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« on: January 16, 2008, 12:28:55 PM »

I had a question about churches and their canonical status. I am not an Orthodox Christian so I apologize for any misuse of terms. There is an Orthodox church in my town that I have read is considered uncanonical. I've attached a link to a statement from Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen of the Syro-Russian Orthodox Catholic Church where he decries the use of this term as applied to his church. When I read through his statement, it seems to make sense. What does it mean to be canonical within the Orthodox faith? What is wrong with attending a church that is not canonical? If his church does everything in line with the Orthodox faith but has its own hierarchy, what is wrong with that scenario? I'm a Catholic so I am just trying to understand it from an Orthodox perspective. Thanks for your help.
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2008, 07:29:53 PM »

Ask yourself this question if it has the same practices why would they not ask to be in communion?
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« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2008, 09:11:25 PM »

Your question is a rather complex one to respond to, concisely.  The term canonical, refers to the canons or rules of discipline that were formed by the Church in the first millennium.

Understand that what we know as the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church today, is a group of Churches which are governed internally, within themselves, and are united by their oneness in Faith, Doctine and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  This internal government is referred to as autocephaly, essentially meaning, they elect their own leader, without the need for a confirmation of approval of the leader's election, from a superior ecclesiastical authority; another synod.  Parishes are grouped among dioceses, under a bishop who processes full ecclesiastical authority over the priests, deacons and faithful within the parishes.  The bishop is a member of a synod of bishops.  One member is considered the "first" hierarch.  He presides over the synod, but does not rule over the bishops.  The synod deals with matters of common concern among the bishops and dioceses; however, except for matters that come within the purview of a spiritual court, typically, the synod wouldn't interfear in the activities of a diocese. The synod may be a regional synod, if it has not been granted autocephalos status.  A regional (provincial) synod is subject to the synod of the autocephalos Church.  There are variations to what I've written that will complicate this discussion even more than it already is complicated.

Orthodox Doctrine was always believed to be in the conscience of the Church, but when disputes arose, after the Constantine the Great ended the persecution of Christians in the early 4th Century in the Roman Empire, theological disputes, such as to the nature of Christ, questioning his dual nature, divine and human, for instance, arose.  Thus, all the bishops of the Churches were gathered in an Ecumenical Synod wherein, they defined, what the Church already knew; Doctrine, something all the faithfull are required to believe and adhere to.

To get more to your question, Orthodoxy believes that the Apostles ordained bishops to lead the faithful.  All canonical bishops can trace their ordination back to an apostolic foundation.  A synod authorizes an episcopal ordination, for which, no less than three bishops should perform the ordination. It is the canons which set forth these rules.

There are -15- or so, generally recognized autocephalos Churches today.  To the Ancient Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem (Rome was the first in primacy, but when she excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and his followers in 1054 AD, she was no longer considered Orthodox), have been added, the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, etc.  These Churches maintain this common traditional doctrine, formulated by the Ecumenical Synods in the first millennium and accordingly, they enjoy communion among themselves.  This oneness is manifested, in part, by a priest's commemoration of his diocesan bishop during the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic service of the Orthodox Church, at the petition, "First of all, be mindful of our (bishop or archbishop)_(name)_, grant that he will serve thy Holy Churches in peace.  Keep him safe, honorable and healthy for many years, rightly teaching the Word of Thy Truth."  The diocesan bishop, in turn, at that petition, commemorates the "first hierarch" (sometimes called, primate) of the synod to which he's attached; while, the First Hierarch, commemorates, the first hierarch of the governing synod, of which the regional synod is under.  The first hierarch of the governing synod, the autocephalos Church, commemorates all the First Hierarchs (presidents of the synods) of all the autocephalos Churches, referred to as the Holy Churches of God, in the liturgy.  This is a witness to the oneness and communion among the Holy Churches of God.

Now, if a hierarch is not a part of the system described in the above paragraph, some of the Holy Churches of God will consider him not canonical; functioning outside of the disciplinary canons.  However, there are also canons that permit a bishop, to "set [himself] apart," in resistance to a bishop (or synod) who he considers not right believing; not preaching or practicing consistent with the true doctines of the Church.  There are movements such as this in the Church, today.  Most of the movements have separated themselves from what they consider the "heresies" of the Ecumenical Movement.  While these synods in resistance are not recognized by most of the Holy Churches of God, (they do not enjoy the sharing of communion) some are accepted by one of more of the autocephalos Churches.  In 1992, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, the presidents of all the synods of the autocephalos Churches, on the First Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, issued a letter condemning such movements.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem, entered an objection to this condemnation into the record of the proceedings.

