Attending the Chicago metro area Town Hall Meeting at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, Burr Ridge, IL, were His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest and over 100 people including 18 clergy. OCA chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, served as facilitator.
“O Heavenly King,” was sung by all.
Host pastor, Fr. Stephen Karaffa, greeted and welcomed participants, stating that he looked forward to a positive and fruitful evening
Fr. Alexander Garklavs, acting as facilitator, thanked Fr. Stephen and SS. Peter and Paul Parish. He said that, in planning for the upcoming All American Council, we are concerned more with the future – although we need to speak about that which has affected the church in the past. The Preconciliar Commission realized that the voice of people needs to be heard. People feel they have not had opportunity to express their feelings. He also hoped that there would be specific suggestions for the AAC. Orthodox Church built on structure of hierarchy. But Church is also conciliar (every person is important and valuable and plays a role). It is an incredible and mysterious balance.
About this Town Hall Meeting: Not every idea suggestion, point, can necessarily be implemented. Town Hall meetings came out of experience of a Preconciliar gathering of diverse guests who were invited to the Chancery. This was positive. The more such meetings the better. This is not a dialogue, but rather a forum for you to speak. We are here to listen and clarify. At the end Archbishop Job and Fr. Alexander may make a comment.
One theme that has emerged is that clergy and laity want to see more interaction with the bishops. This resounds again and again. Thus hierarchical presence was seen as ideal and needed at these Town Hall, and so it is that Archbishop Job is here with us tonight.
• Respect for ideas; we should not judge each other’s opinions.
• Time: let’s be mindful of other’s need to speak, we hope as many as are here can speak.
• There will be no attribution of names to the ideas presented and posted.
How do you feel about your life in the OCA today? [Or, put another way:] How have the events of the past several years impacted you personally?
Thanks to Archbishop Job for his efforts and bringing to light the financial blunder. What about our youth in the Church, how do we get them back?
The OCA’s financial situation has left me feeling very distant and distrustful of the ability of those in charge; there is a lack of information on the financial improprieties going back decades, problems are not of heart but of law. We don’t know when investigations will be made public. We have an inordinately expensive headquarters location. Efforts should start to seek new location for central church.
I am new to the OCA since January. Became Orthodox because American Church did not want to be answerable. Our parish is not obsessed with problem. We talk about it but we get along with life. Website is working in the OCA. Service books (DCE) are great. I like that we have cooperation in the Chicago Deanery. Current situation affects me, but I love my parish, I love the people. It is the AMERICAN church. We got into this mess and got ourselves out. (applause)
No problem in the parish caused by scandal. A bit of exasperation in how assessment money has been used. People feel betrayal by old and new admin — obfuscation. Hesitancy to reveal everything. To rebuild the trust by the Holy Synod is going to take major work.
It has been a personal roller coaster — high and lows. We are going through growing pains. “We walk together in the house of the Lord…” The pain is made so much worse. Financial problems have been going on for decades (hemorrhaging like the woman in the Gospel). We are being confronted with our own sins. There have been illegal activities at the highest echelons. We need to see repentance before the forgiveness can be given. We have to grapple with financial malfeasance, but we have to grow in faith and love and mutual repentance. The OCA is the presence of Orthodox in America. God has entrusted us with great gift and responsibility. My prayer we work together we find what has been going on and people held accountable.
(prepared text) – Compares scandal to Watergate (Nixon lying and resignation). Clinton impeached because of lying under oath. The sin does not cause the loss of trust, but the resulting lies and cover-ups. All of the Holy Synod are guilty. Metropolitan Theodosius defended the privacy of the Primate (sounds like Nixon and executive privilege). Now it is left to Metropolitan Herman, who says we should forgive 70×70 but never says what to forgive for. Members are ready to forgive. “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Metropolitan Herman sells out Christ’s Church for millions. Matthew 7 – we are still here because here is where the pearl of great price is.
Five years in the church (from and Episcopal background). Financial matters are important and I thank Archbishop Job for being accountable and calling to accountability. In the scheme of things I can’t get as excited about money as I did about a Church throwing out dogma (Episcopal). To us, “we have seen the truth faith,” when we joined the OCA. We were told, “They will never accept you because you are not Russian.” That is wrong. We have been welcomed by all. I do agree that financial things are important. We share the faith. We believe the creed.
My wife converted to Orthodoxy. “I joined the Church and beg all to keep up the fight for truth.”
What would you like to see happen in the life of the Church?
What happened and what possibly continues to happen is of great concern and needs to be dealt with. Justice is needed: honesty and righteousness not punishment, but our life does not stand or fall with what happens in Syosset. Following ocanews.org, you hear dire doom and gloom. But parishes are very healthy and great things are going on. A lot of good is being done. Such does not depend on what Syosset did or will do. This is where the promise of the OCA lies, in the health of our parishes. I can hardly get people to take interest in the Syosset affair. They have other things to think about.
