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REFLECTIONS

3.16.09

To Mark and the Commentators

on the Current Situation in the Antiochian Church

by The Very Rev. Economos Antony Gabriel,

Montreal, Que

According to the US Constitution, we all enjoy the freedom of expression, that is a given, but by all means, we should have the courage to sign our names.  What credibility is there to anonymity?  That means, anyone could have written these comments, over and over again.....the same person.

I would like to say the following:  The Holy Synod of Antioch antecedes any Archdiocesan Constitution.  And, Metropolitan Philip is accepting the decision of the Holy Synod as an obedient son the Church who has served the Patriarchate for fifty years.  This decision changes very little in the management of the Archdiocese....

I am surprised that our spirituality is being "squeezed" into so-called canonical trivia.  Our first duty to our Church, is to be, as the late Professor Verhovskhoy once remarked: "to be a Christian is to first be a good and faithful human being.” What I read in some of the comments is contrary to all that we profess as Orthodox Christians and during Great Lent and some with a lack of charity and humility.

One may agree or disagree with a decision of the Church/Synod, but in the end we are called to be obedient children of the hierarchical degrees of our Father in God, the Patriarch.  He is not some foreigner in our midst, but, the Apostolic successor of Sts.Peter and Paul of the Church of Antioch, to which, we, of this Archdiocese belongs.

Having served this Archdiocese under the late Metropolitan Antony, of thrice blessed memory and Metropolitan Philip, both men of the Church and, yes, very involved in this world, as incarnational theology, teaches us and as the late Father Schmemann said, "for the Life of the world".........I have witnessed at first hand,  close to fifty years of utter  dedication to the well being and growth of the Antiochian Orthodox Church on this continent.  If any of our clergymen in the past week wrote to support the decision of the Holy Synod, does that mean they must be vilified?  God forbid!

It is this Archdiocese, I must add, that opened it's heart and arms to all who wished to embrace the ancient church of the holy fathers....and it has been the mission of Metropolitan Philip as Jesus commanded, "Come unto me...."  He has been a father to all who sought the true faith. It is hoped that his proven record of accomplishments for this Archdiocese is sufficient to underscore that he only has the best interests of the Archdiocese.  His vision for Orthodox unity in North America remains undimmed.

May God continue to bless him with many years, "to rightly divide the word of truth."

Economos Antony Gabriel
Montreal, Quebec

P.S. 

Having just completed, a new book on "The History of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America",  I learned about many bumpy roads along the journey of the Church in North America.  But the issues were ultimately resolved, because the faithful knew that the future was for unity, not the contrary.  One man in modern history was at the helm to provide leadership and to guide the Church towards peaceful waters.

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A Reply to Fr. Gabriel
by Mark Stokoe

Editor, OCANews.org

Dear Fr. Anthony,

Thank you for your reflection. I shall try to answer your questions.

You ask: “What credibility is there to anonymity?"

To ask the question in such a way is to suggest that credibility is predicated on personality or dependent on position, rather than on truth or facticity. We have learned in the Orthodox Church in America, these past three years, that position is in itself no guarantee of truth; nor are facts put forth by personalities always credible. Truth is the only arbiter of credibility, no matter who says it, no matter how exalted or humble the speaker, no matter their position or lack of same.

Of course, anonymity may be abused by persons, as can position or authority. Hence your comment: “anyone could have written these comments. over and over again...........the same person.” Anything is indeed possible; but such an imposture would be quickly discovered - and rejected. In the past week the anonymous comments relating to the AOCA, according to their IP addresses, have come from across the continent: California, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, New York State, Brooklyn, Michigan, Ontario, to name but a few. On the three days this past week when new information regarding the AOCA has been posted, the numbers of readers visiting the site has risen: from 10,000 to 16,000 in the first 24 hours, to over 22,000 on the most recent. This is not one person with an axe to grind. Such are the facts.

I would suggest, therefore, given this widespread and growing interest, that while this issue of the Synod’s suppression of the dioceses and reduction of the Bishops certainly concerns the canons, it is hardly “canonical trivia”. Contrary to your assertion, it clearly changes the "management" of every diocese, for it has changed every single “manager.” Indeed, the "management" of the Archdiocese of itself has been changed, a recognition you yourself admit by asserting that “The Synod of Antioch antecedes any Constitution.” It is a wonder, therefore, that this sudden and unexpected change has created pain among the Bishops, clergy and faithful of all nine dioceses? To use your words, the “squeeze” you are currently experiencing is a warning- much as chest pain is the first symptom of a looming heart attack. Your ignoring or trivializing it is at your own great peril. Leaders in the OCA tried to ignore and trivialize their episcopal, clerical and lay pain as well four years ago; and the sad results of that attempt are before you, if you have but the eyes to see, and the ears to hear.

So please take what I am about to write as one who is not merely a disinterested observer, but rather, a concerned bystander, one who sees fellow human beings in distress. For I, too, remember Professor Verhovskoy’s words, and I would be less than a good and faithful human being, let alone a Christian, least of all a fellow Orthodox Christian, if I let these things pass by in silence. As one who is fully cognizant of the many and significant differences between the OCA and the ACOA, I am also in an unique position to recognize many of the similarities in our recent scandal and the crisis that is now upon you.

Let me point out but three. The most striking, but perhaps least obvious, is that you do not forthrightly address the issue, or the pain it has caused. Rather, you call for obedience; and your argument concludes with an appeal for obedience based on a personage, not their position or the issues in dispute.

