EDITORIAL: THE “MORALITY” OF THE ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ARCHDIOCESE?

Metropolitan Joseph (Al-Zehlaoui)

When Father Aaron Warwick wrote to Orthodoxy in Dialogue on January 2 to request that we remove his Pastoring LGBTQ Individuals in the Orthodox Church of December 21 and to publish his Public Statement in its place, I complied to the extent that I was able. I suspected that he must have come under extreme pressure from Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (AOCA) to do so. 

Father Warwick’s statement has now appeared on the website of the AOCA—but only barely.  As of this writing, when you scroll down to Church News on the homepage, the most recent entry is dated January 1, “January 2020 Edition of The Word Now Available.” But if you click on the words Church News themselves, you are taken to a page showing the most recent entry as dated January 3, “Public Statement of Fr. Aaron Warwick: A public statement from Fr. Aaron Warwick retracting an article published on the blog ‘Orthodoxy in Dialogue.'” This is the same statement which we published on January 2 at Father Warwick’s request.

The publication of his statement on the AOCA website, but in an almost completely concealed manner, suggests two things: a). the statement was indeed ordered by Metropolitan Joseph, as I suspected, but b). posted to the archdiocesan website as a mere formality, intended to be seen by virtually no one. (As of this writing, the statement has been read almost 2,500 times in under 48 hours at Orthodoxy in Dialogue—rallying even more support for Father Warwick’s original article. (See, for instance, the letter to the editors of January 4, 2020. [Addendum 1/7/20: See also an archbishop’s I Support Father Aaron Warwick and a deacon’s In Support of Father Aaron Warwick: Open Letter to Metropolitan Joseph.])

If it’s true that Metropolitan Joseph objected to a thoughtful article by one of his priests on how to minister to LGBTQ persons and include them in the liturgical, sacramental, and community life of the Orthodox Church, this raises serious questions about the “morality” of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.

Metropolitan Joseph (Al-Zehlaoui)

Metropolitan (then Bishop) Joseph and I met in Saskatoon some time in 1995 or ’96, at the AOCA (formerly EOC) parish where I occasionally attended Vespers during my separation from my wife and suspension from the priesthood. (A suspended priest is still a priest, and attends church attired as such, in cassock, riassa, and pectoral cross.) The pastor and his wife at that parish were godparents to my youngest son.

After Vespers during an archpastoral visit, Bishop Joseph held a question-and-answer session with the parish members in the church hall. He invited me to answer one of the questions, and expressed his pleasure with my response.

Later he asked Father, “Who was that priest?” (He didn’t know me because I was in the OCA.) Father told him that my wife and I were separated and I was suspended from serving. Bishop Joseph ordered Father never to allow me to set foot in the parish again. “But I’m godfather to his son,” Father said. “I don’t care,” Bishop Joseph replied. “But his wife (with whom I was still on good terms) and children attend here,” Father said. “I don’t care,” Bishop Joseph replied. 

One woman who is a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese reminds us at Orthodoxy in Dialogue of what is arguably Metropolitan Joseph’s most egregious display of his “I don’t care” attitude: his attempt in 2016 to appoint admitted, convicted, jailed, and registered sex offender Demetri Matta Khoury as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West. (See details at SNAP.) She states that the Metropolitan rescinded his decision quietly, but only under pressure from the public outcry, and never apologized for it—especially to the girls and women of his flock.

It matters little that Khoury’s conviction and sex offender registration were set aside: that an Orthodox bishop and monk entertains himself at gambling establishments, and is caught on CCTV groping women—one of whom appears to be his date—and he is perhaps too drunk to remember it, seems to have posed no obstacle to his attempted reinstatement by Metropolitan Joseph as a functioning bishop of the AOCA in good standing. Would the Metropolitan have felt such insouciance if the bishop had been grabbing young men’s crotches instead of the more heterosexually respectable women’s breasts?  

