St. Silouan: What is a Bishop?

Since the OCA‘s Diocese of the Midwest Special Assembly this past week nominated  Fr. Paul Gassios to become our next bishop, it is a good time to think about what a bishop is or should be.  St. Silouan the Athonite (d. 1938AD) says this about a bishop:

St. John Chrysostom

“The Lord calls His bishops to feed His flock, and gives them freely of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is said that the Holy Spirit stablished the bishops in the Church, and in the Holy Spirit they have the power to bind and remit sins. And we are the sheep of the Lord’s flock whom He loved unto the end and to whom He gave our holy pastors. They are heirs to the Apostles, and by the grace accorded them they bring us to Christ. They teach us repentance; they teach us to keep the Lord’s commandments. They proclaim the word of God, that we may know the Lord. They guide us along the path of salvation, and help us to climb the heights of the lowly spirit of Christ. They gather the afflicted and straying sheep of Christ into the Church’s fold, that their souls may find rest in God. They pray to God for us, that we may all be saved. As the friends of Christ they are able to entreat and be heard of the Lord, attaining humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit for the living, forgiveness of sins for the dead, and for the Church peace and freedom from bondage. They carry the Holy Spirit within them, and through the Holy Spirit forgive us our sins.

Three Hierarchs

By the Holy Spirit they know the Lord, and like the angels they contemplate God. They are strong to tear our minds from the earth and attach them to the Lord. They grieve when they see us grieving God and preventing the Holy Spirit from dwelling in us. All the troubles of the earth lie on their shoulders, and their souls are carried away with love of God. They pray without cease, beseeching comfort for us in our afflictions, and peace for the whole world. By their ardent prayers they draw us, too, to serve God in a spirit of humility and love. For their own humility and love for the people, the Lord loves them. Inasmuch as they continue in great toil and struggle, they are enriched by the wisdom of the Saints, whose example they seek to follow in their own life. The Lord so loved us the He suffered on the Cross for us; and His sufferings were so great that we are unable to apprehend them because we love the Lord so little. Likewise do our spiritual pastors suffer on our account, although we often do not see their sufferings. And the greater a pastor’s love, the greater are his sufferings; and we who are His sheep should understand this, and love and revere our pastors” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 400-401)

Fr. Paul Gassios Nominated

Fr. Paul Gassios
Fr. Paul Gassios

The news is that  the Special Midwest Diocesan Assembly held in Cleveland today overwhelmingly voted to nominate Fr. Paul Gassios to be our candidate to become bishop of our Diocese.  His name will be submitted to the OCA’s Synod of Bishops for their consideration to elect Fr. Paul as our Diocesan Bishop.

Let us pray that God will guide the Synod in their deliberations and that that God will guide Fr. Paul through this process.   May the Lord also give grace, peace and healing to our Diocese.

The Bishop: Lover of the Poor

As the Diocese of the Midwest prepares to nominate a candidate to become the next diocesan bishop, we can consider what role a bishop is to have in the life of the Church and in the world.

“…In the late antique period, that is, between the years 300 and 600 of the Common Era. […]The Christian bishop was held by contemporaries to owe his position in no small part to his role as the guardian of the poor. He was the ‘lover of the poor’ par excellence: ‘A bishop who loves the poor, the same is rich, and his city and region shall honor him.’ But not only bishops were expected to be ‘lovers of the poor.’ To be a ‘lover of the poor’ became a public virtue. It was a virtue expected of Christian emperors.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, p 1)

In nominating a man to become our bishop we attempt to discern the will of God for our Diocese and Church.   The bishop sits not as judge but to help incarnate the Lord’s love and wisdom in the diocese.   His is not supposed to be the image of secular power.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42-45)

The bishop is called to serve, as described in the Pastoral Epistle to Titus.

For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.(Titus 1:7-9)

May it be so in our Diocese!

The Power of the Bishop: The Power to Serve

Fr. Paul Gassios
Fr. Paul Gassios

The Diocese of the Midwest is in the process of selecting  a new bishop.  God-willing at the Diocesan Assembly on October 7 in Cleveland it will nominate a man in order to present him to the OCA Synod of Bishops for them to elect him as the head shepherd of the Diocese.  I just ask for all the faithful of the Diocese to pray for our Assembly that they can discern the will of God in this matter.  Pray also for Fr. Paul Gassios, the current Diocesan Administrator, who is being considered for the office of bishop.  Fr. Paul in accepting consideration for this office has shown himself to be a faithful and obedient son of the Church.  He has not sought out this office, but has made a humble gesture to accept the office if it is the will of the Diocese.

