Did you feel the earth move on February 24, 2009?
The jolt you felt was the seismic shift under the fragile ground of American Orthodox unity, thanks it would seem, to the the machinations of the Patriarch of Antioch and the Self-Ruled Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. With the issuance of this decision by the Holy Synod of Antioch, the Self-Ruled Archdiocese has effectively become a ‘sole-ruled’ diocese under the leadership of Metropolitan Phillip. The Bishops of the Archdiocese have been demoted to Auxilliary Bishops, and what they are left with in the way of real leadership for their individual dioceses has yet to be defined. (You’ll note this decision affects all Bishops – worldwide!)
I’ll admit I’m pretty ignorant of the ecclesiastical structure of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Orthodox canon law or ecclesiastical politics. I’m just a lay person whose opinions are based solely on common sense and the smell test. For what it’s worth, this decree stinks to high heaven. It has left me with a feeling of hopelessness and futility over the promises made 15 years ago at the Antiochian Village.
Strangely, this trampling of ecclesiastical order has re-affirmed and strengthened my belief in the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America and its new leadership. For all it’s own scandal and dysfunction, there is at least a clear and coherent hierarchy in which each Archbishop knows his role, his responsibilities and his limitations under Metropolitan Jonah. Will these newly made auxiliary bishops have the the normal freedoms of our OCA Archbishops to plant missions, ordain clergy, investigate and administer discipline, or any of the normal administrative roles expected of a Bishop?
Link here to read Metropolitan Phillip’s explanation for this coup, which sounds more like a paranoid overreaction to the successes and forward thinking of his own Bishops than any kind of heroic rescue of the Archdiocese from a vague threat to its unity. If he wanted unity for the AAOA, this certainly isn’t going to do it.
What does this all mean in the long run for Orthodoxy in America? I pray it doesn’t lead to schism and outright rebellion. The world is a hard place to understand right now without our Church adding to the grief. But, as history goes for other events, it might be that the backlash from laity and clergy will in the end lead to more independence for the Church in this country. Make no mistake – I’m not advocating this – it’s purely speculation. However, the establishment of so many Antiochian mission parishes over the last decade, their progressive and successful evangelization efforts, the rise of Orthodox internet media and to some extent, the election of Metropolitan Jonah, are all factors that could lead many American Orthodox Christians to stand up and say ‘we aren’t going to take these kinds of slap downs from the old country any more’. Isn’t that how the American Revolution started? Change comes when a people’s tolerance reaches the tipping point amid an awakening sense of self-determination.
Ehh, but what do I know?