What’s going on in Antioch?

OutlookOne of the hardest things that journalists have to do, from time to time, is cover controversial stories when they can only get voices on one side of the fight to talk on the record. Normally, one camp is seeking coverage and the other is trying to avoid it.

Now, the only thing harder than that is to cover a hot story when no one will speak on the record — on either side. And that’s what has been going on for weeks with a behind-the-scenes round of ecclesiastical wrestling in the American archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This happens to be my own church, so, as you would imagine, all kinds of people have been asking why I haven’t written about the story here at GetReligion or in my own column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Actually, I haven’t done a column for a simple reason. Clearly something has been going on, but no one really knew what was happening. Most importantly, no one was speaking on the record about WHY the leader of the church since 1966, Metropolitan Philip Saliba, had turned his church’s diocesan bishops back into auxiliary bishops, with little or no power over their own clergy.

There were very few documents describing what was happening. There were lots of people yelling at the top of their lungs online, mostly in anonymous posts. There were fascinating pieces of analysis, and even a compelling train wreck of a legal timeline of the fights. But the leaders on both sides of the divide were being quiet. That made it almost impossible for someone like me to write a column about the affair that anyone — especially the non-Orthodox — could understand.

Also, there was no mainstream coverage of all this. Zip. Nada.

That’s why there wasn’t much I could do here at GetReligion. Remember: This is not a religion-news site. It’s a site digging into the MSM’s struggle to cover religion news.

Now we have a pretty in-depth news story about this matter, which is of vital importance to anyone who cares about the future of Eastern Orthodoxy here in North America, care of Toledo Blade religion writer David Yonke. It opens with a grab-you lede that anyone can understand. How tense are things at the moment?

When Bishop Mark Maymon of Toledo attended a recent regional conference in Cincinnati for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, local police were on guard because of threats made by a member of the denomination’s board of trustees.

The threats by e-mail from Walid Khalife of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., accused the bishop of being a “traitor,” a “liar,” and a “dictator,” and said the bishop needed to be “taught a lesson.”

Now the whole issue of the board of trustees and the role that some of its members are playing in this matter is highly complex. Trust me. But when you start talking about police and security guards being involved in church conferences — because of the actions of people INSIDE the church — you know you are in interesting territory. Which brings us to the summary paragraphs in this story:

The flurry of angry e-mails from Mr. Khalife, an archdiocese trustee, was one of the uglier manifestations of a controversy that has been causing turmoil, tension, and confusion in the venerable Christian denomination founded by Jesus’ disciples Ss. Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in 42 A.D. The bitter dispute centers on the role and authority of bishops, which in turn affects the self-rule status of the North American Archdiocese, obtained in 2003 after years of negotiation with Patriarch Ignatius IV and the Holy Synod in Damascus. Although self-governing, the archdiocese still reports to Damascus on matters of theology.

Since February, the fabric of the North American Antiochian Orthodox church has been stretched at the seams over allegations of deception, power-mongering, and even forgery. A longtime chancellor has resigned in protest, and some insiders are predicting that the upcoming national convention in Palm Desert, Calif., will turn into “Palm Desert Storm.”

PETERPAUL-ICON2-4INThere is little in this story I would challenge, so do read it all. I am not sure that an Orthodox metropolitan is “an archbishop and comparable to the rank of cardinal in the Roman Catholic hierarchy,” but I am willing to be corrected.

The whole matter is quite complex. However, there is one crucial aspect of the story that is missing.

Readers really need to know more about Metropolitan Philip’s decision, more than a decade ago, to welcome thousands of evangelical converts into his church and the tensions that have lurked behind the scenes ever since (click here for an essay of mine on this topic). Quite frankly, the church has handled the tensions quite well, up until now, and there have been few explosions. Converts have continued to stream in from evangelicalism, as well as the world of oldline Protestantism — having a major impact, especially at the level of new mission parishes and seminarians seeking the priesthood.

It would really help to know that Bishop Mark of Toledo is, well, not your ordinary bishop (by all means click here). It’s safe to say he is the church’s only bishop who once taught theology at Oral Roberts University.

It would also help to know that this bishop’s fiercest critics — other than the trustee sending those strange emails — are Palestinian or Lebanese clergy in the Detroit area who are speaking out because they believe they are being treated differently by a convert bishop than they would have been by Metropolitan Philip in the past.

