In Memoriam: Fr. Tom Hopko

TomHopko (2)Yesterday,  Fr. Tom Hopko fell asleep in the Lord.  Many encomiums will be written rightfully extolling his service to the Church.  Deserving eulogies will be offered to appropriately honor him.  I can only say that he had a profound impact on my life as a child – he was my parish priest from when I was age 9 to about age 14 when he moved to New York.  He then initiated a correspondence when I was about 18 and had wandered away from the church.  It was that correspondence which led me back to the church and then into seminary.  My life as a priest thankfully resulted from his taking time to talk with me.  Through the years following seminary I can’t say I kept in close contact with Fr. Tom, but his words and wisdom were and are foundational to my life.  I am grateful to him and also to his family who had to share him with so many others.  May he now rest with the saints.

 And I heard a voice from heaven saying,

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.”

“Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” 

(Revelations 14:13)

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

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.

St. Silouan: What is a Bishop?

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

St. John Chrysostom

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

Three Hierarchs

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

Fr. Paul Gassios Nominated

Fr. Paul Gassios
Fr. Paul Gassios

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

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

The Bishop: Lover of the Poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so in our Diocese!

The Power of the Bishop: The Power to Serve

Fr. Paul Gassios
Fr. Paul Gassios

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

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

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

Archbishop Seraphim Sentenced

SeraphimThe former OCA Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Canada, Seraphim, age 68, was sentenced today in a Winnipeg court to 8 months in jail for sexually molesting an altar boy almost 30 years ago.  The Winnipeg Free Press story can be found at Former Archbishop Sentenced to Jail.   He is appealing the jail sentence.

The news is also found on the OCA’s webpage at Sentenced Announced in Archbishop Seraphim Case where some dates in the case are noted:

Archbishop Seraphim was placed on leave of absence on October 1, 2010, with restrictions on Church activities.  On November 30, 2010, he was suspended by the Holy Synod of Bishops.  He was subsequently retired by the Holy Synod of Bishops on March 21, 2014 with additional restrictions.

The OCA”s Synod of Bishops has announced that a Spiritual Court in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church will be convened to consider Archbishop Seraphim’s case for canonical discipline as well.

Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, said:

“We ask, first and foremost, that everyone keep the victims and their family members in their prayers, as well as praying for healing and peace in the Archdiocese of Canada.  May God’s mercy be upon all of those involved in this painful case.”