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Friday, 24 January 2014

ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

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
the conducting of inter-faith marriages; the practices of reception into the Church; divergent approaches to fasting; issues of confession and preparation for Holy Communion; the release and reception of clergy; etc.
 In support of this opinion, Archbishop Kyrill puts forward three arguments:
  1. The unique challenge of the unity-in-diversity of North and Central America.
  2. Previous canonical precedent for diocesan variation.
  3. The achievement of the goal of the “bond of love.”
The goal of this writing is to analyse the claims made in this document to see if they hold up to theological and historical scrutiny. I am not however attempting to put forward any plan of unity, or endorse any such particular plan. The difficulties are great, and indeed many political ambitions are present. However, any such political ambitions as such are not the intention of this work. Rather, the goal is to examine the specific arguments presented in this document and to weigh them against the Patristic dogma of the Church.

Here is the substantial analysis of Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco's letter on behalf of ROCOR, from an Orthodox point of view, by Dr Nathaniel McCallum:
ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

And here is the text of Archbishop Kyrill's letter on the ROCOR website:
Letter from the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops to the Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North and Central America
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