The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

The recent resignation of Metropolitan Jonah has again caused some to claim the OCA is too immature to have autocephaly.  As proof of the OCA’s immaturity they point out that once again a problem has occurred with a metropolitan that required the Synod of Bishops to take action and request the metropolitan to step down.

Yet, maturity by definition means to have attained some fully developed state, and it seems as if the Synod of Bishops is acting in a mature way by seeing a(nother) serious problem and addressing it as is in their power to do.  There is accountability in the Church, and the Synod has a responsibility to deal with problems that exist at the episcopal level in the Church.  However much the OCA may be struggling with its stability and the office of the Primate, it is dealing with its problems in a mature way.  The Synod is not being governed by fatalistic determinism which would say “there is a problem with the Primate but there is nothing that can be done about it, we will just have to suffer.”   Rather they are taking an active role in guiding the OCA through difficult times.  And they are doing it with a certain degree of transparency.   They are not pretending there are no problems.

The situation reminds me again of the experience of Moses in the Old Testament which I wrote about in a February 2008 blog, Why Do  You Cry to Me?   (the context for that blog than as now was the OCA dealing with its internal problems).  I’ll quote the blog here:

In Exodus 14:15, the fleeing Israelites find themselves in dire straits – trapped by a sea on one side and the pursuing Egyptian army on the other; they have nowhere to go and bitterly criticize their “liberator” Moses for having led them to their scandalous and inescapable situation.  Moses boldly tells the tremulous people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still”  (Exodus 14:13-14).No doubt, Moses believed every word he spoke, and he too intended to sit back and watch what God would do for them.  But the LORD, who has a habit of demanding synergy at the darndest times, “said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward’” (14:15).  The ball was in Moses’ court, not God’s.  It was Moses’ move, not God’s.  God is not going to do for His people what they have to do for themselves.

The Synod may have been looking for a clear sign from God, but they had to do what Moses had to do:  move ahead as the leaders of God’s people.  We have to act in concert with God.  From the same 2008 blog, the Noah story is edifying as well:

God warned Noah of the impending flood with which He was going to destroy the earth.  God informs Noah of this cataclysm, but does the LORD build Noah an ark?   NO.  God tells Noah to build the ark.   Salvation is not a spectator sport – you either participate or you lose.

So the OCA Synod of Bishops did what it had to do and what it is supposed to do when there are problems at the episcopal level of the Church.  That is maturity, for indeed it was a difficult decision to make considering our recent history.  No one, especially not the bishops, wanted to have to ask another metropolitan to step down.

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”  (Hebrews 5:14)

The bishops were called upon to discern, to distinguish between good and evil, which is a sign of maturation according to the Epistle to the Hebrews.  I do see the decision made as being quite mature for the OCA, and it does for me call to mind two other passages from St. Paul that mention maturity.

St. Paul

“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.   Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

There was a need to speak “the truth in love” so that we can continue to grow into Christ.  The bishops exercised their gifts and their office to build up the Body of Christ and bring us to that mature manhood.

 “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.   Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.   Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”  (Philippians 3:13-16)

The OCA was gifted with autocephaly and the bishops have demonstrated that they are holding onto that autocephaly which we have attained.  Like St. Paul the OCA continues to strain forward to what lies ahead.

See Archbishop Nathaniel’s Letter and the Future of the OCA

An Explanation for Metropolitan Jonah’s Resignation

His Grace, Bishop Matthias has sent out a letter (the OCA Synod Statement on the resignation as adopted by the Synod of Bishops) offering an explanation about the events surrounding the recent resignation of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the OCA.  Bishop Matthias’ letter is also available on the Diocesan Webpage at Archpastoral Letter.

July 16, 2012
Hieromartyr Athenogenes

Archpastoral Letter
No. 149

Beloved Clery, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest:

Christ is in our midst!

We, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, have
hesitated to release further details surrounding the resignation of
Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of our Church, this in a desire to
preserve his dignity and to prevent further harm to an innocent party.
We did this knowing there would be appeals for additional information
regarding our decision. We also harbored some hope that Metropolitan
Jonah would show a willingness to accept responsibility for his
actions and failures to act. However, things said and written by
Metropolitan Jonah since his resignation have demonstrated that he is
not accepting that responsibility.

Why did we ask Metropolitan Jonah to resign?

In slightly less than four years as our leader, Metropolitan Jonah has
repeatedly refused to act with prudence, in concert with his fellow
bishops, in accordance with the Holy Synod’s Policies, Standards and
Procedures on Sexual Misconduct (PSPs), and in compliance with advice
of the Church’s lawyers and professionals in expertise in dealing with
cases of sexual misconduct.