Here are some thoughts from Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev on the ‘power’ of the bishop, the power to serve others so that all can do the work of salvation:

“The idea of power as diakonia, that is ministry or service, was first formulated by St. Paul, who based it upon Christ’s own teaching. Paul’s famous words addressed to Rome state that ‘those who have authority (hoi archontes) are ministers of God (leitourgoi Theou)’ (Rom 13:6), This approach was alien to the Roman mentality. In republican Rome power was honor and in imperial Rome, the power was divinity. These words of St. Paul were not heard at that time since Roman power did not wish to consider itself as a ministry. Only such an understanding of power, though, would be acceptable to Christian consciousness. The power, as divinity, was the ‘infernal beast’. Nearly two centuries later, Origen again used this Pauline approach to the subject of power with respect to the presiders of the churches. I think he ought to be called ‘guide’ (hêgoumenos), the one we call ‘bishop’ in the Church. He ought to be the servant of all in his ministry, in order to be of use to all in the work of salvation.”The Church of the Holy Spirit, p 270)

The Midwest Diocesan Effort to Discern God’s Will

The Diocese of the Midwest is in the process of electing a new ruling bishop.  This is a normal part of the life in a hierarchical church, though in the long history of the Orthodox Church many times the selection of a bishop took place in unusual circumstances, and sometimes they elected an unusual character as bishop.


A few years ago the diocese followed an active selection process in which it attempted to discern the will of God for the Diocese.  At least some Orthodox historians have felt  the theological process of selecting a bishop is not “electing” (in  a modern ‘democratic’ sense of the word) a man to become bishop, but rather the diocese is trying to discern who is it that God would have serve Him in this capacity.  The election of a bishop is thus an effort by a diocese to discern the divine will.   Our diocese followed a process in which a committee narrowed the field down to three ‘vetted’ candidates who were then presented to the diocese for consideration.  Some thought the process was a return to ancient Christian practice, while others thought the process placed too much emphases on a modern sense of democracy and choosing between competing candidates.  However, the OCA follows tradition which does not allow campaigning for the office of bishop.  So the members of the diocese had to use their own wits in determining which one of the three men to put forward as the candidate to become our diocesan hierarch.

Unfortunately, the chosen candidate’s own stay in office was truncated as he had to step down from office.   And so, far more quickly than we ever envisioned, we are back at the point of having to choose a man to be our diocesan bishop.  Perhaps we can say that we did not do well in discerning God’s will, so the fault is our own.  Maybe we relied too much on believing we knew what was best for the diocese, rather than on really trying to discern what is it that God wants for His Church in the 21st Century.   Or perhaps we took our eyes off of Christ and looked for a prince or a son of man, rather than looking to Christ.   We relied too much on what we thought was good for the Church rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to show us what direction the Church was to be taking.  That is a temptation for the modern church in the West.    Democracy, for all of its virtues in choosing secular leaders,  is not a fool-proof way of discerning God’s will.

Thus, we are faced this year with choosing another man to present to the Synod of Bishops and to ask them to elect him as our next archpastor.  The Diocesan Council has set us on the path of accomplishing this selection of a bishop this year in as much as it is calling for a special diocesan assembly in October to chose the man we want the Synod to elect as our next diocesan bishop.

GassiosIn some ways this is simply a continuation of what was started several years ago.  It is following through on that process as we consider again a man who was chosen by the diocesan episcopal search committee as one of three final candidates.  We did chose a man in 2010 who we asked the Synod to elect as our bishop, but he is no longer in office.  We have before us a priest who served in our diocese for many years, Fr. Paul Gassios, who was vetted both by the Synod of Bishops and by the diocesan episcopal search committee.  Fr. Paul was not chosen in that 2010 assembly, but that certainly was not because he is unqualified for the position.   At that time, we the members of the special diocesan assembly collectively did not discern that Fr. Paul was to be our bishop.  We thought otherwise, and yet the man we chose did not long remain in office but had to step down.  Apparently He was not the one God wished we would have to be our bishop.  So we are given opportunity to try again and discern God’s will.  Like a number of other priests, I think Fr. Paul is the obvious candidate for us to put forward.  He still meets the criterion for the office as was determined by the process we chose to follow.  For his part, he has not actively pursued this office but rather has shown a willingness to obey a call to serve the church.

