By James C. Skedros
(This essay was originally delivered as a public talk at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the upcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. It was part of a panel on Autocephaly and Diaspora.)
The canonical situation in the United States is recognized by nearly all Orthodox theologians and ecclesiastical leaders as anomalous and contrary to the organizational principle of the early church of one bishop presiding over one eucharistic community. The canons of Nicaea I (325) and especially Canon 2 of the Council of Constantinople I (381) enshrine and expand this principle by further delineating the fundamental unit of ecclesiastical organization to be one presiding bishop within a defined geographical area. In the context of late Roman civil administration these organizational units were either the smaller provinces or larger dioceses. In the US and elsewhere, the existence of multiple jurisdictions with presiding bishops in the same geographical area contradicts this fundamental principle.
To complicate matters further, the historical trajectories of Orthodox Christianity in 18th and 19th century North America reflect a diverse expression of organizational realities, missionary activities, and immigration within a nexus of Mother Church relationships that were and still are connected to the politics of individual nation states. The autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America granted by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1970 further confuses the situation. Thus, any solution to the question of autocephaly in the diaspora must not only consider the ecclesiastical and canonical tradition but the entrenched historical realities that are connected with corresponding jurisdictional agendas. (Continue Reading…)