The most disturbing and serious matter, indeed the final matter that
caused us to ask the Metropolitan to resign or take a leave of absence
and enter a treatment program, involves the Metropolitan’s poor
judgment in critical matters of Church governance, lack of adherence
to the PSPs, and the risk of serious harm to at least one other
person. While the names, dates and other details must be held in
confidence to minimize the risk of further harm, we can say the
following.

At some point after his enthronement as our Primate, Metropolitan
Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and to
others to be actively and severely abusing alcohol, which more than
once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women.
One of these episodes involved the brandishing of a knife, and the
other the discharge of a firearm, the former resulting in the man’s
arrest. The man was also incarcerated for three days in yet another
incident, shortly after he was accepted into the OCA by Metropolitan
Jonah. While under Metropolitan Jonah’s omophorion, this priest is
alleged to have committed a rape against a woman in 2010.

Metropolitan Jonah was later told of this allegation in February 2012,
yet he neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops, nor
notified the Church’s lawyers, nor reported the matter to the police,
nor in any other way followed the mandatory, non-discretionary PSPs of
the OCA. The alleged victim, however, did report the rape to the
police. We know, too, that the alleged victim and a relative were
encouraged by certain others not to mention the incident, and were
told by them that their salvation depended on their silence. As
recently as last week Metropolitan Jonah was regularly communicating
with one of those who tried to discourage the reporting of this crime
by the alleged victim and her relative. In addition, the Metropolitan
counseled the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy, without
informing the military recruiter of any of the priest’s problems.
Finally, the Metropolitan attempted to transfer the priest to other
Orthodox jurisdictions, and ultimately did permit him to transfer to
another jurisdiction, in each case telling those jurisdictions there
were no canonical impediments to a transfer.

We have started an investigation into the rape allegation, and cannot
assume whether the allegation is true or not. We only know that
earlier allegations of misconduct by this priest were handled by
Metropolitan Jonah in a manner at a complete variance with the
required standards of our Church.

Moral, canonical and inter-Orthodox relations issues aside, in light
of the recent widely-publicized criminal cases involving sexual abuse
at Penn State and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Kansas City
Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the extent of the risk of
liability to which the Metropolitan has exposed the Church cannot be
overstated. We knew already from past experience with Metropolitan
Jonah that something had to change; we had hoped that change would
come about as the result of Metropolitan Jonah fulfilling his promise
to comply with the recommendation given him by the medical facility to
which he was admitted for evaluation and treatment last November, as
he assured us he would do at our last All-American Council in Seattle.
That promise having gone unfulfilled, when this latest problem came
to our attention at the end of June, we felt that we had no choice but
to ask him to take a leave of absence or to submit his resignation.
The moral, human, canonical and legal stakes were simply too high.

Leading up to this most recent problem, there has existed for several
years now a repeated pattern by Metropolitan Jonah of taking other
unilateral actions that were contrary to the advice of the Holy Synod
and/or the Church’s lawyers, which prolonged or caused litigation
involving the OCA, which substantially increased legal fees, which
created confusion in negotiations, and which exposed the OCA to
otherwise avoidable additional financial and legal liability.

He withheld information from his brother bishops and from the Church’s
lawyers concerning litigation matters, and matters which might have
resulted, and still might result, in litigation.

He has spoken unilaterally with and provided sensitive information to
opposing counsel and opposing parties concerning pending and
threatened litigation, although he had specifically been warned many
times of the perils in doing so.

He gave to unauthorized persons a highly sensitive, painstakingly
detailed internal Synodal report concerning numerous investigations
into sexual misconduct, risking leaks of names of alleged victims and
alleged perpetrators. While those who now possess the report are
wrongfully in possession of OCA property, they have not yet returned
their copies of these highly confidential and sensitive documents,
further exposing our Church to potential legal liabilities.

What we have said here is based on the Metropolitan’s own words, both
during numerous Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, and
established in documentary evidence. We cannot release that publicly,
and the Metropolitan Council members have legal and moral obligations
to maintain in confidence information pertaining to threats to
individuals and alleged crimes. We have however been communicating
with and will continue to communicate with law enforcement
authorities.

