Analysis Seeks To Offer Answers
To An Archdiocese Confused
On April 6, 2009 an unsigned, three page document entitled "A Brief Analysis of the Current Situation in the Antiochian Archdiocese" began appearing in select circles of the Archdiocese. In clear and precise terms, the "Analysis" explains in measured tones the current Antiochian crisis through a series of questions ranging from "What Happened?" to "What Can I Do?" At the center of it analysis lies the question: "Is this action binding on the Archdiocese?"
The answer is a resounding "No".
According to the "Analysis" the decision to degrade the dioceses and reduce the Bishops in rank is non-canonical, was taken improperly, and violates the Self-Rule granted to the Archdiocese in 2003, as well as the Constitution of the Archdiocese adopted thereafter. The "Analysis" refuses to speculate why these actions were taken, although it does point people to the "Timeline" recently posted by members of the Association of Orthodox Attorneys as a means for readers to discern possible reasons for themselves. (Read that Timeline here.) The paper concludes with an exhortation to its readers to pray, to think clearly about the crisis, and to act responsibly in opposing it.
OCANews.org has obtained a copy of the "Analysis" and reprints it here in full. (Download a pdf here.)
"A Brief Analysis of the Current Situation
in the Antiochian Archdiocese"
• In February, the Holy Synod met and claimed to have changed its bylaws to 'normalize' its rules governing non-Metropolitan bishops, even though it did not have a quorum present to issue a binding decision under its own rules. ( In the Antiochian Church today, there are only three bishops, other than our own Diocesan Bishops, who are not Metropolitans -and one of these bishops, the Patriarchal Vicar - is not permitted to be a Metropolitan. Although couched as a decision affecting the entire Patriarchate, the decision, if binding, would affect North America disproportionately. )
• Metropolitan PHILIP then issued a directive stating that, as a result of the Holy Synod's decision, our Diocesan Bishops were
(a) reduced in status to Auxiliary Bishops and
(b) not permitted to do anything contrary to the will of the Metropolitan.
• Metropolitan PHILIP regularly states that this is a 'narrow administrative change' and that nothing really changed - the Local Synod continues to exist and the bishops in the Archdiocese just have an added title to their names - 'Auxiliary'.
Quite the opposite is true.
Although the Local Synod may still 'make decisions', Metropolitan PHILIP's directive clearly prohibits any bishops from opposing his own will, as some have in the past.
Is the Action Binding on the Archdiocese?
The Holy Synod's action is not binding because it is noncanonical.
The Holy Canons are exceedingly clear that one bishop may not be subjected to the authority of another bishop without (a) the consent of the affected bishop or
(b) a conviction of the affected bishop by an ecclesiastical court for conduct unbecoming a bishop or teaching or action contrary to Scriptures, the Holy Canons, or Holy Tradition. This ecclesiological structure is one of the fundamental differences between Holy Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism; Holy Orthodoxy does not tolerate and has never tolerated 'superbishops'.
Metropolitan PHILIP himself has said, in response to a query from Bishop BASIL, that none of the Diocesan Bishops have done anything wrong.
The Holy Synod's action is not binding because its decision was not properly taken in accordance with its own rules that require a quorum of at least 11 of its 20 members to be present before it can take binding action. The signatures of only 9 members were affixed to the document faxed to Metropolitan PHILIP, and the presence of at least one of those bishops was unlikely. Metropolitan PHILIP indicates that the document was faxed to other members of the Synod for approval, but signatures after the meeting by members not present would not make the action binding after the fact.
• The Holy Synod's action is not binding because its decision violates its grant of self-rule to the Archdiocese in 2003.
The Holy Synod bound itself to revising its own Constitution to reflect the special 'self-rule' status for our Archdiocese. Although the Holy Synod never got around to amending its Constitution as promised, its failure in this regard did not make self-rule any less of a reality.
• On a number of previous occasions (primarily dealing with differences in the Archdiocesan Constitution as adopted by the General Assembly and as approved by the Holy Synod), Metropolitan PHILIP and the Archdiocesan Legal Department themselves have insisted in no uncertain terms that:
The Holy Synod's grant of self-rule was irrevocable;
and the Holy Synod, by reason of its grant of self-rule, was not permitted to interfere in the administration of the Archdiocese.
