The Example Set by our Bishops

“I have fought the good fight,  I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

The recent SIC report of the OCA gave a rather blunt and critical assessment of the behavior of several of the OCA’s bishops and leaders during the past two decades. That there was serious moral and administrative failure is very clear.  The SIC recommended that the Synod of Bishops, some of whose members are faulted in the report for moral and leadership failure, mete out discipline to some of the perpetrators for their glaring moral failures and negligence of duty.  Both the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops agreed unanimously with the SIC that the Synod of Bishops must hold the wrongdoers accountable.

There has been much discussion within the OCA as to how to handle these moral, spiritual, financial and administrative failings of the individuals involved.  Some argue for criminal investigation with legal consequences (ask the state to mete out proper punishments); some feel the church itself needs to deal with the issues without involving the state.  Some feel strict ecclesial discipline is needed; some say only an apology from the culprits should be sought.  Some say forgiveness should be offered no matter what and that the church simply moves on.  Any and all positions have their defenders who base their reasoning in scripture and tradition.

Though I think ultimately there needs to be forgiveness, this kind of forgiveness can only be offered if there is repentance or contrition from the guilty.  Certainly the Church has to take seriously its own teachings on confession and repentance as a basis for offering reconciliation.   As has been written there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).

In our particular case, since some of those cited in the SIC report for their moral and leadership failures still sit on the Synod of Bishops, I think it is good for us to give serious consideration to the need for real discipline being meted out rather than blanket forgiveness being offered to all the culprits whether or not they repent, apologize, express contrition or ask forgiveness.  Far too often the OCA functions like a “ma and pa” store which allows family members to keep positions of trust and leadership without regard for whether the individuals have shown any merit or possess any qualifications for the positions they hold.  Of course the SIC report pointed to this failing as one of the reasons the scandal was able to go on as long as it did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”  (Hebrews 12:1-2).

In the usual tropar for a saint bishop we sing that the bishop was “a rule of faith.”  The idea is that the bishop is an image, a model, an example of what it is to be a Christian. 

Can a bishop then be unworthy of the title? 

Our scandal has revealed that indeed bishops may not be good examples, and in fact may completely disgrace the office.   So what shall we do with such bishops?

My suggestion: take the title away from them.  If they don’t live up to the title, take the title away from them.  This thought is based in the American idea of a meritocracy and rejects the notion of entitlement (that the holder of an office must be honored because of the office no matter what his personal behavior is).  

But if we want people to honor their bishops, in America it is important to ensure that the title means something.    If someone does not live up to the ideals of the office, it should be no shame to remove that title from him.   It may be that our ideals are very high, but certainly we can distinguish between those who at least are striving for the ideal even if falling short from those whose very decisions, lifestyle and behavior is blatantly contrary to the ideals of the office.

When the Synod of Bishops does not remove the title from unworthy men, they are really saying, “there will be men who have the title of metropolitan, archbishop, or bishop, but be not deceived, they may not be worthy of that title, and they may not be living up to its ideal, or even trying to live up to its ideal, and if they aren’t we won’t do anything about it, but you as church members have been warned!” It is a real “buyer beware” attitude. 

The willingness of the bishops to police themselves (for they alone have the power and responsibility to discipline a fellow bishop) and to remove the wayward bishop from office or to strip him of his title shows us that the bishops themselves believe the title of bishop means something.  If they are not willing to discipline their fellow bishops by removing undeserving title holders, then the bishops themselves empty the title of bishop of all meaning.

“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified”   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

And if we feel uncomfortable with the idea of determining a man is unworthy for the office of bishop, remember that in the consecration of a bishop, the service has a tri-fold pronouncement of the candidate’s worthiness. (Axios, axios, axios!)  Determining worthiness is part of the process.  So too should determining when a man is not worthy of the title or of the office which he holds or when he is not capable of fulfilling the moral duties of a bishop.  Taking a title away from a bishop says to the world: a man who is a bishop can be expected to live up to a standard or rule of behavior.  It is proper for us to have the expectation that bishops will strive to be not only Christian, but to be Christian leaders.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:11-12).

Interpreting God’s Revelation: Scientists & Poets

Perhaps my favorite service in the Orthodox Church is the Akathist, Glory to God for All Things.  The Akathist was written by a Russian Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Tryphon who died in 1934, but it has often mistakenly been credited to Father Gregory Petrov, who died in a Soviet prison camp. 

There are so many verses in the Akathist that I find so profound and moving, but I wanted to quote one section here that deals with the much debated relationship between science and religion.  The hymn was written by a Christian bishop living in what at that time was a militantly atheistic nation.  Amazingly he did not see science as the enemy of Christianity, but rather saw scientists as well as poets and artists as being modern prophets and interpreters of God’s revealed truth.  His hymn parallels the thinking of Romans 1:18-22:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Even living in a nation which has a hostile militant attitude toward God, Metropolitan Tryphon understood that all who seek truth no matter from what perspective – philosophical, artistic, political, religious, scientific –  have a common hope and goal and foundation, namely God.  And he certainly understood that there is an ontological connection between beauty and truth.  From the Akathist, Ikos 7:

The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!

Glory to You, showing Your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.
Glory to You, for all nature is filled with Your laws.
Glory to You for what You have revealed to us in Your mercy.
Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in Your wisdom.
Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind.
Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.
Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.