OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Ottawa, ON, June 7, 2008

This Town Hall meeting was the first of an initial nine being convened by the Preconciliar Commission as part of the preparation for the 15th All- American Council. It took place at Annunciation Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa on June 7, 2008, in the presence of His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada and His Grace, Bishop Nikon, head of the Pre-Conciliar Commission. The meeting was facilitated by Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, Communications Director of the Orthodox Church in America, and Preconciliar Commission member. Archpriest John Jillions, Dean of the Cathedral, and also a member of the Commission served as one of the recorders. Participants’ comments and ideas were recorded on a flip chart, and a local volunteer was enlisted to take written notes and prepare a summary of the discussion.

Twenty-seven people were in attendance, including faithful from Ottawa, New York State, Montreal and Wisconsin.

Introduction

Fr. Andrew began by putting the meeting into a scriptural context, reading the passage chosen by the Commission as the theme of the council – “Members of one another in Christ.”

“Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole, steal no longer, rather labour working with his hands, for this is good that he have something to give to him who has need. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good and for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Eph. 4:25-32)

Fr. Andrew explained that the Commission hoped these meetings would be part of speaking the truth, of thinking about how we should behave toward one another in the wake of the events of the last few years, and what it means to “put away” malice and hurt, anger and frustration. Because we are united, if one of us is hurt, or angry it affects us all in some way. “Putting away” pain, hurt, anger is not something magical, but a process that includes speaking truthfully. These town hall meetings are an opportunity for the people to speak with candour, and an opportunity for the leaders of our Church to listen. He hoped that they might thereby play a part in the process of healing and rebuilding communion.

The comments would be reported in summary form on the AAC blog so that these local voices would be heard by the larger church, and by the other bishops. Those who prepared comments in advance would be welcome to add them as an addendum to the record, anonymously or otherwise. The hope was that this would begin a dialogue that would contribute to the process of reconciliation and rebuilding of trust in preparation for the All American Council in November and thereafter. Fr. Andrew also welcomed feedback on the format so that subsequent meetings might build on what happened here.

Ground Rules

The “ground rules” were simply four:

  • Maintain dignity and respect in how we address each other
  • No judgment of ideas
  • Share air time
  • No attribution of comments in the record, unless requested by the commentator

With the permission of the body, the meeting was audiotaped as an aide memoire for the notetaker, tapes to be subsequently erased. Prepared statements were given by four of the participants and it was agreed that these would be appended to the summary report and attributed if requested.

Otherwise, there was no structure to the meeting. The role of the bishops was to listen. Generally, the questions that the Commission hoped would be addressed included– the impact of the financial and administrative crisis on you personally – spiritually – your relationship to the church, how the AAC can address your concerns, what outcome is hoped for, what are the important issues you see for the future?

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

Just speaking personally as a 29 year old man, had this not happened I probably would have gone to seminary – I can’t tell my wife I would leave a great job in the secular world for a job in an organization that might not be there. I feel I have this calling, but I don’t think the OCA is the place for us to be. That’s how it’s affected me. I don’t know if there is going to be an OCA – is there a future? We don’t know what’s going to happen in November.

I don’t see the pride people once had in the OCA – we’ve almost turned the church into a bank – there’s so much squabbling over money. I’m not giving money. I won’t give you money – unless I can actually give it to the people who need the money. I don’t know where the money’s going to end up – smuggled under someone’s cassock? People have broken the law. It’s tough for me as a civil authority to keep my mouth shut knowing that people I respected, served with, broke the law. What do we say to people – the children in the parish – when people who break the laws get away with it? Nobody’s been punished yet.

The crisis has broken my trust, broken my heart, broken everything. Unless I can see the money will actually fix the leak that needs to be fixed, or it’s going to go the people who need to be fed, or going to go to the people who need to be clothed, I will not give a dime. That’s just how I feel. When we see the appeals come for the iconostasis or other stuff, it’s with great fear that I give any money. Because I don’t think the leadership of this church is using the money where it needs to be used. I’ve heard the OCA had champagne taste on a beer budget. If that’s the mindset — I don’t see any of the leadership has changed – same people are still there, there still going to have the same taste. What’s changed? If there’s someone who needs it, I’ll write the check and hand it to them, but until that day comes, the OCA can go broke for all I care. That’s just my opinion, that’s how it’s affected me.

