Civil law, in general, do allow reference to contextual considerations. Take the example of motor vehicle law and speeding violations I used earlier. Even if you broke the law and sped over the speed limit, the law is written so you have the ability to make a case for consideration. My last speeding ticket was reduced because the court took into consideration that I was responding to a medical emergency. Here we see both an individual consideration as well as a broader consideration for the law itself are acceptable. On a broader scale, the legislature and the courts have agreed that consideration for the public is more important than absolute enforcement. The court recognized the public safety in a medical emergency is more important than individual violations. The court didn't remove the violation. By that action, the court is stating that a general indifference of the law is in itself detrimental to the public. The only thing the courts, the legislature and thousands of years of jurisprudence do not condone are claims of exemption from civil application just because they are in a self-proclaimed unique class.
Despite wording my earlier comment poorly, I do accept that the civil law allows for "exceptions". What I reject is the idea that ecclesiastical canons operate just like civil law. There are certainly similarities (e.g., stipulating policies, penalties for violation), but at their core canons are not laws. Their application, enforcement, whatever you want to call it are not going to be done properly if they are forced into a legal framework.
That said, most of what you wrote above could apply, I think, to the canons. Even when an exception is made to the canonical standard on a given matter, the canon still remains intact proving that the exception is just that. What I don't understand is the relevance of the part I bolded. What does it mean?
What would I recommend to improve the situation?
1. Acknowledge that there is a problem when laws (even canons and guidelines) are not followed. There is a problem when we justify violations of canons.
No one disputes that there is a problem when laws are not followed. No one disputes that there is a problem when canons are violated. The problem, I think, is that you're looking at the canons as if they're laws. The binding force of a canon is not the council or the father who laid it down. The legitimacy of a canon is in the fact that it reflects the ultimate canon, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this reference to Christ, the canons are never outdated, amended, abrogated, purged, etc. All the canons we have inherited we preserve as valid and "in force".
But the canons were drawn up in response to particular problems, not as a "Constitution and By-laws" laying out for a group its policies going forward. They are the application of gospel principles to resolve contentious issues at all levels of ecclesiastical life--local, regional, and universal. Consequently, we have canons that conflict with each other but are still "valid" and "in force". Absent our own in-depth knowledge of how the canons work, and even with such knowledge, we depend on the hierarchical authority of the pastors of the Church in order to know what applies to us and how it applies to us. They interpret for us how we ought to live our lives in accordance with those principles so that our lives are "canonical". It's not the case that you can just pick up a book of canons and figure it out on your own.
This is not a justification of violating canons; on the contrary, we seek in this way to know how to live canonically rather than just obey laws and disregard their spirit.
2. Remember that Orthodoxy is not an exclusive aristocratic club where people are automatically exempt for being Orthodox. (There is plenty of scripture evidence to support this).
OK, but what is the relevance of this point? This is more of a pastoral matter than a canonical one.
3. Recognize that some canons were erroneously proposed and ratified for ulterior reasons such as political maneuvering. There some canons that say the exact opposite of another canon. These type of canons should fall into a class of its own and the local bishops can justifiably revoke or regulate their practice. (This does require advanced education and spirituality to enforce this)
In general, this is wrong. Yes, there are canons that conflict with each other (as I admitted above), but you have to figure out why they conflict. Many times, it's because they are local solutions for local problems that have been accepted throughout the whole Church not necessarily because those solutions will work everywhere at all times forever, but because they reflect Christ and the gospel. As such, the bishops can't revoke them anymore than they can revoke the gospel, but they can regulate their application, just as they can with just about any canon.
What canons were "erroneously proposed and ratified for ulterior reasons such as political maneuvering"? I'm very interested in hearing more on this.
4. Most importantly, if one can't find a legitimate reason why a canon is not followed, then repent (as an individual and as a church). The normal paradigm nowadays is "if I don't agree, I am not doing it." Instead the Orthodox paradigm is "There are mysteries I will never understand. I will submit my own will and do it."
Yes, but this is such a general statement that it is quite acceptable but also of little value unless you apply it to a particular situation.
Let's consider Nicaea 20. It's quite clear in its proscription of kneeling on Sundays and during Paschaltide. And yet, we see various Orthodox Churches, as well as the RCC, not only allowing kneeling on those days but also promoting it. We can say that those communities are violating the ecumenical canon and need to repent. But we also ought to ask how such a change happened in the first place. In those Churches where the canon is better enforced, it's because its underlying rationale has been better preserved in popular piety: kneeling is still a penitential practice in those contexts. Where the canon is violated, is it because generations of people have believed that penitential practices are laudibly performed even on "prohibited" days, or is it because there's been a transformation in the understanding of kneeling? If it's the former, that's a pastoral issue that needs to be addressed, but I think it's the latter. We generally associate kneeling more with reverence, submission, devotion, and other such notions than we do with penance (and such associations are certainly Scriptural). If that's the understanding that people have regarding kneeling, is the canonical solution to change their idea of kneeling to conform with Nicaea? I'm not convinced that this should be so when the "misunderstanding" is just as Orthodox.
5. Enforcement is not the goal. Voluntary submission and spiritual growth is. Educate. Educate. Educate. Educate people about the canons, not hide them.
Education is not a matter of exposing the people to the canons. Not only would you have to teach them "the letter of the law", but the basis of their authority, who applies them and how they get applied, etc. Rather than make everyone do a Master's in canon law, it's easier to teach canonical spirituality and piety. But I think the Churches are basically doing just that, even if sometimes "the letter of the law" is violated.