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

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

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?

Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

This is the conclusion to the blog  Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

The Metropolitan Council meetings are a sojourn, sometimes in the wilderness of Sin, at other times crossing the Jordan to the promised destination.  Lately, much of the meeting time is spent in Executive Session, which allows open discussion within the meeting but then limits what can be publicly expressed.   It is the dilemma:  how can we tell the church what we spent hours discussing in confidentiality?  How can we as good stewards not tell them?

I was elected as an at-large delegate to the Metropolitan Council at the 2008 All American Council.   I must give an account of the stewardship which was entrusted to me.

A story from the desert fathers:

Some brothers set out to visit the brothers of another monastery.  A young monk was appointed to lead them to the monastery.  Because they lived in the desert, they traveled at night when it was cooler.  They walked virtually all night not arriving at their destination.  Finally the young monk said, “Brothers, I am lost.”

“We know,” replied his brethren.  “You knew and yet you did not complain?” asked the young monk.  “We didn’t want to offend you,” said his brethren.

I’ve seen several versions of this story from the desert fathers each with some variation in the story and also in the conclusion of the story.  It certainly is a  non-rational Christian koan which defies the preference of American Christians for pragmatism.  “Just correct his error and get to your destination,” would be a more American reading of the story.

The story however has many and varied lessons. Not the least of which is the relationship between the people of God and the desert wilderness.   There are valuable lessons to be learned when lost in the desert.   And being there and wandering in apparent aimlessness doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.  It may be a time of testing.  Just ask the Hebrew children.

In our story, the brothers prefer to preserve unity amongst themselves then to prove themselves right against a brother.  The brothers are willing to recognize the young monk has been given a task to lead them, and they voluntarily live obedience because of love.   But take note as well, the young monk’s error is in finding the physical destination, had he led the monks into heresy, you can bet this story would have had a very different outcome and they would not have followed him.

But the story’s lesson is not about something as critical as theological truth.   It is about unity, love, community and reconciliation.  In the end the brothers are reconciled to the errant monk who has exhausted them by wandering lost in the desert.   And the young monk himself is astonished at his brother’s love and reconciled to them despite his error which has wasted their time and exhausted them.  He realizes he was in error, and his brothers know it!  And is astonished at their forgiving love – they knew he was lost, but they waited for him to become reconciled to them – to admit he was not up to the task of being their leader.   In a way,  it is a quirky retelling of the Prodigal Son story:  the son who comes to his senses and seeks his father’s forgiveness.

The young monk had an assignment to accomplish and he wanted to obey.  But he was not up to the task.  He failed.  But though he failed in his assigned task, and though the story ends at this point, one assumes that the brothers get to their destination.  Being lost in the desert, come daylight, might have tragic consequences.   That isn’t in the story.  The lesson learned is that I must be humble enough to admit that I may not be qualified to lead.

They don’t keep following the failed brother, but in the midst of dealing with their problems, they help him learn about humility, love, unity, patience, community.  Many lessons are there to be learned.   And we assume from the story the young monk was capable of learning these spiritual lessons so that he could abide in community.  The lessons were a spiritual gift to one who was able to recognize his own failings, to recognize the pain his actions had afflicted on his fellow monks, to recognize the need for reconciliation with them,  to humble himself before his brothers, and to recognize what love demanded of him if he would live the lessons learned.

The story would be very different if the young monk proved incorrigible, or if he failed to repent, apologize and seek reconciliation with his brothers.  Or if he repeated the same wrongful behavior over and over again even after apologizing.   And indeed the story probably would never made it into the collection of desert fathers’ wisdom, if in the end they weren’t all reconciled in love and capable of heading in the correct direction to attain their goal.  All Lessons to be sorted out for the Metropolitan Council as well.

The brothers did not have the goal of being led astray, nor were they allowing themselves to be led to destruction or disaster.  They were moving toward the lessons about love, brotherhood, unity and community.  Was there a time for the brothers to speak up?  No doubt there would have been, but that lesson is beyond the immediate purpose of the story.

Wisdom says there is a time to be silent but also a time to speak; there is a time to build up as well as the time to break down; there is a time to seek and a time to lose (Ecclesiastes 3).   Discerning the time is the way of Holy Wisdom.  God promises to forgive our sins in that time when we repent, He doesn’t promise us a tomorrow on which to do it.

See also my blogs Adventure’s in Wonderland  and  To Be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

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.

OCA Synod Releases Public Minutes of Their Winter Retreat

While confusion has reigned in the OCA since rumors of Metropolitan Jonah’s being put on Leave of Absence were reported by several different sources, tonight the Synod released their Public Minutes of their Winter Retreat.  The minutes show clearly that the Synod was putting the Metropolitan on Leave of Absence for unnamed health reasons, but respectfully gave him opportunity to request the leave.   The Minutes clearly show the Metropolitan agreeing to the terms of the Leave effective immediately (February 25).