When the OCA crisis began three and a half years ago, Syosset responded in the same ways: ignoring the questions raised, and disparaging those who sought answers. As you know, that didn’t work out very well for them. But more importantly, most commentators at the beginning of the OCA scandal, as in your present crisis, only felt safe writing anonymously. The problem, Father, is not anonymity per se - it is the general climate of fear among clergy and laity, and a specific fear of retribution among clergy, that apparently exists in the Archdiocese, that causes anonymity. Your first problem, Father, is not lack of obedience; it is fear, even as it was in the OCA scandal.

Secondly, your reply, Father, does not address any of the issues, canonical or personal, that are causing the “squeezing” you are feeling. If the OCA is any model, that squeezing is only going to get worse until these problems are addressed without fear, openly, transparently, and with accountability. There is no getting around this, for the internet has changed, and continues to change much. In the age of the internet what can be known, will be. Even the Pope of Rome admitted as much this past week in his very public apology for failing to heed what he could have/should have learned from the internet.

As a result of having ignored the issues, I will suggest that your appeal to obedience will be less than fully effective. Obedience to what? The Constitution and By-laws of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America? Apparently not. Obedience to Metropolitan Philip? Apparently - but only in so far as he agrees with the decisions of Patriarch and Synod of Antioch. The OCA argued the same thing - obedience to the Metropolitan and Synod was paramount. We were told to leave things to the Metropolitan and the Synod. Alas, what the OCA discovered was that is was the Metropolitan and Synod that were major parts of the problem. One fears that many in the Archdiocese have just discovered the same. Obedience is not the highest virtue, neither in the military, nor in the Church, for in both organizations one must not obey when the order is illegal. To insist on obedience before the issue is fully clarified (and there are rules on the suppression of dioceses and reduction of diocesan bishops that transcend just one Patriarchate’s desires) will only create more pain. As such, the “squeezing” will increase, rather than decrease.

I believe you know this in your heart, for you did not end your comments with a simple appeal to ecclesiastical obedience. Rather, you concluded with an appeal for deference to the person and accomplishments of Metropolitan Philip, and a reference to his “undimmed” vision of unity in North America.

No figure in the OCA has the stature or record of accomplishments as does Metropolitan Philip in the AOCA - although Metropolitan Herman seemed think - and act - as if he did. But it is precisely this record of accomplishments and this vision that is now called into question by the Metropolitan’s own actions. Was it a self-ruled Archdiocese as he proclaimed, or not? If yes, how can this arbitrary action be tolerated? If not, how can the past six years be explained, or anyone in Englewood held to be credible in the future?

Which is it?

Just like Syosset, Englewood has created a huge and looming credibility gap; and the longer the issues that created it go unaddressed in an open, transparent, authentic manner, the wider and deeper, the wider and deeper it becomes.

By open and transparent, I mean the Archdiocese needs to address these issues on every level of the Archdiocese, because they affect every level of the Archdiocese. A meeting of the Metropolitan and his auxiliaries in Englewood during Bright Week, while a start, will not end the problem, not matter what is decided.

By authentic, I mean Englewood must address the issue honestly and with integrity. To suggest the Patriarch of Antioch is not a “foreigner”, no matter how much one may respect or care for him, is absurd. As he is not an American citizen nor a Canadian citizen, he is a foreigner - just as the Patriarch of Moscow is a foreigner, or the Patriarch of Constantinople. One may argue that it does not make a difference, but to suggest even in spiritual terms, that he is not what he is, just reduces the credibility of your argument.

Finally, while the appeal to be obedient on the basis of personal loyalty to Metropolitan Philip may work for some, indeed many, I do not think it will achieve the goal which you desire. The Archdiocese and its episcopal, clerical and lay leadership is now too big, too diverse, and too widespread to be led by one man in a personal manner as it was in the past. Ironically, it is the Archdiocese’s own successes these past 30 years that have rendered those former personal connections the late Metropolitan Anthony, and Metropolitan Philip enjoyed, tenuous. To continue to think that leadership can only come “from one man” as before, is too great a burden for anyone to be asked to bear, and one of the reasons the regions became dioceses. To now suggest that +Philip alone can lead the Archdiocese to “peaceful waters”, is to ignore the wealth of talent, leadership and commitment the Metropolitan himself has spent 30 years creating. To do so will most certainly guarantee failure in the future.

But it is present failure that most concern us. I suggest to you that failure to deal with this present crisis in an open, transparent, authentic and accountable manner, as the OCA failed to deal with its crisis, will lead to disorder, just as it led to disorder in the OCA. Already the calls to withhold money have begun, because like in the OCA, this is one powerful way for the laity to make its pain known and questions heard. And since the organizations of the AOCA are more numerous and ever so more organized than those in the OCA, it is hardly far-fetched to suggest that such things may happen more quickly in the AOCA, than they did in the OCA, and to greater effect.

At the beginning of your letter, Father, you cited the guarantees of the Constitution of the United States. Talk of legitimate rights is valid and necessary - but at this point it may be less helpful than a simple image. So I will conclude by citing a image from the unwritten “Constitution” of the Great Britain, our common mother. That is, that the plenipotenary power and awesome majesty of the King is never more fully displayed as when the Sovereign sits with Parliament. The OCA rediscovered this wisdom in Pittsburgh, as the new Metropolitan, surrounded by his fellow diocesan Bishops, joined clergy and lay representatives from all our parishes, in working towards a better future. We corrected our past and so clarified our present and future.

It is my fervent prayer that you, Father, as with all my brothers and sisters in the Antiochian Archdiocese, will learn from our mistakes in the OCA, rather than repeat the same.

With all best wishes,

Mark Stokoe
Editor OCA News. org
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Fr. Ted Bobosh

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Fr. Michael Plekon  

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Fr. John Scollard

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