New York, July 1, 2022
Archbishop Elpidophoros and the Patriarchate of Constantinople consider that the allegations against Alexander Belya, a defrocked former archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, lack any proof, and thus they intend to proceed with his consecration to the episcopacy later this month.
On June 27, a number of top hierarchs of the jurisdictions of the Canonical Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America wrote to Abp. Epidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America expressing their grave concerns about the Patriarchate’s plans.
Belya was canonically defrocked by ROCOR in February 2020, which the signing hierarchs, representing the OCA and the Antiochian, Serbian, Romanian, and Bulgarian Churches in America, all recognize as canonically binding.
However, to avoid his investigation and canonical deposition, Belya fled to GOARCH, where he created a Slavic Vicariate, which is mainly made up of defrocked, suspended, and schismatic priests.
GOARCH announced last month that the Holy Synod of Constantinople had elected Belya to become a GOARCH auxiliary bishop, overseeing the Slavic Vicariate. The hierarchs from the various Canonical Assembly jurisdictions warned Abp. Elpidophoros that if Belya becomes a bishop and thus a member of the Canonical Assembly, they will be forced to quit the Assembly, and thus Orthodox unity in America faces a serious threat.
However, in his response letter dated June 29, Abp. Elpidophoros argues that the election of Belya was announced to the Assembly hierarchs on June 16, “and no one said anything or expressed any concerns nor opposition at the time.”
A copy of the letter was sent to all hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Bishops.
The GOARCH head writes that the Assembly of Canonical Bishops is a place for fostering Orthodox unity, but this unity also hinges upon each jurisdiction maintaining its independence, as stated in the Assembly bylaws and in the decisions of 2016’s Council of Crete. Thus, Abp. Elpidophoros argues, “the decisions by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to allow the creation of a Slavic Orthodox Vicariate in America and to elect His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis adhere to the same rule that applies to other Orthodox Churches in the country with vicariates or ethnic dioceses.”
“In light of the above, even the use of the Assembly’s stationery for your correspondence could be considered inappropriate and in contradiction with the mission of the Assembly,” the Archbishop continues.
He assures the hierarchs that he has heard their concerns, but he finds them without merit, as the Patriarchate of Constantinople thoroughly examined all documents and evidence relating to Belya before receiving him into GOARCH.
Notably, Abp. Elpidophoros claims that Belya received a canonical release from the late Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), the former First Hierarch of ROCOR.
However, this is disputed by the fact that Belya was defrocked by the ROCOR Holy Synod even after he had fled to GOARCH. Thus, ROCOR still considered Belya to be a priest under its own canonical authority.
But Abp. Elpidophoros never received any communication from Met. Hilarion to this effect, he writes.
The GOARCH Archbishop then turns to the war in Ukraine, with accusations against Assembly hierarchs:
I had hoped that the current war and unjust aggression by the Russian Federation in Ukraine would have created a sense of solidarity and justice among us and recommitted us all to Orthodox unity in America. Regrettably, we witnessed the opposite effect, so that many of our brothers were unable to condemn the cruelty of this unjust and illegal war, and even worse, sought to silence the Assembly from speaking out against these horrific and unchristian actions.
Abp. Elpidophoros concludes with a call and prayer for greater unity and cooperation.
Also note that Belya even sued Met. Hilarion and a number of other ROCOR hierarchs and clerics in the secular court system, which is a violation of the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church. The case is ongoing.
Read the full text of Abp. Elpidophoros’ letter:
I greet you warmly with a salutation of peace and love in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is with great sadness and some surprise that I received your letter dated June 27, 2022. As you may recall, I had announced the recent election of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as his upcoming ordination during our last executive committee meeting of the Assembly on May 16, 2022, and no one said anything or expressed any concerns nor opposition at the time.
The Assembly of Bishops is a unique place where Orthodox unity is fostered. In the 2020 Vision document, we all insisted that: “We commit ourselves to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) by adhering to the principles of canonical order, of liturgical concelebration, and pastoral cooperation on every level of our Church life.” However, our work towards unity is contingent on our ability to preserve our independence, as our bylaws suggest: “The decisions of the Assembly shall not interfere with the responsibility of each Bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction, or restrict the rights of his Church...” (Bylaws, section 1.5). The same prescription was also repeated in the decision of the Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) on “The Orthodox Diaspora.” Thus, the decisions by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to allow the creation of a Slavic Orthodox Vicariate in America and to elect His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis adhere to the same rule that applies to other Orthodox Churches in the country with vicariates or ethnic dioceses. In light of the above, even the use of the Assembly’s stationery for your correspondence could be considered inappropriate and in contradiction with the mission of the Assembly.
Dear Brother, I have always been completely transparent with you and all our brother hierarchs with regard to the incardination and recent election of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya of Nicopolis. I have heard your concerns, however, having received all the necessary documentation, including a valid release letter from the late Metropolitan Hilarion, and in absence of tangible proof of misconduct, based on our very thorough diligence process—and not on rumors—his canonical incardination was processed.
Furthermore, I have never received any correspondence from our beloved brother the late Metropolitan Hilarion, of blessed memory, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) regarding issues with the then V. Rev. Archimandrite Alexander Belya. In comparable circumstances, I have always preferred direct contact and an open line of communication, just as we have had many opportunities to work collaboratively in the past. On the contrary, the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR have decided to withdraw from their participation in the work and life of the Assembly of Bishops over the jurisdictional situation in Ukraine. I had hoped that the current war and unjust aggression by the Russian Federation in Ukraine would have created a sense of solidarity and justice among us and recommitted us all to Orthodox unity in America. Regrettably, we witnessed the opposite effect, so that many of our brothers were unable to condemn the cruelty of this unjust and illegal war, and even worse, sought to silence the Assembly from speaking out against these horrific and unchristian actions.
Your Eminence, Orthodox unity is vital a priority of my ministry in this country and the Assembly is the essential vehicle for such unity. The many accomplishments over the last past years, the spirit of fraternal synergy and the collaboration that brought us together during the time of the pandemic, and the various missions through the agencies and organizations that rely on the Assembly for auspices should be our focus. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Assembly continues its work, and it is my fervent prayer that you will sustain your commitment to this mission inasmuch as our witness in America is so dearly needed.
Praying that the Lord of mercy and compassion will inspire us to walk together on the way towards deeper communion, with unity being our ultimate witness to Christ’s sacrificial love, I remain
With fraternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America