THE ANTIOCHIAN CRISIS AND ITS RESEMBLANCE TO CULTIC THOUGHT AND ACTION
By Jason Barker
I recently read on Owen White’s blog this statement about the recent Antiochian Archdiocese Convention, “After the meetings today a priest's wife told a friend that it feels like she is trapped in a cult. It certainly sounds like a cult on the radio” http://tinyurl.com/ou2faz) – similar comments were made about the OCA during the height of its scandal.
I am, of course, unequipped to analyze a third-hand report of the feelings of an unnamed khouria, but my personal and professional background caused me to take notice of such statements (I was raised a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, and after leaving the Watchtower Society spent nine years in professional ministry researching and engaging in outreach to cults and alternative religions). I can without hesitation state that the Orthodox Church in general – and the Antiochian Archdiocese in particular – is not a cult (I would not be a member of the Church if it were), but there is nonetheless a pertinent question: if the Church is not a cult, why might there be people who feel as if they are trapped in a cultic system?
There are many descriptions of what constitutes a cultic group or system (the term itself is highly debated among academics and psychological and psychiatric professionals). Robert Jay Lifton’s “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” (a study of indoctrination and control techniques in communist China) is often referenced, but perhaps an even more useful definition in this context is from Michael Langone, the head of the non-religious International Cultic Studies Association:
Contemporary cults…are likely to exhibit three elements to varying degrees: members’ excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to the identity and leadership of the group; exploitative manipulation of members; and harm or the danger of harm to members, their families and/or society.
While again affirming that the Antiochian Archdiocese is not a cultic institution, I nonetheless believe it would be useful to look at how certain actions taken by some of the leaders and members of the Archdiocese – and the mindset motivating those actions – unfortunately reflect these three cultic elements.
MEMBERS’ EXCESSIVELY ZEALOUS, UNQUESTIONING COMMITMENT TO THE IDENTITY AND LEADERSHIP OF THE GROUP
There is no disputing the high status held by Metropolitan PHILIP in the life of the Archdiocese. For example, he is mentioned twenty-eight times in the most recent issue of The WORD, and the audio recordings of the Archdiocese Convention also contain many instances of the attendees singing “Many Years” to him, lauding his many accomplishments, and offering him other special recognitions. And, I should point out, these things in themselves are not necessarily wrong: it is good to express love for a shepherd of the Church, and it is only proper to give credit to him for his many notable accomplishments.
At the same time, however, there is a significant danger in vesting an individual (or governing body) with too much adulation and power, as Langone explains in the first criterion from a more extensive description of cultic groups: in a cultic group a leader demands – and is given – absolute power.
Unfortunately, some people in the Archdiocese go beyond expressing love for +PHILIP to demanding total submission to him. To hear examples of this, I encourage you to listen to Ancient Faith Radio’s recording, “Department of Legal Affairs and Resolutions” (available at http://tinyurl.com/n8yakn".
First, if you go to 11:02 in the recording you will hear a resolution made by Economos Antony Gabriel and Fr. Joseph Antypas, where they resolved that the Convention “extends to His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, by acclamation, its total love, devotion, and unequivocal obedience to him as the Chief Shepherd of this Archdiocese” (emphasis mine). Fr. Antony added beginning at 13:07, “I would pray God that we all leave with more loyalty, obedience and dedication to Saidnya PHILIP” – I am not sure how the attendees could leave with more loyalty and obedience than the unequivocal obedience they had already pledged by acclamation, but the applause of some (but notably not all) at the end of Fr. Antony’s addition nonetheless signaled their approval. +PHILIP’s response to this resolution and its acceptance was to smile and thank Fr. Antony (13:39).
I want you to consider the definition of unequivocal: “absolute; unqualified; not subject to conditions or exceptions.” It is not inappropriate to resolve to be obedient to a hierarch – the Holy Apostle Paul expected the Corinthians to obey his orders to them (2 Corinthians 2:9), and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews (traditionally said to be St. Paul) exhorts his readers to “obey those who rule over you” (Hebrews 13:17). But what kind of obedience did St. Paul require? He says, “Obedience leading to righteousness” and “obedience to the faith” (Romans 6:16; 16:26). What, in comparison, do Frs. Gabriel and Antypas propose (and a highly vocal number of Convention attendees ostensibly accepted by acclamation)? They propose total obedience, unlimited and unrestricted by any qualification or circumstance. The significance of this proposal becomes apparent with the very next resolution.
