The Assembly Stands Firm: AXIOI!

Last week, Archbishop Elpidophoros informed the Assembly of Canonical Bishops that he was going to go forward with the ordination of Alexander Belya to the episcopate. 

As a concession to their very real concerns, he assured the bishops that Belya would not be allowed to sit on the Assembly, even though this was a clear violation of its own rules.  Needless to say, this makes a mockery of the entire Episcopal Assembly protocols that were created in order to bring order out of the chaos that obtains in the Orthodox diaspora in the first place.  

In other words, Elpidophoros thought that even though he was using such a Mickey Mouse ruse, the American bishops would submit to his prudence and political astuteness.  And anyway, if you’re first without equals, you can always reach into your bag of tricks whenever you want and pull out whatever trick is necessary to get your way.  The Slavs (and now Albanians, Antiochians, Romanians and everybody else) will eventually get over it.  

Only this time, they didn’t. 

By now, we are used to such hubris from the primate of the GOA.  Still, it never ceases to shock normal sensibilities.  Last week, we published our own assessment of this prideful statement.  We laid out exactly what this unilateral action portended, especially if the other bishops sitting on the American assembly acquiesced.

Thankfully, the American bishops rose to the occasion and pushed back.

AXIOI!!!

You can read their statement below:   

Comments

  1. What if Father Alexander (Belya) is telling the truth? That seems to be a question that nobody is considering, or if they have, they aren’t saying because they don’t like the implications of it (or the long-term effect of opening the door for secular courts to pry into the inner workings of religious organizations). If Father Alexander was the victim of political machinations within ROCOR and this court battle brings that to light, what then?

    • It is not for a civil, secular court to decide these matters. America can pass any laws it wants. But the Church is a higher law and above anything the US does. ROCOR has decided the matter within its own synod. That is the end of it in the sphere of righteousness.

      In the cesspool of America, there may come an adverse decision. ROCOR will bear whatever cross it needs to in order to follow Christ in that event. Perhaps the government will steal “damages” or defame the Church. Who knows? But the power to bind and loose is granted to the bishops, not to Uncle Sam who increasingly looks like Uncle Joe (Stalin).

      • Mark E. Fisus says

        I’m afraid you misunderstand the role of the court in this case. It is adjudicating whether Belya was defamed, not whether he is a bishop of ROCOR. Information supporting Belya’s claim to the episcopacy has the potential to emerge merely as a byproduct of litigation about the defamation. But the court is deciding whether defamation took place, not internal church matters.

        • A civil court has no role in a dispute within the the Church. Even the language doesn’t make sense. Being deposed is not being defamed.

        • I think this “emergence” of information is his ultimate intention. To prove he was defamed, the chain of events that led to his “exit” from ROCOR will have to be examined in detail. The ugly business of Metropolitan Nicholas’ “house cleaning” will undoubtedly come to light in the proceedings. That is the point I was making.

          If he proves in a court of law that ROCOR lied about him, and it exposes nasty shenanigans surrounding Metropolitan Hilarion, then it is a one-two punch. It “clears his name” and at the same time is revenge against ROCOR, embarrassing them. That is what leaves the nasty taste in my mouth, and why the Canons forbid this horror. Even if he wins, we all lose.

        • Here is the complaint.

          A few of things stand out to me about it. Firstly, I stand by the fact that this is an internal matter of the Church, not a civil matter. The alleged “defamation” was nothing more than questioning the authenticity of letters and signatures pursuant to the process of raising Belya to the episcopate. The questioning, assuming the facts laid out in the complaint, was done in the most dispassionate manner possible. If the defendants truly believed some documents were indeed forged, they could do no less. They did not outright accuse Belya of forgery but simply referred to the irregularities and the apparent inauthenticity of the documents as grounds to withhold consecration.

