Fr. Touma: 'Forgery' Consists In “Distortion of Meaning" and Appended Signatures
• Claims English Translation Reverses Synod’s Real
• Claims Episcopal Signatures 'Photoshopped' For
One week after charging the Antiochian Archdiocese website posted a “forgery” of the Damascus Synod’s August decision regarding bishops in North America in its English translation of the offical Arabic text, Archimandrite Touma (Bitar), abbot of the St. Siloun the Athonite monastery in Douma, Lebanon, has explained himself, suggesting the English text is guilty of “distorting the meaning” and “distorting the form” of the Arabic original.
Distortion of Meaning
In a message posted November 20 on his website, the noted Lebanese spiritual writer states: “ ...as appears to happen again and again on the website of the Archdiocese of North America”, the English text posted on the Archdiocesean website “... is not a literal translation of the Arabic text of that passage. Rather, it is a distortion, or one could say, an interpretive version.” (Read that Archdiocesan English translation
Specifically, Fr. Touma points to that portion of the translation regarding transfers of bishops within the North American Archdiocese. The English translation posted on the Archdiocesan website, according to Fr. Touma, suggests “..the decision (to transfer) is the metropolitan’s and the role of the Archdiocesan Synod is purely limited to deliberation of the matter at hand.” Fr. Touma asserts the intent of the Synod in its decision, was the opposite. He writes: '”I asked more than one trusted source on the Synod (and) he said something other than what appears in the English text above! One of the leaders of the Synod literally said to me: “The words of the Holy Synod of Antioch mean that the transfer of a bishop in North America from one region to another does not take place after the metropolitan deliberates with his Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the English text on the website of the American Archdiocese. Rather, it comes from a decision of the Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch.” In short, it is for the Local Synod to initiate the transfer of a bishop; not to “rubber stamp” a prior decision of the Metropolitan.
The difference is not without meaning. Metropolitan Philip revealed in late September that he was considering involuntarily transferring Bishop Mark of Toledo from the Midwest to the Northwest (read that interview here). Early in the following month he announced that decision to the Local Synod based on his "perogatives" stemming from the Archdiocesan English translation of Synod's August decision. (Read that decision here.)
Bishop Mark declined the transfer, choosing instead to petition to be released to the Orthodox Church in America, which, according to sources in Syosset, accepted him at their Synodal meeting in Syosset last week, pending a formal, official release from Damascus expected by the end of the year.
Fr. Touma does not identify who “one of the leaders of the Synod” may be, but given the fact that his monastery is under the jurisdiction of the well-known Metropolitan Georges Khodr, the implication is obvious.
Distortion of Form
Fr. Touma continues by complaining that “.....the form in which this decision appears on the official website of the Archdiocese of North America puts the official text in Arabic parallel to the unofficial English text as though it were an approved translation, at least in the Archdiocese of North America, especially since the signatures that appear on the lower half of the sheet cover the lower portion of both texts together.”
(The text in question )
The problem, Fr. Touma explains is “This creates confusion for the ordinary reader, especially one who does not know Arabic, since it states at the end of the synodal decision that the Holy Synod of Antioch affirms that “the Arabic text is considered the only reference.” Naturally, one wonders here why the Holy Synod does not rely on an official, canonical translation staff?! The signatures give the impression, where they appear, that the Holy Synod relied on both texts together and signed them both, even if the English text of the decision is considered unofficial!” As a result, “.... the signatures as they are on the paper of the synodal decision posted to the official website of the Archdiocese of North America, in the form in which they appear there, cause one to wonder: did those who sign the decision actually, personally, sign it or not?”
According to Fr. Touma, the answer is ‘No’. He writes:
“ I asked one of the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch if he had signed the decision pertaining to North America and his response was absolutely in the negative,- despite the fact that his signature appears under the text of the decision!”
Fr. Touma then explains how the signature appeared: “Another member told me that a well-known priest told him that they intended to photographically insert the signatures into the decision. He responded to him saying “but you know that this is something uncanonical that is not done!” He replied that it is done!!!”
Fr. Touma concludes: “What happened to the first member of the Holy Synod, and what the second member confirmed gives the impression that the signatures were photographically added and that members of the Holy Synod did not actually sign the decision! A third member of the Holy Synod who allowed me to speak with him has exactly this impression. His comment was (and the words are his): “The act of depicting the signatures of the Antiochian metropolitans at the bottom of the synodal decision is something very strange because it goes against all principles. A text of the decision that the metropolitans did not sign should not be attributed to them on the American screen!”
It has been suggested by other Englewood watchers that one possible reason for “photographically inserting” the signatures to the English version of the Arabic text is to ensure that the documents (the original and Englewood’s own translation) would both be seen as authentic and binding. Last year, when questions were raised about an earlier Archdiocesan translation of an Synodal decision, Metropolitan Philip required a full set of Synodal signatures for any English translation of a decision from Damascus to be deemed authentic - even one that was published on the Patriarchal website. At that time ( June 2009) +Philip issued an “Important Statement Concerning the Resolutions of the Holy Synod of Antioch” explaining his position:
“It has been the tradition of the Holy Synod of Antioch that all official resolutions that have been duly adopted at a meeting of the Holy Synod are published with the signatures of the Patriarch, as well as all of the Metropolitans who were present at the meeting. In this way, the will of the Holy Synod is expressed in a most powerful way by the presence of all of the signatures of the attending hierarchs. The most recent example of this was the communication of the decision of February 24th, 2009, which was distributed with all of the signatures of the hierarchs who were in attendance ....”
“The Holy Synod of Antioch met from June 16 through 18, 2009, to consider the status of bishops across the See of Antioch and other matters. However, the Archdiocese has not received any document that contains the signatures of all of the hierarchs who were in attendance at that meeting. When we do receive such a document, we will publish it as the official decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch.”
Having himself set such a standard, it would be understandable why all the signatures - including those of the three unnamed Metropolitans that deny signing the decision Fr. Touma quotes above - would need, as Fr. Touma puts it, to be “photographically inserted”.
Of course, Fr. Toumas points no fingers, nor accuses anyone of bad faith, in claiming the document’s meaning and form were “distorted.” He writes: “What I meant by “forgery” is not malice and deception. There is not necessarily a bad intention in this matter. Just the opposite. What happened could have happened because of good intentions. And so my statement is not an accusation against anyone. My focus is on the text, not on the intent. I am concerned about the distortion that took place about its meaning and the distortion that took place to its form.”
(You can read Fr. Touma’s full letter here and access his Arabic original here. Once again thanks are due to Samn! at “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy” for the English translation.)
What would be helpful now, having conducted a “Search for the Truth” (the title of his Letter) and revealed the “forgery”, is for Fr. Toumas to explain to everyone what possible “good intentions” could be behind such “distortions” - “distortions” that have occasioned so much turmoil in the Archdiocese....