A REPLY TO FR. GABRIEL
by a Son of Antioch
I would like to begin this letter by thanking both the Very Rev. Economos Antony Gabriel and Mr. Mark Stokoe for interesting and thought-provoking letters. While I disagree with most of Fr. Antony’s letter, I appreciate his input into this discussion. Like him, I have a deep respect for the person of Metropolitan PHILIP, although I am very unhappy with His Eminence’s support and endorsement of the February 24, 2009 decision by the Holy Synod of Antioch.
Since Mr. Stokoe has already addressed the issue of anonymity better than I could, I will address other points made by Fr. Antony.
Role of the Holy Synod of Antioch
Fr. Antony argues that “the Holy Synod of Antioch antecedes any Archdiocesan Constitution.” If that is the case, then the Antiochian Archdiocese can never trust any decision or agreement reached by the Holy Synod of Antioch with the Archdiocese. In a negative sense, this would mean that we cannot trust our agreement with Antioch to nominate our next Metropolitan. We should be prepared, if Fr. Antony is correct, to have the next Metropolitan forced on us by Antioch contrary to our previous agreement.
In a positive sense, if in fact the Holy Synod can make changes without respect to previous decisions or agreements, then we should continue our pressure on the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese via the internet, withholding money, writing letters, etc. so that the Holy Synod of Antioch will quickly reverse its most recent decision. In fact, a reversal of this decision would seem the best course of action for the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod. If that were to happen, the numerous people in the Archdiocese who are strongly opposed to this recent decision would be satisfied. Likewise, Fr. Antony, Fr Constantine, the four priests in Detroit, and others like them, would also be happy because they will simply be obedient to any decision made by the Holy Synod, if we are to trust their recent letters. Talk about bringing unity to the Archdiocese!
We might ask Fr. Antony, if the Holy Synod antecedes the Constitution of the Archdiocese and is the ultimate authority in our Archdiocese, could they force Metropolitan PHILIP to retire, seeing that he has clearly misread the pulse of the Archdiocese and helped foster disunity? Would Fr. Antony stand by idly if the Holy Synod were to make such a decision? Would Metropolitan PHILIP be an obedient son of the Church in the face of such a decision? Please do not think I am calling for His Eminence to retire or for the Holy Synod of Antioch to retire him. I would find that to be a great tragedy at this hour. My comment here is simply meant to point out that Fr. Antony’s argument holds little ground.
While we should be obedient to the Holy Synod’s decisions that are made within its canonical jurisdiction and within its canonical rights—the limits of which are being heavily debated regarding this decision—that does not mean that we simply remain silent. Fr. Antony notes that he is a church historian; he should learn from the history of the Church that changes do not come with respect to Holy Synods without pressure from outside forces, be it an Emperor or the laity. To my knowledge, the only aspect of this decision that requires the obedience of clergy is the commemoration of the Metropolitan. I have not heard of any priests refusing to commemorate the Metropolitan, so I can only assume that the priests are being obedient to this most recent decision, while still protesting it in various ways, hoping that the Holy Synod will see that it needs to reverse its decision.
Management of the Archdiocese
Fr. Antony argues: “This decision changes very little in the management of the Archdiocese.” If that were the case, why make any changes? If that were the case, why did His Eminence make such a big deal about our self-rule in the first place and how this self-rule would eventually propel us to greater Orthodox unity in the US and Canada? If very little changes in the management of the Archdiocese, why change the titles of the bishops? If very little changes, why amend the Duties and Responsibilities of Hierarchs manual? If very little changes, why did the four priests in Detroit proclaim joy at their release from captivity?
OCANews and Great Lent
I must admit that I am confused by Fr. Antony’s argument about this decision being “canonical trivia” and his relation with that to being good and faithful human beings and correctly following Great Lent, with charity and humility. While I agree with Fr. Antony that some comments on this site have lacked charity and humility, I must ask: Is Fr. Antony arguing that we should ignore this serious issue until Great Lent is complete? Is it acceptable to lack charity and humility outside the 40 days (i.e. are we only to be charitable and humble because it is Great Lent)? Or, perhaps, was this decision made immediately preceding Great Lent so that Fr. Antony and others could easily appeal to the Great Fast as a reason to ignore the damage done to our Antiochian Archdiocese and summarily sweep this decision under the rug, acting like it never happened and that no one was hurt by this decision? For my part, I believe that protecting the integrity of the Church is important no matter the season of the Church year.
Clergymen Supporting the Decision
Fr. Antony asks: “If any of our clergymen in the past week wrote to support the decision of the Holy Synod, does that mean they must be vilified?” To my knowledge, no one has been vilified because of their support of this recent decision. There were, of course, the four priests from Detroit who embarrassed themselves and the Metropolitan by expressing joy at being “released from captivity.” The criticism of that letter had nothing to do with their praise of the decision, but rather with the manner in which it was expressed—quite contrary to the spirit of charity and humility that Fr. Antony wishes us to express (in fact, evidently His Eminence, who supports this decision, required them to write the so-called “apology” on our Archdiocesan website; other supporters of this decision are equally critical of their letter). In addition to these four priests, Fr Constantine Nasr was also criticized. Again, this criticism was not due to his support for the Metropolitan, but because of the hypocrisy of his letter, calling us to be obedient to this recent decision while remaining silent about his friends’ disobedience to their diocesan bishop for several years. In none of these cases were the clerics vilified for their support of the recent decision; the criticism was based upon their behavior, not their support.
History of the Antiochian Orthodox Church
Finally, Fr. Antony points out that he is a church historian, or at least has written a book on the history of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Perhaps Fr. Antony should take another look at the Archdiocese’s history and the history of the Church in America (in fact, I would recommend Mark Stokoe's book on the subject). He may recall that it was the Holy Synod of Antioch that helped create and foster the “Russy-Antaky” division in this country that caused considerable disunity, both among Syrian Christians here and among the wider Church of North America. He may also recall that it was the voice of the Church in America, led, as he hinted to, by Metropolitan PHILIP, that pressured the Holy Synod of Antioch to end this division. Had the Antiochian Christians of that era simply been “obedient” to the Holy Synod, our Archdiocese would still be divided to this day. Similarly, if we are to listen to Fr. Antony and his call to simply be “obedient,” we will find ourselves divided while being falsely told we are “united.”
A Son of Antioch