At 14:21 Sarah Hodges (incorrectly named “Sarah Hodger” by the sergeant-at-arms) began a resolution that the Archdiocese no longer pay the salary of +DEMETRI while he remains an active bishop. Please pay attention to what happens near the end of the recording. At 22:55 +PHILIP said to Ms. Hodges, “So you…your motion, uh, is not in order.” She replied that her resolution had been seconded (meaning that, according to parliamentary procedure, it was in order), and therefore should be voted upon, provoking this response from +PHILIP at 23:09, “MA-BEDDI (translation, “I don’t want it”)! I don’t want to vote on it. This is ridiculous!” +PHILIP’s angry outburst was applauded by some of the attendees.
This vividly demonstrates why obedience to the leadership cannot be unequivocal in a truly Orthodox church. +PHILIP, ignoring parliamentary procedure, unilaterally declared the motion out of order, exclusively because “MA-BEDDI.” The situation, then, is clear: the laity and clergy, in an act of unequivocal obedience to +PHILIP, are required to continue paying for a convicted sex offender with a substance abuse problem to remain in the active episcopal ministry, and furthermore are not to object in either thought or word to his decision.
We must ask: would St. Paul consider this “obedience leading to righteousness” or “obedience to the faith?”
Before moving on, I should point out that +PHILIP attempted to defend himself in his address at the Archdiocese Convention against the accusation that he wields absolute power (the recording is online at http://tinyurl.com/mokmfs). Simply stated, he decried the accusation that he exercises absolute power in the Archdiocese (19:57), telling people to ask the various Archdiocesan departments and organizations if he does so, but also reminding his listeners, “I assure you, Metropolitan PHILIP is no wimp” (20:29).
I do not wish to be snide, but +PHILIP’s denial of holding absolute power reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s statement, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." Sadly, the formula can simply be reversed to fit this situation: if you have to tell people you don’t wield absolute power, you do.
Does +PHILIP Himself Demonstrate Obedience?
While the focus of this section is on the expectation that laity and clergy will be unequivocally obedient to +PHILIP, the Metropolitan himself is not exempt from expectations of obedience: he is canonically required to adhere to the decisions of the Holy Synod of Antioch (+PHILIP himself affirms that “the Holy Synod of Antioch is the highest authority in the Holy See of Antioch” (http://tinyurl.com/m5tqyg"). Does he model such humility and obedience?
It should be noted that Dcn. Emile Sayegh (18:27) and +PHILIP’s (20:18; 23:19) stated reason for continuing to pay +DEMETRI’s retirement despite +DEMETRI’s active status is that it is being done according to the wishes of Patriarch IGNATIUS. While this makes it appear that +PHILIP and the local Synod of Bishops are humbly being obedient to +IGNATIUS (which doesn’t address the problems regarding +DEMETRI’s status – it simply shifts some of the responsibility), this becomes problematic when looked at within the context of +PHILIP’s often tumultuous relationship with the Holy Synod in Damascus.
While the Association of Orthodox Christian Attorneys (http://www.orthodoxattorneys.org) has an extensively documented record of the back-and-forth between Englewood and Damascus regarding the true status and implications of the Archdiocese’s self-rule, I want to look at one incident: an interview with +PHILIP in the November 8, 2003 Toledo Blade (available on the Archdiocese’s website at http://tinyurl.com/ql6zza). In this interview +PHILIP recounted a confrontation with +IGNATIUS over self-rule, saying he told the Patriarch about the Archdiocese’s overwhelming approval of self-rule and concluding:
`"So I said, ‘We the people in America desire this self-rule, this autonomy. And here you are. What are you going to do?’