          The letter of September 3rd, quoted below, constitutes the entirety of the plaintiff’s case against the defendants:

          * * *

          The confirmation by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of “the election of Archimandrite Alexander (Belya) as Bishop of Miami, vicar of the
          Eastern American diocese” and the preliminary study of the latest complaints received from Florida concerning him, resulted in serious discussion at the meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Eastern American Diocese, which was held on Tuesday, September 3rd of this year. With a sense of responsibility for our Church, we feel we must respectfully and deferentially bring forward this concern and report the following to the Synod of Bishops.
          1) It turns out that Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York knew nothing about the written appeals directed to Moscow containing a request for confirmation of the “episcopal election” of the Archimandrite by the Synod of Bishops (which never took place). The Diocesan Council members have examined the content of these letters, which, as stated by His Eminence, were drawn up in an irregular manner. For example, the “request” does not contain the appropriate citation from the decision of the Synod of Bishops, nor does it contain a biography of the cleric “elected.”
          2) The letter submitted with the signature of Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal & Canada raises doubts as well, as it was not issued numbered or dated. In addition, it was not printed on the official letterhead of the Most Reverend Gabriel. Nevertheless, we understand that the Holy Synod, having received

          Case 1:20-cv-06597 Document 1 Filed 08/18/20 Page 10 of 26

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          the appeal supposedly from our First Hierarch, had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the written request of His Eminence.

          From all this is it clear that not only are the above-mentioned petition letters invalid, but the candidacy of Archimandrite Alexander (Belya) for the episcopacy cannot possibly be given serious consideration, due to the current situation in the Florida Deanery and the submission so many serious complaints against him. Thereby, we humbly appeal to our ruling hierarch to suspend Archimandrite Alexander (Belya) from performing any clerical functions, to temporarily remove him and the warden of the Cathedral of the Blessed Matrona of Moscow in Miami and St. Nicholas Monastery from all duties and church obediences until the completion of the investigation, and, to formally open such investigation. We ask the eminent members of the Synod of Bishops to remove the candidacy of Archimandrite Alexander (Belya) permanently and to never consider it against in the future. We also ask that the Synod to ascertain the circumstances of the confirmation of the non-existent “election.”

          * * *

          Not a word of the letter accuses Belya of forgery, nor of taking any part in the apparent “irregularities” mentioned. It does refer to other complaints against him in the Florida deanery, however.

          My suspicion is that the letter was vetted by attorneys and that the Church can demonstrate the truth of every word asserted in a court of law. Accusations of criminal activity by any particular person were studiously avoided.

          Secondly, Met. Hilarion is no longer with us (may his memory be eternal), so he cannot testify about what he did or did not know at the time. Bear in mind that the plaintiff must prove that the statements of the defendants were knowingly false as well as defamatory in order for them to prevail in court.

          Thirdly, for the sake of argument, assuming that the plaintiff can prove the intent to defame and that the statements were actually defamatory to Belya, there is the question of damages. The elements of a tort (a civil wrong) include duty, breach, injury and causation. What was the injury to Belya measured in pecuniary terms?

          This becomes a serious question given that despite the alleged “defamation”, Belya was received by the CP and is currently awaiting consecration as a bishop. Not only this, but the GOARCH is quite a bit more generous than the ROCOR in its compensation package for its clergy. Economically speaking, Belya seems to have “fallen up”, so to speak.

          This is simply Americans for the Separation of Church and State sticking their nose in where they have no business in order to be a thorn in the side to ROCOR.

          Of course, there is what St. Paul said in Corinthians:

          “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

          The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

          • Joseph Lipper says

            A defamation case can easily be settled out of court. This is not a complicated dispute over property. Does ROCOR want to settle this out of court? I’ll guess we’ll find out.

            Yet I wonder why ROCOR really cares if a few of their clergy/parishes want to join the Greek Archdiocese. Why not just let them go? And why did they have to go through all the trouble of deposing Fr. Alexander Belya several months after he had already transferred to the Greek Archdiocese? What’s it to them?

            Is ROCOR afraid that more clergy/parishes will want to join this Slavic Vicariate? That’s the impression I get.

          • To me, it seems like Belya “doth protest too much”.

            BTW, Gail and I were just talking over supper. She asked “why does Elpi want Belya so much?” This question stumped me but it caused me to rethink the whole issue. Mainly along these lines: Belya’s entry into the EP/GOA is so vital for Cpole (for some reason) that Bart and Elpi are willing to risk the displeasure of the other American bishops. Even if that means that ACOB ceases to exist. We should not forget that the entire Episcopal Assembly process was set in motion by Bartholomew, it’s actually one of the singular positive accomplishments of his patriarchate.

            In other words, why is Belya’s ordination to the episcopacy so important as to permanently derail unity in America?

