AOANA Convention Day 2, Clergy Meeting with the Hierarchs

Author: Fr. Paul Hodge
Date Published: 07/22/2009

7/21/2009 Part Two

[For Part One of the Clergy Meeting, please see the previous post]

After this historical review and explanation of certain events, His Eminence informed those present of the July 9 teleconference meeting with all he bishops, which produced the most recent directive received by the clergy. It was at this time that the bishops agreed on the text which the clergy have all received. It was approved, the Metropolitan said, by six out of seven. This was a correction and clarification to the more general description of “two-thirds majority” that was contained in the directive. His Eminence then proceeded to read all the titles including the sixfold repetition of the phrase “and assistant to the metropolitan”.

He finished his re-presentation of this directive by reminding the clergy that liturgical commemorations have been restored to the form they took before the most-recent-but-one directive of March third.

His Eminence then concluded his talk, saying, “These are the events that took place. Please ask any questions.”

His Grace Basil made the first comment. As was noted in Part One, Bishop Basil spoke to correct the information given about his invitation to come to the chancery in Englewood in early July. The invitation, said Bishop Basil, was made over several months. Bishop Basil informed the clergy that he went at the request of the Vice Chairman of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees, Dr. George Farha, after conferring with other bishops of the synod. Dr. George implored Bishop Basil to accompany him, because this was Dr. George’s own mission to go on his own behalf.

A priest from California then asked a question about the Patriarchate’s posting of it’s own copies of the Synodal Resolution on it’s web site a day or two after the previously mentioned documents were posted at Fr. Patrick asked if Metropolitan Philip could “help clarify that stage of things.”

The Metropolitan replied, “I really can’t. All these documents were signed and sealed. Things are clarified as far as we are concerned. If you study the history of our archdiocese you will find so many contradictory decisions.”

A priest from New York then asked His Eminence to speak about the relationship between a Metropolitan Archbishop and those who assistant bishops to him. He stated that this relationship “needs to be fleshed out.”

Metropolitan Philip enthused that it is a blessing to have six bishops. “We have a Manual of Duties and Responsibilities. This should be updated because there is no modern precedent to this situation.”

At this point Bp. Basil made another comment to insist that the bishops of the Local Synod are not assistant bishops. His Grace retold some of the events of the bishops recent going to Damascus, and how Patriarch Ignatius made this clear. Bishop Basil said, “We are bishops of our city. We preside over our diocese. On certain matters we assist the Metropolitan in matters that concern the Archdiocese as a whole.” He gave examples of tasks and assignments each bishop has with regard to the entire Archdiocese. This comment was met with scattered applause from the clergy.

Bishop Joseph them commented that no vote was taken at Synod. He also noted that Metropolitan Paul of Australia was there, as well. Bishop Joseph emphasized that after long discussion the resolution was received by general agreement or acclamation. The Patriarch then declared his intention to publish it. Metropolitan Paul of Australia then added his comments to Bishop Josephs, saying he himself opposed the resolution. Then, paradoxically he added, “There was no vote. There was no signing of the voting.”

At this point Metropolitan Philip asked of the assembled clergy “Are you happy?” This questions was answered with general silence. Then Metropolitan Philip asked, “Where are the anonymous priests?”

Then another priest, this one also from California, asked the direct question, “Your Eminence, are the bishops diocesan bishops?” Answer: “Yes.” Follow-up question: “Will they meet as synod?” Answer: “Indeed.”

Next, another priest made reference to a situation in an another Archdiocese of the Patriarchate, that of Akkar, that also contains subordinate dioceses. He asked, “How are our diocesans the same or different from that Archdiocese?”

Metropolitan Philip answered the question generally, not relating to any specific details of the Archdiocese of North America or the Archdiocese of Akkar, in reponding to the question. He turned to history. “We had auxiliary bishops com second century Jeusalem,” he said. “When a bishop got old he could have an assistant. Gregory the Theologian was assistant to his own father in Nazianzen (sic).” His Eminence also pointed out in this regard that there have been auxiliaries in russia from fourteenth century onward.

Bishop Basil added to the Metropolitan’s answer by saying that question is probably best put to he Synod in Damascus. He then stated what we are sure of here is that those bishops who were auxiliaries before 2004 were made diocesan bishops for dioceses in North America by the synod in Syria. “Our bishops,” Bishop Basil repeated, “are not auxiliaries.”

Another priest, from Michigan, then acknowledged the difficulty many in patriarchate may be having to understand this role of diocesans within an archdiocese, a role which has no recent precedent in the experience of the Archdioceses of the Patriarchate. He then made reference to the explanatory article by V. Rev. Protopresbyter Paul O’Callaghan which Bishop Basil had distributed to the clergy of the Wichita diocese in a memo of July 11.