• Since 2003, our Diocesan Bishops have been exempt from the rules that the Holy Synod attempted to amend in February: The Holy Synod's Bylaws have always contained rules that make non-Metropolitan bishops into what we refer to as 'Auxiliary Bishops'. The Holy Synod's grant of self-rule to our Archdiocese removed our Diocesan Bishop from the scope of these rules.
The Holy Synod's purported action in February simply amended the existing rules governing Auxiliary Bishops and would, even if binding, have no effect on our Diocesan Bishops - they have been exempt from these rules since the Holy Synod granted self-rule to our Archdiocese.
• The Metropolitan's directive violates the Archdiocesan Certificate of Incorporation and the Constitution approved by the people.
Section 2(c) of the Archdiocese's Certificate of Incorporation provides that, if the provisions of the Archdiocesan Constitution are not followed as the result of an action taken outside the Archdiocese, both the Board of Trustees and the Local Synod must take "all necessary action to protect the Archdiocese". Our Board of Trustees and Local Synod (including Metropolitan PHILIP) have a legal obligation to take all necessary action to protect the Archdiocese from any attempts by the Holy Synod to reduce the status of our Diocesan Bishops.
The Archdiocesan Constitution provides very clearly that the decision-making power in the Archdiocese resides in the Local Synod and not in the Metropolitan.
Metropolitan PHILIP and the Archdiocesan Legal Department have reminded the Faithful many times that the Archdiocesan Constitution may only be changed by following the procedures set forth in it. These procedures have not been followed, in disregard of both (a) the Constitution approved by the Faithful and (b) the Metropolitan's own past insistences.
Why Was This Done?
At this time, we can only speculate as to the reasons for this action.
The national Association of Orthodox Christian Attorneys has published a helpful and well-documented factual timeline of the Archdiocese's path to self-rule and situations that have occurred since here. The facts, themselves, suggest a number of reasons, but it is up to you to develop your own thoughts in the matter. Ocanews.org also has some excellent discussion of this issue, but you must be careful to distinguish between fact and rumor.
What can be Done?
"The prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
• Think clearly.
Our Metropolitan has done much good for this Archdiocese. There may be a temptation, as was the case with (Father) Joseph Allen, to give Metropolitan PHILIP what he wants simply because he has done these good things. The Metropolitan's directive, however, strikes at the very heart of the Orthodox Faith. Never before in history has our Church permitted the authority of a bishop to be reduced by other bishops without that bishop's consent or a conviction of that bishop for wrongdoing. The Metropolitan wants us to accept his short-term practical answer ('nothing has really changed') to a question both of principle ('Do the Canons permit this?') and one of long-term reality ('Assuming nothing would really change during the Metropolitan's tenure, what happens after he dies?").
• Act like a responsible Orthodox Christian layperson.
When a bishop acts in a manner not sanctioned by the Holy Orthodox Church, the laity have a distinct role that they are obligated to exercise- the laity are the guarantee of the Orthodoxy of the Church. When most of the bishops at the Council of Florence signed a statement of agreement with the Papal authorities, they returned home to laity who refused to comply. Ultimately, these bishops either recanted their agreements or were treated as heretics because of the pressure brought by the people.
Consider contacting all members of the Board of Trustees and the Local Synod (including your Diocesan Bishop), encouraging them to hold fast against this noncanonical situation and to meet their legal obligation to protect this Archdiocese from the Holy Synod's attempted action .
Advocate for the true practice of our Orthodox Faith; don't attack people or personalities. Be respectful in all that you do, no matter how distasteful you find something.
Understand that not everyone is compelled to protest this action in the same manner. Different Orthodox Christians will find different ways that are best suited to their souls."
In its explanation of the meaning of the crisis, the "Analysis" has remained unchallenged since its appearance. Supporters of the decision have offered no defense for the actions of the Synod in Damascus beyond calls for "obedience" to the Metropolitan's letter of March 4th (Read that letter here) and appeals to remain personally "loyal" to the Metropolitan in the face of growing unrest.
The Bishops of the Antiochian Archdiocese are scheduled to meet in a special session of the Local Synod on Bright Friday, April 24th, in Englewood, NJ, to discuss the recent decision of the Synod in Damascus.
- Mark Stokoe