            • Well if Belya is ordained a bishop it will be very telling if he “accidentally” recited the filioque during the liturgy.

              Belya has probably promised him that he can disassemble ROCOR and bring several parishes into the vicariate.

              You don’t just ignore all of the bishops and continually push this man if there is nothing behind it.

              • Mark E. Fisus says

                recited the filioque during the liturgy.

                That was beyond irritating. St. Mark of Ephesus was surely interceding against that bishop at that moment.

                Anyway, I can believe both that Mr. Belya was defamed and that he should not be consecrated. Nuance is possible even on this topic.

            • Antiochene Son says

              Because, much as in Ukraine, he has committed to a course that demonstrates his “first without equals” status. If he backs down, his theory is disproven. So he will not, even if he blows up the Church in the process.

          • On a different subject, I am hearing rumors that mask mandates and other covid restrictions are returning. Okay, so, here’s an opportunity to actually DO something. What’s the plan? We MUST respond in a coordinated manner! No more just shaking your fists at the sky and clutching pearls!

    • David , have you ever met “Fr Alexander” and family ? I have !

    • My great grandfather once told me that “Birds of a feather flock together”.

      • Sirach 27:9 [LXX]
        πετεινὰ πρὸς τὰ ὅμοια αὐτοῖς καταλύσει…
        “Birds, with those of their kind, will gather…”

    • Antiochene Son says

      What if he was? That doesn’t mean he has the right to be a bishop. And certainly after filing suit nobody is under obligation to ordain him.

      Anyone who wants to be a bishop that badly, almost certainly should not be.

      • Joseph Lipper says

        My assumption is that the six former ROCOR parishes of the Slavic Vicariate want Fr. Alexander Belya as their bishop, not necessarily the other way around. Their current bishop is Archbishop Elpidophoros, which probably doesn’t make much sense to them.

        Likewise, the defamation case is more importantly about these six parishes of the Slavic Vicariate. Fr. Alexander Belya is really fighting to protect them from defamation. He is really just the figurehead in this court case.

        • Their current bishop is Archbishop Elpidophoros, which probably doesn’t make much sense to them.

          This is now the second time (as far as I recall) that you’ve made this point. Why, if they choose to be under the EP, should this be a problem?

        • Antiochene Son says

          Belya could remove himself from consideration and continue to fight without the appearance of personal gain, if this is true.

  2. Really good to see the bishops standing their ground. And very good to see Met. Sava’s signature in there.

    Also, really good to see their respective Patriarchs CC’d as well. That means the bishops have been keeping the patriarchs up to date on the situation. Of course they are very aware of Barts misdeeds so it’s good the bishops in America are keeping the “old world” up to date.

    Bart’s “Bulgarian loving” henchman going to Kiev to meet with Z and I’m sure discuss the takeover of the Lavra is very bad optics on top of everything else. I legit don’t think I’ve seen a group of people make so many terrible mistakes. Either they’re very dumb or they have a terrible PR person.

    As a side note, Elpi had charter meetings with the
    Metropolis of SF & Atlanta, I’m in the Metropolis of Atlanta and from everyone I know Elpi is no fan favorite. I also belonged to a parish under the Metropolis of SF and can say the exact same, at least with the two parishes I was involved with so I expect this to have gone over like a sack of potatoes.

    • I’ll add my prediction:

      They’re going to go ahead with the ordination and he will be consecrated as bishop of (insert non-existent See here) and he will be made an auxiliary bishop within the GOA. This will circumvent him joining the AOB while still making him a “bishop.”

      And then after that it will be the next scandal…

      There’s nothing that tells me they will drop this, there’s too much contextual evidence from Bart and Elpi that tells me this. This is part of them pushing their first without equals heresy.

      If I have any criticism of our bishops it’s that they have chosen Belya, and not the outright heresy, as their final straw.

      • anonsayswhat says

        The Assembly of Bishops has no canonical status, and is not a synod. One could argue it is just a useful tool when certain members of it need to establish a controversial message/communique to ignorant masses, as if they have “authority”.

        It’s always a win for Orthodoxy when Bishops speak the truth and fight for it, and in this case the AoB seems to be a double edged sword in their way, more specifically Elpidophoros. But will it stop them? I doubt it.

