The July 23, 2008, Town Hall Meeting at All Saints Orthodox Church, Hartford, CT, opened with “O Heavenly King.”
Meeting facilitator, OCA Secretary, Archpriest Eric Tosi, welcomed the participants and gave a background to the Town Hall Meeting process. He stressed that from the Town Hall meetings, the Preconciliar Commission is looking for concrete suggestions for the upcoming All-American Council in November. Fr. Eric outlined the ground rules that have been established for the meetings. Upon the recommendation of participants, the first question addressed was:
Question 1: What is the issue faced by the Church at this time; what went wrong?
What we have heard through the internet is that money that was directed to specific areas has in some way been misappropriated. This was the original issue: the poor administration of funds. Things have snow-balled now and it is hard to know what the issue really is. It is hard to know what is factual on the internet. The issue is what is going to solve the problem?
The real issue is bigger than we can deal with at an AAC. The real issue is the Church and the fact that we have all sinned. We are all in this together. People stay in the Church because they care about the Church, even if we disagree. Once we admit that we all sin, we can find a way to forgive through love.
The big issue is two things that are connected: first, a massive failure of leadership – the leaders in our Church failed us, saying they were doing one thing and doing something else both through willful wrong-doing and through incompetence and ignorance. We have not selected our leaders well enough. Second, and related, the failure in leadership has resulted to this very moment in a situation where the central Church administration thought it was serving the Church when in reality the Church was serving the central administration. The reality of the Church was forgotten. The leaders became the served rather than the servants.
The Church has been caught in a malaise for quite a few years. It involved the central administration, but it also involved the general membership. We forgot what the Church was about in the face of five-year-plans and All-American Councils. We have to embrace the zeal that was part of the Church when we became autocephalous in 1970.
One of the things that I have faced that is breaking my heart in terms of my ministry, my family and my community is massive pain being felt by those who feel that they have been fundamentally betrayed by the Church to which they have sacrificed so much of their lives. In the midst of so much pain, it is difficult to address these people. From a pastoral perspective we cannot forget this.
A key question is, if there has been a massive failure of leadership under the current Metropolitan, why is he still in place? How can we say that there has been a change when the source of the failure, our current Metropolitan, is still in place?
Scripture shows us that if sin occurs and is tolerated among God’s people there is wholesale defeat. This is being manifested in the OCA today. We can see the results around us which show individual sin was not limited to the person but affected everyone. There can be no true healing unless the confession of sin is not total. When information is withheld people lose trust; there is a power balance between those who know and those who do not. One cannot tell what is truth and fiction. The only remedy is to proclaim the truth. I hope all charges and allegations will be investigated fairly and the findings be released.
I have been involved with the Church for over 70 years, including in diocesan administration. Are we creating a hell by these questions on money and misappropriation? What is this doing to the majority of the Church’s membership? If we continue this, what are we going to learn? A lot of bad judgments were made, but we have to go on. I cannot see prolonging this issue year after year. I don’t think there is any benefit to this. We are creating a hell.
I still continue to be so saddened by the behavior of leaders within our Church. But what saddens me more is the bile and evil and hatred which comes from the clergy and laity who present themselves as those who will save us and fix our problems. I believe that they have become as great, or greater, a problem to the Church with the evil that they spew day after day after day. Our leaders are human and what really breaks my heart is the ways they are treated with such disrespect. At a time when we should be working together many are taking a different tact. These people do not speak for me; they do not represent me. And this is what saddens me most.
There are no checks and balances in the administration and it is not that people hate what is going on. People don’t like it, but it is not a stringent hate. Our Metropolitan, who was Treasurer, knows about these misappropriations and we need to know the truth. How can we trust the administration now after funds were taken from funds such as the Christmas Stocking Fund and the 9-11 Fund? How can we trust the administration now?
Question 2: What impact have these events in the OCA of recent years impacted you?
