Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Sunday week ago (13th of October) was the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In honour of this day we thought it timely to revisit a post we did around this time two years ago, entitled the 7th Ecumenical Council, the Canons and GOCSA. As we discussed in that post, the 7th Ecumenical Council was important not just because it reinstated icons in the churches, but because in it the canons (ie, the rules) of the Orthodox Church were affirmed.

This is especially timely given recent events in our city. For a long time, GOCSA have been promoting themselves as “canonical”. In their July newsletter, they mentioned the fact that they are a recognised denomination for the purposes of Australia’s Marriage Act:

Please note: We have had and enjoyed equal legal standing with the GOAA for 34 years. The Autocephalous GOC of America  ‐ Australia registration and recognition under Australian laws is a valuable ‘asset’ i.e. it testifies to the fact that we are ‘canonical’.

In other words, they claim that because they are registered as a “recognised denomination” with the Australian government, therefore they are “canonical”.

This is an extremely misleading and deceptive statement. Being a “recognised denomination” doesn’t make a church canonical!

What is a “recognised denomination”?

The Australian Government from time-to-time will declare certain religious organisations to be “recognised denominations” for the purposes of the Marriage Act. What this means is that the clergy of these denominations are authorised to fill out the necessary paperwork to make a couple’s marriage recognised by state/territory/federal law. That is all that it means!

You can find a full list of recognised denominations here.

Is the Autocephalic Church of America and Australia a “recognised denomination”?

Yes, they are -they are quite clearly listed in the proclamation. But this simply means that their priests are allowed to register weddings in Australia, and as such it’s not very special. It is worth nothing that there are 121 other religious organisations that are recognised denominations, including Islam, Jewry and Buddhism!

Does this mean that they are a canonical Orthodox Church?

No it does not! That’s why GOCSA’s statement in their newsletter is so deceptive. As we noted above, Islam, Buddhism and Jewry are also recognised denominations – but they are not even Christian, (let alone a canonical Orthodox Church)! In recognising a denomination for the purposes of marriage, the Australian government has no intention of making a judgement about whether or not they are a canonical Orthodox Church – that’s not their job it’s the Orthodox Church’s job!

As we have discussed, to be a canonical Orthodox Church means to be an Orthodox Church that was founded and continues to operate in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church – ie, those canons that were adopted by the 7th Ecumenical Council. Sadly, the Autocephalic Church of America and Australia continues to operate outside the bounds of these canons, and they are not recognised as canonical by any of the major Orthodox Churches in the world – not even by the Patriarchate of Alexandria with which they claim to be aligned (the Patriarchate of Alexandria has denied that they are canonical). They therefore remain uncanonical (and hence un-Orthodox) in spite of their claims, and their sacraments unrecognised by any Orthodox church in the world (including the Church of Greece).

How do they become canonical?

To become canonical is very straightforward, in principle: all they need to do is submit to the canons (ie, the rules) of the Church and join with a canonical Orthodox Church. In Australia, the canonical Orthodox Church for Greek-speakers is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

In the same article in the July newsletter, GOCSA claimed that the Federation of Greek Orthodox Communities tried to do this:

The Federation efforts did not succeed despite 3 delegation visits to the Ecumenical Patriarchate Istanbul – the Patriarchate failed to give a lead.

This is also extremely misleading. The Ecumenical Patriarchate did give them a lead – they directed them to the official branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Australia: the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. So it is not that they weren’t given a lead – they just didn’t like the lead that they were given.

It remains a mystery to us why GOCSA are so against reuniting with the Archdiocese. Many other formerly schismatic communities around Australia have successfully followed this lead, and have become canonical by uniting with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. As readers of our blog will know, the most recent of these was the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW in 2011. Their example shows that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has in fact given a lead on these issues.  (Moreover, to this day GOCNSW remains in full ownership of its own property – putting to rest the false rumour that this division is about property ownership.)

It is our fervent prayer for GOCSA to become canonical, and that whatever misconceptions they might have that prevent them from rejoining the Archdiocese to be cleared away. But relying on misdirection and status as a recognised denomination to pretend to be “canonical” is no substitute for the real thing.