Maybe in this process we learn again the lesson that God’s people have had to learn before about selecting a leader.  As the Lord said to Samuel the Prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Those words are just as true today as they were when Samuel heard them and as they were in 2010.  If we rely too much on external appearance, on whom we think looks like a bishop, we may fail to choose the man who has the heart which the Lord looks at.  Doesn’t matter how much we think a man looks like a bishop, what we have to discern is whether he is the man God chooses to be bishop for our diocese.

We can see that choosing a bishop has proven through history to be a difficult task – even when a candidate for the office has all the appearance of a pious man.

Renouncing World Serving“Reflecting on Christ’s exchange with Peter in John 21, Chrysostom remarks  that Christ does not say to this apostle, If you love me, practice  fasting, sleeping on the ground, prolonged vigils, or any particular deeds  of justice or mercy. Rather, he instructs his disciple, “Tend my sheep.”  In a similar vein John argues that mortification of the body and other ascetic  rigors are insufficient to produce the discernment and vigilance required of a leader in the church. Indeed the isolated and inactive life of monks may hide the defects of some men, while those who serve the church in public must expose their souls to all.  In another passage he points out that even the example of an apostolic life is of no avail in  disputing heresy and false doctrine, yet this is the constant struggle of  the priest.”  (Andrea Sterk ,  Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity,  kindle Loc. 2013-17)

Let us pray that God will direct our thinking and open our hearts and minds to discern what it is He wills for our diocese.

Bishop Matthias Steps Down

In a pastoral letter dated April 14, 2013 posted on the OCA’s webpage, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon announced that the OCA’s Synod of Bishops came to a consensus in announcing the retirement of His Grace, Bishop Matthias of the Diocese of the Midwest.  You can read Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter in its entirety at the above link.  In part, His Beatitude said:

“…  the Holy Synod has been carefully reviewing all aspects of this matter, including the Report of the Response Team that investigated the complaint, the Report of the Institute which offered the week-long evaluation and the discussions held at the Assembly and Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the Midwest.

At the Spring Session of the Holy Synod, held on March 11-14, 2013, the members of the Holy Synod met with His Grace, Bishop Matthias, and came to a consensus on this matter.  After much prayer and deliberation, the Holy Synod regretfully determined to recommend to their brother, Bishop Matthias, that he retire voluntarily from his position as diocesan bishop for the Diocese of the Midwest.

Although His Grace was obedient to all the directives placed upon him by the Holy Synod, it was the Holy Synod’s considered opinion that the healing of the Diocese and of the complainant, as well as Bishop Matthias’ own healing, would not be possible should he be returned to the Diocese as a ruling hierarch.  The Holy Synod offered him some time to reflect upon this action and to plan for his transition.

Since the time of the Holy Synod meeting, His Grace, Bishop Matthias, the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Diocese of the Midwest have reached a consensus concerning this entire matter.  This includes the necessary considerations for the complainant, for His Grace and for the clergy and faithful of the diocese.  Bishop Matthias’ retirement will be effective Monday, April 15, 2013.

In an Archpastoral Letter of Bishop Matthias posted on the Diocesan webpage and also dated today Bishop Matthias wrote:

OCA, Portraits, Nov. 18, 2010.“After a great deal of prayer and consultation with personal advisors, I have chosen to step down as Bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest in obedience to the wishes of the Holy Synod, effective April 15, 2013.  … It is my hope that my stepping down will end the ordeal allowing the diocese to move toward healing.   I plan to move from Chicago sometime in mid-May 2013.  I understand the mistakes that I have made in all of this and take responsibility and blame for the part that I have played in this.  . . .  I ask for everyone’s forgiveness for my failings, my mistakes and sins.  In turn, I assure everyone of my forgiveness.”  

