The Arabic original can be found here. The synodal decision in question can be found here.
Update: Fr. Touma himself has corrected my translation. Please disregard previous versions. This corrected version is also available here.
The Holy Synod’s Decision about North America: In Search of the Truth
In the issue for last Sunday, November 14 2010, of the column “Dots on the Letters” I spoke
about a protest of the forgery that occurred to the synodal decision that the Holy Synod of Antioch adopted in its 46th regular session between the 17th and the 20th of August of this year regarding the Orthodox Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. My concern with this topic comes out of the fact that the decision raises a delicate and sensitive question about the future of the American Archdiocese and the whole Antiochian See, with dangerous repercussions, especially after the travails which the Archdiocese went through during the past seven years.
After reading what I posted last week, many people wondered and asked me what was the
forgery I was talking about. What I meant by “forgery” is not malice and deception. There is not
necessarily a bad intention in this matter. Just the opposite, what happened could have happened in good intention. And so my statement is not an accusation against anyone. My focus is on the text, not on the intent. I am concerned about the distortion that took place about its meaning and the change that took place to its form.
As for the distortion of its meaning, this occurred to an essential passage of the text and as
for the change of form, it is with the parallel placement of the two texts of the decision, one of them official in Arabic and the other unofficial in English as well as with the signatures that were
included after both texts together. In the Arabic text of the decision, as it appears on the official website of the Archdiocese of North America, there is the following passage: “The Metropolitan has the right and the authority, in going back to the Archdiocesan Synod, to transfer a bishop dependent on him from one diocese to another when necessary, and for the good of the Archdiocese.” The text of this passage could have been clearer and more precise since there is a certain ambiguity in it. Whatever the case may be, the question that imposes itself here is: from whom does the decision to transfer come? Is it from the metropolitan or from the Archdiocesan Synod? If we say that it comes from the metropolitan, the meaning is that the role of the Archdiocesan Synod is purely consultative. This means that the metropolitan exchanges opinions with the bishops then he adopts the decision that appears to him to be appropriate according to how he sees things, without his necessarily having to adhere to the opinions of the bishops either individually or as a group. However, if we say that the Archdiocesan Synod is the one to take the decision, even if we consider the bishops to be the metropolitan’s auxiliary bishops, then the picture changes completely since the decision is taken from the Archdiocesan Synod and the Metropolitan adheres to it as the head and member of the Archdiocesan Synod. In that way the decision made by the entire Archdiocesan Synod, not by the metropolitan individually. This better expresses the conciliar principle, which we have long vaunted but rarely embodied.
The unofficial English text which corresponds to the same passage of the official synodal
decision in Arabic, as it appears, again and again, on the website of the Archdiocese of North
America, is not a literal translation of the Arabic text of that passage. Rather, it is a distortion, or
one could say an interpretive version. Here is how the English text literally reads [here Fr. Touma gives his literal rendering of the English back into Arabic]: “the Metropolitan possesses the right and the authority to transfer a bishop from one diocese to another, as he deems necessary for the benefit of the Archdiocese, and after deliberating with the Archdiocesan Synod.” The words here are explicit and clear: the decision is the metropolitan’s and the role of the Archdiocesan Synod is purely limited to deliberation of the matter at hand. Here the question arises: Was the intent of the Holy Synod of Antioch what is expressed in explicit terms by the author of the English text of this passage or not? I asked more than one trusted source of the Synod, they said something other than what appears in the English text translated above! One of the leaders of the Synod literally said to me: “The words of the Holy Synod of Antioch mean that the transfer of a bishop in North America from one region to another does not take place after the metropolitan deliberates with his Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the English text on the website of the American Archdiocese. Rather, it comes from a decision of the Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch.”
This is with regard to distortion of meaning. As for the change of the form of the synodal
decision, the form in which this decision appears on the official website of the Archdiocese of
North America puts the official text in Arabic parallel to the unofficial English text as though it
were an approved translation, at least in the Archdiocese of North America, especially since the
signatures that appear on the lower half of the sheet cover the lower portion of both texts together. This creates confusion for the ordinary reader, especially one who does not know Arabic, since it states at the end of the synodal decision that the Holy Synod of Antioch affirms that “the Arabic text is considered the only reference.” Naturally, one wonders here why the Holy Synod does not rely on an official, canonical translation staff?! The signatures give the impression, where they appear, that the Holy Synod relied on both texts together and signed them both, even though the English text of the decision is considered unofficial!
Added to this matter, the signatures as they are on the paper of the synodal decision posted
on the official website of the Archdiocese of North America, in the form in which they appear there, cause one to wonder: did those who sign the decision actually and personally sign it or not? I asked one of the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch if he had signed the decision pertaining to North America and his response was absolutely in the negative, despite the fact that his signature appears under the text of the decision! Another member told me that a well-known priest told him that theyintended to photographically insert the signatures into the decision. He responded to him saying “but you know that this is something uncanonical that is not done!” He replied that it is done!!!
What happened to the first member of the Holy Synod and what the second member confirmed
gives the impression that the signatures were photographically added and that members of the HolySynod did not actually sign the decision! A third member of the Holy Synod who allowed me tospeak with him has exactly this impression. His comment was (and the words are his): “The act ofdepicting the signatures of the Antiochian metropolitans at the bottom of the synodal decision is something very strange because it goes against all principles. A text of the decision that the metropolitans did not sign should not be attributed to them on the American screen!”
With all respect,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan
the Athonite, Douma