Friday, March 06, 2009

A Good Man

It is not difficult to commend Metropolitan Philip. In the current conversation concerning the demoting of Bishops in North America, priests and laymen alike have referred to His Eminence as a "good man". His years of pastoral devotion, his dialogue in SCOBA, his acceptance of converts, and his stated desire to work to preserve unity in the Antiochian Archdiocese are commendable and good. His Eminence's recent decision to write a letter of explanation concerning the Holy Synod's decision to change the status of the Antiochian Bishops is also commendable, but one could wonder why this came after only much pressure from his sheep. Much of the current tumultuous response to the decision was due to the cryptic nature of the announcement. Now, some of the reasons have been stated and some of the cryptic elements made clear-some. Now comes the aftermath of his stated support of the decision that changed the status of all Antiochian Bishops.

Is "good man" a title for life? History is filled with good men who spent their entire life as such only to make a bad decision toward the end. Unfortunately, or rightfully, some might argue, a late turning of this sort can eclipse an entire lifetime of goodness. One can be remembered for the good he does, but the harm he does is always more resounding. Since cryptic elements of
The Decision still remain, it is a challenge to fully judge the motives as good or bad. But, one must divine between intention and action in this matter. An intention can be good but an action unwise. That the Metropolitan's intention has elements of goodness is clear:

"One of the greatest assets that we have been blessed with in this Archdiocese is our strong unity. We cannot take any chance that disunity would occur in the Antiochian Archdiocese. I believe that this decision supports maximum unity and guards against any fracture in the future."

The stated intent is unity but is it possible that
The Decision itself will cause the fracture that it is intended to prevent? Accusations of "Papalism" and "power grab" are being leveled at what one can only interpret as an attempt to quell some Bishops who are the inferred subjects of the disunity. Without knowing the details or the determining factors, the sheep are relegated to rumors and conjecture. Were the Bishops too liberal or too conservative? Were there personality conflicts? Were the Bishops given to doctrinal errors or were they just fulfilling their role as good men within the arena of Orthodox consensus government by Synod and expressing opinions that differed from that of the Metropolitan? Was the church in America becoming too... American? Were too many speaking out against Islam? Was the diocese slipping further away from Arab, ethnic control? Has Ecumenicalism, Papalism, or Protestantism finally come to roost? What has not been asked is whether the Metropolitan instigated the issue with the Patriarch or Vice Versa. In any case, cryptisism breeds cryptisism and questions abound.

I, for one, would like to think that the Metropolitan has uncovered some sinister plot by the disunifiers to usurp and harm the church and that he is not at liberty to give details, however, on its face,
The Decision was divisive and suspect. In the minds of many, The Decision itself has become the sinister plot. It was seemingly done in the shadows, not the light, and without the consensus of the Bishops themselves nor of the people under their care. The question remains as to what the parish roots uprising will bring. Whether or not the Metropolitan's latter days will be worse that the former pales in comparison to the days ahead for the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America. By the Metropolitan's own words, The Decision was opposed to the very constitution by which the church in North America is governed:

"As you are all aware, there are still some differences that exist between the Archdiocese Constitution that was approved in Pittsburgh, and the constitution that was proposed by the Holy Synod of Antioch as an alternative. These differences will be addressed with the Patriarch, myself, and the Holy Synod in due time."

It seems that the "due time" should have been before the demotion of the Bishops so as not to be seen as a usurper of the very rules that gave the Metropolitan his Bishopric. Forgive any assumption that may come from the contagious cryptinitis bug, but could it be that those pesky, ununited, bothersome Bishops stood in the way of one good man's view of the future of the church in North America? Is it not unseemly, unorthodox and unscriptural that, what was in every interpretation a political move, has in essence, defrocked Bishops who are in every way each as
good a man as the Metropolitan and the Patriarch? After all, these Bishops were equipped with Shepherd's staffs as well, rightfully given, rightfully bestowed through the Holy Sacrament of Ordination. Yet, the Metropolitan seems to downplay the effects of The Decision:

"Most importantly, I do not see the action of the Holy Synod of Antioch as making that much practical change in the way we operate. Most of the auxiliary bishops will remain where they are. The auxiliary bishops will administer the dioceses on behalf of the Metropolitan. It is now clear that in the few instances in which the Metropolitan disagrees with the action of a bishop, that the Metropolitan has the authority to reverse that decision. While we have vacancies in some of the dioceses, it is important that the Metropolitan have the flexibility of moving a bishop to a place where the best interests of the Archdiocese can be served."

