Glory be to Jesus Christ! I must confess that I really know little about the AOC or Metropolitan Philip as I have never lived in a community with an independent Arab Orthodox community. The local Arab Orthodox have been part of one of our community's Hellenic Orthodox Churches apparently since its founding. The local Melkite Catholics were long since absorbed into the Roman churches or for many, the Episcopal church. (Interestintly enough, many Melkites were baptized at my church long ago when it was still Eastern Catholic.)
My son and his wife were affiliated with an Antiochian parish in Albany, NY when they lived there where they found the pastor and the small congregation welcoming, kind and honored that they choose to worship there with them.
I am writing in the hope that many of you from the AOC who despair and are in pain, regardless of whose 'side' you take can find some solace in my words.
As many of you know, my father was an ACROD priest for over sixty five years, literally spanning its history from his Seminary days through the present days. The posts that I read about the current troubles within the Antiochian Church remind me far too much of the struggles my father and ACROD endured in its formative years. Returning to Orthodoxy out of a bitter split within the Greek Catholic Church, the founders of ACROD were determined not to repeat the types of jurisdiction shopping, division and ultimately schism that seemed to plague the Orthodox churches of our family members who came into the faith in earlier decades.
Despite their good intentions, the early years were both promising and bitter. Christ the Saviour Seminary thrived after a few years producing several generations of pastors and at least six Orthodox Bishops. New parishes were established, both from the ruins of fractured Greek Catholic communities and in the suburbs and the means to preserve the Rusyn traditions that were beloved to its people began to develop. Today we are not ethno-centered but for the most part not 'anti-ethnic', we are predominately English in our liturgical practices. Over time, most, if not all of of the Latinizations that crept into our practices during the centuries of the Unia have fallen to the side as we have fully embraced Orthodoxy.
Despite all, there were factions of parishes, jealous and disloyal priests and others who seemed always to be discontented. A large number of parishes under their pastors' direction chose to leave and join the Metropolia in the years following World War 2. Even the cathedral parish of the late Metropolitan Orestes in Connecticut was rendered asunder and split into three parts just years after it was constructed. The larger part joined the Metropolia, only to return after thirty some years over the calendar issue; the second was highly congregationalist in nature and left upon the selection of a successor Bishop to the Metropolitan only to join the UOC and return to ACROD after forty some years and the third, tiny church remained constant throughout. (I should note that the original church was retained by the Greek Catholics after years of bitter litigation and is located in the suburbs today.)
Indeed the very survival of the diocese was at risk as Metropolitan Orestes aged and the issue of succession was debated and played out for several years. During that time many parishes and priests were even approached by the Greek Catholics with 'promises' that they could return to the Eastern Catholic church without sacrificing married priests, congregational control etc... In other words, a new and 'improved' Unia was informally offered. Suffice it to say, no one took that bait!
As the years went by, a number of parishes and priests came and went, but the core remained loyal and committed to the future. In the mid-1960's a convert from Eastern Catholicism was elected Bishop. A forceful personality with whom many did not mesh well with, but a talented leader none the less, the late Bishop John did much to win the confidence of his priests and parishes and went on to found and build Camp Nazareth in Mercer, PA at a time when much larger jurisdictions were just starting to consider such ministries.
When Bishop John died suddenly in the prime of life, another crisis erupted. A tightly contested Sobor/Council was held and a new Bishop was chosen. That was Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos who has been our bishop these past twenty six years. Not all were pleased with his election, but his quiet, pastoral style of leadership allowed the Camp to flourish, a beautiful new Chancery building to be constructed adjacent to the Cathedral and a wooden-style Church of SS. Cyril and Methodius to be built at the Camp. Many missions have been established in the mid-Atlantic region under his protection.
His efforts to help heal the bitter divide within the Rusyn community both here and in Slovakia has won him respect from both Orthodox and Eastern Catholics alike.
Still, not all were, or are, happy. (The same can often be said for priests and their relationships with their congregations. The impact of Protestant based congregationalism continues to haunt most of us American Orthodox through the present times and sometimes drive the decisions of priests and bishops as well as the laity.)
As I grew older, I realized that my father was not always pleased with the directions taken by his superiors and even his hierarchs. Yet in spite of that, those who knew him will confirm that he had the respect and admiration of all in the diocese. He never went 'public' with his issues, but quietly, and without rancor, worked from within for change
Father Elias' words saddened me as they reminded me of much of what I have experienced at various times in my life as it applies to the Church. Yet, I could not help but think of my father's words. He firmly believed that God's will ultimately would prevail and his ultimate loyalty was to the Church - a concept that went beyond any particular congregation or particular Dean or even any particular Bishop.
Many times that loyalty was tested over the years, but as he would remind me, all of us were tested - from the Lord in the desert for forty days to the apostles, including Peter during the passion. People come and people go, against all of that the Church will endure. I realize that the conscience of some may lead them down another path and that they must do what their conscience drives them to do.
In closing, I guess that I just wanted to let those suffering through this painful period, regardless of their allegience, know that there really is nothing new under this sun and that better days do indeed lie ahead.
Let us keep our Antiochian brothers and sisters, their bishops, monastics, clergy and laity alike in our prayers.