Finally, there may be purely self proclaimed priests or hierarchs, self ordained, or priests, ordained by self proclaimed hierarchs, not affiliated with a synod such as was described two paragraphs above, who are not in communion with anyone, and are generally considered non-canonical.  Due to court rulings over church property disputes in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century, Orthodox Christians have been counseled to refrain from deeming churches, non-canonical, due to disputes as to whether a jurisdiction can be considered canonical.  Perhaps, simply acknowledging that they do not share communion with the autocephalos churches is closer to being more appropriate.

In the Western Hemisphere, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas was formed, in part, for the purpose of recognizing canonisity among Orthodox jurisdictions; however, due to political and administrative disputes, there are canonical jurisdictions which are not affiliated with SCOBA.

I am not familiar with the hierarch you noted in your post and, therefore, I cannot comment as to where he may fit into the scenarios outlined above.

(I am not a clergyman or a theologian.)
« Last Edit: January 16, 2008, 11:01:11 PM by BTRAKAS » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2008, 09:22:09 PM »

I had a question about churches and their canonical status. I am not an Orthodox Christian so I apologize for any misuse of terms. There is an Orthodox church in my town that I have read is considered uncanonical. I've attached a link to a statement from Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen of the Syro-Russian Orthodox Catholic Church where he decries the use of this term as applied to his church. When I read through his statement, it seems to make sense. What does it mean to be canonical within the Orthodox faith? What is wrong with attending a church that is not canonical? If his church does everything in line with the Orthodox faith but has its own hierarchy, what is wrong with that scenario? I'm a Catholic so I am just trying to understand it from an Orthodox perspective. Thanks for your help.

The problem with many of these "Orthodox" groups that trumpet their canonicity to the heavens is that they are not in communion with the rest of Orthodoxy.  Being Orthodox isn't merely a matter of having all the correct beliefs, but also of being part of the Body of Christ, i.e., in communion with the rest of Orthodoxy.  Since you're Catholic, maybe this analogy will help.  Take one of these splinter groups that claims to be Catholic because they do everything in line with the Catholic faith, but they have their own hierarchy and aren't in communion with the Pope.  Are they Catholic?  Of course not!  What these groups try to do is like the hand saying to the body, "I have no need of you."  I seem to recall St. Paul being quite clear on how well that worked.
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« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2008, 10:59:10 PM »

I think reply # 2 by BTRAKAS covers it all. And i also think reply #1  is essential. If the said congregation cannot logically justify their seperation using the canons, then that leaves them outside the church and vagante. The canons condemn such splinter groups refering to them as parasynagogues. 
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« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2008, 12:38:58 AM »

I had a question about churches and their canonical status. I am not an Orthodox Christian so I apologize for any misuse of terms. There is an Orthodox church in my town that I have read is considered uncanonical. I've attached a link to a statement from Metropolitan Archbishop Stephen of the Syro-Russian Orthodox Catholic Church where he decries the use of this term as applied to his church.

I don't see the link.  Could you provide this in another post?

Quote
When I read through his statement, it seems to make sense. What does it mean to be canonical within the Orthodox faith? What is wrong with attending a church that is not canonical? If his church does everything in line with the Orthodox faith but has its own hierarchy, what is wrong with that scenario? I'm a Catholic so I am just trying to understand it from an Orthodox perspective. Thanks for your help.
In essence, the Fathers have always understood that the institution of the Church was established to protect the teaching of the True Faith from heresy.  Only by being "in the Church" can one be assured that what he is receiving is true doctrine.  Outside the Church, who knows?  There are certainly a lot of wolves out there!  I've heard many say that the Church is that institution that preaches true doctrine, as if it is the truth of the doctrine and nothing more that makes a church canonical.  But how do we know what the true doctrine is, especially when anyone can say "we and we alone preach the Truth, and we can prove this by showing you [a handpicked selection of proof texts from] what the Fathers taught"?  Yes, orthodoxy of doctrine is indeed necessary for a church to be in THE Church, but this is insufficient by itself.  One's bishop must also be in communion with all the bishops of those churches recognized as having together remained faithful to preaching the true faith of the Orthodox Church.  This, I believe, is what the 2nd Century Fathers Irenaeus of Lyons and Ignatius of Antioch taught.
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« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2008, 04:00:12 PM »

