In the 48+ hours since Orthodoxy in Dialogue published Antiochian Archdiocese Has New Metropolitan* to replace Joseph Al-Zehlaoui, voices of dissatisfaction with the election of Metropolitan Saba (Esper) by the Holy Synod of Antioch have echoed around the Archdiocese. In the following brief testimony, a senior priest offers his perspective on the matter. He chooses to write anonymously in order not to be perceived as trying to gain favour with the new Metropolitan.
Metropolitan Saba (Esper)
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
I have heard a few complaints about the election of Metropolitan Saba, primarily because he is a “foreign” bishop, not born or having spent much time in the United States. While Metropolitan Saba is indeed foreign, he was an outstanding candidate, I believe, for numerous reasons.
Despite whatever limitations our new Metropolitan may have (I say this only because I don’t know him well, and we all have limitations), he is clearly an authentic Christian. I know this because of how he served his poor and persecuted flock for decades. He was the first bishop in ages to actually reside in/live with the people of his diocese. He built up that diocese (until the persecutions became so severe that many had to flee), and was trusted by the people because of his way of life. He was a true pastor in a Church (the Orthodox Church at large) that has very few of these at the episcopal level.
Many of us American-born (and many “converts”) actually prefer a closer connection to Antioch as long as we are actually Antiochian (until there is an actual united American Church). Why? Because our previous Metropolitans ran their own show. They were essentially accountable to no one. Metropolitan Saba will likely be accountable to the Synod, while also being strong enough to do what he thinks is best for the American archdiocese.
Nothing from Antioch ever reached us Americans except what the previous Metropolitans chose to share with us, usually just pleas for financial help. This is unfortunate, as the Synod has done some good things. For example, they have a comprehensive document about family life. This has never been distributed or promoted to our Archdiocese, to my knowledge. In it, the Synod says that non-abortifacient birth control methods are acceptable to limit family size, although not to simply avoid having children altogether. In America, we have some loud voices teaching against the Synod’s unanimous decisions, and it needs to stop as it’s severely hurting the Church.
In short, what we need in a Metropolitan is a true pastor. An authentic pastor will quickly learn how to minister to his flock, regardless of any hurdles. I believe Metropolitan Saba has shown himself to be just that. The chasm between him and the former Metropolitan Joseph could not be wider. They have zero similarities besides mere externals (being bishops from the Middle East). I have never heard a bad word or scandal about Metropolitan Saba. Given his honorable service in his previous diocese, he should be given the overwhelming benefit of the doubt. We should welcome him and support him unless/until he proves he is unworthy. His truly Christian service the past two and a half decades has earned him that.