The Declaration of Autocephaly of the International Communion of The Holy Christian Orthodox Church
- We adhere faithfully to the Great Commission given to us by Jesus the Christ to “teach all nations”, in Matthew 28:19. This Great commission is now to the whole world; the African Americans, Hispanics, West Indians, American Indians, and other ethnic groups should be included in this commission. St. John Chrysostom said: “For not to one, or two or three cities shall you preach, says Christ, but to the whole world. You will traverse hand and sea, the inhabited country and the desert, preaching to princes and tribes alike, to philosophers and orators saying everything openly and with boldness of speech.” We preserve in professing the faith of the primitive Church, as formulated in the oecumenical symbols and specified precisely by the unanimously accepted decisions of the Oecumenical Councils held in the undivided Church of the first thousand years.
- We therefore declare that In 862, the Moravian ruler, Rathislave, approached Emperor Michael, III about receiving Slavic speaking Greek missionaries to enlighten his people. Further north in Moravia, mission work was proceeding well under Prince Rotslav who wrote to Emperor Michael III, “Our people have renounced paganism and are observing the Christian law, but we do not have a teacher to explain to us the true Christian faith in our own language in order that other nations even, seeing this, may emulate us. Send us therefore, Master, such a bishop and teacher, because from you emanates always, the good law. SS. Cyril and Methodius were sent to the region with a large minority concentration of Slavs, whose dialogue they learned from childhood. In 863, Cyril invented an alphabet perfectly suited for the phonology of the old Slavic language and began the task of translating the scriptures and liturgy. “The body of literature in Slavonic, including the Bible and the liturgy, played an important role in the Christianization of Russia. The influence of SS. Cyril and Methodius far outlasted their own efforts. It is no wonder that they are commemorated in the Liturgy as ‘equal to the apostles,’ evangelists of the Slavonians.’
Grigorii Shelekhov (1747-1795), encouraged by Tsarina Catherine the Great (1729-1796), established the first orthodox colony in Alaska, in 1784, at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island. Shelekhov’s colonial administrator, Alexandr Baranov, ruled so long (1790-1818) and effectively that he came to be known as “Lord” of Russian America. In 1794, the Tsarina fulfilled Shelekhov’s pleas to establish an Orthodox mission in Alaska, and in 1799, Tsar Paul I (1754-1801) awarded Shelekhov’s Russian American Company monopolistic control over trade and government, thus inextricably entwining the Company and the Church. Only in recent years has the magnitude of their achievement been recognized — and most appropriately during last 200 years of the founding of the first Orthodox mission in North America in 1794, but we are compelled to bring this mission to other ethnic groups beyond the Russian and Greek cultures.
- We also reject the dogma of married bishops as promulgated in defiance of the Holy Scriptures and in contradiction to the tradition of the ante-nicene Church fathers. We believe if a man desire the office of a Bishop, he desires a good work. A Bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, …ruling well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. [1 Timothy 3:1-4] Undoubtedly, St. Peter and virtually all Apostles were married. Their marriage clearly did not nullify being chosen as Apostles by Christ. The father of the Cappodacian Saints was a Married Bishop. The elder Gregory was converted by the influence of his wife, Nonna; and soon after his conversion was consecrated to the bishopric of Nazianzus [p.187, Prolegomena, Sect. 1, Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7].
St John Chrysostom on married Hierarchs: ‘A Bishop then,’ he says, ‘must be blameless the husband of one wife.’ This he does not lay down as a rule, as if he must not be without one, but as prohibiting his having more than one. [p.438, First Series, Vol. 13, St John Chrysostom, Homily X, Homilies on Timothy]. Councils of the Church:
Canon V of the Canons of the Twelve Apostles (Apostolic Canons): Let not a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, put away his wife under pretence of religion; but if he put her away, let him be excommunicated; and if he persists, let him be deposed.
Canon LI of the Apostolic Canons: If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, or any one of the sacerdotal list, abstains from marriage, or flesh, or wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, let him be corrected, or else be deposed, and cast out of the Church. In like manner a layman.