These Detroit priests have produced some of the only public documents (click here for a look at some of that) hinting at the WHY element in what appears to be a collision between the new world and the old. But, please, don’t jump to conclusions. There are ethnic clergy who are in solidarity with the converts and their — OK, our — highly intense and traditional approach to the faith on issues of worship and parish life. There are Arab and Lebanese clergy — often called “reverts” — who are not anxious to modernize on issues of liturgy and practice, while continuing to stress the Arabic language and many old-world customs. There are converts whose approaches to the faith defy quick, easy labels too. However, I will say that no one is seeking some kind of zippy “evangelical lite” approach to this ancient faith.

I hope that other mainstream reporters will start jumping on this story with their eyes wide open, ready to carefully listen to the wide diversity of voices on both sides. Tell us who is who. Tell us who is saying and writing what. Be careful out there, but there is a story here worth telling and it, probably, is just getting started.

Images: Some of the American bishops, in Damascus with Patriarch Ignatius (center, with his bishop’s staff). Icon of St. Peter and St. Paul meeting in Antioch.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    In the Catholic Church the only difference between an archbishop and a Cardinal is that the Cardinal can vote in the conclave for the next Pope until he is 80 years old.
    In the old days when all Europe had monarchies, Cardinals were like Princes – I guess for protocol procedures.

    I’m curious. On the icon, under St Paul’s name it says “apostle”, but I can’t make out what it says under St Peter.

    The Antiochan Orthodox Church in the West is a very interesting development and story. Many of us Westerners thought dropping the ethnic ties was eliminating the jurisdictional squabbles the Orthodox in the East had/have with Catholics with ties to Rome in their midst. I guess we were wrong about that – or maybe ethnic ties die hard. Or maybe it’s both.

    This certainly has the flavor of how the Episcopal Church might operate separately from the Anglicans in England. Or how Anglican converts to Catholicism want to keep their own English-style customs and liturgy.

    Lots of people would be interested in reading about these developments.

  • Chris

    Interesting. I have often thought that the same dynamics could be affecting eastern Catholic parishes, which are also seeing large numbers of converts.

    Though not typical, the community into which I was received was a Melkite community without one parishioner of Arab descent. Everyone was either a convert from Protestantism or Judaism (about half) or a transplanted Latin-rite Catholic. Eventually, those converts and transplants trickle up into leadership creating potential tensions with the ethnic-based parishioners.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    This certainly has the flavor of how the Episcopal Church might operate separately from the Anglicans in England. Or how Anglican converts to Catholicism want to keep their own English-style customs and liturgy.

    ***

    But you see, that’s the irony. The converts tend to be the real strict people when it comes to using the old rituals and traditions — OTHER than the emphasis on Arabic. The convert oriented (or revert) parishes tend to emphasize the feast days, longer liturgies and confession, for example.

    It’s more complex, as I said.

    The ethnic parish I attended in West Palm Beach could get the PASCHA liturgy down to about 1 hour and 45 minutes. At our convert-friendly parish here in Maryland, that service is 3 hours and 45 minutes or longer.

  • David

    There’s a Facebook group dedicated to the crisis:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=125498596207

  • FrDamian

    Julia,

    St Peter St Paul
    Foremost Apostles

  • Observer

    I hope that other mainstream reporters will start jumping on this story with their eyes wide open, ready to carefully listen to the wide diversity of voices on both sides. Tell us who is who. Tell us who is saying and writing what. Be careful out there, but there is a story here worth telling and it, probably, is just getting started.

    But which mainstream journalists, let alone their readers or listeners/viewers, care about a church that is a minority of a minority of a religion in America? In other words, this story means NOTHING to just about everybody.

  • Richard

    “These Detroit bishops”

    typo?

  • Julia

    Observer:

    I think Catholics of the Roman Rite and Eastern Rites would be very interested.

    Then there are the other Orthodox who would be interested, I’d think.

    And the Protestants who are re-discovering liturgy and the East would be interested.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    “I hope that other mainstream reporters will start jumping on this story”

    No no! I hate it when my Church is in the news. Go back to talking about the Episcopalians.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    That is a strange thing about saying an Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop is like a Roman Catholic Cardinal. A metropolitan in the Orthodox Church is the same rank as a metropolitan in the Roman Catholic Church. Its just that most Roman Catholic metropolitans don’t use the title very much. They just go by archbishop.

