Orthodox News - December 9, 2001

EP's Proposed GOA Charter is Ligonier's Death Knell

By Stephen P. Angelides
Orthodox Christian News Service

December 9, 2001 (OCNS) -- There are lots of minor problems with the Charter proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). The EP "negotiated" this proposal with the GOA hierarchs after it rejected the GOA's autonomy proposal.

Under the EP's proposal, the role of the clergy and laity in GOA governance would be dramatically diminished. For example, the Clergy-Laity Congress would no longer be required to convene biennially. All existing GOA regulations, including those that provide for parish councils, parish assemblies, and parish property, would be up for grabs. And the entire process which led to the EP's proposal contravenes the current GOA Charter.

But those internal GOA problems pale in comparison with the major problem with the EP's proposal, namely that it would create a barrier to the administrative unity of the Orthodox Church in the United States that would be difficult to surmount in our lifetimes. It would accomplish this by giving the EP absolute hierarchical control over the GOA.

Although the GOA currently is an eparchy of the EP, it remains an open question whether the GOA is a hierarchical church within the meaning of that term under U.S. constitutional law. And if the GOA is a hierarchical church, it remains an open question, in the event of a legal dispute between the GOA hierarchy and the EP hierarchy, which of the two would prevail under the current GOA Charter.

In the 1999 dispute between the GOA hierarchy and the EP over the removal of former GOA Archbishop Spyridon, the GOA hierarchy had at its disposal the threat of secession from the EP. In that case the EP acceded to the GOA's demand that it remove Spyridon, which put an end to thoughts of secession. But under the existing GOA Charter if the GOA hierarchy had attempted to secede from the EP, and the U.S. courts had to decide which of the two hierarchies would control the property of the GOA and its parishes, the GOA might have prevailed. Indeed, there is some speculation that the avoidance of such a scenario could have been one of the EP's motivations for removing Spyridon.

The EP's proposed Charter, if accepted by (or rather imposed upon) the GOA, would preclude such a scenario in any future dispute between the GOA and EP hierarchies. It would do this by definitively answering both of the key questions that are still open under U.S. law. Under the EP's proposed Charter, the GOA would be a hierarchical church, and the EP would be the controlling hierarchy.

Seven years ago this month most of the bishops of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) met at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and issued a statement calling for the jurisdictions that comprise SCOBA to move toward "organically become an administratively united Church." That statement set in motion a series of reactions by the EP, the latest and perhaps the last of which is the EP's proposed GOA Charter. First the EP forced the SCOBA hierarchs to apologize for the Ligonier statement. Next the EP forced Archbishop Iakovos, who as head of SCOBA had convened the Ligonier meeting, to resign as GOA Archbishop. Then the EP forced Archbishop Spyridon upon the GOA, while at the same time dismembering the GOA by cutting off Canada and Latin America. After two years of virtual civil war in the GOA, the EP removed Spyridon under extreme pressure from the GOA hierarchs, clergy, and laity, as well as the Greek government.

The EP proposed the GOA Charter after it rejected the GOA's proposal for autonomy. The GOA had offered the EP hierarchical control of the GOA in exchange for autonomy. The EP took one side of the deal and rejected the other. As Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese reminded us all recently, "unity cannot be given; it must be taken." If the EP succeeds in forcing its proposed Charter on the GOA--and absent an immediate uprising it appears it will--the GOA can forget about taking autonomy from the EP in our lifetimes. Without the possibility of an autonomous GOA, Ligonier is dead--and that's exactly the way the EP wants it.


[ Orthodox News
   December 9, 2001 ]