Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book

The allegations of child sex abuse occurring at Penn State involving a football coach has caused literally a riot among fans, friends and the public.  Though a lot of the energy which has been reported has focused on what some see as the head coach being treated unfairly, what everyone in the Church should note is the direction in which U.S. law and the courts are headed when it comes to child sex abuse.  Zero tolerance means just that.

I’m not particularly interested in Penn State, I take note of the events because I serve on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee.  I point to what happened at Penn State as yet another wake up call to bishops, priests and parish members.  Sexual predators are real, they aren’t limited to a minority of Catholic priests.  They exist in every walk of life, and our Church is no less susceptible to their predations than any other organization in which children are present.

I advise you to read two articles from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the events.  I’m referring to these articles from a sports magazine as I’ll assume the magazine is not involved in current politics but is viewing the events from the point of view of sports writers.  Both articles are written by Andy Staples (I know nothing about him, I admit I don’t normally read SI and am a luke warm sports fan at best).  The first article is titled, “With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go.”  The second article is “Paterno’s Penn St. legacy forever marred by Sandusky scandal.”

I want to repeat and emphasize I have no real interest in this being related to sports, football, Penn St., or Joe Paterno.   I have nothing against any of these institutions.  My interest is purely what implications any of this has for the Orthodox Church.   Already the press, including my home town newspaper are making the connection:  Institutions in Sex Scandals try to Protect their Own.

Coach Paterno is not accused of sexual abuse.  The story is that someone reported to him witnessing a sex act between a coach and a 10 year old boy in the college football complex.  He reported it to Paterno, Paterno apparently following policy reported the event to a campus atheletic director.  But then nothing happened, no follow up, no outcry, no report to the police.  Life went on as if nothing happened.   As it turns out there were other victims of sex abuse from the same accused coach.  I think I heard he is indicted on 40 counts.  (You can read the indictment on line.)  Some of those might have been prevented had Paterno and others taken the allegations seriously and followed through in an investigation.  No one did.

All Orthodox in America need to pay attention to these events.  Child abuse is not merely unfortunate, nor is it merely a deadly sin [the type of which Jesus Himself suggested the perpetrator of such a horrible sin should have a millstone put around his neck and be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2)],  it is also a crime.  That is the part of child abuse that is now coming to roost in every church.  It will not be enough for us to feel sorry that sin happens.  The state in the case of child sexual abuse is saying we must actively and proactively work to prevent it from happening.  If we fail to do so, we will make the headlines of every news agency in the country.  But that isn’t the worst part.  The worst part is we will have failed to protect a child.  However terrible the behavior of the predators and sex abuse, it is those who suffer abuse whose suffering we should be concerned about.

Bishops, priest and parishioners of the Orthodox Church must not stay silent or on the sidelines on this issue.   We must all actively work to prevent child abuse in our parishes.  Wherever there are children, predators are interested in being there too.  Fortunately, predators are a very small portion of the total population.  But we must work proactively against them.   We each and all should be demanding our parishes, parish councils, priests, bishops and dioceses to take every step possible to help prevent even one child from being abused in our churches.  (See also my blog Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State).

We also should take note that we cannot hide behind having good policy.  Joe Paterno appears to have followed policy.  He reported the event to an atheletic supervisor, just not to the police.   Bishops and priests especially should take note of this.  If we try to “protect” ourselves by merely following policy, rather than by following up with real investigation of reported sexual abuse, we will find ourselves both in the scandalous position of Coach Paterno, and with the searing knowledge that we failed to protect our children.

Maybe the publicity of the Penn St. case will awaken more of us to the problem.  Too many have thought this a problem of the Catholic Church, or that it could only occur somewhere else.   We see now the problem is in society and the world of the fall.  This is the world in which we too abide.

See also my blog series which began with State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds

The Internet for the Non-teetotalers

The recent comments by the OCA bishops on social networking and the Internet as well as a few criticisms they proffered of the Internet at the All American Council give us all reason to consider the value of the Internet.   Today Mark Stokoe announced he was suspending publication of OCAnews.org, something he had been privately talking about for a very long time.

