Orthodoxy, Autocephaly and America

Archbishop Job of TelmessosThe Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches, Archbishop Job of Telmessos, in an interview  with the Greek newspaper “Ethnos of Sunday”  said the following about the current dispute  between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarch over the autocephaly of  the Orthodox Church in Ukraine:

Autocephaly transcends ethnophylism and regionalism by ensuring the unity of the Church within the local Church as well as between the local Churches. It does not preclude serving the pastoral needs of Russian-speaking, Romanian-speaking, Greek-speaking, English-speaking or any other believers living in Ukraine, and allows for the communion with Constantinople, Moscow and all other local Orthodox Churches.   We must not forget that the Orthodox Church is one, because it is the Body of Christ. Therefore, it is not possible to divide the body of Christ. The Church belongs to Christ and not to Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev or anyone else. For me, it is a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev but under the jurisdiction of Moscow…

OCAFor me this is an interesting comment which I hope the Ecumenical Patriarch actually believes when it comes to Orthodoxy in America.  Archbishop Job thinks it a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev.  Isn’t it equally strange that these same bishops imagine that Orthodox in America should be under these foreign jurisdictions?   Many of us Orthodox in America don’t want to be under Moscow or Constantinople but want to have exactly what Archbishop Job says – a local church administered by bishops in America.  He sees autocepahly as the glue which holds together in unity the local church and the very thing which then unites that local church to all the other Orthodox Churches.  Certainly that is what autocephaly can and should be in America.  I hope these words words and this wisdom will be used to recognize just such an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

St. Innocent on Orthodox Mission Work

4624867820_b6c41af6dc_nWhat, then, shall we do? How ought we to proceed when, in the words of the Gospel, the harvest is great in our country (i.e., many remain unconverted to Jesus Christ)? “Pray to the Lord of the harvest,” Jesus Himself teaches us [Mt. 9:38]. Thus, first and foremost, we must pray. If even in everyday matters people fall back upon prayer – asking God’s blessing at the beginning of some work and then throughout asking for renewal and strengthening of the work’s might (where prayer means nothing more than help), here, in the matter of conversion, prayer becomes the means itself – and a most effectual of means, for without prayer one cannot expect success even under the most perfect of circumstances.


Thus, it is not our missionaries alone who must pray; no, we their brethren must further their work by our own prayers. And what ought we to pray for? First, that the Lord will send workers into His harvest; second, that He will open the hearts of those who listen to the Word of the Gospel; third, that He will increase our Society’s numbers more and more; and finally that He will strengthen and confirm in us the desire we all now feel to further this work to the attaining of our goal.

(St. Innocent Apostle to America, Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, p. 141-142)

Orthodox Conciliarity: Commitment to the Past or Present Reality?

Holy Great Council“The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15.5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God.” (ENCYCLICAL OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, Crete, 2016)

This past June, a Holy and Great Council of Orthodox bishops was held in Crete.  The pre- and post- Council documents emphasized the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church. This emphasis on the importance of council to the governance of the Church seems to be a way of contrasting Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism’s pyramidal papacy.

The concept of “conciliar” can be interpreted in different ways.  In the United States, influenced as we are by egalitarian ideals, some tend to hope conciliar implies the interaction and input of every member of the Body of Christ, the Church, whether they be lay (female and male), clergy or episcopal.  In other parts of the Orthodox world, “conciliar” is heard more as “synodal”, meaning the bishops assemble to discuss Church issues and to issue decrees for the rest of the church members to follow.  In this thinking, conciliar is more about the hierarchical nature of the Church and is mostly about bishops assembling together.  Bishops then may meet in some fashion, like at diocesan assemblies, with their constituents, keeping a more “top down” nature to the Church.  In the different Orthodox self-governing churches, the notion of “assembly” connotes different things with assemblies having different amounts of “power” or input into the rest of the Church life.  The degree to which the synods of the various self-governing churches influence or have power over the primates of the churches and over the episcopal members of the synod varies from local church to local church.  Though they can do co-exist, there is a tension between hierarchial and conciliar/synodal in church governance.

