The move brings a bitter end to a long-simmering dispute involving Bishop Mark Maymon, installed as bishop of Toledo and the Midwest Diocese in August, 2005, and Metropolitan Philip Saliba, who has led the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America since 1966.
The issues debated for nearly two years have centered on the status of bishops and financial accountability in the self-ruled archdiocese, which claims to have 450,000 members in 265 churches and missions in the United States and Canada. There are two Antiochian Orthodox parishes in the Toledo area - St. George Orthodox Cathedral on Woodley Road, where Bishop Mark is based, and St. Elias in Sylvania.
Metropolitan Philip, 80, sent an "urgent update" Wednesday to all clergy in the archdiocese, to be read from the pulpit and published in church bulletins, stating that because of "the deteriorating situation" in the Midwest diocese, Bishop Mark was to have been transferred to the Diocese of Eagle River and the Northwest. That sprawling diocese covers Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and two Canadian provinces; its cathedral is 20 miles outside of Anchorage.
The Metropolitan's letter, which provided no explanation why the diocese was "deteriorating," said Bishop Mark declined the transfer.
"Citing health reasons, Bishop Mark said he could not live in that part of the country and subsequently requested to be released to the Orthodox Church in Amer-ica. The [Antiochian archdiocese] synod agreed to his request and, at present, he is working out the details of his release" with the OCA's leader, Metropolitan Jonah.
Neither Bishop Mark nor Metropolitan Philip returned calls from The Blade seeking comment.
The decision to transfer Bishop Mark comes two months after the global church's ruling body, the Holy Synod of Antioch, announced that all bishops in the North American Archdiocese were "auxiliary bishops under the direction of the Metropolitan, who has the full jurisdiction over the archdiocese."
The statement further said that "the Metropolitan possesses the right and 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 archdiocese synod."
The new interpretation of the bishops' status and the Metropolitan's authority to transfer them are major changes in the policies of the archdiocese, where bishops have often been described as "wedded to their diocese."
Last year, Bishop Mark refused to sign a statement affirming that archdiocesan bishops were auxiliary bishops.
He told The Blade at the time that the archdiocese cannot be self-ruled without a synod, and there is no legitimate synod if auxiliary bishops must be "in complete obedience to the Metropolitan."
On Oct. 23, at a meeting of the Local Synod of the Antiochian Archdiocese - a body consisting of Metropolitan Philip and his now-auxiliary bishops - the Metropolitan released 18 policy changes and directives for implementing the changes, with a cover letter from the Archdiocesan Department of Legal Affairs giving its approval.
Those directives included "unequivocal obedience" to the new rules; requiring all formal communications and all fund-raising activities to go through the archdiocese's Englewood, N.J., headquarters, and the dismantling of the bishops' individual Web sites.
In an Oct. 10 interview with Ancient Faith Radio, Metropolitan Philip indicated that he would transfer a bishop only "for the well-being of this archdiocese" and "not out of vindictiveness, God forbid."
One concern he cited was declining attendance by church laity at annual conferences, indirectly referring to the Midwest diocese.
He also expressed displeasure at an order from Bishop Mark for external audits at all parishes in the diocese.
The Metropolitan, who canceled those audits, told the radio station that Bishop Mark "changed the financial law of the diocese … without informing me."
He also blamed Bishop Mark for not keeping a close enough watch on church funds after an embezzlement at Toledo's St. George Orthodox Cathedral.
A police report was filed in March charging the cathedral's treasurer, Charles Cassis of Toledo, with embezzling more than $145,000 over a period of time.
Efforts to reach a monetary settlement with Mr. Cassis have failed and a meeting was to have been held Sunday at the cathedral to update parishioners on the status of the case.
Metropolitan Philip also told the radio station that the North American archdiocese is undergoing an internal rather than external audit, to save the church "millions of dollars" in audit costs.
He said he gave the audit committee freedom to audit "everything in this archdiocese except one thing - the money which I have accumulated from my stipend and from gifts that general people gave me.
"I don't have hundreds of millions of dollars; I have a few million dollars, OK?" the Metropolitan said, funds he plans to bequeath to the archdiocese.
Bishop Thomas Joseph has been appointed to oversee the Midwest diocese until a new bishop is elected, "likely next summer," the Metropolitan said.
Bishop Mark will remain on the archdiocesan payroll and live in the Toledo chancery "as our guest" until the end of 2010, Metropolitan Philip said in his letter.
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