The northeastern Ohio areas of Cleveland, Euclid and Lorain are once again seeing the upsurge of uncanonical parishes and clergy, and, innocently, individuals are joining them only to later find out that neither their clergy nor the sacraments of Eucharist, Matrimony, Baptism or Holy Orders they have been receiving are recognized by canonical Orthodox Clergy. In order to be canonical, a church must stand in the TRADITION AND APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION of ALL other canonical Orthodox churches. REGARDING TRADITION: no parish or clergyman can abridge the Holy Canons to suit his purpose in such a way that it is outside the norms of traditional Orthodox practice, as defined in documentable historical precedent. That is: open communion cannot be practiced, fasts cannot be scorned or done away with; nationalistic phyletism cannot replace gospel evangelism, normative and canonized standards or morality cannot be disdained or blatantly ignored; nor can priests or bishops be elected by self appointment, popular vote of their congregation or ordained by clergy who are themselves uncanoncial because they are not in communion with one of the bodies below. REGARDING APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION, all priests and bishops serving a parish must be under the jurisdiction of one of the following canonical groups that have maintained unbroken apostolic succession from the first century and mutually recognize the validity of each other's orders: the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria or the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. Additionally, all canonical clergy must be presently in communion with the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople, the "first among equals of canonical Orthodox churches." If they are not currently, even though they may have at one time been in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they are NOT CANONICAL NOR ARE THEIR PARISHES OR DIOCESES. [NOTE: an important exception are the Oriental Orthodox Churches--in our area, the Armenian and Coptic Orthodox bodies. Presently, leaders of these churches and the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other canonical Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates are in open dialogue and full intercommunion will be forthcoming shortly. Neither of these groups has in any way transgressed either Holy Tradition or valid Apostolic Succession as is the case with the uncanonical churches herein described.] What does this practically mean for you? By joining an uncanonical parish you will isolate yourself from world orthodoxy, and your "fellow Orthodox Christian," and no sacrament you have received will possess any "grace touching unto salvation;" nor will you be able to commune in any other Orthodox church but that uncanonical one you belong to--or in some cases its "federation" of churches. As a layman you will probably be baptized before gaining admission to a canonical church; minimally, you will be chrismated; you will need also to be married canonically, if you were married in one of these uncanonical churches. If you are a clergyman, you will be reduced to lay status,--perhaps even excommunicated--but always put under a period of penance and then and only then: maybe will you be considered for canonical Holy Orders.
At this point you may reasonably be asking how do these churches exist as churches? The answer is simple: it is a civil and legal procedure to incorporate a body as a church by following certain state regulations. This is perfectly legal, BUT IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT CHURCH'S CANONICITY as a member of the religious body it claims to represent. CANON LAW IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON CIVIL LAW. How, then, can you insure that the church you are thinking of joining is canonical? Follow the steps below: (l) There are, obviously, other canonical Orthodox bodies than the ones above. For example: the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Georgia, as well as the self-governing or autonomous Churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania or Finland are all canonical. BUT THEY ARE NOT REPRESENTED BY ANY CANONICAL PARISHES IN THIS COUNTRY. If the church you visit reports it is a member of one of these groups, beware! It is not canonical! (2)Perhaps even a greater shock: there are NO canonical bodies of the "Old Calendar Church of Greece," "Old Calendar Church of Rumania" nor "Patriarchate of Ukraine" IN THIS COUNTRY OR EVEN IN THEIR HOMELANDS. Again, if the church you visit reports it is a member of or linked to one of these groups, beware! It is not canonical. (3) Courteously inquire of the clergy in the parish you are visiting if their bishop or his representative sits on SCOBA--the Standing Conference of Canonical Bishops in America. This is the ONLY canonical body coordinating relations between canonical Orthodox Churches. If the answer is "no," beware! They are not canonical. The only exception are churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, which ceded its seat on SCOBA to the Orthodox Church in America. You can even verify the answer you receive from any local clergyman by e-mailing SCOBA directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call them at (212)570-3591. (4) E-mail any of the following local canonical clergy and ask them about the group you are interested in: VBERZ@Juno.com; ConstHelen@aol.com; RGRAMA@AOL.COM; I.MAHLAY@CSU-e.CSUOhio.edu; STPAUL@STRATOS.NET; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; JUBEDA@AOL.COM; JC861@Cleveland.FreeNet.EDU; or call the President of the Orthodox Clergy Association at the number above. ABOVE ALL: Remember the words of St. Paul: "The time will come when men can no longer endure sound doctrine, but will want their ears tickled with all kinds of deceits, old-wives tales and fables." Your salvation is at stake. You owe it to yourself to follow these steps. "He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world;" and HE PROMISES: "Lo, I am with you always, yea, unto the consumation of the age." Do your part NOW and protect your soul Our Saviour died for.
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