What is true about Orthodoxy today, or so it seems to me, especially about the existing self-governing churches, is not so much that Orthodoxy is committed to a conciliar form of church governance and life, but rather Orthodoxy is committed to the memory of past great Councils.  Past councils, ancient ones significantly, are treated as the gold standard for Orthodoxy, even if the self governing churches are not relying on conciliar governance today.   A “conciliar attitutude” is more today a commitment to an ideal about past councils, but not necessarily entrusting the Church today to conciliar governance.  The hierarchs see themselves as the defenders and protectors of the Faith, but not necessarily councils/synods as having that task or being “over” themselves as hierarchs.

The fact that great councils are few and far between even in the “local” self-governing churches is one indication that Orthodox values past councils more than it values conciliarity in current governance.   The Russian Church for example has not done much with the decisions and thinking of its own great council of 1917.  That council’s conciliar attitude and commitment have not been revived in the Russian Orthodox Church today.  Nor does its memory seem to be very influential in the Russian Church.  Yet that 1917 Council was very committed to a conciliar mode of governance.  The current Russian Church is not motivated to revive that.

Some of the most famous ancient councils were rife with conflict and debate, and the church did not shy away from these issues or try to put on a face that everyone was in agreement.  These councils may have hoped for unity of mind but they openly acknowledged there was disagreement.   They did not try to show unity by avoiding the debates going on in the church.  If the past councils are going to be immortalized, we today are going to have to recognize they were held because there was real disagreement in the Church.  The Councils were not always able to bring an end to those disagreements or to bring a unity to all Christians.

The willingness of some Orthodox churches to abstain from this year’s Holy and Great Council shows conciliarity is not completely part of the current view of governance in the Church, especially as a worldwide, i.e. Catholic, community.  The system of autocephalous churches may allow some unity within each “local” church, but it fails to bind all these self-governing churches together.  The notion of council at this greater level becomes threatening as the “local” churches fear losing their independence.  They want to believe all Orthodox agree on all issues, but can maintain that position only by disallowing any real, open discussion.  If they don’t meet, they can pretend there is unity because they avoid discussing the troubling issues which divide them.  But then, maybe avoiding discussing divisive issues, is a strategy for maintaining a desired yet absent real unity.  If they don’t discover there is real disagreement, they avoid dividing the Church.  Yet, if one looks at history, the Ecumenical Councils did not prevent or end divisions in Christianity but resulted in them – note the monophysites and Nestorians.

In terms of governance, the Church today seems more committed to and defensive of its hierarchical nature than its conciliar nature.  Each of the autocephalous churches have hierarchs/ primates who are interested in maintaining their unique power and privileges within their “local” church.  The willingness of the primates to submit their authority to a council’s oversight is not there [Thus some abstained from attending the Holy and Great Council]. The desire to protect “local” episcopal authority seems especially true for the “nationalistic” tendencies in Orthodox self-governing churches today.   These “local” churches fear an “international” Orthodox council/ synod will interfere with their local governance and they don’t want to allow their decisions to then be judged by a higher synodal authority.  They don’t want some “pope” to be over them, but neither do they want to have to answer to a council of international bishops, even if they themselves are part of that council.  The Orthodox see their local autocephalous jurisdictions as the legitimate center for power in the Church and do not want to have to acknowledge a church structure/ power greater than their self-governing (= “local”) church.

In this instance, we can see, perhaps, why it was that Emperors convened the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  The authority of each bishop within their dioceses was left undisputed.  The Emperor however could demand that all the bishops must accept the decisions of the Council.  The Emperor didn’t interfere in each diocese, but all bishops were under his authority.   This helped maintain conformity and unity in the Church without the need for a pope – a super-bishop above all other bishops whose role was to maintain unity.  In the Christian West, the withdrawal of the Roman government to Constantinople, meant the Emperor’s influence was also lessened, and it fell on the bishop of Rome to insist on unity among the bishops.  The papacy developed where the emperor was no longer influential enough to insist on unity among the bishops.  The decline of the Roman Empire led to the disappearance of ecumenical councils.  In Russia after the time of Peter the Great, the Tsar/ government completely dominated the church, enforcing conformity through government power.  Only in 1917 did the Russian Church endeavor to throw off this secular system and try to re-establish the conciliar nature of the Church.

