OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Washington, DC, June 28, 2008

His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, Diocesan Bishop, began the meeting with the singing of “O Heavenly King.” Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and Lisa Morris, Preconciliar Commission, were in attendance. Approximately sixty (60) people (clergy and laity) participated.

Father Garklavs facilitated the meeting and opened by stating that we are here to share hopes for the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and not all ideas coming in can be implemented at the All American Council (AAC) as it is only three (3) days long. It is a work in progress. Father then read a prayer of St. Isaac, the Syrian.

Posted ground rules:

· No Attribution

· Dignity and Respect

· No Judgment of Ideas

· Balance Time

How has your life been affected or how do you feel about the current state of the OCA?

Strained relationship with family and tearing parish apart. Source of disillusionment, doubt and pain. Serves as subdeacon and is now hesitant to serve if an OCA hierarch visits parish.

==

No refuge in my Church. Feels like going through a divorce. Need to restore trust. Would like to give to Christmas Stocking Fund and married seminarian housing at St. Tikhon’s without worry that it will not go there and the land site has title or ownership issues. Asks that current Metropolitan step aside.

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Too little, too late. Letter then read that was previously written by a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Bethesda, MD to Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications (posted in the comments section below).

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There is value in coming clean. Release entire report. Requests resignation of some members of the Holy Synod.

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We are not divided but concerned. Comes from Russian/English parish. We work together and love each other.

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Metropolitan Herman stepped into a hornet’s nest. This scandal happened before his watch. Please continue your efforts. Es pola Eti Despota!

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Would like summary of report to give us hope.

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Need to show more leadership. We need to be transparent; we are hiding things. Need more monks.

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Metropolitan Herman and entire Holy Synod should resign and a new statute written.

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We should glorify God and not leave the Church.

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My parish has been unaffected by the OCA crisis. In our forty-seven years, we have suffered three major splits. That fact along with our Balkan ancestry made us very guarded to avoid a dispute. We know too well the pain of conflict within a parish. The OCA became our refuge. My heart goes out to those here today and to those faithful across the country who are suffering in their parish communities. It is a spiritual battle on every level. It is spiritual warfare that we must fight with prayer and fasting for the Church.

If you had resources, what would be your solutions for resolving the crisis in the OCA?

Our trust is corrosively damaged. Need the truth, whole truth, nothing but the truth.

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Address undercurrent of homosexuality in the Holy Synod. Clarify or address.

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Create an opportunity for dialogue. Chances for open and honest dialogue is very important. Will go far to restoring trust.

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Noted a financial impropriety that previously happened at the Antiochian Village. We should take investigation to the State’s Attorney.

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Need financial records. Remove hierarchs and obtain three (3) replacements from the Patriarchates. Need more monastic formation.

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Wants spiritual feeling in the Orthodox Church. Where are we going? There is more room for forgiveness if we get it all out. Have the AAC instill checks and balances to ensure this won’t happen again.

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Wants someone from Syosset to apologize.

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We are about salvation.

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Invite other hierarchs to con-celebrate.

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Clean slate, resignation of Holy Synod.

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The plan for all bishops on the Holy Synod to resign in unfeasible. Simply put, without bishops, there is no Church. This cannot be done.

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Repentance is key issue.

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Truth of what has happened. How can we go forward without the truth?

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Double the monasteries.

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Have liturgical translations and music available on the website.

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Show laity in pictures on the OCA website, not just clergy and hierarchs. Focus on the people. Improve communicating on the web.

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Engage the youth.

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Council should be more of a seminar. Sit together in smaller groups. No need for resolutions. Discuss ethical issues (abortion, homosexuality).

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No limits on observers; the more people the better the Church is going to be. Observers should be able to participate. Welcome them.

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Who are we and are we growing?

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Bring people together and stay Orthodox. Address scandal.

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Convey Christ. Should have serious mediation and prayer at AAC. Devote time to prayer and ask for everyone’s prayers for healing. Look at schedules and banquet and call for restraint.

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Answer financial mess. Theology in the world, not of the world. Trust in God. Reflection of our own spiritual life.

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Need to reflect on our ecclesiology. Look at our unity as Orthodox in America.

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Need to reconciliate entire OCA, not committees. Do not keep Orthodoxy a secret. We need more evangelization and growth for the OCA and beyond the OCA.

==

Hopes and wishes for OCA future

Orthodox Church of America. Embrace the energy of the society we live in with all its imperfections. What liturgical language do we want to speak? Thee’s and Thou’s? It is a personal call for all of us. It is a call to be who we really are.