"Finally, after some tense moments - and there were tense moments - I stood my ground and I said, ‘This is it. We have other choices. The choice is yours now, to grant us self-rule or not to. If you don’t, then I will return to the United States of America and tell my people that you refused to grant us self-rule and we will take it from there.’"
Let’s put all this within the context of obedience. +PHILIP made clear in this interview that he in essence extorted an agreement from +IGNATIUS – he heavily implied he would lead the Archdiocese into schism (which in Orthodox ecclesiology is a significant act of at least temporary disobedience) if +IGNATIUS did not agree to the Archdiocese’s self-rule. It is clear from this episode that +PHILIP believes there are occasions in which it is necessary to engage in some form of principled disobedience.
This generates two very important questions. First, why – since +PHILIP is clearly willing to engage in principled disobedience – is he unwilling to engage in such an action regarding paying +DEMETRI’s salary, when at the very least such principled disobedience would demonstrate the Archdiocese’s concern with protecting women from the possibility – even if remote – of sexual abuse (I address this point further in the subsection below about threats to the safety and well-being of women)?
Secondly, since he clearly knows there are occasions when obedience to injustice would be terribly damaging, and that such occasions therefore require principled disobedience, why does he demand unequivocal obedience from his laity and clergy? Such an unbalanced system is not Christian – it instead is reminiscent of the abuse of power in a cultic system.
EXPLOITATIVE MANIPULATION OF MEMBERS
Of course, the mere fact that a resolution of unequivocal obedience was made at the Convention, or that such obedience is expected by +PHILIP, does not in itself guarantee that such obedience will actually be given – +PHILIP’s relationship with the Holy Synod demonstrates that obedience can be withheld.
To prevent even the principled withholding of obedience, cultic groups engage in exploitative manipulation of members in an attempt to enforce such obedience and conformity. As Ronald Enroth, a sociologist who specializes in cults and cultic abuse, explains,
The person who raises uncomfortable questions or does not ‘get with the program’ is cast aside. Guilt, fear, and intimidation are used to manipulate and control vulnerable members, especially those who have been taught to believe that questioning their pastor is comparable to questioning God.
Unfortunately, some members of the Archdiocese engage in acts of abuse and manipulation to reinforce the current power structure.
There have been reports of persons destroying materials and taking physical action against individuals at the Archdiocese Convention (see, for example, http://tinyurl.com/qc5gdr), but I will not address these in this article. I will instead refer to two recent events with significant public corroboration.
The first is +PHILIP’s recent decision to force some first-year seminary students from the Archdiocese to transfer – only a few weeks before classes begin – from two OCA seminaries to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary. The seminarians are being forced to uproot their families and frantically reestablish their homes in Brookline, MA (instead of either South Canaan, PA or Crestwood, NY): one seminarian’s family being forced into this scramble includes a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy and their one year-old daughter.
There are two conflicting explanations for this event. The Archdiocese claims they are making two seminarians move in order to provide them with the best Orthodox education (the Archdiocese further claims a third seminarian had already chosen to make this transfer) (http://tinyurl.com/qvgjhm). Mark Stokoe, however, says that – according to an appeal made to him by +JONAH, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, and Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky of the OCA – the decision to move three seminarians is an act of vengeance against the OCA for its refusal to discipline him for his criticism of +PHILIP and recent Archdiocesan actions (http://tinyurl.com/qq9nzt).
There is one interesting element that lends credence to Stokoe’s assertion. On July 27th – 2 ½ weeks before Stokoe wrote about the seminarians being transferred – an individual professing to be Khalil Habib (see http://tinyurl.com/q32xjh) wrote the following on the independent “The Antiochian” website
Many of us wish the Metropolitan would pull the SVS students and send them to Holy Cross. Since Mark Stokoe of the Orthodox Christians for Accountability Website, helped foment the upheaval now facing our Metropolitan and since he sits on the OCA High Mucky-Muck Council they must condone what he does. As a High Mucky-Muck Council member he must represent their thinking or they would disavow his gunk.
