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7.9.09 Breaking News

+Philip Blinks: Bishops' Status Confirmed By Archdiocesan Synod

In an unexpected announcement from Englewood late Wednesday afternoon, July 9th, entitled “An Urgent Update Regarding the Status of our Bishops”, the Synod of the Antiochian Archdiocese confirmed that the six bishops whose status has been questioned by the Metropolitan since February 24th are not auxiliaries. Rather, the status of the bishops has returned to the “status quo ante bellum”, wherein the bishops will once again be commemorated liturgically throughout their own dioceses and be referred to by the name of their See in their titles. In obedience to the authentic June 17th decision of the Patriarchate of Antioch stating that all Bishops are “ to assist” their Metropolitan, the Bishops will also have “Assistant to the Metropolitan” appended to their titles. The decision of the Archdiocesan Synod, composed of the Metropolitan and the six local Bishops of the Archdiocese, was agreed upon during a telephone conference this morning.

You can read the full text of Englewood’s announcement here.

The decision resolves, in some part, the episcopal crisis engendered by Metropolitan Philip’s attempt to reduce the six to auxiliary status in the wake of a February 24th decision of the Synod of Antioch. It may be seen as a effort to calm tensions throughout the Archdiocese in the wake of six months of increasing turmoil, and in the two weeks directly preceding the Archdiocesan Convention to be held in Palm Desert, California, July 19-26th. It does not, however, address the governance crisis in the Archdiocese that has emerged in the wake of the episcopal crisis - nor the financial questions relating to a lack of transparency and accountability that have been raised. Those issues may now be expected to come to the fore at the Archdiocesan Convention as the episcopal crisis subsides.

Six Months of Turmoil

The trouble in Antiochian America began with the publication on March 3rd of Metropolitan Philip’s translation of changes to the By-Laws of the Patriarchate, dated February 24th, 2009. Article 77 of those By-Laws was amended to read:

“All of the bishops in the See of Antioch are “assistant” bishops and are tied directly to their “point of reference.”

+Philip’s translation of that Article reads quite differently. He wrote:

“All bishops within the Antiochian See are auxiliary bishops and are directly under their (sic) spiritual authority.”

+Philip’s translation is not so much inaccurate, as it was “programmatic”. The word describing bishops in the text is “mu`aawinoon” - usually rendered “helper,” “assistant,” - or “auxiliary.” “Mu’aawinoon” is not a technical term. Which translation is most accurate then? The Damascus Constitution uses “musaa`idoon” not “mu’aawinoon” for “auxiliary” - a word which comes from a different word root for “help”. But Metropolitan Georges Khodr, in his An-Nahar article arguing against the notion of auxiliary bishops as a corruption of Orthodox practice, uses the term “mu’aawinoon” to refer to “auxiliary bishops.” In short, there is no consistent translation. It all depends on what one intends.

Article 77 in the Arabic original places “all the bishops” of Antioch in a “taxis” or hierarchy of assistance to each other. Each has his “point of reference”, each his responsibilities, each offers “assistance” as is appropriate. Philip’s translation, however, ignores this taxis of assistance, reducing the relation to one of subservience, Thus “assistant” becomes “auxiliary”, and “tied directly to their point of reference” becomes “directly under their (the Metropolitan’s) spiritual authority.”

On March 3rd Philip promulgated his translation throughout the Archdiocese, and on March 4th +Philip explained what it meant:

The decision makes it very clear that our bishops within this Archdiocese will now be considered Auxiliary Bishops.”

The rest, as they say, is history. If the recent tumult in the OCA was a crisis born out of scandal, the current turmoil in the Antiochian Archdiocese was a crisis that gave birth to a scandal. What Metropolitan Philip attempted to promulgate as a “minor administrative change” led to a split in the Archdiocesan Synod, the resignation of a Chancellor, the publication of spurious Synodal documents, shocking revelations about its Board of Trustees, threats against a Bishop, armed security guards at a Parish Life Conference, all amid escalating allegations of financial irregularities and increasing calls for financial accountability. For an Archdiocese which prided itself as “the most progressive” jurisdiction in Orthodox America the last six months have been difficult indeed.

Today’s decision then, set in this context, may be seen as the first step towards calming the roiling waters of the Archdiocese. As a short term solution to the episcopal crisis the “Update” is an attempt to settle the question of the “auxiliary” status of the Bishops in the negative, so as to prevent the forthcoming Archdiocesan Convention in Palm Desert from devolving into “Palm Desert Storm”. In this sense, +Philip blinked.

But as a long-term solution to the episcopal crisis the jury must remain out until the “Manual for Hierarchical Duties and Responsibilities” is written - and how it is written. And by whom.

- Mark Stokoe


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