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News from Around the OCA

• Columbia, MD

Judge Louis Becker of the Howard County MD Circuit Court has dismissed counts 1-20 of the Koumentakos case (read that story here) in a hearing held April 22-23rd. The judge cited First Amendment rules allowing church’s the right to govern themselves without court interference, in his decision to release the OCA, the Diocese of Washington-New York and Metropolitan Herman, et al, from further action. Judge Becker denied, however, St. Matthew House’s motion to dismiss counts 21 & 22 --- the employment portion of the case --- which continues.

In his ruling the judge stated that it may very well be that secular, civil violations occurred (by Fr. Ray Valencia’s revealing details of Ms. Koumentakos’ confession and counseling sessions to members of the Synod, Metropolitan Council and in a letter sent to all) but given that Ms. Koumentakos brought the Church into the case, seeking relief there first, it then became a matter of church discipline and doctrine - and therefore, the court has no jurisdiction.

It is not known at this time if Ms. Koumentakos will appeal the decision.

• Syosset, New York

Metropolitan Jonah announced yesterday that, for the first time since his election, he will be leaving  for a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church from April 25- May 4.  The announcement is significant both for what it said and for what it left out: the Metropolitan will not be visiting Constantinople during this trip. Given the Metropolitan’s recent sermon in Dallas (read it here) an invitation to visit the Phanar was withdrawn.

And the fallout from the Dallas sermon continues. Following an angry Holy Week letter by the Greek Order of St. Andrew (Archons) (read it here) the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of San Francisco, Gerasimos, took the new Metropolitan to task in an April 22nd letter. +Gerasimos writes:

“Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

Christos Anesti!

The Church of Constantinople, tracing her apostolic roots back to St. Andrew the First Called of the Apostles, continues to preserve the integrity and sanctity of our Christian Orthodox Church.  The apostolicity of the Throne of Constantinople is further acknowledged by the historical fact that the Apostle and Evangelist John preached in Asia Minor.

For over 2000 years, faithful Orthodox Christians have kept the Church in Constantinople alive.  This is especially true of the last 556 years, since the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  Each day the faithful of the Ecumenical Throne, both clergy and laity, live their lives witnessing to our precious Faith in a Muslim world.  Their world is one of sacrifice and persecution that comes from outside the Church.

Recently, we have been saddened by a homily given by Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly known as the Russian Metropolia).  In his speech, Metropolitan Jonah attacks the Ecumenical Patriarchate and, in reality, all the ancient Patriarchates, calling them “Old World”  The Metropolitan ignores the canonical and ecclesiological understanding of that which is recognized in the diptychs of all canonical Orthodox Churches, namely, that the Ecumenical Patriarch is the first to be commemorated.  Whether Metropolitan Jonah realized it or not, his words were an attack on the apostolic succession, which is derived through the ancient Patriarchates.

The 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which convened in Chalcedon, not only affirmed, but completed that which had been understood by the Second Ecumenical Council, namely, that the Ecumenical Throne was granted “equal privileges as those of the Church of Rome.” To this day, for example, only the Ecumenical Patriarchate possesses the ecclesiastical authority to act judicially in the appeal process regarding clergy outside its jurisdiction (Canons 9 and 17)

Moreover, the spiritual authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not “papal” in its expression, spiritually or administratively.  To say so is an argument without understanding of Christian Orthodox ecclesiology.  One must remember that the Ecumenical Throne has jurisdiction over the Church in many countries throughout the world. Along with the land of modern-day Turkey, the Patriarch of Constantinople oversees the work of the Holy Gospel in Northern Greece, Mt. Athos, the Islands of the Dodecanese, Crete, Australia, Great Britain, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Albania, Carpatho-Russia, and the Western Hemisphere (especially among the Greek Orthodox and the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches).  There may be contention from other jurisdictions challenging the responsibilities of the Ecumenical Throne—although these responsibilities are supported in Canon Law—but it supports the same pretext of the Turkish government.

Metropolitan Jonah, despite a weak attempt to reinterpret his statements, has shown us that the Ecumenical Patriarchate must now concern itself not only with attacks by those outside the Church, but also from within the Church, as well.  It seems that the Metropolitan has ignored the fact that today’s world is moving towards globalization in every aspect of life, as evident in our ability to communicate with one another instantly.

I appeal to Metropolitan Jonah to reconsider his position, especially during this holy season, as we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, and come forth with a sincere apology to our Mother Church of Constantinople.

I beseech all God-loving Orthodox Christians to realize that we are all the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  This unity is expressed by the truth that we all partake of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.  As a Eucharistic community, we offer the prayer of the Holy Anaphora during the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, “…unite us all to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and the Cup in the communion of the one Holy Spirit.  Grant that none of us may partake of the holy Body and Blood of your Christ to judgment or condemnation, but that we may find mercy and grace with all the saints, who through the ages have pleased You: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.”

With Love in the Risen Lord,

+Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco“

What is surprising in the letter is not the Metropolitan’s defense of Constantinople’s position and positions, but his claims that the Patriarch of Constantinople “oversees the work of the Holy Gospel” in both “Albania (and) Carpatho- Russia.” The Albanian Orthodox Church has been autocephalous since 1937, and recognized by Constantinople as such. Although reconstituted in 1991 - through the efforts of Constantinople - it has been independent ever since.

The Church of the Czech and Slovak Lands (“Carpatho-Russia”) was given its autocephaly by the Russian Church in the 1950’s, and has been recognized as autocephalous by Constantinople since 1998. If the Metropolitan is going to make a habit of attacking others for having “ignored the fact that today’s world is moving towards globalization in every aspect of life, as evident in our ability to communicate with one another instantly”, he might do well to take a page from his own playbook and google both Churches and read their websites (here and here) before claiming jurisdiction over them for his Patriarchate.

More disturbing, however, is his dismissal of Metropolitan Jonah’s Great Friday apology as a “weak attempt to re-interpret his statements”. In that Apology, (Read it here) made five days before Metropolitan Gerasimos published this letter, +Jonah does exactly what the Metropolitan requested he do: “reconsider his position, especially during this holy season, as we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, and come forth with a sincere apology to our Mother Church of Constantinople. Fortunately, the Metropolitan concluded his letter with a recognition that all Orthodox Christians are "united" in the sacraments. He did not break communion for Jonah’s self-admitted “uncharitable comments”, and for that his forebearance must be appreciated.

-Mark Stokoe


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