Our request for Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation, or that he take a
leave of absence for treatment, came at the end of a rather long list
of questionable, unilateral decisions and actions, demonstrating the
inability of the Metropolitan to always be truthful and accountable to
his peers. The Metropolitan’s freely-chosen resignation has been
characterized by him and others as the result of politics and internal
discord among the members of the Holy Synod. Quite to the contrary,
the other members of the Holy Synod stand firmly together in our
unanimous astonishment at the Metropolitan’s actions. We cannot
stress enough that while the most recent events are likely the most
dangerous for the Church, these represent only the latest in a long
series of poor choices that have caused harm to our Church. We
understand and agree that an ability to work or not work well with
others, or a challenged administrative skill set, or Metropolitan
Jonah’s refusal to comply with the recommendations of the treatment
facility, while not the reasons for his requested resignation, were
fundamentally related to the consequences of his actions.

Each bishop of the Orthodox Church in America has a duty to Jesus
Christ to shepherd his respective diocesan flock, and to be a good
steward and trustee of the temporal properties of the Church entrusted
to his care. After the developments of the past few weeks, we knew,
individually and together acting in one accord as the Synod, that we
could no longer exercise our duties as shepherds or as trustees and
stewards without asking for the Metropolitan’s resignation.

There are some who are seeking to promote a variety of rumors or other
reasons for the Metropolitan’s resignation, in their conversations or
on the Internet. Some argue that the resignation had to do with moral
or political views publicly expressed by Metropolitan Jonah that
conflicted with the views of others in the Church, the so-called
“culture wars.” Such views have never been a point of contention in
Holy Synod or Metropolitan Council meetings. These issues were
discussed, and statements and actions of the Holy Synod have
demonstrated their unchanging position on traditional Orthodox views
of morality. This speculation as to other motives behind the
resignation is simply not true; the reasons for the resignation are
detailed in this message.

We continue to pray for Metropolitan Jonah’s spiritual needs even as
his brother bishops have provided for his immediate material needs.
He has no Church assignment obligations, allowing him to focus on
himself and his family. Meanwhile, he is drawing full salary and
benefits until at least October, when the Holy Synod next meets.

We ask your prayers for the Church, for Her clergy and faithful and
for Her mission in the world.

Your shepherd in Christ,
+MATTHIAS
Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest

 

See also my blog The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

OCA Synod Appoints Locum Tenens & Temporary Administrator

The Orthodox Church in America has announced on its web page  that the Synod today appointed His Eminence, the Most Reverend Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, as the Locum Tenens of the Orthodox Church in America.  The Synod appointed His Grace, the Right Reverend Michael, Bishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, as the Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America.  The Synod also said that in due time they would make other decisions appropriate to dealing with the change in leadership in the OCA.   They asked for everyone’s prayers.

You can read the full text of the Synod’s letter at Locum Tenens Appointed.

Also available is the Holy Synod’s Statement Regarding the Resignation.

The Resignation of Metropolitan Jonah

Our Midwest Diocesan Bishop, Matthias, has sent a letter to the priests of the Diocese confirming the resignation of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America which was accepted on July 7th by the OCA’s Synod of Bishops and is considered effective as of today, July 9th.   His Grace asked that we priests “extend to the faithful calm assurances of faith in the Church and Her Helmsman, our Lord and Savior.

According to Bishop Matthias the Synod will have a teleconference meeting today to continue discussion on the resignation.   There is also planned at some point a teleconference call between the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan council to discuss the current situation.   Bishop Matthias directs us to the OCA’s webpage to watch for further information as it becomes available.  He also asks for our prayers.

See also my blog Metropolitan Jonah Offers His Resignation and OCA Appoints Archbishop Nathaniel as Locum Tenens.

See also The OCA’s Synod Statement on the Resignation.

Metropolitan Jonah Offers His Resignation

According to the Orthodox Church in America’s web page, Metropolitan Jonah tendered his resignation as Metropolitan on Saturday, July 7.  According to the letter published on the web page, Metropolitan Jonah asked to be reassigned as bishop citing his need to financially support his sister and parents.  The Metropolitan admitted that he had “neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of Primate.”

Metropolitan Jonah was elected as the Primate of the OCA in 2008 at the All American Council in Pittsburgh with a tremendous amount of hope and good will in what was hailed in the press as the “Miracle in Pittsburgh.”  It was thought his election signaled a new page in the OCA’s history – leaving behind a financial scandal that had rocked the church, and the election of the first convert to the office of Primate of the OCA.

According to the OCA webpage, the Synod of Bishops will meet in a teleconference on Monday, July 9, to discuss the tendered resignation.  The web page says a further announcement will follow that meeting.

As with any unusual change in leadership, there will be talk and discussion about the “why?s” of this situation.  Why is he resigning?  Why now?  etc.