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Refer to parishioners as brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Autocephaly is a great problem, return the Tomos and start over.

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Believe in forgiveness, must have penitence and petitions for unity.

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Autocephaly should be a more direct responsibility and duty to Christ as the head of the Church.

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We are the laughing stock of other Orthodox jurisdictions. Let’s fix the problem.

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We should still fund humanitarian aid, etc. We should do all of these things.

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Orthodox unity.

_______

More frequent encounters with hierarchs.

Closing remarks

Father Garklavs: The Orthodox Church in America is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We all believe this. And I believe that we all want the same things, salvation for our souls and good will for our Church. The Church is composed of people who err and sin as we all do. Judging is easy but judgment is difficult. Each one of us has limited authority about what we can and must do. The scandal and tragic things that happened pain all of us, but we know that with prayer and humility God will heal all.

The OCA is in a terrible mess. Some are waiting to see the demise of the OCA in November; if it is God’s will that there will be no OCA after November, then we can’t change it. But, we can still change now and we will do the best to save her. We are trying to be correct and spiritual. Brothers and Sisters these are tough times. “We’re here for you.” I apologize that we have failed and will try to be better. Syosset asks for your prayers.

Metropolitan Herman: Thanked Father Garklavs, Lisa Morris and the attendees for coming out and for our love for the Church. He stated that there is not one member of the Holy Synod that does not want to see this end. Trust must involve each and every one of us. We must forgive 70x70x70.

Only some individuals will be satisfied with the final report; not all will be. Nothing has intentionally been held back. He has had to endure comments, insults and has asked for forgiveness. We pray all of you will assist the Holy Synod and the chancery to help bring this to and end and bring back trust.

There are stumbling blocks for one (1) Church in America and in God’s time, it will happen. Thank you to each and every one of you. Continue your love for the church.

Meeting ended with the singing of “It Is Truly Meet.”

Additional notations: Lisa Morris reminded the attendees that they were not there to answer questions but to obtain information and suggestions.

Question was asked if Deacon Eric Wheeler will be exonerated. Father Garklavs responded that the truth will be revealed. Father then announced that Deacon Wheeler’s wife had just been diagnosed with cancer and asks for prayers.

Father also stated that Syosset is aware and feels everything that has been stated and this is shared by all clergy and laity. Every effort is being made to work on restoration of trust and reconciliation. Healing will take a long time and is occurring. We have a long way to go.

Father remarked that all monies collected are going to their designated areas and that the Special Investigating Comittee report will be released on August 27, 2008 at the meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council and should be made public thereafter.

Father announced that a mediation consultant was obtained for the AAC preconciliar council to assist them.

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8 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Town Hall Meeting Notes, Town Hall Meetings

8 responses to “OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Washington, DC, June 28, 2008

  1. Letter from a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Bethesda, MD to Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications:

    Dear Father Andrew:

    Christ is in our midst! He is and always shall be!

    It was a personal pleasure meeting you and your family on your visit to St. Mark in February. It was also, as we discussed with you after the general session, a “corporate” disappointment. The central reason for the disappointment was, as my wife Cathy pointed out, your equating the proper performance of your work on behalf of the central administration with continuing support of the leadership of Metropolitan Herman. You seek support for your work in untangling the mess that you, Father Tassos and Father Garklavs found in Syosset (which you compared to untangling badly knotted fishing line), but the same fisherman is still there, further tangling the lines. As Jerry Marti stated at our meeting, sometimes you have to just “cut bait.”

    There were numerous questions I had to ask you. Many of them may not have been within your particular purview. I write them here for you to consider, and for you to discuss (if you are so inclined) with Father Tassos and Father Garklavs so that you will be able to answer them should they be raised in another setting. These questions are raised in no particular order.

    1. Does Metropolitan Herman acknowledge that, when Deacon Eric Wheeler was dismissed at Treasurer in 1999, Deacon Eric told Metropolitan Herman of significant financial improprieties? If not, would Deacon Eric be lying if he said otherwise?

    2. At what point did Metropolitan Herman become aware of the separate “special accounts” set up by Robert Kondratick from 1996 to 2002? Why was
    Metropolitan Herman so determined to stop any inquiry into these funds after he became Metropolitan?

    3. What steps have been taken at Metropolitan Herman’s direction to re-construct the activities in these accounts? For example, has our current Treasurer contacted the ADM Foundation or Andreas Foundation to ask for a history of the donation? If not, why not?

