By The Most Reverend Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen
Protohierarch of the Syro-Russian Orthodox Catholic Church

I would like to preface this article by making several points. (1) We, as Orthodox Catholic Christians, must realize that the Orthodox Christian Church is the true establishment of Christ God, being the first to exist, and not having as its founder any human man. (2) It is not the Church that goes astray or falls into error, but those who lead it. (3) There are pious and wicked ways existing in the world in which all conduct business, and all humanity has the God-given right to use their free-will in any manner they wish and we pray it is always used for good.

Let us recall that Christ God forgave Mary Magdalene of her sins and today she is a saint of the Church. Christ God forgave the good Thief and told him that he would be with our Lord in heaven. Christ God forgave Peter for denying Him thrice and he became the First Bishop of Antioch and a saint of the Church. Christ God demonstrated the greatest gift of forgiveness when he died for our sins and reopened the Gates of Heaven to us. Yet it can be verified by documentation that some who have approached so-called canonical Bishops for acceptance have been ignored and scoffed at by these same hierarchs who claim that they work and pray for the unity of all Orthodox. It is time that we not be led astray any longer by words of some bishops that have no substance, and by those who fail to practice what they preach. Instead we must pray for them that their ways be changed to reflect the love of Christ God for all.

We hear more and more these days the words canonical and uncanonical. It is used among many of the Orthodox Churches of the world, especially in the United States of America, to distinguish the SCOBA Orthodox from other Orthodox believers. Many feel that this is the result of the formation of what is known today as SCOBA, Standing Conference of (Canonical) Bishops in the Americas. Formed in 1960 at the initiative of the Greek Orthodox Church, and headed by it, it has become known by some as a country club open only to certain Orthodox Bishops. These hierarchs take pride in espousing the allegation that they are the only canonical hierarchs and often make maligning statements against those not part of their organization. Their approach to non-SCOBA hierarchs and autocephalous Orthodox jurisdictions has been most horrific at times even to the point where they have referred to them as invalid and pretend-Orthodox. One must ask how this is keeping with the Word of God and all that Christ God taught and died for. This is often motivated by the thirst for power and money as many of their member hierarchs continually work hard at becoming the largest Church. One might ask just who is canonical? Even member priests of such Churches have stated their objection to such a term and its definition in publications. It is this type of organization that perpetuates separation among Orthodox Christians and keeps feuds among the various jurisdictions continuing. This term can be rightly used if applied to the heterordox, i.e., those following a different doctrine or opinion, or to those who have broken with canons and apostolic traditions of the Apostolic Church of our Lord. However, they try to achieve self-acclaim and power by directing this word at those with the same faith and traditions but who may not be part of the organization. In a recent public statement published on the web, Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church has criticized their existence and stated that SCOBA has no real jurisdiction or canonical purpose at all.

The word canonical is a just a word and if correctly used for the right reasons does carry weight but unfortunately it is often misused by the very people who try to make others think that their main objective is to protect the Church. When this word is used rightly it makes reference to the correct way or ways that a jurisdiction conducts its affairs, e.g., canonical age makes reference to the age that one must be before he can be ordained and serve in a specific manner within the Church. Most rightfully used when it makes reference to canonical books or canons of Scripture as the approved books of the Holy Bible. A canonical act is when a Bishop disciplines a member for disobedience to the laws of the Church, or when he might make a parish or parochial assignment, or when a priest administers a Mystery of the Church. However, when this word is used by some to call attention to those who are not members of a particular organization it is abused and misused because then it becomes a personal issue such as when we say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. What might appear to be canonical to one may not be the same to another. So, all jurisdictions that follow apostolic teachings, customs, canons, and preach the one faith of Christ God, having proper orders, are canonical. Recently a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Minnesota told another priest that Old Calendarist Greek Orthodox were not canonical! This same priest serving a parish that once was considered uncanonical by SCOBA before its segment went back to union with a Bishop whom is part of SCOBA. Yet prior to this the faith was the same as it is now, the liturgy did not change, the clergy were as valid before as after, yet because of its joining this organization it miraculously became canonical. Now they use the very word they disliked against those who chose on their own volition to be autocephalous and free from such organizations. It was appalling to hear this and in most cases their definition of the word is simply - they are not recognized by a patriarch or by SCOBA. Forgive me, but all this time I thought we must all be recognized by God Almighty. There is only one true Vicar of Christ's holy Church, and that is the Holy Spirit.

Autocephalous Orthodox Churches and Old Calendar Orthodox Churches are canonical and are obeying the laws of God as well as those that are considered to be the Canons of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. Their only difference is wishing to remain free of ecclesial politics and issues that they feel are not canonical and not in keeping with the original intentions of the early Church Fathers. They are not members of SCOBA but then what law exists from the early Ecumenical Councils that states they must be? This organization was nonexistent prior to 1960. To them, and rightly so, many of the so-called canonical jurisdictions are simply non-canonical. The only true judgment in this matter belongs to Almighty God. In a country such as ours where the Orthodox Church wants to present itself to those outside of the faith it would be much better if all true-professing Orthodox Christians were united in faith instead of fighting because of a word. I have experienced the prejudice of those who would rather see destruction than harmony and peace as have many other good Orthodox Bishops and faithful. If SCOBA were truly a well-intentioned body of hierarchs concerned about the Orthodox Church it would embrace all jurisdictions and forgive any who may have gone astray and, for those who may have erred in teaching and/or practice, forgive them and teach them what is right and just. Perhaps then we can rid confusion among the non-Orthodox and Orthodox laity when they hear us say, I am Greek Orthodox; I am Ukrainian Orthodox; I am Syro-Russian Orthodox and simply say that we are Orthodox Christian. Then we would have only different jurisdictions that are part of one Church as professed in the Holy Creed instead of many Churches all with the same Faith. Are we meant to be many Churches? Is that what Christ God wanted? No, He came and established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (of Orthodox Faith). It is a sin for any hierarch to push aside those who come knocking at their doors for acceptance and forgiveness and for love. If they do they are not representing Christ God on this earth and in His Church. There can be no dispute about this among any reasonable and God-fearing persons. It is good to be proud of your ethnic heritage but it should never ascend above the pride we should have for being Orthodox Christians. We should always strive to remove the very things that separate us and replace them with those things that will unite us.

With all this said, let us not ignore the fact that there are those who have changed or completely separated from the faith but still call themselves Orthodox. There are those who use this name but never were a part of Orthodox Christianity. There are also those who offer different doctrinal interpretation or unorthodox dogma that have separated them from Eastern Orthodox Catholicism, and those who disagree on semantics concerning issues of faith, e.g., the Oriental Orthodox. However, the Orientals are Orthodox and they possess valid orders and are the exception to what is being said in this paragraph. There are many Old Catholic groups especially in the United States who are not recognized by the Union of Utrecht, and who use "Orthodox" in their name. The Union of Utrecht refers to the Old Catholic Church of the Utrecht in the Diocese of the Netherlands that separated from Rome in A.D. 1870 with valid orders. However, those outside this body have failed to gain recognition from Rome, and those using the Orthodox name can rightly be referred to as non-canonical because they are void of the complete Orthodox faith and in some cases any validity of orders. They often preach the teachings of Rome and use the Filioque Clause when reciting the Creed, they follow many Roman customs yet they like to insert Orthodox into their name, e.g., Apostolic Orthodox Church or Orthodox Old Catholic Church. A rhinestone can look like a diamond – but is it? Those who have the capability of reasonable thinking will know the difference.

It is time for SCOBA to embrace all Orthodox Christians who are of right faith and direct certain words at those truly deserving of them and not those who simply wish to be autocephalous and apart from patriarchal control - but who are in fact Orthodox Christian. Then respect will be given them for what they stand for but not on demand as they expect now, but because when respect is given it should also be received.  Let God remain the giver of justice and let us maintain the peace of Christ God. Let us remember that we are all sinners in the eyes of God, but we can make changes and work with dedication and sincerity for the good of the Church and for Christ God our Lord. As our Lord said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone ." As I recall, only our Lord was born without sin and remained so. Glory to You, O Lord, Glory to You. Amen!