The Ecclesiastical Court (sometimes called the Spiritual Court) is a unique body in the Church Abroad, inasmuch as it is called upon by the Diocesan Hierarchy to provide counsel and wisdom relating to matters of the preservation of the Faith and practices of the Church, as well as the pastoral implementation of the Church’s canonical norms as they relate to individuals — whether laypersons or clergy — who find themselves in particularly difficult situations.
The Court’s mission includes:
‘The preservation of the unity, sanctity and integrity of Divine teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church, the holiness of the Church’s Mysteries, the sanctity and inviolability of other general Church institutions, including the hierarchical, conciliar order of the Church as the sole canonical form of ecclesiastical administration and the basis of church life; the restoration in the Church the truth of Holy Orthodoxy which has been distorted by apostasy, and the violated order of church life; to restore its purity, unity and holiness, as well as the force and stability of the Church’s laws, rules and customs, and the normal canonical relations developed upon their foundations; to eliminate any sort of misunderstanding and quarrels between members of the Church’(— Extracts from the Statutes of the Church Abroad)
The Ecclesiastical Court is composed of senior clergymen of the Diocese, in the rank of Priest, selected for their experience and demonstrated sobriety of judgement. Members are nominated by the Diocesan Council and confirmed by the Hierarchy of the Church.
Most faithful have little or no occasion to encounter the workings of the Ecclesiastical Court directly in the normal course of Orthodox life, though there are certain instances where it becomes a point of contact and reference. Amongst these, for example, are cases in which a marriage is troubled and the couple’s spiritual father (local parish Priest) has been made to understand that an ecclesiastical divorce might be a necessary response. All petitions for divorce are considered directly by the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Court, which of course strives with all energy to find a way to counsel the spiritual father and the husband and wife to rescue the marriage from a sad end; but if this proves impossible, seeks pastorally to apply the Church’s canonical tradition relating to divorce, in a manner best suited to the individual circumstances.
The current composition of the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Court is as follows:
- Archpriest Vitaly Serapinas (President)
- Archpriest Paul Elliott (Secretary)
- Archpriest Stefan Weerts
- Archpriest Quentin de Castelbajac
- Archpriest Pavel Tsvetkoff (Alternate)
While informal correspondence about the Court’s role or activities may be conducted electronically with any of its members (see the Clergy Directory for contact details), the initiation of any formal matters with the Court must be made by hardcopy letter. The address for such correspondence is that of the Diocesan Chancellery: 58 Shrewsbury Road, Birkenhead, CH43 2JJ, United Kingdom. Please mark correspondence ‘For the attention of the Ecclesiastical Court’.