Without an emperor as a independent power over the bishops,  the power of Orthodox hierarchs grew within their dioceses.  And, the power of the primate of the autocephalous churches increased as well, making their office and jurisdictions more independent of the influence of other self-governing churches.  Conciliarity, if it existed at all occurred within the autocephalous church, or within dioceses, but there was no longer a structure to bind all the primates together.  They had a vague sense of sharing an Orthodoxy of faith, but the primates/ autocephalous jurisdictions become increasing alienated from one another.

That Orthodoxy is a hierarchical church is demonstrated constantly in church governance today throughout the world.  Bishops make sure everyone knows the church is hierarchical.  The vestments of the bishops have all of the trappings of the Byzantine emperor and display power and authority over all others.  The role of synods and councils in church governance is not always as obvious, though in some places in Orthodoxy episcopal synods do wield some obvious power over individual hierarchs.

Still, the conciliar nature of the church manifests itself at times in the different Orthodox self-governing churches.  In America, the conciliar nature of the Church is present in most jurisdictions in one form or another and to one degree or another.  It seems to me that all Orthodox jurisdictions in America are more influenced by conciliarity than are the “mother” churches.    The Orthodox Church in America has a strong commitment to the conciliar nature of the Church.  This is shown in its active synod of bishops, the role of diocesan assemblies, the All American Council, the various diocesan and bishop councils, and in parish councils and meetings.  Men and women participate in one form or another at all levels of church councils in the OCA.

It is interesting to note that in the Nicene Creed adopted by the 1st two Ecumenical Councils, hierarchical is not in the description of the true Church; the Church is said to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.  In the 4th Century they didn’t include “hierarchical” as a sure description of the Church.  “Catholic” which is clearly in the Creed, is the word that also can imply a conciliar nature to the Church.  The Slavonic version of the creed has that idea in relating “catholic” to sobornost.  It implies conciliarity.  The fullness of the faith exists in every Eucharistic community, and locally the Church does live as the Body of Christ, alive not just in the hierarchy but in every member of the Church.



Of Rainbows and Pharaohs

“The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  (Genesis 9:16)

The view from my hotel window said it all.  There was a beautiful rainbow in the sky over Atlanta.  In the photo immediately above you can even detect it was a double rainbow – the 2nd is about 1/3 of the way from the right side of the photo.  The rainbow reminds us that God, according to Genesis 9:16, is looking at the same thing that we are at the same time.  For us Orthodox, it certainly means that outside the liturgy, in nature, we can focus our attention on something and realize God is gazing at the same thing we are at that moment.  We can meet God’s gaze in space and time.    Not that God is not paying attention to creation the rest of time, but in the rainbow we have a unique experience of looking at something that also catches the Creator’s attention and God remembers all of humanity and all creation in that experience.

Perhaps a good sign for the Orthodox Church in America which is holding its All American Council in Atlanta.  Certainly the infamous “days of trouble” (as they have been frequently dubbed) – scandal and failed episcopal leadership – are part of our past history.   And the OCA navigated those turbulent waters without the intervention of government (friendly or hostile) and without the intervention of a mother church in a foreign land.  The OCA, not a child anymore, has accomplished what an autocephalous church must do – deal with internal problems, apply appropriate discipline and fix the problems.  Other Orthodox jurisdictions may wag their heads as they look at the troubles the OCA has experienced and see us as weakened and on the verge of collapse, but we have gained by our experience.  We have been forced to deal with our problems and to overcome them.  We exposed our problems rather than denying them.  We have survived, which also lays a good foundation for our wrestling with the future.