I believe there is great hope. When I was thinking about the total break down of central administration I thought: I wonder why the other disciples didn’t know what Judas was doing. I want to know why Jesus didn’t resign when Judas came forward. Remember what came out of those three days of total break down? We are now seeing openness like we have never had before. We have the hope that is illustrated from those days 2000 years ago every time we approach the chalice. We need to keep this in mind when we think about this.
Our focus has been on the leadership of our national Church for direction in the face of betrayal. The other layer is our Church in the greater Orthodox landscape. At the AAC in 1999 we heard a vision of us living with our autocephaly: we cannot wait until the all of the other Churches around the world accept us as the autocephalous Church in America – we need to be that Church. The plates of Orthodoxy in North America are shifting and we are idling here in all of this. We are not taking care of the talent that we were given in our autocephaly. How responsible have we been in our dioceses and parishes living out our identity as the local Orthodox Church in this country to bear witness to people here? We need to return and pray about this talent and to renew our calling to witness in the greater Orthodox community that which has been instructed to us and to our care.
The major impact that the events of recent years has had on me is that I have lost trust in some of our hierarchs and clergy. I have thought that the presbyter and the bishop is someone to look to as an example of morality and Christian life. I am completely demoralized and confused when I look at the internet and see bishops being removed and presbyters being defrocked. This is deeply disappointing. I ask, “Is what they have done a Christian way of doing things?” What keeps me in the Church is my diocese because I believe that we are doing things right and I don’t want to look outside it.
Question 3: What do you see as a “best case” scenario for the Church?
In our parish we have the separation of the financial and the spiritual: the financial with the parish council and the spiritual with the priest. Perhaps we should have this in the central administration as well.
My life wouldn’t be the same without the Orthodox Church. Part of leadership is measurement and acknowledgment of where we are. The OCA has been in a state of decline over the decades and we have ignored it. The issues of recent years are a blip on the map. Where will the Church be if we survive this? Will our children have a Church? Looking at the resources and energy to run the central administration of the Church we see that all Churches have similar demands. We are under attack. We are facing a darkness daily that is far greater than the issues we are talking about in the financial crisis in the Church. To combat this enemy, we have to have the humility to gather and say that it is finally time to come together – all the jurisdictions – and figure out how to form one Orthodox Church in America that can grow in this land.
Our diocesan task force on Church growth delivered a report at the last assembly showing that the overall members of the diocese since 1990 declined by 38%. At this rate, by 2020 there will be less than 1000 people in our diocese. The real question is, with all that is going on in the national Church, how that relates to what we are doing in our diocese and our parishes.
This year our budgeted income in the diocese is $371,000.00 and our internal expenses are $119,000.00; $261,000 is sent to Syosset. In a best-case scenario either (1) the money sent to the central administration is used to build up the life of the local Church, or (2) we radically reduce the amount of money sent to the central administration so the diocese can use it to avoid the tailspin that we have seen over the years.
In the Gospels our Lord speaks about pruning the vine to make it grow. It is my hope that we, by this crisis, are being pruned, that the Lord is using what is going on now to make us a better and more fruitful vineyard.
We also have to remember that the Holy Spirit always works in the Church. In the election of our current Metropolitan the Holy Spirit was in charge and it is up to us to discern where He wants us to go in the events in which we find ourselves, hoping that the Spirit is guiding us to a better future.
The best case scenario would be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Even without that blessing, we can ask the coming of Christ into our personal lives and our life as the Church.
I have not followed this issue closely, but what I have heard did create some disturbing thoughts in me; for example, my family had reexamined our gifting to the national Church. There has to be trust reestablished in these areas. I do have hope that lessons can be learned from this and one lesson is how we are coming together tonight. This is very positive and the Church should be applauded for it; it is only sad that a difficult situation has prompted this kind of meeting.
I am originally from the diocese of the south and I question why cannot our diocese of New England experience the kind of growth that is being experienced by the Diocese of the South? At a national level the administration needs to see where Orthodoxy is growing and apply the lessons learned there elsewhere.
