New Details From Local Synod Meeting Emerging
New details from the meeting of the "Local Synod" of the Antiochian Archdiocese continue to emerge as the governing crisis remains unresolved. It is now known that although Bishop Alexander of Ottawa did not sign the letter on Friday, he did write something on it. OCAnews sources have not been able to confirm the actual text of what he wrote, but it is clear that he wrote on the letter over the objections of Metropolitan Philip, and not to appease him. Whatever was written was likely designed to ensure that +Philip could not send the letter to the Patriarch as “proof” of the disobedience of the bishops who refused to sign.
OCAnews has learned that at least one of the other non-signing Diocesan Bishops has submitted a letter to the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. The content of this letter is said to contain an appeal to the Holy Synod for clarification of the situation regarding the demotion of Bishops and the degrading of the Dioceses to the Holy Synod, as would be proper under the Archdiocesan Constitution.
Trouble on a New Front
Since the announcement’s release, members of the Board of Trustees, including the bishops, have received an email that strongly recommends that they officially ask the Archdiocesan Chancellors (Mr. Charles Ajalat and Mr. Bob Koory, both of whom are lawyers) for clarification and judgements regarding New York law and the Archdiocesan Certificate of Incorporation that requires the Trustees to protect the Archdiocese from “action or inaction outside of the Archdiocese.” This call for official legal advice puts the two Chancellors in a difficult position. Their choices seem stark. They must either (a) issue an opinion that runs counter to what +Philip obviously desires, or (b) issue one in accordance with what +Philip desires, but that flies in the face of New York Law - and so face potential disciplinary action from their state bar associations for failure to represent their client (the Archdiocese) "diligently". Of course there is always option c) - resign so as to avoid the issue entirely.
The Friday Meeting
The paucity of information contained in the Archdiocesan press release (read it here) requires observers to "read between the lines" to gain a more complete understanding of what really occurred, and the growing confusion now spreading throughout the Archdiocese. Regarding confusion, for example:
+Philip apparently apparently holds to the conflicting beliefs that the meeting on Friday was of the "Local Synod" of the Archdiocese - even though he claims the diocesan bishops are no longer diocesan bishops. He now seems to be acting as if “auxiliary” bishops can constitute the Archdiocesan Synod even though they have (a) been made subject to his will in all things, and (b) have become subject to removal from office at his discretion. This is canonical nonsense, of course. A Metropolitan and his auxiliary do not constitute a "Synod" in any form: and even less a Bishop and six auxiliaries.
(Interestingly, the announcement (fully approved by +Philip) refers to the Archdiocesan Synod as the “Holy Synod of The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.” Given the ongoing disagreements (since at least 2003) between +Philip and the Patriarch about what the "Local Synod" should be called, +Philip appears to be delivering a slap to the Holy Synod of Antioch, even while relying on the Holy Synod of Antioch's support to initiate his changes.)
Between the Lines
The announcement stated that the sole agenda item at the Friday meeting was “a discussion of the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch.” This meeting with one action item can more properly be described as a failed attempt by +Philip to gain the signatures of the six Diocesan Bishops on a letter in which they would swear their obedience to the “decision” of the Holy Synod of Antioch, and thus end the crisis. This focus on obedience to the “decision,” rather than on obedience to the Holy Synod of Antioch itself, is key to +Philip’s plans.
When they were consecrated, the Diocesan Bishops swore obedience to the Holy Synod of Antioch and to the Patriarch. Despite the recent urgings of some in the Archdiocese, these oaths have never been understood by the Church to be oaths to obey in all things, no matter the circumstances. Instead, the oaths have always been conditioned canonically on the continued faithfulness of the recipients of the oaths. Therefore, affirmation by the bishops of these vows of obedience, as mentioned by the announcement, should not be perceived at all as agreement with the decision, but simply as a reaffirmation of their oaths of consecration.
As a result, gathering the signatures of the bishops was central to +Philip’s plan. Once they signed the letter agreeing to obey the decision, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to appeal their demotions to auxiliary status. At the very least, anyone who signed has arguably abdicated his moral authority to contest the decision.
The absence of the signatures of Bishops Alexander, Basil and Mark, on the letter placed in front of them on Friday is, therefore, extremely telling. Their refusal to sign the letter, while at the same time reaffirming their oaths of consecration, sends an important message to both Antioch and America. They retain respect for and deference to the Holy Synod of Antioch and the Patriarch while upholding their vows of consecration by not acquiescing to a decision that violates the theology and the Holy Canons of the Church as a whole.
Finally, while the announcement contained an unusual admission that the Archdiocese has “very serious issues that need attention in order that the healing process can proceed”, what was more telling was +Philip’s failure to make good on his promise to provide a “statement signed by me and the bishops to the entire Archdiocese”. The Antiochians now have three bishops willing to put their careers on the line in order to remain true to what they understand as the tradition of the Church.
And all of Orthodox America is now watching...