Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

In a previous blog, Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book, I mentioned a couple of postings from a sportscaster regarding the ongoing turmoil at Penn State involving a coach accused of sexual misconduct with some young boys.  I felt the Church can learn some lessons from that case on the risks of child sexual abuse and also a need to openly, transparently, immediately and without fail to deal with these types of allegations.  Whereas some may have anesthetized  themselves by believing that these type of problems only happen in the Roman Catholic Church, the allegations at Penn State show that they can happen anywhere and that any institution can fail to deal properly with the allegations.   Institutions can be more interested in defending the interests of the institution than in dealing with the personal crimes of rogue employees.  Institutions might assume that if they can avoid public entanglement with scandal that is better than having to deal with the crimes individual employees might commit.  That strategy in recent times has often backfired to the tenfold detriment of institutions.

I will note again that for me the issue of greatest concern is not that the allegations happened at a college or were allegedly done by a football coach.  My interest is the implication for the Church, and also parallels the Penn State situation might have with cases that have happened in other churches and could happen in the Orthodox Church.

I also mention again, I am not a great sport fan, so it is not that this issues involves a sports program that interests me.   Like in my previous blog, I had never even heard of the commentator I am going to quote below.  The significance to me is that some sportscasters are getting exactly right what a number of church leaders miss completely in dealing with sexual misconduct.

I accidentally heard Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed on the radio on Saturday afternoon and he made some very strong comments about Joe Paterno’s actions beginning with when Coach Paterno first learned of the allegations.   A lot of what he said is also in an article he wrote for ESPN (The Tragedy of Joe Paterno)  which I quote extensively below.    I quote it because in it are important lessons and reminders for Church leadership in dealing with clergy or any church sexual misconduct.

The first words I heard when I turned my car radio on (and what kept me listening) was Wojciechowski taking Paterno to task for trying to control the terms of how he (Paterno) would be dealt with by the university – Joe offered to retire at the season’s end and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about him or waste even a minute talking about him.  The Board to their credit decided Joe doesn’t get to dictate the terms of how he is handled.    Gene W. was adamant that Joe PA was in the wrong from how he handled the case on the day he learned about it, and so now he doesn’t deserve the right to dictate how he should be dealt with.  The Board of Trustees of  Penn State knew what had to be done and they did it swiftly and unapologetically.  Below is what is for me the relevant portion of Gene W’s article:

Paterno had equity at Penn State, the kind of equity that gave him the power to essentially stiff-arm the school’s efforts to coax him into retirement in 2004. He tried the same audacious tactic earlier this week when he announced his decision to retire at season’s end and added, almost as a warning it seemed, that the PSU board of trustees had more pressing matters to deal with than his job status.

It was the final, tone-deaf act of a man who failed to realize his own power base had eroded. Wednesday night the trustees informed him by phone of their decision to fire him, effective immediately.

A statement released that night from Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany included a six-word sentence that was perfect in its simplicity. The entire situation is so sad.

Profoundly sad because of the victims affected by the alleged acts of Sandusky.

Sad because a great university has been kneecapped by its very own.

Sad because there are so many questions involving Paterno’s role in the chain of events that led to his forced departure.

For example:

Why didn’t Paterno contact the police when first informed in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary of an alleged locker room incident involving Sandusky and a young boy?

Why did Paterno heir apparent Sandusky unexpectedly resign from Penn State in 1999?

Why was Sandusky granted special access to the Penn State athletic facilities even after the 2002 incident?

Why did all of this remain secret for so long?

“Joe doesn’t know why [Sandusky] resigned?” says a former athletic director at a rival institution. “Bull—-. That was the first cover-up. … In ’99, when Sandusky resigns, you think this coaching staff didn’t know what was going on?

“In 2002, this could have been a two-day story: ‘Ex-Penn State assistant coach is arrested.’ I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a painful story, but it would have been dealt with. But there’s so much arrogance to think they can keep it a secret. And it starts with Joe … Monumental ego and arrogance.”

These are the kind of opinions and statements you had better get used to. That Paterno had better get used to.

As a promised comprehensive and exhaustive Penn State in-house investigation begins, as the Sandusky trial hearings approach, as the expected civil lawsuits are filed, there are likely to be revelations that test the faith of even Paterno’s most vocal supporters. This is what happens when more than a decade’s worth of dirt is swept under a blue and white Penn State rug.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

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

State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds

When the NY TIMES reported the story, Bishop is Indicted; Charge is Failing to Report Abuse, it caught the attention of many people who are working in their denominations dealing with clergy sexual abuse.  The efforts of law officials in the U.S. to help protect children from sexual abuse in churches has turned to making a concerted effort to hold ranking church officials responsible for what their clergy do.   The Kansas City bishop in this case is not charged with sexual abuse himself, but with not doing enough to stop abuse and an abuser among his clergy.

