New York, August 16, 2019
Updated 8/16/19, 9:20 PM
The Orthodox Church in America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its autocephaly next year, with several events dedicated to the anniversary throughout America. Its tomos of autocephaly, granted by the Moscow Patriarchate, was signed by His Holiness Patriarch Alexei I and the 14 hierarchs of the Holy Synod in Moscow on April 10, 1970.
However, rumors and reports of the OCA’s plans to forfeit its autocephaly have been fairly commonplace in the past few years. While all Local Churches recognize the OCA as a true Orthodox Church, currently only the Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, Serbian, and Czech and Slovak Churches recognize its autocephaly. Thus, there are those who believe the OCA would give up its autocephaly to “normalize” its situation.
Most notably, the Patriarchate of Constantinople refuses to recognize the OCA’s independence, arguing that it alone has the authority to grant autocephaly. Thus, the OCA was not invited to participate in 2016’s “Great and Holy Council” on the island of Crete.
More recently, the primate of the OCA, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of America and All Canada concelebrated with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in Cappadocia on the Sunday of All Saints in June this year, which, along with the OCA’s stance against the schismatics of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” led to accusations of “back room deals,” though, as OrthoChristian reported, sources involved in the trip denied these rumors.
Having been in Cappadocia when Archbishop Elpidophoros was enthroned in New York as head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Met. Tikhon instead paid his first visit to the new Archbishop at the Archdiocesan headquarters on Wednesday.
The next day, a report appeared on the blog Monomakhos entitled, “Breaking: The OCA to go under EP!” with reference to two sources claiming that the OCA “has been in negotiations to cede its autocephaly and go under Istanbul.”
“One source says that this is ‘a done deal,’ the other says that negotiations are ‘ongoing,’” the report reads, adding that the OCA could either become a vicariate of the Greek Archdiocese or America, or receive an impaired form of autocephaly, such as the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” received from Constantinople in January.
However, as with the rumors surrounding His Beatitude’s trip to Cappadocia, OrthoChristian has been assured by multiple sources within the OCA administration that the Church has no such plans to give up its autocephaly.
One such source, His Eminence Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, the Secretary of the OCA Holy Synod, assured: “The OCA is not giving up its autocephaly— it will be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of getting it next year ... a number of times and in a number of places: May (South Canaan), August (Alaska), and November (Washington DC). There will be symposia on the history of it, the meaning of it and the future of it, etc.”
“As the Secretary of the OCA Synod of Bishops, I know of no such movement ... and I know of no such intention by His Beatitude (or any of our hierarchs),” His Eminence added.
Moreover, the OCA’s administrative organization would seem to effectively preclude any such secret deals. The Statute of the OCA defines the Church as autocephalous: “The Orthodox Church in America is an autocephalous Church with territorial jurisdiction in the United States of America and in Canada.” And while the Holy Synod of the OCA holds competency over “All matters involving doctrine, canonical order, morals, and liturgical practice,” it is the All-American Council that possesses the authority to “Adopt and amend the Statute.”
The All-American Council is convened periodically, normally at intervals of three years, as per the Statute. Its members include the hierarchs, clergy, and lay representatives. The last All-American Council was held in St. Louis, Missouri last year.
Update: His Grace Bishop David Mahaffey of Alaska has also responded to the rumors, on his Facebook page, stating: “Beloved in the Lord. There is a very vicious rumor being circulated ... concerning the status of the OCA that is completely false. I will not even mention the rumor here because I will not be fuel it any further, but suffice it to say, IT IS COMPLETELY FALSE.”