Seeking the Episcopacy: Salvation not Reputation

In as much as the OCA is in the process of electing a new Metropolitan, we can consider the words of St. Gregory the Great (d. 604AD) about those who seek to become bishops.  Some according to St. Gregory seek the office of bishop for wrong reasons, looking not for their salvation but to enhance their reputation:

“Moreover, it should be noted that he said this at a time when whoever supervised the laity was the first to be led to the torments of martyrdom. Therefore, it was laudable in that era to seek the episcopate, when whoever held it would suffer severely. It is for this reason, then, that the office of the episcopate is defined as a ‘good work’ when it is said: ‘If one desires the episcopate, he desires a good work.’ Therefore, he who seeks not the good work of the ministry, but only the glory of honor, testifies against himself that he does not desire the office of a bishop. For a man does not love the sacred office, nor does he even understand it, if by craving a position of spiritual leadership he is nourished by the thought of subordinating others, rejoices at being praised, elates his heart by honor, or exalts in the abundance of his affluence.” (The Book of Pastoral Rule, pg. 41)

Parting Thoughts from the 16th AAC

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 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

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

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.

In Praise of

The election of Metropolitan Jonah created a groundswell of good will and hopefulness to the OCA.  Even if it proves to be short lived, the mood of the ANAC shifted dramatically, and the opportunity for the OCA to move in a new direction was created.

I want to give credit to one man whose dedication to the church made this possible.   There were many who stepped forward at various times, and some who were quite heroic in what they did and risked to call to accountability the failed leadership of our church.  All those who worked so hard to keep pushing for new leadership and a new direction for the OCA deserve our thanks.

ocanewsBut one man helped coalesce the resistance to failure in the OCA and gave voice to those who rallied together to open the door for change in the OCA.  That man is Mark Stokoe.  It is he who tried 8 years ago to sound the alarm that the enemy was attacking the OCA.  And then three years ago he doggedly began pursuing the truth when the allegations re-emerged into the public attention.   His creation of became a beacon of light in the much darkened OCA.  And the light at first peaked through a few cracks in the fortress, but eventually began to shine into the dark recesses of the OCA, and finally flooded the fortress opening the doors and windows of the OCA in the process.

If not for Mark’s work, which rallied many people of the OCA and gave us a point of focus from which to shine the light on the OCA, we would not have had a SIC report, nor an All North American Council this year and we would not have had a new Metropolitan.  Nor would we have an active Metropolitan Council, a proposal for forming a strategic plan, nor would we have had a synod of bishops which was forced to deal with its own problem members.

Mark was not paid to do this work.  He sacrificed his time and his life for the OCA.  It has cost him a great deal of time, impacted his job and his bottom line and his health.     He cannot write it off as a business expenses, nor can he justify the time and energy spent by saying it was job related.   His motivation was his love for the OCA.   He has been singularly dedicated to helping make the OCA something the rest of us could be proud in and care about.  He did this despite the fact that many of the priests in the OCA  were indifferent or out and out opposed him.   Many were afraid that confronting evil directly was worse than living as demoralized slaves in a corrupt church.

If we know their works by their fruit, then we can know that work that Mark did has brought about wonderful, life giving and fruitful change in the OCA.  As we in the OCA move with hope into our future, we can remember that one person who cares can make a difference.  And that one person didn’t have to do it all alone, for he became a rallying point for others who cared about the OCA.  But still we needed that one person to raise a banner that we could see and to which we could rally.

Thank you, Mark Stokoe.   May God grant you many years!

Thank you to all of those who quietly, behind the scenes supported him, and to those who publicly rallied with him.

To future generations I can only say that if you see the Church floundering or going astray, or see its leaders failing, care enough to raise your voice and speak the truth in love.