    Also it is important to remember that not all cardinals are even bishops. Some are priests. I think one, the head of the Knights of Malta is even a layman. Metropolitans, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic must be bishops.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Richard:

    Thank you. A typo indeed. Fixed.

  • Observer

    Its current primate is Metropolitan Phillip (Saliba), who has six other diocesan bishops assisting him in caring for the nine dioceses of the growing Archdiocese, which is the third largest Orthodox Christian “jurisdiction” in North America, with an estimated 41,840 full members and 83,700 adherents.[1] – from Wikipedia and here: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/tab1b.pdf

    41,840 full members? Let’s see:

    That’s the same number of toilet-related injuries in the United States each year.

    That’s one-tenth the number of children treated each year for bicycle-related injuries.

    That’s a little more than the number of traffic fatalities each year.

    No one in the mainstream media cares, because hardly anyone in America cares. It’s a non-story and will stay a non-story. …

  • Jerry N

    It would be interesting to compare this to other similar stresses within the Catholic Church in America. Ethnic divisions have cropped up before, leading to the schismatic Polish National Church, or the largely Irish-led movement to suppress the married clergy amongst the Ukrainian and Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics.

    Heck, you also have the division between the so-called JPII generation and sundry converts from Evangelical Protestantism and older Catholics. The former are often much more interested in confession and unpopular (or what the media would call “controversial”) doctrines on sex, contraception and abortion. In many ways there are parallels with what the Antiochians are seeing.

  • Jerry N

    @MattK

    I don’t think laymen can be cardinals anymore (the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta is a religious, I believe). Priests can be cardinals, but they do not get to vote in a papal conclave, methinks.

  • Matt

    Unlike some prior commenters, I don’t think this is a trivial story. Events in smaller church bodies often provide insight into the larger picture of American religious life.

    Some clergy and members of my own church body have converted to Orthodoxy. In my opinion, they sometimes do so under an unrealistic idea that the kinds of divisions that plague our church body don’t exist in Orthodoxy; they believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the Bosporus.

    So it is important to know that division, church politics and scandal exist there as well. While the points of contention may be very different, church controversy is sadly universal.

    And I do mean sadly. I hope that God protects us from any sense of pride or schadenfreude regarding the struggles of our brothers in other church bodies.

  • Calvano

    Observer: Twelve semi-literate fishermen from Galilee, wandering around the Judean hills following a carpenter’s son, who claims to be the rightful heir of the throne of an obscure shepherd whose dynasty had ended a thousand years previously? Another non-story, right?

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    Mmmm….

    It seems that Mr. Khalife himself has a rather, well, INTERESTING background, one that some reporter might do well to look into:

    “Meet Walid Khalife, the Metropolitan’s Heavy”

  • Matt

    I would quibble with the description of “the venerable Christian denomination founded by Jesus’ disciples Ss. Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in 42 A.D.” Were Paul and Barnabas really intending to found a denomination? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “the venerable Christian denomination that traces its history to Jesus’ disciples Ss. Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in 42 A.D.”?

  • Julia

    Catholic archbishops who head an archdiocese, instead of working in the Roman Curia, may function as a Metropolitan, but aren’t in charge of any dioceses other than their own. Such an archdiocese may be the regional center of some administrative matters, such as the appeals court for diocesan tribunal decisions, but all bishops and archbishops answer directly to the Pope.

    A Metropolitan/archbishop might be asked by a functionary in Rome about what is going on in his balliwik. OR when a bishopric in his region is vacant, the archbishop often inquires among that diocese’s priests as to what qualities are needed to face current problems in the diocese and the Apostolic Nuncia (Vatican Ambassador to the US) usually consults the archbishop about who might be a good choice for the new appointment.

    Otherwise, Catholic Metropolitans don’t have extra authority. In the UK, the Archbishop of Westminster is the Metropolitan and generally the leader of the bishops there, but it’s mostly the prestige of the position, not formal authority. In the US, the Archbishop of Baltimore officially has pride of place, but the Archbishop of New York is more often the one with the most prestige and influence – depending on the person holding the position.

    I’m sure more knowledgable readers will correct me if I’m wrong about this.

  • str

    The word on the icon is “FOREMOST Apostles”.

