The OCA Scandal and the AAC

My notes that I took to the OCA Indianapolis Townhall meeting were published on  And I wrote a blog on my immediate reaction to the Townhall meeting.  I would like to expand a little on the notes I took to read at the meeting.

1]   Fr. Paul Tarazi comments on John 12:42-43 (“Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” )

Tarazi wrote, “They value their own self-interest more than the truth.”

For my eyes, this seems to be exactly how our metropolitan and the chancery staff reacted to when Dn. Wheeler made is allegations public.   The scramble to hire Proskauer-Rose and the reluctance to release any details or comments on what happened,  makes me think it is in the self-interest of those who were involved to assure that the facts of the scandal not be made public.

But in John 12:42-43, their self-interest is expressed in terms of fear – they weren’t willing to speak the truth for fear of how others would judge them, and fear that they would be kicked out if the truth were known.  They are far more concerned with how others judge them (“the praise of men”) than they are about how God will judge them.  They want to be thought well of by others, and fear less how God might judge them.  All of this in my eyes seems true of how the current metropolitan and others have reacted.  They are afraid of how they will be judged (never mind that the judgment might be just and deserved) by other people, they are not much concerned that God would not bless approve of their actions.

2]     The reality of our situation is this:  Orthodoxy can exist (and has) in America without autocephaly, and if the OCA were to cease to exist, Orthodoxy would continue to exist in America.  So what is the justification for the existence of the autocephalous OCA?  Why autocephaly?    What does it matter for the mission of Orthodoxy to bring the Gospel to America?   Is the OCA simply another jurisdiction (one among many)?   If so then we serve no purpose and only contribute to the jurisdictional chaos of Orthodoxy in America.  If the OCA does nothing more than add one more jurisdiction to America, it hardly can be seen as providing a way to Orthodox unity, or of being the means for furthering Orthodox unity.  

But if there is reason for our existence, then we need to state that case and bring it to bear on every parish and offer it as a light to all other jurisdictions in America.   If autocephaly is a gift to help us proclaim the Gospel in 21st Century America, then we should be working to use it in every parish and diocese in the OCA.   Autocephaly was in the past used mostly to define our relationship to other Orthodox jurisdictions.  What we have not done with it is to use to plant Orthodoxy in America, to create the indigenous Church for the new world.  Autocephaly may originally have been an idea to define our relationship to the old world and to the past, but its gift is to allow us to be THE Church in America (not THE jurisdiction!).  Autocephaly if it is worth anything should be having an impact on our parishes – how they function, what their goals are, what they do, what they strive to achieve and be.  Autocephaly should both yield and equal indigenous.    Of course in America, immigrants are a normal part of our nation, and so “ethnic” parishes too can be natural and normal to Orthodoxy in America.  But if we are going to be more than preservers of the past and carriers of old cultures, then we have to have the power and ingenuity to create parishes that speak to and attract indigenous Americans.  Just like the Greeks did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians (Acts 15), and Russians do not have to become Greek in order to be Orthodox, so too Americans do not have to become purveyors of “traditionally Orthodox cultures” in order to follow Christ in an Orthodox manner.

But I don’t think that any of this will happen with Herman as Metropolitan.  He doesn’t have the vision to help us realize our mission.  And he certainly has not given us the direction to realize the vision.  Or rather it seems his only vision is to keep himself in office regardless of the impact on the OCA or on all of Orthodoxy in America.   Whatever his culpability in the OCA’s scandal, he has proven himself an ineffective leader for the needs of Orthodoxy in America, and so should step down from office.   He has had his chance to lead us in a good direction, but the mess we are in is the direct result of his vision and his leadership – we are where he has led us.

3]   St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the problems local congregations suffer as a result of poor leadership wrote:  “When you hear that a church is plunged into destruction, shaken by temptations, struck by waves of trouble on in a state of unbearable sorrow, know that it is because she has a wolf instead of a shepherd, a pirate instead of a helmsman, a murderer instead of a physician” as a bishop (taken from his comments on the priesthood).   This statement sadly reflects the OCA today.   We have been hijacked by leadership that failed us, and by a synod of bishops who have worked to keep in place ineffective leadership, mismanagement and incompetence.

