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April 10 2008: Response

Author: Alex. C. Popescu
April 10, 2008

Your Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel,
and Very Reverend Fathers of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America Dialogue Commission,

I have recently read three documents that demand the attention of those of us who love the Church of our Fathers.  The documents entitled “AGREED STATEMENT” and “REGARDING THE DIALOGUE WITH THE ROMANIAN PATRIARCHATE” are both available on our Episcopate’s website.  The third document, a “LETTER TO ARCHBISHOP NICOLAE FROM THE ROMANIAN PATRIARCH DANIEL” is available in Romanian on the website of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America which falls under the Romanian Patriarchate.  Those of us who have laid the cornerstones or who have parents/ grandparents who have founded and/or have maintained this continent’s Romanian Orthodox Churches and indeed, those that are established  throughout the world outside Romania, and this without any help from the Romanian Government or Patriarchate, we also have something to say about the future of our Church.

If we are incapable of doing so ourselves, then our parents and ancestors who are with the Lord will arise from their graves and will shout out to protect our Church and our ancestral faith to ensure that it remain clean and unblemished.  We have the obligation to think of our children and actualize our religion in terms of the social, cultural and political context of the countries we reside in, so that in the future, our children will share this same faith.  Whether we like it or not, and history is our witness, our children will align themselves with the country in which they are born, their Mother-Land becoming Canada, the United States, France, etc.  If our religion remains linked to the Mother-Land Romania, it will inevitably die out in the metamorphosis from the old Mother-Land to the new one.  Our preoccupation should be the future and not the past.  The future of our Church resides with the American Orthodox Church and the past with the Romanian Patriarchate.  Below you will find an analysis of the three aforementioned documents and, through these; I justify the opinions presented herein that have been developed over a lifetime of living this drama.

AGREED STATEMENT

I read the “Agreed Statement” prepared jointly by the representatives of the Romanian Patriarchate and the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America following their February 25-27 meetings held in Bucharest, Romania.  (It should be noted that this unsigned document appears only on our Episcopate’s website even though the title suggests that the document is agreed upon by both parties.)  As a delegate to the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate Congresses over the past few years, and as a member of the Episcopate Council until July 2007, I witnessed the discussions that finalized the mandate given to our Dialogue Commission for its trip to Bucharest.  The mandate given was to correct historic errors maintained by the Romanian Patriarchate for almost 60 years, from the Second World War until now, and nothing else.  Archbishop Nathaniel’s public letter of last year, where it is clearly stated that our Episcopate will remain in the canonical family of the “Orthodox Church in America”, left no opening for other discussions, the file was closed.  It is in this context that our Episcopate’s Dialogue Commission visit to Bucharest was approved with its only mandate being to discuss correcting historical errors sustained by the Romanian Patriarchate for far too long.

The first six points of the “Agreed Statement” respect the mandate given to our Dialogue Commission where reference is made to the communist era, a time when our Episcopate suffered the lashes of communism, and during which canonical ties to the Romanian Patriarchate had to be broken.  This “Agreed Statement” also refers to the post-communist period where, from 1991, the Romanian Patriarchate no longer contests the canonicity of our Episcopate, and where even our Hierarchs and Priests concelebrate liturgically together.  This last fact proves that canonical ties exist since then between our Episcopate and the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of Romania, and indeed between the American Orthodox Church (OCA) and the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR).  If reciprocal acceptance of canonicity did not exist, religious services among and between the two groups would not be possible.  Thus, the blackmail game regarding our Episcopate’s canonicity or lack of canonicity should have stopped at least from 1991 onwards, but it continues to be fed by those who want our subjugation under Bucharest, be they from outside our Episcopate or from within…

The seventh point in the “Agreed Statement” does not respect the mandate given to our Commission in that it asks for forgiveness, in our name, for “…any ways in which we may have offended one another…” With what has our Episcopate erred during these almost 60 years?  Before asking for forgiveness, it would be good to know what for.  Otherwise, it becomes banal, without a goal and without any importance, dare I say, without a Christian purpose.

