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The AOCANA Interview: Logical Fallacies and the OCA

by Fr. Oliver Herbel

I am going to be upfront and tell you that this is part of an apologia for the OCA. No, that does not mean I will excuse all that has happened in the OCA. As you’ll see, if you were not already aware, I do not, because I fear God will not. He’ll expect repentance where it hasn’t happened. Nor does it mean that I am going to make the strongest case possible for the OCA as the Church of America, much less North America. I do think other Orthodox jurisdictions ought to join the OCA, but I am not here offering any argument as to why. What I wish to do, instead, it offer a rebuttal of some slanderous comments made against the OCA, though I think they are only mildly slanderous and made more out of ignorance and lack of reasoning than anything else (though this does not deny that there were likely emotional motivations at play as well). Specifically, I refer to the accusations leveled against the OCA by Metropolitan Philip.

What does Metropolitan Philip state concerning the OCA? In responding to Kevin Allen’s question about whether the AOCANA would join with the OCA, Metropolitan Philip said, “You know what was happening in the OCA, and I don’t think our people would have gone along with me if I told them, let’s join the OCA which was in courts, which money was embezzled, and it’s a fact. It’s a fact. So they were not ready for autocephaly.” He later added, “And in the OCA, I understand they have a problem of discipline there. One thing I despise very much is chaos and the lack of discipline in the Church. Our Church is a hierarchical Church. It is not a congregational church.” He later reiterated his contention that the OCA has a “loose system” and is not fit to join: “Yes, yes. Concern for fragmentation, and we don’t want to be a fragmented archdiocese. I will not stand for that at all. If we want Orthodox unity in America, how can we be fragmented? If the Antiochians are fragmented, and the OCA has some kind of a loose system there, and the Greeks are fragmented, they have an archbishop and so many metropolitans, which is in my opinion is contrary to our ecclesiology, to the Orthodox ecclesiology.”

Each of these is worth addressing, though it may also mean touching upon other statements within the interview. With regard to the first statement, near the end of the debate, Kevin Allen refers to these happenings as the financial crisis and Metropolitan Philip accepts that explanation. So, according to Metropolitan Philip, the fact that the OCA had a financial scandal is proof that the OCA is not worthy of autocephaly. I don’t doubt that he’s not alone. I remember the comments from back during the height of the financial crisis and I remember a few I made myself. Many of us were distraught and upset and perhaps even a little disillusioned. Some probably thought we had forfeited our right to autocephaly. This is an extreme position, however, and one that is unbecoming of Orthodox if we would take a few moments to think it through.

One lesson we should have all learned from Church history is that Christianity is not Donatism. The Donatists believed that the only way to ensure the efficacy of the sacraments was to have them administered by clergy who had no serious moral failings (especially clergy who had lapsed during persecutions). By the way, if one is in need of a quick primer on Donatism, go here:

Although one might not like the manner in which the OCA was granted autocephaly, this was a canonical act with sacramental import, for the metropolitan of the OCA, as the head of an autocephalous Church, maintains the prerogative of blessing the chrism oil that is used throughout the OCA. Neither this nor any other prerogative of an autocephalous metropolitan is called into question simply by virtue of moral failings of certain clergy within that autocephalous Church, even if the metropolitan himself is included amongst those clergy. The point is that moral failings in themselves do not remove the Holy Spirit from acting in the sacraments of the Church. Nor do they revoke a tomos of autocephaly. And if they did, then what would one do with any number of scandals that have occurred throughout history in any one of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches in the world? Metropolitan Philip has overstated his case here, and in a manner inconsistent with the Church’s teaching concerning sectarian strictness, such as Donatism.

This overstatement is a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is an argument that relies on emotions or social context or verbosity because the masked argument is not logically coherent and valid. In this case, Metropolitan Philip presents the argument known as the “slippery slope.” A slippery slope works like this: circumstance X arises, therefore circumstance Y necessarily follows. This sort of reason is fallacious because there is no connection between the two points demonstrating how the one necessarily follows from the other. So, to restate Metropolitan Philip’s claim as an argument, we would say, “the OCA has had clergy and metropolitans who committed serious financial misdeeds; therefore, the OCA is not ready for autocephaly.” The latter does not necessarily follow from the former. Perhaps it might, but then one would have to argue how. It seems impossible to me to make the argument for how without relying upon some form of what we might label Neo-Donatism.

The accusation of “chaos” and “lack of discipline” seem odd. On one level, the mere existence of this accusation is puzzling. Metropolitan Jonah was present at our diocesan assembly and no one doubted that he is the metropolitan or that he is to be accorded the dignity of his office. It is true that he did not have parishioners from the local host parish guard the microphones. Anyone could come forward and further the discussion in any direction. Yet, to call this chaos would be to look in the mirror and cast blame at the image. There was definitely chaos at the Antiochian convention last summer (e.g. a priest slamming someone to the ground, microphones guarded, curses shouted). There was no chaos at the diocesan assembly gathered under our metropolitan. It was calm and peaceful and I was blessed to be one of only three others at a dinner table with His Beatitude Tuesday night. In fact, at that very dinner, Metropolitan Jonah specifically told me I could ask him anything! Nor did His Beatitude ever cut off the assembly discussions at any point by saying he did not want something discussed or done—not once! I think orderly discussion is a sign of true discipline. Having people manhandle others in order to shape the outcome of a convention is not disciplined behavior by the people involved.

