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" The Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and Those Who Assist Him in Church Administration: A Canonical Perspective"

Priest David Brum

January 1999

Upon acceptance of his canonical election, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (hereinafter, “the Metropolitan”) is endowed with certain prerogatives and assumes certain responsibilities.  Among these, as enumerated in the Church’s principal governing document, The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, 1991 Edition, Revised (hereinafter, “OCA Statute”), are that he enjoys primacy, being the first bishop among equals, and that he convenes and presides at meetings of various Church bodies, including the Holy Synod, the Lesser Synod, the All American Council, and the Metropolitan Council.  As first among the bishops, the Metropolitan elevates the names of the heads of other autocephalous Churches during the Divine Liturgy.  It is the Metropolitan who consecrates and distributes the Holy Chrism, issues pastoral letters addressed to the bishops, clergy, and laity of the Church, and provides an annual report to the Holy Synod.  Further, and most comprehensively, the Metropolitan supervises the internal and external life and welfare of the Church (OCA Statute, Article II, Section 2, 4, 6 & 7; Article III, Sections 2 & 12; Article IV, Sections 1 & 2; Article V, Sections 1, 2,  & 4).

Other prerogatives, duties, and responsibilities of the Metropolitan are established by canon law and by accepted Church discipline.  Still other responsibilities may evolve as needs or circumstances dictate, by the nature of the office, or as deemed appropriate by the Holy Synod.

It is clear from the varied nature and comprehensive scope of the Metropolitan’s primatial responsibilities that he must necessarily seek the assistance of others to assure that his supervision of the internal and external life of the Church in all its diversity will be fully effective.  This is most especially true in the area of Church administration.  In view of the complexity of this aspect of Church life, there are clearly areas of  responsibility which the Metropolitan will assign to others, based upon their experience and expertise. 

A Central Church Administration has been thus established consisting of those individuals, offices, and organizations which contribute to the practical and efficient supervision and support of Church life.  These administrative divisions or departments include, but are not limited to, pastoral ministry, communications, youth ministry, development, external affairs, theological education, priestly formation, archives, finances, property management, and personnel.  The individuals who head these and other administrative departments always fulfill their assigned responsibilities under the guidance and at the direction of the Metropolitan, who, as Primate, has been entrusted with the general supervision of Church life.

Notable among those who assist the Metropolitan in his role as principal overseer of the life of the Church are the Chancelllor, the Secretary, and the Treasurer.  These positions are established by the OCA Statute which states  that those who fill them are appointed by the Holy Synod upon recommendation of the Metropolitan Council (OCA Statute, Article II, Section 7, m).

These positions or offices are mentioned in only one other place within the OCA Statute.   Article V, Section 1, establishes the Metropolitan Council as the permanent executive body of the Church which exists to implement the decisions of the All American Council and to continue its work between sessions.  In addition to the Metropolitan, who serves as Chairman, and specified elected representatives, the Chancellor, Secretary, and Treasurer are also designated as members.  The same section also provides for a committee which may meet with the Lesser Synod “to discuss normal church administrative procedures,” if so invited.  The Statute mandates that the Chancellor, Secretary, and Treasurer serve as members of this committee.

Apart from the above-cited references, the OCA Statute makes no other mention of these offices or their function.  Neither does the Church’s civil "Act of Incorporation", introduced in the Senate of the State of New York on March 21, 1972, and enacted on May 24, 1972, speak of these offices except by inference (Act of Incorporation, Section 7).

Historically, the office of Chancellor has developed from one of mere secretarial or notarial responsibilities to one of delegated participation in the hierarch’s role as overseer of  Church life.  Although not properly a vicar, the Chancellor, in accepted Church practice, is generally granted vicarious power in certain areas of Church life, most properly in the area of administration.  Indeed, if so delegated by the Metropolitan, the Chancellor may assume total supervision over the day-to-day administration of Church and may exercise this delegated authority over any and all administrative offices which have been established for the maintenance and support of church life.  In this capacity, the Chancellor is seen to act with the mind of the hierarch and on his behalf.  The office of Chancellor has long been accepted as an ecclesiastical office exercised by a member of the clergy (c. XXVI, of Chalcedon).  Thus, the relationship between Chancellor and Metropolitan can also seen [sic] to be influenced and further enhanced by the reverential obedience owed by a member of the clergy to the Metropolitan as a bishop, indeed, as the first bishop among equals.

The offices of Secretary and Treasurer are less well defined.  They are not ecclesiastical offices as such offices are understood in the canonical tradition.  Rather, they are a relatively recent development, having originated primarily in response to the requirements of American corporate law.  It is only in response to the exigencies of civil corporate law that the functions of secretary and treasurer have developed into “Officers of the Church.”  This is not to say, however, that these offices do not serve a practical purpose or that they cannot play an important role in effective Church administration.

As noted above, no job description or range of competence for the offices of Secretary and Treasurer have been formulated by the Church’s canonical tradition.  Further, in speaking of these roles within the context of the Central Church Administratin of the Orthodox Church in America, it must be noted again that neither the Statute of the OCA nor the Act of Incorporation required by civil law provide a definition of their purpose and role.  Thus, the scope and nature, duties, and responsibilities of these offices can only be found in their relationship to the Metropolitan and his obligation to supervise the life and welfare of the Church.  Clearly, these roles are defined by the needs of the Church and by the one who is entrusted by canonical tradition with the supervision of the Church’s life and welfare, namely, the Metropolitan, who is charged by the same canonical tradition to always act one in mind with the Holy Synod (c. XXXIV, of the Apostles; c. IX, of Antioch) to which he makes an annual report (OCA Statute, Article II, Section 7, h).


The governing documents of the Orthodox Church in America provide neither the job descriptions, scope of competence, nor channels of accountability of those who hold the various positions which exist within the Church’s administrative offices.  These offices are clearly an extension of the Metropolitan’s administrative ministry, are under his direct or delegated supervision, and exist within the Church (apart from their role in the fulfillment of civil law requirements) solely for the purpose of assisting him in his canonical duty to act as chief overseer of the internal and external life of the Church.  Therefore, the nature, role, functions and accountability structure of these offices are determined by the Metropolitan, to whom they are subject.

Preeminent among those who assist the Metropolitan in his administrative duties is the Chancellor.  If so delegated by the Metropolitan, he may assume total management of the day-to-day administration of the Church and may exercise direct supervision over all other Church administrative offices, including the above-mentioned offices of Secretary and Treasurer.

Clearly, by virtue of their being exercised in an ecclesial context, these administrative offices, indeed, all positions in Church administraation, do not exist for their own sake and never function in isolation from or independent of Church administration in its totality.  Rather, their very raison d’ etre is to serve the Church by assisting the Metropolitan in his canonically-assigned task of supervising and administering the life, affairs, and concerns of the Church.



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