Perhaps the bishops will rest easy now; we will see how the antagonists of OCAnews.org react themselves since they justified their own publications as needed to counter OCAnews.   Will the end of OCAnews bring an end to Orthodox Internet wars as all parties declare the cessation of publication?  Or will some ideologically driven folk carry on with their ad hominem attacks?  Time will tell.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.”   (Proverbs 10:19)

Disagreement in the Church is nothing new – we can read about disagreements among the apostles while Jesus was still with them (which one of us is greatest?).    Disagreement is not always bad as it can help to clarify issues as certainly was done through the great theological debates which culminated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Internet itself has become a jousting point for the Orthodox – an issue arguing over the means by which we can communicate.   Certainly part of the issue, which many would say is the very goodness of the Internet in dealing with despotic dictators, is the inability of the few to control the Internet (as well as who speaks, or how many speak, or what they speak about).  The Internet’s threat to democracy is also there as we can see in the presidential campaigns where lies, fabrications, disinformation and distortions about various candidates abound.  The Internet can challenge the despot’s control of information, but it can also flood people’s email boxes and minds with useless, wrong and harmful ideas.  So the good and the bad of  using the Internet are not readily separable.

Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1842 dealing with temperance waxed eloquently about whether drunkenness arose “from the use of a bad thing” or rather “from the abuse of a very good thing.”

The same question is being asked about the use of the Internet by Orthodox Christians.   Some seem to want to make the Internet a bad thing from which ‘others’ should abstain.   After all, the Internet seems to be as addicting to some as alcohol is, and certainly it can lead to verbally abusive behaviors.    Yet Orthodoxy has not forbidden the use of alcohol to its members, even though its negative effects have been well known since the time of Noah.

The Internet itself is nothing more than a powerful tool for conveying information (or disinformation) to a large number of people, quickly, efficiently and often over great distances instantly.  Tools can build up the world or destroy it; they can be used to create beauty or make a mess of things.

Lots of people are killed in automobile accidents and yet our society is so structured that we can hardly survive without cars.   The Internet itself is often imaged as another highway, one which conveys information.  Highways are not without danger.  Parents warn their children about the danger even of crossing the street.  Yet we do not ban autos or highways or streets, for they all also are tools serving a purpose.

Perhaps the development of the Internet is something like  the discovery of the new world’s tobacco as described in the recent book by Charles Mann,  1493: UNCOVERING THE NEW WORLD COLUMBUS CREATED.  Tobacco was hailed as something marvelous, enriching, and even healthy by Europeans and Chinese, leading to the addiction to the plant of millions and also to their early deaths.  It took many centuries for humans to come to a belief that the drug effect of tobacco was dangerous to our health.

Tobacco’s stimulent effect was at first largely thought of as quite useful, especially for soldiers.     The Internet is not quite the same as tobacco, it is a far more powerful tool that remains outside of our bodies.   In the hands of a carpenter, a hammer can be effectively used to build beauty.  In the hands of a murderer it can bash someone’s brains.  So too with other tools, the whittler’s knife, the doctor’s scalpel or the laborer’s shovel which can dig a well or a grave.

But the Internet remains a tool in itself neither good nor evil, but capable of being used for both and either.  Some might think it both the use of a bad thing or at best the abuse of a good thing.    God in His own wisdom endowed humans with free will and has put into our hands, hearts and minds the ability to create beauty, to co-create the world with Him, and to procreate life.   We also have the ability to choose rather to destroy and to bring about death.   The Internet does not change humanity.  We invented it and we are the ones who will use it for good or ill or both.  As Christ taught us:

 “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 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 12:35-37)

The Internet is a tool, it is humans who choose good and evil.  The good among us will make good use of the Internet.   The evil will make use of the Internet as well.   We will know them by their fruit.  And we will see as with tools, sometimes swords are made into plowshares and sometimes the reverse happens.  The same material can be used for helping bring forth life and for taking life away.  In this world we also are aware that sometimes swords are needed.

There is still much for us to learn about the Internet.   It is obvious that Internet etiquette has not been embraced by some Orthodox.   Some find it easy to hide behind anonymity in order to attack others, accuse falsely, and abuse people.