Thank you all for your answers. I also want to apologize for not including the link in the original post. Here it is:

http://www.rbsocc.org/message.html

Is being considered "canonical" simply another way of saying a Church is in communion? Is this important as a way of ensuring (and alerting the faithful) that the Faith is being properly taught and the sacraments are doing what is intended? I guess a follow-up question would be why shouldn't a Church that preaches the Orthodox faith be recognized as Orthodox without being under a current autocephalos Church? Why can't a Greek Orthodox bishop decide he is going to set up an Orthodox Church of Minnesota? He'll ordain priests for the Church and the Church will be identical to any Greek Orthodox Church. It will preach the exact same Faith, use the exact same liturgy and have the exact same "Taste of Greece" festival in the summer. I guess my question really is, how does a church like the one in the above link, gain recognition as an Orthodox Church? Maybe this question doesn't make sense to anyone (although it does in my head). Thanks again for all your help.
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« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2008, 04:09:12 PM »

Yes, they are listed here:

http://aggreen.net/other_orthodox/other.html

The six questions you close with above I'll let others handle.
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2008, 11:10:19 PM »

Thank you all for your answers. I also want to apologize for not including the link in the original post. Here it is:

http://www.rbsocc.org/message.html

Is being considered "canonical" simply another way of saying a Church is in communion?

Perhaps a better way would be it ensures the Church is in communion.

Quote
Is this important as a way of ensuring (and alerting the faithful) that the Faith is being properly taught and the sacraments are doing what is intended?

Yes, this way if you go from continent to continent (and I've been on four, if you count Europe) it's the same Church.  Sort of like the seal on the gas pump that I see, that says the bureau of standards has checked it out and it's pumping the correct amount of the correct stuff.  Or like the stuff they put in money to distinguish it from counterfeit (water marks, etc).

Quote
I guess a follow-up question would be why shouldn't a Church that preaches the Orthodox faith be recognized as Orthodox without being under a current autocephalos Church?


Apostolic succession, Holy Orders, etc. are part of the package.

Quote
Why can't a Greek Orthodox bishop decide he is going to set up an Orthodox Church of Minnesota?


Because you grow out of the Church.  You aren't grafted into it.

Quote
He'll ordain priests for the Church and the Church will be identical to any Greek Orthodox Church. It will preach the exact same Faith, use the exact same liturgy and have the exact same "Taste of Greece" festival in the summer. I guess my question really is, how does a church like the one in the above link, gain recognition as an Orthodox Church?


In one sense, it doesn't.

In another, it already has occured, e.g. the Evangelical Orthodox Church was a group that started as a evangelical Bible study and went on to become a parachurch on the basis of its reading the Fathers.  They reached a point where they would have to plug into an Apostolic Church (the key missing ingredient in your Orthodox Church of Minnesota), there is no other way for the continuity with the Apostles. That meant that all their clergy had to be ordained (NOT reordained, as there is no way from reading the Bible and the Fathers that you can come up with Apostolic succession: that only comes from a bishop's hand).
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« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2008, 05:29:31 AM »

Thank you all for your answers. I also want to apologize for not including the link in the original post. Here it is:

http://www.rbsocc.org/message.html

Is being considered "canonical" simply another way of saying a Church is in communion? Is this important as a way of ensuring (and alerting the faithful) that the Faith is being properly taught and the sacraments are doing what is intended? I guess a follow-up question would be why shouldn't a Church that preaches the Orthodox faith be recognized as Orthodox without being under a current autocephalos Church? Why can't a Greek Orthodox bishop decide he is going to set up an Orthodox Church of Minnesota? He'll ordain priests for the Church and the Church will be identical to any Greek Orthodox Church. It will preach the exact same Faith, use the exact same liturgy and have the exact same "Taste of Greece" festival in the summer. I guess my question really is, how does a church like the one in the above link, gain recognition as an Orthodox Church? Maybe this question doesn't make sense to anyone (although it does in my head). Thanks again for all your help.
Quote



Setting up your own church is uncanonical. Various canons deal with parasynagogues and those that create schism(St Basils first canon). Anyone setting up a rival altar is to be deposed and their laity excommunicated. (Apostolic Canon 31)
Only Canon 15 of the first/second allows a "walling off" and this canon outlines whats appropriate and inappropriate seperation. The canons treat seccesion for no good reason as schism making them outside the Church.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 05:30:48 AM by buzuxi » Logged
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« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2008, 10:25:54 AM »

Thank you all for your answers. I also want to apologize for not including the link in the original post. Here it is:

http://www.rbsocc.org/message.html

Is being considered "canonical" simply another way of saying a Church is in communion? Is this important as a way of ensuring (and alerting the faithful) that the Faith is being properly taught and the sacraments are doing what is intended? I guess a follow-up question would be why shouldn't a Church that preaches the Orthodox faith be recognized as Orthodox without being under a current autocephalos Church? Why can't a Greek Orthodox bishop decide he is going to set up an Orthodox Church of Minnesota? He'll ordain priests for the Church and the Church will be identical to any Greek Orthodox Church. It will preach the exact same Faith, use the exact same liturgy and have the exact same "Taste of Greece" festival in the summer. I guess my question really is, how does a church like the one in the above link, gain recognition as an Orthodox Church? Maybe this question doesn't make sense to anyone (although it does in my head). Thanks again for all your help.

