Metropolitan Joseph (L) and Patriarch John of Antioch (R)
As Metropolitan Al-Zehlaoui announced in his letter of yesterday, he flies to Lebanon today for a meeting with Patriarch John of Antioch on Tuesday, September 6. The entire Orthodox world is placing its trust in the Patriarch’s pledge of August 28 to act swiftly, decisively, and transparently in the matter of the Metropolitan Joseph Scandal. (See the Metropolitan Joseph: The Scandal section in our Archives 2020-22 linked at the top of this page.) It was concerning to see the Metropolitan publish a pastoral message to the Antiochian Archdiocese as if nothing was amiss on September 2, a full five days after the Patriarch’s reassurances, when he should have been suspended from his duties immediately, pending the outcome of a legitimate investigation. Credible allegations of long-term affairs with married women under his spiritual care (we now have the names of two with whom Al-Zehlaoui co-owns properties; who will be surprised if more surface?), and the consequent destruction of marriages and families, would have gotten any lesser cleric suspended on the spot. Why the delay with Al-Zehlaoui?
Predictably, Al-Zehlaoui’s letter elicited incredulous guffaws from clergy and laity around the Archdiocese and the world. Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers tell us that it reads as the desperate attempt of a man flailing about for someone, anyone, to believe him. Our readers wish to inform him that He Himself is not the Archdiocese and that no one is attacking the Archdiocese. No one wishes the Archdiocese harm. Those demanding an investigation and the full weight of canonical discipline, if the allegations against Al-Zehlaoui prove to be true, act precisely out of love for the Archdiocese and the Church. The only harm to the Archdiocese and attack on its spiritual and moral integrity come from the Metropolitan himself. This is what’s “sorrowful,” to use his own word. It is precisely in calling the Metropolitan to account that the faithful of the Archdiocese, clergy and laity side by side, “stand in unity, strength and to be unwavering in our devotion to God and His holy church.”
Orthodoxy in Dialogue is most certainly not attacking the Archdiocese or the person of its primate. We simply wish to see the truth prevail in all things. Our readers will recall that we supported Al-Zehlaoui’s leadership (here, here, and here) in the recent controversy with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
Our readers also note that Al-Zehlaoui requests prayers for his accusers only after he was criticized for not doing so initially.
From Englewood we hear that Fawaz El Khoury, vice-chairman of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees (first introduced to our readers here), failed to convince the Board to save face for Al-Zehlaoui by offering him a “retirement” package. This is as it should be. The only proper canonical response to serious wrongdoing on the part of a bishop is deposal from holy orders and a life of repentance and obedience as a simple monk in a monastery.
We are also told that the frequent leaks from Englewood to Orthodoxy in Dialogue have created a maelstrom of distrust. Some members of the administration are said to be communicating with each other with burner phones. All of this is on Metropolitan Joseph.
Three items from the Archdiocesan website have become particularly painful to read in light of current events. The first comes from Al-Zehlaoui’s biography:
With [Metropolitan Joseph’s] own spiritual, ascetical, and intellectual formation in his life in Christ, His Eminence has…deepened the spiritual and educational experience of both clergy and laity…. His Eminence has labored intensely to deepen the spiritual life of his clergy by encouraging frequent confession, personal prayer, continual education, and a heightened sense of the fullness of our Orthodox Christian tradition of interior and ascetical transfiguration in Christ.
The second passage comes from his Archiepiscopal Directive On So-called “Same-Sex Marriage”:
The holy Church offers to her spiritual children the tender and sweet milk of the Gospel and the nourishing and substantive meat of spiritual guidance, encouragement, discipline, and reproof, so that Her children may flourish “in the fatherly adoption.” Ours is a Christian culture with all of the components of instruction and guidance, so that no one may depart from the ecclesiastical garden of delights without nourishment suitable for him.
The third is simply the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Care: Marriages & Families class.
A NOTE OF REASSURANCE: Some of our readers have asked whether, in the event the allegations against Al-Zehlaoui prove to be true, his Eucharists, baptisms, chrismations, and ordinations are rendered invalid and in need of repeating. The answer is a resounding no. The action of divine grace in and through the Holy Mysteries never depends on the personal worthiness or unworthiness of the minister. Put your minds at rest on this count.
With this being said, for many whose conviction of the truth of the Orthodox Church and Faith was growing weak, the present scandal has driven them away.
We end by reiterating our appeal to Patriarch John to deal with this matter in accordance with the canons, transparently, and without partiality for the prominent position of the accused. May the Lord, through the prayers of His Most-Pure Mother and of all the saints, guide and strengthen you and the Holy Synod during the difficult days ahead. The Church is counting on you.