Answering the Question
by an Anonymous Antiochian Priest
St. Paul knew what he was talking about.
A practical rabbi at heart, St. Paul had a down-to-earth style when it came to his vision of church leadership. Taking a cue from our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul was himself as a servant of all. He also saw himself as someone who could answer tough questions and deal with critics. He didn’t just push people off the cliff for not heeding him.
When it came to scandals in the Church, St. Paul had a very, very practical approach: live in such a way that there’s no room for accusation. Here’s what St. Paul had to say:
1 Timothy 3:1-3 - Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being a bishop, he desires a noble task. Now the bishop must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
I am not here to judge Metropolitan Philip, because he has one Judge to whom we are all answerable. Whether he is temperate and self-controlled in the privacy of his own home I cannot say and will not conjecture. But, I think we have all reached a conclusion as to St. Paul’s first standard: above reproach.
Perhaps some weak-minded people may think that this means a bishop must not take any questions from the public. In essence, some do subscribe to the theory that bishops can only be questioned by other bishops. If that is the standard, it certainly isn’t Scriptural, and it hardly makes sense. A bishop is responsible for his own public perception because he has the duty to teach that same public that perceives him. If his reputation is marred by misconduct, he discredits the Gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:12 - If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
2 Corinthians 6:2-4 - For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses.
You can also read related admonitions from the Great Apostle - 2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:12.
What is St. Paul saying? He is telling us that a bishop, even a self-styled apostle as Metropolitan Philip, must not do anything to incur the wrath or the suspicion of others, even if he has the power or ability to do whatever he wants.
Metropolitan Philip has routinely pulled rank on others to get his way when his way was seen as divisive and sinful. He pulled rank on the collective outrage of his clergy over the Joseph Allen remarriage-to-a-divorcée incident in the 1990’s. Here’s an example of Metropolitan Philip’s technique. If you are anything like me, you too might feel the slight residue of perspiration from Metropolitan Philip’s palm on your cheek as you read these words:
“You must know that my point of reference vis-a-vis [sic] the situation of Father Joseph Allen is neither your Council of Pastors nor St. Vladimir’s Seminary. It is the Scripture, the Holy Synod of Antioch and my authority as the Metropolitan Archbishop of this Archdiocese.” (February 24, 1992 letter to the AEOM Council of Pastors)
The Metropolitan dismissed their humble request that he reconsider the divisive and ill-advised decision with a series of fact-free ‘points,’ not unlike his recent “14-Point” presentation to the Board of Trustees. He, in turn, dismissed the practical applicability of the canons and claimed to have numerous letters from canonists praising his decision (none of whose names does he provide). Above all, he brandished the old ‘personal loyalty’ weapon he used against the Trustees:
“The depth of my disappointment in your letter exceeds the joy which I experienced when I received you into the Holy Orthodox faith. You have aligned yourselves with some of the very same scribes and Pharisees who condemned me, whether you know it or not, because I had the courage and compassion [underline original] to receive you into the Orthodox Church…. When I received you, joyfully, into the Orthodox faith, I thought you were going to missionize America. Except for Peter Gillquist [sic], unfortunately, you have not done much. You have become like our traditional Orthodox parishes, comfortable and satisfied within your parochial boundaries. Finally, when your embraced Orthodoxy in 1987, we shared a dream. Is that dream still alive? I do not know. Only God knows.” [op. cit.]
One could easily ascertain from the letter that the ‘dream’ was the continuous loyalty of the AEOM clergy to Metropolitan Philip. They asked the Metropolitan to reverse a divisive and ill-advised decision, only to be rebuffed by weak arguments and, ultimately, a demand for their loyal obedience to him… personally!
Metropolitan Philip was hardly troubled by the appearance of sin. He did not care about the consternation and reproach of others. All that matters, it appears, is obedience. Of course, his own commitment to obedience has been wobbly at best, judging from our present lack of a commonly-agreed Constitution for the Archdiocese (yes, the Patriarchate is still waiting for us to adopt their version of the Constitution sent to His Eminence and routinely ignored for several years).
But, there is another matter at hand, one that should not be lost in the fray- the numerous accusations that Metropolitan Philip may have engaged in "bribery" of Holy Synod members from the coffers of the Archdiocese. There are real questions about where the ‘Food for Hungry People’ donations actually end up.
Right now, parishes are paying more than they ever have to the Archdiocese, yet we are hearing about a budget deficit. Where is all the money going? We only know what a few bare-bones lines on a spreadsheet provided by the Archdiocese tell us.
Metropolitan Philip has never permitted an independent audit of the Archdiocesan financial records. The books are off-limits to the public, who are now being asked to vote on a further raising of their assessments, couched in terms of being ‘fair.’
Given the nature of the suspicions regarding Metropolitan Philip’s donations in the name of the Archdiocese, it is time to find out what’s really going on. We need to put an end to the rumors and accusations, false or true. Only an independent audit can restore the people’s confidence in the Archdiocese and the honesty of Metropolitan Philip. And, this is the tragedy, that Metropolitan Philip has made the Archdiocese of North America less about the people of North America and more about himself. He can no longer distinguish between the two, just as he could not distinguish between the AEOM joining the Church versus joining his personal Archdiocese.
We must now demand an independent audit to restore the people’s faith in the Archdiocese and restore the tattered credibility of Metropolitan Philip, if it is restorable at all. Certainly, we need to work against any appearance of sin.
If Metropolitan Philip refuses to immediately implement a complete and thorough independent audit, then we must serious contemplate withholding our contributions to the Archdiocese until we have actual transparency. In the meantime, we also must seriously consider voting against the proposed budget at the upcoming Archdiocese Convention in Palm Springs, CA.
It is time we help Metropolitan Philip understand the importance of keeping himself and the Archdiocese ‘above reproach’ as St. Paul taught us long ago.