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February 20, 2021

The Orthodox: Arrival and Dialogue (Fr. John Romanides) - Part 4 of 5

...continued from part three.


The transposition of the Roman Orthodox principles of ecclesiology and synodical administration to the American scene would mean the existence of a bishop in each Eucharistic Assembly, or at least in each city, town and village. The provincial synods within the Roman Empire would be equivalent to county synods presided over by the bishops of the county seats who would be called Metropolitans. These would be autonomous Churches as described above. The Roman dioceses would be somewhat equivalent to our States. The presiding bishop of that county which contained the capital city of the State would preside over his own provincial synod which would be autocephalous and at the same time he would preside over the ordination, but not the election, of the county Metropolitans within the State. The bishops of State capitals would probably be called Archbishops.

The bishop of Washington would be recognized as the presiding bishop of his own county or District of Columbia synod. He would be called a Patriarch and would have a primacy of honor, but no jurisdiction, among all the bishops of the United States. Perhaps he would be accorded the privilege of presiding at the ordinations of the Archbishops and Metropolitans of Virginia and Maryland, but he would have no say in their election. If Canada and Mexico were to be included in an American Empire, then the bishops of their capital cities would be recognized as Patriarchs having the second and third places of honor after the Patriarch of Washington. If Orthodoxy in its ancient form were the religion of the Thirteen States at the time of the Revolutionary War, New York City would have been equivalent to Old Rome and Washington to New Rome (Constantinople). After the capital was moved the Patriarch of New York City might have feared the loss of his position of power, especially since the capital of New York State was Albany, and searched around for a basis of his primacy other than that of having been at one time the bishop of the capital of the United States.

The above outline of synodical Church administration would be ideal for the ultimate future of Orthodoxy in America, and would be even more suited for any eventual union of all Christians in the United States. As in the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, there would be unity in faith and worship, but not in terms of administrative centralization which never existed in Biblical and Ancient Christendom.

In the course of history the Orthodox Churches modified their canonical or Roman structure of Church administration, while remaining faithful to the general principles of the autonomy and autocephalicity of the ancient provincial and diocesan synods.  The earliest variations of her synodical structures were the existence of the national Churches of Armenia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, where autocephalicity and autonomy were based on national identity. In the Middle Ages there arose the autocephalous national Churches of Georgia, Bulgaria and Serbia and in the beginning of the modern age the autocephalous Church of Russia and finally the rest of the many autocephalous and autonomous Churches of the last two centuries. These autocephalous and autonomous synods differ from those of the Roman Empire in that they are each coterminous with a whole nation and are not one of several autocephalous Churhes within one nation or ethnic group.

The only exceptions to this identity of autocephalicity and autonomy with ethnic identity are to be found today among the Greeks. They comprise, in some cases with Arabs, the six autocephalous Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Sinai, and Greece, and the two autonomous Churches of the Islands of Crete and the Dodecanese. Within the Soviet Union there are three autocephalous Churches of the Russians, Georgians and Armenians.

Thus, there are two possible administrative patterns which the Orthodox Churches in the United States may follow: (1) the one with several autocephalous and autonomous synods within one nation, or (2) the one with one national synod within one nation. This means that there is nothing basically wrong with the present existence of several Orthodox jurisdictions in America. However, the situation is unique and uncanonical, not because of multiplicity of jurisdictions, as has been pointed out, but because of geographical overlapping based on national origin. All realize that this is of a temporary nature and changes are expected in the near future. The Standing Conference of American Orthodox Bishops is an advanced move in this direction.

The one important factor which makes very unlikely the possibility of there eventually being several autocephalous regional or State synods in the United States is the fact that for many years the non-Greek Churches of the Orthodox World have become accustomed to the idea of each ethnic group being one single autocephalous or autonomous Church. Also for many centuries the Orthodox have become accustomed to cities, towns and villages without bishops. Thus, the provincial synod presided over by the provincial Metropolitan or Archbishop has almost completely disappeared, except on the Islands of Cyprus, Crete and the Dodecanese.