Reflection on John 20:1-10

John 20:1-10  (7th Matins Resurrection Gospel)

1Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag’dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Though Mary Mag’dalene is mentioned in all 4 canonical accounts of the Gospel at the Resurrection, she is introduced in John’s Gospel (as well as in Matthew and Luke’s) only at the crucifixion of Christ.  Only St. Luke makes a passing reference to her earlier in his gospel as a women Jesus had cured of demon possession, but then Luke does not mention her at the crucifixion.

One reason I think the Gospel accounts of the resurrection has a ring of historical truth to them, is that they are not written to make the disciples of Christ look good, which I think would have been a temptation of myth writers especially years after the events occurred (when the Gospels were written).  Mary Mag’dalene goes to the tomb, not looking for the resurrection like a child on Christmas morning rising early to see if Santa has come, but going to the tomb to weep over unfulfilled expectation and crushing disappointment.  Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, but could not prevent his own death.

Mary Mag’dalene is astounded to find the tomb open and the body of Jesus gone.   She does not immediately think “resurrection” but “grave robbers” or some other bad news.  She runs to tell Peter about the missing body of Jesus.  “THEY” – she does not identify whom she suspects of having taken the body, but one might surmise the enemies of Jesus.  Killing him was not enough, now they have decided to desecrate and abuse the corpse as well.  “They” intend to humiliate Jesus and his disciples further.  But Mary’s conclusion is the body has been stolen and dumped in an unknown location.   The empty tomb will discourage any cult of a saint from developing and prevent the disciples from making the tomb into a holy place of relics, or so “they” believe.

 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Peter and the unnamed disciple (tradition says it was John) run to the tomb also not looking for the resurrected Jesus but to see if Mary’s story is true – what now?  It’s bad enough they tortured Jesus to execute him, what is happening now to his corpse?   (The disciples had fled from Jesus at his arrest.  Mary ran away from the empty tomb to tell the disciples about it, not as good news, but as very troubling news).  Strangely, whoever had taken the corpse of Jesus had taken the time to remove the linen burial shroud, and even to neatly roll up the napkin which covered his face.  Who would go through that trouble and why?   What was going on here?  Peter and the other disciple now believe Mary’s story that the tomb is empty, but John the gospel’s story teller notes that at this moment the disciples do not make any connection to the resurrection, nor really to the promises of God (thus the “they did not know the scripture”).    The empty tomb has left them with questions but no answers. What’s going on?  Who took the corpse of Jesus?  Where did they go with it?  For what purpose?  The disciples do not make an immediate leap of faith to the resurrection, an idea which was still foreign to them.  Corpses do not walk out of tombs.  Somebody must be responsible for this.  Tombs are made empty by grave robbers, the macabre, or by the enemies of the dead who want to make sure the deceased is not immortalized.  The empty tomb is not at first a sign of the resurrection, it is immediately more troubling news for Christ’s disciples. Will they in fact be accused of being grave robbers as an excuse to arrest or discredit them?

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

What else can they do?   Are the authorities likely to be interested in investigating the theft of the corpse of a criminal?   More likely they are the very ones who stole the body and going to them can only bring threats and punishment to the whistle blowers. 

The empty tomb however will become everything the enemies of Jesus would not want – a holy place, the site of the revelation of the holy One of God, a confirmation of the Messiah. 

It will only be back in their own homes that the truth of what happened to the body of Jesus will dawn upon them.  

And this particular Gospel, read at Sunday matins or Saturday vigil, gives us the same glimpse into the historical fact of the resurrection.  And after we behold the resurrection, we go to our homes, like the first disciples, to contemplate what is the meaning of this totally new and unexpected event for our lives?  How does it change anything?  Or Does it change everything?