This seems the equivalent of removing a Shepherd's staff from him and delegating to him just the occasional filling of the feed trough. Oh, and by the way, if a destaffed, delegated, former Bishop is sent by the last remaining Bishop to fill your trough, you can mention his name, otherwise, he is not to be mentioned. Not much "practical change"?

That the Metropolitan may be a good man is moot in light of of Christ's admonition:

"Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

If there be any good thing in any of us, it is because we reflect our Creator. Those who are truly good in this matter are yet to be determined. Whether or not the sheep continue to follow the last remaining Antiochian Shepherd on the North American continent is also yet to be determined. It certainly should not be presumed. It is a wide church with optional jurisdictions (though such options still remain outside of the Canon). The Church is a body with many parts. She belongs to no man and God is a jealous God. This is why the bishops, priests and deacons of the Antiochian Archdiocese, in order to be
Good, even as He is Good, must value righteousness over their own career paths, fearing God over man, even a good man. This is why they too must speak to this matter outside of anonymity. This is why I, as a layman, must speak, for according to the Orthodox faith, the Layman is the fourth order of the priesthood. We do honor those who have rule over us as the scripture teaches, but lest we forget, let us all gaze upon the icons in the temples and ponder those martyrs who stood for righteousness in opposition to those who would rule in error.

His Eminence, speaks the truth when he says,

"If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we will be condemned to repeat the same mistakes. "

But, has history not taught us that usurping
sole authority over a part of the existing church and its Bishops causes great schism? Are we being condemned to repeat the Great Schism? Is The Decision and the Metropolitan's support of it another in the "mistakes of history" to which he refers?

All men are mortal and in that mortality good men, turned bad, should become to us as dust in the wind and leaven in the loaf. God grant that our Bishops and Patriarchs remain free from such error but God also grant that any who fall into such error will repent or

"Let his days be few and let another take his office".

God give us wisdom in this matter to discern which should be the case and God be merciful to all of us for we are all sinners.

1 comment:

  1. Ex aedibus1:34 AM

    I'm a Roman Catholic, but I am an admirer of Metropolitan Philip and the Antiochian Archdiocese.

    In the Roman Catholic Church, auxiliary bishops often assist the archbishop or bishop of a large diocese. They help out with confirmations, as the sacrament of confirmation is generally reserved to the bishops. Confirmation can, however, be delegated to a priest by the diocesan bishop. However, a priest may not confirm without the permission of the bishop except at the Easter Vigil or in cases of danger of death. So, often the auxiliaries become confirmation machines. And in some places, mitred abbots are delegated to perform confirmations. Despite the fact that they are simple priests, they get to dress up exactly like bishops.

    Roman Catholic Canon Law does not require vicar generals to be bishops. They must be priests but they don't have to be bishops. In the larger archdioceses, the auxiliaries are vicar generals of the archbishop. Yet any priest could have that role.

    There have been serious calls for reevaluating the whole reasons for the existence of auxiliary bishops. However, they continue to be appointed.

    This is a strange situation. The Orthodox Church in America is currently moving to a less centralised model. Metropolitan Jonah has indicated that he wants to see more work taken care of at the local level rather than at Syosset. He also wants to reduce the amount of income that Syosset receives and keep it spent within the local dioceses. And each of the dioceses in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have been Metropolises in their own right for a while now.

    I would see it all as a prospective danger. Since the Second Vatican Council, diocesan bishops have been seen less as vicars of the Pope but as heads of local churches in their own right. Thus, if you get a bad metropolitan (may God forbid such a thing), you could wreck an entire archdiocese. Such a situation does not currently exist in the Roman Catholic Church, as the Metropolitans do not generally interfere in the workings of local dioceses. Their powers are limited in this respect.


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