I am reminded completely of the story form Exodus 14 of the Israelites escaping Egypt with Pharoah’s army in hot pursuit.  Trapped by the Red Sea, the people furious with Moses for getting them trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, Moses, confident that God will save them, cries out to his fellow Israelites:

 “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”

God will save us, He will do it all!  But, NO, that is not what God does.  For in the very next line, God puts salvation on the shoulders of Moses:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.

What is God going to be doing in this desperate situation?

He is going to be goading the Egyptians to attack!

That’s what He offers.   He asks Moses, “Why are you crying to me to save you?”  “You lead the people into the sea.”

Holy Moses!

I find this one of the best stories in the Old Testament.  Poor Moses sees the stage is set for God to miraculously save them, only to be told by God, “Why are you crying to me?  I appointed you as their leader, so lead them!”

The OCA has gone through a similar experience.  We had to rely on our divinely appointed leadership to get us through and out of the trap we had  gotten ourselves into.  Those were the times of trouble, and leadership has emerged, as has the OCA from the trap it was in.  A resurrection like the Israelites experienced in the Exodus.  We had to do it not by fleeing one land into another, but by affirming that in this land, we are the autocephalous Church and we have to deal with our problems, no matter how much we have been the cause of them.

The adoption of the revised Statutes as this AAC, the implementation of strict rules of best practices in financial matters – transparency and accountability – and in dealing with clergy misconduct and sexual misconduct in the church, all are signs that the OCA has come through these rough waters in a more healthy fashion and much matured.  We have been battered, but we better understand what God’s love demands from us in North America in the 21st Century.

For me personally, there is also some relief and comfort in the sense that I can trust my Metropolitan and my bishop.  No longer do I feel the need to play the diocese against the central church, or to have to choose which is the lesser of two evils.  Those were feelings that were even cultivated by a former chancellor and seemed so necessary to survive as a priest.  I no longer feel hypocritical about asking many years for our episcopal leadership.  The raging wars are now in the culture, but in many ways these are outside the Church itself.

“Glory to You, building your church, haven of peace in a tortured world.” (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”)

For a long time it seemed to me the Church was as tortuous as the world itself.  But what I have found at this year’s AAC is that I am at peace in my Church, the OCA.  Thanks be to God.  May God grant many years to Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Paul.

The AAC of the OCA

18thAACFrom my perspective, the 18th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America is remarkable.  This is not because any new or groundbreaking ideas have been presented, adopted or accomplished.  On the contrary, the Assembly is doing little more than what it is expected to do administratively for the OCA.

What stands out in my mind is the irenic spirit exhibited in the plenary sessions in which the OCA Statute revisions were almost unanimously adopted (97% voted in favor) and the proposed budget and funding plan were so overwhelmingly adopted (92% voting in favor).  The spirit of the council is exhibited in the gentle spirit of Metropolitan Tikhon, whose opening address captured the tone of the Council, and I hope, the future direction of the OCA.

Met Tikhon AACThe Council, under the shepherding of Metropolitan Tikhon, shows every sign that the OCA is ready to move beyond the years of turmoil that marked the past decade.  Council delegates showed a willingness to trust and follow leadership that was in fact working with the Holy Spirit.  Metropolitan Tikhon gave a long opening address in which he skillfully wove in the story of the religious sojourn of his own ancestors into the history and current situation of religion in America today.  His talk was a vision of hope that Orthodoxy in America, which contributed richly to the melting pot which is America, now living in a country of even greater social diversity and heterogeneity, can in fact thrive.   The Orthodox ethnic experience was one in which the ethnic groups tried to maintain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness in the midst of the melting pot.  The OCA is realizing a new experience – that we as Americans can also be Orthodox, and we as Orthodox can be Americans.  While there are some who feel this is purely accommodation – allowing American values to replace Orthodox values – others see that Orthodoxy has functioned as the salt of the earth in every culture into which Orthodoxy has moved.  Orthodoxy has functioned in many different cultures, even those completely hostile to its existence.  I’m reminded at least of the anonymous early 3rd Century Christian document, “The Letter to Diognetus” which among other things says:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their peopleagapefatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.