Historically there had been a standing practice in churches to deal with cases of clergy sexual abuse, especially pedophilia, as quietly (secretly) as is possible and to suppress any publicity of the case.  The supposed justification of this was that such behaviors were absolutely rare anomalies and so there was no use scandalizing the faithful over the behavior of the very uncommon abhorrent clergyman.  Unfortunately in the mix was also the practice of trying to save the clergymen’s ordination.   And in order to avoid having to publicly explain anything (for example why a clergyman was defrocked), churches frequently moved these aberrant clergymen to new locations (no defrocking, no explanation needed) and in effect spread the disease to new communities.  [One wonders why they didn’t see as a means to prevent scandal defrocking these misbehaving clergy.  But somehow having to defrock clergy was more scandalous to church leadership than was having clergy misbehave in new locations].

Of course in their new assignments, the church hierarchy seemed to think it was just fine not to inform the new parishes why the clergyman was being moved to their community.   Thus the parishioners naively and wrongly assumed that the clergy were totally trustworthy and that the hierarchy was looking out for them.

The change occurring now in U.S. law which holds bishops accountable for the misbehavior (and sometimes criminal misbehavior) of their clergy is forcing churches to acknowledge that trying to deal with clergy misconduct through internally secret methods is unacceptable.   If we are going to protect our children and the vulnerable and fragile members of our flocks, then we have to much more publicly deal with clergy abuse and misconduct especially through defrocking the clergy guilty of misconduct and abuse.    In a sense the new laws are going to force churches to live up to the Church’s supposedly high standards of moral conduct for its clergy.

Of course today a motive stronger than high moral standards at work in the church is the fear of devastatingly expensive civil lawsuits.   That has become the motivating factor for many churches to change their lax practices.   Churches are coming to  recognize that no matter how much it hurts the church and scandalizes the faithful to admit to sexual abuse in the church, the pain and damage of having the abuse and its cover up discovered later is far more devastating.  Even in the church money talks.   And though St. Paul condemned civil lawsuits between Christians (1 Corinthians 6:7), such lawsuits have forced church hierarchy to pay attention to those members of their flock injured by the clergy.   Up to this point bishops frequently saw it as their duty to defend the clergy from such allegations, now they have to realize that those members of the church injured by abuse are every bit as much members of the church and as important to the Church as their clergy.

There is another lesson to which priests and bishops need to pay attention:   Law and its standards change.    The bishop in this case and the police chief may want to argue that they were following what had previously been thought of the standards for dealing with these issues.   But because law in a democracy is subject to change based on changing standards and ideals current in society, we cannot comfort ourselves with thinking “we were following our Best Practices” or we were following the current Policy Standard and Procedures (PSP).    Such claims may not be enough if the church’s current Best Practices and PSP are not up to the existing standards of law.   What the new court cases mean is that having correct Policy Standards and Procedures are not enough – SOMEONE (namely the bishop in a hierarchical church) must be practicing due diligence in enforcing the PSPs and ensuring compliance by all clergy and parishes.

PSPs regarding sexual misconduct are undergoing intense scrutiny and serious change in our country.   People are angry and no longer willing to tolerate what they view as incompetence, negligence, or under reacting by church authorities in cases involving sexual misconduct in the church.   The mood in the country, which is now in law and in the courts, is that the church cannot passively wait for the civil authorities to deal with crime in the church.  The expectation is for the church to actively and aggressively investigate allegations and proactively root out offenders.  This means when warning signs are noticed – the clergyman may not even have broken a law YET – the church is going to be expected to deal firmly with that clergyman, removing them from office in order to protecti children, the vulnerable, and the fragile.    Church leaders are going to have to monitor their clergy more than currently is being done.  For example the background check that Oxford Documents does – looking at credit history, all brushes with the law, driving record – may have to become standard fare in the Church.  Many church denominations already have acknowledged that sexually misbehaving clergy often have troubles in many areas of their lives – their marriages, their credit, frequent moves, relational troubles with parishioners, bad driving records, etc.    There are warning signs which the courts are going to start demanding churches pay attention to in the lives of their clergy.   [Some denominational officials say they have in fact come to recognize that sexually misbehaving clergy frequently have credit problems – they run up huge porn bills on their computers, they have expensive sexual dalliances with prostitutes or have to pay off people to keep them silent or are being black mailed.   If the state comes to recognize these as legitimate warning signs of future sexual misconduct, the church is going to have to pay attention to these things in its clergy.]

