Viewing the AAC from Where I Sit

Podcasts and some reports from the OCA’s  16th All American Council are now available online.  You can also read about the AAC and some developments at other webpages.

Thanks to the technology of podcasts you can hear what various speakers said and don’t have to rely on the filters of reporters.  So in this blog I don’t intend to simply report what was said, but admittedly I’m running what was said through the filter of what I heard and how I understood what was being said.  That is also the nature of blogging.

Metropolitan Jonah’s opening speech mentioned some of the very difficult problems created by his administration through the past three years, as well described some of the ongoing work of the church, and offered a few goals for the future.  The fact that his speech is available online both in written form and as a pod cast is important because there have been at times notable gaps in the past between what he said and  what he did or said later.  Technology is allowing for some accountability.

The Metropolitan acknowledged that the past three years have been an administrative disaster.  From where I sit on the Metropolitan Council, on the MC’s Ethics Committee and on the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee his words are certainly an accurate assessment of what has happened under his administration.   He did own up to being the source of the problem but also blamed his critics for creating a difficult atmosphere – for me the truth is that much of that poisoned atmosphere was created by himself. He came into office at a moment in the OCA’s history with high expectations that we would be able to put behind us all our past problems, scandals and failures.  There was an overwhelming sense at his election that now finally the OCA would move into its manifest destiny to be the Church in America.  All of that good will and hope was quickly evaporated among those who had to work most closely with him.

Everyone in leadership manages to offend some, disappoint others, and make enemies of some.  One learns that this is a reality in the world of the Fall.  We can have all the intention in the world of doing out best and assuming this will please everyone, but as the old adage says, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time”, but if you decide your goal is to please everyone so that they will like you, you have set yourself up for failure and for the ruination of the organization you lead.

The Metropolitan acknowledged there had been a complete breakdown in trust and raised a serious question as to whether at this point that breakdown could in fact be reversed or repaired.  As a step to see whether or not repair and restoration of trust in him as a leader is possible, he mentioned entering into a program of evaluation for clergy beginning November 14.   A lot rides on his willingness to co-operate with this program of evaluation because it will certainly be a test (and not the first one either) of his real acknowledgement that he is responsible for many of the problems which now exist in the OCA’s administration.

For me, again from where I sit, much of what happens next in the OCA is riding on the Metropolitan’s own willingness to cooperate with the process and the willingness of the Synod to not only hold him accountable but upon their willingness to deal with what is learned especially if some of the evaluation provides ambiguous results.  Then the members of the Synod are going to have to deal directly with issues that the Metropolitan and they have been either wrestling with, dancing around or hoping to avoid.

The Metropolitan outlined some of his priorities for the future which are both notable and noble and you can read them in his speech.   Giving speeches as he himself has oft said is something he likes to do, and has often earned him lauds from his listeners.  However, as he also acknowledged his years as bishop have been an administrative disaster, and so there is a huge gap between his articulated vision and the reality he works to create.

I will comment on one detail of his vision for the OCA, you can read his speech or listen to it and make your own judgments about what he says (and how that matches with what he actually accomplishes).  Funding is a perennial discussion in OCA administration and a triennial discussion at AACs!  Various ideas have been proffered through time, some merely name change dressings to the core issue that the central church believes if it had more money it would accomplish more things.  Whatever the truth in that logic, in the midst of his appeal to the funding issue, the Metropolitan advocated moving away from whatever current system we are following to a tithing system of giving to support the church.  Now I have been committed to tithing all of my adult life as a Christian, so I’m a practicing believer in tithing.  But when the Metropolitan says in his pitch for tithing that we must “conform ourselves to Christ through obedience to the Gospel and commitment to living according to the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers”, I can’t help but wonder how many quotes could he come up with from Apostolic and Patristic writers in which they actually make tithing the norm for Christians.   Even the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 does not set tithing as a requirement for Christians.

But that issue may be nitpicking when compared to the very serious issues the Metropolitan raised related to his administrative failures and the complete breakdown in trust between himself, the chancery staff, the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops.

