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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Do Orthodox Have Dirty Laundry? Ask Saint Athanatious!

Preface to this post: I wrote this post in August of 2006. Rather than post it, I submitted it to my local priest, Father Steven Rogers of Saint Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox Church in Franklin, Tennessee. His response was one of wisdom. He suggested (not ordered) that although he agreed with the content of the post, he found it more productive to discuss these issues face to face rather than in a public forum such as a BLOG. Following his suggestion, I printed and sent a copy of the post with a letter of humility and servitude, to my chief pastor, Metropolitan Philip. It has been over a year and there has been no response. Come King or Bishop, all are answerable to the Lord our God! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner. Here is the post:

Question: "Do Orthodox have dirty laundry"? Answer: "Is the Patriarch Orthodox"? Discussing subject matter dealing with error in the church, especially that which finds as its perpetrator Priests, Bishops, Metropolitans, or Patriarchs, certainly is reason enough to give one pause. I would agree, however, with the German philosopher, Arther Schopenhauer, who said, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident" , so my pause is brief. I am fully aware that truth must first be presented by a human instrument for this process to be put into motion and that human bearers of truth do not always fair so well. Ask Saint Athanatious! It was the Apostle Paul, that prolific writer of corrective epistles, who spake the heart that all bearers of truth should have, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." I was given the name, Paul, at my Chrismation and do ask now, "Saint Paul pray for me."

I read an excellent discourse recently on the history of the Orthodox Church. In it was pointed out the fact that the time is ripe for the Orthodox Church to flourish. Thousands are coming to the faith. From every culture and continent there are reports of, not just individuals, but whole religious groups, churches and segments of society converting to Orthodoxy. My own Priest recently made the announcement during his homily that we could no longer consider our Church in Tennessee a "little country church". Even though our parish is five miles south of town, four miles down a winding, narrow, two-lane road, and nestled in a valley, we are exploding with growth. We have grown to over 350 faithful, have about 30 new catechumens since last Pascha, and receive numerous calls weekly from sincere seekers. We are in the midst of a two-phase building program which includes a new paved parking lot, a parish hall, and a new Temple. We have spawned one mission in the last year and have had requests from three other groups to assist them in starting a mission in their community. Similar things are happening all over America. Soon we will not be able to say Orthodoxy is "the best kept secret". It shouldn't have been a secret to begin with. Ah, but alas, history happens.

I have alluded in earlier articles to my connection with the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC), having converted to Orthodoxy from that communion. The CEC is a great example of this move toward the faith. I know of at least five priests in the last several months who have petitioned the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese to bring their entire church into the faith. On their Journey to Orthodoxy some of these honest seekers of truth have asked a series of "what about this" questions. Some of those questions stem from the fact that even in the "Church that is the Church" the Orthodox Faith, one can point to human failures and less-than-wise decisions by Orthodox leaders and individuals. I like how my former CEC Priest has responded to his fellow former CEC priest's "what about this" questions concerning Orthodox Dirty Laundry,

"Would you rather deal with dirty laundry knowing you are in THE Faith or remain where you are and deal with it?"

Dirty Laundry Happens. As examples, consider these two separate incidents, one where an Orthodox Bishop recently fell into sin, and one where a Diocese is being questioned about inappropriate use of money. The stark difference I have found in the Orthodox Autocephelous ethos, is that there is a core heart toward righteousness and purity to safeguard against the propensity for leaven that would leaven the whole loaf. The Bishop who fell into sin was immediately no longer a Bishop (but neither was he cast off as a brother). The errant Diocese is under inside and outside scrutiny and pressure to answer and correct that which would bring shame to the name of Christ and has undergone a change in leadership. We do not live in a vacuum, although at times it seems that may be the cleaner place to dwell. Every Orthodox Christian has to deal with sin in the camp. It has always been so. The calling of Seven Ecumenical Councils attest to that fact. Every Orthodox Christian then and now has faced the challenge of how to respond to errant Bishops and Priests of the Church who need, at the very least, a One Hour Martinizing. It is a fearsome thing to question one in such spiritual authority over you. I mean, who are we? But then again, who was Athanatious?