The confusion grew when an OCA press release, Holy Synod Announces Changes, said the metropolitan was taking time off for a “personal retreat and time of spiritual renewal.”  This was followed by Metropolitan Jonah in a public announcement at the OCA’s St. Nicholas Cathedral claiming he was taking “an extended period of rest.”   He publicly denied that he was on Leave of Absence.   The Metropolitan then in the last few days engaged in a flurry of activities including postponing the annual Spring meeting of the Holy Synod and of the Metropolitan Council. 

The released minutes clearly contradict the Metropolitan’s announcement and denial of being on Leave of Absence.  They also would call into question all of his decisions and announcements of the past few days, since he already was to be on Leave of Absence and relieved of his duties.

The crisis provoked by the Metropolitan, will now hopefully be addressed by the Synod to whom he is mutually accountable and obedient.   The status of his recent actions require clarification, and the effects of his recent actions will certainly become the focus of discussions within the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, and between them.

Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (4)

This is the 4th and final blog in this series in which I am reflecting on  the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  The first blog is Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1) and the previous blog:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (3).  I’m not going to repeat the Metropolitan’s entire address, but I will quote the specific portions of his speech which on which I’m offering my own reflections.  You can read the entire speech at the above mentioned link. 

[MJ}:  We will have to decide some key value questions: whether participation in the movement towards Orthodox unity in North America is more important to us, or whether we simply stand fast on our autocephaly, our institutional identity, even to the point of exclusion. We need to evaluate whether unity with the other communities will foster or hinder our missionary task. We have to evaluate what kind of context and direction for the future will best foster that mission.

I would agree that these are issues WE in the OCA must discuss.   The problem occurs when the Metropolitan moves unilaterally without regard for those holding positions of leadership in the conciliar structures of the OCA (the Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council, chancery staff, for example).   Not nearly enough has been done regarding this discussion and that is why it is foolhardy to demand that the OCA follow one path.   We need to engage in this discussion before we enter into discussions with the other jurisdictions.   If anything that has been the failure of the OCA, we have not articulated a clear vision for ourselves.   Only now are we in a position to engage in this conciliar discussion.  The time for it has come; so let us not thwart that process by entering into agreements with those Orthodox outside the OCA.  We need to discuss and even debate our vision, our purpose, our mission, and our direction.   This whole process internally has hardly even begun and yet the Metropolitan without regard for the conciliar process engages in discussion on these issues with the greater Orthodox world.

He also posits a false opposition between autocephaly and Orthodox unity in America.  Again the documents of autocephaly and the recent 2010 Statement on Autocephaly by the Synod of Bishops seems clear that autocephaly is meant to be an inclusive process – it is intended to bring about the unity of all Orthodox in American and is intended to include all the Orthodox in America of which the OCA is but a part.   The Metropolitan’s own thinking on this issue seems confused and at odds with the statement of Synod, which he signed.

[MJ}:  Whatever the particularities, we remain steadfast in our vision that the only acceptable solution for North America is a fully inclusive, united autocephalous Church with a single synod of bishops, electing our own bishops and primate, and controlling our own life. We will remain committed to a vision of conciliarity, of catholicity on all levels, affirming that all Orthodox Christians should have a voice in the life of the Church. We are absolutely committed to the vision that our task is missionary, to bring the gospel to Americans, and to incorporate Americans into the communion of the Orthodox Church.

I would agree that these are some of our basic principles and so we need to discuss how to embrace them and to bring them to the EA table.

But I don’t imagine that any of these ideals will be upheld by surrendering the autocephaly.   These are the very ideas we need to bring to the EA.  This is our task to the EA.

My concern would be that these words are not consistent with other things he has said and done regarding conciliarity, catholicity, unity and autocephaly.

[MJ}:  In relation to the task of entering into a deeper unity, there are several points in which we need to repent and be transformed. First, we need to drop the triumphalism and the arrogance that isolate us from our brother Orthodox in this continent. That does not mean that we’re not thankful for the gift of autocephaly given to us. Rather we must see it and ourselves in the larger context of the whole Orthodox community, not only in relation to ourselves.

This all becomes a tricky road to negotiate.   If the OCA exhibited triumphalism and arrogance (one needs only think of the Metropolitan’s own “pan Orthodox” speech), then maybe we need to back off all kinds of rhetoric suggesting we have the key or the solution to the problems of Orthodoxy in America.   If the leadership now imagines that the key is not promoting autocephaly but surrendering it, the leadership still arrogantly imagines it is the key to the solution.  Now suddenly the OCA can fix all the problems of Orthodoxy in America by simply dismantling its central structure, abandoning the mission entrusted to it by the autocephaly and submitting itself and all the small Orthodox jurisdictions to, what will be for them as for us, a foreign power.  As if that magically fixes all of the Orthodox problems in America.   It won’t.  The various overseas Patriarchates still have not agreed among themselves as to what is the solution nor to what they are willing to SUBMIT themselves.