At this point a priest from North Dakota stood to ask a more challenging question. “What about Bishop Demetri and his status? Is his retirement in effect or is he serving as ambishop with funds from the archdiocese?” The priest suggested that this can be a “test case” of the authority of the Local Synod.

Metropolitan Philip answered this way. He said that last year during the October visit of Patriarch Ignatius, the Patriarch said if we are going to have a meeting of the North American bishops, where is Demetri? He said “why don’t you put him to work?”

“I said,” the Metropolitan continued, describing his response to the Patriarch, “‘I cannot unless the Michigan governor pardons him.’ Patriarch Ignatius said, ‘Let him work in another diocese.’ He suggested Mexico. Metropolitan Antonios Chedraoui of Mexico City said he did not have enough money for a missionary bishop. So Demetri was appointed to Mexico and the money goes to support missionary work in the Archdiocese of Mexico.

“Page fifty of the Archdiocese Annual Report is a mistake,” Metropolitan Philip further clarfied. “Bishop Demetri is not an officer or auxiliary bishop of our Archdiocese.”

At this the priest asked a series of follow-up questions including a discussion of inconsistencies in stories and status of decisions of the Local Synod with regard to the retired Bishop Demetri. Eventually this persistent questioning led the priest to press Metropolitan Philip about the validity of the February 24th decision, asking “Was a quorum present?”

Metropolitan Philip offered his explanation that a quorum was present there in effect because of the signatures added to the decision ex post facto. Returning to the questions about the status of Bishop Demetri’s retirement by the Local Synod, Metropolitan Philip remonstrated with that clergy, saying Bishop Demetri had a poor lawyer who made the punishment worse. “He had a raw deal.”

At this point, calls from the assembly were made for the priest who was agressively questioning, almost interrogating, the Metropolitan to yield the floor to other questioners. The priests who were waiting to ask their own questions said they would gladly yield there time to the current speaker so that he might continue in his vein of posing questions. The inquisitive priest then, in a plaintive tone of voice, then begged His Eminence for a better explanation from the Archdiocese on these matters.

At this point, expressing some vexation at this impasse in the conversation, Metropolitan Philip introduced a deacon seated in the front row as a lawyer by profession and Metropolitan Philip’s appointment as the newest chancellor of the Archdiocese, replacing Bob Koory who resigned at the end of May. Metropolitan Philip then asked the new chancellor to comment. The chancellor underlined that Bishop Demetri is serving under the auspices of Patriarch Ignatius and the matter was currently beyond the scope of the Local Synod and Archdiocese of North America. Unsatisfied the priest persistend in his line of questioning.

Sensing the matter had been well covered, the next priest in line, yet a third priest from California, asked how the Patriarch’s signature alone on the June 17th Patriarchal Resolution is not enough to garner acceptance of that Resolution by the Archdiocese of North America, while at the same time the Patriarch’s word is sufficient in the case of Bishop Demetri.

Metropolitan Paul answered this question, raising his voice to a shout, and explaining that this is a matter of economia in the case of the Patriarch’s decision with regard to Bishop Demetri.

The same priest, then, turned his questions to the Metropolitan’s previously stated concerns about unity and well-being of the North American Archdiocese. This priest asked, “Does the July 9 decision allay your fears, Saidna?”

Metropolitan Philip answered, saying, “I am always fearful for the unity of this archdiocese. With our current structure our unity is absolutely in good shape.”

Then a priest from Tennessee raised a question about financial reporting in light of Metropolitan Philip’s admission to the Los Angeles clergy at their meeting the past Friday, that the Archdiocese possesses about 15 to 20 million dollars in bonds. The questioning priest explained that before his ordination he had a career in finance and if his calculations are correct this level of investment would realize from $500,000 to $1 million in interest. The priest asked, “Where is this income reported?”

His Eminence explained, “I started in 1966 with $600,000.” He continued by reminding the priest that the Archdiocese reports annual receipts and expenditures. “Whatever we have in this archdiocese is yours”. The Archdiocese has a chancery and attached house and 3.5 acres. It was purchased in 1971 for $175,000. It is currently worth eight million dollars. The Antiochian village was purchased in 1978. Subsequently was built the Heritage and Learning Center and the entire property is now worth twenty-five to thirty million dollars. His Eminence asked the other hierarchs to share the worth of their chanceries. Bishop Mark said the Toledo chancery is worth about $250,000. Bishop Basil confirmed the value of his residence in Wichita to be about one-half million. Bishop Joseph gave a figure of “two million dollars plus” for his chancery residence in Los Angeles. Metropolitan confirmed there are securities invested for the Archdiocese. All this, he said, is vested in the Metropolitan and the Board of Trustees.