I have recently discovered what I believe to be a most substantial argument FOR the establishment of an American Church that is unified by the Faith and not by ethnic cultures. One of our Orthodox laundry items is the fact that some decisions of the Church are made based on cultural influences rather than Scriptural or Apostolic Traditional influences. In the current climate of conflict in the Middle East, our Church leaders face a dilemma. Do we offer perspectives of the Church or do we offer our biased cultural opinions? The fact is the Antiochian Orthodox stream of the Church is Arabic, our Patriarchal See being in Damascus, Syria. Our Metropolitan Philip and our Bishop Antoun and others, have been especially burdened as they, along with all of us, have watched the violence in Israel and Lebanon. As leaders of the Church, they have rightly not been content to just watch but rather have chosen to be involved in promoting peace and aiding those who are suffering, especially our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

Our beloved Metropolitan Phillip, who in many ways has been instrumental in providing an environment for thousands of American Evangelicals, such as myself to enter the Faith, on July 25, 2006 issued a letter,

"TO BE READ FROM THE PULPIT AND PUBLISHED IN THE PARISH BULLETIN".

In it he expresses, with all sincerity, his deep sadness for the Lebanese "men, women, and children" who are suffering in the current conflict. He points out that Lebanon is part of our Patriarch of Antioch and that our brothers and sisters in the faith are being personally affected. He appeals to the whole Church to pray and to "give generously to help the suffering people of Lebanon." That he is speaking from a pastor's heart of love and compassion, there can be no doubt. It is important to note, however, that in the same Letter, His Eminence seemingly speaks, not from a pastoral role, but from that of a politician with cultural Arab bias and in doing so, he has unwittingly promoted false terrorist propaganda. Though, "Everyone would agree that the result [of the conflict] is a humanitarian disaster for the people of Lebanon", everyone would not agree with the Arab Islamic propaganda that Israel is evil in its intentions and dastardly in its methods. The Metropolitan's Letter made the statement,

"As you have been hearing in the media (i.e. television, newspapers and the Internet), Lebanon is being systematically destroyed".

This statement begs the question as to whether or not using such biased media sources to prove a point is a trustworthy and factual resource. As a former news and live-talk show Producer with a CBS affiliate and with an earned degree in Radio, Television and Film, I know this all too well. One of my goals as a producer was to make sure that the raw footage that came in from the field was not subject to the common practice of being creatively edited to show the bias of the particular reporter doing the story. Thus, I , like many, have an eye for spotting biased reporting and propaganda. The coverage of the current conflict in the Middle East is a well-oiled propaganda machine supported by international press that is historically anti-west and most assuredly anti-Semitic. It is more than obvious to me that the content of our Metropolitan's Letter has been influenced in this way. For instance, it is true that much destruction is occurring in Lebanon. It is not true that Lebanon is being "systematically" destroyed. The use of such a word infers an intent that Israel does not have in this conflict, and an action that Israel has not perpetrated. It is well known that the "Israeli bombs", a phrase that Metropolitan Philip uses twice in his Letter, are targeting terrorist rocket launchers, missiles, combatants, predominantly in the 20 mile area north of the Israeli border. Israel also is bombing specific and strategic targets across the country to shut off the supply of missiles coming in from Syria and Iran, but this is not "systematic" destruction. The predominant press coverage is focused to give the appearance that all of Lebanon is being carelessly destroyed by a ruthless, heartless, and malicious enemy-Israel.

The Letter also says that,
"Red Cross Ambulances carrying the sick and wounded are being targeted".
It may be true that ambulances carrying the sick and wounded have been hit by exploding bombs or falling debris in this ever volatile war zone. It is not true, however, that these ambulances are "being targeted" as the Letter states. The statement is not only factually unverifiable but on its face does not hold up. The most often used propaganda photo being circulated is that of a pock-marked ambulance with one ten-to-twelve inch, gaping, round hole in the top of it. Any rational unbiased observer would have to agree that a direct targeted hit by an Israeli plane did not cause the damage, unless of course the pilots were dropping bowling balls. "Targeted" implies specific intention to hit. To infer that Israeli pilots search, with bomb trigger finger ready, for "Red Cross Ambulances" to destroy, has no rationality, reason, or merit. The only conceivable rationality, reason, or merit there might be for "targeting", is if the ambulances are deemed a military target. There is no doubt that the Terrorists have a history of using ambulances to spread their propaganda and Terrorist efforts. They transport combatants in ambulances. They transport missiles and other munitions in ambulances. They park ambulances by missile launchers hoping for an air strike so that such propaganda pictures may be taken. Their objective is that such propagandist lies will be shared so as to turn the world against Israel and it's friend, America. Should you determine this is my own personal opinion or that, I too, have been subject to propaganda of another kind, I invite you to scrutinize the documentary Pallywood which shows the extent to which Islamic Terrorists will go to create staged scenes of propaganda using ambulances: http://www.seconddraft.org/. With a simple internet search, you may also watch actual video footage of Terrorists piling into an ambulance with assault weapons in hand being transported to safety during a firefight.