    And to nitpick: Sure, Paul and Barnabad did not found denominations. Barnabas was among those who founded the church in Antioch but Paul wasn’t (apart from his indirect impact of being part of the persecution that drove Christians to that city). And this didn’t occur in 42 AD but several years earlier – in 42 the pair was almost ready to go on their first missionary journey.

    As for the Metropolitans: both Eastern and Western churches have Metropolitans who presided over their respective province (using Western terms for simplicity here). Archbishop is merely a title

    In the RCC all metropolitans are elevated to Archbishop after presenting themselves to the Pope by receiving the pallium. Others may be given that title too (in the same manner) and keep it for life.

    In the Eastern churches, the title is given out less freely and reserved for the highest-ranking bishops. AFAIK Archbishops are commonly the heads of national churches that don’t hold the title of Patriarch (though several such Archbishops eventually rose to that title in history, e.g. in Russia).

    A Cardinal in the RCC theoretically is a member (bishop, priest or deacon) of the clergy of the Roman city and its vicinity. This link however is largely titular nowadays, as the Cardinal is given to bishops across the globe (apart from the few that work in the curia) – but apart from making someone an elector of the next Pope the title is in tiself purely honorific.

  • Peter

    Ss. Peter and Paul are always celebrated together in the Orthodox Church, as the “foremost” of the Holy Apostles. Despite their differences with each other they held up the Church in unity.

    “O foremost in the ranks of Apostles, and teachers of the world, Peter and Paul: intercede with the Master of all to grant safety to the world, and to our souls the Great Mercy.” –Troparion for Ss. Peter and Paul

    May they intercede together for us and for the Church at this time.

  • http://jkotinek.blogspot.com Jon Kotinek

    I think we may be hearing a whole lot of silence on the issue because this is the example set by our godly bishops. See this interview on Ancient Faith Radio with (my) Bp. BASIL (DOWAMA) as an illustrative example: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/bishop_basil_of_the_antiochian_orthodox_diocese_of_wichita_and_mid-america/

    While I feel certain that it wasn’t the intent of Met. PHILIP
    s decision, the bit of silver lining I see is that perhaps this looser structure would facilitate movement toward a unified American church.

  • A Catechist

    “MattK: That is a strange thing about saying an Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop is like a Roman Catholic Cardinal. A metropolitan in the Orthodox Church is the same rank as a metropolitan in the Roman Catholic Church. Its just that most Roman Catholic metropolitans don’t use the title very much. They just go by archbishop.

    Also it is important to remember that not all cardinals are even bishops. Some are priests.”

    It seems from the article that an Orthodox metropolitan has authority over the bishops within his province. In the Catholic Church, an Archbishop/Metropolitan is a brother bishop to the bishops of his province; he is more of a coordinator than a leader of the province. Cardinals likewise are not in a position of authority over other bishops.

    All cardinals are bishops. If a priest is selected to become a cardinal, he must first be ordained to the episcopate. No layman can be a cardinal; cardinals are selected only from among the presbyterate. Source: Code of Canon Law 351 sec. 1.

  • A Catechist

    Matt #18 – I think the correct term would be Church, not denomination.

  • str

    A catechist,

    It is true that Cardinals as such hold no authority over others whatsoever (if they do it is because of some office they hold).

    But Metropolitans do hold authority, though it is greater in the Eastern Churches.

    “All cardinals are bishops.”

    Correct at the present time.

    “If a priest is selected to become a cardinal, he must first be ordained to the episcopate.”

    No, that’s not true. Practically all cardinals are ordained as bishops nowadays (but there have been some notable exceptions in Cardinals Lubac and Scheffzyk) but is not a prerequesite of being a Cardinal.

    Traditionally, Cardinal priests and Cardinal deacons were just that – priests and deacons.

    “No layman can be a cardinal; cardinals are selected only from among the presbyterate.”

    Also not true. Though an anomaly there have been Cardinals that were laymen at the time. And as I said, Cardinal deacons tradionally were deacons.

    “Matt #18 – I think the correct term would be Church, not denomination.”

    The article doesn’t speak about the Church of Antioch but about this current denomination. Hence, “denomination” is correct – what isn’t correct is that it was founded by Paul and Barnabas in 42 AD.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The issue of what to do under AP style with “church,” “Church” and “denomination” is a thorny one.