It is also true that the wrong reading of Scripture can lead to heresy, yet we do not ban Bibles nor their study.

Unfortunately, as some of the Patristic Fathers noted about commentaries on the Scriptures, sometimes writers demonstrate exacting precision (Greek = akrebeia) about how they interpret the text, but their conclusions are purely wrong despite their interpretive precision.    So too on the Internet people can be inaccurate in what they write even when they are saying precisely what they intend.

“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14)

The Internet’s use requires much wisdom and discernment not to mention humility and love.  In the hands of the fool and of the wicked it will wreck sin and evil.  But it also can convey beauty and truth to the many.

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.

To be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) wrote:

“Therefore no one is chosen to rule over a community of brothers, unless, before he himself exercises authority, he has learned by obedience how he should command those who will be subject to him and has understood from the institutes of the elders what he should pass on to the young.  For they declare that to rule well and to be ruled well is typical of the wise person.”

St. John was writing about choosing the leader of a monastic community, but in the church his thoughts apply well to the selection of a bishop as well.  Abbots and bishops are commonly thought of as the ordained leaders of Orthodox communities; persons to be obeyed by virtue of their office.

According to Cassian we learn to command through the humble practice of being obedient.  If we haven’t spent years in the church experiencing that humble obedience, we are not prepared to become Christian leaders.  St. John says NO ONE is chosen to rule over a community who has failed to learn by obedience the wisdom of discipleship.  Obviously in the modern age such wisdom is seen as an ideal for indeed men are put in leadership positions – as abbots, priests and bishops – who have not had the years of experiencing learning the wisdom of discipleship.  We ask them to lead when they don’t understand the very people they are to lead – disciples, because they didn’t spend sufficient time in that role.

Cassian’s wisdom is that before someone can be put in a position which demands obedience of others, they must first learn to live in obedience and learn the value of obedience.  A failure in Christian leadership is often the chosen leader has not in fact ever lived for years in obedience learning the wisdom of that life.  Instead they are put in positions of power and demand obedience without any understanding of how obedience is an act of voluntary love and a way to follow Christ – to be His disciple.  The Christian leader is first of all a servant, imitating Christ’s washing the feet of His disciples, and fulfilling the life of self-sacrificial love as well.

Without living for years in obedience as an act of love, no Christian leader will be able to imitate or exhibit the love Jesus had as leader, Master, Messiah, God’s Son.  It seems in America at least monks can start monasteries and live as abbots without ever having spent years voluntarily serving others.  So they have no sense whatsoever about what Christian leadership means because they have never learned what constitutes being a disciple.  Some in fact seem to be self appointed abbots, starting monasteries without having lived in them.

Both ruling well and being ruled well are signs of the wise person say St. John.

Cassian had it right that the wise man knows how to be ruled – knows the importance of the other brothers and sisters in Christ, and as St. Paul says, that person must do whatever they do in love.    For St. Paul at least such love means  taking into account “the weaker ones” no matter how correct the leader might think he is.

St. John Cassian laments that men “declare ourselves abbas before we profess ourselves disciples.”

That is of course the path of unpreparedness for any who want to be bishops.

Before many a man ever lived as a parishioner, he wants to be bishop over parishes.  Before he has learned to be a disciple, he wishes to be master, despot.

Remember the Twelve, they too jockeyed to sit at the right hand of Christ, and debated which of them was the greatest.  Their concerns earned them serious rebuke from the Son of God.

There is a reality about the Church which is sometimes forgotten.  To enter the Kingdom of Christ, we must be Christian.  One can enter the Kingdom without being a bishop.  But in the Kingdom all must be Christians – disciples of the only Master and only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.    When one shows that he has not learned to be a disciple, has not learned the wisdom of obedience, then not only is he no real bishop, his own salvation is put at risk.  It is far more loving and merciful for the church to take away the title of bishop from someone so that they can learn to be a disciple, than to try to preserve their episcopacy but cause them to lose entrance into God’s Kingdom.

See also my blogs:  Adventures in Wonderland and Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

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.