 
A Church is built by the community of Orthodox Christians and not the bishop. When there is a large Orthodox community that needs a parish because there isn't one close to them. They establish relations with the Orthodox hierarchies to form a new church. A bishop will not form his own church unless he is in schism. Thats why. The Greek word ecclesia, refers to the people of God. Bishops don't start new churches, The people do.
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« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2008, 12:32:11 PM »


A Church is built by the community of Orthodox Christians and not the bishop. When there is a large Orthodox community that needs a parish because there isn't one close to them. They establish relations with the Orthodox hierarchies to form a new church. A bishop will not form his own church unless he is in schism. Thats why. The Greek word ecclesia, refers to the people of God. Bishops don't start new churches, The people do.

Thanks again for everyones' answers. In the above post, it is mentioned that bishops don't start churchs, people do. If the people wanted to start an Orthodox Church of Minnesota, could they petition one of the autocephalos churches for a bishop for their church? I've read some things on the internet about the OCA. Am I correct in understanding that only the Russian Church has recognized their autocephaly? What do they need to do to have other churches recognize it if it is understood that everything they do is in accordance with the Orthodox Faith and they have Apostolic succession? I assume they're still canonical, but if they don't have autocephaly, who is considered to be "in charge" of them (especially if the Russian Church recognizes their autocephaly)? I realize this is a little different than a determination of their canonical status. Sorry for all of my questions.
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« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2008, 02:37:12 PM »

t-bone,

Those Churches that question the OCA's Autocephaly, don't question the OCA's Orthodoxy.  They just believe that the OCA is still attached to the Moscow Patriarchate.
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« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2008, 03:06:59 PM »

t-bone,

Those Churches that question the OCA's Autocephaly, don't question the OCA's Orthodoxy.  They just believe that the OCA is still attached to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Thanks. So if the OCA does something that raises the issue of their orthodoxy, what happens? If the Greeks become aware of this issue, do they go to Moscow and tell them to get their church (the OCA) in order? If this occurs and Moscow responds that they're autocephalos so you need to raise the issue with them, then how does it proceed? Maybe I do not understand how the autocephalos Churches are disciplined within Orthodoxy for doing something contrary to Orthodoxy. I assume that a synod of the the various autocephalos Churches convene to discuss the issues within the offending Church and issue some sort of ruling to change your heterodox ways or you are out of the communion. If this is the case, do they kick Moscow out of the communion for the OCA's actions because they don't recognize the OCA's autocephaly?

Maybe someone has a resource for this as opposed to all of my questions.
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« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2008, 07:06:52 PM »

Thank you all for your answers. I also want to apologize for not including the link in the original post. Here it is:

http://www.rbsocc.org/message.html


I never post here, and I can't answer all your questions, but just because a Church claims they're Orthodox doesn't mean they are, as other have said.

You said:

 
Quote
Why can't a Greek Orthodox bishop decide he is going to set up an Orthodox Church of Minnesota?

Well, I know for a fact the sordid details of one of the parishes listed on that website, and one of the "bishops" in that group is a defrocked Greek Orthodox priest, who did exactly what you said...after the Patriarch defrocked him, he moved into a building and began his own Orthodox Church. Later on he made himself a Bishop! (yes he made himself bishop)

The parish I have in mind also had some sort of scam at one point where they were giving out healing diplomas....they had Holy Unction every Wednesday, and it was somewhat charismatic in nature......more recently they've toned all that down and have a more Orthodox appearance....as other have said, some people in that group have perfectly Orthodox beliefs, and sadly some are even converts who have no idea what they got into until they go to a canonical church, then they're shocked they can't take Communion......it's a sad, sad situation. Even some of the priests have perfectly Orthodox beliefs, but are only in Communion with, basically themselves.


Seeing as how I don't post here and only lurk, I suppose no one will believe what I've said but my parish has dealt with this group for over 6 years now so the details are pretty messy... anyone in the GOA can ask their priest about it....my priest said that all Greek priests know who this one guy is (I think he was defrocked in the late 90's) so anyone who was a priest back then will probably know of the situation or at least know of the priest.