Prior to the OCA’s own official statement, Rod Dreher had already posted on his blog an announcement that Metropolitan Jonah had been “ousted.”  Dreher calls the Synod of Bishops “ravenous wolves” and “wild dogs” but offers no explanation for his derogatory comments.  That the Metropolitan and Synod had been in contention over issues has been well known.  The Synod itself is not known for making rapid decisions.  And since there were well known disputes between the Synod and the Metropolitan, and between the staff and the Metropolitan, and between the Metropolitan Council and the Metropolitan, none of this occurs without context.  What the Synod will choose to reveal about its decision making remains to be seen.  But Dreher’s characterization of the on-going events seem pretty one-sided, and seem to lack that context which has been an on-going tussle within the OCA’s administration.  The OCA’s Synod has in fact demonstrated a rather patient attitude with the administrative problems and seemed to have been trying to help him with his office recognizing the truthfulness of the Metropolitan’s own statement that he was personality-wise ill suited for the position of Primate.

My prayers go out to all the Members of the OCA’s Synod (of which Metropolitan Jonah is one member) who again have to wrestle with such tumultuous events.

See also a few comments by Bishop Matthias of the Diocese of the Midwest  on this news at The Resignation of Metropolitan Jonah and OCA Appoints Archbishop Nathaniel as Locum Tenens.

See also the OCA Synod’s Statement on the Resignation.

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 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

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

Adventure’s in Wonderland

I do get asked at times about what happened at the most recent Metropolitan Council Meeting.  Of course, we spend so much time in Executive session, that there often seems little that can be commented on.  Additionally, I sit on the Ethics Committee and the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC) which also due to legal and confidentiality requirements do not allow very much public discussion of what is going on in the OCA.  Which is not to say that nothing is going on, but only that some of what is going on cannot be commented on and some of what goes on defies description.  So I decided to offer a few more enigmatic comments to help me at least feel that I’ve reported something to the church which I serve.  The best I could do this time is come up with three quotes from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.  This may not be helpful in offering information about what exactly happened in the meeting, but it does give expression to how I view some of the events. 

Alice: If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

 

Cheshire Cat: If I were looking for a white rabbit, I’d ask the Mad Hatter.
Alice: The Mad Hatter? Oh, no no no…
Cheshire Cat: Or, you could ask the March Hare, in that direction.
Alice: Oh, thank you. I think I’ll see him…
Cheshire Cat: Of course, he’s mad, too.
Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. Most everyone’s mad here.
[laughs maniacally; starts to disappear]
Cheshire Cat: You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mad Hatter: Would you like a little more tea?
Alice: Well, I haven’t had any yet, so I can’t very well take more.
March Hare: Ah, you mean you can’t very well take less.
Mad Hatter: Yes. You can always take more than nothing.

See also my blogs:  To Be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person  and Metropolitan Council:  What Were You Discussing?

Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

Over the past 3 years I have served on the OCA’s Metropolitan Council.  I have been impressed with the expertise of so many of the members – the gifts, wisdom, knowledge, talents and energy which they bring to each meeting.  I served a couple of times over the past 30 years in various capacities on the MC, and do believe that the Metropolitan Council has grown and improved through the years.

The Council has a responsibility to deal with some very hard issues in the life of the OCA, and consequently and unfortunately frequently has to go into Executive Session for its long discussions.   This of course also means that some of what the MC does is not minuted nor made public.  The amount of time spent in executive session is troubling for a church which is working to be transparent.  The current way of doing business is in some ways more open than used to be done – when discussions were held only by the elite few, and decisions were presented to the general body only for their approval.  Now in executive session there is passion, disagreement, and problems openly discussed with real debate and decisions being made by the body.

Since much of what we did in the recent meeting was done in Executive session, I cannot offer any more detail than you can find on the OCA’s officieal webpage (http://oca.org/news/headline-news/metropolitan-council-concludes-meeting).  You can read other, unofficial ideas about the MC meeting at OCAnews.org.

I intend in this blog and the next to offer a more enigmatic view of what the MC does and how its meetings in executive session relate to Christ and the Gospel.  Sometimes silence has a meaning.  Elijah heard God in the still small voice, not in the roaring tumult (1 Kings 19).  I beg my readers’ patience for not being able to share more directly what it is to sit in Executive Session.