The eighth point in the “Agreed Statement” also fails to respect the mandate given to our Dialogue Commission in that it refers to a “…sincere desire for the realization of the unity of all Romanian Orthodox on the American continent, in a canonical relationship with the Church of Romania.”  Whose desire is this?  Our Episcopate has officially proclaimed the opposite.  With what right does this Commission claim that our Episcopate wishes to be united under the Romanian Patriarchate when our Episcopate is already an integral part of the American Orthodox Church?  The Dialogue Commission did not have and does not have the right to contradict our Constitution and By-Laws, updated in 1994, a full four years after 1990…

This “Agreed Statement” does not refer to the fact that in Exile, our Church evolved differently than the Church in Romania and this, decade after decade, generation after generation, so that today we have more in common with our Orthodox brothers here, than with our Romanian brothers over there.  This fact is most obvious with our children who were born here.  It is true that the yearning for the Mother-Land is strongest in the newer immigrant and that this also translates into a yearning for the Mother-Church, but these are passing yearnings in that even the newest immigrant would never have left a good situation to choose a bad one.  Time has proven that after two or three generations, the yearning for the Mother-Land and Mother-Church become anecdotal as the immigrant’s country of adoption becomes the new Mother-Land, and the faith of our ancestors disappears when our religion is not actualized here, in its present context.

These new generations do not consider themselves to be Romanian with American citizenship, but after a generation or two, Americans of Romanian origin and later, after a few more generations and given mixed marriages, they consider themselves to be simply American.  These are not theories, but realities of our past which, after several generations, prove that if you link the Mother-Land to the Mother-Church our children will lose their ancestral faith. This is because the bond with the Mother-Land is maintained, but now replaced by the new Mother-Land, while the Orthodox faith has no new-found role in the new country if it remains tied to Romania.  In this context, our religion becomes an ethnic faith, outdated and outmoded in the adopted country, the new Mother-Land.  The only chance we have to maintain our ancestral faith alive in our children is to actualize it in the society in which we live and to help our religion become a local faith.

Thus, the role of the American Orthodox Church becomes critical in saving our ancestral faith.  It can be even claimed that if the American Orthodox Church did not exist, we would have had to create it, and this is quite probably what happened 40 years ago… Therefore, even if the American Orthodox Church is presently going through trying times, it is now time to strengthen this Church, not to leave it.  Without this Church, what will happen to our children’s faith?  Thus, those who support the subordination of our Episcopate under the Romanian Patriar-chate choose not to understand these historic realities we have witnessed and lived through, or they are motivated to not understand these realities of our past for reasons that have nothing to do with the wellbeing of the Church…

REGARDING THE DIALOGUE WITH THE ROMANIAN PATRIARCHATE

In the March 14, 2008 letter regarding the dialogue with the Romanian Patriarchate, it is clear that our Dialogue Commission had a mandate to discuss with the Romanian Patriarchate “…in order to clarify and seek mutual understanding of certain historical issues…”  It did not have a mandate to further discuss issues regarding the future of the Church, even with representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  The mandate to continue those discussions simply DOES NOT EXIST.

From a mandate to correct the historic record incorrectly supported and sustained by the Romanian Patriarchate for almost 60 years, we arrive at a declaration where: “a union of the two Romanian Orthodox eparchies in North America was desirable.”  Who said this and with what right?  That each individual member has a right to his own opinion is obvious, but it is even more obvious that without a clear mandate, this Commission has no right to affirm our wish, of which they have no knowledge, and this, without even having the mandate to proclaim it if they did.  This Commission spoke in our name without knowing our position and without our permission!  This is not acceptable.  In any event, the March14, 2008 letter speaks of the desirability of unity between the two Romanian Orthodox eparchies in North America, but it does not say under which jurisdiction this might be.

If we speak of unity under the American Orthodox Church it is one thing, but if we speak of unity under the Romanian Orthodox Church, this is something else.  Based on past discussions with the Archdiocese of America which is under Bucharest, it is clear that they will not enter the American Orthodox Church and thus unity would mean SUBJUGATION under the Romanian Patriarchate.  What about the allegiance we swore to the American Orthodox Church?  What of our Hierarchs who received their grace and Apostolic Succession from this Church and are now an integral part of its synod and of its body?  What of our priests?