Following the Metropolitan’s report several bishops offered “responses” which weren’t so much directed at the Metropolitan’s speech but actually allowed them to reflect on their life in the church.  Personally I thought their comments were worth listening to because in my mind for the first time ever we heard our bishops in the AAC share anecdotes and thoughts related to their own sojourn as Christians and members of the OCA.   There was something warm and alive in their sharing their thoughts.  Certainly they all expressed a desire for the Metropolitan to fully and faithfully deal with the issues which have crippled his ability to lead and have damaged his relationship with other church leaders both in and out of the OCA.  And there was at least “veiled” acknowledgement that there are some serious problems waiting to be tackled and resolved.

The bishops did take a few shots at the Internet as contributing to making solutions to the internal problems of the OCA difficult.   The Internet however has not created the real problems that exist with the personalities involved.  Leadership has to lead despite the circumstances in which they are in.  The Internet is simply part of the daily lives of Americans.  It can be used for both good and evil.  Certainly there are professionals who can help willing and receptive leaders learn how to navigate through the information/Internet Age.  Leaders can lead even with the Internet attracting and creating attention to itself.  Rather than bemoaning the technology of communications which is now part of the landscape and infrastructure of daily life, we can learn how to deal with it.  Certainly most early Christians viewed the Roman Empire as the greatest threat to their existence and felt there was no possible connection between Rome and Jerusalem.  Yet the Church overcame that Empire and used that Empire for evangelism.  The Internet is not a greater threat to us than the Roman Empire.  We cannot escape the Internet and certainly we will learn even more about its risks, but we can also bring our use of it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

See also my Parting Thoughts from the 16th All American Council

A Halloween Sermon (1989)

October 29, 1989                                Luke 8:16-39

It is the Halloween season again. Stores and merchants are featuring all kinds of spooky sights. It is a time to when many mock devils and evil spirits, and some who belong to pagan and satanic cults come out in earnest to worship their powers.

Friday evening, I went over to the Books and Company. They happened to be having an adult Halloween event of some sort. There were indeed a number of strange characters there. What was most interesting to me was that throughout the store, they were having a variety of New Age religionists practicing their persuasion. There were tarot card readers, and various people sniffing and selling some sort of scented liquids which somehow are supposed to relax you or make you feel the forces of nature. There were people offering free mood altering stones, which they claimed would relax you or improve your sex life. These stone age believers hold some sort of religious ceremonies on Saturdays and they were proselytizing among the people in the store trying to win converts to their religion.

While all of this was being done in the supposedly friendly spirit of an adult Halloween event, the people who were aiming to make converts to their New Age religion were quite serious in what they were doing. They certainly were not interested in fun, but seemed to believe in what they were saying and doing. I found myself saddened by the pure pagan ideas being hawked there, and at the deception for which the people so willingly embraced.

For me personally, it was my first contact with the New Age religion which has become faddish and popular these days. It was obvious that so many people around us are hungering for something religious, something ritualistic, something spiritual. It was obvious that there certainly is a spiritual harvest that can be made in America if only we Orthodox would take seriously Jesus Christ’s command to us to go and preach the Gospel to all people. There is obviously a need. There are obviously a number of people who are suffering this spiritual emptiness and who fill that void with any and every type of belief.

So Christ tells us in the Gospel lesson today:

No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a basket or puts it under the bed, but rather he sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.

My friends, in baptism, and through the faithful hearing of the Gospel, the lamps of our hearts have been illumined. We are to shine with the light of Christ to all of those who walk in darkness. Our faith is not some private thoughts between me and God. Rather, our Faith is to be the Light of the World. In all humility, let the light of Christ shine brightly in your life so that all other people may see Christ in you and give glory to God the Father!

As the Lord Jesus told the man whom he saved from demonic possession, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” Each of us has to become extremely clear as to what God has done for us personally. We need to rid ourselves of fuzzy thinking about God in our lives.

St. Mark the Ascetic, a 4th Century Christian said:

“Can any man consciously call these things to mind and not be moved always to contrition of heart?  Having so many pledges from the past blessings, will he not always have firm hope, in spite of the fact that he himself has so far done nothing good?  He will say to himself: ‘Though I have done nothing good and have committed many sins before Him, living in uncleanness of the flesh and indulging in may other vices, yet He did not deal with me according to my sins, or reward me according to my iniquities (Ps 103:10), but gave me all these gifts of grace for my salvation.”  (Philokalia, Vol. I, pp 148-149).