        I agree, I predict Belya will be appointed as Bishop in the GOA (although I pray for the opposite). To reintroduce the possibility of ordaining this scandalous person, when in June they had almost settled the issue as too controversial and placed it aside, one could have come to the conclusion that it was something the GOA could not even commit to, with the foreseeable backlash… So why bring this up again?

        Insert 4 Chan Meme: [“If you only knew how bad things really are.”]

  3. It puts some of the Gk clergy in America between a ” rock and a hard place”.

    • Their Rock is Christ. Let them be strong, speak truth and join their brothers in condemning Elpi. Is it not the role of clergy to protect the flock – not go along with the wolf???

      And tell them not to drink tap water, it has estrogen in it from high birth control pill use, will emasculate them and damage their ability to be the kind of priests we need.

  4. I feel very blessed being a Deacon in ROCOR. I feel nothing but love and admiration for my fellow clergy. I highly respect and love my Metropolitan and Bishops. If the Holy Synod states that he wasn’t elected than that’s good enough for me.

  5. Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the OCA, Fr. Alexander Rentel, traveled to the Kiev Caves Lavra to congratulate Met. Onuphry IN PERSON on the 9th anniversary of his primacy over the Ukrainian Church and deliver greetings from Met. Tikhon with an icon of St. Herman of Alaska!

    https://orthochristian.com/155514.html

  6. I want to add that it gives me great pleasure and hope that all along, the Romanian Orthodox Church has refused to fold under the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s pressure: both regarding the phonycephalous project in Ukraine and the Belya affair.

    Multi ani!

    • Finally! I wonder what Sy Anthony’s is going to do and the rest of the Greek monasteries.

      • Gail, maybe you know this, but so the Ephraim monasteries in America follow the directives of Philotheou on Athos? That’s where Elder Ephraim was abbot so I wonder if they still go by their directives.

        But I agree, I wonder when St. Anthony’s and the others will finally shut their doors to Elpi.

        • As far as I know, they don’t. Elder Ephraim continued to lead them until it was no longer possible. From what I understand, Father Paisios took over. I also heard one of my other favorite people, Father Markellos, is playing a role but I can’t confirm that. I haven’t seen him for years. He spent quite a lot of time at Mt. Athos after I last saw him. He gave me the “keys of the kingdom” one day allowing me to go into every chapel on a day when there were only a couple of people. I think it was in 2017. I had an appointment with Father Paisios but he was “MIA” for some reason. – Being able to go all over that monastery all by myself was one of those experiences I will never forget.

          In any case, every chapel was open and lit up. I got to go into all of them except St. Elias, as there is no way I could have climbed up that hill! I really wanted to, though. The man who brought me into the Church is named Elias and he used live at St. Anthony’s. Elder Ephraim one stood at the foot of that hill back in the day and told my friend Elias to take a picture of him there, which he did. Apparently, Elder Ephraim knew what the name of that chapel would be although it was many, many years later before it was built. If I’m not mistaken, one man built it.

          • That’s a lovely story Gail! That place really is heaven on earth.

          • That’s a great story Gail, Glory to God!

            I have not had the chance to meet Fr. Paisios but I did get to meet another priest monk who I know.

            Crazy enough I did get to go into the St. Elias chapel while I was there. I was told that it’s usually locked but I decided to go see “just in case.” Turns out there were some visiting ROCOR priests from SE Asia, they were getting a tour of the chapel so I got to go in.

    • Axios to Athos.

      Athos will be what saves Greek Orthodoxy.

    • I was very startled to read this in your link:

      PS. Elpidophoros keeps violating American immigration laws by bringing to America “his people” from Greece and Turkey on educational (F1) and religious (R) visas and then employing them at parishes as he has no right to. That is probably why he asks several parishes to send their salaries to GOA, who then pays the new immigrants.

      Is this true? Has anyone reported this to the INS?

      At least it’s not as egregious as the Catholic Church, which takes billions from the US government via Catholic Charities to move illegal immigrants around the country and provide them services, massively violating our immigration laws. It is the biggest government contractor for such services. And in doing so, is complicit in the massive sex trafficking across the border, including of children.

      Word on the street is Catholic pedo clergy are abusing illegal kids, since it’s getting harder to abuse American kids due to awareness. That’s in addition to already existing gay networks, legally bringing poor young men from countries south of the border and making them seminarians and then priests in exchange for sexual favors to American clergy. One priest was convicted of sex trafficking for organizing such a network in seminaries in the northeast US, is now in jail.

