Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fr. Touma Explains

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


Makarios said...

Thanks for putting it into English for us, Samn.

Now we just have to figure out what it all means.

Anonymous said...

It means more of the same Byzantine machinations.
We can't believe anything the synod in Damascus tells us.

Even Archmandrite Touma can't keep up with what the synod really signed, didn't sign, or what translation they knew was false or unofficial or perhaps quasi-official.

The confusion is necessary to fool the Americans in the Antiochian Orthodox church here, so they keep giving money.

This situation is really hopeless because it seems the only good guy in this whole story is the Archmandrite who is trying his hardest to get to the bottom of the truth but they are doing their best to keep him lost in the maze of intrigue.


DNY said...

It might be instructive for Samn! to give his own translation of the complete Arabic text Englewood has posted--which I presume was actually adopted by the Holy Synod, though who can tell without more word form the Metropolitans Fr. Touma as been consulting about the actual meeting--for comparison with their English "translation". Were there any other passages that got twisted in the English besides that noted by Fr. Touma?

(And maybe give us some commentary on nuances of Arabic words given tendentious renderings in Englewood's English version.)

Is it only Antioch, or have all the Holy Synods of local churches abandoned the ancient custom of keep detailed Acta (in modern secular terms, minutes) of their deliberations?

Samn! said...


The issue of the translation discrepancy was discussed at some length in various forums back in August.... the differences are minimal- it's mostly this one key passage and the two possibilities admitted by the Arabic version as opposed to the single interpretation possible in English.

The question of acta is a good one. But the ancients seem to have been much more self-confident people in general, and much less enamored of peace through ambiguity....

marie said...
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George said...

I guess I am having a hard time understanding the Synod of Antioch (they'll have to earn the qualifier of Holy) or an Archimandrite are unaware that you cannot have a synod comprised of auxiliaries. An auxiliary cannot sit on a synod nor vote. If Antioch really meant to make them such. An auxiliary has even less authority and freedom than a priest which is why it was forbidden to have chorepiscopii because they serve absoluteky no purpose. Until Antioch gets back to following Orthodox Ecclesiology they face a real danger of rupturing communion.

VSO said...
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Samn! said...


I would go back and read Met. Basil's report about the role of the non-metropolitan bishops in Antioch.... although the term 'auxiliary' and 'chorepiscopus' are used, their actual authority as he envisions it (and as how most of the metropolitans thought they were endorsing) is not particularly unusual within the range of ecclesiologies practiced in the various local Orthodox churches. It certainly granted them more authority and independence than the North American 'diocesan' bishops were given over the previous seven years...

Anonymous said...
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VSO said...
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Anonymous said...

Is the patriarch suffering from senility or dementia?
I am not being facetious. I am asking is the man unfit for his position due to failing mental health?

Why other the other Metropolitans responding to the Archmandrite is such an obtuse way? Why can't they admit if the English translation is official or not?

I understand that Samn believes they want to acheive peace by ambiguity but they need to understand that Americans don't operate like that. If Americans believe they are not being told the truth or are being played, they WILL stop giving money and they WILL
leave the archdiocese. And many already have stopped giving money and are leaving. I hope that message has been delivered. Tell them the party is over and we want Metropolitan Philip to resign or be resigned or the OCA is going to get much bigger very soon.


Anonymous said...

Beloved brother in Christ Samn,
As I read your translation of the article I wrote, I wanted firstly to thank you for your effort and concern.
God Bless you.
However, to conform better to the arabic text of the article, I made a few necessary changes and I would be thankful to you if you post the translation of the whole article as I amended.
For that purpose I ask you to please provide us with your e-mail address on the, so we could send you the amended version.
Thank you,
Fr Touma Bitar

Anonymous said...

The slightly amended version of this article can be found on this link:

James the Thickheaded said...

I hear this somewhat differently. Maybe I am deluded by wishful thinking, but is it not possible that the difficulty of administering a large, distant diocese is calling on a friendly synod to act in a more formal, but perhaps "new" way... invoking rights and responsibilities which it has been reluctant or found unnecessary to exercise in the past? While it is possible this is an aberration, it seems more likely that the light of American eyes dissatisfied not just with the solution but with the process may at least call for clean up of the latter to conform more readily to expectations. jAnd if there has been a monastic revival in Antioch over the last few decades, is it not possible we are witnessing an outgrowth from this revival that would seek to reform the synod as well... so that the Church may become and act more fully as the Church? By this I mean to suggest that perhaps the pressure for reform may come from both sides.

And yet it would be consistent with history for exiles to manifest a continuance with traditions that have changed or outlived their utility in their native land... and so to our problems. But the problem of personalities may make all of this hard to bear as accomodating each other may seem "better" rather than confrontation... and so we drift along into dismay risking nothing personal for the salvation of the church.

I find this hard to accept as the sum total of the story. Like many perhaps, but unlike much of what we see, there must be more.

Anonymous said...

I have almost no experience with Arabs, but have dealt in a small way with two other eastern cultures. To paint with a very broad brush, they see our directness of speech as offensive and our desire for clear definitions as childishly lacking in sophistication.

Samn!, does that apply here?


Samn! said...


In looking for cultural parallels to Arabs, I would look more at Mediterranean cultures than East Asian ones. But I do think that you are right to see the level of tolerance for ambiguity here being due to a culture with very different expectations than our own for how leadership works. There is a much bigger emphasis on (the appearance of) consensus. And the chief way to achieve consensus is ambiguity....

Fed Up said...
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Samn! said...

Okay, so please leave out unsubstantive complaining from the comment box here. If you want a forum for that kind of thing, OCAnews gets a much wider readership anyway....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for keeping the comment box clean. I respect the way you keep this information source about information.
Eric S