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6.19.09

Our Problem

Is Not “Foreign Bishops”

Let me begin by saying that I am a strong advocate of Orthodox administrative unity in America. It is both uncanonical and impractical for us to be divided into separate, overlapping jurisdictions. It is a problem that needs to be solved.

That said, I am disheartened when I read some comments on this website calling for the Antiochian Archdiocese free itself from “foreign bishops.” These commentators often call for the Archdiocese to unilaterally declare itself independent of the Patriarchate of Antioch and join the OCA. They also want the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all other bishops not living in North America to, essentially, “leave us alone.”

There are serious problems with this sort of mentality. First of all, it tends to assume that our problems are caused by the involvement of foreign bishops, and that they will be largely solved if we were free of such oversight. The OCA is evidence that this is not true. Independent of foreign bishops, the OCA has had (and in some respects still has) the same sorts of problems that plague the other jurisdictions – lust of power, greed, moral flexibility, and a lack of transparency and accountability. It has taken many years and the concerted effort of many people to begin to fix these problems.

The problem in the Antiochian Archdiocese is not the Patriarch or the Holy Synod, but that Metropolitan. +Philip has run the Archdiocese as his personal fiefdom for the past four decades. He has, it has been alledged, hoarded unknown millions of dollars in unreported bank accounts, and he refuses to consent to an independent audit. He has played fast-and-loose with Church Canons and has manipulated both the Holy Synod and the people of the Archdiocese. He has threatened, bullied, and deceived, whatever is necessary to maintain his hold on power.

+Philip wanted +Antoun to be made his auxiliary bishop back in the 1980s, and he threatened the Holy Synod to make it happen. He received the Evangelical Orthodox without properly catechizing them, which led directly to the Ben Lomond fiasco in the late ‘90s. He misled the Holy Synod about Fr. Joseph Allen wanting to remarry and remain a priest. To this day, I don’t know if the Holy Synod is aware of all the circumstances surrounding this case.

Self-rule, as good a concept as it may be, was the fruit of more Philippian deception. Rather than enter negotiations with the Holy Synod in a spirit of brotherly love and humility, +Philip demanded self-rule, threatening to take the Archdiocese into another jurisdiction if it was not granted. He manipulated official documents from the Holy Synod, misleading the people of the Archdiocese and creating unnecessary tensions between the Old and New Worlds. He refused to accept the Holy Synod’s very reasonable revisions to the new Archdiocese Constitution – revisions they had every right to make.

+Philip has created a culture of fear within the Archdiocese. Behind a veneer of adulation (best exemplified by the Word Magazine), there is an ever-present fear of +Philip in the minds of most of his clergy. They well remember how he retaliated against those few who dared speak up during the Fr. Joseph Allen scandal. They know that he is willing to resort to drastic measures when pushed into a corner - such as when he forcibly removed all the Antiochian seminarians from St. Vladimir’s when Fr. Hopko publicly disagreed with him. And how can anyone forget just a few years ago, when a naive delegate to the General Assembly suggested that the meeting follow the standard Robert’s Rules of Order? +Philip told the poor man that he was out of order, declaring, “I am Roberts.” +Philip is obeyed not because he is fully trusted, nor because he has earned obedience, but because he has proven, time and again, that any dissent will be met with an iron fist.

Given that all this is the case, how can one argue that the problem is “foreign bishops”? I will not, for the moment, speak about any foreign bishops other than the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch. The Metropolitans of that Holy Synod have received the same cavalier treatment from +Philip that has become standard practice in the Archdiocese. They too have been bullied. Some of the weaker ones appear to have been bribed – but only some; the majority appear to be innocent.

More importantly, they have all been deceived. +Philip has controlled virtually all communications between the Holy Synod and the Archdiocese, to the point that they do not know us at all, and we do not know them. He is the problem; he is the one who has disrupted communications and driven a wedge between us and our Holy Synod. He is the one who is likely driving a wedge, even as we speak, in the Holy Synod itself.

Yes, one day – hopefully soon – we will be a part of some sort of united American Orthodox Church. But let us be frank: that time is not yet, unless the Holy Synod hastens the day by handing down an uncanonical decision. There is much good that can come from closer relations with the Patriarchate of Antioch. They, as Fr. Daniel Griffith said, have roots. They have a history that they can offer to us, and from which we can learn. We should not flippantly and disrespectfully regard them with contempt. It is possible to simultaneously desire American Orthodox unity and desire a closer relationship with the See of Antioch.

Had +Philip achieved not self-rule but autocephaly from Antioch in 2004, we would most definitely still be in a crisis today. But it would be even worse, because the power-hungry +Philip would not even be accountable to a Holy Synod capable of taking him to task. We are all victims here – the Archdiocese and the Holy Synod. And I suppose +Philip, too, is a victim of the enemy of us all. Let us pray that the Holy Synod renders a decision that is consistent with its roots, that we may move forward – and not backward – in our efforts to promote Orthodox unity both in America and throughout the world.

--A Pragmatic Orthodox

 


 
 

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