I would dare say that Metropolitan Philip has committed a logical fallacy here as well. The difficulty is that it could be one of several. One possibility is the fallacy of selective observation, also called “cherry picking,” where one concentrates only on what one wants to emphasize and conveniently ignores the rest. So, Metropolitan Philip may be highlighting the recent process in the diocese of the Midwest’s selection of a bishop candidate to present to the Holy Synod. Or, he may have in mind some of the reflections posted on This logical fallacy is closely related to arguing from half-truth. It could well be that that is what occurred at this point in the interview. Metropolitan Philip’s claim also seems to be a form of an ad hominem argument, in which you attack your opponent rather than attacking his argument.

Now, he may have been referring to the fact that Mark Stokoe still runs a website that allows legitimate, documented criticisms of not only the OCA but any Orthodox jurisdiction, including the AOCANA. The problem here is that this seems to be yet another logical fallacy—the appeal to false authority. Metropolitan Philip has no authority within the OCA, but more to the point, there is nothing in the canons that would discipline someone for raising issues of concern. Were Mark performing explicit acts of slander, that would be different, but simply raising questions and pointing out patterns of behavior and consequences and/or potential consequences of certain behaviors is not at all contrary to the canons. From a strictly Orthodox perspective, no bishop has canonical authority to shut down legitimate discussion. I realize that my saying this will offend those who think bishops can ask anyone to do most anything and we must listen, but hierarchy is not that simple. The same applies in my parish. I have no authority upon which to shut down any legitimate question or the raising of a concern. If that becomes slander (against me or anyone else) and harmful to the well being of the parish, then I do have authority but only when it becomes that.
Related to this are Metropolitan Philip’s accusations of congregationalism and a “loose system” within the OCA. The same logical fallacies would apply here. As many logical fallacies as there are, there are more. One of the most obvious also involves the OCA (though it was primarily used against the GOA)—the charge of diocesan “polygamy.” He sets this up in contrast to unity vested solely in him as a metropolitan. With regard to the OCA, there is a “loose” system. A false dichotomy or false dilemma is thus created: one can have either unity in Metropolitan Philip himself personally, or one can have chaos, a loose system, and polygamy. It’s like saying one must either be an atheist or an Orthodox Christian. In reality, there are many religions and agnosticism is possible. So, too in this case. Certainly, one can be united to others in one’s devotion to Metropolitan Philip as the sole leader of an archdiocese but not accepting this model does not mean accepting polygamy and/or the “chaos” of a “loose system.”

What the OCA has is not all a “loose system.” Now, I know that Metropolitan Philip thinks the AOCANA practices the canons “perfectly,” but there is one important factor that might enable him to rethink his position. I do not simply mean any of the obvious, which might also cause him to rethink that statement, such as the essay to which I linked in my last post, in which I noted that demoting bishops was noncanonical. Nor do I mean simply that by refusing to have the diocese truly engage in healthy financial practices he seems to be suggesting that the AOCANA fall short of Canon 26 of Chalcedon. Those areas have been explored and may continue to be explored by others. I certainly have no intention of discussing the Joseph Allen affair in this essay. Rather, what I would like to suggest is that if Metropolitan Philip is going to utilize the title “metropolitan-archbishop,” then maybe looking to the OCA’s system would be a helpful thing to do. In the OCA, there is a metropolitan who sits as the head of a synod of real diocesan bishops. This is hardly chaos. It is a real, functioning, metropolitan-headed jurisdiction and, as such, is an important factor that might yet enable him to rethink his statement. The ecclesiological structure of the OCA is canonical! Having each of several members of a synod called bishops of a diocese (“abrashiyya”) at their ordinations and then demoted to something akin to chorepiscopus is not.

So, what are we to make of all of this, especially those of us from the OCA? Well, first off, we shouldn’t be overly troubled by a demonstrable lack of logical coherency coming from without. That is bound to happen now and again. Perhaps it takes someone with a special rhetorical talent to perform so many logical fallacies in such a short time, but at the end of the day, that is what they are. The fallacies are sort of like a pack of dogs barking outside the city’s walls. They are no real threat to the OCA or to the OCA’s autocephaly. Nor are they any real threat to our beloved Metropolitan Jonah and our Holy Synod. Nor ought we to feel obligated to respond to all the logical fallacies. I did not even do that here, for as long as this essay is, because the point is not to shame Metropolitan Philip but simply to highlight the more egregious logical fallacies and demonstrate that there is no argumentative danger to the OCA here. Members of the AOCANA really ought to take a closer, analytical read of the transcript. They also ought to ask themselves why they find non-reasoning (illogical rhetoric) so convincing. As for us in the OCA, we shall continue to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. We know we have a real synod and real bishops and we know that whatever problems may arise, including the current troubling accusations against Archbishop Seraphim, the OCA and her autocephaly cannot be reduced to those problems. One might not like that we have autocephaly, but we do, and it will take more than logical fallacies to undercut that.

In addition to Augustine’s writings, see Optatus, Against the Donatists, trans. and ed. by Mark Edwards, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997.

It should be noted that, properly speaking, what Metropolitan Philip seems to fear is some sort of ecclesiological polyandry, where the one Archdiocese/Metropolia would have several “husband-bishops,” and not polygyny, which would have one single ‘husband-bishop” for several “wife-dioceses.” Ecclesiological polygyny is what he actually wants. It is ecclesiological polyandry that he does not want.



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