Obedience From Five Perspectives
We have heard much from His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, regarding “obedience” to the February 24, 2009, Holy Synod of Antioch decision. Time and again, His Eminence has supported this tragic decision, noting his opinion that the Holy Synod of Antioch is “the highest authority in the entire see of Antioch.” Furthermore, he states that all Antiochian archdioceses are under the Synod of Antioch’s ecclesiastical authority. I would like to review these claims from five different perspectives: constitutionally,; theologically, canonically, pastorally and practically, to show that his pre-suppositions are false.
By now, we are all aware that the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America made an agreement in 2003 with the Holy Synod of Antioch (Read that here.) Under this agreement, the Archdiocese would be a “self-ruling” archdiocese (we will discuss some of the implications of this status below).
Metropolitan PHILIP’s assent to this agreement cannot be overstated, as evidenced by the fact that all official correspondence from Englewood since that agreement has stated that the Archdiocese is “self-ruled.” Likewise, the Holy Synod of Antioch clearly moved forward with this agreement, as evidenced by their approval of a new Constitution for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America in 2004 that reflected the status of self-rule.
According to our agreement with Antioch, the Holy Synod of Antioch relinquished all ecclesiastical authority (i.e. the authority to organize and govern the archdiocese) to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. This aspect of the agreement was clearly spelled out in Article IV Section 2 of our Constitution that was approved by the Holy Synod of Antioch in 2004. That section of our Constitution says: “The Archdiocesan Synod comprised of the Metropolitan Archbishop and the Diocesan Bishops shall be the governing ecclesiastical authority of the Archdiocese.”
There you have it, pure and simple. The Archdiocesan Synod in North America--not the Holy Synod of Antioch--is the governing ecclesiastical authority of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The text of our Constitution speaks for itself. Metropolitan PHILIP is, therefore, incorrect to state that “all Antiochian archdioceses are under the Holy Synod of Antioch’s ecclesiastical authority.”
While all archdioceses besides the Archdiocese of North America are under the Holy Synod’s ecclesiastical authority, the self-ruled Archdiocese of North America, who alone has the special status of being “self-ruled,” is not.
This is the essence of being a self-ruled archdiocese: we were given the authority to govern our own ecclesiastical affairs through our Archdiocesan Synod of Bishops, without interruption from the Holy Synod of Antioch.
Metropolitan PHILIP has repeatedly stated: “The Holy Synod of Antioch is the highest authority in the entire see of Antioch.” We can only hope that Metropolitan PHILIP is using this statement loosely. Are we to believe, for example, that the Holy Synod of Antioch has more authority in the See of Antioch than Scripture? Are we to believe that if the Holy Synod made a decision contrary to Jesus’ teachings, Metropolitan PHILIP would claim we must be obedient to that decision? I would hope not.
But I have used these extreme examples for a reason: to show that the Holy Synod of Antioch’s authority is limited.
Any synod of bishops--whether in Antioch, Constantinople, America, or anywhere else--has limited authority. The reason for their limitations is obvious: the Church is bigger than the see of Antioch. The Patriarchate of Antioch is part of a bigger, more important community: the world-wide, universal Church. Consequently, the Holy Synod of Antioch does not have unlimited or unchecked authority. Ultimately, the see of Antioch, and by extension its Holy Synod, is accountable to the wider Church. This, then, leads to our next review:
In order to hold various and diverse local churches together in one faith community, the Church has wisely established a corpus of ‘canon law.’ Each bishop (and by extension each Holy Synod) in the world-wide Orthodox Church takes an oath at his consecration to uphold the canons of the Church. Each bishop has pledged that his own authority, and the authority of the Holy Synod to which he belongs, is limited by the holy canons. While a bishop in his diocese, and even more so a Holy Synod within its jurisdiction does have significant authority, this authority is only correctly used within the limits of the canonical tradition.
While we could go into great depth about how the February 24 decision violates both the spirit and letter of the canonical tradition, we will leave that for other authors and experts in the subject, and for those articles/reflections already written and posted on this website.
Suffice it to say that each bishop, including our own Metropolitan PHILIP, pledged to have both his personal and synodal power limited when he swore an oath to abide by the canon law of the Orthodox Church. Since he is the one who made this oath, and since he is the one claiming that the Holy Synod has ultimate authority, it is incumbent upon him to answer the question that has been repeatedly asked: on what canonical basis may the Holy Synod of Antioch demote our duly consecrated and enthroned diocesan bishops?
