AOCA Board of Trustees Refuses to Confirm February 24th Decision
• In Rebuke to +Philip, Board Votes Not to Speak
to February 24th Decision
• +Philip Calls Chancellor’s Integrity Into
Question & Bob Koory Leaves Meeting
• Bishops, Sans +Philip, Leave for Damascus
In a contentious meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Trustees refused the request of Metropolitan Philip to affirm the February 24th decision of the Synod of Antioch demoting the other American Bishops to auxiliary status. Despite the Metropolitan’s angry warnings that the Patriarch himself “was waiting for a vote”, the Board, consisting of some forty+ clergy and lay persons elected or appointed during the biannual Archdiocesan Convention, chose instead to table the motion until after the other North American Bishops meet with Patriarch Ignatius IV this week in Damascus. The vote was nearly unanimous, with the lone vote in favor of the Metropolitan’s position being cast by Bishop Antoun (Khouri).
The Friday Night Meeting
The Board of Trustees meeting was held May 29- 30 at Antiochian Village, near Ligonier, PA. After opening with a prayer, Metropolitan Philip uncharacterisically asked everyone who was not a Board member to leave the room. He then spoke for almost 50 minutes, decrying the Chancellor’s legal Opinion, rendered two weeks ago, that stated the Synod’s recent decision attempting to demote the American Archdiocese’s diocesan Bishops to auxiliary status was both “invalid” and “ill-advised”. (Read that Opinion here.) According to several Trustees present, the Metropolitan claimed not to have received the copy sent in advance to him by the Chancellors. Misinterpreting himself as the client, rather than the Archdiocese and the Trustees, the Metropolitan chastised the Chancellors for violating their ethical obligations by responding to a request from anyone other than himself for an Opinion, and for not withdrawing from their roles when their Opinion did not agree with his own personal views. In the Metropolitan’s words: “I do not mind someone shooting me in the chest or face, but to be shot in the back, that is very low.” The Metropolitan then raised a series of lengthy objections to what he characterized as an “infamous” Opinion. Each of these points centered on personal loyalty, and their tone was well summarized as follows: “How dare you question,” he asked of the Chancellors, “the validity of the decision - after I approved it.”
The Metropolitan focused upon the fact that the word “irrevocable” does not appear anywhere in writing in the documents of the Archdiocese and implied that all decisions of the Holy Synod are fully reversible (a position that is of sure interest to any Orthodox Church which, in its history, received some version of self-rule from its Mother Church....). “We do not worship a Consitution,” the Metropolitan explained. “ The Archdiocese was not created for a Constitution, but the Constitution for the Archdiocese.” This is a rather stunning admission from the Metropolitan, the chief architect of the Archdiocese’s present Constitution (which he “corrected” in direct disobedience to the Patriarch’s express instructions). Indeed, it was +Philip who, in April 2004, in support of his opposition to the Damascus Constitution’s clear limitations on the Metropolitan’s authority, once affirmed: “It should be known without hesitation or reservation, that our Self-Rule status is final."
Koory Leaves The Meeting
The Metropolitan spent most of his hour long address personally chastising the Archdiocese’s legal advisors, Chancellors Charles Ajalat and Robert Koory. Referring to them as “Bob and Charles”, the Metropolitan sarcastically accused the “illustrious”, “esteemed”, and “distinguished” Chancellors of undermining the unity of the Archdiocese and ignoring the hierarchical nature of the Church. Interestingly, although he professed that the unity of the Archdiocese has always been his primary concern, he expressly refused to identify any actions that had damaged the unity of the Archdiocese in any way, saying only that the “facts are clear.”
In response the Chancellors explained their legal obligations—that they were counsel to the Archdiocese and not to the Metropolitan; that their task was to represent the interests of the Archdiocese, rather than the personal interests of the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan would have none of it. He openly called into question their integrity. Mr. Koory responded that if the Metropolitan no longer required his services, he would resign - if that was the Metropolitan’s wish. The Metropolitan responded affirmatively. Mr. Koorey stood, left the meeting, and departed for his home. Mr. Ajalat then offered to resign. The Metropolitan said: “Do whatever you want to do.” Mr. Ajalat remained for the rest of the meeting. In short, neither Chancellor officially resigned, nor was either man ”fired”, as some internet sites have erroneously reported.
The February 24th Motion
Messrs. Koory and Ajalat, however, were not lone voices in opposing the Metropolitan’s wishes. Ms. Elaine Heider spoke quite firmly and clearly regarding the ongoing crisis, reflecting the concerns of many of the Trustees present. She asked openly if the Archdiocese was still paying for Bishop Demetri - a question that was met with telling silence. As the meeting continued and other Board members spoke, the Metropolitan attempted to persuade the Trustees to vote in support of the February 24th decision, claiming falsely that the Patriarch “was waiting for a vote.” Bishop Basil, Dr. George Farha (Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees), and Mr. Robert Laham all voiced their objections to such a vote, observing that many uncertainties remained. Among these where that no vote could even be properly made until after the American Bishops have had a chance to speak with the Patriarch later this week - or until after the Holy Synod itself has considered the matter later this month.
Nevertheless, the motion was made and the question was called. The Board then voted nearly unanimously that no vote in support of the Feb 24th decision should be taken at this time. Only Bishop Antoun was in favor of an immediate decision .( Curiously, Bishop Antoun noted during the meeting that he has always considered himself "an auxiliary bishop" and "doesn’t know" the difference between an auxiliary and a diocesan bishop.) Despite that, some internet sites erroneously reported that the Board offered its ”unanimous and full support for the Metropolitan of this Archdiocese and the decision of the February, 24 decision of the Holy Synod”. The reality is that the Board of Trustees’ refusal to do so offered a stern and pointed rebuke to the Metropolitan, and clear evidence of the depth of the crisis into which he has plunged the Archdiocese.
The Board of Trustees turned to routine business during its Saturday meeting. Among the most significant was a proposal for a change in the formula for parish assessments. The new proposed system would be a basic “flat tax” on each parish’s gross budget, combined with a lowering of the overall rate from 10% to 8%. The Trustees agreed the proposal should be placed on the agenda of the forthcoming 2009 Archdiocesan Convention in Palm Desert, California, to be held July 19-26th.
- Mark Stokoe