Our Constitution clearly states that: “Spiritually, the Episcopate is under the jurisdiction and canonical authority of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, an Autocephalous Church with territorial jurisdiction in North America.”  No mandate exists for us to be united under the Romanian Patriarchate and therefore, our Dialogue Commission should cease functioning…

LETTER TO ARCHBISHOP NICOLAE FROM THE ROMANIAN PATRIARCH DANIEL

The first two documents refer to our Dialogue Commission’s discussions with the Romanian Patriarchate and the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  To what discussions is this official letter of March 11, 2008 referring to?  The first two documents say one thing while the third says another.  What are we to believe?  Are we actually referring to the same meetings?

In the Agreed Statement we cite: “But the actions of the communist government of those times also imposed great suffering on the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, as well as upon her hierarchs of thrice-blessed memory: Bishop Policarp and Archbishop Valerian, Confessors of the Faith, who were persecuted, slandered and marginalized.”  We translate and cite from  the March 11 letter: “…the actions of the Romanian communist government of the time were the cause of much suffering in both Romanian Orthodox eparchies in America and for their hierarchs of blessed memory: Bishop Policarp, Bishop Andrei, Archbishop Victorin and Archbishop Valerian, Confessors of the Romanian Orthodox Faith, who were persecuted and marginalized.”  Both Eparchies suffered?  The Eparchy that persecuted is compared to the one that was persecuted?  The suffering of Policarp and Valerian is compared to the well-being of Andrei and Victorin?  We have seen words used in this manner before by those who persecuted a whole country for 50 years… Either the Agreed Statement is incorrect or the March 11 letter attempts to use all too well-known methods to rewrite history.

In the Agreed Statement we cite: “…the representatives of the Patriarchate of Romania and those of the ROEA (Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America) express their sincere desire for the realization of the unity of all Romanian Orthodox on the American continent, in a canonical relationship with the Church of Romania.” We translate and cite from the March 11 letter: “…the members of the Holy Synod recognize [that] the representatives participating in the joint Dialogue Commission [have] the sincere desire…to realize a Romanian Orthodox unity on the American continent forming an autonomous Metropolitan sea, which would incorporate both Romanian Orthodox Eparchies in America, in a canonical relationship with the Romanian Orthodox Church.”  In fact, canonical ties with the Romanian Orthodox Church do not presuppose subjugation under the Romanian Patriarchate, nor do they presuppose the creation of a Metropolitan see under the Romanian Patriarchate.  However, this is what we are led to understand in the March 11 letter.  The fact remains that canonical ties with the Romanian Orthodox Church already exist reciprocally between our Patriarchates and Metropolitan seas.  Otherwise, and as previously explained, concelebrating could not take place.

Thus, if Archbishop Nicolae’s Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese would unite with our Episcopate under the American Orthodox Church, we would continue to have canonical ties with the Romanian Patriarchate.  These are now nothing but word games…

The very creation of a new Romanian Orthodox Exarchate in America under the canonical coverage of the Romanian Patriarchate, and separate from the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America under Bucharest’s Archbishop Nicolae, which is supposed to be AUTONOMOUS, brings up the issue of autonomy and underlines the fact that the word autonomy has no meaning to the Romanian Patriarchate.  Until now, the Archdiocese has been very proud of its autonomous status and charter.  However, with this letter, we see what value the Patriarchate places on an autonomy granted by itself.  When something does not suit Bucharest they simply go ahead and create an overlapping Exarchate on autonomous territory!  We will try to develop a contract of autonomy with them, and then, when it suits them, they will not respect it and it will have no value whatsoever!  Autonomy.  What autonomy?  Even poor Archbishop Nicolae does not have autonomy, and Bucharest will grant it to us?  Let’s get serious!

This new Exarchate is made up of a few disgruntled priests from both Romanian Episcopates in America, yet its right to exist resides in the hands of the Romanian Patriarchate?  With what right?  Probably with the same right that justifies a Bucharest-run Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in North America while there are alternatives like ourselves, here, a local Church catering to different languages as needed…i.e., the American Orthodox Church and our Episcopate which is an integral part of it.