Two things make this post interesting. First, it accurately describes, from a militantly anti-Stokoe-and-OCA perspective, precisely the rationale Stokoe related as to why the Archdiocese is forcing the seminarians to move, and did so shortly before the Archdiocese enforced the decision. Secondly, if this individual is in fact Khalil Habib (which, of course, he may not be), then he is reported to be a friend of Economos Antony Gabriel (the writer’s username is even “Old friend from chicago days,” echoing a description given by Khouria Lynn Gabriel), who as we saw above is an ardent promoter of +PHILIP’s absolute power in the Archdiocese.
This circumstantial evidence – while potentially significant – is not in itself conclusive, however, and given the current lack of corroborating evidence for the Archdiocese’s claims, it is difficult to determine at this time the validity of the two explanations. Even if the Archdiocese is providing a truthful explanation, however, it does not explain why the necessity for all first-year seminarians to attend Holy Cross was not decided until mid-August, nor why, given the lateness of the decision, it could not be postponed until the following academic year. It would be good if this is not simply an act of vengeance directed at the OCA and Mark Stokoe; at the same time, given the massive incompetence such a decision would indicate, not to mention the vastly more important factor of the indifference of the Archdiocese for the impact upon the seminarians’ families, the comfort provided by this truth would be minimal (I address this point further in the subsection below about threats to the safety and well-being of women).
Unfortunately, this would not be the first time the Archdiocese removed its students from an OCA seminary to punish that jurisdiction: it similarly removed all Antiochian students from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary to punish the seminary for its refusal to support +PHILIP’s decision to allow Fr. Joseph Allen to remarry.
Moving beyond the allegation that the Archdiocese ordered the transfer of several seminarians to punish the OCA, +PHILIP has demonstrated that he views the seminary tuition paid by the Archdiocese at least partially as a tool intended to purchase the seminarian’s unequivocal obedience and loyalty for himself. During his address at the Archdiocese Convention (18:47), he said regarding individuals who anonymously disagree with him on the Internet,“I suspect that such accusations are not coming from Antiochian clergy, who have received full scholarships from the Archdiocese to study theology at various Orthodox seminaries” (he is even alleged to have said to a priest who – contrary to +PHILIP’s wishes – asked about budget sheets in an unrecorded meeting on July 17th, “I paid for your seminary education” (http://tinyurl.com/omj4l9). In light of this, even if the Archdiocese is telling the truth about the reason for forcing the seminarians to transfer – and, given the fact that the Archdiocese has done such a thing before, I think it more probable that Mark Stokoe is correct in his version of the events – it is clear that +PHILIP uses seminary tuition as a tool for manipulation.
The second example of people in the Archdiocese manipulating others to support the current power structure can again be seen during Sarah Hodges’ resolution regarding paying money to +DEMETRI while he remains active in the episcopate. There are several occasions on which you can hear a significant number of attendees at the Convention shout at Ms. Hodges to sit down (as well as less repeatable insults); the most audible incident occurs at 23:25, after +PHILIP unilaterally refused to allow the motion to come to a vote (it should be noted that +PHILIP quieted the first – but only the first – angry outburst against Ms. Hodges (15:15)).
It is difficult to determine precisely what is being yelled at Ms. Hodges during that episode, but we can get an idea of the sentiments from this proclamation to +PHILIP from the administrator of “The Antiochian” website (which proclaims the Metropolitan to be “KING” – emphasis theirs – of the Archdiocese), “Your speech Sayedna was like a bullet that put the sick dogs to sleep and rest from their miseries, the miseries of envy, hatred and evil hearts” (http://tinyurl.com/o482bz).
Another poster with the username “George Samaan” wrote an even more extreme message to a Lebanese priest, “(W)ere u raped by your father or older brother ? I think you have a problem….I think it is an insult to call you a dog..you are nothing but a stupide jackass” (http://tinyurl.com/ojhc3o, errors in the original). This kind of hatred and desire for violence can be heard in the tone of the crowd’s screams during Ms. Hodges’ resolution (you will find explicit threats of violence in the section below).