Speaking to the Apostles and Their Successors

Reading through the four Gospels, one can see that the original twelve disciples are not sinless, perfect or infallible.  On the most basic level one of the Twelve denies Jesus and one betrays Him.   More frequently they don’t understand Him, and by the end of Mark’s Gospel they all have abandoned Him.

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”   (Mark 16:14)

Jesus does upbraid  and rebuke the glorious disciples for their failures.  On one occasion, quite famously, Jesus called Peter, the head of the Apostles, “Satan.”

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’   (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus was not afraid to severely rebuke the Apostles when they failed, in order to teach, correct and exhort them.   Are we not to imitate Christ?  An errant Apostle is to be rebuked and straightened out by Christ, whose Body we are.  The successors to the Apostles are not greater than the Twelve.

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes concerning the Apostles, comes from the Last Supper.  

 “And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’  They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’”   (Mark 14:17-19)

“Is it I, Lord?”  

None was totally sure of himself.  They were each terrified by the possibility that they would be the one who betrayed Christ.  Note:  they don’t deny the possibility.  Because they each have to ask, they each recognize they could do it, or perhaps, had already considered  it.  

Those first disciples at least had the humility and self awareness to question themselves regarding the accusation from Christ that one of them would betray Him.  As true disciples of the Master, they were humble, and had learned introspection; they each knew the value of self examination, truthfulness and repentance.  Each recognized that one of them could and would betray the Lord was realistically a possibility.   Each honestly wondered about himself.

“…and as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’”  (Matthew 26:21-22)

They were sitting with Christ, eating with Him, and yet admitting to themselves and to Christ: they could not only fail Him but even turn against Him.  What does it take for an Apostle, or their successors, to recognize that one of their own will or has turned against Christ?  

The 12 Apostles could be humble and recognize that each of them could fail Christ, betray Him,  or sin against Him.    They were not hierarchs who do not or cannot admit error, sin, failure or foible.  They did not circle the wagons around each other, self defensively and in opposition to Christ or the world. How terribly awesome that self admission, the heart of a penitent: “I can betray Him” – I, the Apostle, one of the chosen Twelve.  They were afraid, but not of what people would think of them, nor of making a mistake, or admitting they were wrong.  They were afraid because they admitted to their own self-willed sinfulness.

“’For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’  Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.    A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”  (Luke 22:22-24)

Just one second after pausing to recognize that one of them would betray Christ  – again, they don’t deny that this could happen, they are trying to figure out which one of them would do it – they begin to argue among themselves which one of them was to be regarded as greatest!   They obviously are already jockeying for power and prestige,  each already forgetting his terrifying realization of the last minute that he might betray Christ.  Jesus immediately and once again rebukes their failure and wrong attitude.

It is how the Christ speaks to one who strays from being a disciple.  It is how the Body of Christ is to imitate Him.  Rebuke the disciple who strays, and recognize that the one who betrays Christ and the Apostolic fellowship, disciple though he be, has left the fellowship, like Judas.

The doors were closed in fear…

In the days after the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles went into hiding, according to John’s Gospel (20:19).   They were afraid of the Jews.  Behind closed doors, Jesus met with those to whom He had entrusted His mission and ministry.  He wished them His peace and then showed them his wounds (20:20).

This cheered the fearful apostles a little (20:20).

But Jesus gave them little time for comfort, for his next words were these: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (20:21).

In other words, he expected His disciples to overcome their fears and secrecy and to leave their hiding place and go into the world as apostles – carry God’s Good News to all humanity – just as He had done through His life, death and resurrection. 

He had just showed them His wounds, His message was clear:  Go into the world, in love as I have done, and love the world.  Suffer and die for the salvation of the world.  Don’t be afraid, this is the way of glory for God’s people.  He wished them peace as He told them to go into the world to suffer as He had suffered for the sins of the world and for its salvation.

Last week, the OCA’s synod of bishops also met behind closed doors, in closed session.  It is possible like the apostles in whose succession they are, they too have fears which is why they close the doors.  They have much to discuss, as they have many problems and issues to deal with.  They seem to have much to fear as well – lawyers, allegations, lawsuits, scandal, the Internet, their flock, declining membership, clergy sexual misconduct, clergy abuse, financial mismanagement, the press, public opinion, secularism, democracy, crises, inadequacies, transparency, the past, the present and the future.  These are “the Jews” whom the successors to the apostles fear today and so stay behind closed doors.  A week after they meet, their deliberations remain locked behind those doors, for fear of their “Jews.”

