As I mentioned before you can find links to Podcasts and some reports from the OCA’s 16th All American Council now available online. So I don’t intend to report what you can read for yourself.
I will comment on two aspects of this year’s AAC. First just a thought about the big picture: trying to avoid listing what was or was not accomplished in our days assembled together (since that can be found on the official OCA.org webpage) but rather offering a few thoughts on what could have tied things together. Second just a few notes on the very short demographic presentation by Alex Krindatch on Thursday.
I think the bishops set a very interesting tone to the AAC in the responses they offered after the Metropolitan’s opening remarks. fascinatingly there was even a question by one woman about why the bishops had scheduled in the agenda a time of response to the metropolitan: a question born no doubt in the paranoia of those who cannot understand the frustrations of those who have had to work with the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan made his own public admission that there has been a complete breakdown in trust or an ability to work with him. So the bishops exercising their own fraternal concern for him stood with him in an effort to show they have a oneness of mind.
On some level there has been an amazing degree of cooperation and unity between the Synod, chancery staff and the Metropolitan Council in recognizing a problem. Even if we haven’t all been at the same point at the same time in what to do, that there is a problem has been clear, and the Metropolitan has acknowledged this. This recognition by all is not some plot as some falsely accuse, but a sad recognition f the reality before us all. That recognition is the only way to healing and/or change, and/or a way forward. Some few don’t want the church leadership to deal with truth. Ideology does cause institutional blindness and dysfunctional enabling. It is neither easy or pleasant for the rest of us to have to wrestle with what we face, but it is the way in which we follow Christ who claimed to be the Truth. We cannot pretend what we want to be true, we each have to bear our cross as well as one another’s burdens. This is the way to the Kingdom in which the truth sets us free.
The bishops in their responses did not attack or blame or accuse, but rather offered some interesting anecdotal accounts of their own experience in Orthodoxy. It was to me a rare moment of the bishops showing a glimpse into their personal lives as members in and bishops of the Body of Christ. Some felt the comments were enigmatic, I thought they helped put “flesh” on men we often experience only as caricatures in Byzantine imperial vestments. They really did seem at peace with each other as if they had reached a common mind on where they were and where they were going even if that goal is not yet clear to the rest of us.
What we lacked though throughout the AAC was an articulated vision of what the OCA is or should be. What does the autocephaly mean to Orthodoxy in the 21st Century with the realities we face in our civil culture as well as with the episcopal assemblies and the condition of world Orthodoxy? What special and unique gift has God bestowed upon us that we bring to American Orthodoxy? How can we contribute this gift to the condition of Orthodoxy in America? At the moment we seem to lack the person, persons or leaders who can articulate this in a way to inspire us. So we struggle along, sometimes only muddling along, and occasionally doing something well. Autocephaly means something, and for many of us it means something essential. We at this moment however lack the person or persons who can embody that vision and lead us to it. Perhaps the reason is present realities won’t allow it.
My last three years on the Metropolitan Council left me with a rather positive view of the men and women serving us on this Council. Same is true of my impressions of the chancery staff. All of these folk are working with the hard issues that easily can grind a person down, and yet the work is done. And there is no doubt that lines of communication between the members of the synod, staff and committees are often there and better than have existed in the past. And to be honest there still are frustrations. The bishops want our trust, but that is an earned commodity and it still is slow to materialize.
I also will positively comment on those plenary sessions which dealt with the very emotionally charged issues of budget and funding. For despite the energy, the disagreements and probably personal animosities, I thought people presented themselves very well. The arguments were not ad hominem attacks as so often happens on the Internet, but rather people made their points on all sides of the issues and spoke passionately but well.
Finally, just a few words on the Krindatch statistics which represent the most comprehensive statistical study of the Orthodox in America to date. You can read more details about Krindatch’s work on line. His studies do show that we Orthodox are a tiny minority in America (and in world Orthodoxy for that matter). Krindatch says there are about 1,043,800 Orthodox in America which includes all jurisdictions as well as the Oriental Orthodox. Of that total only about 294,300 participate in the Church on a frequent basis. Of the total of Orthodox, only about 84,200 belong to the OCA, with about 33,300 of those being regular participants in their parishes. So on the whole members of the OCA show a higher rate of regular participation in their parishes than do the Orthodox as a whole. So while we are small, we have about 40% of our members who regularly participate in their parishes. This shows at least some positive interest of the OCA faithful in their parishes and in the Church. It may be a small amount of good news but it is a zeal which can lead to more vibrant parish life and further mission and outreach in America.
See also my blog Viewing the AAC from Where I Sit