Next:  Holding Bishops Accountable for Clergy Misconduct

Afraid to Scandalize but Not to be Scandalous

Most of us are tired of hearing about scandal in the OCA, but apparently there is more to be said long after some have stopped listening.  Today, OCAnews.org reports, that former Metropolitan Herman had taken out a $152,000 mortgage on St. Tikhon’s Monastery.  He did this 6 weeks after the Metropolitan Council requested an audit for the St. Tikhon’s church  enterprises.   And he did it without the knowledge of the Metropolitan Council and even without the knowledge of central church administration.  Another investigation is certainly warranted.  For years there have been rumors of financial secrets and scandal around St. Tikhon’s and during the ongoing OCA crisis the rumors about St. Tikhon’s persisted. This has been fed by what many claimed was the secrecy by which financial decisions were made at the Seminary/Monastery/Bookstore.  Now someone has blown a whistle.  This will be a first case test of the “new” Synod of the Bishops under the temporary administrator Archbishop Seraphim.  We will see what the synod has learned and whether truth and transparency are now a part of their normal way of dealing with things, or if they keep truth and transparency apart from the way they handle things.  The temptation to hide things so as not to scandalize the faithful will be great.  In the past the bishops have only been afraid to scandalize the faithful (read donors), they have not been so afraid to engage in scandalous behavior or to cover scandal up.  If the story turns out to represent further scandal or secret, the Synod may be forced to truly look at disciplining the former metropolitan.  In the central church scandal, they gave him a pass, letting him retire and thanking him for his service, but not offering any further discipline.  As all who follow the OCA should know by now, there is always more to the story than meets the eye.

In watching the OCA to see what lessons have been learned, it will also be interesting to see whether the Synod or Archbishop Seraphim as the temporary administrator is going to see that a full audit is done of the New York/New Jersey Diocese which had its own financial scandal during the former chancellor Kondratick and former metropolitan Herman’s term in office.  Some in the diocese may in fact argue that the audit is a waste of money at this point since the money is gone, unlikely to be recovered, and since we probably know who oversaw its disappearance.  And yet it is precisely that kind of the thinking which allowed former metropolitan Theodosius and Kondratick to lay aside the audits and financial controls so that they could divert OCA monies at their own will and whim.   The entire OCA should demand that an audit take place in the NY/NJ Diocese.  One needs only think about Archbishop Job’s own penitential admission that when the OCA’s financial scandal was revealed to him in 1999-2000 that he took the attitude, “that is the OCA’s problem, what has that to do with our diocese?”   If the OCA is truly to break free of its scandal driven past, it has got to strive for and pay for transparency and truth.  

Will someone be the temporary administrator or administraitor? 

In what I see as another bizarre story, the OCA announced that Archbishop Seraphim and the chancery staff would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the acquisition of the Griswold estate in Oyster Bay Cove.  The “Syosset” headquarters which has become synonymous with scandal in the OCA is going to be the focus of an anniversary celebration.   It is one of the most surreal announcements the OCA has ever put out.  In the midst of the ongoing scandals and saga, the temporary administrator and staff want to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of what they must see as some kind of victory or triumph.   It is every bit as surreal as their turning the OCA’s current effort belatedly to donate to proper charities the money given by the faithful for the 9/11 disaster (but which was wrongfully redirected by the former chancellor to other purposes) into photo shoots.  The lack of sense of propriety by the chancery staff continues to amaze.  One wonders why if the goal was to do an outdoor liturgy or to invite the public, they didn’t focus on a liturgy connected to a saint or a feast day or even to the anniversary of autocephaly rather than to the bequeathing of a property to the OCA which has for years been associated with scandal, excessive and wasteful spending, and burdensome indebtedness, and of which many in the OCA would love to be out from under its weighty expense by simply selling it.

Leading by Repentance

16 September 1978  Kunjeru, Kenya –   From my journal:   “We did Vespers tonight, and I am very moved by Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;  for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”   

The Psalm makes me want to repent of my own sins, and I realize we need to lead the church in repentance so that God would be with us in power.  The church in Kenya is in a mess, corruption, divisions, animosity, power struggles.  It is repentance which is needed but how does one lead by repentance?  What would have to happen that people would notice that Christians lead by repentance and by being examples of repentance?  Usually we think of leaders leading by power – telling others what to believe or think, but the power of repentance and humility, the real power of Christianity, where does one see that?  We tend to think good leaders lead by example, but to be a model of repentance would require the leadership to admit they have done wrong and lead by the example of repentance – lead by their reaction to what they have done (the wrong they have done) rather than by the  example of what they did in the first place. 