The March 11 letter also has a flavour of ecclesiastical threat and bribery thrown in.  If the new Exarchate’s priests are not brought under Archbishop Nicolae’s Archdiocese by July 1, 2008, they will then receive the right to exist and obtain canonical coverage directly from Bucharest.  We translate and cite “…based on its Constitution and By-laws [the Romanian Orthodox Church] exercises its canonical duty to accept in its fold all Romanian Orthodox from the USA and Canada that wish to re-establish direct communion with the Mother Church.”  It is unbelievable that the Constitution and By-laws of the Romanian Orthodox Church contravene the canons of Universal Orthodoxy through their incorrect interpretation of territoriality, but here we are.  (Fr. Dr. Petre Popescu of blessed memory brought up this issue a while ago when he used the contrary argument to justify and then receive temporary canonical coverage from Archbishop Nathaniel in 2001 for the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of Western Europe founded in Paris by Metropolitan Visarion Puiu in 1948.)  With what right does the Romanian Patriarchate exist in Western Europe, in America, etc.?  Must the American Orthodox Church open a church in Bucharest to prove how silly it is to use this Russian interpretation of canon law, now also adopted by the Romanian Patriarchate?

Thus, this blackmail threat is addressed to Archbishop Nicolae, Patriarch Daniel’s subordinate, but it is also a threat addressed to us if we do not hurry up and unite under Bucharest (we translate and cite from the March 11 letter) “…proving this by addressing the appropriate invitations underlining this goal.”  If we do not do this we can expect that the new Exarchate will be approved, and it will possibly attract priests and parishes/missions from our Episcopate.  This is clear blackmail, an open threat.  This is the kind of treatment to expect if we let ourselves get poisoned by the idea of becoming subservient to them.

NEXT STEPS

The work of our Dialogue Commission has ended a few times, but it continues to reappear, and probably not

because there is a general consensus to unite under Bucharest, but more likely because this objective is sustained by those who have something to gain from this movement in counter time.  Well-known methods from Romania’s sad communist past appear in different forms, but they remain the same… Our parents and forefathers avoided them and because of this we still retain what we now have… Those of us born here in freedom due to the courage of our forefathers, have a moral obligation to keep our Church clean and unblemished, and ensure that it is actualized and becomes part of our children and grandchildren’s lives here in their Mother-Land and not in Romania the Mother-Land of our ancestors; the same with our Church leadership being from and belonging here and not from there.

Those who have left Romania with the idea of settling outside Romania must decide whether or not they wish to preserve our ancestral faith alive in their children.  The history of Romanians outside Romania is our proof… Thus, if we do not stay and strengthen the American Orthodox Church, then our children will simply have no Church of their own (the Romanian Church being part of their history, but not their present, let alone their future.)  History has proven that the Romanian Orthodox Church has no role here, and quite the contrary, subjugation under her could mean treason against our Mother-Land, i.e., the USA, Canada, etc.  Our Church cannot become a political platform for the Department of External Affairs, of Cultural Affairs or even Cultual Affairs, of a country that has proven in the past that it does not respect human rights.  No!  As good Americans or Canadians we require a Church in which we can have full confidence that we will not be manipulated by our Hierarchs or Priests, and this, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Church.  Our Church Hierarchy must be independent of foreign political influences that could compromise our loyalty to our Mother-Land (now the USA, Canada, etc.).  As even many in the Romanian Church leadership now admit, the Romanian Orthodox Church was used as a tool of the Romanian Government throughout the Communist period.  The question is whether or not now, even after 1990, this may not happen again?  What credible guarantees have we that they will respect any future autonomy given?  Quite the contrary, the March 11 letter proves that Bucharest does not respect any autonomy it gives.

Also, it is quite obvious that the new leadership of the Romanian Church is openly involved in politics, now even encouraging its Priests to enter as candidates in the political game.  We, from Western countries, are brought up with the separation of State and Church, and we view any breach of this principle as a misplaced step, outmoded, out of place, historically outdated, an example of Balkan subterfuge, and proof that the Church which promotes this position has not yet adopted the much-awaited changes which should have started to penetrate its bosom, at least after 1990 and since then.