St. Demetrius the Vine Dresser (Egyptian Patriarch): The Coptic Orthodox Synaxarian records one of the early Patriarchs of the Church of Alexandriaas being a married man. The record states he had lived a celibate life since the beginning of marriage and it is not known whether this is a later redaction to cover the obvious conflict that would ensue otherwise. In any case, the fact of his enthronement again confirms that the tradition of the Church at that time did not consider marriage to be a bar to even hold the highest office of the Orthodox Church.
In a1992 meeting of the clergy-laity conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America (Archbishop Iacovos), held in New Orleans, a formal resolution was sent to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople ‘to consider returning to the practice of ordaining married priests as bishops as was done in the early church.’ … Earlier in December 1991, the Greek Archdiocese stated that it was the original practice of the Church for a married Episcopate.
- We believe the Holy Spirit has blessed this attempt to insure the future stability and flourishing of our Communion, to allow our people to select their bishops, and to lay groundwork for a unified church.
The International Communion of The Holy Christian Orthodox Church (ICHCOC) has grown from a small Communion, directed chiefly to African American, Hispanics, Native Americans, Indians (India) and all people of color, into a vast Communion of approximately 230 parishes and missions, over 350 clergy and approximately 500,000 faithful, whose ethnic diversity increasingly approximates the rich ethnic diversity of North America itself. The Communion has developed its own internal structures and institutions, which respond effectively to the particular ethnic cultural and political conditions in North America, while at the same time reflecting the Orthodox Church’s perennial norms for the well-ordered life of an autonomous local church.
- We accept the decrees of the Oecumenical Councils in matters of discipline. Although the Synod of Jerusalem, held under Dositheus in 1672, was not an Ecumenical Council, its decrees are accepted by the Holy Orthodox Church of the Orient as accurately expressing its belief, and are in harmony with the decrees of the Council of Trent on the dogmas of which they treat. We are in agreement with the Holy Orthodox Church, regarding this Synod, Hence, we hold and declare that there are Seven Holy Mysteries or Sacraments instituted by Our Divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore all of them necessary for the salvation of mankind, though all are not necessarily to be received by every individual, e.g. Holy Orders and Matrimony, and as for the dogmatic decisions of these Councils, we accept them only so far as they are in harmony with the teaching of the primitive Church.
- We declare that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true central point of Orthodox worship, we consider it our right to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine. The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross: but it is a sacrifice because it is the perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross, and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews 9:11-12, for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb. 9:24). The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is, at the same time, a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful in receiving the Body and Blood of our Saviour, enter into communion with one another (I Cor. 10:17).
- We pray that Orthodox Catholic theologians, in maintaining the faith of the undivided Church, will succeed in establishing an agreement upon questions that have been controverted ever since the divisions that arose between East and the West. We exhort the priests under our jurisdictions to teach, both by preaching and by the instruction of the young, especially the essential Christian truths professed by all the Christian confessions, to avoid, in discussing controverted doctrines, any violation of truth or charity, and in word and deed to set an example to the members.
- By maintaining and professing faithfully the doctrine of Jesus Christ, by refusing to admit those errors which by the fault of men have crept into the Church, by laying aside the abuses in ecclesiastical matters, together with the worldly tendencies of the hierarchy, we believe that we shall be able to combat efficaciously the great evils of our day, which are unbelief and indifference in matters of religion. Our autocephaly safeguards the canonical principle that local matters should be handled locally, among other things allowing the selection of bishops for the Communion whose life and work is known to the faithful among us and who are committed to “keep that which is committed to thy trust“, (I Timothy 6:20).
We the undersigned Bishops, on behalf of our clergy and laity of the International Communion of the Holy Christian Orthodox Church, hereby proclaim and declare the autocephalous and independence of our portion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church
International Communion of the Holy Christian Orthodox Church, 24th September 2004