I read tonight from Bernanois’ DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST.  The conversation of Fr. LeCure with Mme. La Comtesse was excellent, a good and inspiring Christian witness.  I very much enjoyed the priest’s part where Mme. Says she has rejected God, and he says to shake your fist at him, spit in his face, scourge him, it has already been done to him.   He asks her to completely submit herself, her sin, her pride, her everything to God, to resign herself.  He impresses on her the loving mercy of God to accept us as we are, and he wins her over!”

We Cannot Control the Truth but We Can Tell the Truth

In a release dated 26 June 2008 the Interfax Religious News Agency reported that the Russian Orthodox bishop’s council was opposed to clergy discussing inner church problems on the Internet.   The release, Bishops’ Council against Internet discussion of inner church problems, claims the open discussion of inner church problems “not only contradicts moral setup and Church canons but should be considered unacceptable and subjected to condemnation.”  The Council did not condemn all discussion of church problems but questions those discussions taking place in the open forum of the Internet where anyone can read about them and where comments can be made anonymously.   It noted that in fact there was a “lack of lively communication in the Church,” but then suggested the discussions should take place in diocesan meetings where people are gathered face to face.    And of course it is precisely in such small and personal settings where the discussion can be closely monitored and controlled by those in power.

In the Internet/Information age, the Church can no longer control the truth, but it can tell the truth.   And as long as that is the only thing the Church is telling, then there is no need to try to control it.

Unfortunately, though Jesus said we were to be in the world but not of the world, the Church has often entangled itself in worldly issues and lost sight of the fact that its only message is the Gospel of truth – it is not power, it is not control, it is not fund raising, it is not domination over others, nor taking anything from others. 

I’ll repeat a quote from my blog Your Brain Can Give You a Headache:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”  (Joseph Goebbels,  Nazi Germany’s Minister for Propaganda ) 

Church leadership would do well to remember in dealing with dissent or with opinions not of the “party line,” that in vying to maintain their positions of authority they often do not appear to those under their authority to be any different than Goebbels even if their intentions are to protect the Church from negative press. 

Think about the humility of Christ – the only time in His life that anyone ever told Him to come down from His higher position was when He was hanging on the cross.    Otherwise in extreme humility he considered others greater than Himself.   See Philippians 2:5-11.

See also my The Gospel According to John Wayne

Tradition with a capital “T”: Trust and Transparency

Here are some words from the business world that will help those of us who use the Internet to understand the core problem of the OCA today.

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel (who are both recognized leaders in promoting the use of the Internet and blogging) in their book NAKED CONVERSATIONS write:

“Blogs are driving corporate transparency. … “Trust is the only capital you have in the blogosphere and to build trust, companies need to become transparent in their practices.”

Why does the OCA struggle to move beyond the corruption scandal which so devastated it? The answer is trust. While most of the central church has attempted to rebuild trust by embracing transparency – hiring new personnel and by adopting best practices and other policy reforms (which have indeed corrected most of the problems which enabled the scandal in the first place), Metropolitan Herman himself has not been transparent. He has accepted change all around him, but he himself has not embraced transparency and so continues to be the dark hole at the center of the OCA. OCAnews.org and the Orthodox Forum have opened doors and blinds into the OCA just like Scoble and Israel say blogging will. And the Metropolitan Council awakened by the light streaming in (which was spotlighting its own sleepiness) responded by becoming more transparent and demanding more transparency. This resulted in the transformation of the personnel and policies of the central church as individuals involved in administration accepted and pushed for this change. Even the Synod of Bishops has shown glimmers of seeing the change and its import on the daily life of the OCA (though they also have at times demanded that the shades be lowered again, especially when the light reveals their own inactivity). But Metropolitan Herman himself has not personally embraced the notion of transparency – he has not been in the vanguard offering a full explanation of what happened or is happening in the central church but rather has personally said and done things which have inhibited transparency and thus have prevented trust from becoming the OCA membership’s attitude toward the central church. That remains the gangrenous core of why the scandal does not simply go away. What is needed is not simply transparency exposing his role in the church. When complete transparency shines forth from the office of the metropolitan then the membership of the OCA will trust the central church administration and the metropolitan to rightly define/divide the word of truth.

