way its degenerated in the GOA. That’s kind of why I see the EA becoming ineffectual. For some in the GOA, they’ll fight in the last ditch to prevent this sacrament from being enforced. (That’s one reason why Metropolitan +Isaiah of Denver was castigated by that harridan about his Christian stance on homosexual “marriage.”)

          I think you hit it on the head yesterday: by all means convene the EA but don’t expect anything. Basically, allow the independent jurisdictions to keep on keepin’ on. Eventually the American/Evangelical ones will coalesce into a more traditional Orthopractic united Church while those that want to retain their ethnic particularities will go on the way they are.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Isa and George,

            Thanks. I wasn’t aware of more nuanced options. Also, I wasn’t stating the above about my perceptions of practice in GOARCH as being critical, just as being a difference of “climate”. I do agree with you, George, that it is most unfortunate, but it’s a trend that evolved over time. I was told that frequent communion used to be uncommon in the Greek Archdiocese. Then, in the 1970’s I think, a push was made to reintroduce frequent communion. Unfortunately, frequent confession was not equally encouraged. My own former priest did in fact encourage frequent confession and I’m sure took some flak for it. But it’s hard to change practices like that once habits become established unless you simply insist on it.

            It is a very real and consequential consideration though because there are those who would insist that frequent communion is not necessary and those who would come to the exact opposite conclusion. You would have real unbridgeable disagreements if you had opposite views in the chain of heirarchy. There are other issues as well. Who can be a reader or chanter? Who can serve at the altar? What is the appropriate clerical garb to wear outside of services? Some say western style clerical garb is fine, others insist on ryassas. What about organs? Can men married to divorced women be ordained? I could go on.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Scott, just so you know, I’m in complete agreement with you regarding the scandalous Orthopraxes that are on display here in North America. That’s kind of why I foresee an eventual fizzling of the EA. At the very least, there’s no way that ROCOR is going to go along with the Byzantine-flavored Episcopalianism of the GOA. And it seems that the OCA is well on its way to recovering a more traditional praxis. And I really can’t see +Kirill allowing any erosion taking place within the MP-parishes and ROCOR. That means that there’d be no way a ROCOR/MP/OCA priest will be forced by some GOA bishop to commune some trophy wife who’s never confessed.

          Time will tell if the AOCNA will but they’re closer to it than the GOA. The only wild card is that the Ephraimite monasteries may cause the secular parishes to become more traditional. Like I said, time will tell.

          • Isa Almisry :

            The only wild card is that the Ephraimite monasteries may cause the secular parishes to become more traditional. Like I said, time will tell.

            It would seem from one of the less commented on comments of the Phanar’s mouthpiece’s speech at Holy Cross, that this blessing/threat (depending on your POV) is real.

          • Scott Pennington :


            Well, again, I wasn’t coming at it from the judgmental point of view just from the practical irreconcilable-differences-before-the-marriage point of view. I do agree with your moral appraisal of the situation but regardless of how one feels morally the potential for train wrecks is nonetheless there.

            As to the MP and ROCOR, actually I kind of see ROCOR as being more conservative than Moscow in a way. Also, according to the terms of their reconcilliation, I’m pretty sure Moscow has a very minimal role regarding ROCOR’s internal workings. Also, the Act of Canonical Communion indirectly states (article 6) that ROCOR cannot be directed, against the will of its synod, to join with any other jurisdiction.


            Also recall Pat. Bartholomew’s encyclical for Sunday of Orthodoxy in which he took anyone criticizing his ecumenical endeavors to task. I suppose it is good news since no one kicks a dead dog.

          • George Michalopulos :

            Scott, of course ROCOC is more conservative than MP but I’d say not by much. In your opinion, what do you think the continuum of American Orthodoxy looks like? Here’s my take: ROCOR-MP-OCA-AOCNA/GOA.

          • Scott Pennington :


            Regarding “ROCOR-MP-OCA-AOCNA/GOA”, that’s my experience although I’ve never been to a MP patriarchal parish or to Russia so I can only judge that from what I’ve heard.

            It’s hard to classify AOCNA though. The Antiochian parish in my area is nearly as conservative as the OCA one, the only real difference being pews. I’ve heard of Antiochian parishes with no pews. On the other hand, Met. Phillip allows altar girls, which the Greeks forbid.

            Actually, you could fill out the above continuum to put the ROCOR Old Believer parishes to the conservative side of ROCOR, Serbian at about the same as ROCOR, etc. But I agree that that’s the general spectrum.

