In an official announcement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has temporarily suspended the charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and has announced that a new committee will be formed to create a new charter.
The Charter of the Archdiocese is the document that governs the administration of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
According to the Patriarchate’s announcement, which included the suspension of Metropolitan Methodios of Boston and the removal of Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, the charter was “placed into abeyance,” or a temporary suspension, with “the objective of constituting a joint Committee of representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Archdiocese for the composition of a new Charter.”
Under the current structure of the Archdiocese, the American church is divided into one “Archdiocesan District” comprised of parishes in the New York area and eight Metropolises (Boston, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco).
The Archdiocese— and by extension, the Archbishop of the Church— has no real authority or jurisdiction in the affairs of each Metropolis. This structure was created in 1997 when the Patriarchate reacted to an attempt by then Archbishop Iakovos, who was the Archbishop of North and South America, to bring together Orthodox Churches of all jurisdictions into one American church.
At the time, seeking to retain control over the Churches in the Western Hemisphere, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew broke apart the church into separate entities with the creation of the Metropolises in Buenos Aires, Ce, Mexico, the United States and Canada.
In the case of the United States— Bartholomew further dissected the country into the current structure of eight Metropolises— each reporting to him directly— and one Archdiocesan District, under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese.
It was a classic example of “divide and conquer” and a clear attempt to break up the expansive and powerful single entity that was then under Iakovos’ authority and retain control over the entire Western Hemisphere by creating smaller entities that reported directly to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey.
According to a statement on the charter suspension by the Archdiocese, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a “new vision” in mind for its largest “eparchy,” or territory.
“Wanting to strengthen the role of the largest Eparchy of the Mother Church with a new vision and a new Charter suitable for the evolving and changing modern pastoral needs of American society, it was decided to place the current Charter (2003) of the Holy Archdiocese of America into abeyance.”
The statement continued that the move was temporary, until the issuance of the new Charter.
The administrative structures of the Archdiocese — e.g. the Holy Eparchial Synod, the Executive Committee, the Archdiocesan Council, the Clergy-Laity Assembly, as well as the respective structures of the Metropolises — will continue to function as they are.
Although the intentions of the Patriarchate remain unknown with regards to restructuring the American church, some indications point to a new reshuffle that could bring the independent Metropolises under the direct jurisdiction and control of the Archdiocese.
Numerous online discussions are taking place on Orthodox forums that include various scenarios, including demoting the rank of the existing Metropolises back into dioceses, with auxiliary bishops reporting directly to New York.
Archbishop Elpidophoros welcomes the move, offering a lengthy statement on the recent actions of the Patriarchate.
“We have just received a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the Church in America from the ground up. Over the past one hundred years, great hierarchs led the Archdiocese of America, of which the later Patriarch Athenagoras and Archbishop Michael stand out, who consolidated and strengthened our communities. Of course, Archbishop Iakovos was the one who, in his 37 years as Archbishop, transformed our Archdiocese, giving it a leading role in American society,” Elpidophoros said.
“Today we feel especially blessed, because with this decision, the Ecumenical Patriarchate gives us the great opportunity to envision and design our Church together in view of its 100th anniversary. All together, clergy and laity, we will participate in a joint committee with our Patriarchate, and we will develop and complete a new plan with new perspectives on Orthodoxy in America for the next 100 years.”
“With the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we will establish a joint committee to study the current needs and the dynamics of our Archdiocese and prepare the plan for our new Charter. I consider this decision to be divinely inspired and auspicious, because it comes a few days before the name day of the ever-memorable Archbishop Iakovos, during which we recall the glorious past, and prepare for a new century with new visions to strengthen our ministry and renew Pan-Orthodox cooperation. We are all grateful to the leader of Orthodoxy and the Holy and Sacred Synod that is with him.”
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