This seems much closer to Metropolitan Tikhon’s vision than any sectarian withdrawal from the world.  He is a monk, and though having withdrawn from worldly pursuits, he understands the words of Christ:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11-21)

Our goal as Church in America is to be a witness to the love, compassion and Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are to give opportunity to others that they might themselves come to repentance (we can’t compel or legislate repentance – it must come from the person’s heart).  We can’t force others to repent, but can invite them to repentance, to offer them good reason to choose a godly way of life.  Our message though is challenging – we invite people to know the love of God, not through self love but through loving others.  On the one hand our underlying assumption of free will resonates to independently  minded Americans.  On the other hand the call to love others is at odds with the self-centered and selfish ideals of total individualism.

My own sense of things is this vision is again being offered and proclaimed in the OCA in a time of uncertainty and in a constantly changing religious and moral landscape.  Our message doesn’t change, but the people to whom we speak are constantly changing.  We have to be steadfast in our love toward them.


Bishop Paul’s Pre-Consecration Address

On Saturday, December 27,  bishops of the Orthodox Church in America consecrated His Grace, Paul, Bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest.  On the eve of his being consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest, then Bishop-Elect Paul offered some words to the faithful of the Diocese.  Amidst his vision of his episcopacy, he offered these words:

My episcopacy will be built upon my weakness and not my strengths. This is where the work of the Cross continues as I experience another new baptismal moment in my life. Saint Paul speaks of this reality in 2 Corinthians 12: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Bishop Paul consecration

For me to be a “successful bishop,” I must make those words of Saint Paul my own and live by them. What is the fruit of carrying my cross, which is really His Cross? What should it look like in the life of a Bishop?

By the Grace of the Holy Spirit I need to carry this Cross with joy! People have enough burdens and difficulties to deal with in daily life. They need to see in the example of their Bishop one who sees the Cross not as a heavy burden that is carried with resentment, but as the light yoke for which Christ wants us to come to Him and give to us, so that we might find rest. In His ultimate voluntary act of self-surrender, the Cross, Christ was motivated by the joy set before Him: He offered Himself on behalf of everyone and everything to call us to repentance and to bring us into His Kingdom. That was His Joy!

Bishop Paul also on the eve of his consecration said:

People need to see in their Bishop someone who is transparent and has the courage to admit his failings and ask forgiveness when he is in the wrong. I can continue to go on with many attributes, but they all bear witness to one unifying reality. People need to see in their Bishop someone who is truly humble, where his yes means yes and his no means no. The ministry of the Bishop is not his ministry, but it is the ministry of Christ Incarnate!

You can read his full address at Bishop-Elect Paul’s Words to the Diocesan Faithful.

Bishop Paul

May God grant the newly consecrated Bishop Paul many years of joyous ministry in our Diocese!

“Confident Idiots”

“As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.’”

I’m always interested in how the different people on our planet see or understand the world.  Different cultures do have different perspectives or paradigms through which they view and understand events.  Even within any one culture people can view events very differently, as we see for example in America between liberals and conservatives.  If you start with differing questions, the solutions to problems are going to be quite different as well.  It is hard to change people’s minds about issues they hold dear.    And it becomes obvious that no amount of facts will change some people’s thinking.  I do remember when I was teaching at the University of Dayton that one student bluntly told me, “I don’t care what information you give me, I’m not going to change my mind about what I think.”  They were quite certain that being impervious to information was the wisest course to holding to their own ideas.  They were paying a lot of money to attend a college to shield themselves from being informed about anything.   It does bring to mind the wisdom that some of us need to hear:  “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I found the article, “We Are All Confident Idiots” ,  by Cornell University psychology professor David Dunning (PACIFIC STANDARD magazine, October 27, 2014) to be an interesting read for a couple of reasons. It does show that not knowing about a topic does not stop people from having very strong opinions about that topic.  In some ways it appears that the very lack of knowledge can give people a (false) confidence in the correctness of their opinion.  It is why it is often so difficult to change people’s minds about an issue.  The article also points out that a little knowledge is also dangerous as it can feed a person’s false sense of security about their own ideas.  So Dr. Dunning writes:

