The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America

Article XI

Church Courts and Canonical Procedures

Section 1   Church Courts Every member of the Church is entitled to due canonical procedure in the courts of the Church.

Section 2   The Diocesan Court The Diocesan Court is composed of four voting members: two members of the clergy and two members of the laity, appointed by the bishop from among the members of the Diocesan Council. The Diocesan Bishop himself, or a member of the clergy appointed by him, shall preside over the court as a non-voting member. In cases involving accusations against members of the clergy, the court shall be restricted in its membership to members of the clergy.

Section 3   Competence of the Diocesan Court The Diocesan Court shall act as a court of first instance in cases where the accused is a priest, a deacon, or a member of the laity. It shall be competent to judge cases involving allegations of unorthodox belief, breaches of canonical or moral discipline, marital problems, disputes involving clergy and parish officers, disputes over parish institutions, and any other matter involving the good order of the Church.

Section 4   General Procedure
  1. Accusers shall present their accusations in writing to the Bishop of the Diocese of the accused.
  2. Before examining the case, the court shall establish the accuser’s good and irreproachable character. The accuser shall agree in advance in writing that the decision of these courts is final and non-appealable to the civil courts. If the court is not satisfied in these matters, or considers that the accuser, by lodging his accusation, pursues personal advantage or acts out of personal animosity, the case shall be dismissed.
  3. If the court determines that there is probable cause to come to trial, the accused shall be summoned in writing by the court. The summons shall specify the nature of the accusation and the name(s) of the accuser(s), and the accused shall be given appropriate time to prepare his defense. If he does not answer two successive summonses, the court shall try the case in absentia.
  4. The accused is entitled to request that a third party act as his defense. Both the accuser and the accused may request the testimony of experts and witnesses acceptable to the court.
  5. The Diocesan Bishop, by his own judgment, is empowered to impose temporary suspension upon clerics, and temporary excommunication upon members of the laity. The accused has the right to trial in court within 30 days of the day when the penalty is pronounced by the bishop.
  6. The decision of the court shall be made by unanimous vote, approved by the Diocesan Bishop, and communicated to the accused in writing within 30 days. If the decision is not unanimous, upon the request of either party the Diocesan Bishop shall appoint a court of four new members, according to the procedure specified in Section 2. The new court shall make a decision by a majority vote, approved by the bishop. If the bishop rejects the decision of the court, upon the request of either party the case shall be referred to the Holy Synod, in accordance with the provisions of Section 6 ©.
  7. Penalties imposed by the court (against persons judged guilty after trial as well as against false accusers) are prescribed by the canons of the ecumenical and local councils and the holy fathers. Their application is subject to approval by the Diocesan Bishop who must use the pastoral discretion which belongs to his office in applying penalties.
  8. If one of the parties is not satisfied with the judgment of the Diocesan Court, he may appeal to the Holy Synod, as the Supreme Court of Appeals of the Church, within 30 days of receipt of said judgment.
  9. Judgments requiring the final deposition (defrocking) of clerics are effective only upon their confirmation by the Holy Synod.
  10. Those protesting canonical penalties imposed by presbyters in the normal course of their pastoral responsibilities may appeal to the Diocesan Bishop within 30 days of the day when the penalty was pronounced. Those protesting canonical penalties imposed or confirmed by bishops in the normal course of their pastoral responsibilities may appeal to the Holy Synod of Bishops, as the Supreme Court of the Church, within 30 days of the day when the penalty was pronounced.
  11. Trials are held subject to any other procedural rules as established by the Holy Synod.
  12. No one shall be brought to trial more than once for the same alleged offense.

Section 5  

Special Procedure for Marital Problems

  1. Whenever the parish priest is unable, through pastoral counseling, to prevent the dissolution of a marriage and the conflict results in a civil divorce and if the interested persons themselves seek from the Church a definition of their status as divorcees, a petition is filed with the Diocesan Court, which examines the documents and makes a new attempt at reconciling the parties.
  2. If the reconciliation fails, the court shall come to a final decision. In issuing its opinion, the court may recommend that penance be imposed by the bishop upon the guilty party/-ies. On the basis of this court decision, the bishop issues the following statement: "Having heard the conclusion of the Diocesan Court of the _____ Diocese concerning the judgment of divorce rendered by the _____ Court of _____ dissolving the marriage between (Name) _____ and (Name) _____ celebrated at _____ on _____, I,_____, Bishop of _____ hereby acknowledge the conclusion of the civil court as final. [Invoking God’s mercy and compassion, I allow (Name) _____ to enter into a new marital union with (Name) _____ and receive the sacraments of the Church starting on _____."

Section 6  

The Holy Synod as Supreme Court of Appeals

  1. The Holy Synod shall act as the Church’s Supreme Court of Appeals.
  2. If a person, clerical or lay, is dissatisfied with the judgment rendered in his case by a Diocesan Court, he may file an appeal addressed either to the Metropolitan or to the Secretary of the Holy Synod through the Chancery of the Church.
  3. The Holy Synod shall take up the case at its regular session, provided the appeal has been filed at least a month before the session.
  4. The accused shall be entitled to the rights specified in Section 4 (d).
  5. The Holy Synod shall never act as a court of first instance in cases which are within the competence of Diocesan Courts.
  6. The rulings of the Holy Synod are final, except for those instances which the canons reserve to the judgment of the universal Church.

Section 7   The Holy Synod and the Judgment of Bishops
  1. Accusations against bishops are referred directly to the Holy Synod, which is the court of first instance empowered to pass judgment in such cases.
  2. If the accusations are considered to have substance either by the Metropolitan or by at least three members of the Holy Synod, and after the accuser’s good character, irreproachable standing in the Church, and motivation have been established, the accused shall be summoned and judged by the Holy Synod in closed session. In cases of grave accusations involving the possibility of canonical deposition, the accused shall be called through a formal summons presented to him in person by three bishops.
  3. If the accused refuses to appear after receiving three summonses, the Holy Synod shall suspend him from his duties and judge him in absentia.
  4. Penalties against bishops judged guilty after trial, as well as against false accusers, are prescribed by the canons of the ecumenical and local councils and the holy fathers.
  5. A judgment of deposition or defrocking of a bishop has final validity only when signed by at least 12 bishops. (If such need arises, bishops may be invited from neighboring ecclesiastical provinces to complete the quorum.)
  6. The judgments of the Holy Synod are final, except for those instances which the canons reserve to the judgment of the universal Church.