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Pastoral Care

Author: Archimandrite Touma Bitar
July 22, 2009
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Pastoral Care and the Crisis of Power

Excerpts from a paper found on the website ocl.org dated July 16, 2009.

Introduction

In the See of Antioch, at the current time, there is a confrontation, a crisis of opinion, and painful consequences may follow. Are the bishops, within an eparchy that is headed by a patriarch or a metropolitan as an ecclesial administrative unit, bishops over a territory and a faithful people, or are they auxiliary bishops?

The traditional position, within the Orthodox ecclesiological framework, makes the bishops within a single eparchy brothers and the primate of the eparchy first of all, the first among equals and secondarily, the head of a local council, governed by principles and canons and made up of the bishops of that eparchy. This assumes that each of them oversees a territory and a people.

In principle, bishops are not titular or auxiliaries, dependent upon the metropolitan or the patriarch.  But, historical events came about in past eras that divided some bishops from their territories and their flocks… It was hoped that exiled or refugee bishops would return to their regions.  However … situations worsened and such bishops found themselves permanently exiled from their flocks… With the passing of time, this inaugurated the custom of consecrating titular bishops … who quickly became helpers or auxiliaries to some of the actual primates of the eparchies, dependent on the patriarch. This gave birth to an unintended custom, without any ecclesiological base…

How to get out of this dilemma?

The answer is not easy. However, if we were to put forward the reasons for this crisis, we do not find it to be simply ecclesiological or canonical in nature, but also historical, temperamental, and psychological… It is not easy for those who have become accustomed to sole power in their eparchies and to dealing with titular bishops almost like deacons, to have partners in power… Let us say it frankly: the problem is the problem of a power struggle!  Few are prepared to let go of their prerogatives!..

The question of the diaspora, especially North America, is today, in our opinion, the foundation of the current problem and what brought to light the intellectual divide which had long remained hidden.  The status of any of the Orthodox churches, the See of Antioch included, is not sound there, either from an ecclesiological or a canonical standpoint.  By what right do we hold on to the dependence of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America on us? That eparchy is no longer at the stage of just being sent out. We helped it during its beginnings, but now it is mature, and more mature than us here in its theology and its learning and its organization.  By what right, then, is it assumed that it should be under our care?…  Generations and generations have grown up there for years and the people in those lands have become American.  Is it because there is a sentimental heritage which ties us to them and them to us, or because there is something like nationalist feelings which hold us to them and them to us? … This has no relation in any case to ecclesiological thought nor to the ancient ecclesiological practice which has come down to us from the Apostles and saints. Thus the practical theology which we use in this matter is faulty and unacceptable if we were to be fair and correct.

And what is to be said about the canonical disorders that we’re up to our ears in over there?

The situation of all the Orthodox eparchies dependent on mother churches in North America is uncanonical. There is one Orthodox church in those lands whose situation is sound and canonical: the American Orthodox Church (OCA).  This alone is independent and autocephalous and this is de-facto recognized by the other Orthodox eparchies.  Its recognition, formal or implicit, by the eparchies depending on mother churches is clear and frank confirmation that the status of these eparchies is uncanonical and unsound.  If these eparchies and mother churches on which they depend were to be logical with themselves and consistent with Orthodox ecclesiological and canonical thought, in the true sense of the word, then they would belong to the OCA or would at least enter into an understanding with it and the thorny crisis of the Orthodox presence there, theologically and canonically, would end. The simplest position and the most sound is for us to leave the Orthodox in North America to themselves and to encourage them to arrange their affairs themselves! We and the other mother churches are the ones who are complicating their affairs!

Naturally, there are those who claim that the problem of the diaspora is, to a great extent, a problem of nationalist sentiment… But if nationalistic notions eclipse concern of the Church, then this is a dangerous event and a serious deviation because we are no longer a church possessing one faith, but rather a group of tribes. The truth is that the mother churches hold on to their eparchies in North America because they do not want to be stripped of their prerogatives and their benefits and their power there. The issue of money plays an important role in this matter and likewise does political and ecclesial influence. None of this has any connection to the Church in the exact meaning of the word, not to her theology, nor to her canons, nor to pastoral care for her people, nor to her spirituality.

I will return to the subject of the bishops and I will say that the hidden cause behind the debate going on between those who hold to the concept of titular, helper bishops and the concept of local bishops over a people and a territory is, in reality, related to the passions. There is struggle for power, in the worldly sense, going on, and the arguments put forth call for each to claim his own power and leadership…  For this reason it is to be hoped that the interaction of the metropolitan with the bishops within a single eparchy, wherever they may be and especially right now in North America, will be first of all with goodness, love, humility of heart, and magnanimity. The issue of the episcopate, which has long been outside the genuine ecclesiology, will not be solved by emptying it of its pastoral content and enshrining its titularity, and not by, in response, idolatrously harping on the application of cannons but rather by the metropolitan embracing the bishops as brothers, and the bishops the metropolitan… The way of dividing, subjugating with decisions from on high, and debasing is of no avail. It will only alienate and create factions and lead to schism!… Orthodox America will not be treated in the ruinous way we are accustomed to in our lands here! If we do not leave our selfishness and our pride and build each other up with kindness and generosity and put the good of the Church and its unity and theological principles ahead of any personal consideration, whatever it may be, then worse is to come!

Archimandrite Touma Bitar

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite Douma Sunday July 12, 2009

3 Comments to “Pastoral Care”


  1. Sub-Deacon George Saikali Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘Arhimandrite Toums’s Reflection’:

    Glory to God!

    Thank you so much Fr. Touma.
    May God Bless You!

    Sub-Deacon George Saikali
    St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral - Ottawa, Can.


  2. Fr John Chagnon Says:

    as posted on ocanews.org, ‘Share your comments’ section regarding ‘Arhimandrite Toums’s Reflection’:

    Amazing. Wonderful. Prophetic. Rain on a dry, thirsty, land.

    Fr John Chagnon
    St. Elias Orthodox Church - LaCrosse, WI


  3. FR Bill Says:

    Beloved Administrator,…As a simple priest of only six and a half years I am not qualified to offer suggestions to our dilemma, but as astudent of church history for many years, I will ask questions as an informed layman.First we must jump up and take notice to the recent E Mail, sent by our beloved VATRA the Antiochian monastic speaks to the current crisis.Understanding this could reflect upon our JDC commission. Today in the USA we are up in fury over the health care and spending.Why are we??? Because they will not keep us informed, what,s in the PLAN???What is this going to cost us. If we are kept in the dark on this,we face not a good end.All the Congress and delegat,s both clergy and lay should be kept up to speed on at least which way we are leaning.Are we to follow blindly or will we be at least asked our opinion??Read that E Mail from a well respected monastic,are we now just at the mercy of a few. Respectfully folks it’s about control, the decision is in the hands of a few or are we as the Church going to have a say in all this??? How is the Epis. Council to decide as to who knows and who do not?? WE love our Bishops we would die to protect our VATRA, PLEASE open the door a CRACK,so we can at least pray for God’s good outcome FR Bill


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