A number of top hierarchs of the jurisdictions of the Canonical Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America have united to protest the Greek Archdiocese’s planned consecration to the episcopacy of a defrocked former archimandrite.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, announced earlier this month that the Constantinople Synod elected Alexander Belya as an auxiliary bishop of the Greek Archdiocese for its Slavic Vicariate, with his consecration set for July 30.
However, Belya is, in fact, a defrocked former archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
In a letter addressed to the Greek Archdiocese’s Archbishop Elpidophoros, the signing hierarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America), His Grace Bishop Longin (Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central and South America), His Eminence Metropolitan Nicolae (Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas), His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph (Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia), and His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon (Orthodox Church in America), warn that the consecration of Belya poses a great threat to Orthodox unity in America.
In fact, if Belya is made a bishop and therefore becomes a member of the Assembly of Bishops, the hierarchs warn that they will be forced to quit the Assembly, as they recognize the canonicity of his defrocking by ROCOR in 2020.
Besides Abp. Elpidophoros, the letter was also sent to Patriarch Bartholomew and all members of the Assembly of Bishops.
“In addition to our canonical concerns, we have serious questions about his character based on past direct and indirect interactions with him and his family,” the bishops write to Abp. Elpidophoros.
“It was with pain of heart and great dismay that we learned from Your Eminence of the decision to proceed with the episcopal consecration of Alexander Belya… We feel duty bound as your brothers and concelebrants at the Holy Altar to plead with you and your Patriarchate to reconsider this decision for the sake of our common devotion to Orthodox unity and canonical order,” they implore.
Given the situation of overlapping jurisdictions in America, the actions of one necessarily affect the others, the hierarchs remind the Greek Archbishop. Such a decision also threatens to “further erode our Assembly of Bishops … you must feel the weight and seriousness of this threat most acutely.”
The hierarchs are already concerned about the break in communion between the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates, and the Assembly hierarchs should do nothing to further impede the eventual return of Russian hierarchs to the work of the Assembly, the OCA, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Serbian hierarchs write.
They also recall that many Assembly hierarchs protested the very creation of GOARCH’s Slavic Vicariate, which is largely composed of defrocked, suspended, and schismatic clergy, precisely because of Belya’s canonical status.
And underlining the seriousness of their concerns, the bishops warn that they will be forced to leave the Assembly and possibly suspend concelebrations with Abp. Elpidophoros if Belya is consecrated:
Naturally, then, we cannot continue participating in the Assembly itself if this man is elevated to the episcopacy and thereby becomes an Assembly member. With great sorrow, we must question our ability to continue our in-person meetings and precious concelebrations.
As a cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Belya was known to dodge diocesan dues and bring clergy to America without the proper paperwork. His brother has also been implicated in serious crimes, including the trafficking of women.
In the summer of 2019, Belya forged a letter supposedly from His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), then the First Hierarch of ROCOR, to the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, requesting that Belya be confirmed to become a bishop. However, the ROCOR Synod hadn’t actually nominated Belya, and he was subsequently suspended from priestly duties.
Refusing to abide by his suspension, he instead fled to GOARCH without a canonical release from ROCOR. He was defrocked by ROCOR in February 2020, and thus is canonically only a lay monk.
Belya even sued Met. Hilarion and a number of other ROCOR hierarchs and clerics in the secular court system. The case is ongoing.
Read the full text of the letter to Abp. Elpidophoros:
Your Eminence, Beloved Brother in Christ,
We greet you with our prayers and best wishes in anticipation of the Feast of the holy Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.
We, presiding hierarchs of member jurisdictions of our Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America, write to you, as Chairman of the Assembly, to express our grave concern for the precious unity of the Holy Orthodox Church in this land. It was with pain of heart and great dismay that we learned from Your Eminence of the decision to proceed with the episcopal consecration of Alexander Belya, a former cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, whose canonical discipline and ultimate deposition is accepted and recognized as a canonical action by us all. In addition to our canonical concerns, we have serious questions about his character based on past direct and indirect interactions with him and his family. We feel duty bound as your brothers and concelebrants at the Holy Altar to plead with you and your Patriarchate to reconsider this decision for the sake of our common devotion to Orthodox unity and canonical order.
While we wholeheartedly respect and uphold Your Eminence’s right, as the Archbishop of the Greek Archdiocese, to make decisions about the internal order of your jurisdiction, and we fully appreciate the role of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in choosing candidates whom they deem appropriate for the episcopacy, we ask Your Eminence to consider the wider effect this action will have on the rest of Orthodoxy in the United States. The reality of our overlapping jurisdictions (which is only exacerbated by the proliferation of ethnic vicariates in your Archdiocese) necessarily means that we are all living in the same proverbial pond, and when we make decisions such as these, there are ripple effects that go well beyond our perceived boundaries. Moreover, this action threatens to further erode our Assembly of Bishops and its blessed mission “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church” in this land, as expressed in the Article 5.1a of the Rules of the Episcopal Assemblies in the Orthodox Diaspora. As one with a unique responsibility to bring this body together and facilitate its mission, you must feel the weight and seriousness of this threat most acutely.
All of us are concerned about the deterioration in relations between the Most Holy Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow that has led to a break in canonical communion and a suspension of the participation of the Moscow Patriarchal Parishes and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the work of the Assembly. We must refrain from creating even greater impediments to the return of our Russian brothers to the Assembly. Moreover, we must flee from any action that risks the broader Pan-Orthodox unity that exists among all of us. As is well known to Your Eminence, many of us officially protested the creation of the so-called Slavic Vicariate precisely because of its consequences for our Orthodox unity and the questions raised about the canonical status of Alexander Belya. There are those of us who have explained to you that we find it impossible to concelebrate with him and the vicariate. Naturally, then, we cannot continue participating in the Assembly itself if this man is elevated to the episcopacy and thereby becomes an Assembly member. With great sorrow, we must question our ability to continue our in-person meetings and precious concelebrations.
Your Eminence, beloved brother in Christ, we worked so hard to increase our unified witness during the days of the pandemic, and because we do not want to take a step back from this, we are compelled to express our unanimous concerns regarding this intended consecration. As we approach the Feast of the Holy Apostles, having celebrated the bestowal of the Holy Spirit—the Paraclete that calls us to unity—we respectfully entreat you and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reconsider this decision, which imperils the unity for which we yearn.
Asking your prayers for us, we remain with esteem and love,
Your brothers and concelebrants,
Metropolitan Joseph, Vice Chairman
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Serbian Orthodox Church in North,
Central and South America
Romanian Orthodox Metropolia
of the Americas
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese
of the USA, Canada, and Australia
Orthodox Church in America
CC: His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the USA