 The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

The ideas in the article might help us understand the polarization in American politics, for example, when the left and right can’t communicate with each other and can’t even agree on what the facts are about a given issue.  People treat their assumptions as if they are established fact.  Research has shown that people in all cultures have a tendency to see the world from one point of view on a couple different continuums.  Which end of a continuum they are on will effect what they believe the real threats to the good life are and what they believe to be solutions to life’s problems.    This makes communication between people on opposite ends of these spectrums difficult because they start with different fears and with differing ideas about what is good for the nation.  People tend to fall on one end or the other of a continuum opposing egalitarian to hierarchical thinking and also on a continuum opposing communal versus individualistic thinking.

Dunning continues:

  And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

Some of this misinformation is a carryover from our childhood experiences.  Some of our thinking shapes who we are and what we believe to be true about others and the world we live in.  As Dunning says:

Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals. Each of us possesses certain foundational beliefs—narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated: To contradict them would call into question our very self-worth. As such, these views demand fealty from other opinions. And any information that we glean from the world is amended, distorted, diminished, or forgotten in order to make sure that these sacrosanct beliefs remain whole and unharmed.

No matter what actually happens in the world, we often interpret the events to support our inner presuppositions.  We see the world as supporting our views along those continuums previously mentioned.   Given the exact same information, people on opposite ends of these paradigm polarities will interpret the information to support their viewpoint.  Researchers showed that giving people very precise information about “nanotechnology”, a topic many knew nothing about, tended to reinforce their already held positions, no matter which end of the spectrums they were on.

 If two paragraphs of text are enough to send people on a glide path to polarization, simply giving members of the public more information probably won’t help them arrive at a shared, neutral understanding of the facts; it will just reinforce their biased views.

As David Dunning points out:

 The way we traditionally conceive of ignorance—as an absence of knowledge—leads us to think of education as its natural antidote. But education, even when done skillfully, can produce illusory confidence.

A good example given in the article concerns driver’s education which can give people an overconfidence in their driving abilities.  The consequence is that instead of staying home during bad winter weather, they  feel confident to just carry on with normal activities and drive out into winter storms, falsely believing in their own abilities to handle whatever wintery conditions they face.

 In cases like this, the most enlightened approach, as proposed by Swedish researcher Nils Petter Gregersen, may be to avoid teaching such skills at all. Instead of training drivers how to negotiate icy conditions, Gregersen suggests, perhaps classes should just convey their inherent danger—they should scare inexperienced students away from driving in winter conditions in the first place, and leave it at that.

The issues raised when applied to politics are not new.  Dunning reminds us:

 Thomas Jefferson, lamenting the quality of political journalism in his day, once observed that a person who avoided newspapers would be better informed than a daily reader, in that someone “who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” Benjamin Franklin wrote that “a learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

My interest in Dunning’s research and conclusions is not related to American politics.   I’m interested in the implications of his comments for dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct in the church.   Clearly, the OCA adopting new policies to tighten its discipline in dealing with misconduct, can cause a backlash with some people thinking any such efforts are draconian: using artillery to kill a fly.  But while it is true that in the Church, incidents of sexual misconduct are fairly rare (thankfully!), they do happen.   The threat is real.   If even one incidence of misconduct is thwarted and only one innocent child is protected, the efforts are worthwhile.   Vigilance in the church for signs of misconduct  is important for reducing (not eliminating) the risk to vulnerable populations.    Lax attitudes about sexual misconduct in the church are tested by predators who appreciate the opportunities these attitudes give them to operate undetected in the church.   A tightened discipline makes it more difficult, though not impossible, for the predator to operate undetected.