  7. I don’t think he should be a bishop either. Suing in secular court is not the way to go about things in the Church (but again, that didn’t stop the lawsuits in the aftermath of the 20th Century). The Ecumenical Patriarchate heard his case and decided ROCOR was wrong (which was why he was received by the EP). That should have been enough, but it wasn’t for him, apparently. I agree, he is not a suitable candidate to be a bishop. What should have happened is he remain a priest and minister to the flock he has.

    With that said, this incident and the other incidents I mentioned in the other thread shed light on problems within ROCOR. Metropolitan Hilarion, who was “trusting to a fault” allowed allegedly bad people into his confidence. Now, it may be that Metropolitan Nicholas “cleaned house.” That’s great! Unfortunately, there is still a mess that was made. Archbishop Demetrios was by all accounts I heard, a good man and a good pastor. But, he trusted the wrong people, with the consequences in the GOA we all know about. Good pastors and spiritual fathers don’t necessarily make good administrators.

    Perhaps Father Alexander is telling the truth, although it was the corrupt elements that have since been cleansed that approved this elevation. I saw someone comment elsewhere that such elevations (were) are a common practice in the Orthodox world, albeit corrupt.

    As I said before, this court case will have the sad effect of airing ROCOR’s dirty laundry for all to see. It certainly doesn’t create trust or confidence, and it definitely isn’t a good character witness for Father Alexander himself.

    That brings up a larger question: What to do when whole Synods commit an injustice or do wrong to a cleric? Contrary to popular belief, St. Nektarios didn’t just sit quietly and accept what was done to him. He never stopped sending letters or petitioning Alexandria to be reinstated. He also petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate to hear his case (which Father Alexander did, and they responded positively, that should have been the end of it). The difference here, is he used canonical means to get justice, and he never spoke ill or caused dissension in the Church.

    The priests in Africa who were basically told by the Patriarch and Synod to be quiet and stay out of it—–should they have done so? Moscow received them, and this was applauded. On the flip side, anti-war priests in Russia are being received by the EP and reassigned to Turkey and elsewhere. Is that right?

    What should the cleric do? “Be like St. Nektarios” is a flippant answer, even if it is a holy thing to do. Another example that comes to mind is Elder Arsenie Boca, who was not only defrocked, by he was expelled from his monastery, stripped of his cassock, and forced to live as a layman. That happened all over in the Eastern Bloc. Secret Liturgies were served, in defiance of authorities (sometimes Church authorities).

    This isn’t an easy answer. When schism came to the Metropolia, Father Nicola Yanney chose to take his flock to Antioch. The Metropolia’s answer was to sue him into oblivion. The stress of that and the Spanish Flue killed him.

    What to do?

  8. One thing I have been thinking about with regards to how close the AANA & ROCOR are, and how close the Antiochian and Russian patriarchates are in general is the possibility of the Patriarchate of Antioch switch back to the Old Calendar? It’s only been in use ~100 years and given what the wider Church now knows about Meletios Metaxis it seems it could be reversed. If I’m not mistaken the Church of Poland did this not too long ago.

    • We can dream! I have often hoped for this very thing.

    • Antiochene Son says

      Your lips to God’s ears… But even more, I’d like to see the Antiochian Archdiocese abandon the novel practice of celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the evening. Can the Antiochian Clergy who visit this blog tell us if this practice is officially blessed? Because it seems to have popped up everywhere in the last couple of years and became the norm for great feasts.

      The way people reacted at my parish the last time my priest tried to have a festal liturgy in the morning doesn’t give me much hope for it.

      • George Michalopulos says

        I too, think that evening liturgies are “not ideal” (read: not good). Too much of a concession to the prevailing American ethos of not taking festal days seriously.

        A suggestion: parish priests should pick one day in the middle of the week and do a morning (say 8am or 9am) liturgy routinely and regardless of whether that particular day will coincide with a feast day. These priests will be surprised at how many people will start showing up.

    • I’ve heard that only one parish in the OCA Diocese of Alaska (successor to the original Orthodox diocese in America) ever switched to the New Calendar, and that parish just switched back, so the entire diocese is now on the Julian Calendar again.