News about the arrest and charging of Archbishop Seraphim of Canada on two counts of child sexual assault circulated widely yesterday (American Thanksgiving Day). You can read articles: CTV Edmonton, Canada.com, Global Winnipeg, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
The arrest means Canadian authorities believe the allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a trial. The OCA’s Synod of Bishops had in their recent meeting (November 15-18) also approved a commission to look into these allegations.
However painful such a story is for the Church, the Church as an institution was called into existence to deal with sin in the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Church is to deal with sin and sinners, and now we will see how the Church, with its very human leaders deals with sin and sins, not only in the world, but in the Church.
While news within the church of allegations of misconduct comes as a shocking surprise and is often met with incredulity, I am much reminded of the Gospel lesson of the Last Supper as recorded in Mark 14:16-23 (and the parallel account in Matthew 26:19-30):
And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve. And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.
Images of the last supper resonate with us not only because of Holy Thursday and iconography but more because of Holy Communion which we receive each week. We understand the event of the Mystical Supper to be one of high points of the liturgical remembrance of Christ during Holy Week – for Communion becomes our real participation in the life of Christ, in His death and resurrection as members of His Body.
In the midst of this Mystical and sacramental participation in Christ, we see the Twelve Disciples one by one verbalizing the fear of their own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?!?” For Christ informs them around the Eucharistic table that one of them is going to betray Him. Each disciple does not express the firm conviction and disbelief, “No! It is not true, don’t say that, Lord.” They each do not ask, “How can you say that, Lord?” Rather each one asks aloud, “Is it I, Lord?” Is it I, chosen apostle, one of the Twelve, who will betray you? They each knew themselves.
What a scene! The chosen and holy apostles each is able to vocalize that dreaded fear, “Is it I who will betray you, Lord?” For each in that moment realized the truth and the depth of his own heart: for each it was a possibility. We each need to think about this truth before we rush to judgment or lose all faith in the Apostles or the Apostolic Church. “Is it I, Lord, who can betray you?” “Is it I, Lord, who does betray you by my sins?”
We deceive ourselves if we believe that church leaders are sinless for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All includes priests, bishops, apostles, and saints. We each stand in church as sinners, perhaps penitents, perhaps seeking forgiveness and mercy, perhaps redeemed by Christ, but sinners nonetheless.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
This is the reality the Church claims to believe. It is not for nothing that before receiving the Eucharist we recite in the creedal prayer, “Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss.” The incredible truth about us as disciples is we are human and we are capable of betraying Christ – not only that, but betraying Him by the kiss of peace. We do contemplate Judas each Holy Week as well, as a reminder of what it is to be human.
The reality of humans, the reality which God so grudgingly acknowledges in Genesis 6:6 and 8:21 in the story of Noah and the great flood, is that there is evil in the heart of humans even from when we are young.
We are created in God’s image and likeness, capable of bearing God in us, capable of theosis. We also are beings in whose hearts evil can and does dwell. Both are the truths about humanity, and both are supposed to be included in how the Church sees itself, its members, and the world. In the Church we deal with truth, even when it is painful and cuts to the heart. “Is it I, Lord?”