Syosset, New York
December 18, 2006
His Holiness ALEKSY II
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Your Holiness, Beloved Brother and Concelebrant in the Lord:
Your letter of 15 August describes the painful events related to the divisions and disturbances in the Russian Orthodox Church’s Diocese of Sourozh. At the heart of your concern is the reception of His Grace Bishop Basil (Osborne) by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the absence of a canonical release by the Patriarchate of Moscow, his election as vicar bishop to His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Comana, with the title of Bishop of Amphipolis, and his reception into the Western European Exarchate of Orthodox Parishes of the Russian Tradition under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Orthodox Church in America has observed these events from a distance. We shared with the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) a common vision of Orthodox presence and mission in Western societies. We are aware that the current divisions bring much pain and confusion into the hearts of Orthodox faithful in the United Kingdom. Your Holiness’ letter has led us to deeper reflection on the canonical responsibilities and pastoral burdens we all face.
As the Orthodox Church in America we are aware that we are charged with the task of Orthodox mission in North America, as intended by the Patriarchate of Moscow in the Tomos establishing our autocephaly. At the same time, we are aware that in the eyes of some Orthodox Churches we abide in the so-called “diaspora.” Not feeling ourselves to be in diaspora, and affirmed by the Tomos of Autocephaly as a canonical local Church, we are nevertheless mindful that several Orthodox patriarchates have dioceses in their jurisdiction in the United State and Canada. In observance of the Tomos of Autocephaly, we endeavor to maintain brotherly relations with the Orthodox “jurisdictions” in North America, and are often successful, together with them, in coordinated and collaborative Orthodox witness, mission, and action.
In such complex circumstances, one of the important safeguards of church order has been the general observance of canonical norms with regard to transfers of clergy from one canonical jurisdiction to another. Canonical peace and order have been maintained, even within the contradictions of territorially overlapping jurisdictions, when clergy and parishes have transferred from one church to another only with the proper canonical releases. Thus, we have seen every violation of these norms as significantly undermining Orthodox collaboration and coordination, indeed as a contradiction of the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
At the same time, Your Holiness and Beloved Brother in Christ, we continue to pray for the collaboration of all Orthodox Churches in a conciliar process of reflection on Orthodoxy in the so-called diaspora. We fervently hope that such a process can clarify and resolve the confusions and contradictions of the actual situation of Orthodoxy in North America, Western Europe, and other regions in which Orthodoxy is “outside” the traditional and historic lands of Orthodoxy.
Orthodox witness in the world, and the ability of Orthodoxy to respond to the challenges and opportunities of today’s world, will depend on the commitment of the Orthodox patriarchates and autocephalous churches to dialogue and collaboration and canonical integrity. Your contribution, Your Holiness, and the contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church, will be essential for the achievement of conciliarity and ecclesiological truth.
We pray that the love and abundant mercy of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, whose Nativity we are about to celebrate, will always be with you.
With abiding brotherly love,
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada