Uh-oh, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America is a liberal

(RNS) – A few weeks ago, Elpidophoros, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America, showed up at a resort near Athens and baptized the son and daughter of a prominent gay couple, actor Evangelo Bousis and fashion designer Peter Dundas. The baptism, which was followed by a meal and a “wild party”, was widely publicized.

And that created a bit of fury in the Church of Greece.

As required by Orthodox protocol, Elpidophoros had informed the local metropolitan bishop that he would be performing a baptism in his diocese – but not that it would be on behalf of a gay couple. At least that’s what the Metropolitan, Antonios de Glyfada, claimed after news of the event caused an “uproar” over what was considered “the first openly gay baptism” in Greece.

Antonios set out his grievance in a formal letter of complaint to the Greek synod, after which the synod unanimously voted to send its own letter of protest to Elpidophoros and forward this letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul), which oversees the American Archdiocese. .

This prompted a full-throated defense of Elpidophoros in the form of an editorial in the Religious Information Service of the Reverend John Chryssavgis, deacon of the American church and theological adviser to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whose editorials he edited. works and biography. writing. You don’t need to be an expert in Byzantine politics to see the editorial as a retaliation from Constantinople.

Asking rhetorically whether notification is expected when parents are celibate, atheist, civilly married or unmarried, Chryssavgis said: “There should be no controversy about a baptism, to which all children are entitled. He was quick to name Greek bishops who were critical of baptism and suggested it was time to have “a frank discussion about sex and gender in the church.”

As for Elpidophoros himself, while he has so far remained silent on the matter, it is not the first time since he took the reins of the American archdiocese three years ago that he has bustles in conservative Orthodox dovecotes.

Hired as an Orthodox leader to deliver the opening prayer for the annual anti-abortion march for life last January, he began with a mandatory “We affirm the gift and sanctity of life – all life, born and to be born”. But then he went on to say, “At the same time, we also affirm our respect for the autonomy of women,” noting how the Virgin Mary “freely chose” to bring Jesus into the world.

“We don’t march for coercion,” he said. “We walk with compassion. With empathy. With love. And with our arms outstretched to embrace it all.

Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. Courtesy picture

This acknowledgment that there was another side to the abortion issue did not please a segment of the Orthodox Twitterverse or the presiding hierarchies of four other American Orthodox churches (Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Serbian), who then published a reply.

“The Orthodox Church is, and always has been, staunchly pro-life, viewing abortion as the murder of another human being,” they asserted. “In recent weeks this position has been challenged and therefore we, the Orthodox presiding hierarchs representing several canonical jurisdictions of the United States of America, are obligated to proclaim the only true and correct teaching of the Church on that question. “

On another front, two years earlier, Elpidophoros took the position that a non-Orthodox person who marries an Orthodox person in a Greek Orthodox church can receive communion. Conservatives were angered by this apparent violation of orthodox canons.

To understand where Elpidophoros is coming from, take a look at the talk on Orthodox-Catholic Relations he gave at Fordham University in September 2020. There he called for overcoming the “oxymoron” of letting the Eucharist (“the sacrament of unity par excellence“) come between the kind of interfaith couple that Greek Orthodoxy allows to be married in church.

Do we do it by practicing oikonomics, pastoral compassion, and accepting a measure allowing the non-Orthodox Christian spouse to receive Holy Communion? Today, in this unique context of Orthodoxy in the Diaspora, we are able to consider the question of Communion, which depends on our allowing ecumenical couples to marry.

The principle of oikonomics, advanced by the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century, is to recognize that strict adherence to religious rules and regulations should sometimes yield to the realities of a fallen world. In Orthodoxy, this is perhaps most evident in a desire to allow divorced people to marry in church a second and even a third time – albeit with a less festive liturgy than what is planned for first marriages.

Of course, there has always been resistance to oikonomics within Orthodoxy. (In America these days, that resistance often comes from evangelical converts to a tradition they wish to bring to the fore in the culture wars.)

Pope Francis can be said to have embraced the principle when he allowed the bishops of his church to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. It is quite clear that Elpidophoros, a Constantinopolitan by birth, is cut from the same pastoral fabric.

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