The reference to dogs is not accidental – the phrase ““ya ibn kalb,” “you son of a dog,” is an especially vicious insult in Arabic cultures. This makes it all the more disturbing that +PHILIP used the term during his address to the Antiochian Convention to refer to clergy who accuse him of improprieties (19:02): If these accusations, however, are indeed coming from Antiochian priests, my response to them – in the famous words of the American author, Mark Twain – Mark Twain…he said, uh, if you give a dog a piece of bread he will never bite you; this is the fundamental difference between dogs and some human beings. Quote unquote.
This statement drew some of the loudest applause of the Metropolitan’s speech.
I want you to think for a moment about this manipulation. Robert Jay Lifton’s eighth criterion of thought control is “dispensing of existence,” in which those who are outside the group are believed to be completely bound up in evil, and ultimately do not have the right to exist (or at the very least have an invalid existence). While we will look at explicit threats of violence in the next section, I want you to think about how overt violence can find its basis in statements like +PHILIP’s: his critics are called dogs, which from his cultural perspective are reprehensible beasts. By calling his critics dogs, he utterly dehumanizes them; the enthusiastic applause for this statement shows the cultic mindset in action, celebrating the exclusion of the “other” not only from the boundaries of the group, but even from humanity itself. Such dehumanization finds its inevitable end in threats (and potentially acts) of violence.
HARM OR THE DANGER OF HARM TO MEMBERS, THEIR FAMILIES AND/OR SOCIETY
Michael Langone describes one of the most chilling aspects of cultism (Langone is here talking about cultic violence against non-members, but the same principles hold for violence against members, and particularly against members who are viewed as apostate):
The potential for violence is probably magnified when the following characteristics are present to a high degree in a group: (1) centralized control by a charismatic leader; (2) an us-them mentality that results from and fortifies the psychological, if not physical, isolation of the group’s members; (3) lack of toleration of dissent; (4) a belief that the group and its leaders are above the laws of the land.
To date there have been no fully documented acts of physical violence committed by members of the Archdiocese explicitly on the grounds of defending +PHILIP or the institution (although, as noted above, there have been the currently unsubstantiated allegations of such physical acts at the Archdiocese Convention). If we look at how aspects of these cultic characteristics can be seen in the words and actions of certain persons and groups within the Archdiocese, however, we will see that a psycho-social foundation is being developed that could potentially lead to violence.
The first characteristic is well documented in the first section of this article: power is centralized in the charismatic person of the Metropolitan. The second characteristic can be seen above in the references to critics of +PHILIP’s actions as dogs, catamites, and other dehumanizing insults. The third characteristic can be seen in examples throughout this article: +PHILIP’s refusal to allow a vote on an issue that is contrary to his will; the intense verbal attacks by +PHILIP and his close followers on dissenters; and the probable uprooting of seminarians and their families to punish a dissenter and his jurisdiction.
The fourth characteristic listed by Langone is not, to my knowledge, directly applicable to the Archdiocese: I know of no evidence that +PHILIP or other Archdiocesan leaders advocate disobeying the laws of the United States and Canada. At the same time, however, breaking the law is in no way a hindrance to attaining and maintaining positions of power in the Archdiocese: there is at least one member of the Board of Trustees who is a convicted felon (see http://tinyurl.com/l734qy), another whose business paid a settlement to the state of Connecticut for operating a bogus charity (http://tinyurl.com/rb3wag - you can find information about CMRK at http://tinyurl.com/murr8y), and – as repeatedly noted in this article – the Archdiocese supports a convicted sex offender in the active episcopal ministry.
These characteristics create a strong psycho-social foundation for violence: the powerful leader of the group feels threatened by dissent; he and his most zealous followers are engaged in an intense rhetorical campaign to dehumanize the dissenters; and criminal activity is tolerated among the leadership. It is therefore sadly unsurprising that, while there have not to this date been fully documented acts of violence from Archdiocesan leaders or members, there have been threats of violence.
One example is another posting on “The Antiochian” website by the individual who professes to be Khalil Habib
Difficult to know when and where the agents will be looking after the past two months. Remember, those of you who know who you are, you will have brought it all on yourselves.
The rest of us merely paid for the private detectives.