    4. Church members donated $292,000 to the 9-11 Fund. Of that, $25,000 was given by Metropolitan Herman to the Pentagon Survivors Fund in a ceremony at St. Mark Church. This was the first gift from the Fund, leaving $267,000 to be given out. Over five years later, on November 15, 2007, the OCA publicized a gift of $90,000 to another 9-11 related charity. A press release put out by your office boasted of the donation and the plaque received. Are you not embarrassed to be boasting of this donation (like the proverbial Pharisee) when $177,000 is still missing?

    Under this Metropolitan’s administration, the initial remaining $267,000 was misapplied (one could even say stolen) to pay for trips, salaries, etc. unrelated to 9-11. A loan of nearly $1.7 million was taken out, in part, to replenish this fund. Out of that loan, $177,000 was again misapplied. How can the OCA now boast about being “in the black” when this $177,000 remains outstanding?

    5. We are aware that Metropolitan Herman made the decision to retain Proskauer Rose. It was Metropolitan Herman, without prior consultation of the Metropolitan Council, who made this decision unilaterally. Indeed, Proskauer Rose would not even meet with the Metropolitan Council until the Council insisted on several occasions that there be a meeting. Retaining this law firm cost the church in excess of $300,000. How is it that Father Garklavs can swear out an affidavit in the Kondratick legal action denying then-Metropolitan Theodosius’ authority to sign an agreement to repay the Kondraticks $250,000, when
    Metropolitan Herman unilaterally obligated the OCA to over $300,000? Do you really believe this contradiction will be lost on the Kondraticks’ attorney?

    6. Father Garklavs has now sworn in an affidavit, under penalties of perjury, with respect to Robert Kondratick’s theft of church assets. Why has Father Garklavs not reported this theft to the local police for prosecution?

    7. One year ago, in March 2007, there was a Metropolitan Council meeting to discuss the financial improprieties. Why did Metropolitan Herman attempt to convince the Council to do nothing? In the absence of Greg Nescott’s impassioned speech, and the statements of others, what actions would Metropolitan Herman preferred to have taken?

    8. The Summary Report of the Special Investigative Committee basically restates the findings in the Lambrides, Lamos letter dated May 16, 2006. The basic conclusion is that Robert Kondratick stole over a million dollars of church funds. Why were the authorities not immediately notified?

    9. Why has the full 13 page summary of the Special Committee not been released, despite repeated assurances that it would be? The initial excuses were that the Kondratick deposition trial had not been completed, and then that the appeal was pending.

    These excuses have been exhausted. You stated at our meeting that you had never read the report. Don’t you think it would be wise for the head of OCA communications to be aware of one of the most significant OCA documents in recent memory?

    10. What steps did Metropolitan Herman take as Treasurer from September 1999 to January 2001 to address the improprieties about which Deacon Eric had advised him?

    11. This administration accepted $67,000 from the US Department of Defense for Bibles for Russia. The entire amount has been misapplied and remains unaccounted for. How can we claim the OCA is meeting its budget while this misapplication (or theft) remains unresolved?

    12. How are the withdrawals by Robert Kondratick (in the many years in which Father Garklavs has sworn money was stolen) set forth on the OCA books? Are they shown as expenses, and if so, for what?

    13. If Kondratick’s withdrawals were not expenses – as Father Garklavs swears they were not – then were they shown as loans to Kondratick or as compensation?

    If loans, why are they not shown as an asset on the current books?

    14. If the withdrawals were compensation, then has Kondratick been provided with an IRS Form 1099 to show the amounts paid to him so that he would be liable for taxes? If not, why not?

    15. Were you aware that, during Metropolitan Herman’s first year – calendar 2002 – the net assets of the OCA dropped by $1.7 million (coincidentally, the same amount as the later Honesdale Bank loan)? Did you know that, according to the OCA’s own records, this drop in assets occurred even though during 2002:

    a. The spending for Mission and Stewardship dropped by $120,000, from $278,000 to $158,000.

    b. The spending for Seminaries was ZERO, instead of the $82,500 budgeted.

    c. The spending for clergy care dropped by $51,000 from $66,000 to $15,000.

    d. At the same time, “total support – revenue” increased by $192,000.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting for our Treasurer to look into this and find out why?

    Shouldn’t Metropolitan Herman be asked why he gutted the spending in these three important categories?

    16. Finally, do you believe there would have been any change had it not been for the OCAnews.org website raising these questions?

