New Jersey: “It was necessary to normalize the status of all bishops across the See of Antioch”

This gets less and less clear the more Met. PHILIP attempts to explain.

From Antiochian.org, in response to a letter sent by the Council of Presbyters of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America:

Beloved in Christ,

Greetings and Blessings to you during this holy season of The Great Fast!

We have received and reviewed your letter dated March 17th, 2009 in which you pose fifteen questions related to the February 24th, 2009 decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch regarding the status of all bishops across the Holy See of Antioch. We will try our best to answer these questions as follows:

1. Are there any other diocesan bishops, outside our Archdiocese, that are affected by the Holy Synod’s decision?

Answer: Yes. In the Patriarchate there are three bishops, the Bishop of Saydnaya, the Bishop of Qatana, and the Patriarchal Vicar. In addition, the Archdiocese of Akkar had the Bishop of Tartous and the Bishop of Marmarita & Al Hosn. The Bishop of Marmarita & Al Hosn was elected as Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe. The Bishop of Tartous was elected to succeed Metropolitan Paul Bendali in the Archdiocese of Akkar. He refused to have either diocesan or auxiliary bishops in his Archdiocese at this time.

2. There seems to be differences in tone and meaning between the Arabic original and the English translations of Articles 77 and 78. Can these be clarified?

Answer: The English translation was my best effort. If someone can produce a more accurate translation, this would be most welcome.

3. What were the intentions of the Holy Synod in formulating these amendments?

Answer: The intention was to have good order and consistency throughout the Holy See of Antioch by normalizing the status of all bishops.

4. Is the Pittsburgh Constitution binding, since it was duly approved and implemented by the legally binding decision made at special Archdiocesan Convention of July 2004?

Answer: The constitution is binding to the extent that it is consistent with the decisions of the Holy Synod of Antioch, which is the highest authority in the Church of Antioch. The Holy Synod has the prerogative to modify any decision that it had previously approved.

5. Since official Archdiocesan documents state that the provisions for self-rule, including those pertaining to the local synod of the Archdiocese, are irrevocable, as witnessed both by the Pittsburgh Constitution and the Patriarchal version of October 15, 2004, how can they be overturned by amendment of the Patriarchal by-laws?

Answer: We can find no language in any Constitution, or the original decision of the Holy Synod dated October 10, 2003 which indicates that the provisions of any constitution or by-laws are irrevocable.

6. Given that the granting of self-rule required that the Patriarchal Constitution be amended to reflect the self-ruled status of the North American Archdiocese, and that this constitution governs its by-laws, not vice versa, how could the Constitution be overturned by amendments of by-laws?

Answer: The Patriarchal Constitution was never amended to reflect self-rule status, so the February 24th decision is consistent with the current in-force Patriarchal Constitution.

7. What was the need, and why the urgency, for a special meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch? Were constitutional procedures followed for the calling of that meeting?

Answer: At the October 7th, 2008 meeting of the Holy Synod in Damascus, His Beatitude appointed a special committee which included the Archbishops of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Akkar to study the question of the status of bishops across the See of Antioch, and to make a recommendation which would normalize that status. The meeting of February 24th, 2009 was convened to hear this recommendation and to act on it. The Patriarch may convene a meeting of the Holy Synod at any time that he sees fit.

8. Given the fact that the mechanism of resolution for possible problems or disagreements is specified in our Constitution as belonging to the Local Synod of Bishops, with right of appeal to the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, why were these amendments necessary?

Answer: The February 24th decision was not a result of any wrongdoing by any bishop. It was necessary to normalize the status of all bishops across the See of Antioch.

9. We are not aware of any study, investigation, or report containing information regarding concerns of disunity or other issues of disagreement within our Archdiocese. What was done by our bishops that precipitated the Holy Synod’s decision? Did the Patriarch discuss these issues with our bishops when he visited in the fall of 2008?

Answer: Once again, our bishops did not do anything that precipitated this decision. It should not be viewed as a matter of discipline, since this was not the intention. To my knowledge, the Patriarch did not discuss this with our bishops during his visit in the Fall of 2008.