Sadly now, the Terrorist's media propaganda theme that villainous Israeli Jews are intentionally killing maimed, wounded, and dying civilians while brave Arabic Muslim ambulance drivers risk their own lives to whisk them off to safety, has made its way even into the sanctity of our Holy Orthodox Temples via the sincerely intended but biased misinformation in the Metropolitan's Letter. "Brethren this ought not so to be"!

What is bias?
Is it not bias that there is no mention in the Letter of the more than 5000 Lebanese missiles that have been indiscriminately fired into civilian sections of Israel, killing, "men, women, and children" including Jews, Muslims and Christians alike?
Is it not bias that there is no mention in the Letter of the devastated hospitals, schools, and homes in Israel?
Is it not bias that the Letter does not contain heart tugging stories of Israeli suffering such as the grandmother and her two precious grandchildren who were blown apart by a Lebanese missile irrefutably intentionally directed at civilian targets, or the little Israeli boy blown apart while sitting on a street curb playing, or the teenage boy left dead in a street gutter while his best friend weeps beside him?
Is it not bias that there is no mention in the Letter of the air raid sirens, the bomb shelters, the food lines to help the displaced and bombed-out citizens of Israel?
Is it not bias that the Letter does not mention our Patriarch of Jerusalem and our Bishops and Israeli Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and must live in constant fear of instant death by a missile fired from Lebanon?
Is it not bias that there is no mention in the Letter of the 15,000 more missiles that still exist in the borders of Lebanon ready to kill more innocent "men, women and children" within the borders of Israel unless they are taken out by an "Israeli bomb"?
Is it not bias that there is no mention in the Letter of the 13,000 missiles that have been fired into Israeli neighborhoods over the last six years while the government of Lebanon stood idly by and allowed a state supported terrorist militant group who has openly called for the destruction of Israel and America to amass an army intent on that purpose?


When I see a photo of our Bishop and our Metropolitan standing in conference with Islamic leaders, I think, "good, there should be dialogue so that the Church leaders may speak the Holy Scriptures and the Tradition of the Apostles. In this our laundry is clean." But when, out of the same conference, there is issued a nine point rebuke naming and rebuking ONLY Israel, it smacks of ethnic bias and this is Orthodox Dirty Laundry.

On Thursday August 3rd, 2006, the members of the Standing Conference of American Middle-Eastern Christian and Muslim Religious Leaders convened for an emergency meeting to discuss and take action on the current crisis in Lebanon. The meeting was hosted by the Chairman, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILLIP, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, and was held at the headquarters of the Antiochian Archdiocese in Englewood, New Jersey.

The members of the Standing Conference expressed their solidarity by unanimously approving the following resolution:

1. A call for an immediate and unconditional cease fire to stop the death and destruction
(A call on whom? Israel only? "Unconditional"? So Israel is to stop the "death and destruction" but you expect them to ignore the firing of Hezbollah rockets into their sovereign nation?)
2. A call for the exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel
(Does this infer that you believe the prisoners Israel holds are not criminals caught in the very act of perpetrating "death and destruction" on Israeli soil? You just demand that they be released?)
3. A call for Israel to withdraw from the Shib'aa Farms, which Israel has occupied since 1967, and all other occupied Lebanese lands.
(Is this not a territorial dispute between nations, including Syria who once occupied the land? To what purpose would our Bishops choose a side on this one?)
4. A call for the international community to give immediate humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering, and to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese citizens to return to their cities, villages, and homes.
(On this one we would all agree and find it easy to commend our Bishops for their pastoral roles)
5. A call for the international community to help Lebanon rebuild the infrastructure that has been destroyed by Israeli aggression.
(So only Israeli "aggression" is culpable and the government of Lebanon and the terrorist group Hezbollah has shown no aggression?)
6. A call for the UN to investigate the massacre at Qana which took place on Sunday July 30, 2006
(Is not the word "massacre" inflammatory, and does it not suggest willful intention , and do you think the anti-Semitic UN will return a verdict other than the indictment of Israel?)
7. Support for the statement which was issued by the religious leaders of Lebanon who met in Pkerki' August 1, 2006
(For those who would overlook the text of the Pkerki meeting, it is important to know that through our Bishops, the Self Ruled-Antiochian Archdiocese of North America has gone on record as saying: 1. They denounce the Israeli aggression against Lebanon considering it a war crime 2. They hold Israel accountable, morally and financially... asking to file lawsuits against Israel before international courts" 3 "... The national (Lebanese) unity was and still is the basis for resisting the Israeli occupation; and Hezbollah, who represents an essential part or the Lebanese society, is not but one of the constituents of the Lebanese resistance..." So is our Church validating the existance of Hezbollah? To what "occupation" are they referring? Is the Orthodox Church calling for the the destruction of the State of Israel? Is our Church supporting the supporters of Hezbollah whose Iranian President has stated he, "has a religious conviction that Israel's demise is essential to the restoration of Muslim glory, that the Zionist thorn in the heart of the Islamic nations must be removed. And he will pay almost any price to right the perceived historic wrong"?)
8. A call for the implementation of all UN resolutions that address occupied territories in Lebanon and the entire region
(Shouldn't there also be a call for the implementation of all UN resolutions that address the illegality of the armed militia Hezbollah to exist on Israel's border?)
9. A statement deploring the killing of any human being, and reiterating that all killing is against our religious beliefs."
(On this we can all agree)