This problem also exists with the Russians, Bulgarians, Serbians and Ukrainians, where Orthodoxy is the state religion and where the communist governments used parishes under their control outside their respective countries to conduct their government’s propaganda.  They as well had, and still have, Church structures independent of their respective Mother-Churches for motives also shared by us.  We, citizens of the USA, Canada, etc., do not have the right, and thus cannot subordinate ourselves to any State Church controlled by a foreign country.  These State Churches which are subsidized by foreign governments; are they really interested in the salvation of our souls or do they wish to control us?  Why?  Thus, this type of Church structure leads to conflicts of political interest.  The local independent Church is our best solution.  We have examples around us of independent Orthodox churches in America which have joined their respective Mother-Church, and are now controlled from afar… When we speak of Russians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbs or Ukrainians, let us not believe the lie that they have all joined their Mother-Churches.  A part of one group did, another part of another group did not, but all are fragmented in different groups, and many of those now subjugated would dearly love to return to their previous status…but it is too late?  At least in the Romanian case in North America, the issue is a simple one; we are either under the yoke of the Romanian Patriarchate controlled from there, or we are in the American Orthodox Church controlled over here.  One is a foreign State Church (and its appendages i.e. the Romanian Archdiocese of America and its new Exarchate) and the other is an Independent local Church…

The American Orthodox Church is the Church from here and even her problems are normal in that wherever you find people in administrative functions you eventually find problems.  But these problems can be corrected, and this can be achieved through our help and support, and not by our continuous criticism.  Others want our American Orthodox Church destroyed so that they may control our local parishes/missions from foreign countries and, at the same time, control the political platforms these parishes/missions could represent, as in the past.  As good citizens of the countries we find ourselves in, we have the obligation not to allow ourselves to be led by foreign political influences which could potentially lead to political conflict between the new Mother-Land and the old Mother-Land.  We have the obligation to remain true to our adopted land, and this, from every point of view… As I proposed at the June/July 2007 Episcopate Council meeting, it is time to open the (Romanian Secret Police spy) files on all the Episcopate clergy.  Could it not be the case that the “desirability” of uniting under the Mother-Church is an idea sustained by the very same people who were sent outside Romania to control “public opinion” over here and report back to those who almost destroyed a country over a 50 year period?  Could it not be that these are the very people who whisper in our ears that we should forgive all so that once we let them in our house they demolish everything and destroy us?… We need clear answers before allowing these people to share our “nest” with us any longer!

Our Dialogue Commission overstepped its role and authority, and it entered discussions on the “desirability” of being united under Bucharest without having the mandate to do so.  This Commission should be de-commissioned, and this, for the last time.  However, we also understand that, in abnormal situations, anyone can overstep his/her authority, and that is why the most important reason to stop this Commission is not due to this error, but due to the contents of the March 11, 2008 letter.  This document characterizes our future if we decide to go down the Bucharest road.  Autonomy?  What autonomy, when what is contractually promised and signed is taken back, and this without any justification whatsoever.  The duplicity proven in that letter is eloquent.  What value does Bucharest’s word hold when we cannot even agree on what happened on a specific date, at a meeting attended by both sides?  We speak together and one side understands one thing, and the other, another; one side speaks but doesn’t listen, or vice versa.  It is only there where the word given is meaningless, that one finds such anomalies! OUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS LEFT THAT PLACE AND THEY WILL NOT ALLOW US THERE!

On the one hand, our Commission tried but could not make anything work.  Our Commission worked honourably and properly, even though it overstepped its mandate.  On the other hand, our Commission was lied to.  Our Commission was betrayed.  In the best possible case, if discussions would continue, our Commission could have possibly negotiated a document of autonomy with them, but now for what purpose?  The March 11, 2008 letter is proof that even the Autonomy granted by the Romanian Patriarchate to its underling Archdiocese in America is not respected.  What treatment could we expect?  Our Dialogue Commission has nothing further to discuss with the Archdiocese or Patriarchate representatives regarding any unity under Bucharest.