How the OCA Must be the Good Samaritan

At the ANAC which just concluded this past week, the delegation from the Diocese of the Midwest showed a fair amount of solidarity in wanting the OCA assessment lowered.  Despite the mood swing which had occurred in the majority of delegates to the ANAC as a result of the election of Metropolitan Jonah, the Midwest delegates to a large extent did not get on that bandwagon and were not swept away by the elation of the assembly.  There are many reasons for this but I think one thing the Midwest’s resistance to keeping the same assessment shows is that the Diocesan members as a whole were not simply trying to punish the central administration for years of corruption.  The delegates’ opinion on the issue was not merely an emotional one (as witnessed by their not changing their “feelings” with the election of the new metropolitan).  The Midwest’s problem with the assessment runs much deeper – it has to deal with the very purpose and existence of the central church.  As the diocese which paid the largest assessment for the past 20 years,  it is the diocese which lost the most due to the corruption of the central church.   The central church took plenty of funds from the Midwest at the expense of the parishes themselves, and to the point of impoverishing and crippling some of them.   This siphoning off of diocesan resources never benefitted either the diocese or the OCA, but was wasted on the lavish and foolish wishes of a few people centered around the former chancellor.  The Midwest was saying enough to throwing money into the black hole called the central church.   Having new people in the offices of the central church doesn’t change the questionable nature of the central church.  The corruption may be gone, but what exactly is an improved central church going to do for the parishes that the diocese couldn’t do for them?   The question the Midwest is posing does not say the central church is dubious because of corruption, but what is the purpose and benefit of a central church at all?   (To be honest this is a question that the “strategic plan” will look at, and a question Metropolitan Jonah seems totally comfortable with).
The reality in the “Rust Belt” is that the collapsing US economy will hit us hard – in places where many jobs and people had already fled, harder times are at hand.  Parishes have for a long time struggled to survive but economic realities will further reduce parish income while the central assessment will continue to take away from the parish the same dollar amount which will become a bigger percentage of the shrinking parish budget.   In reality all OCA assessment paying parishes have been treated to 20 years of assessments being little better than theft and embezzlement and wastefulness and excesses.  And since the former metropolitans and former staff members have not come forth with the financial records to show how all the monies taken by them were used for the good of the church, it seems not unreasonable to assume a great amount of money went down the toilet of their personal life styles and choices. 
The membership of the OCA was abused.    Now  they want some sense that the people currently in charge recognize that the membership was in fact  abused, lied to, betrayed, robbed and raped for the last 20 years.  The membership needs some validation that though their own giving and sacrifice may have been squandered by the former administration and its inner circle, that injustice has not gone unnoticed by those who now form the central church.

When the Synod or the chancery tries to push a “let’s move on” agenda, it is telling the victims of the scandal that “your pain and anger are unfounded and meaningless – get over it.”   The membership needs some recognition that they were victimized by corrupt individuals.  When the Synod or the chancery passes over past events as if they never happened, it re-victimizes the membership once again.  The victims of assault and crime need some affirmation, some validation,  that their loss and pain is real, and that others recognize their pain and suffering and feel outraged by what has happened to them.   The lack of outrage on the part of the bishops especially is unconscionable. 

Like the Good Samaritan of the parable the central church administration and the synod need to stop and take care of these victims, even though they too may have  been wounded themselves by the “robbers.”   It is best for the OCA not to try to step over those feeling victimized by the scandal, nor to pass by “on the other side” when the victims groan or express their anger.   The current leadership despite the wounds and injustices they have suffered have to give validation and affirmation to the hurt and the loss people have suffered – do not deny the hurt, pass by it, or bury it.   We all need to be willing to stop on our journey (rush) to our destination (the great celebration of the new metropolitan and new direction and new future and new hope for the OCA) to tend to those so terribly hurt and scandalized by the corruption – people had their faith and trust stolen from them.  The fact that something good and new has occurred in the OCA does not mean we can stop being the good Samaritan and behave like the priest and Levite who were no doubt in a rush to some important and exciting event of their own,  and so left the victim to suffer on the side of the road.  Remember in the parable not only did the Samaritan tend to the victim and provide for him, but he also promised to come back and pay for all of the additional expenses needed for the recovery of the victim.  We in the OCA can go to the consecration of the new metropolitan, but then let us not simply “move on” but let us come back to those who were robbed of their faith, trust and hope in the Church and/or in the OCA.  Instead of simply continuing to take money from them, let us go back and revisit those who are hurting and hear their concerns and try to restore their good will by providing for some of their needs instead of faulting them for recovering at the inn instead of joining the celebration in Jericho.

Metropolitan Jonah

Delegates to the All American Council gave Bishop Jonah, the newly consecrated vicar bishop of the Diocese of the South, the greatest number of votes on both the first and second ballots for nomination as metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops elected him to be the new Metropolitan of the OCA. 

In what was a surprising turn of events, delegates voted for change in the OCA in electing Metropolitan Jonah who was consecrated as a bishop but 11 days ago and has never served as a ruling bishop.  His first day as a ruling bishop also is as the metropolitan of the OCA. 