Diocese of the Midwest’s Discussion on Sexual Misconduct

The Midwest Diocesan Assembly allowed a needed discussion on the current situation with Bishop Matthias on administrative Leave of Absence.   OCA Chancellor Fr. John Jillions did confirm that the allegations as reported on the Internet were accurate.

Some would say there was an emotional release as diocesan members expressed grief over the situation created by the bishop’s sexual harassment of a young woman.  Several speakers reported that their parishes expressed strong sentiments calling for the bishop to resign after learning the nature of the allegations.   Several noted that the bishop had violated trust in his behavior which would be difficult if not impossible to restore even if he successfully completes some treatment program.   On the other hand, those in the diocese who have had only positive personal experiences with Bishop Matthias expressed their dismay over the readiness of so many in the diocese to believe the allegations against the bishop.   Yet, the Response Team investigating the allegations apparently were convinced that sexual misconduct occurred, and the Synod of Bishops accepted their report and recommendations including the fact that the bishop had engaged in sexual misconduct as defined by the OCA’s policies.   The bishops themselves in their rendered decision showed they believed the allegations were substantiated by the evidence and the investigation.   So while a few maintain that there is just confusion about the bishop’s intentions and actions, the Synod of Bishops was convinced that misconduct occurred.   The Bishops do not seem to think the situation was merely a misunderstanding, nor did the woman who filed the complaint.

Resolutions calling for Bishop Matthias to resign were ruled out of order as were ones calling for a “no confidence vote” by the assembly.  Archbishop Nikon of Boston who presided over the assembly did affirm that no Synodal decisions have been made about what is going to happen except that Bishop Matthias must complete an intensive psychological evaluation and rehabilitation, and then undergo a peer mentoring time before he would be allowed to return to active ministry.  ‘Archbishop Nikon did not know how long the rehabilitation program would last, but he made it clear that no decision about the bishop’s return has been reached.

The assembly did vote by a wide margin to remove from the 2013 Budget a proposed 12.5% pay increase for the bishop – something the bishop himself had apparently requested.  The sense was that it was extremely inappropriate to give a raise to a clergyman who was on administrative leave of absence for having engaged in sexual misconduct.

For the Diocese of the Midwest, the period of waiting continues as the bishop follows the steps laid out for him by the Synod of Bishops – steps he must successfully complete before the Synod will give consideration to whether he can be restored to ministry.  A number of people expressed a notion that in many secular professions, the same misconduct committed by the bishop would have led to immediate dismissal.  The issue for the Midwest is not just personal as some allege.  It is principle and precedence and policy – how does the church respond to clergyman who have committed sexual harassment or other forms of sexual misconduct?   Because how we respond sends a message to victims about whether the OCA has a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by clergy.

Links to my other blogs on sexual misconduct in the church can be found at Blogs on Sexual Misconduct in the Church.

Reflection on our Diocese

To All My Beloved Fellow Members of St. Paul Parish,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I want in this letter to convey to you my thoughts and feelings as your parish priest about the situation with our diocesan bishop.  I have already conveyed these ideas to Bishop Matthias and also to some members of the Synod of Bishops.  While I will offer my opinion here about how I understand our situation, my prayer is for all of us to be faithful to the Gospel.

The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America after reviewing the report and recommendation of the Response Team appointed to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against our Diocesan Hierarch, the Right Reverend Matthias, have accepted the fact that the allegations are substantiated.   The Synod, following the OCA’s Policy, Standards and Procedures, rendered a decision regarding a course of action to take with Bishop Matthias who they found guilty of sexual misconduct.

The reaction of many in the Diocese to our bishop’s behavior has been dismay,  disappointment, and even disgust.   Many have questioned how he could ever again serve as bishop since he has destroyed his moral authority and by his own actions revealed a lack of pastoral wisdom or judgment which one would expect from someone who had been ordained for 40 years.

It is not my intention to air our dirty laundry, but all of these facts are quite public, as they should be, and so publicly – diocesan clergy and lay members together with the Synod of Bishops- we can discuss our situation in order to do the truth (2 Cor 13:8).

