(Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy) - Editorial Note: O&H doesn’t usually post about ecclesiastical politics per se, but in this case there were some interesting ecclesiological doctrinal issues touched upon, which is what this post is about. As with all posts on O&H, the views expressed here represent the poster and not necessarily the editors or any other writers for the site. The only comments that will be published are those which deal with the substance of this post, i.e., with the ecclesiological/canonical questions. This isn’t a place to hash out church politics in general. —The EditorsComplete article here.
On January 15, 2014, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) clarified its vision for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. This came in the form of an epistle from Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, acting as the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR to Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly of Bishops. This letter was subsequently posted to the official ROCOR website. Before we analyze the contents of the letter, some background is necessary.
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops is an institution established out of the decision of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, convoked in Chambésy, Switzerland in 2009. Among many tasks, the Assembly of Bishops is charged with “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis” (Rules of Operation of Episcopal Assemblies, Article 5). This plan was agreed to by all fourteen Autocephalous Churches, including Moscow, based on their desire for ”the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements.” Pursuant to this goal, in the 2013 meeting of the Assembly of Bishops, the Committee for Regional Canonical Planning presented a Proposal for Canonical Restructuring of the Orthodox Church in the USA, followed by lengthy discussion with the bishops. The centerpiece of this proposal is the restructuring of the various Orthodox jurisdictions so that no bishop’s territory overlaps another’s, according to apostolic custom: one bishop in one city. Some of the details of this proposal were presented by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick in Cleveland in November of 2013.
In responding to this, admittedly ambitious, proposal, the epistle from ROCOR to the Episcopal Assembly makes a bold claim, namely:
...we cannot and do not consider… that the present situation of multiple Sister Churches tending to the diverse needs of the flock in the unique cultural situation of North America is, of itself, a violation of canonical order.
Put simply, ROCOR does not believe that the overlapping dioceses are a violation of canonical order but rather that there are other violations of canons which must be the primary task of the Assembly, especially...