Letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the election of Archbishop Job of Telmessos

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Your All-Holiness,

Your Eminences,

 

 

It is with sorrow that we are writing concerning the controversial succession of our beloved late Archbishop Gabriel of Comana . We are confident of the evangelical tenderness that you will show to us.

 

Without questioning the election of Archbishop Job of Telmessos , which you made on November 2, 2013, we wish to make you aware of the turmoil caused by the circumstances of the election. Indeed, we have no choice but to submit to your decision, since the current situation of the Orthodox Church gives you absolute power of decision over our canonical status. In fidelity to the truth and for the honour of our children who will inherit this situation, we do not wish our pain to be buried in silence.

 

For almost a hundred years, our Archdiocese has been rooted in Western Europe.  It is the oldest Orthodox Church entity here. Together with the other local Orthodox dioceses founded after it, the Archdiocese continues the witness of Christ that the holy Apostles passed on to the Church. Since 1931, we have had the privilege of belonging to the bosom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose coordinating role throughout the Orthodox Church we recognize.

 

In our Archdiocese, steeped in tears and blood following the exile of hundreds of thousands of Russians driven out by the Bolsheviks, the culture of dialogue has always been a fundamental and vital element. This culture of exchange and sharing between pastors, who are responsible for the Church administration, and lay leaders, who are co-responsible for the Church administration, is our greatest asset. We have been educated in the belief that, in the Church, no one is in a passive position and no one can be overlooked, however small.

 

Our Archdiocese has always conceived of its unity in a threefold manner:  gathered around its ruling Archbishop, in the concelebration of the Eucharist and in the clerical-lay conciliar experience. This is one of the elements of the legacy of faith which our fathers handed down to the Church, especially following the local council of Moscow of 1917 – 1918. As we again were recently reminded by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France at the Diocesan Assembly on November 1, 2013, it is certainly true that the Church was not  established in 1917, but it is no less true that the experience of conciliarity and life in communion pre-dates 1917; the faith of the apostles, recounted in the Acts and proclaimed throughout the New Testament and the history of the Church, never excludes the people of the Church from debating and decision-making in the community.

 

Thus, in 1848, some seventy years before the unfinished Council of Moscow, our fathers in the faith declared that « here, the guardian of the faith is the body of the Church, that is, say the people themselves » (encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs). It is in this awareness of the Church communion that our Archdiocese has been structured throughout the twentieth century, providing other Orthodox Christians in Western Europe, a true testimony to our Orthodox brothers and sisters in other Churches and the contemporary world, starved of integrity and transparency. We therefore believe that catholicity is not an optional feature of the ecclesial body, but a constituent aspect of the catholicity of the Body of Christ.

 

We believe that this threefold reciprocal unity around the bishop, unity in the concelebration of the Eucharist and unity in the clerical-lay conciliar decision making that have served well the spiritual fruitfulness of our Archdiocese, during its century of existence in Western Europe whose culture it has embraced and which now, within a plurality of cultures, has its own land and no longer a land of exile.

 

Our Archdiocese has been fruitful and, we hope, will continue to bring forth fruit from the seed of grace entrusted by the Lord. Our pastors and theologians, especially through what is now referred to as the  « Paris School » whose centre was the Saint Sergius Theological Institute, were able to give a new impetus to the life of our communities, by concentrating on the Eucharist and conciliarity as experienced in all aspects of ecclesial life. At all levels of the life of our Archdiocese, pastors (Archbishop, bishops, priests) are in constant dialogue with the rest of the people of God. The clerical and lay parish authorities (parish meeting, parish council) and diocesan (diocesan meetings, Archdiocesan Council) provide critical and constructive participation of the people of God with its Pastors.

 

We recognize that, to date, not all the Orthodox share this regular and organic conciliar experience in their ecclesial administration. But it remains true that this form of Church life is authentically Orthodox and will probably spread throughout the world, because it has been shown that it helps to mitigate both clerical and lay errors. Clericalism and secularism are, we believe, two sides of the same coin: a strict verticality which excludes pastors from dialogue with the rest of the people and an outrageous horizontalism which excludes pastors from participation in the governance of the Church. Conciliarity  is neither a matter of the dialectic of power or the absence of dialogue between the various parts of the ecclesial body, but the communion of all , in love and truth.

 

Since 1931, although in different forms, we have had the privilege of depending on the Ecumenical Throne, the only Church willing to guarantee the universality of Orthodoxy, while respecting the specifics of each community, and to promote dialogue between Orthodox and Christians. We believe that when it is put to the test one can tell if our distinctiveness is respected.

 

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has guaranteed the protection of our Archdiocese, so that it may continue its witness and growth in the world. We understand that this protection, in particular, is a protection against foreign incursion. Today, we are forced to admit that the threat to our freedom and our uniqueness came from within the Patriarchate.

 

In fact, you have known for months the identity of the three archimandrites, whom our parishes, in an open and responsible manner, had proposed to become candidates for archbishop. There have been many occasions when we received confirmation – always oral course, this is what we have lost – that subject to the revision of the statutes, all three met the eligibility criteria for the Episcopal service. In August 2013, during the working session granted to several representatives of our Archdiocese by the Synodal Commission for inter-Orthodox relations, chaired by Metropolitan John of Pergamon , the discussion focused solely on the canonical basis for the procedure that had to be respected. The two substantive issues – revision of the statutes and presentation of the list of candidates as chosen by the Council of the Archdiocese, chaired by Metropolitan Emmanuel – appeared to be resolved.