I have enjoyed watching the net narrow.
Easy does it, boys!
Fortify your glass houses.
An odd post about “agents,” “private detectives” and “the net narrow(ing)” may only be empty Internet bluster, but its intended effect is prevalent within cultic systems: it is intended to frighten those who “have brought it all on yourselves” into silence – it is intended to gain submission through fear.
As noted above, it should be remembered that “The Antiochian” is an independent website – Douglas Cramer, the chair of the Archdiocese Department of Internet Ministry, explicitly states that there is no connection between the site and the Archdiocese ( http://tinyurl.com/m226v4). At the same time, it should also be noted that – unlike the “Orthodox Christians for Accountability” website – +PHILIP has not spoken out against “The Antiochian” or insulted the people who participate on the site. It is regrettably clear that the Archdiocese will not tolerate any writing critical of +PHILIP – but it will tolerate terror tactics against his critics.
This fact can be clearly seen in correspondence sent out to select priests and laity in the Archdiocese by Walid Khalife, an honorary member of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees (you can find many links on Owen White’s blog to articles mentioning Khalife on the Archdiocese’s site – as well as references to Khalife’s criminal record – at http://tinyurl.com/pfsr3y. Khalife sent the following to Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon about Mark Stokoe, “The only wish i have to face in my life is to face him and show him a good lesson, how a person should behave .i hope my dreams will come true and i will teach him a good lesson how to be a good person”
( http://tinyurl.com/mqrpcj, all errors in the original). He similarly sent the following to Stephen Keller, the council president at Fr. Patrick’s parish, “One day you are going to see the devil and regret what you have been doing. And you dont know what is devil, i will assure you and make sure you will meet him one day” (all errors in the original). Law enforcement officials viewed the emails to be so serious as to necessitate a police guard for +MARK at the Parish Life Conference in Cincinnati (see the Toledo Blade article at http://tinyurl.com/m6faxe).
Please think about the implications of this: a member of the Board of Trustees sent harassing email – including one in which he threatened to send another member of the Church to the devil – and the Archdiocese has left him in his position. +PHILIP dehumanizes as dogs people who disagree with him on the OCAnews site, and yet an individual who sends death threats remains on the Board of Trustees.
Threats to the Safety and Well-being of Women
Beyond these threats of overt violence, certain recent decisions by the Archdiocese and patriarchate reveal a troubling lack of concern for the safety and well being of women.
For example, It is notable that, when forced to discuss +DEMETRI’s legal situation, +PHILIP and the Archdiocese never publicly mention his conviction for sexual battery: they only mention his struggle with alcoholism (see, for example, the Archdiocese’s announcement shortly after his arrest at http://tinyurl.com/mldwsf, as well as +PHILIP’s interview with the Toledo Blade at http://tinyurl.com/ql6zza). The most specific reference I’ve seen to +DEMETRI’s actions from an Archdiocesan official is a report – albeit unsubstantiated – on the “Orthodox Christians for Accountability” site alleging +PHILIP claimed at recent closed-door clergy meetings that +DEMETRI only “touched a woman’s back,” and was only convicted because he was defended by a “bad lawyer” ( http://tinyurl.com/omj4l9); contrast this account of the incident (which again, because it was a private clergy meeting, is unrecorded and currently lacks external corroboration) with the police report at http://tinyurl.com/qw4q83.
It is also extremely unlikely that the Archdiocese of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean notifies the women in the parishes +DEMETRI visits that he has committed an act of violence against women, and therefore the Archdiocese does not give these women any warning about the potential danger in their midst.
The situation involving the pregnant wife of a seminarian is also troubling. As noted above, the woman is nine months pregnant and the mother of another one year-old child, and yet is being forced to suddenly uproot her home because the Archdiocese says it has determined that Holy Cross seminary provides a superior education to St. Vladimir’s seminary. The stress generated by such an upheaval provides a true risk to both the mother and her unborn child, and yet there is no empathy…there is only whatever point +PHILIP and the Archdiocese are trying to make. The woman’s situation does not involve physical violence or sexual assault (or the specter of potential assault), but it is nonetheless an extremely wrenching and stressful situation for which there is no valid explanation.
