In an emergency meeting of the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America called by Archbishop Demetrios on Thursday, July 20, the American Metropolitans appointed a three-person delegation who will travel to Turkey to insist to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that their selection to fill the vacant seat in Chicago must be respected.
The synod of American Metropolitans, comprising the hierarchs from the Metropolises of Boston, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Atlanta, Detroit, Denver and San Francisco and presided over by Archbishop Demetrios of America, met in New York City on July 6 to deliberate and create what the Church calls a “triprosopon,” or list of three names to fill the vacant seat left open by the passing of Metropolitan Iakovos.
Traditionally, according to Church rules, the three names are then submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for review by thy Synod and ultimate election of the new Metropolitan.
Traditionally, the Patriarchate’s synod selects the first name on the list, which in this case was Bishop Sebastian of Zela.
But the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the right, according to church rules, to reject the three-person list and return it, without cause, explanation or reason, which it did upon receiving the list from New York.
The delegation traveling to Istanbul, Turkey, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located in the Planar neighborhood, consists of Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta and Archbishop Demetrios.
The incidents, unprecedented in the tense relations between New York City and the Phanar, are certain to create a power struggle between the Mother Church and its wealthiest, largest territory in the United States.
The latest power struggle will, no doubt, put pressure on the 89-year-old Demetrios, who took over the American church in 1999 following a tumultuous period of conflict that led to the forced resignation of Archbishop Spyridon.
Many in the Church wonder if Demetrios has the stamina and determination to withstand the latest test of power that puts his independent-minded American Metropolitans who want to govern their own affairs, against a Mother Church that wants to maintain close control over the affairs of its flock that is scattered throughout the world.
Demetrios is also bound by the Charter of the Archdiocese to ensure the American Church remains in unity with the Mother Church. Article 13 of the Archdiocesan Charter states that the Archbishop of America “be totally committed to the preservation of unity within the Archdiocese as well as to its bond of unity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Historically, the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not take well to shows of “power” from its Metropolises and Archdioceses throughout the world where it has direct authority.
When then-Archbishop Iakovos moved to give more independence the American Orthodox Churches and called a meeting in Ligonier, Pennsylvania of almost 30 Orthodox Christian hierarchs of various jurisdictions in November of 1994, he was quickly rebuked by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and ultimately retired.
In an ultimate assertion of authority over the American Church, he then quickly moved to break up the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America into several smaller (and weaker) Metropolises, also breaking Canada, South and Central America into separate Metropolises.
Bartholomew also divided the once powerful American Church into the existing, smaller Metropolises of Boston, New Jersey, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver and San Francisco, as well as limiting the power of the populous region in and around New York to the “Direct Archdiocesan District” falling under the Archbishop’s responsibilities, who would hold no real authority over the other Metropolises.