Certainly, I am one person who know’s the love and patience of God. There was a time when I refused to go to church, when I openly opposed Christians and even God Himself. Yet God in His patient love waited for my conversion from an evil lifestyle. It is that great love which God showed me personally, the love which He has for the Prodigal child, always waiting for us to return, which moved me to become a priest. It is that message which I want to share with you and to have you share with others.

In Saturday’s newspaper there also appeared an article on the new pagan church of Pantheism. It consisted mostly of an interview with one former Roman Catholic man who had abandoned Christianity for paganism. He said there was a spiritual void in his life which the Catholic Church was not meeting.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be very clear about the activity and love of God in our hearts and lives. We need to share with each other the stories about how God has effected us. We need to have a very clear understanding of who God is and how He relates to us. We must consciously tend to the spiritual needs of the other members of our parish family. Then and only then will we fulfill the commandments of Christ to let the light of the Gospel shine in our lives and to be able to tell others what great things God has done for us.

As was clear to me in yesterday’s workshop in Columbus, we all need to spend more time with each other sharing our spiritual stories, and encouraging each other to be faithful to the Lord God. Our battle in this world is not against armies and the flesh, but rather it is a warfare against the spiritual powers of darkness which are obviously at work right now in our world. In America, we have to be tolerant of the existence of those who want the New Age religion of paganism, spirit forces and magick. As Christians, we have to kindle in our hearts the flame of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

2011 Midwest Diocesan Assembly

Our Midwest Diocesan Assembly was accomplished in one morning (Monday) while we are gathered at the All American Council in Seattle, Washington.  This was the first Diocesan Assembly at which His Grace, Matthias, is the bishop of the Diocese and overseeing the Assembly.   This I’m sure was the only time the Midwest Diocesan Assembly took place in Seattle.

The Diocesan Assembly was very abbreviated, with some reports not given, and with little voting taking place.  It always does raise the question whether if the business of a Diocesan Assembly is business there is any reason for it to be scheduled for more than one day.  And with modern meeting technology it seems possible that we could meet at selected points for each deanery and then simply connect by video to all other deaneries for a day.  The cost of electronically doing that meeting might save a great deal of travel, hotel and meal expenses not to mention time.

The official minutes of the meeting will eventually be posted, so I am not going to report on that.  Mine will be a few observations of what I came away with.

1)     Bishop Matthias said that he had promised in his first year as bishop to observe the diocese, so as he gets closer to the first anniversary of his consecration, we will now begin to see what actions/changes he intends to do as part of  his own vision for the diocese.

2)    Among his diocesan work he mentioned his work with Project Mexico and 2 trips in the past few months to Guatemala where he continues his relationship with the nuns and children there.

3)    Bishop Matthias intends to make Christ the Savior parish as a regular part of the Diocesan work  and budget with the Diocese assuming all of the financial responsibilities for the building.   Parish staff and chancery staff will basically be the same entity.  He believes this will help solve some of the organization and administrative problems the diocese has faced since he became the administrator of the Diocese in January.

4)    Bishop Matthias expressed serious reservations about the value of the Internet.  He said technology can be useful for conveying information but he felt a lot of wrong is done through the Internet.  He mentioned positively doing church work through podcasts, teleconferences and Skype, but overall seemed to think the Internet represented more negatives and more harm than good.  The Synod recently put out a statement on the use of social networking and there too you see the great ambivalence they have toward communication technology.  Since they reject us taking some “Amish” point of view toward technology, navigating through the risks of the Internet is going to require a much more well thought out policy on their part.

5)    There was a suggestion made that the OCA should try to revive some version of the Fellowship of Stewards (FOS), but I will note that the claims that FOS used to raise $400-500,000/year were highly exaggerated.  I’m not sure FOS ever got close to those totals in its best year let alone on some regular basis.  But claims were made with no supporting facts and it is interesting to see how ready people are to believe such claims.

6)    Regarding the much discussed issues regarding the metropolitan’s behavior, the bishop again felt the Internet was to blame for some of the failures of the Synod to deal with OCA problems because once things are openly discussed on the Internet, leaders begin to respond to the Internet rather than focus on the problem.  So one wonders is it the Internet or the leaders who are the problem.  Perhaps the bishops should take advantage of offers by crisis management and communication experts in learning how to deal with the information/Internet age.