            Although I favor the more traditional practices and would encourage them, I don’t believe as some do that it’s something to get too bent out of shape over. I was more or less ok with the praxis in my Greek parish. Basically, unless there’s a real moral or aesthetic problem, you can manage to maintain a conservative Orthodox lifestyle in a modern parish. You just have to focus on your own practice and not that of others.

            I mean, the only ones who actually have the authority to pass judgment on the acceptability of a diocese’s or jurisdiction’s practices are the bishops of the wider church. MP and ROCOR are in communion with the Greeks and Antiochians. I know it may sound strange to some to evaluate the Greeks and Antiochians in terms of the Russians but it makes sense to me to do that because I believe that the burden of proof is on whomever makes the changes from centuries past.

    • Dean Calvert :

      Hi Scott,


      That’s Greek for “helluva job”!

      You are right on the money…this is going to be one big charade, orchestrated by Old World patriarchates under the guise of “supporting unity”.

      But the GOA apparatchiks are out in full force…suddenly supporting unity, but dismissing the need for an independent, or local church. The excuse used yesterday, at the meeting in Detroit, was that “we are only 1% of the population.” Good thing we didn’t have these guys around when we went into Moravia…there would be no Russian Alphabet, or Church!

      So…let’s see, we need unity, but we don’t need an independent church…lookup “unfriendly takeover” in the dictionary and you’ll see the EP’s smiling face.

      I’ve compared the attitude of the EP/GOA to the Corleone’s for years. The kind of unity they want is, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is debatable.”

      And, as far as Ligonier is concerned, may God have mercy on those patriarchs, archbishops and bishops who publicly and behind-the-scenes torpedoed the results of that momentous conference. I’ve got to believe there’s a very special place reserved for them…

      But then again, I remind myself that St Methodios, dying at the end of a 23 year mission, probably perceived their work to have been a complete waste of time…his and St. Cyril’s work having been displaced throughout the country by German bishops and priests.

      All of which is a long winded way of saying “God definitely has a sense of humor.”

      Best Regards,

      • George Michalopulos :

        Dean, the fact that they “admitted” to you that “we…are only 1% of the population” shows to me delusional thinking. According to the incessant happy talk that bilges out from The Orthodox Disturber, we are invariably told that Arb Demetrios is “spiritual leader of 1.5 million Orthodox in America.” In a country of 300+ million people, that comes to 0.5% of the population (at best). Of course, the reality is that he’s the primate of the GOA, which has a population at the outside of 440,000 (which is 0.14% of the population of the US). sigh.

      • So…let’s see, we need unity, but we don’t need an independent church…lookup “unfriendly takeover” in the dictionary and you’ll see the EP’s smiling face.

        I’ve compared the attitude of the EP/GOA to the Corleone’s for years. The kind of unity they want is, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is debatable.”


    • At most, at present, the Orthodox are perhaps 1.7 percent of the populace.

      The total percentage of all Orthodox in the U.S. is about 0.388%.

      That is assuming that the study by Alexei D. Krindatch of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute is correct and the Orthodox number about 1.2 million in the U.S.

      Source: PAOI

      • Isa Almisry :

        Whatever it is, we know that it is higher than the percentage in Constantinople.

      • Scott Pennington :


        I used the admittedly inflated numbers that have been bandied about over the last couple of decades. That’s why I wrote, “at the most”. What you often hear is 2 million Greek Orthodox, 1 million OCA, 750,000 Antiochians and 250,000 ROCOR, et al. I guestimated from this about 5 million. That’s about the highest estimate I’ve heard. The reason I used that was to emphasize that even using the wildest possible numbers, we constitute a tiny fraction of the USA’s population. I’m certainly willing to admit that the numbers I used probably exceed the number of currently living persons ever to set foot in an Orthodox Church in the USA.

        • Isa Almisry :

          In 1990 I think it was SUNY who conducted a survey of religion and society in which they asked people what they were. I remember for instance that the United Church of Christ showed up with more members than it claimed. The thinking was because the survey just asked people what they saw themselves as, and not who paid their dues etc, the number was higher. It came up with a 2% Orthodox number, which at the time would be 5,000,000. A followup in 2000 found 1%, or 2,500,000.

  4. Scott Pennington :


    I was writing my post while you were posting yours so I didn’t get to see it before I hit the submit button. Thank you for posting the Ligionier statement.