10. How can enthroned diocesan bishops be dethroned other than on specific canonical grounds?

Answer: To dethrone a bishop is to remove him from his episcopal throne. This has not been done. The status of the bishops  has changed from diocesan bishop to auxiliary bishop.

11. If there is no local synod within our Archdiocese, in what way do we retain our status of Self-Rule?

Answer: Our Archdiocesan Synod remains in place. The February 24th decision made no mention whatsoever of self-rule, or a change in status of the Archdiocesan Synod.

12. If Bishop BASIL, for example, is no longer Bishop of Wichita, what is his current title?

Answer: Our bishops will carry the title Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of (name of Diocese). As an example, Bishop BASIL carries the title Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America.

13. How are we to understand the status of bishops who were not only enthroned but also consecrated for specific dioceses, if they are no longer bishops of those dioceses?

Answer: They are Auxiliary Bishops who are overseeing a Diocese on behalf of The Metropolitan.

14. Are the dioceses which were created at the time of our becoming self-ruled now reduced to regions?

Answer: No. The dioceses remain intact and they retain their current names.

15. We understand that the decree was sent for approval to all the members of the Holy Synod. Did they all respond? What were their responses?

Answer: We are not privy to the individual responses from each member of the Holy Synod. Suffice it to say that the decision was approved by a majority of the Holy Synod.

It is our prayer that the remainder of your Lenten journey will be greatly blessed.

Your father in Christ,

Metropolitan PHILIP

Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America

Cc: His Beatitude, IGNATIUS IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Bishop ANTOUN, Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop BASIL, Bishop THOMAS, Bishop MARK, Bishop ALEXANDER

There are, it seems to me, a number of key points here, but I’m curious about what everybody else sees before I offer my own half-baked analysis.

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4 Responses to “New Jersey: “It was necessary to normalize the status of all bishops across the See of Antioch””


  1. 1 Makarios 31 March 2009 at 11:43 am

    #6 jumped out at me. They never got around to finishing the paperwork in Englewood and Damascus. So we in America have been operating for several years under false pretenses.

  2. 2 Daniel 31 March 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Clear as mud, huh?!

    Regarding number 6:
    Answer: The Patriarchal Constitution was never amended to reflect self-rule status, so the February 24th decision is consistent with the current in-force Patriarchal Constitution.

    Then self-rule should be removed from the site and letterheads…actually it should have never been there- it was a false statement since the beginning. Antiochian.org says a new look is coming with a new icon. Makes me wonder if Self-Rule will still be on it???

    If this has nothing to do with any specific bishop…then nothing should change with where the Bishops are located. Right? Once again…we shall see.

    Answer: To dethrone a bishop is to remove him from his episcopal throne. This has not been done. The status of the bishops has changed from diocesan bishop to auxiliary bishop.
    -Um, do auxiliary bishops have thrones? I honestly don’t know.

    I pray for all our hierarchs who will be approaching Bright Week with a lot on their mind…probably in fear and trembling.

  3. 3 William Johnson 5 April 2009 at 3:53 pm

    As an AMERICAN Anglican who has been studying at an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Parish for some time; and, as an individual who feels he has found the original faith, this decision, and its responses on various sites and blogs, pains me greatly. This is not what I was seeking or expected. This is the sort of thing I just left. IF such a thing as an AMERICAN ORTHODOXY is coming, is this necessarily the path? Power politics in organized religions are as old as time, but must it happen here? It taints the faith. As a growing church in AMERICA, this sort of thing can only keep questioning potential converts away. Thank you.

  4. 4 Nathaniel McCallum 16 April 2009 at 10:11 am

    William,

    This is an extraordinary occurrence. America is in upheaval because it is a young church. Once we get these issues settled, I imagine us setting in for the long life of prayer, fasting, repentance.

    On that note, there is an old desert fathers saying something to the effect of “when you see the mitre coming on the horizon, run further into the desert.” Keep in mind that the battle of self-will was present even with the apostles. Tend to your own garden. If we try to look at other people’s garden, Satan will always give us something else to look at to keep us distracted.


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