The priest thanked him for this run-down and recommended His Eminence and the Board of Trustees consider securing and independent audit for the general protection of the Archdiocese. There was applause from the clergy at this suggestion. His Eminence assured the questioner that this matter would be considered by the Board of Trustees.

Then another priest stood and rehearsed for the clergy the many accomplishments of the Antiochian Archdiocese that have come about by the sustained leadership of Metropolitan Philip. He shared his own opinion about the “assisting function” of our bishops and his fear that if we are not properly respectful of this function we may “return to days of Toledo of old.”

At this point the meeting had gone on for nearly two hours.

The next priest spoke about the qualifications of Trustees and candidates for the Board of Trustees, saying to His Eminence, “With the internet,” providing open and instant communications, “we must avoid even appearance of impropriety.”

Metropolitan Philip replied, “Point well taken. We don’t just pick anyone from the street. Bishop Antoun will speak about the nominating committee on Thursday.”

Another priest then expressed his gratitude to God and to Metropolitan Philip for allowing him to serve. He said he was troubled by recent events and commented that in regard to the case of Bishop Demetri we are bound as Christians to love and forgive. “We are his brothers and must not bear grudge against him for past misdeeds. We must be thankful, Your Eminence, for what we have from your hand. I hope and pray that love prevails and that what you have worked for will remain.”

As the next priest returned to and earlier topic and stated that he believes the question is on what is the function of a diocese within an archdiocese. This comment was unanswered.

The next priest in line thanked the Metropolitan for his pastoral support of the people of his parish at the recent death of their former pastor. He then asked bluntly, “Are we self-ruled?”

Metropolitan Philip gave a one word answer, “Yes,”

He then made his own comment, and with some animation, on a slightly different topic, “Any bishop, or priest, or deacon, any clergy, who play immigrant priests against nonimmigrant priests will have no place in this archdiocese.”

The next priest to speak inveighed about how the internet is a cancer, giving only opportunity for temptation and gossip. He exhorted his brothers to avoid these things.

Then the Protosyngellos made some general comments on ethnicity, following this with a comment on the necessary tension between punitive or rehabilitative discipline on the one hand and brotherly love and forgiveness on the other with regard to misconduct by priests and bishops.

Then a priest thanked His Eminence for allowing so much time for such lengthy discussion and questioning.

Then Bishop Antoun spoke as chairman of both the nominating committee for Trustees and the ordination review board. Reminding the priests that they are asked to make a statement about someone they want nominated or ordained. He said unambiguously, “If someone is bad trustee I blame the priest who recommends him.”

Metropolitan Philip then began the wrap-up by thanking everyone for their patience and their questions.

The convention host pastor made some announcements about the way in which order would be maintained at the General Assembly

Then a senior priest of the Archdiocese offered his comments the on current situation. He said, “We are all very blessed by this sacred moment. We are blessed to have Philip as our father. We ought sing to him “Many Years” for 50 years in the priesthood.” The clergy obliged this suggestion without hesitation but without the usual gusto when singing “Many Years” for the Metropolitan.

Bp. Joseph then offered his remarks to welcome to Metropolitan Philip and Metropolitan Paul and all brother bishops and all of the clergy. He said, “We have been through a lot the past few months since February 24. Let us be encouraged together, with less frustration and confusion. I came here in 1995 and spent a few months in Englewood to learn. First time we met, we bishops, we decided where the auxiliaries, as they were at that time, were to go. I came to Los Angeles. I never used convert/cradle, immigrant/nonimmigrant language. You are all our children, brothers, and holy family. Also, we have differences. I disagreed with his eminence many times.” Then, shouting, “I voted against him twice.” And once again without raising his voice, “Normally, of course, I never stopped respecting him. I grew up with Demetri, but I voted against him on the synod. But I called him after that vote and said to him he deserves to be at the [holy] table more than me. Do not judge. We can contain the differences with love and forgiveness.”

Bp. Mark then made his comment that “there are no real relationships apart from truth and honesty. I hope we can be honest and truthful. According to a Palestinian saying I learned from one of my parishioners, “Your friend is your enemy because he tells you the truth.”

Bp. Thomas then expressed his hope that this is over. He told the clergy they would do well to keep in mind two realities. “First, you can’t say Metropolitan Philip has no business outside the diocese of New York. And second, you can’t say you don’t have a bishop in your diocese.”

Bishop Joseph then gave the final benediction.

The meeting adjourned around one o’clock in the afternoon.