While seeing no problem in restoring a proven sex offender to active episcopal ministry, Metropolitan Joseph gave the following instruction in his Archiepiscopal Directive On So-called “Same-Sex Marriage” of October 29, 2015 (in which he places same-sex marriage in scare quotes, and refers to it as “so-called,” every single time):

No clergyman may stand present in any so-called “same-sex marriage” ceremony, even as a non-participating guest, regardless of location. Nor may he attend a reception for such, since his presence at this event or others like it, will appear to condone or even bless the event.

And then:

Any Orthodox Christian who chooses to undergo marriage solemnities of any kind outside of the Orthodox Church voluntarily separates himself (herself) from communion with the holy Orthodox Church. Therefore, any such person is no longer in good standing with the Church and therefore may not receive holy Communion, nor serve as sponsor at baptism, nor hold any parish church office. This applies in all cases; first of all, of course, to such cases in which such a person enters into a false union of “same-sex marriage,” so-called, as well as a union with a person of the other sex, outside of the Church.

(Boldface in original.)

With regard to the first instruction, does it occur to Metropolitan Joseph that it may be the priest’s or deacon’s own child who is getting married to someone of his or her own gender? Is the Metropolitan really demanding that a clergyman reject his own child and new child-in-law?

Father Joseph Allen

As recently as the November 2019 issue of The Word, Father Joseph Allen appears to be a priest of the AOCA in good standing. Let this stand as Exhibit A in the central premise of Father Warwick’s article: the abject hypocrisy of allowing no economic accommodation for same-sex relationships in the Orthodox Church when every church canon governing opposite-sex relationships—indeed every secular code of professional ethics—is trampled underfoot by an autocratic hierarch for his pet priest.

(To be clear, Father Warwick neither said nor implied anything about what is known to my generation as “the Joe Allen Affair.” This is an inference from his article that I made on my own.)

The facts of this case became known to me in the spring of 1993 or ’94, when Matushka Juliana Schmemann traveled to the backwoods of Roblin, Manitoba to lead a women’s retreat in my tiny mission parish. During the 4-hour drive from the Winnipeg International Airport to Roblin, we stopped at a roadside diner. There I sat in open-mouthed shock as she related the story to me.

Of course, I knew Father Allen. I had taken his required “moral theology” course (the reason for the scare quotes to become obvious in the next paragraph) at some point during my MDiv at St. Vladimir’s between 1986 and 1989.

Briefly, a couple from St. Anthony’s Church in Englewood NJ approached the widowed Father Allen to seek counseling for their troubled marriage. The wife and Father Allen fell in love, and she divorced her husband for him. Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) married them and not only left Father Allen in the priesthood, but in charge of the same parish where this scandal had unraveled. (NB: The canons clearly prohibit the remarriage of widowed or divorced priests, as well the ordination of twice-married men or men with a twice-married wife.)

(Poor Father Thomas and Matushka Anne Hopko, on a long overdue vacation, found themselves on the same flight and in the same hotel as the happy honeymooners.)

Priests who dared to oppose Saliba’s flagrantly uncanonical and professionally unethical actions—(contact any professional association and ask what happens to a physician, therapist, counselor, etc., who pursues a relationship with a client)—were summarily defrocked without due process (also uncanonical), or “released” into an ecclesiastical no man’s land  (also uncanonical; a priest has to be released to another bishop), or took refuge in other Orthodox jurisdictions or even one or another of the Byzantine rite Catholic churches. Many of these unfortunate victims of conscience had entered the AOCA with the mass conversion of so-called Evangelical Orthodox in the mid to late 1980s.

The other AOCA bishops were powerless to take canonical action against Saliba because they were not (and are not now) proper diocesan bishops, but mere auxiliaries who serve, or not, at the Metropolitan’s pleasure. As auxiliaries, they do not form a proper Synod and exercise no canonical oversight of their Primate. (The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, by way of comparison, has “retired” three consecutive Primates whose behaviour was deemed inappropriate in one way or another: Metropolitans Theodosius [Lazor], Herman [Swaiko], and Jonah [Paffhausen].)