Where should we go from here? A clergy convocation met in February and we talked about what should the shape of the OCA be in the future. What should be shape of the Central Administration (CCA)? Clergy from around the diocese felt that the CCA should change in shape and function — should do only those things that need to be done by CCA (external affairs). Other things best left to diocese (missions, charity when there is IOCC, education through OCEC). The archives could be kept at SVS – function of that seminary, then we’d have a leaner more efficient CCA with less money coming in with less temptation to abuse that money, with functions being done locally. We are concerned about the way bishops are chosen. We are concerned that we follow our own Statute and that we have real elections. Candidates should be vetted and nominated by diocese, and we have a chance to choose wisely. This will help to avoid the immobility and rigidity that we have experienced with this Synod. There should be a mandatory retirement; but a Diocesan Assembly could vote to keep bishops beyond that age. Syosset is not the right place. It is expensive. Climate of money and power that swirls around NY as a place where the Metrpolitan MUST reside.
What is the “best case” scenario in this situation?
I knew many individuals in Syosset and have had extensive training in non-profit organizations. Syosset is a meat grinder. People go with good intention and they are lost. If I were the CEO I would see that we have to move geographically sell Syosset and move the Metropolitan to his diocese and have a simple lease of property of office space even in a strip mall. We are here to support the mission of the Church, we are not here to live unto ourselves. Sell the property, lease space around DC; put the Metropolitan in his diocese. Most people don’t pay attention to Syosset. But their money is going to it.
Things were not always bad in Syosset. There was a time when I started working at the chancery on 2nd street with Fr. Pishtey, Fr. Hubiak, Masha Trubetskoy and a janitor. Things the way we saw them the past 20 years are not as they always were. Where things got wrong, we started seeing the lemonade stand as a fortune 500 company. It is possible to run the CCA with perhaps a more slimmed down body. The vision of autocephaly is no longer there. The excitement when I was a kid there were great things going on. This affects me that I feel that the people love God. People love the Church. I don’t fear that the Church is going to collapse. With financial mismanagement comes the need to ask and to offer forgiveness. We need to understand that our society is in pain, we are dealing with accountability issues everywhere. The Church needs to be a place where we lay aside the earthly cares. We are the Church. We are not disintegrating. Our parish is not disintegrating. The deanery is not disintegrating. We work as one. We do what we have to do. We need to work to be a better lemonade stand than to be a second rate fortune 500 company.
Best case scenario would be a functional Holy Synod of bishops. We have individual good bishops. We have a very good Chancellor. Overjoyed when Archbishop Job raised the questions and thought they would be dealt with at the 14th AAC in Toronto. Need to think about how we choose bishops. Individual bishops are not correcting each other and not speaking with each other. Consolidate dioceses. Do we have 13 good candidates? Do we need 13 dioceses? The Greeks only have 9. We need to deal with abuse better. Just because we finally dealt with it does not excuse that it happened and there was no recourse. Best case scenario is a Holy Synod of bishops who live in unity with one another.
I have seen people behaving badly. I feel I have been lied to by people that should not lie to me. To me the most egregious lies were about the inability to establish one Church in this country. There has never been anything but lip-service from the OCA leadership on unity. The desire to keep the money, keep the power eclipsed the desire to be united. Our job is to save souls. I want to tell my 15 year son “that is someone you want to emulate.” I can’t do that with this Holy Synod and with our leadership. We have nothing to be afraid of. We have the strength and joy. Maybe part of the growing pains of having an Orthodox Church in this country is to grow out of what has happened. We must be honest. I don’t need to know all the deeds. I am past being scandalized. I don’t need to know the gossip. The challenge for the future: what is the organization needed for the organism? Two things: 1. how do we need to be organized to be the one Church, and 2. across dioceses there are vast differences, and the role of CCA should help bring uniform standards and resources.
Solutions: transparency; checks and balances needed. Review process so accountability happens. Restructure government.
What specific things do you recommend for the upcoming All American Council?
Synod members should come to Holy Synod meeting with their Chancellors and/or advisors.
Metropolitan Herman needs to apologize on behalf of the entire Holy Synod, we can learn from our RC friends; in Boston there was a change of leadership. The Pope repented. The successor in Boston went around the diocese, prostrated and asked forgiveness.
In response to a question regarding whether or not any Statute amendments been submitted, Fr. Alexander Garklavs said yes.
If we think this AAC is just going to be about repentance and forgiveness we are deluding ourselves. The money is at the same time of importance and not of importance. If we come out of AAC just forgiving the past where is the vision for the future? There is a disconnect between the hierarchs and conciliarity. In the past it has been more hierarchical. We need to be more conciliar. I could be a better choir director if I had more support from the diocese and the CCA. There is a disconnect between Syosset and the rest of the Church. We need to address this disconnect. We need a vision of what the CCA can be.
What about the OCA is important to you?