We can pray that Christ will appear to them the next time they assemble behind closed doors, in closed session.  Perhaps He will give them peace, certainly He will tell them to leave the confines of their hiding place, to open the doors and go into the world to teach all that He commanded.  This time around though I think he needs to show not just the mark of the nails and the place where the spear pierced his side – still open and yet transfigured wounds.  He needs to show that He is still bleeding from these wounds, He needs to show the tears on His cheeks as He weeps for His Church, for its wounded members, for the leadership which imagines it can lead from behind doors which are closed in fear of the …

The only things we really need to fear is God and His judgment, and that we can fail as disciples to be His Church.

Fr. Matthias made Bishop-elect of the Midwest

Syosset, NY –  The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America in its fall session canonically elected Fr. Matthias Moriak to become the bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest.    Fr. Matthias had previously been nominated by the clergy and lay delegates to the special assembly of the Midwest Diocese held in October in Minneapolis.  His consecration as bishop is being planned for May of  2011.

A biography of the 61 year old Fr. Matthias is now available on the OCA’s webpage.

May God grant him many years!

The Bishop: Rule of Faith and Celibate Witness to the Kingdom

OCA Chancery

This is a follow up to my blog Episcopal Celibacy and Residency.     Some questions were asked in other online forums as to whether the diocese being concerned about their bishop’s place of residence and “private life” wasn’t in fact a call for some kind of “sex police” or invasive dictator-like vigilante tactics.  

Personally I don’t think anything I wrote, nor the questions I asked are anywhere near those ideas, but I wonder – has it happened that monastics who choose to live alone yet still in the world have mixed up the ideals of monasticism with what they value in our Western World – individualism, freedom, and total privacy? The monk it would seem to me by announcing his monastic lifestyle in fact gives up all privacy because he says “my lifestyle is my witness to Christ.” So he invites people to watch him. Yet in the modern world those embracing monasticism and then choosing to live in the world as individuals (and not in monastic communities) are saying, “my lifestyle is none of your business and I am mono – accountable to no one.”

I would again point out that the monk by declaring himself a celibate publicly makes his bedroom part of his Christian witness.  As soon as he tries to go private with his bedroom – he is denying his witness and I would question whether he is being a monk or just a bachelor who loves his privacy and individualism.  A monk means making one’s self accountable to the entire Christian Church.  Monasticism and modern individualism are not the same thing.

The bishop in Orthodoxy today is required to be a celibate (and at least potentially a monastic).  His lifestyle is part of his witness to the diocese and the world. We make his celibacy – his bedroom and private life – a main feature of why he was selected as bishop in the first place. In the tropar of a sainted bishop we extol them as “a rule of faith, an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence.”   The only way we can know this is by observing his lifestyle which is his witness to Christ and God’s kingdom as versus the way of the world.   (see my Christians: Be an Example in Word, Conduct and Love).  If the bishop claims his lifestyle is his private business and not the business of their diocese, then how are they a rule of faith or an image of humility or a teacher of abstinence?

Mt. Athos

If we demand celibacy of bishops we have a responsibility to help them live that calling.  What does it mean for Christians to love their bishops?  To just sit there and be infatuated with them?  Or does it require of us to care enough about them and their lives to help bear the burden of celibacy which we require of them and to confront them if they go astray?  The Scriptures offer us this:

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20)

“you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2)

Do not these passages suggest to us ideas of what it means to be Church community?   If the bishop is wed to his diocese, doesn’t the spouse have something to say about her husband’s faithfulness and sexual purity?

Our very idea of the Body of Christ requires us to be concerned about the burdens, including the temptations, of others. The bishop has a unique role in the life of the church community, and so our relationship requires a special love on our part – don’t just gossip about him, speak to him.  The very things that enabled Roman Catholic clergy to engage in illicit sexual behavior was a culture of silence, a notion that simply by holding office they deserved unquestioning respect even without any personal merit, that it was someone else’s responsibility to confront or stop the behavior.

