It seems that the world of the Eastern Orthodox Churches has been quite turbulent recently. There has been the ongoing strife among the members of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. Lately, there has been a battle between the ancient Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the newer Patriarchate of Bucharest. Apparently, the Patriarch of Jerusalem has gone as far as to suspend communion with the Patriarch of Bucharest. This means, I suppose, that the priests and people of the Romanian Orthodox Church may not receive communion in churches of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
What lead to this rupture was the establishment of a monastic community by the Romanian Orthodox Church in Jericho. Apparently, this occurred without the blessing of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Also, apparently these monks are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Bucharest back in Romania and not under the authority of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
To some observers, this may seem to be a little ironic, given that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem established a vicariate in North America. For the most part, those Orthodox Christians who came from the Middle East were under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America, a diocese of the Patriarchate of Antioch. There was a very large Antiochian Orthodox parish in Ben Lomond, CA made up largely of converts. In the 1990s, the parish eventually split into two factions with some priests going over to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s vicariate. Metropolitan Philip, the Antiochian Archbishop of New York, responded by forbidding his clergy to concelebrate with any priests belonging to this vicariate or for any of his faithful to receive communion in any of the Jerusalem Patriarchal Vicariate’s churches.
When you look at the situation of the Orthodox Churches in America, there seems to be a rather unweildly array of national churches. At first, all of the Orthodox parishes in America were under the care of the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, there were a couple of bishops from Syria ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church to care for the Syrian immigrants. The Russian revolution of 1917 threw everything into disarray. The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America was, to all intents and purposes, cut off from communication with its mother church, the Moscow Patriarchate. In the 1920s, the Ecumenical Patriarchate set up the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in what was ostensibly the Moscow Patriarchate’s territory. The Syrians and other Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians chose to come under the protection of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Serbians and others followed. Around that same time, a group of Byzantine Rite Catholics, unhappy with their treatment by the local Latin Rite bishops, also came under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese was founded in this turbulent time. These churches are, with a few exceptions, all in communion with each other and profess the same faith. However, there are several Orthodox archbishops of New York and a few bishops of San Francisco.
This situation has lead to some unfortunate events. In the 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople broke communion with each other over the issue of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church of Estonia. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had recognized the autonomy of the Church of Estonia. Moscow hotly contested this decision, arguing that Estonia came under their jurisdiction and only they had the right the declare whether or not the Church of Estonia was autonomous.
Father Chrysostom Frank, at the time a South African priest of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, was greatly troubled by this situation. He wrote a short article entitled “Thoughts From An Orthodox Priest” which you may read by clicking here. Father Chrysostom has since converted to Catholicism and serves in the Archdiocese of Denver where he serves a uniquely bi-ritual parish that observes both the Russian and Roman rites.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has called for a Great and Holy Council of bishops in the not too distant future. This problem of multiple overlapping jurisdictions is definitely on the agenda. It will be indeed interesting to see whether administrative unity can be achieved, or whether it will all end in mutual anathemas. I’m hoping for the former.