 

The same assurance was expressed by several friends outside of the Archdiocese, who had opportunities to contact you. So you will understand why your decision of 1 November 2013 to dismiss two of the three initial candidates shocked us deeply both in substance and in manner.

 

By the manner, as we are still shaken from having to wait long hours at the meeting of November 1, 2013, to receive a decision which you had suggested would be quick and straightforward, and we imagine that it was not improvised at the last minute. As our delegation at the meeting on 27 August 2013, you were notified in advance of two hundred parish delegates from all over Europe gathered since the previous evening, and waiting your decision: we were first confident, then, as the hours passed, we realized that we had been trapped on receiving your decision a few hours before the end of the Assembly. We do not represent ourselves in this assembly, but communities that had sent us with their confidence and blessing. As individuals, but also as communities, we found that we had been humiliated, forced to adopt a false humility. How could we not think that the substitution of two strangers for those candidates whose names we knew, was to force us to vote by a majority for the only known remaining candidate?

 

There was a big misunderstanding about the freedom of which you assured us. From January 2013, when he took office as Locum Tenens, acting under your responsibility, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France said: « My presence and my office until the election of a new pastor consists primarily to reassure,  to encourage. (…) I am with you and I remain with you to support the election process of the person you choose as the new pastor »(Homily for the Theophany at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris, January 19 2013).

 

From this statement, we were all convinced that His Eminence Emmanuel would observe a certain neutrality in the process of election of the successor to Archbishop Gabriel. In March 2013, facing the risk that the General Assembly would be presented with a list containing only one name for the nomination for archbishop – since, only Archimandrite Symeon (Cossec) fulfilled the formal statutory requirements to be declared eligible by the Patriarchate – Metropolitan Emmanuel, Locum Tenens, said:

 

« My presence among you today is to pacify and reassure you. The history of the Exarchate is rich and complex. It was formed in an effort to resist totalitarianism and preserve a spiritual tradition made of faith, piety and intelligence. Therefore, I perfectly understand your concerns when from the communiqué reporting the meeting of the Council of the Archdiocese of March 6, 2013 you learn that the next general meeting will not be dealing with the election of your new Archbishop.

 

To restore a semblance of truth within the hubbub, especially on the Internet, caused by such a decision, it falls to me to explain why. Indeed, at the meeting of the Archdiocesan Council of 13 February 2013, a list of three candidates was actually established, without a perfect consensus among Council members. In my soul and conscience and respectful of the statutes in force in the Exarchate, I was not able to sign the list of candidates in the state. Also, my office of Locum Tenens, which above all is the organization of the elections of the new Archbishop, forced me to ensure that these elections are perfectly transparent, unassailably legal and canonical, in order to best preserve the integrity of your archdiocese. In my view, the conditions for such integrity were not met » (homily of Metropolitan Emmanuel, Sunday, March 17, 2013 )

 

How is one to understand that the Locum Tenens, in his mission of neutrality, did not in November, act as he had done in March, that is to disagree, from his position of authority, with elections based on a list that was not unanimously agreed by the Archdiocesan Council and no more than in March guarantee the integrity of the Archdiocese?

 

Basically, we were also deeply troubled by your decision. We do not want you to misunderstand: arriving at the Meeting of November 1, 2013, some of us had, in our hearts, decided to give their vote to  Archimandrite Job (Getcha) and we continue to believe that he is a pastor capable of taking on a heavy episcopal office, but we all believe – whether voters for Archimandrite Job (Getcha) or not – our new Archbishop deserved to be elected in a dignified manner, and not to hold a mock election by a diocesan Assembly hostage to an imposed time limit, or under threat of exclusion from the communion of the Church and the victim of a flagrant breach of trust. Finally, we dare to say that we believe that we have not only suffered an injustice, but also have caused distress to all three Archimandrites worthy of the Church of Christ: Fathers Gregory (Papathomas), Job (Getcha) and Symeon (Cossec). We continue to think, all three had the qualifications to be recognized, at least, as eligible for the episcopal office. The Holy Synod could have, we cannot repeat it enough, recognized their virtues, but elected the candidate of their choice, deliberately not following the proposal of our Diocesan Assembly.

 

Today Archimandrite Job (Getcha), elected Archbishop of Telmessos will have to start establishing his pastoral legitimacy, which some elements will surely contest. Meanwhile, Archimandrites Gregory (Papathomas) and Symeon (Cossec), both venerable pastors and theologians, are now, having been declared ineligible by canonical authority are found to be subject to stigma with no recourse in the orthodox Church.

 

If any civil authority had arbitrarily removed the names of two out of three candidates, as the Prefect of the Turkish Province of Istanbul does in patriarchal elections, we would have been rightfully outraged, but less bitter. However, we do not understand how such a striking off of two names could be done by an ecclesial authority.

 

We hold fast to and will preserve the identity and territorial integrity of our Archdiocese. More than ever, through our indignation, we are conscious of our community, despite the different countries we come from, notwithstanding the plurality of generations and cultures that we represent. We believe the future of Orthodoxy lies in transparency and dialogue, in sincerity and in faithfulness to the Gospel.

 

It is with profound humility and childlike audacity that we ask you to send us some word of consolation, in response to the anguish that grips us today, so we can start again with more confidence the process of reconstruction of our shaken ecclesial conscience. If you deign to grant us a fraternal and paternal word of the Lord, we believe it is possible to heal the open wound and regain that communion of love that bound us, until the episode of fatal memory on November 1, 2013.

 

Assuring you of our prayers for yourselves and for the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, please accept, Your All Holiness, Your Eminences, the expression of our faithful respect.

 

 

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