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them.  And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Jesus, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him.  And he asked them, “What are you discussing with them?”  And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”  And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”   (Mark 9:14-19)

It is the case, sometimes, that the disciples of Christ are in discussion with the world and with each other, and Christ is absent.   He may join these discussions, wanting to know what the discussion and fuss is all about.   Sometimes we have to admit in frustration that we are not able to fix the problem which is confronting the OCA, or maybe we are not willing to do what it takes to fix the problem.   Christ is known to rebuke His disciples for their lack of faith.  He is no doubt troubled that we are not always capable of carrying out His will.  We have to accept His rebuke and seek his help to accomplish the task before us.

 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:32-35)

The disciples apparently had their own version of executive session, which they apparently did not want Christ to know about.  They had unminuted discussions which were not for the crowds nor for Christ’s ears.  Christ is patient with His disciples, even if they allowed their discussion to stray off topic.   He tries to turn such moments of human frailty into teachable moments – offering glimpses into the Kingdom of Heaven.    Christ reminds us that our meetings are about service – of others, of the good of the greater church, of the needs of the faithful.  Service is the topic of our meetings: We are to be servants.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. (Luke 24:13-17)

Even on the day of  resurrection they disciples found things to be sad about.  Discussing the events of the day did not uplift them.   They were stuck in dealing with the problems of life, and the resurrection was nothing more than part of the confusion and doubt of the day.  Christ still was with them as the disciples described the events of the day and the news they were wrestling with.  He sees their sadness and lets them discuss it without immediately taking away the sorrow.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.  Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further…     (Luke 24:18-28)

It was necessary for Christ to suffer these things.  It is still necessary for His Body, the Church, to suffer also before entering into His glory.   It is the promise of God, and the warning of Christ.

We sometimes think we have reached out destination, or perhaps just an impasse.  Christ is moving on.   This is not abandonment of His disciples but giving them direction to persevere.  We are on the sojourn to the Kingdom of God.  There may be momentary delays, and trials, and failures.  It happened between Egypt and the Promised land.  Forty years of wandering.  Leadership can fail, but Christ’s mission and salvation do not fail.   We must keep our eyes on Christ, even if for times in this world He vanishes from our sight.

Next:  Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

Metropolitan Council Meeting Postponed

As the OCA continues to work through its current situation with the Metropolitan on Leave of Absence, the Synod of Bishops has decided reluctantly to postpone the March meeting of the Metropolitan Council.  No date was set for rescheduling the meeting.  The Synod of Bishops apparently feels the canonically correct path is to postpone the meeting as the Metropolitan decided. 

What are we to make of these recent events?   Bishop Benjamin  wrote in a pastoral letter to his Diocese of the West:  “Our polity that rests upon the critical relationship between the primate and his synod is, I believe, what is being challenged but remains unchanged.”

Conciliarity, is part of the spiritual warfare and is a contact sport; passive spectators get in the way of the goal – the upward call of Jesus Christ. 

My reading of his words is that the real struggle which is taking place is between the metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops of which he is one member.    It is on the level of the hierarchs that the battle is to be engaged.   Since Bishop Benjamin especially, but the Synod in general, likes to keep their discussions and disagreements and debates among themselves and away from the ears of the faithful, we may never know exactly what gargantuan struggle, or passive agreement,  takes place.  We may eventually see some results announced to us, but the Synod is often silent not only about their discussions but also about their decisions.   While the Synod did release the Public Minutes of their recent Winter Retreat – and for good reason – I don’t think they ever released any minutes or decisions from their Fall meeting back in September.

Bishop Benjamin did offer a Lenten mea culpa for the goings on in the Synod:  “I ask your prayers for both the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod and I ask your forgiveness for the disturbance that has occurred in the peace of the Church.”

So we are left to consider whether our exclusion as members of the Body of Christ from the deliberations of the Synod is for our benefit or theirs, for our salvation and so they can do the work entrusted to them and which only they as bishops can do or because we are not worthy of engaging in serious discussion about the life and vitality of the Church.  It is of course sometimes difficult to pray for the bishops when we don’t know exactly what we are praying for or how we can be of help to them.  We also have our work to do as members of the Body of Christ, upon whom God has distributed His many gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can tend to those tasks which only we can do in our parishes and localities.   We do incarnate the Body of Christ wherever we assemble for the Eucharist, and whenever we do the work of Christ in the world.  We must not neglect our responsibilities and ministries because the bishops are wrestling with theirs.

One unintended side effect of postponing the Metropolitan Council Meeting is that Bishop-elect Matthias has announced he will be visiting our parish of St. Paul the Apostle in Dayton, OH, for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesday evening, March 16, 6:30pm.