The Real Problem
By an Antiochian Orthodox Priest
I have been an Antiochian Orthodox clergyman for a while now, after having converted from another ‘Christianity’ where I had received my education and, well, let’s say ‘employment’.
I love God and His Church and the people I serve. While I am not worthy to be a priest, I also treasure in my heart this precious gift and awesome responsibility which is unlike anything I have ever experienced or imagined. I have had a chance to visit the “Old Country” and see the roots of our Church in terms of physical origins. I shared the same places as St. Peter and his fellow travelers in this earthly journey.
With all this having been said, I think now that we Antiochians here in America need to really think hard about our relationship with the Patriarchate of Antioch. I am not saying this lightly but with a great deal of seriousness. I have come to realize that our problems with Metropolitan Philip do not originate with +Philip, but with a church that permits a man such as +Philip to exist in a position of power.
We have all heard why +Philip is so powerful, because he donates so much to the other archdioceses. I have seen poverty before and I know what it can do. But the real fault lies with the reluctance of the Patriarchate itself to establish churches and minister to its own people. They allow Orthodox to attend non-Orthodox churches and they commune non-Orthodox. They have no money because they simply don’t work hard enough to build up for themselves what we have built here.
The Patriarchate does no missionary work in the Middle East. We all know how dangerous this can be if they went after Moslems, but I am talking about just missionizing the countless Orthodox in the Middle east who almost never attend the few churches that exist in even the biggest Archdioceses there.
With 270 or more parishes, the North American Archdiocese represents more than half of the total number of Patriarchal parishes worldwide. The average Archdiocese has little more than a dozen parishes, even after claiming tens of thousands of communicants. This means the average parish in the Old Country ministers to thousands of people.
While there are multiple efforts to translate the Menaion and other liturgical texts into English, and we have access to the bulk of the Patristic texts, the Patriarchate has never bothered to translate services aside from the bare necessities for Sunday services into Arabic. Weekday services in English are available to those who want them as many parishes do, but they are impossible in Arabic because they have done so little. I have even heard of a priest in North America is translating into Arabic St. John Chrysostom for the first time.
If we wonder why the Patriarchate can support a man like +Philip with his morally questionable actions, then we need only look at their own deterioration. The Patriarchate refuses to move decisively against +Philip because they themselves are guilty of their own questionable morality. They look at +Philip, who claims credit for starting hundreds of parishes, and it reveals their own inadequacy. +Philip may be egomaniacal, but he founds parishes at a rate the Patriarchate finds dizzying.
If you think that I am spinning a yarn then go ask any recent immigrant about conditions in the Patriarchate. The lone bishop who broke the mold as far as being evangelically minded was Bishop, now Metropolitan John (Yazigi), who was booted out of the Middle East to Western Europe because he was rocking the boat and openly rallying young people to their Faith.
While many Orthodox in the Middle East are clamoring for a deeper faith and pack the monasteries, the bishops of the Holy Synod do practically nothing. No new churches are founded, since the Patriarchate has already told the faithful they can go anywhere to receive Communion if they cannot easily reach an Orthodox parish. The number of seminarians graduating are about the same as any one of our seminaries here even with ‘millions’ of Orthodox Christians there in need of ministry.
I used to get frustrated with immigrants and their lackadaisical attitudes towards attendance and receiving the Mysteries only in the Orthodox Church. That is until I started to hear their stories and then discovered for myself that they are the typical byproducts of the Patriarchate. They are not lazy, but absolutely normal. I went from frustrated to utterly dejected.
We do not share much in common with the Patriarchate aside from the Faith, which we share with all the other churches. The Patriarchate is not interested in a future, but just getting along for today. I certainly understand they have Moslem pressure and government intrigues to deal with, but do we need to be held too from our work by their impediments?
There are countless possibilities for us here. Right now, we could be evangelizing the tens of thousands of Moslem immigrants right here in America in their own language but we are not - because we are afraid of risking our connections to the Old Country.
We could be in a position to internally deal with +Philip and his cronyism, rather than having to wait on a Holy Synod that does virtually nothing to secure its own future or the spiritual well being of its own people, to resolve ours.
We are no longer an extension of the Patriarchate. We have developed our own identity that is different and unique from the rest of the Patriarchate. We need to live according to who we are and be honest about the necessity for connection to the Patriarchate.