This basic question has remained unanswered (a common approach to questions that have no correct and sound answers). In its place, Metropolitan PHILIP has repeatedly stated his faulty pre-supposition that the Holy Synod has complete and ultimate authority over our self-ruled Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
When the news of the February 24 decision first broke, I spoke with a widely recognized canonical expert. His comments were important. He noted that the canonical tradition of the Church has, as its highest aim, to be pastoral. He further noted that the February 24 decision, no matter how one views its outcome, was not made in a pastorally sensitive way.
In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples that they should not lord their authority over their flock as the rulers of the Gentiles did (Matthew 20:25). In fact, by his own actions, Jesus taught that the highest authority is the spiritual authority that comes from speaking the truth in love. Remember how his hearers were amazed that Jesus spoke with such great authority, unlike the scribes (Mark 1:22), who were more concerned with the outer “obedience” and “authority” of the law than fulfilling its intent (Matthew 23:23-25)?
Jesus’ authority was not an authority that was held over his disciples’ heads. His authority was not wielded like a sword. When Jesus was unable to garner submission to his authentic authority, he did not attack, but lamented (Luke 13:34).
Jesus’ authority was an authority that could not be denied or refuted. People desired to fall under his authority not because it was demanded, but because he commanded their respect by his words and deeds. He lived an authentic, transparent life.
The fact that Metropolitan PHILIP continues to lord his and the Holy Synod’s supposed authority over our heads shows that he has failed pastorally. Together with Scripture, the most basic classes and books on pastoral theology teach that true authority is never wielded as Metropolitan PHILIP has done in this situation: “Obey me or else.”
If we wish to be true pastors, we convince our flock by our authentic and inherent spiritual authority, which comes only from our allegiance to truth. When pastors fail, as Metropolitan PHILIP has done in this situation, they attempt to lord their worldly power and influence in an effort to subject their flock. And in doing so, they show that they care more about their personal authority and power than their authenticity as pastors of Christ’s flock.
Metropolitan PHILIP has, by his own recorded admissions, pledged disobedience to the decisions of the Holy Synod of Antioch, if he did not like the outcome of their decisions. There are two poignant and recent examples of this:
The first is his interview with the Toledo Blade on November 8, 2004. (Read this interview) Metropolitan PHILIP openly and publicly declared that he told the Holy Synod of Antioch he would be disobedient to them if they chose a different path than self-rule for the Archdiocese of North America. He told them that he “had other choices” should they choose not to submit to the will of the archdiocese.
In this interview, Metropolitan PHILIP clearly admitted that he will be disobedient to decisions of the Holy Synod of Antioch, if he dislikes their decision.
Yet another example of Metropolitan PHILIP’s own previous admissions of the Holy Synod of Antioch’s limit of power comes from his January 27, 2005 letter to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. (Read this letter here) In this letter Metropolitan PHILIP stated that the decision granting self-rule was “irrevocable.” In addition, Metropolitan PHILIP refused to accept the amended Constitution passed by the Holy Synod of Antioch because it differed in a few minor areas with the Constitution passed by the Archdiocese of North America in 2004 at the Pittsburgh Special Convention.
Why did Metropolitan PHILIP argue with the Holy Synod on this point? Where were his calls for “obedience” to the Holy Synod? Why did he not write the Archdiocese of North America at that time to inform them that the Holy Synod of Antioch is the “highest authority in the entire see of Antioch?”
The answer, of course, is that Metropolitan PHILIP understands the limitations of the Holy Synod of Antioch, except it seems, when they coincide with his desires.
As we can see from the above examples, Metropolitan PHILIP uses the Holy Synod of Antioch at his convenience. When he agrees with their decisions, they are the “highest authority in the entire Antiochian see” and they must be “obeyed.” When he does not like their decisions, he points out that we are “self-ruled” and should govern our own affairs. In fact, if he disagrees severely, he will even threaten to exercise “other options” besides being obedient to their decisions.
Implicitly and explicitly, Metropolitan PHILIP has recognized that the Holy Synod of Antioch has significant, but limited authority. This recognition is what allowed him to challenge the Holy Synod when he disagreed with their decisions. The difference between now and then is that Metropolitan PHILIP likes the February 24 decision. So his solution has been to contradict himself and now affirm the faulty premise that the Holy Synod of Antioch has complete authority over the self-ruled Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
Unfortunately for Metropolitan PHILIP, the constitutional, theological, canonical, and pastoral issues, combined with his own previous indictment of his current position, show his premise of “obedience” and “authority” to be mistaken.
And unfortunately for us, as faithful members of the Antiochian Archdiocese who wish to be obedient to the authority of the greater Church, the rest of us must oppose the February 24 decision made by the Holy Synod of Antioch.
- A Priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America