Letter from Fr. Nasr
(originally posted in the OCANews.org comments section)
Dear Mark Stokoe:
I do not know who you are or whom you represent. Your letter posted on the web on 03/09/2009 is a letter full of poison. You have either forgotten or have willfully abandoned the spirit of Church found in Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them for they are keeping watch over your souls as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully and not sadly for that would be of no advantage to you. "
If you are a committed Orthodox Christian you will adhere to the edict of the Holy Synod of Antioch to which all Antiochian metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, priests and laity must adhere.
We respect and love our Metropolitan Philip and our venerable bishops who have been called, along with the priests (unworthy though we be), to serve this holy Church with love, obedience and faithfulness.
Our Metropolitan Philip for the past forty-three years has been a pillar of Orthodoxy both here and abroad. He opened his heart , mind and soul to all who came knocking at the door of the Church. In that spirit of open arms and comment the Church has grown. All growth comes with both pain and joy.
What you are trying to do is encourage dissension in this loving and God-protected Archdiocese. Leave us alone. Let the Holy Spirit guide this Holy Archdiocese and her faithful servants: the hierarchs, clergy and the laity.
Yours in Christ,
V. Rev. Fr. Constantine Nasr, Economos
(Father Constantine is widely regarded as an expert in the field of Mission and Evangelism. The author of several books, pamphlets and articles on the subject, he is the pastor of St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City. He is also the Economos of the (former) Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America.)
A Reply to Fr. Nasr
by A Concerned Priest
On March 11, the Very Reverend Economos, Fr Constantine Nasr, wrote a letter in response to Mark Stokoe's March 9 article, "Troubled Times in the Antiochian Archdiocese". This important and timely letter should not be buried because it cuts to the heart, the very core, of the current situation in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
In addition to showing his support of Metropolitan PHILIP and calling into question Mark Stokoe's character or role in this situation (an issue I will discuss below), Fr Constantine quotes Hebrews 13:17, emphasizing that we shoiuld be obedient to our leaders. Again, Fr. Constantine wisely shows that he understands the root of this problem in the Antiochian Archdiocese. The only two questions we might ask are:
-Who are the leaders we must obey, and
- Must we obey them even when we disagree, or if we dislike them?
The answers to these questions are simple for most of us Antiochian priests. As attested by canon law and tradition for at least 1,600 years, we believe that we must be obedient to our local diocesan bishop unless he teaches heresy or asks that we commit sinful actions. When these two basic principles are violated, and the Metropolitan of the Local Synod reinforces these violations, chaos ensues, as has happened in our Archdiocese.
As you are well aware, Fr Constantine, several priests (in fact, many of your friends) refused, from day one, to obey their new diocesan bishops. Instead, these priests, whose sinful and shameful actions have now been exposed and encapsulated by the letter of four priests from the Greater Detroit Area, (that letter may be found in the article here) have been openly disobedient and defiant towards their local bishops since the bishop's elections and enthronements. Thankfully, they quickly and unwisely wrote their letter for all in the Antiochian Archdiocese to now see.
Why were a small, but vocal, minority of our priests disobedient to their local bishops? Did these bishops teach heresy? Did these bishops ask the priests to sin? As you know, Fr Constantine, none of our bishops have done such a thing.
No. The sin of these bishops is that they tried to enforce Archdiocesan directives that had previously been sent out by Metropolitan PHILIP (many of them decades ago) addressing important issues such as the proper services to be celebrated on weekends and feast days, the proper practice of confession, etc. These bishops were simply asking the priests to be obedient to directives not issued by them, but by the Metropolitan Archbishop whom they claim they so dearly love and support.
Now, much to the surprise of many of us, the Metropolitan has supported a decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch that essentially rewards these disobedient priests. That this decision rewards and reinforces their poor and sinful behavior is evident from the glee that they expressed in their letter, claiming they had been released from captivity. Now free from captivity, they can continue to be disobedient to the directives of the Metropolitan without concern of a local bishop trying to enforce them.
There are two reasons, Fr Constantine, that many (if not by far a great majority) of us priests in this Archdiocese are opposed to this recent decision. First, we understand that disobedience to one's leaders, as you pointed yourself, should not be tolerated, much less rewarded. If we allow this to happen, the church will become chaotic, as we have witnessed.
The second reason we oppose this decision, Fr Constantine, is because we care about the unity of the Archdiocese. Who, Fr Constantine, ever heard before February 24, 2009, of a rogue Antiochian bishop? Which priests, Fr Constantine, were talking about splitting the Antiochian Archdiocese? When has a schism in our Archdiocese ever occurred because a priest decided to do a litany for the departed before the Cherubic hymn or to start a baptism at the back of the church rather than at the front, both of which are departures from our normal "Antiochian tradition" in America? Who on earth, Fr Constantine, would divide our beloved Archdiocese over this lack of "unity"? And even if a priest or bishop tried, who would follow him? Frankly, our Archdiocese would be better off without people who would divide over these issues, and we should welcome them to leave so as not to poison the faithful with divisiveness.
No one was talking about dividing or leaving the Antiochian Archdiocese prior to the February 24, 2009, decision. The issues in our Archdiocese were not divisive prior to that decision. Unfortunately, there has been much division since that decision.
While it is certainly my hope and work (together with Metropolitan PHILIP, the now auxiliary bishops, yourself, and all other clergy of our Archdiocese) to ensure that our divisions will not lead to formal ecclesiastical divisions, we must nevertheless recognize and admit that the disobedience by some priests to their local bishop, and their subsequent reward from the Holy Synod of Antioch, is itself the cause of chaos, division, and disunity in our Archdiocese. Many of us, taking to heart Metropolitan PHILIP's words at the 2007 convention (that we would not let any bishop or any synod of bishops, local or foreign, divide us), are hoping to discuss our thoughts and concerns in an open and free environment. Unfortunately, at this time, the only place we can do this is on-line, and even then only anonymously, unless we risk causing our families much suffering.
This brings me to my last point, the role of Mark Stokoe and OCANews. It was clear from your letter, Fr Constantine, that you are unfamiliar with Stokoe's work and role in bringing out the truth about the scandals in the Orthodox Church in America. Thanks to his work, the OCA has begun a long path towards healing that many of us find encouraging. I can only assume this is the reason why others, like myself, have turned to Mark Stokoe and OCANews during our Archdiocese's time of distress. Mark Stokoe has provided a forum for open discussion, without which there will be no healing for our Archdiocese. As we can see from the comments about various other scandals in our Archdiocese that have been suppressed without open and honest discussion being allowed, these wounds do not go away by themselves. I will not mention these scandals because I do not wish to open wounds that I have long ago put behind me, but you can see yourself from the comments on the March 9 article (and from speaking to many of our clergy) that many people have not forgotten these past wounds, most likely because they were forced to be quiet in fear of retribution.
Finally, Fr Constantine, I would especially note that Mark Stokoe not only reported disturbing details about the OCA scandal and some of their bishops' severe wrongdoings, but he also set the record straight regarding false accusations against bishops and exposed priests and others who made or helped orchestrate these false accusations.
A Concerned Priest