Unfortunately, there is little this seminarian’s wife or the Antiochian Orthodox women of Latin America can do at this time. The Archdiocese’s refusal to address the needs of the women in these situations resembles what Janja Lalich states in an article on the exploitation of women in cults, “Because of the power dynamics of the cultic situation, safety and redress of wrongs are generally hard to come by so long as the victim remains in the cultic environment.”
I want you to think about the problems I’ve described above as you read the following from Ronald Enroth: “What are the hallmarks of unhealthy, aberrant churches? The key indicator is control-oriented leadership, ministers who have a need to lord it over the flock. Abusive leaders demand submission and unquestioning loyalty.” I put the question to you: does Enroth’s description match what we’ve heard from +PHILIP and some of the leaders – and other members – in the Archdiocese?
Contrast this with Enroth’s description of a healthy church:
How can we recognize a healthy church? In addition to matters of appropriate doctrine, a healthy church is reconciling and restorative, not adversarial and elitist. Members of healthy churches seek to deepen and strengthen their family commitments. Legitimate leaders will welcome dissent and hard questions from members without threat of reprisal. Trustworthy leaders will encourage accountability, and they will establish checks and balances.
You might ask: what are my reasons for writing this article?
I have no delusions of grandeur regarding my name or reputation, nor do I think any contribution I can make will be momentous. Instead, I have two purposes in writing. First, as a former member of a cult and an individual who worked professionally for nearly a decade analyzing and speaking against the abuses and failings in cults and alternative religions, my personal integrity demands that I likewise speak out against similar problems in this Archdiocese.
Secondly, to put it simply, I believe each of us has a small part to play in encouraging some of the leadership and members of the Archdiocese to transition from Enroth’s description of an unhealthy church to that of a healthy church (I pointedly say some of the leadership and members because I know from deep experience that there are many wonderful, committed Christians – laity, clergy and bishops – in the Antiochian Archdiocese).
I have no animosity toward +PHILIP, +DEMETRI, or any of the other people I’ve named in this article – I wish all of these persons many years. I do not wish to see +PHILIP driven from office: I simply implore His Eminence to ensure his future actions and decisions will jibe with his statement to the Archdiocese Convention (20:04), “No one has absolute power except Almighty God.” I do not wish to see +DEMETRI forced into poverty and homelessness, nor do I want him to be excluded from the Body of Christ: I simply implore him return to retirement and thereby honor the agreement he made when the Archdiocese committed to paying him after his arrest (and, if either he or +IGNATIUS refuses, I implore the Archdiocese to withhold payments to him until he does retire). I implore the Archdiocese to honor the approved resolution that individuals with felony records cannot serve in leadership positions in the Archdiocese. I implore the Archdiocese to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward the verbal abuse, death threats, and other forms of manipulation that have been so heavily practiced by some members of the Archdiocese. Finally, I implore the Archdiocese to carefully consider the effects of its actions and decisions upon women – both inside and outside the Archdiocese – instead of risking their safety and well being in ecclesiastical game playing.
To these ends, it might be helpful if we all commit to add this prayer from St. John of Kronstadt to our daily prayers each day:
O Lord, let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness; let them always remember the greatness of their calling; let them not be entangled in the snares of the world and the devil; let them be saved from the cares of the world, the delight in riches, and the desire for other things entering into their hearts.
I’ve written this article to remind all of us of the words of Righteous Joshua, “But be very careful to do the commandments and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you to do, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to adhere to Him, and to serve Him with all your mind and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). We cannot do this until we replace the attitudes and actions that are similar to those found in cults with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jason Barker works as a volunteer with the Department of Youth Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. He creates Bible studies for Orthodox teens and adults at http://www.orthodoxyouth.org, and also produces the GET WISDOM! podcast for the Orthodox Christian Network, and the re/CALL podcast for Ancient Faith Radio.
Jason wishes to make the following disclaimer:
The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author, and do not reflect those of either the Department of Youth Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the Orthodox Christian Network, or Ancient Faith Radio.