It is time to rip off the band-aid, expose the wound – however difficult that might be – and heal it. We need to address this issue as the Church and determine what the truth is. Are we going to take care of this, or are we going to let the government and the lawyers do it for us? We need to address this scandal ourselves, and we cannot be told that it is being taken care of and, “Don’t worry.” We need to say, “Enough,” and clean our house, whatever that takes.
There is no personal, private sin. We are tainted by the sins at the core of this crisis – lust, greed, and pride. Someone has to speak like the boy who saw the emperor had no clothes. It is time for the Spirit to course through the Church and to heal us. It is time for those who have sinned to repent and avoid the temptations that have corrupted them. Pray for the Church that it will be healed.
St. Paul says that, “Perseverance builds character and character builds faith.” God works in everyone’s life, even when we feel that He is far away. Especially in the difficult times, God requires us to be humble and listen with faith. God says, “Look at Me. I am holding you. I am guiding you.”
We will never get a full understanding of the financial mismanagement at Syosset. Sometimes trying to get full understanding is like picking at the wound over and over again so that it stays raw and cannot heal.
If we look at our time of difficulty from the perspective of God we can still reinitialize our missionary and outreach work and this will help renew us. Fr. Schmemann used to say, “You don’t have the resurrection. What do you have?” We have the resurrection. Let us live it. Rather than coming down on our hierarchs, leaders and servants, let’s lighten up and pray for them. Let us take part in the Holy Mysteries, ask that we be built up, and live the reality of the Kingdom.
The best case scenario for the Church is that the victory was won on the Cross, and the issue is do we want to take part in the victory. The issue is what do we do while waiting for Him to come? I would like to make six specific points:
(1) Ask Metropolitan Herman to retire, because you cannot be part of the problem and part of the solution. Sometimes the best thing we can do to move something forward is to get out of the way.
(2) We have a moratorium on the making of bishops until we have a large pool of candidates. There are no valid candidates right now. We’re better off with no bishops than bad bishops. The Antiochian got by for years with one bishop and one assistant.
(3) Total transparency in every aspect of the Church, not just finances. “We are as sick as our secrets.” If you are doing something that you would not want to tell anyone else about, why are you doing it?
(4) Reexamine what it means to hold to our tradition. We are addicted to tradition with a small “t” at the expense of being faithful to Tradition with a big “T”. We are crazed with this and we are incredibly ignorant about our Tradition.
(5) Respect education and learning, rather than honoring the “ignorant holy man.” There is a long tradition in the Church of education and learning. We have to fight ignorance.
(6) We have to do whatever is necessary to achieve Orthodox unity in North America, because unless we are united we will fall. The only people who can solve that problem are our bishops. At some point they just have to do it; the lay people are more than willing.
My vision is that in ten years we will see an AAC that is one-day long and half of it is Liturgy. Second, that we see Town Hall Meetings all across the country where we are talking about mission and Church growth. Then we will know that the wound is healed.
Question 4: How can we address your concerns at the AAC?
As a priest when you come to me for confession, I don’t want to recreate your sin in me. I don’t want full disclosure but I do want an honest sketch of what happened. I want to see this at the beginning of the AAC with an act of forgiveness. Something has to happen that is real and tangible, but that does not allow us to enter into the sin.
We have to make changes to the OCA Statues, because it is good but full of holes that people can take advantage of, as this situation has shown.
(1) Eliminate the permanent positions of Primate, Chancellor and Treasurer. Position of Primate should be held by each member of the Synod for a term, not for life. The Chancellor and Treasurer should be elected either by the AAC or Metropolitan Council. I would also like to rename the Metropolitan Council and even say change the name of OCA to “American Orthodox Church” to show that we have started with something new.
(2) Incorporate work of the OCA Organizational Task Force into the Statue.
(3) Duties of auditors should be established and be people trained for the work they have to do. Part of our problem is that the auditors did do their work properly. The auditors should also have access to financial records of all monasteries and seminaries.