OCAThe risk in the church, as Dunning’s article points out, would be that knowing there are stricter Policies, Standards and Procedures, might give some a false sense of security that there is now no risk.  Vigilance is still needed.  The PSPs, SMPAC and ORSMA cannot stop predators from trying to offend, but they can create an atmosphere in which it is difficult for the predator to go undetected.  Changing attitudes though is difficult.  People have many reasons for resisting a new perspective, especially if it challenges their cherished beliefs that misconduct occurs “someplace else” but not in my church.

We are today working to create a climate in the church where predators feel it not safe to attempt their grooming and predatory activities.  They feel “safe” in the church when they get away with some misconduct.  The PSPs cannot stop them from trying, but they can help us all become consciously aware of the importance of the issue and to support the efforts in keeping vigilant about the real possibilities.  Misconduct has occurred in the church.  This is tragic but the fact should not catch anyone unaware.  Even in the Orthodox Scripture in the Book of Daniel, we find the story of Susanna who is caught in a scheme of sexual misconduct by two prominent judges.  Sexual morality and misconduct is found in biblical times.   Even if one act of misconduct is prevented and one innocent child is spared abuse, the effort as cumbersome as it may be proves its worth.

Consecration and Enthronement of Bishop-Elect Paul

PaulGThe OCA’s Synod of Bishops and the  Diocese of the Midwest announced today that the consecration and enthronement of Bishop-Elect Paul will take place on Friday and Saturday, December 26 and 27, in Chicago.

Metropolitan Tikhon in a letter today sent to the Diocesan clergy wrote:

“I am pleased to inform you that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, at its session held in Oyster Bay Cove, New York, on the Twenty-First day of October in the year of Our Lord Two Thousand Fourteen, elected the Archimandrite Paul (Gassios) as Bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest,” the letter reads. “You are to immediately begin to commemorate the Bishop-elect of Chicago and the Midwest by elevating his name at all Divine Services after that of the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Tikhon, and the Locum Tenens Bishop Alexander, as is the approved practice of our Church. Archimandrite Paul’s new title, as blessed by the Holy Synod, is ‘Archimandrite Paul, Bishop-Elect of Chicago and the Midwest.…’”

Holy Synod Elects Igumen Paul to Become Bishop of the Midwest Diocese

Synod 2014The  OCA Synod of Bishops today elected Igumen Paul (Gassios) to become the next bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest.  You can read the entire article of the Synod’s meeting at OCA.org.

Here is the excerpt from the OCA webpage report concerning Fr. Paul:

Igumen Paul was born to Nicholas and Georgia Gassios, natives of Castanea, Greece, in Detroit, MI on April 6,1953. He, his parents, and his sister Agatha lived in Detroit until their move to the suburbs in 1973.

As an infant, he was baptized with the name Apostolos, in honor of the holy Apostle Paul, at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Detroit, MI—his home parish for the first 28 years of his life.

He graduated from Detroit’s Cooley High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, in 1971, after which he enrolled in Wayne State University as a history and psychology major. After his graduation in 1976, he worked with emotionally and physically abused children. He furthered his education at Wayne State, from which he received a Master of Social Work degree in 1980, and continued to work in his chosen field.

Fr. Paul Gassios
Fr. Paul Gassios

In the mid-1980s, he became a member of Holy Transfiguration Church, Livonia, MI. He began theological studies in September 1991 at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY, from which he received his Master of Divinity degree summa cum laude and served as valedictorian in 1994. He was ordained to the priesthood by His Eminence, the late Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, on June 25, 1994.

After ordination, he was assigned Priest-in-Charge of Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, Kokomo, IN, which he served until June 2005, after which he resided at Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, OH until May 2006. He briefly served as Rector of Archangel Michael Church, St. Louis, MO and the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church, Desloge, MO before his transfer to the OCA’s Bulgarian Diocese and assignment as Dean of Saint George Cathedral, Rossford, OH in 2007. In August 2014, he was named Administrator of the Diocese of the Midwest and relocated to Chicago.

On October 20, 2014, he was tonsured to monastic rank with the name Paul, in honor of Saint Paul the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople.

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.