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Antiochian Web Wars

The ongoing crisis in the Antiochian Archdiocese deepened the past week as two competing websites emerged, each claiming to defend the Orthodox Tradition in light of the current controversy, but offering vastly different perspectives on the problem of the attempted demotion of its diocesan bishops and degrading of the dioceses.

In its own words The defends the actions of the Archbishop through a “ a dynamic network”  which “invites people from all walks of life to share comments and contribute in a creative manner to the theological, pastoral, and ecclesiastical discussion on topics that are related to the life and status of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.” “Your.... opinions and concerns count” the site continues, with that the caveat they be “free, responsible, and well-mannered”. “Free” or “well-mannered”  are never actually defined, but in practical terms “responsible” is clearly understood as not offering too profound a disagreement with the editors. Those who do are banned.

Acknowledging  “uproar and unrest” over the “recent edicts” of the Synod of Antioch, a recent anonymous posting by an Antiochian (Evangelical) priest summed up the website’s tenor as a whole by referring to the  controversial decisions of February 24th as “a blessed new beginning in the life of AOCA.” That same black-and-white mentality dismisses all those who object as “those who want Orthodoxy to be created in their own image and likeness; especially those who have an a la carte mentality to choose whatever they like and reject whatever they do not like.” In short, the site does not seek to reconcile its opponents, as much as crush them. Indeed,  harsh rhetoric is the order of the day. All  who oppose February 24th are rejected as possessing “animal zeal”; as they “ have no genuine understanding of Orthodoxy and its history....they are driven by their misconception and blind loyalties, which has no service to Christ and His Church.”

Decrying the role of as having been used to “launch a critical, vicious, unchristian, unethical, inhuman, and uncivilized attack on the Primate and other clergy and laity of the AOCA” the  new network  attempts, in its words, to give its readers ”inspiration and the truth”.  Truth here is defined simply:  “To us Antiochians the Holy Synod is the voice of truth and acts by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Having said that the writer concludes: “I invite all readers, contributors, commentators, and all Antiochian Orthodox Christians to know that the Primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese represents THE ONLY canonical structure in his Archdiocese...”(emphasis in original.)  It is unclear, therefore, how the writer reconciles the two opinions - especially in light of recent postings by others

(see the timeline at which detail how the “only canonical structure in his Archdiocese” is in frequent  opposition to the “voice of truth that acts by the power of the Holy Spirit”. It would appear that “blind loyalty” is not limited to one side in this debate - especially when the priest-author refers to his jurisdiction as “his archdiocese”. He did not mean Jesus....

So who is behind this new website?  No one really knows. The Archdiocese’s chair of internet ministries, Doug Cramer, in a recent posting, denied the Archdiocese has anything to do with the site. (read his disclaimer here) The registration information offers no help: the address given is a clear fraud, (“monastery road “in Lebanon, MS - an address that does not exist), and the name “ Sam Farah” may be as equally fraudulent. The editor says who runs the site does not matter. Given their attack on anonymity that is allowed elsewhere, the irony of such a situation cannot be overlooked. Equally ironic is their constant drumbeat against “democracy” in the Church in a move that can only be described as cynical,  the site allowed postings on how such polls may be “manipulated” so that Metropolitan Philip may be sure to win....

Anonymity, on the other hand, is no problem for Describing themselves as “...a nationwide coalition of Antiochian Orthodox Christian laity dedicated to the restoration of canonical order in North America”  the owners purposefully refuse to identify themselves, for fear of Metropolitan Philip’s displeasure. They write: “Orthodox Christians who disagree with Metropolitan Philip’s interpretation of the February 24 decision by nine members of the Holy Synod are regularly accused of cowardice and hiding behind masks by retaining anonymity. Although pleasant and charismatic, Metropolitan Philip has a track record of retaliating vindictively — sometimes directly and sometimes passively — against those who oppose his will. Clergy have parishes and families to provide for; laity have good clergy that they don’t want subjected to transfer. Call it cowardice or hiding or whatever else you like, but those of us who are concerned for the truth will simply call ‘anonymity’ the expression of wisdom.” The site features a photo of the local synod of the Archdiocese - whose six demoted bishops provide evidence enough of what happens when +Philip’s will is opposed.  has actually been around as a shell for two months; one assumes it was not filled out as so many of its writers were publishing regularly on (Supporters of February 24th have been published as well, most notably letters from Frs. Nasr and Gabriel early on in the controvery - but the pro-Philip side stopped contributing reflections weeks ago. )

Now has begun a process of printing unique articles itself. The latest ("On Orthodox Christian Ecclesiology and the Antiochian Crisis” offers yet another analysis of the crisis, consisting of a point-by-point discussion of the Orthodox episcopate in general – its history from Apostolic times to the present; the role of Holy Synods; the nature of the episcopal office; the appropriate process for episcopal depositions; and the innovative history and role of auxiliary bishops.  This last item is of particular interest, as the author asserts that the whole concept of the auxiliary bishop is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology – an uncanonical innovation imported from Roman Catholicism and the West.

For opponents of February 24th, the dethronement of the bishops without cause is not just an “ecclesiological disaster”- it is an almost personal affront to their Faith, as being both wrong and absurd. To ask them to submit out of “obedience” is simply not persuasive. The unnamed author writes:
“The North American diocesan bishops were dethroned but not deposed; that is, they were deprived of their seats and sees while they retained their episcopal rank and their dioceses retained their diocesan character. Such an act is unheard of, and is based on the erroneous assumption, that once given, the rank and ministry may be separated – that episcopal rank belongs to bishops by virtue of ordination, but the ministry of authoritative oversight does not, so that the latter may be removed at will by synodal action.

The three bishops elected and consecrated for the specific sees of Toledo, Pittsburgh (Charleston), and Ottawa were granted their episcopal office and ministry of oversight simultaneously, as is proper. How could one be stripped away while the other is retained?

In short, the fact that the diocesan bishops have been dethroned but their dioceses still exist presents a rather unheard-of anomaly. But the absurdities continue:

It is canonically anomalous, to say the least, to maintain that the dethroned bishops are henceforth to be referred to as, for instance, “the auxiliary bishop of Wichita.”14 An auxiliary bishop is auxiliary to a diocesan bishop, not an auxiliary of that diocese – especially when there is no diocesan bishop! An auxiliary bishop of Wichita would auxiliary to the bishop of Wichita. But after the dethronement, who is the bishop of Wichita? Metropolitan Philip? If all the diocesans are now auxiliaries, then in that case, he would have to be the diocesan bishop of several dioceses at once – which is sheer ecclesiological nonsense. To expect former diocesan bishops to retain their episcopal rank and their affiliation with their former dioceses while being deprived of their episcopal seats and inherent authoritative oversight of those same dioceses is nothing less than a travesty of ecclesiastical order. “

Until +Philip and his supporters are able to address such concerns beyond harsh rhetoric and calls for  “obedience” and “submission”, their pleas will fall on deaf ears, and the crisis continues. By continuing, the crisis, and the number of websites pro and con, expands as well - and that is not good news for the Archdiocese, no matter how it is resolved.

-Mark Stokoe





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