    Sadly, an administration headed by Metropolitan Herman raises numerous questions of leadership, or the lack thereof. These are only the few questions I had wanted to raise back in February at St. Mark. Others had many other questions, and there was no time for me to address these. A “leader” who only one year ago, despite all the obvious problems, sought to stop all action and maintain the status quo, cannot be
    entrusted with the future of our Church. Only just this past week, Father Garklavs has felt the sting of the lack of leadership, being sent to Alaska to hear the plight of the priests and people there, only to be ignored completely by Metropolitan Herman.

    Metropolitan Herman has shown that, if problems arise, he will seek to cover them up. He will not take responsibility. He will blame anyone but himself, except to express regret that he is “too trusting.” By continuing to provide unquestioning support to this administration, you assist in bringing about the slow, but sure, death of the OCA.

    As Pascha approaches, let us hope for a Resurrection within the Church itself, for a new life under new leadership. Father Andrew, you can be a vital part of this Resurrection by speaking out yourself, and by encouraging your fellow officers to do the same. Like the brave priests and deacons in Alaska, you can come forward and demand what is right.

    cc: Reverend Michael Tassos
    Reverend Alexander Garklavs

  2. Mark C. Phinney

    Fr. Andrew,

    When can I expect to see a copy of my written statement to the PCC Washington, DC, Town Hall Meeting posted as a comment under this blog entry? I sent a copy of my statement, a Microsoft Word 2003 document, to the PCC email address ideasforaac@oca.org on Wednesday, 2 July 2008. Is there a different email address I should have used?

    Mark C. Phinney

  3. Peter Sielinski

    This is a follow up to my previous comment. At the town hall meeting I submitted my comment in writing and I signed it. Rather that the incomplete “one liner: above, I respectfully request that my signed comment be attached as “Comment 2.

    In Christ;

    Peter

  4. Dear Mark:

    Fr. Garklavs brought this to my attention today, as well. It seems that I unfortunately did not receive all the material when I got the Washington notes. The quickest way to get your statement posted would be to email to me directly.

    Sorry about the delay.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Andrew

  5. Dear Peter:

    Could you send the full text of your comment directly to me? That will be the easiest way to make sure it is complete and ready for posting.

    Thanks.

    Fr. Andrew

  6. Written statement presented to the Washington Town Hall Meeting by Peter Sielinski, St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, MD:

    June 28, 2008

    I sympathize with your current dilemma: You face the nearly impossible task of restoring peace and order within the Church. Trust in the hierarchs of our church has broken down, and restoring trust must be at the top of the church’s agenda at the All American Council. OCA is severely wounded and this wound will continue to “fester” until “checks and balances” are in place and trust is restored.

    The Holy Synod of Bishops has failed in executing its leadership responsibilities of the Orthodox Church in America by:
    • Allowing millions of dollars to be misappropriated or stolen.
    • Allowing the full report of investigation of the misappropriated or stolen funds from being published in a timely fashion. (It has been over two years and still no report.)
    • Not taking proactive steps to restore integrity and trust in the OCA.
    • Displaying “arrogance” in not accepting responsibility for their actions or inaction as may be the case.

    Although new “middle management” talent has been acquired by the OCA; the leadership under which these “past crimes” against HIS Church have occurred, is still in place. I do not have confidence that what has happened will NOT happen again. The axiom that “absolute power corrupts” has been clearly “exemplified” by this tragedy.

    I have come to believe strongly in the following solution which may be the only way to restore integrity and trust in the Bishops of our Church

    I respectfully recommend that the Metropolitan and the entire Synod of Bishops, in humility, submit their resignation and acknowledge their individual and corporate responsibility and guilt for what has happened to His Church. These resignations are to be effective at the AAC, at which time each bishop will stand for a “vote of confidence” by the clergy and lay representatives of his diocese. If the bishop does not receive a two thirds affirmative vote, by secret ballot, he will immediately retire. If the bishop receives a two thirds vote of confidence, he will immediately assume his post and a new Synod will be constituted. The senior bishop will assume the presidency of the Synod, and the election of a new Metropolitan will follow immediately.

    The question that remains is: Do our Bishops have the humility to “step up to this plate” for the sake of His church?

    There is yet a second task that the All American Council must under take. A new OCA Statue is required that will contain appropriate checks and balances and restore true conciliarity to the Church. I recommend that the All American Council elect a representative body of bishops, clergy, and laity to address this task, which may take a year or two to complete.

    I respectful submit these recommendations with love and faith and in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

    Peter E. Sielinski
    St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, Maryland

  7. Comment submitted by email to the Washington Town Hall Meeting by Dr Nikita J Eike:

    Glory be to God!

    Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    The upcoming 2008 All American Council brings us to a crossroad on our path to the Kingdom of God. We have the choice to turn toward it and choose the road of forgiveness or turn away from it in a blind alley of fear and bitterness.

    The fact that wrongdoings have taken place and have hurt all of us has already been established, is there a need to keep re-opening the wounds? We can pray that those who have fallen to temptation and committed those sins realize what they have done and ask for forgiveness- but we cannot compel anybody to do so. This is not the Christian way. It is misguided to believe that we cannot heal if we do not receive an apology. If this were the case, it would not be long before all of us would be crippled by all the hurts that everyone is sure to encounter during their lifetime.

    Let us first forgive freely and openly as Christ has shown us to do, with love for our brothers who fell and for the ones who are still in a position to be tempted. Let us ask for mechanisms to be put in place that will protect anyone from falling again to temptation. Let us make sure that our cure is not worse than the disease, and without patience, prayer and discernment, it will be so.

    We have to show more love and understanding to our hierarchs because they will one day be asked:” What have you done to My little ones”. They need our support and prayers. It does not mean that we cannot ask for things to improve and continue asking with patience and perseverance until things improve.

    Confessing the sins of our neighbors does not promote an atmosphere of understanding and healing.

    But while we are saying that wrongdoings have taken place and work on correcting them, let us make sure that we are not doing so in a manner that is worse than what has been committed. Who has the first stone? The people who have done wrong were at least trying to do something for all of us when they were ensnared by the Tempter. What were we doing for the OCA at that time?

    A lot of our criticism toward the Holy Synod and the OCA comes from the projection of our own sinfulness and to some degree, the poor health of our parishes. It is so easy to blame the other. We should remember Adam’s answer:” it’s not me it’s the wife You gave me”. Until we really understand the full meaning of this phrase, we have a long way to go to be healthy. The OCA and our hierarchs did not materialize out of thin air, they are us, warts and all. It is not us versus them, we are one, the same essence in Christ.

    Perhaps we could consider an OCA ad hoc committee on Parish Health, to assess current health and promote future health. It has been done in large secular organizations with success; it may be useful here. Because if we think that it is only because of corruption in the central administration that the rest of the organization is sick, we should think again. It is a two way street. If each of us keeps our backyard free of weeds, the whole city will be a beautiful spotless garden.

    It is said that we get the hierarchs we deserve. It can apply to administrators, too. This can be a positive, or a negative reflection of the true state of our health, because there are no separated entities in the Church, we are all organically connected.

    Humbly submitted with Love in Christ,

    Dr Nikita J Eike

  8. Written statement prepared and read by Mark C. Phinney at the Washington Town Hall Meeting:

    What has been the impact of the crisis on you personally?

    1. It has strained my relationship with my wife. She is the Vice-President of our Parish Council and feels the great weight of responsibility in helping lead the efforts to keep the parish from splitting into opposing camps and losing members.

    2. It has strained a number of friendships I have. In one case, a dear godson and his family have left the parish and the OCA with no further communications.

    3. It is a source of disillusionment, doubt, and pain. Each and every Sunday I now see obviously fewer people in the pews at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy than I saw 12 months ago. Until the past year or so, my parish has been slowly accelerating its annual growth rate, having doubled it in the past six to seven years from single-digit net increases to double-digit net increases. Inspite of attracting significantly more families with young children in the past 18 months, our overall attendance has visibly declined.

    4. For over 35 years I have served as an altar server, a reader, and a subdeacon. Those services with a hierarchical presence, until the scandal broke, were especially joyful. Where I once looked forward to a visit of an OCA hierarch with great joy, particularly the Metropolitan, I now fear the possibility that any OCA hierarch may visit my parish and I will then have to face the question of whether or not I will serve.

    What would be the best case scenario for resolving the OCA’s crisis?

    1. Financial records: Open them all to the members – clergy, laity, and monastics – of the OCA. Conduct a total review of all records by certified forensic accountants. Publish the analysis in its entirety.

    2. Hierarchs: Remove all who have served the OCA over the past 15 years from the episcopate and the clergy; return each to the rank of simple monk under strict discipline of their abott and father confessor.

    3. Hierarchs: The AAC will appeal to the various Patriarchs to help in this time of crisis by supplying at least 3 replacement hierarchs, as was done for the Albanian Church after the fall of the Communist government.

    4. Monastic formation: The OCA doubles the number of monks and fully endows all existing monasteries and sketes within the next 10 years.

    What single thing would you like to see come out of the AAC?

    The replacement of the current hierarchs with true monastics supported by professionally trained clergy and lay administrators.

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