==

Well, that really brings it home. In Canada it seems outside of our life, we’ve been too smug about it, it doesn’t affect us in the same way — your comment certainly brought it home for me in a powerful way. The effect for me has been a spiritual one – questioning – I have a deeper question than the financial issues or issues of scandal. It’s a profound ecclesiological question – what is the nature of the church? This is not confined to OCA, it’s a crisis in the Orthodox Church in general. We know that the church is hierarchical, but what does this mean? What’s the nature of authority in the church? It has come to a head in the OCA, but it’s throughout the Orthodox world and it’s been developing for quite a long time, manifested in quite a few ways. There’s need for reconciliation – There’s acrimony on both sides, the truth is not spoken in love, there are accusations that have been made wrongly. By the same token, good points are raised as well. What does it mean to be a bishop – do you have a carte blanche to do whatever you want?

==

I heard about this incident a while ago, since that time, nobody ever mentioned or discussed anything about it. So I don’t think it really affected us in our parish where people are very responsive and trust each other. I don’t see why there is a crisis – I don’t see any, at least in Canada – maybe it is a question of detachment, too far away – I don’t see that it affected us. It’s a management problem – these things happen everywhere –– it could happen with any other organization. I don’t regard it as a crisis. I don’t see any impact on me or on our church. Nobody in my presence discussed it in the last two years.

==

I think that is part of the crisis – no one in the parish or this archdiocese has really addressed this question, only very superficially I don’t think it’s a matter of an administrative glitch – I think it is as much about administration as Watergate was about a break-in. It’s not the actual act, it’s the way it’s been covered up. There were corrupted people around it and the ethos of leadership is not very Christian. I am a new member of the Orthodox church and believe it is Christ’s church founded on truth and love. But I have been really been struggling with whether the OCA is committed to love, to truth, to following Christ. We have had leaders, most notably Metropolitan Herman wo have lied, who have stalled, who have obfuscated. We have others who have just swept things under the rug. We have ourselves not stood up and taken up our responsibility. We have also failed. There is a huge spiritual crisis – apart from anyfinancial and administrative crisis, and if the financial crisis had been dealt with differently we might not be in as much of a spiritual crisis.

About ecclesiology, from my reading before I became Orthodox I understood we were not like the Catholics — we are not ordered by someone on high, expected to just obey, never ask questions. I thought we were a collegial church where people acted together to do the will of God. There’s a huge disconnect between the church you read about and the church you experienced. Having said that, for me and others, for the most part, rather than having been destroyed by that the parishes in the OCA really are full of good people striving to do the will of God. But when you have a leadership that seems to be doing the exact opposite there are some real problems.

There is a culture among some of the leadership that they don’t owe us anything, don’t need to be truthful, don’t need to be open …sheep in pain do not matter to their shepherds. You hear tales of places where there has been sexual abuse of minors, abuse of the confessional – these may not all be true, but they should at least be listened to, paid attention to, not ignored.

The spiritual crisis at the other end is how do I act myself? Do I follow along blindly? Will I not have to account for not doing anything if I know there is wrong done? It’s hard to know what is the right thing to do.

==

I’m very disheartened that this is being a distraction from the work of the church. If we could put as much energy into converting souls to Christ as strengthening Orthodox unity as we have put into this crisis….that’s not to say it’s not an issue that we shouldn’t deal with and must deal with. Secondly, I am genuinely upset with how due process has been criticized and in some cases neglected – the judge, the jury, all at the same time – throughout church history, bishops come and go, priests come and go – things sort themselves out. There is this instinct to make a quick judgement, without seeing where things fall, or having a pastoral approach. It’s not always black and white. Due process does happen, maybe not as fast as we want it to, but there is a process. People want things to be fixed, and retribution, justice, yesterday. That’s who we are as fallen creatures, but we have to have patience, and I’ve not seen enough of this. – people have been blasting back and forth and eventually you forget what you’re talking about – it’s just a lot of rhetoric.

==

Laurie Rodger read her prepared statement (posted in the comments section below).

==

What makes abuse most horrible is that abusers are in positions of trust. Negligence is also a form of abuse.

==

I don’t despair that these things happen – it’s the nature of the world we live in, and I don’t despair of the ability of the church to be a witness of Christ and the truth even when these things happen. I think part of being a witness is showing to the world how we deal with this. This even is a point of hope –we are being asked for our responses. I think that the world will not dismiss the Orthodox Church if they see poor management of money, corruption in leadership – rather if the vulnerable are not protected. I continue to hold my breath on a certain level and hope that it can be resolved with as much care, and honesty and integrity as possible. How we deal with this – can also be an act of witness.

