Summary of the Special Meeting of the Leadership Team of St. Vladimir Seminary and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
September 15th, 2009
Englewood, New Jersey
On Tuesday September 15th, 2009, a meeting was held in Englewood, New Jersey between the leadership team of St. Vladimir Seminary and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The purpose of the meeting was to review the recent events that have transpired, especially with regard to the redirection of two seminarians (one from St. Tikhon and one from St. Vladimir) to Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, MA
The meeting was attended by the following:
His Eminence Metropolitan Philip
His Grace Bishop Antoun
Very Rev. Joseph Allen
Very Rev. Paul Tarazi
Very Rev. Elias Bitar
Very Rev. Thomas Zain
Very Rev. John Behr
Very Rev. Chad Hatfield
Mrs. Anne Glynn Mackoul
Rev. George Kevorkian – Secretary
His Eminence Metropolitan Philip led the participants in opening prayers.
His Eminence welcomed everyone to the meeting and made introductions. He reviewed the history of the relationship between St. Vladimir Seminary and the Antiochian Archdiocese, with a focus on the very close and positive working relationship that has been built.
His Eminence reviewed the sequence of events surrounding the recent redirection of two students (one from St. Vladimir, and one St. Tikhon) to Holy Cross.
He had asked Bishop Antoun and Fr. Thomas Zain in early August about the numbers of Antiochian students at each seminary. The answer was 10 at St. Vladimir, 9 at St. Tikhon, and 4 at Holy Cross. His Eminence directed that the two incoming students be redirected to Holy Cross in order to achieve a better balance across the three seminaries. He also stressed the immersion in Byzantine chant that the students receive at Holy Cross as a factor. One of the students was Stephen Matthewes-Green who was originally assigned to St. Vladimir. His Eminence read the email from his parents Fr. Gregory Matthewes-Green, and Khourieh Frederica regarding their feelings about the movement of their son to Holy Cross. To summarize, they have embraced the decision, and they stand firmly against any negative comments that are being made on the internet about His Eminence.
His Eminence turned to the letter of August 22nd, 2009 from Mrs. Anne Mackoul, Fr. John Behr, and Fr. Chad Hatfield. He stated that we are not trying to sever the legacy at all. The relationship which has existed for more than 60 years will continue.
Fr. John Behr indicated that there was never an intention to protest the decision to move the students, but rather to ask what the Seminary could do in order to address any core issues that might have contributed to the change. His Eminence indicated that the most important thing would be to train the students to be real pastors, and not to gossip and criticize the Metropolitan and the bishops. The primary goal of attending the seminary is to learn how to pray and to preach, but not to live in an ivory tower. He does not want the graduates to behave like “mini” theologians.
His Eminence expects the OCA to put a stop to the attacks against him from Mark Stokoe on his website, especially in light of the fact that Mark Stokoe is a member of the Metropolitan Council of the OCA. He has made this request already and nothing has been done about it. He made it clear that if a member of the Antiochian Board of Trustees behaved in this way toward Metropolitan Jonah, His Eminence would remove that member immediately. He made it clear that the financial situation in the Antiochian Archdiocese is not similar to the financial situation that existed in the OCA. His Eminence said that this Archdiocese reports its income and expenditures in a financial report each year. The suggestion to conduct an audit was made at the convention, and this suggestion will be raised with the Board of Trustees. Someone needs to stop Mark Stokoe for the sake of the people of the Antiochian Archdiocese and other Orthodox jurisdictions who are greatly upset.
Fr. John Behr indicated that the Seminary is working on the issue of pastoral formation, and this work is ongoing, including applied theology and the need to refrain from criticizing the bishop. He reviewed some of the actions that are being taken, including changes to the curriculum that direct the Antiochian students receive training in Byzantine chant for all 3 years. They have increased the number of Antiochian services in the chapel. They are looking to the possibility of hiring a full-time faculty member to focus on these issues.
Mrs. Anne Mackoul indicated that they have been inviting bishops to spend more time on campus as a way of building a stronger relationship between the students and the hierarchs. His Eminence said that there may be some contribution from the fact that some of the students are coming from backgrounds which do not have a hierarchical structure, and they may not understand the concept. Fr. Chad Hatfield indicated that they will address the issue of social networking on the web at the upcoming student meeting for the first time.
Fr. John Behr said that they will be opening their own discussion group on the seminary website over the next few weeks pertaining to the postings of papers and other articles. They will be making a very strong statement about what behavior is allowed in terms of proper website etiquette.
His Eminence asked the seminary leadership to convey to Metropolitan Jonah our love for him and our brethren in the OCA, and also to convey how we feel about the Mark Stokoe situation. His Eminence made it very clear that he expects the OCA leadership and the seminary leadership to condemn the actions of Mark Stokoe, and to make it very clear that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, especially from a member of the Metropolitan Council of the OCA. The current situation with Mark Stokoe cannot contribute to any unity, but can only detract from the good relationship that we enjoy. We want to continue to build upon this very good relationship. His Eminence indicated that the Antiochian Archdiocese has the wherewithal to start a seminary, but why should we duplicate what already exists.
Finally, His Eminence spoke regarding his position as Vice Chairman of the St. Vladimir Board of Trustees. He said that he had expressed, during the days of Fr. John Meyendorff, his desire to be relieved of this position, because he could no longer fulfill the requirements of the position, but he was asked to remain as Vice-Chairman. His Eminence has made the same request to be relieved of his office over the years, but on each occasion he was urged to stay, despite the fact that he could not fully participate as a board member. Based on this reality, the recent criticism that has been raised regarding the role of Metropolitan Philip on the St. Vladimir Board is unfounded.
His Eminence expressed his thanks to the meeting participants for their attendance at this meeting, and indicated that we should meet periodically. He expressed his best wishes that the seminary will have a most successful academic year.
Fr. John Behr led the closing prayer.