Also, our Dialogue Commission no longer has the moral right to present any type of proposal that would mean subjugating our Episcopate under the Romanian Patriarchate, thus breaking us away from the American Orthodox Church, and this, particularly now, after our Commission was lied to and disgracefully treated in humbling fashion, and this, as they acted in our name.  As honourable men who have been betrayed, the best would be for Archbishop Nathaniel to de-commission the Commission created by Him, or to have every member resign before holding any other meeting.  In this context, our Commission should not have any proposal to present our 2008 Congress.  The Commission has no moral right to present anything for Congress vote approval, including even the Agreed Statement which, in itself, contravenes our Episcopate’s Constitution.  How can this Commission now propose anything for a vote that would mean subjugation under the Romanian Patriarchate when we cannot have faith in their respecting whatever contract of autonomy they and we may sign?  In fact, we now have proof that any autonomy agreement will not be respected if something (anything) displeases Bucharest.  Thus, at our summer 2008 Congress, the past Secretary of the Dialogue Commission should present a report explaining why discussions about unity under Bucharest can no longer continue either with the Archdiocese representatives or with the Patriarchal representatives.  The past Secretary should also report how they were lied to and humiliated as our representatives, so that we may learn to never fall into this trap again.

Finally, Archbishop Nathaniel should repeat the offer he made last year when he agreed to let all clergy who so desire to leave our Episcopate, or remain faithful in it and in the American Orthodox Church.  Alternatives exist from the 1950’s and onwards, now called the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America under the Romanian Patriarchate, and probably yet another alternative called the Romanian Orthodox Exarchate of America, will soon appear, also under the Romanian Patriarchate.  If anyone wants to leave our Episcopate and the American Orthodox Church, they should do so; they even have a choice of where to go.

We, the sons and daughters of the Church that is here, promised our parents, those who are with the Lord or those who are still with us, that we would not abandon or estrange her, and that we will not leave her as a bounty for those who, with slippery words (as in insincere repentance for past sins), will capture the hard work, sacrifices and even the lives given for truth, justice, cleanliness, and the maintenance of holiness these Churches represent.  How can we leave these sacred places in the hands of those that will surely turn them into political platforms for a foreign government?  We have the responsibility to stop this type of action and to prepare this Church for our children who were born here.  Our moral responsibility is thus very clear!  We must contribute to building our local Church led from here and not from elsewhere, and to maintaining our Episcopate’s full independence from Romanian Patriarchate rule, thereby remaining faithful sons and daughters of the American Orthodox Church!

Alex. C. Popescu

Montreal, Canada

April 10th 2008

3 Comments to “April 10 2008: Response”


  1. Anonymous Says:

    Alex,

    I read your excellent paper. You cover all bases and more.

    This response should also be sent to all the clergy of the Episcopate (ROEA) and put on various blogs, relevant websites and interested newspapers. Our Episcopate should worry about getting too close to the Romanian Patriarchate which has the closest of ties to the Romanian government. Separation of Church and State is a great thing once you have it. Why should we go back in time?


  2. Ron Muresan Says:

    Alex,
    Your letter is measured, temperate, yet devastating in its integrity, honesty and argument. The JDC must have had some interesting discussions about it at their meeting.
    At this point, they must know how much the Patriarch’s precipitous letter to Archbishop Nicolae has hurt their cause - Daniil sent it way too early in the game - he has “tipped his hand”, thus proving just how hollow the “glorious” autonomy would be.
    Ron Muresan,


  3. Alex Nemoianu Says:

    Christ is Risen!
    We are totally on the same page. God is with us!
    Cu toata dragostea,


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PRAYER OF ST. EPHREM

O Lord and Master of my life,
leave me not with the spirit of laziness,
of despair, of domination, or idle words.

Rather, give me, your servant, the spirit of integrity,
of humility, of patience, and of love.

Thus, Lord, grant me the wisdom to see my own faults,
and not condemn my brother;

for You are blessed, now and forever. Amen.



OUR FATHER

Our Father, who are in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day
our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.

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but deliver us from evil.