According to a telephone conversation between Matushka Schmemann and Metropolitan George (Khodr), the Patriarchate itself was powerless to take canonical action against Saliba because he threatened to cut off the AOCA’s substantial financial support of the Church in Syria. (Saliba was instructed, however, not to bring Allen along on any future visits to the Patriarchate, “because not one of our bishops will serve with him.”)

St. Vladimir’s Seminary had no choice but to terminate Father Allen’s “moral theology” teaching position. Saliba retaliated by taking his money, his seminarians, and his seminary vice-presidency to Holy Cross.

Father Hans Jacobse

I knew Hans back in seminary where he had a reputation as one of St. Vladimir’s greatest limp-wristed lispers. How he went from that to one of our greatest Orthodox homophobes is not hard to figure out.

In 2006, I emailed him naively thinking that we were friends, that I could “come out” to him, and that he might publish on his website a theological exploration of same-sex love that differed from his approach. (I wrote the first draft of A Bed Undefiled nine years before I submitted it in final form as my MA thesis, and was asking for dialogue eleven years before I started Orthodoxy in Dialogue.) Upon learning that I was gay he replied tersely: “I pity your kids.”

Father Jacobse lost his mind over my harmless bit of fluff at Public Orthodoxy, Conjugal Friendship. Like Father Lawrence Farley in the OCA, Father Jacobse manages to find a tangle of penises, mouths, and anuses lurking behind every word I write, no matter how spiritual a vision of same-sex love I strive to articulate.

What was worse were the comments that he allowed to be posted about my person on his website. Let there be no mistake: Father Jacobse vets and approves every comment you see there (I know this for a fact), even though he coyly chides, “Oh, the terrible things you say about Giacomo/Peter. I’ll toss you out of this conversation if you don’t stop.”

Father Jacobse’s website and Meg Lark over at the TradOx Facebook group drove me probably as close to ending my life as I’ve ever come. (I can just hear David Ford at St. Tikhon’s Seminary cooing, as he once did in an email to me, “Oh, you fragile gay people.”)

Father Patrick Reardon

See Father Reardon’s letter to the editors of February 9, 2019 for his mockery of LGBTQ people—a “joke” that he shared with Chris Banescu, Father Josiah Trenham, Father Andrew Damick, Father Hans Jacobse, John Maddex, Bobby Maddex, Father Wilbur Ellsworth, Walid Tony Abdul Karim, Father Andrew Kishler, and Bishop Anthony (Michaels) of the AOCA’s Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest.

Father Josiah Trenham

As Orthodoxy in Dialogue has reported extensively, Father Trenham has established a worldwide reputation as American Orthodoxy ‘s most homophobic and misogynist priest. In this role he has earned the distinction of being profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Staff.

It’s one thing to “teach” and “preach” in such a way that people report escaping from your parish. It’s one thing to believe that sexual and gender diversity in human nature presents its own particular challenges to life in Christ (my own position, actually). It’s one thing to hold mock funeral services for the United States when gay marriage is legalized. It’s one thing to make children, women, and men who read and watch your garbage question their faith, their God, indeed their sanity. 

But it’s quite another thing to travel the world to frighten your audience about the imaginary dangers of having gay people around (with your face all aglow as you describe, in hushed tones, that giant phallus that you can’t seem to unsee making its way down the street in the Pride parade)—and to dog-whistle, to your Christian audience’s applause, your approval of the murder of gay people under Sharia law. 

Hard to believe? See the following:

Father John Guy Winfrey

See our Orthodoxy, Sissies, and the Performance of Masculinity for Father Winfrey’s mockery of insufficiently masculine men and for his love of guns, women, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne.

And it’s Father Warwick who’s forced to issue an apology?? Something is deeply wrong in the AOCA.

But not just the AOCA. I’m still waiting for the OCA to apologize for Father John Parker at St. Tikhon’s Seminary calling for me to be put to death.

Giacomo Sanfilippo, Editor

See the Warwick Files in our Archives 2020 for a catalogue of articles written in response to Father Warwick.
See the Fifty Years after Stonewall and Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives 2017-19 and Archives 2020.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian, PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, founding editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, father of five, grandfather of two, and former priest. He tweets @GiacoSanfilippo.

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