Has anyone missed the profound fact that the political alignment of our Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church archdiocese of North America with its avowed Arabic Islamic enemies gives reason for the United States Government and its Security Agencies to have great concern? Has anyone missed the fact that we are at war with those who want to annihilate us?Some of the very men the Metropolitan and the Bishop were in counsel with were present at the United Nations Security Council when the Israeli Ambassador sliced a knife through their Islamic propaganda. These are the same men who would not look eye-to-eye with the Israeli Ambassador when he pointed out that in all of their words, diatribe and rebukes of the actions of Israel, not one time did he hear the word "HEZBOLLAH", the real cause of the Lebanese suffering. Unfortunately, our Metropolitan and Bishops seem to be following suit.

The Israeli ambassador also had the following to say at the UN Security Council Session and our Bishops would do well to give his words at least as much credence as they have given that coming from biased propagandized Arabic Islamic sources:

"Israel, like any State, has done, and will continue to do, whatever is necessary to protect the lives of its citizens. It has the right and the duty to act in self-defense. And it will spare no effort to bring its abducted soldiers home. In fulfilling this responsibility to protect its citizens, Israel's task is doubly complicated. It must defend itself against an enemy who not only deliberately targets civilians, but who also hides among them, concealing its weapons and rocket launchers in the heart of civilian communities, as well as in mosques and in UN Compounds. For Hezbollah, civilians are not just a target but also a shield. In this impossible situation, in which Hezbollah openly flouts the fundamental humanitarian principle of distinguishing combatants from civilians, Israel has made strenuous efforts to defend itself in accordance with the principles of international law, to direct its attacks against military targets, and to avoid disproportionate damage to the civilians used as cover by the terrorists. At the same time, even as the terrorist missiles fly, Israel has worked to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the population can be met, enabling convoys carrying aid and supplies to reach those who need them and facilitating evacuation of foreign citizens and UN personnel. Could there be a difference more striking or profound than that between Israel and the terrorists it is confronting:

- between those who equip their residential buildings with bomb shelters and those who fill them with missiles;
- between those who drop leaflets entreating civilians to leave the terrorist strongholds; and those who hide rocket launchers beneath unknowing apartment dwellers; or
- between those who mourn the death of every civilian - Lebanese or Israeli - as a tragedy and a failure, and those who see it as a victory and cause for celebration.

I believe that the people of Lebanon, through all the pain and anguish of these past few weeks, have seen through the callous disregard of Hezbollah which claims to fight their cause, but places a weapon next to a sleeping child. I believe that one courageous Lebanese youngster was speaking for many when he wrote on his internet blog: "It is not only Israeli soldiers the Hezbollah has taken hostage, it is us, the people of Lebanon". I believe that it has never been clearer that, for all its talk of bravery, Hezbollah has demonstrated the lowest form of cowardice, cowering behind the weakest members of society. Indeed, in many cases Hezbollah's lethal missiles are fired on timers, so that the terrorist can flee the launching site while leaving helpless families behind to shield a military target. In this, the terrorists have learned well from their sponsors, from Iran and Syria. Just as Hezbollah chooses to hide behind others, and fight from within their homes, so do Iran and Syria demonstrate cowardice and disdain, fighting their wars through proxies, on Lebanese soil. Perhaps more than anything else it is this disdain for the lives of those they claim to be fighting for, this chain of cowardice, which unites Iran and Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas - the Quartet of Terror. During the past six years Hezbollah terrorists, funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran and Syria, have dug their roots deep into Lebanese soil, and have spread their poisonous branches throughout its towns and villages. The evil fruit of this growth has been over 13,000 deadly missiles, murderously directed at the people of Israel. And over the past four weeks Hezbollah has viciously implemented its threats, launching these lethal missiles directly and indiscriminately at the towns of Haifa and Afula, Naharia and Hadera, Kiryat Shemona and Kfar Giladi, Carmiel, Metulla and Akko, and the holy cities of Nazareth and Tiberias, targeting men, women and children, Jewish, Moslem and Christian alike."
A Full transcript can be found at:

I eagerly await a second Letter from our Bishops also

"TO BE READ FROM THE PULPIT AND PUBLISHED IN THE PARISH BULLETIN"

that includes the same force and condemnation toward the Arabic Islamic Terrorist group Hezbollah, that they have extended toward Israel. I also eagerly await photos of our Bishops standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the same Islamic Clerics and issuing a nine point statement condemning Hezbollah and all of its Islamic supporters, including the government of Syria, the country of our Holy See. But, if that not be so, then I at least eagerly await a proclamation by the Bishops that they will not in the future allow themselves to be used as tools of propaganda by Islamic Clerics whose very tenants of faith and historic example call for and practice the violent annihilation of the very faith our Bishops hold.

Let the words of King David ring in our ears at this moment in history!

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners"

It would do us well, those who are converts to the Orthodox Faith in America, to see our Bishops being Bishops of the Church first. It would do us good to see our Bishops become aware that their decision to side politically with a certain ethnic group holds the risk of being done in a posture outside of the grace that is extended to their Bishopry. Even the Apostle Paul confessed and delineated when he was speaking his own opinion and when it was the opinion of the Kingdom of God. Surely, no leader in the Church today is above Saint Paul. I pray that our Bishops are also aware that when such political, ethnic bias appears mingled with such Godly pastoral exhortations as found in the Letter, it is a source of true consternation and confusion, especially to Americans.

We would have to ask,

"Why are you lending political support to the enemies of our faith and the enemies of our nation?"
Maybe it is because we are not Arabic and are from the "ethnic melting pot" of the United States, that we have a more accurate vision to see cultural bias for what it is. Maybe it is easier for us to not to forget 9/11 and that it was the same Arab Islamic terrorists who attacked our nation. How many Islamic terrorists and their supporters danced in the streets of Lebanon as we watched the towers fall? Ours is not a battle for the kingdoms of this world but for the Kingdom of God for we war not against flesh and blood!

We Converts in America, for the most part, are not a single-ethnic Church, so perhaps it is easier for us to see ourselves purely as Christians and not a race or a culture. It is still perplexing to us to hear the Orthodox Church referred to as "Greek" Orthodox, "Russian" Orthodox, "Serbian" Orthodox and the like. Perhaps one of the Divine blessings of the existence of the Convert Church in America is that we can bring to the Church a torch to shed light on such Dirty Laundry.

So, please hear us and don't throw the Convert out with the laundry water.

We are the Church of the living God. We are to gather at his Holy Altar and not at our preferred ethnic flagpole. It is indeed true that "There can be no Jew nor Greek, there can be no slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female-for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Our heart of compassion in the current crisis in the Middle East should be for ALL who are victims and our criticism of ALL who are guilty regardless of nationality or race. Let us all agree with Shakespeare that, if warranted, "All are punished! All are punished!"

With God's grace, and excepting excommunication, I will continue to do my part in evangelizing the world, as we all should. I will continue to commend the Orthodox Faith, especially the Antiochian Arch-Diocese, to others as the Faith of our Fathers and the place where we all should be quick to confess our sins and faithful to magnify the Holy Trinity. God be merciful to me a sinner, but I will also continue to pray for and dialogue with our Bishops, who guard our souls, that they will remain outside of the political fray and promote only the Faith as found in the Scriptures and Holy Tradition. To do anything else is to open the door to worldly influences that the Holy Orthodox Church has so courageously defended against for over 2000 years. God forbid that 100 years from now or even 1 year from now we are still promoting the traditions of man influenced by our preferred cultural or ethnic bias.

Let us bereave more over the loss of eternal souls than the loss of ethnic Sees. Let there be a Unified American Orthodox Church lest we all succumb to the winds of whatever be the latest cultural, ethnic conflict. Let's clean our Dirty Laundry.

Preserve, oh God, the Holy Orthodox Faith
and all Orthodox Christians unto ages of ages. Amen.

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