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+Philip To Oklahoma City: “Obey” 

In a Great Tuesday letter addressed to the priest and parish council of St. Elijah’s Church in Oklahoma City, and copied to all the Bishops, Metropolitan Philip urges them to cease asking questions about the degrading of the dioceses and the demotion of the diocesan bishops to auxiliary status,  and “obey the decision of the Holy Synod of February 24th, 2009.” “I am sure you are very busy,” wrote +Philip, “and I am very busy.  Do not concern yourselves with this hierarchical issue.” (Read that decision of the Synod here.

Philip’s letter was written in response to an “undated letter which you ( [Oklahoma City]  have sent me recently concerning the decision of the February 24 2009, Decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch, which is the highest authority of our Antiochian Church in the whole world.” “The decision,” +Philip explained, “speaks for itself”.  After citing the Archdiocesan Constitution (Article 1, Section 2, paragraph b) which indicates that the Archdiocese functions as a Self -Ruled Archdiocese from by a “grant” of the Synod of Antioch, the letter continued: “I believe I have answered most, if not all of your questions in my two communiques to you and the entire Archdiocese dated March 4 and March 26 2009.” (Read those documents here and here).  The Metropolitan then offered a tortured explanation of recent events, one that offers advances both truth and falsehood within the same paragraph, and often within the same sentence. The Metropolitan wrote:

“1. The ruling of the Synod did not demote Bishop Basil. He is still a Bishop and will continue to be the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America.”

The truth of the matter is that Bishop Basil, who had been an auxiliary of Metropolitan Philip with the title “Bishop of Enfeh al-Koura”  was publicly installed as a ruling hierarch with the title of “Wichita and Mid-America” on December 15, 2004. The Metropolitan, who was present,  and even handed the episcopal staff to +Basil, now appears to have forgotten the event. (You can read a report with photos here.)  

Its true in that no one disputes that Bishop Basil “is still a Bishop”, but the Metropolitan is being mendacious by claiming that +Basil will now “continue” to be the “auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America.” At the time +Philip installed +Basil as the “Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America” there was no mention of his being an “auxiliary”, nor has there been during in the following five years he served as the ruling bishop. How, therefore, could he “continue” in a position no one even claimed he had until February 24, 2009?  Worse, it is an outright falsehood to assert that the February 24th decision “did not demote Bishop Basil.”  To have +Philip install +Basil as ruling bishop in 2004 and now assert he is only an “auxiliary” bishop, who must, in every way obey his (Philip’s) decisions, is by any rational standard, a demotion. 

The Metropolitan, however, explained the situation to the parish in this way: “No one can demote a deacon, a priest or a bishop, unless they do something contrary to the canons of the Church, like disobeying the decision of the Holy Synod. To my knowledge, our bishops have not been under any discipline from the Synod.” 
Here one can see the famous mailed fist in a velvet glove that critics of Metropolitan Philip often cite as the source of their fear.  Ostensibly Metropolitan Philip was explaining that there has been no “demotion” (despite all evidence to the contrary)  since there has been no disciplinary violation to justify it.  But notice the one example the Metropolitan gave of a possible violation - “like disobeying the decision of the Holy Synod”. In short,  +Philip seeks to drive +Basil, and by extension all the demoted Bishops, into an ecclesiastical Catch-22.  They have been demoted - but should they protest that unjust demotion, +Philip would then claim he has grounds to demote them for “disobeying the decision of the Holy Synod”.  Clever. 

But not clever enough. The history of Orthodoxy is full of examples of Bishops required to resist unjust decisions. As in the military, where one is not required to obey an illegal order, in the Church it is not a violation of the canons to resist an uncanonical act.  The Synod of Antioch is clearly within its canonical rights to demote its diocesan Bishops - but only after giving them canonical notice of their disciplinary violations, and a canonical trial (not to mention a conviction) by 12 other Bishops. Since  Philip himself admitted there are no disciplinary grounds for a trial, the demotion of the diocesan Bishops, without grounds, is clearly an uncanonical act...and need not be obeyed. 

If +Philip’s argument is not really clever, neither is it wise.  Once again +Philip called into question the “Self-Rule” he himself has so loudly proclaimed.  In the final sentence of his explanation +Philip implied that the Synod of Antioch can discipline diocesan Bishops - a direct contradiction to his previously stated and publicly argued position that all hierarchical discipline in the “Self-Ruled” Antiochian Archdiocese was a matter  for the “Local Synod”- not the Synod of Antioch.  If the Metropolitan will no longer  defend “Self-Rule” or his own “Local Synod”, who will? And what then is the meaning of the last five years? 

+Philip himself is more than aware of the problems his new assertions, contradicting his old positions, are causing.  He continued: “If you read the decision of the Holy Synod of February 24, 2009 carefully, you will find that the decision did not mention Self-Rule whatsoever. Where did you get the ideal (sic) that we are not a Self-Ruled Archdiocese any more?” 

Was this a Freudian typo? Or did the Oklahoma parish just have the courage to ask what everyone else has been thinking - including +Philip himself, it seems. In the end +Philip offered a most extraordinary answer to his own rhetorical question:  “You asked me in your letter whether this issue (Self rule) will be addressed again by the Holy Synod. Please be advised that anything can be discussed again by the Holy Synod except the Nicene Creed.” 

Not only did +Philip now assert that the Synod Antioch has total authority over the “Self-Ruled” Archdiocese in America, able to demote Bishops and degrade dioceses at will, it would appear, in +Philip’s eyes, it now has more authority than the Ecumenical Councils themselves, not to mention petty things like the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, or its own By-laws.

In the face of such an assertion of power, all further discussion truly becomes moot.  And so it should come as no surprise that +Philip abruptly ended his letter at this point: “I am sure that you are busy and I am very busy. Do not concern yourselves with this hierarchical issue.  I will be discussing the decision of the Synod with our venerable hierarchs on Friday April 24, 2009, and certainly, in the future, it will be discussed with the Holy Synod of Antioch.”  He concluded with the words: “We do, however, have to obey the decision of the Holy Synod of February 24, 2009.”

Well, that is the question, isn’t it? And it is one for which +Philip offered no convincing argument - only falsehoods, prevarications, and assertions of unlimited power, amid demands for obedience.  Coupled with new calls for basic financial accountability, a minimum of fiscal transparency  and new questions about each (read those calls here) it seems that the Antiochian Archdiocese is about to head down the same crooked path other Orthodox in America have so recently travelled.  And is the end of this path not already known? 

-Mark Stokoe


Philip’s Letter  to the Deans of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest



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