It is as important now as it was in the beginning. The Orthodox Church worldwide is splintering into ethnic jurisdictions. The essence of phylitism is happening before our eyes. The OCA represents a different vision: your ethnic group doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter whether you American or not. You have a place here, even if you don’t speak English. The OCA represents that pan-Orthodox inclusive vision of what the Church is to be. It is more important than ever to continue to represent that. Maybe at some time the ethnics will come together, but the solution is not that they will come together under one Synod, they need to be integrated. The OCA is important because of conciliarity. The other Churches are going away from it. This sort of thing, ocanews.org etc. would have been shut down under another Church. We may be the only church that has this opportunity. Maybe the OCA won’t be here in 20 or 30 years because of a evolution of the Church. But this is our opportunity to make something good come out of this.
We are all righteously indignant. Don’t let your anger become sinful (St. Paul) the Church cannot be destroyed. We are the Church. We can self destruct if we keep biting each other. The wolf will have an easier meal. We will get through this. It took the Church 100 years to get the icons back during the iconoclast controversy. We should not bite each other. We will be wounded. No one can impose on us; we have to come to conclusions on our own. We are doing this to ourselves. The Church needs to be a place where we can find a respite from the lack of trust, from indifference, from coldness of heart, etc.
Fr. Alexander Garklavs said that it is a natural human reaction “to kick the cat when you get home from a bad day at work.” It is a syndrome, a natural thing, we are all “mad as hell” about what has happened, but we are also “kicking the cat,” and that is not good, because we’re kicking each other. One of the speakers said correctly that people that we knew and trusted and love were in position of power and lied to us, betrayed the confidence. Problems are nothing new. There have always been problems and controversies in the Church. As Church people, we are also not exempt from the problems and temptations that the world offers. All of us, bishops, priests and laypeople are subject to temptations and sometimes we fall. The OCA had a perfect storm. In the early 90’s we were all excited by the fall of Communism. Patriarch Aleksy II came to America, to our parishes and there was a lot of excitement. And we, the OCA, spent a great deal of money and effort on trips and diplomacy to Russia. Now we wonder if it paid off. Complicated and bad things happened. These things have changed us and nothing of the OCA will be the same.
That OCA Chancery that you don’t trust is nothing like what you imagine it. We are down staffed, regular people, trying to do the best we can. There is no question we need a CCA, a place for the Holy Synod to meet, and for the national Church to function. The relation of dioceses to the CCA needs to be articulated for the first time. God is challenging us to deal with issues. A lot has happened in a very short time. The history of Orthodoxy in North America is but a very short period in Church History. The whole OCA started as a large diocese. It was not so long ago that the dioceses have come into being. A lot is happening as we speak. The OCA is only just turning 40years old.
A non-ethnic Church has never existed in history. And those ethnic bonds are deep and strong (the Romanians are not jumping ship, they want to be with their Romanian family and friends). It is hard to be Orthodox and non-ethnic. The OCA took a bold step, by attempting to overcome those ethnic bonds and by being concilliar. God is driving us, guiding us into resolving these issues. There is no Orthodox Church that would have Town Hall meetings with a bishop and chancellor listening. It is confusing, painful, challenging, and it is also a theological time. Maybe our generation will be what defines what it means to be an Orthodox in America. With our ability to forgive, to pray, to commune together, God will led us out of this time of trouble. We know changes need to be made, but it is all on God’s time.
In closing Archbishop Job said, “I have little to add to the excellent comments made.” He expressed his gratitude for being here. It was said that people love the Church. Cleveland meeting had similar comments. This one was a bit more easy going. Maybe because we are further into the Midwest. He said that he was optimistic: “we are going to get through this. It is a long haul.” I mentioned to someone, in W. PA. they are interviewing candidates, and that is a good thing. They have interviewed one who has been on Mt. Athos for 10 years. Out of obedience he came and saw. One of the questions asked of him, “What do you think about the crisis?” “I have been in Greece for 10 years. Greece had a scandal which makes this crisis here look like small potatoes. The difference they cleaned house in 6 months.” For us it has been 3 years long. There was the action of our All American Council in 2005 and the way we were treated, politely being told “it is none of your concern.” I needed the slap. It was too difficult to fight city hall. That slap, against me and the diocese, and it was that episode, at the beginning of this crisis that inspired Gregg Nescott to resign, that inspired Deacon Wheeler to write the call for accountability. A certain person said, you people in the Midwest, “its all your fault” and I responded “you’re damn right it is.”
These Town Hall meetings are so important. The whole world is looking at us. We could give a blue print for world Orthodoxy on how to solve difficult problems. We are experiencing conciliarity. That is a good thing. In Cleveland at least three people said, I am only a lay person but….. I responded “you’re only a lay peron!” the laity are a royal priesthood. We are all part of the royal priesthood, we just have different roles. What we are doing tonight is the work of the whole Church. It is an exciting time. Yes it has been difficult. But it is all worthwhile. I thank you for support prayers and love.