(4) The Metropolitan Council should follow their mandate in the statute and not just be “yes-men” for the Metropolitan.
(5) Each diocese should have one bishop and if a bishop is not available we should go beyond the OCA to look for bishops. And each bishop should be responsible for one diocese only.
(6) A task force should be set up to revised the Church’s Statues and present for approval at the 16th AAC.
(7) Pass the following resolutions:
- Ask the Holy Synod to retire the Metropolitan;
- Reprimand Metropolitan Theodosius;
- All hierarchs should apologize to the Church at large for allowing the problems to happen and benefitting from them;
- Each diocesan assembly should have a secret vote of confidence in their diocesan bishop;
- The Metropolitan Council should consider all law suits and investigations carefully taking into account the time and costs involved and whether they will be of ultimate benefit or detriment;
- Move out of Syosset because it now has a marred history.
We need to have outside auditors to avoid a conflict of interest. Also, all financial people in the dioceses and the Church should be bonded.
One approach to addressing our Church’s challenges is structural, establish standardized behaviors and activities. Another approach is the relational approach, which is sorely missing from the life of the Church. What if at the AAC we spent time asking our levels of administration, diocese and institutions asked, “How can we help you?” Each diocese could gather in a similar fashion and have a brother bishop moderate this discussion. And then to hear from our Holy Synod of Bishops – to often at our AAC’s we do not hear from our bishops. We could hear what things are working well and what things are not working, and at the same time to really pray for our bishops. If we do not deal with each other in a relational way, no amount of writing and statutes will help.
I would like to see this AAC look at the expansion of liturgical roles for women in the Church.
It is important for us to remember that as important as effective administration is, it does not make the Church. What make the Church is what we do – in our families and communities. The AAC involves what we do as a national Church. A draft budget – showing what we do – should be released as soon as possible, with concrete objectives that drive that budget.
Before the AAC we need to unite in prayer. We will accomplish nothing good if we do not prepare ourselves through prayer to attend our work. These prayers should be published – a prayer for the AAC, petitions during the Liturgy, prayers to say together – for use throughout the Church, and if not throughout the Church, at least as a diocese. In this way we are calling on the Holy Spirit to lead us and are not being lead by our own opinions.
When I converted to Orthodoxy I was invigorated. When I went to my first AAC I was amazed at how elaborate the venue was. I walked away disappointed by the opulence. It is important to gather together, but when we have such financial problems both in our Church and our homes we have to streamline our expenses and cut back the pomp and circumstance and give these funds back to the churches. Also I saw people working together, but decisions were already made. We are all separated and we all have to unite and this will only happen if we are good examples. We lead by example and this has to start at the top, cutting back and working together for the benefit of the Church.
In response to a question about whether the Church still has discretionary accounts, His Grace Bishop Nikon said that the Metropolitan has one and that it goes through the Treasurer and is audited.
I am a recent convert to the Orthodox Church. As a child I was brought up in a Church that disintegrated rapidly when the bishop left and took our funds with him. I went to other Churches and watched them disintegrate was well. Finally I found the Orthodox Church and felt abundantly blessed. Please don’t let it disintegrate
In his concluding comments Bishop Nikon thanked the faithful for coming. “We are the Church,” he said, “We are here to face and fix the wrong.” He said that there is currently a crisis and there will be others, but our Church will stand until the end of time. He continued by saying, “We say that we don’t trust the administration. We should be saying, ‘We don’t trust the previous administration.’ New people are there, coming into an adverse environment and trying to rectify what went wrong.”
He concluded by saying, “We were all betrayed, but that does not stop us from being the Church. We cannot allow ourselves to fall short of being the Ark of God in the world, of being living icons in the world.” He said that he was honored to serve as hierarch of the Diocese of New England and to have this opportunity to come together as Church to help guide us back to our vision and our responsibility.
The meeting closed with “It is truly meet.”