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4.07.09 Latest on AOCA


The ongoing debate in the troubled Antiochian Archdiocese, still reeling from the attempted degrading of its dioceses and demotion of its bishops by an Archpastoral Directive from Metropolitan Philip last month, was raised to a new level yesterday as a

27-page "A Timeline of Events Related to Self-Rule in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America" together with 378 pages of supporting documentation, was posted on a new website by members of the Association of Orthodox Christian Attorneys (AOCA). (Read just the Timeline here in PDF format.) (View the Timeline with all supporting documentation here in PDF Format.) According to the lawyer's group the purpose of the postings on www.orthodoxattorneys.org "is to set forth a factual timeline of events both before and after the Archpastoral Directive, in order to avoid and dispel confusion among the Faithful in the Archdiocese."

The Timeline

And confusion certainly reigns. Even a cursory reading of the new Timeline reveals the difficulties of the present moment for the third largest Orthodox body in North America. The Timeline begins on June 11, 2001 with Metropolitan Philip's "Resolution on Autonomy" the purpose of which was "to allow our people to select their bishops". It continues through scores of entries to a March 27, 2009 announcement of a "Notice of a Special Meeting of the Hierarchs" to discuss "the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch regarding the status of bishops" whom the people had chosen four years earlier. In between are almost eight years of resolutions, letters, articles and reports  on "Self-Rule" between Antioch and its American Archdiocese that include negotiations, miscommunications, reconciliations, mistranslations, more negotiations, occasional threats, further reconciliations, and a great deal of money crossing the ocean. This all culminates in the recent controversial Synodal decision purporting to degrade the dioceses and demote all the diocesan bishops save Metropolitan Philip, adopted by less than a quorum of the Synod.

The focus of the outrage rising from Antiochian America however, is not the Synod of Antioch whose change to the Bylaws of the Patriarchate initiated the crisis (Read that story here.) but their American legate, Metropolitan Philip. For it is +Philip who is faced with the Orwellian task of explaining to his flock that the dioceses he fought for creating five years ago are not,

in fact, dioceses; and that the diocesan bishops he advocated that the Synod enthrone to lead them are not, in fact, diocesan bishops.

But this is 2009, not 1984 - and lacking a Orwellian "Ministry of Truth" to "normalize" all past news articles and statements to the "new" reality, the scores of documents assembled by the AOCA firmly places +Philip in an unenviable position with an unwinnable argument. This will only get worse as an analysis of the Timeline and the supporting documents is scheduled to be posted on the AOCA website later this week, according to sources within the Association. OCANews.org will publish that analysis as soon as it becomes available.

The Association

The Association of Orthodox Attorneys, while new, is not a new idea. Composed of legal scholars, educators and practicing lawyers, the AOCA may be seen as creating a form of the 'vigilance committee' first envisoned by the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) in 1961. Article IV, Section 10 of the SCOBA constitution states: "A Vigilance Committee of Orthodox attorneys and legislators shall be appointed to keep the hierarchs informed of legislation, juridical, or executive action of interest, or of importance to the Church, and to render advice and assistance in the event of need." (Read the full SCOBA Constitution here.)

On their website the AOCA explains: "In the spirit of SCOBA's vision, we have created the Association of Orthodox Christian Attorneys (AOCA). Our pan-Orthodox group is open to attorneys from all of the world's Orthodox Christian Churches. The mission of the AOCA is threefold:

• To encourage networking among Orthodox attorneys;

• To create a group of attorneys capable of assisting the Orthodox Christian Church with matters of legal or public importance;

• To provide fellow Orthodox Christians and organizations with legal resources and information on issues relevant to the Orthodox Faith."

The site currently identifies only the Governing Board of the new organization which includes Eric Grant (Sacramento CA),  Leon J. Lysaght, Jr  (Detroit MI), Walter Porr (Boston MA) and Jack Turner (Memphis TN).

To its third purpose the site contains resources that include the Pedalion, canonical essays by Fr. Afanasiev and others, significant legal decisions regarding Orthodox Churches from US Courts, and "Friends of the Court" ("amicus") briefs regarding abortion.  (Read these here.) The site also includes links to biographies of three attorney-saints; St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom and the 20th century Georgian writer/ lawyer/legislator St. Ilia Chavchavadze, which shows not only piety, but also a welcome sense of humor for those not inclined to associate the two vocations.

(Read those here.)

The AOCA analysis, timeline and documentation is sure to join the agenda of the special meeting of what was formerly the "Local Synod" of the Antiochian Archdiocese - and is now described as just a meeting of the "hierarchs of this Archdiocese" - to be held in Englewood, NJ, on Bright Friday, April 24th.

- Mark Stokoe


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