Love demands a great deal from us, including bearing or confronting the sins of others. Caring that the bishops live their celibate lifestyle is not the same as turning things over to the police. It is the personal involvement described in Matthew 18:15-20 for how we deal with a fellow Christian if they sin against us.

Episcopal Celibacy and Residency

As the OCA goes through its own vision, strategic planning and re-organization process, one of the questions it has to deal with is the metropolitan’s residence.  The question arises because as of last year the metropolitan is the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC, while the OCA chancery headquarters are located in Syosset, NY, within the boundaries of the Diocese of NY/NJ.  Bishops are by canon to live in their own dioceses.   The residence that the OCA has for its metropolitan is in Syosset, NY, and so the issue has been raised as to having an official residence for the metropolitan in the DC area.

The process of discerning a location for the metropolitan’s residence has caused me to think about the fact that Orthodox bishops are canonically required to be celibate.  Since celibacy is a church requirement for bishops, the question comes up as to what extent the church therefore has a responsibility in love to provide a residence for their bishops that is conducive to a celibate lifestyle and which does not enable the bishops to stray from their celibate lifestyles.

One of the things the Roman Catholics learned through their sexual misconduct scandal was that a warning sign of the clergy whose “celibacy was in trouble” (an RC euphemism for sexual misconduct) was that the clergy “disappeared” when not officially on duty – some had private residences, some went to places where no one knew where they were.  In one official report of the RC Church on clergy sexual misconduct,  they noted a pattern of sexual abuse in “Priests who keep extremely irregular hours, spend excessive time at the homes of unknown companions, “disappear” on their days off…”   Such a lifestyle is easy to live in a society which treats one’s home (and one’s bedroom!) as places of total privacy for adults and of no concern to anyone else.    However, since the Church mandates celibacy for its bishops, does it not have a vested interest in helping the bishops maintain this lifestyle in order to prevent sexual misconduct and total hypocrisy in the lives of its bishops?   More than a vested interest, does the Church not have a responsibility in love for its bishops to help them live and maintain their celibate lifestyles?   It is completely disingenuous to say “what the bishop does in the privacy of his own bedroom is no concern of ours” when in fact one of the few criterion we pay attention to in the selection of a bishop is the canonical, however not biblical, requirement that the bishop be a celibate.  We bring the bedroom into the process of selecting a bishop, so why do we then think the bishop’s bedroom is not the concern of the church?

To what extent do we as Church have responsibility to disable (rather than enable) our celibate bishops from straying away from celibacy?    Are we not responsible for their celibacy by providing them residences which really are not their private and individual domains which we then pretend are no concern of ours?    Do we  have some Christian responsibility to discourage sexual activity in our bishops by not providing them residences which allow for secret and private lives and activities?  (And canonically speaking ANY sexual activity on the part of the bishop is clergy sexual misconduct, even with other consenting adults).   Is it not our responsibility for the bishops’ own salvation, since we have  created the rule that bishops must live as celibates, and as an act of love for our bishops to provide them residences which discourage sexual activity?   So maybe as part of the residency selection process we should consider what kind of residence and what kind of location will help the bishops maintain their celibacy by discouraging any kind of private or secret life.    Should we not pay attention to whom stays with the bishop, how often, and so on?  Do we have some accountability for helping them live as celibates and not close our eyes to their lives and lifestyles rather than gossiping about whom they spend time with or who their close associates are?

It is not an act of loving concern for us to demand celibacy of all bishops, and then leave them to have lonely, private and secretive lives in which they must deal with their own sexual temptations as if it were a private matter.  The church has set the policy of celibacy for bishops, so how can their private sexual lives be of no concern to us?  It is up to us to help them live out the celibacy which we require of them.  It is an act of brotherly love and concern to speak openly with them about their lives and lifestyles, with whom they associate, or what happens in their bedrooms.   This is not intrusion into their private lives, since we made their private lives – their celibacy and thus their bedrooms – a condition of them being entrusted with the episcopal office in the first place.

See my The Bishop: Rule of Faith and Celibate Witness to the Kingdom