New York, August 9, 2023
Despite the grave concerns expressed by the hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, Archbishop Elpidophoros, the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, intends to move forward with the episcopal consecration of Alexander Belya, a defrocked former archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The Archbishop writes in a letter to the hierarchs representing the various canonical jurisdictions in America that while he has heard their concerns about Belya, he must abide by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople “and proceed with the ordination of our Bishop-Elect.”
The Synod elected Belya as auxiliary bishop of the Greek Archdiocese, to head its Slavic Vicariate, in June 2022. His consecration was initially scheduled for July 30 of that year, but was postponed due to the fervent protest of the Assembly hierarchs who said they recognize Belya’s defrocking by ROCOR and pointed to issues with the former cleric’s moral fiber. They would be forced to quit the Assembly if he were to become a bishop, they said.
Hoping to alleviate the bishops’ concerns, Abp. Elpidophoros proposes that despite Assembly bylaws, which dictate that active and canonical bishops are automatically members, Belya will not become a member of the Canonical Assembly and will not participate in any Assembly events.
The same is dictated by the rules of operation adopted at the Fourth Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambésy in June 2009, which established the various Canonical Assemblies throughout the diaspora.
Read the Archbishop’s complete letter below:
I greet you warmly in the peace and love of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It has been over a year since the election to the episcopacy by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander Belya as bishop of Nicopolis. I have heard your concerns expressed to me by way of correspondence and in person. I have welcomed your thoughts and tried to address your concerns with brotherly love and understanding. And I have responded to these concerns during an open and transparent discussion at our Assembly meeting back in January 2023, in Los Angeles, CA. Moreover, in a spirit of consensus, I have postponed the ordination of His Grace searching for ways to create the necessary conditions for a context acceptable to all. However, while respecting your positions, I also have to abide by the decisions of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and proceed with the ordination of our Bishop-Elect.
At the same time, I would like to assure you that I am considering specific actions that, I pray, will facilitate your continued participation in the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA and support a consensus by:
Not accepting His Grace Bishop-Elect Alexander of Nicopolis as a member of the Assembly despite article 3, section 1, of the Assembly bylaws;
And, subsequently, by not inviting him to participate in any Assembly activities that would put you in any position of discomfort.
It is my sincere hope and earnest prayer that these two suggestions will allow us to continue building a spirit of fraternal collaboration and communion, especially at a time when so many other forces antagonize us. As we read in Scripture: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” (Luke 11:17) Our witness to Holy Orthodoxy in this blessed Nation should never submit to the spirit of this world.
May our Lord abundantly pour upon you His rich blessings and continue to guide you as we walk towards the holy feast of the Theotokos’s Dormition. With fraternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
Alexander Belya has been at the center of a number of controversies in recent years.
In the summer of 2019, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate received a letter purporting to be a request from His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), then the First Hierarch of ROCOR, that it confirm the ROCOR Synod’s election of Belya to the episcopacy. However, Met. Hilarion said he never sent any such letter, and the ROCOR Synod never actually elected Belya, who was subsequently suspended from priestly duties.
Refusing to abide by his suspension, he instead fled to GOARCH without a canonical release from ROCOR. He was defrocked by ROCOR in February 2020, and thus is canonically only a lay monk.
GOARCH created a “Slavic Vicariate” and placed Belya at its head. The Vicariate is largely made up of defrocked and suspended clerics. Plans to consecrate Belya as bishop for the Vicariate have as yet not come to fruition.
On January 11 of this year, Belya sent a letter through his attorney Oleg Rivkin to the heads of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America, threatening legal action against them for their stance against him. Copies of the letters were also sent to the primates of the Local Churches represented in America.
As soon as he learned of Belya’s actions, Archbishop Elpidophoros instructed him to withdraw the letters, but the Assembly hierarchs noted that the whole episode only reaffirms and highlights their serious opposition to Belya ever becoming a hierarch.
Belya is also suing ROCOR, his former jurisdiction, including the now departed Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) of blessed memory. In June, the Supreme Court rejected ROCOR’s call to hear its objections to lower court rulings allowing Belya’s case to be brought against the Church jurisdiction. Thus, his suit will move ahead for now.