Archbishop Job of Chicago who got the second most votes on both the first and second ballots had made it clear that he did not want to be metropolitan nor did he believe it would happen.  He was correct in his prediction.  It was a testimony to his role in helping expose and overturn the scandal and failures of the OCA leadership which earned him the respect of delegates in receiving the runner up vote in the nomination process.

The reaction of AAC delegates seems to be quite positive and even exuberant to the news of the election.  It indicates a real turning away from the past scandal and a desire to move in an entirely new direction with new leadership.  Metropolitan Jonah’s election appears to have been a repudiation of the rest of the member of the Synod of Bishops due to their own failure to either expose or resolve the scandal.  

The report of Treasurer Fr. Michael Tassos was also well received indicating many believe the financial scandal is now behind us and really belongs to a former central church administration and to the group of bishops who received little show of support in the nominating process.

May God bless and grant many years to the newly elected Metropolitan Jonah, and may He bless and guide the OCA as it faces afresh the missionary and ministry challenge of proclaiming the Gospel in North America.

Conciliarity and Consensus

I think the time comes for the OCA to embrace a new climate and culture in which it carries about its business.  That climate and culture if it is to produce an effective mission to Americans is going to have to include openness, transparency and accountability.  The methodology will include both conciliarity and consensus.

We also need to define our terms a bit.  Conciliarity refers to doing things in council.  The OCA is conciliar as we have a Synod, a Metropolitan Council, and an ANAC, diocesan councils and assemblies and parish councils and meetings.

But councils do not always produce ConsensusCouncils can produce consensus of polariziation – that depends on many factors.  Councils can use collaboration, compromise or coercion in their deliberations and decision making but the methods used as well as the decision reached determine whether consensus has been reached or whether a decision is imposed on others.  There certainly have been councils where a majority rule decision was made, but the council itself ends up split and ruptured beyond repair.  This is not consensus though it might be the conciliar process.

Even despotic rulers can use consensus.  My read of history suggest to me that the First Ecumenical Council in 325AD is a conciliar event in which the Emperor gave permission to the council to reach a consensus regarding belief.  Constantine didn’t interfere with what the consensus was (and perhaps didn’t care what it was), but once reached he promulgated it because he wanted the church to bring unity to his vast and diverse empire.   He used consensus to further his goals – “I don’t care what you agree upon, but agree!”

Consensus building can be a method and goal of a conciliar work. A hierarchical organization can work within a consensus building methodology.  Consensus building requires that all points of view are given serious consideration and treatment.  It is very hard work.  Consensus building values not only the decision reached but the community which must live by the decision.  Consensus building values the relationships between members, and thus it is a slow process as it works to get everybody on board before it takes off.  It doesn’t mean that there must be 100% agreement, but it does mean that those who are reluctant or who disagree are still willing to go along with the decision and not oppose it. 

Neither conciliarity nor working for consensus are opposed to the notions of hierarchy.   The OCA was and is a conciliar church.   It abandoned the notion of consensus in order to accomplish the goals of certain individuals’ agendas.  That was a  more efficient way to operate, and largely explains how the scandal could so sweep the church.  Very efficient means were found to reach decisions – a “divide and conquer” methodology, an Executive Committee, providing the various councils with pre-approved decisions rather than asking them to debate the issues or to work for consensus.  The result was a fair amount of dysfunction – demoralization, passive-aggressive behavior, non-ownership of the vision of the church, indifference, marginalization of various people, a loss of interest in the church by some of the more creative, energetic and intelligent members.

Consensus building requires discussion, debate, and a willingness to accept and deal with disagreement.  Consensus building requires a membership working for real community, not pseudo-community.  In pseudo-community members fear disagreement and dissent and debate because they are not bonded together by a common vision, common goals, commitment to one another.  It is only when members can acknowledge their own personal as well as their common brokenness that they can value others and be willing to serve others.  This is the climate in which consensus can be built. 

The recent joint meetings of the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops are efforts to use conciliarity to reach consensus.  Internets sites such as which allow discussion and disagreement can also be helpful in consensus building as they allow disparate opinions to be expressed in the same format – it is at least the potential for an idea exchange.  The Town Hall meetings of the OCA in preparation for the ANAC are another forum for potential consensus building.   The final ingredient in any of these forums is of course the effort by someone, by a designated,  recognized, or charismatic or unofficial leadership to work toward developing an agreement among members – a willing consent to value and strengthen relationships as well as to work toward a common goal.

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.