    Certainly, this ancient throne in Orthodoxy is a “Church” if there ever was one. The question of what word to use in a journalistic context is tough.

  • Julia

    What exactly does “denomination” mean?

    I’ve always thought it was a Protestant term to describe the various groups in the what Protestants consider the one invisible Christian Church – excluding those groups they don’t consider “Christian”.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JULIA:

    It is a Protestant term. No doubt about that.

    However, there’s the problem. Using Church with a Big C then becomes a kind of historic value judgment. AP Style folks don’t like to do that.

  • str

    “The issue of what to do under AP style with “church,” “Church” and “denomination” is a thorny one.”

    Actually no! Either of the two words can be used (I won’t neddke with capitalisation inanities) – the problem is not the word but the claim that the denomination/church that exists today was as such founded by Paul and Barnabas.

    The solution is to say that the denomination/church has roots as early as … or that Christianity came to Antioch in … And if need be one can add “in the times of Paul and Barnabas”, though the two hardly founded the church of Antioch.

  • A Catechist

    str:

    My source is the Code of Canon Law, specifically, canon 351 sec. 1, as I stated. Do you have a source for your contentions? Because to the best of my knowledge and according to canon law, you’re incorrect.

  • str

    A Catechist,

    you should not merely look into the very recent current code but also into history.

    Yes, currently all cardinals are bishops by ordination, either by being bishops before or by being ordained in the process of their becoming cardinals (and note the two exceptions I mentioned, one before, one after the promulgation of the current code, both made by the same pope that promulgated the current code (though the practice of making all cardinals bishops stems back to Paul VI who wanted to internationalise the college).

    You see current positive canon law is one thing, the underlying basis of a sort of natural law in church matters something else. Some things get buried under such positive regulations for a while but make a return, like the role of the bishop, diminished in Trent and I Vaticanum was restated in II Vaticanum. And Cardinal Priests are not called that way for no reason.

    So, please don’t tell me I am incorrect when you have neither addressed the things I’ve written nor seem to be aware of it. Simply looking things up in a book is not enough – especially when it comes to comparisons with the Eastern Churches.

  • Katherine

    A catechist,

    str is correct, historically cardinal priests and deacons were priests and deacons. There are many examples one could cite, right down through the 19th century. Cardinal Consalvi, who was secretary of state to Pius VII in the early 19th century, was a deacon. (The rare so-called ‘lay cardinals’ were actually in minor orders.)

    The requirement that a cardinal already be a priest goes back to the old Code of Canon Law (1917). The requirement for cardinals generally to be ordained bishops is even more recent, from the time of John XXIII, and later incorporated into the new Code. (The present Code of Canon Law dates from the 1980s.)

    The Holy Father can make exceptions to canon 351.1′s requirement that a new cardinal be ordained a bishop. The exceptions are usually for elderly priest theologians, like Cardinals Dulles, deLubac, and VanHoye (to give examples that are matters of living memory as well as historical record).

    In general, reporters who are at all knowledgeable and careful do tend to pick up on the special status of these non-bishop cardinals. Since they are NOT taking up episcopal or curial offices, reporters end up needing to explain how their appointment is purely an honor from the Pope, usually a recognition of long and distinguished scholarly service.

  • Julia

    Dulles is the perfect example of an exception to the rule.
    There has been a small trend to honor such theologians at the end of their lives. I think Newman in England was also so honored at the end of his life.

  • str

    Thanks, Katherine.

    Julia, Dulles may be an exception to the rule but he is hardly the only one. Furthermore, as explained above the rule is fairly recent and not actually in agreement with what the words actually say.

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  • VickiW

    Oh please, you do not want the MSM covering this. They are clueless about authentic religion.

  • Michele

    Julia, while ethnic ties may die hard, I think for Westerners to think that “dropping the ethnic ties was eliminating the jurisdictional squabbles the Orthodox in the East had/have with Catholics with ties to Rome in their midst” is to not fully understand the breadth of those “squabbles.”

    On the matter of this having “the flavor of how the Episcopal Church might operate separately from the Anglicans in England. Or how Anglican converts to Catholicism want to keep their own English-style customs and liturgy,” I think it’s important to note what Terry Mattingly said above on this point and also to remember that the Anglican and Episcopal churches are Protestant.

    Heaven help us if what has happened to those churches happens in Antioch.


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