 “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”  (Luke 12:48)

We entrusted the pastoral care of our Diocese to Bishop Matthias, and he publicly disgraced himself and in so doing shamed us all.   As is clear in the offending texts and emails he was writing as the Diocesan hierarch not as a private citizen.  As Christ teaches, we rightfully require much and demand the more.   The high standards and expectations for our bishop should be maintained.  Besides there are dire consequences for the unwise words we say.

“I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:36-37)

We pray and hope that our bishop will eventually understand the hurt and harm he has done not only to the woman he victimized but to all of us in the Diocese.   We hope that like the Prodigal Son he will come to his senses and truly repent.  The Synod has assigned him to a therapeutic program in which we hope he will gain the self-awareness to see himself as others see him.   Time will tell whether that will happen.

However, It is not only Bishop Matthias who needs healing.  Our Diocese has been harmed but what has happened and we all need healing – no doubt some of us feel the stress of this situation worse than others.  Bishop Matthias was acting in the role of diocesan bishop as is clear in the offending texts he sent.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch says, where the bishop is, there is the church.  When the bishop engages in misconduct he drags down the diocese as well.   Some of us at least have felt the shame, embarrassment and hurt caused by our hierarch.

We too need the chance to heal but, I believe this will be hard to accomplish if we know our hierarch is going to be restored to our Diocese, back to the very position whose trust and stewardship he betrayed.    The Church from the earliest times in its own canons realizes how serious it is for a hierarch to scandalize the church, and scandalized many of us are.   Our healing will come when we feel safe and know that we won’t be dragged down again by such behavior.

Bishop Matthias at this year’s clergy convocation  spoke to us about the book BEAUTHY FOR ASHES.  He spoke about the important need for there to be  order restored in a diocese which has suffered scandal.  He talked about the importance of re-establishing the dignity and authority of the clergy.   Personally I don’t see how this can happen as long as he is the bishop.   I hope he will live up to what he spoke about and take the necessary steps to restore the dignity and authority of the clergy in our diocese which have been damaged by his own actions.    I want him to get the therapy and healing he needs and also hope he allows our diocese to heal by stepping down as bishop.

“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,  but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled…”  (Titus 1:7-8)

The problem facing us is not only what he wrote in the offending messages and emails, but also that he blames the victim for his problems and he publicly denied on the Diocesan webpage that he was guilty of the allegations.  His claim has been shown to be false.  It raises again the issue of how can we trust a man who did not tell the truth.   It is hard to see how we can take seriously what he says.  He asks for our forgiveness but then hopes we will see the purity of his heart.  Repentance does not involve self-justification.

Jesus taught that he who is not faithful in little things, is not trustworthy in big things.   On some level what our bishop did is small, but it raises a big question about trust.

To rephrase Jesus in John 3:12, if we cannot trust him about earthly things, how can we trust him about heavenly things?

We all are to ask God to forgive our bishop, as we are taught by Christ to do.  On the Cross our Lord prayed for his tormentors – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”   In the current situation, our Diocese has been hung on the Cross, and we too are praying from that Cross that God will forgive our bishop.  But we as Diocese have been seriously wounded, and are in need of healing.   Christ forgave His tormentors but he didn’t bless them to continue tormenting others.  The healing of our Diocese begins with our bishop getting into therapy and then not only taking a long leave of absence, but resigning from his office to allow the Diocese to heal.

I think it is better for Bishop Matthias and our Diocese that he not be burdened with the pressures and issues which come with being the hierarch.  I hope that our Synod of Bishops will also come to the realization that the trust has been betrayed and broken to a point that it is better not to try to restore it, but rather to let both Diocese and bishop heal from these wounds by allowing us to move into the future on different tracks.

The Synod wishes for Bishop Matthias’ healing, as do we all.  Certainly, he has now the opportunity to repent and to straighten out his life.  In the liturgy we pray constantly to spend the remaining time of our life in repentance.  That I think is the second chance the bishop is to be offered – to get back on the track of repentance, but not to put him into a position whose pressures he didn’t handle well.

Those are my thoughts about where we are and what I hope might happen.

May God be merciful on us all.

I personally have been sickened by the situation we are in.  For all of you who have joined the church, I offer my regrets for the failures in leadership you have witnessed.   Christ says of the Father in John 15:2 :  “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”   We will now see whether we are being pruned to bear more fruit or whether we are being judged as having born no fruit at all.

Fr. Ted