From Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.
On January 15, 2014, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) clarified its vision for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. This came in the form of an epistle from Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, acting as the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR to Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly of Bishops. This letter was subsequently posted to the official ROCOR website. Before we analyze the contents of the letter, some background is necessary.
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops is an institution established out of the decision of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, convoked in Chambésy, Switzerland in 2009. Among many tasks, the Assembly of Bishops is charged with “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis” (Rules of Operation of Episcopal Assemblies, Article 5). This plan was agreed to by all fourteen Autocephalous Churches, including Moscow, based on their desire for ”the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements.” Pursuant to this goal, in the 2013 meeting of the Assembly of Bishops, the Committee for Regional Canonical Planning presented a Proposal for Canonical Restructuring of the Orthodox Church in the USA, followed by lengthy discussion with the bishops. The centerpiece of this proposal is the restructuring of the various Orthodox jurisdictions so that no bishop’s territory overlaps another’s, according to apostolic custom: one bishop in one city. Some of the details of this proposal were presented by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick in Cleveland in November of 2013.
In responding to this, admittedly ambitious, proposal, the epistle from ROCOR to the Episcopal Assembly makes a bold claim, namely:
"...we cannot and do not consider… that the present situation of multiple Sister Churches tending to the diverse needs of the flock in the unique cultural situation of North America is, of itself, a violation of canonical order."
Put simply, ROCOR does not believe that the overlapping dioceses are a violation of canonical order but rather that there are other violations of canons which must be the primary task of the Assembly, especially
"...the conducting of inter-faith marriages; the practices of reception into the Church; divergent approaches to fasting; issues of confession and preparation for Holy Communion; the release and reception of clergy; etc."
There is probably more going on here than meets the eye. The Antiochians' Metropolitan Phillip, for example, has always criticized the nascent Episcopal Assemblies, noting that an earlier, identical assembly, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, has never been dissolved. The Episcopal Assemblies are purportedly mandated by a pan-Orthodox council of Orthodox hierarchs meeting in, of all places, Chambesy, Switzerland. (I perceive, but do not know that this council is mostly Greek. The current Antiochian Patriarch +John was one of its members.)
Having seen a number of comments from ROCOR members, I think this is less about ethnicity and more about avoiding domination by a Byzantine nationalist movement which exists way more outside of the former Byzantine territory than in it. (So I guess this really is about ethnicity.) In addition, the ROCOR clerics seem concerned about the relaxed praxis of their companion jurisdictions in the Americas. Bottom line, the Slavs and the Antiochians are not going to go gentle into that good, Hellenist night.
More fundamentally, this is a problem that cannot be resolved in the current framework because the Church's ecclesiology is based on the Roman Empire of Late Antiquity rather than extant reality. The traditional Pentarchy of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria is nothing more than the regional and administrative centers of the Empire, and including Jerusalem because that's where the Church started and she has the Holy sites. Of course, Constantinople and Antioch no longer exist and Alexandria and Jerusalem are Greek outposts which are not, ahem, particularly representative of their flock.
The Church is simply not "built" for a world where the Empire disappeared a thousand years ago and people can pick up and move someplace else when the fighting starts or the jobs disappear. The Orthodox Church has handicapped herself over 200 years in America because she started diaspora parishes, not missionary parishes.
At the same time, propositional states like the US are not "built" for the Church. Propositional states require a highly centralized State uber alles to clamp down on all the wildly divergent peoples and cajole (or force) them into the dominant secular narrative. From the perspective of such a society, Orthodoxy is not "the Church" but just one of many odd little cults which the State may or may not choose to tolerate, similar to how the old Roman Imperium viewed Judaism and the early Christian Church.
Better minds than me will have to figure out how to resolve this.