Memo to OCA Bishops regarding the SIC

  A word to the bishops of the OCA –  when the Special Investigative Committee report comes your way, no matter what it concludes, think about these words which were written about doctors and malpractice lawsuits:

“Admitting errors is only the first step toward reforming the health care system so that far fewer mistakes are made. But reforms can be more effective if doctors are candid about how they went astray. Patients seem far less angry when they receive an honest explanation, an apology and prompt, fair compensation for the harm they have suffered.” (NY Times editorial, 22 May 2008, “Doctors Who Say They’re Sorry“).

 

What is the real scandal of the OCA?

The Orthodox Church in America in being given autocephaly by the Russian Orthodox Church received a gift of freedom – the freedom to bring to life on the North American Continent an indigenous Orthodox Church.  Our task is not to make present in North America Russian or Greek or Romanian or Serbian or Arab or Albanian Orthodoxy, though as an immigrant church we have done all of those things.   The task given to the OCA in its creation is to find a way to speak to America about the Orthodox Faith and to incarnate Orthodoxy in America as Orthodoxy has uniquely been incarnate in other cultures where it has taken root, such as in Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Syria, Lebanon and many other places in Africa, the Mideast, the Balkans and Europe. 

The freedom to embody Orthodoxy in America, to make incarnate the Orthodox Church on the North American continent, has proven to be a very challenging task.  Having a document which says we are autocephalous is not the same as having bishops and leaders who are prepared for autocephaly or who have embraced that bold vision which is necessary for bringing Orthodoxy to a new culture.

St. Maria Skobtsova, being part of an émigré church (rather than a missionary church), did have some insight into the awesomeness of the task facing Orthodoxy in Western Europe in the 1940’s.   Orthodoxy had been displaced to Western Europe by the rise of atheist communism in Russia, and found itself living in the darkness of atheist Fascism which was blitzkrieging across Europe.   Mother Maria recognized that Orthodoxy separated from its motherland favored status is given a freedom to be the Body of Christ and not merely a state-church.   She saw clearly that freedom places great demands on the membership who can no longer rely on the cultural/state support to maintain the church or its status in society.   These struggles also are rife with temptations to avoid the difficulties by trying to live in some golden age past or by trying to recreate and maintain the culture from which one is exiled instead of trying to live the faith in the soil in which one is newly planted.   She wrote:

“Freedom obliges, freedom calls for sacrificial self-giving, freedom determines one’s honesty and strictness with oneself and one’s path.  And if we want to be strict and honest, worthy of the freedom given to us, we must first of all test our own attitude toward our spiritual world.  We have no right to wax tenderhearted over all our past indiscriminately – much of that past is far loftier and purer than we are, but much of it is sinful and criminal.  We should aspire to the lofty and combat the sinful.   We cannot stylize everything as some sweet ringing of Moscow bells – religion dies of stylization.  We cannot cultivate dead customs – only authentic spiritual fire has weight in religious life.  We cannot freeze a living soul with rules and orders – once, in their own time, they were the expression of other living souls, but new souls demand a corresponding expression.  We cannot see the Church as a sort of aesthetic perfection and limit ourselves to aesthetic swooning – our God given freedom calls us to activity and struggle.    And it would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’  The opposite is true.  She tells those who are at peace and asleep:  ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition.  There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth.  There instead of lukewarm you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed, instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish for Christ.     It is to this foolishness, this folly in Christ, that our freedom calls us …   And we will become fools for Christ, because we know not only the difficulty of this path but also the immense happiness of feeling God’s hand upon what we do.”   (p. 114-115. MOTHER MARIA SKOBTSOVA: ESSENTIAL WRITINGS)

That hand of God which now rests on the OCA is heavy indeed.   

In 1 Samuel 5:11, we read about what happened to some people when they received the Ark of the Covenant in their presence.    When God lays His hand upon a people, it is sometimes a discomforting thing:  “For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there…”     Autocephaly like the Ark of the Covenant is a two edged blessing, as the Israelites and the Philistines discovered.  In the hands of the wrong people, it is a curse.  We are familiar with the adage,  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”  (Hebrews 10:31).   And though these warnings are dire, and may cause our hearts to tremble, we in the OCA are also given reason to hope and take courage.  For the hand of God may at times be heavy, we can humble ourselves beneath that almighty hand and receive the blessing it can bestow:

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.  To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen”  (1 Peter 5:6-11).

The question which remains for us to answer is: are we going to take autocephaly seriously or not?   It is our behavior which determines whether we receive it as Philistines or as God’s chosen people.   The real scandal of the OCA may turn out to be neither financial or sexual but one of faithfulness to what God has given us.