Monday, April 27, 2009

Some thoughts about the Antiochian Imbroglio

So the bishops and Metropolitan of the Archdiocese met on Friday of Bright Week and came to a limited joint statement about obedience to the Holy Synod. As it turns out, only three of six bishops signed a resolution prepared by the Metropolitan's staff.

The official press release, in relevant part, reads:

A significant discussion was held regarding obedience to this decision. It was reaffirmed that the Holy Synod of Antioch is the highest ecclesiastical authority in the entire See of Antioch, and that all of its Archdioceses are subject to decisions which are adopted by the Holy Synod. All of the hierarchs affirmed that they are currently in obedience to the Holy Synod of Antioch, and that there was never a question to the contrary. In conjunction with this, the hierarchs acknowledged that the decision had caused concern among the clergy and the people, and that there must be steps taken to begin to heal these misunderstandings.

The wordsmithing of the press release is careful - note the use of passive voice: "It was reaffirmed . . ." by whom? Note the use of the term "highest ecclesiastical authority." This does not appear to me to be random - it has specific legal meaning in this country as it relates to court cases about property disputes and the like in churches where there's a schism and, no doubt, in ecclesiatical circles.

Anyway - all such interesting things aside - I thought about these items:

1. Assume a bishop in a diocese is instructed by his Patriarch or his Metropolitan that he is being transferred to a different job - Auxiliary to the Patriarch, Dean of the Seminary at Balamand, Bishop of who-knows-where. Does a bishop have right to refuse? Somehow I think not - he could argue, or try to demur, but in the end if the Patriarch or the Synod as a whole wants him to leave his See and take over some other assignment . . . well, he could engage in some 'ecclesiastical disobedience'I suppose, but really . . . ?

2. If, as I have been instructed, the Canons that are not dogmatic are 'guidelines' rather than 'law' - might there be some flexibility in these canons regarding the relationships between Bishops? I think we have a natural tendency in the West, having a strong historic background in ideas of 'Canon Law' that these things are more iron clad than they really might be . . . and do we treat our bishops like Roman Catholics treat priests - as if they can be laicized but not ever really removed from office?

3. Assume that a Bishop has been instructed that he's no longer going to be Bishop of X Diocese, but a flexible, potentially itinerant Auxiliary to a Metropolitan who might assign him back to Diocese X, but might just as easily send him to Diocese Y. Assume said Bishop sees this as a deposition and demotion without trial or charge against him. What is he to do? Here, may I suggest that demanding 'rights' as a Bishop may not be the answer. Did our Lord demand his rights? Or did he meekly bear the burden of his oppressors and suffer unjustly? I think a Bishop may meekly submit to this 'injustice' of demotion (if that is what it is) and suffer the 'insult' (if that is what it is) even if he disagrees with the decision of the Synod. Which is the greater lesson to his flock? To insist on his status, or to take the role of a servant and least of men and let this sort out? This is not the Council of Florence in scope, folks, nor does the decision, in and of itself, countenance improprieties with respect to dogma or moral matters such as priestly malfeasance. I like to think that those who signed as 'auxiliary bishops' knowing full well that a few short years ago they were enthroned as full diocesan bishops with the support of the Metropolitan and of the Patriarchate might just have done so out of such a humble motivation.

Some will castigate those who signed and some, those who did not sign. I think God will judge - let us be gentle with all and continue to do what we need to do - pray, go to church, love our neighbor, do good to those that persecute us, proclaim the Gospel.

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