Autocephaly is not the great stumbling block to Orthodox problems in America, over which all jurisdictions have tripped.   The real issue remains: what is the Orthodox mission in America?  We were told to be here as part of the Great Commission of Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.  When we are willing to discuss, “how do we do that in America?”, then we will deal with Orthodox unity.  But if we think we were sent to America to establish unity, then we will never get to our God-given mission and ministry.  When we agree why we are here, then we will cooperate.

Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1)

Ancient Faith Radio has made available for us all to contemplate, the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  It is the beauty of the Internet that it can make available for all, speeches and documents which we then can engage in terms of our blogs and web pages as we continue to take an interest in the well being of the churches of God and the unity of all.  Public discourse on issues of significance in the Church is a healthy thing for the Church, and thankfully their is now a forum – the internet – through which even more members can participate in the decision making process.

Reflecting on the words of Metropolitan Jonah (MJ in the text below), brought to mind some thoughts, questions and comments, which I’ll offer up in this blog series.  I’m not going to repeat the Metropolitan’s entire address, but I will quote the specific portions of his speech which on which I’m offering my own reflections.  You can read the entire speech at the above mentioned link. 

[MJ}:  “….the tradition and the particular contributions that the OCA has for the whole American, North American, experience. Particularly, this has to do with a vision of conciliarity on a broad level that is an essential element of our experience of the Church. Conciliarity refers to the Church meeting in Council, initially with the Synods of Bishops. It has come to mean a broader participation by clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the Church and their inclusion in various levels of councils.”

I  agree with the Metropolitan that  the OCA has consciously in its STATUTES and in its practice worked to be a conciliar church, and this has become part of the very way we in the OCA see ourselves.  We have and continue to wrestle with what conciliarity means in the Church.   What is less clear to me is what this conciliar element means to him in practice.      

I am not clear what he imagines by “broader participation by the clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the church.”    What exactly does that look like to him?  I would like to see him spell out the details of  how this practically works.    How is he actively promoting this?  What specific actions is he taking to make it happen? 

I ask those questions because I’ve heard him say publicly (but also been attributed to him privately)  pointed criticisms of the Metropolitan Council and the All American Council, including ideas to do away with both as they are currently constituted.    If he were to enact his vision, there certainly would be less participation by the church as a whole in the leadership of the church – parishes and parish members would have far less role in decision making processes on the level of the OCA.  Though he seems to advocate an ideal of working at the level of the local church – whether diocese or parish – I’ve not heard him spell out in any great detail what all he sees the laity doing in the church.     He has also criticized the chancery staff and expressed ideas of favoring a monastic control of the administration of the church which would in fact further exclude married clergy and laity  (and thus the majority of church members) from decision making processes.    If these changes were enacted, the laity and the parish clergy would have far less role in participating in the administration of the church, and their input would be further distanced from the decision makers.

So though I hear our Metropolitan speak in some glowing idealistic terms about conciliarity, on the other hand, I’ve not really seen in his words any practical detail of what his vision would look like for the OCA in the end.   I would like to see him give a better explanation of how he envisions the Church functioning administratively and  to provide some clear ideas as to how the lay membership of the church and the parish clergy are to actively function in the decision-making processes of the church.  In actual practice what does conciliarity look like?

Does “conciliarity” mean that the bishop’s vision is to be realized by the membership who are to be passive when it comes to ideas but active only in actualizing what the bishop wants, or does it mean an actual discourse, dialogue and even debate about vision, goals, policy and procedure?   What happens when the membership of the church has a direction or vision for the Church which is in conflict with the bishop’s (I’m not speaking about a conflict in doctrine, but more of what we commonly think of as ‘vision’)?   What happens when the membership does not share the bishop’s vision or lacks confidence in the bishop’s plans?  What happens if the membership is more inspired or energized than the bishop?   What does conciliarity look like in these circumstances?

These are aspects of conciliarity that have not yet been fully articulated.  Even what does conciliarity imply about the Synod of Bishops’ own decision making?  How do they as synod (a body within the Church) model conciliarity in their own deliberations for the rest of the church?

Next:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (2)

Kondraticks Reach Settlement with OCA

For those who have followed the story…

SYOSSET, NY [OCA/Office of the Metropolitan] – On May 1, 2010, the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America approved settlement of lawsuits between the Church and its former Chancellor, Robert Kondratick, and his wife Elizabeth. According to the terms of the settlement, the OCA will pay $250,000.00 to the Kondraticks in exchange for mutual releases of liability. The settlement does not constitute an admission of liability by any party….

You can read the story at  Kondraticks Reach Settlement with OCA