  5. Sorry, but but the vast majority of Orthodox Bishops are trapped in the golden prisons of lifetime salaries, large paychecks, gift$ of “luv”, and a suburban lifesyle. While the Orthodox Faithful struggle to pay the bills, professional celebacy is priceless. Lets be honest if the GOA was not paying for a couple of days for our hierarchs to hole up in the Helmsley Hotel would this happen? How many bishops would care enough to show up? How can anyone be critical of the EP and the OBEY 28 Mantra when the GOA is flipping the bill for this event?

    The Early Church met in the upper room under the threat of persecution now today the Church meets in a luxury hotel with room service and pay per view movies as they congratulate themselves on being masters of the universe.

    I would also like to point out once again that there is no canonical, spiritual or moral reason not to broadcast the proceedings of this assembly. What do our bishops have to hide? Let the world see how they work for themselves. OCL flushed $20,000 of member donations down this black hole without even asking for simple accountability to the people.

    The vast majority of bishops when left on their own will simply act to preserve their own self interest and suburban lifetsyle. This fact that has been proven time and again. The assembly will be no different. Too many overpaid bishops and professional clergy cannot risk their paychecks for the sake of American Unity.

  6. Geo Michalopulos :

    As much as I applaud Matthew’s piece (and optimism) I’m afraid that the subtext is incorrect: Scott is right, the Old Worlders do not want their American ATM closed down.

    Furthermore, I do not see how the EA can work under such bad faith. Just like SCOBA, once it becomes obvious that the EA is just a vehicle for GOA overlordship over North America, then you can bet your bottom dollar that it will fail.

    Why do I say this? Look at SCOBA. Once its charimanship became the permanent prerogative of the GOA, the other primates said: “OK, you foot the bill, we’ll just show up and look pretty for the cameras.” Think about it, SCOBA was relatively cheap to convene. I imagine all of the primates lived within 100 miles of NYC. That’s just a 2 hr drive, $10 for gas for a day-trip. The EA on the other hand is going to cost at least $40,000 to convene. You think that the GOA fat-cats are going to like to keep on footing the bill AT LEAST once a year, every year? Yeah right.

    No, what will happen will be that once the bishops realize that the EA is not serious, then find excuses to not show up. In retrospect, we’ll look back on SCOBA even during its decrepitude and consider it a silver (if not golden) age.

    • George, lets also remember this. If the GOA cannot be trusted to adhere to the SCOBA constitution of a rotating presidency. Why trust the GOA to run the EA?

      • Geo Michalopulos :

        good point, Andrew. Answer: you can’t. Ergo another reason for failure.

        • It’s going to be interesting to watch who gets to speak to the press regarding the EA. Will all bishops get to speak to the press freely? Will any bishop who is not part of the elevated OMOGENIA (Race of Greeks) get to talk to the press? Will some type of pseudo-canonical gag order be imposed? Will only a pre-written cotton candy press release be issued by the crackerjack 79th Street Press Office? I don’t think the GOA will tolerate each jurisdiction let alone bishop issuing their own opinion on the EA.

  7. Scott Pennington :

    Well, we’ll see what happens. A silver lining in all this for those who wish a speedy establishment of a united church in America would be that the very fact that so many are talking this up will have probably one of two possible effects: If, in fact, the “old world” primates and synods are serious, and if the more ethnocentric types in this country can be brought into agreement, then perhaps a united church might emerge on Mr. Namee’s timetable. If, however, this is just SCOBA II, then it is just possible that enough Orthodox in America in the various jurisdictions will become so disgusted that they simply take matters into their own hands, as Fr. Thomas Hopko suggested. Either way, perhaps the EA’s are a fortuitous development, whatever the intention behind them.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      At the end of the day, I see no reason why Orthodox bishops should not meet regularly once a year. It can’t be to the bad. It’s just that most will balk at being herded into a photo-op to show how wonderful the Phanar’s man is. In time, I doubt that quorums will be met.

      Ultimately it’s just a game of chicken: who’s will tire first? the GOA that needs to have 50+ bishops show up each and every time or the fat-cats who are footing the bill?

  8. Isa Almisry :

    I’ve posted my criticisms at the source. I’ll just say that the bishops should pick up where Ligonier I left off. And I think a critical mass of bishops and the wild card jurisdiction (OCA) plan on doing just that.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Isa, I’ve tried to get on the blog and post a comment but for some reason it won’t recognize my password. Can you direct me to it’s administrator? thanks,

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