Anyways, THAT is why being canonical is important, because anyone can buy a church building, buy icons and vestments and claim to be Orthodox....it happens....stick with canonical churches whether EO or OO because otherwise you simply don't know what's going on in some of those places.

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« Reply #15 on: January 18, 2008, 07:30:20 PM »

Thanks. So if the OCA does something that raises the issue of their orthodoxy, what happens? If the Greeks become aware of this issue, do they go to Moscow and tell them to get their church (the OCA) in order? If this occurs and Moscow responds that they're autocephalos so you need to raise the issue with them, then how does it proceed? Maybe I do not understand how the autocephalos Churches are disciplined within Orthodoxy for doing something contrary to Orthodoxy. I assume that a synod of the the various autocephalos Churches convene to discuss the issues within the offending Church and issue some sort of ruling to change your heterodox ways or you are out of the communion. If this is the case, do they kick Moscow out of the communion for the OCA's actions because they don't recognize the OCA's autocephaly?

Maybe someone has a resource for this as opposed to all of my questions.

There are things that "ought" to be and are not.  We can talk hypothetical all day, but that doesn't change the fact that things are what they are.  The Moscow Patriarchate, OCA and the "Greeks" are not in ideal situations with respect to one another, but all recognize each other as canonical.  This is all you need to concern yourself with.
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« Reply #16 on: January 19, 2008, 05:42:45 PM »

t-bone, In response to your Reply #6, these latest questions are addressed in my Reply #2 and Veniamin's Reply #3, wherein he refers to the Church as the "Body of Christ."  Eastern Orthodoxy is the Church of Holy Tradition.  Establishment of Churches is performed by the Apostles and their successors.  As stated in the Symbol of Faith, written and accepted in the 4th Century, Orthodox Christianity believes "In One, [emphasis; mine] Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

As witnessed by the former Evangelical Orthodox Church, now full members of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (within the Ancient Patriarchate of Antioch, the third ranking Eastern Orthodox See), and the Ukrainian Orthodox in America, now under the omorphorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the First Throne of Orthodoxy, while it may be a difficult and complex process, entry into generally accepted canonical Orthodoxy can be achieved by approaching a canonical hierarch or synod, and entering into respectful dialogue.

I skimmed through the link you provided and couldn't quite follow the episcopal succession outlined therein, but separation to avoid "political" disputes, as expressed by this jurisdiction, is not a canonical basis for separation to an independent status.  Saint Nectarios, having been accused of unfounded wrongdoing, retreated to monastic life, rather than defending himself, because it would have brought shame upon his accusers and the patriarchate to which he and they were attached.  Polemics among human beings, be they churchman or not, even in the Church established by Christ, is unavoidable, unfortunately.
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« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2008, 12:07:36 PM »

However, there are also canons that permit a bishop, to "set [himself] apart," in resistance to a bishop (or synod) who he considers not right believing; not preaching or practicing consistent with the true doctines of the Church.

It would be helpful to me if you could provide a reference.  I've skimmed the canons of a number of councils (always fascinating), but I have not found one that permits this.  Thank you.
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« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2008, 11:25:12 PM »

I do not have time, now, to find the canon.  If you have time, check the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies in Etna, California at St. Gregory Palamas Monastery; a diocese of the Synod in Resistance of the Old Calendar Church of Greece.  They cite this canon as authority for their existence.  I think the Synod's web site should be the starting point.
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« Reply #19 on: April 18, 2008, 12:42:45 PM »

From the CTOS site, I gathered that it is Canon 15 of the First-Second Council of Constantinople (861).  In case anyone else is interested, I found that canon referenced here:

Quote
"The rules laid down with reference to Presbyters and Bishops and Metropolitans are still more applicable to Patriarchs. So that in case any Presbyter or Bishop or Metropolitan dares to secede or apostatize from the communion of his own Patriarch, and fails to mention the latter's name in accordance with custom duly fixed and ordained, in the divine Mystagogy, but, before a conciliar verdict has been pronounced and has passed judgement against him, creates a schism, the holy Synod has decreed that this person shall be held an alien to every priestly function if only he be convicted of having committed this transgression of the law. Accordingly, these rules have been sealed and ordained as respecting persons who under the pretext of charges against their own presidents stand aloof, and create a schism, and disrupt the union of the Church. But as for those persons, on the other hand, who, on account of some heresy condemned by holy Synods, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it bareheaded in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a Bishop before any conciliar or synodical verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions."

http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/ecum_canons.aspx  Scroll down to "Canon XV of the 1st & 2nd"
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