==

My parish is in Metropolitan Herman’s diocese (NY-NJ-DC), and I can say that those parishes closer to the action have really been affected. People in my parish are very involved. For most, parochial life is holy and uplifting – but at the same time overall for the majority- there’s a sense of demoralization, frustration, a sense of loss. While we have a desire not to combative or aggressive, our patience is exhausted. The frustration: how to respond with Christian spirit to the silence. People have wanted to hold back their funds, I have fervently asked my own parish not to withhold anything until the whole church gathers. There is the desire not to be connected any longer with the center –the fragmentation and bankruptcy of the central life of the church is deeply, deeply felt. I speak largely for our diocese, a sense of loss that we can’t be connected with each other for greater unity through our Synod. Corporately, together, things can be done but we’re missing that glue that holds us together regionally.

==

Before the assembly there should be statements acknowledging responsibility — hierarchs, central administration and Metropolitan Council – asking forgiveness. Some statement about the sequence of events, what happened, how it happened, what’s been done to try to resolve it. We have our own responsibility among the laity – for example who we elect to the metropolitan council – we must support them in their work, and be aware of that work, so we are all involved and need to ask forgiveness from one another. And continue to pray for our hierarchs.

==

As I said before, there have always been corrupt people in the church –even among the apostles there was a corrupt person and the church survived. It’s not a crisis in my mind. So I think the situation has to be corrected and communicated properly to all the parish. There is collapsed communication between the center and the parishes. It’s a management crisis, not a church crisis. Because someone is corrupt doesn’t mean the whole church is corrupt.

==

We all know how that story of corruption ended. The church survived minus the person who did the corruption. My question is to the hierarchs when they are sitting across each other at the table and call each other brother bishops. I know with my own brother — I have the courage to pull him aside and say, “you know what, you did wrong and what you’re doing is wrong. You might not like it,” — sometimes my brother doesn’t want to talk to me for a long time. I can’t imagine how a group of men who claim to be brothers – how not one of them have the courage to say, “enough is enough already…release the reports, go for transparency.” Is there nobody who has the kind of fortitude to say, look enough is enough? Or, if someone needs to step down, step down.

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

An apology – from whoever is guilty – no blood, just a straight up apology. If there’s punishment that comes from that –so be it, but just saying ‘I did this’ – that’s the case for forgiveness.

Completing an apology needs to ask: what can I do to make amends?

==

Bishop Nikon: How could communication be improved? Hard to know what is too much information, too little information…is a statement on the OCA webpage enough for communication, or does it have to go to every house? Financial statements are up there. About apologies, I can’t make someone confess – that has to come from him – we are all hoping for that. I can’t stand in the church and confess someone else’s sins.

==

Until you say, I am sorry…this will not be over. You can publish reports from the beginning of the OCA but until someone asks for forgiveness it won’t make any difference. Financial information is no substitute for an apology. An apology acknowledges something was wrong – it means that something actually happened, instead of living in this delirium that something might have happened, that might have happened, this might have been said. At least it finally lets us know in our minds and our hearts — OK something happened – and move on from that – you can’t move on from that until somebody acknowledges that it happened. It gives clarity.

Accounting for missing funds still missing – details out in the open, ideally all.

There may have been things that were done – like taking money to the Soviet Union under cover – that had to be done that way, not because of sneakiness or deceit but because we live in a sinful world. When there is usually good communication you are more likely to accept that there are some things you can’t know as it is between parents and kids where there is good communication. As far as this crisis goes, I needed to ask to find out. This is not just the fault of the leaders – we have been quite content to sit around in our ignorance. It’s right that we get stirred up, and begin to pray for them and support them. These town hall meetings are a start.

==

As a pastor this is a dilemma — is discussion of this crisis what you want to stir up in people, or is it preaching the gospel, the liturgical life, the parish life? There’s a quote from Philo of Alexandria that says, ‘be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ if someone asks me about it, I’ll talk about it. I’m not sure I want to put it front and center. Does that mean I’m robbing people of their opportunity to get engaged? Am I being paternalistic? But on the whole I would err on the side of candour.

We don’t have to know all the details, but now we know that you are going to meetings and why they are important.

==

Bishop Nikon: we now know there are more people that want these town meetings, and we’re trying to find a way to expand these, even if a hierarch can’t be present at all of them, this is something I’ll be presenting at our meeting next week.

==

Some suggestions for better communication: a section for OCA news in the Canadian Messenger; an update on the Archdiocesan website with a link to the Orthodox Church Magazine which is available online.

==

For a long time I’ve been quite happy in my ignorance. Glad I’ve been able to hear this – I appreciate those who spoke bravely about how it had affected them. It shows it is a crisis – just because I don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, and we have to do something to rectify the situation. Just being happy in your ignorance won’t cut it.

==

Dr. John Hadjinicolaou read a prepared statement (posted in the comments section below.

==

I feel that laity really has not been part of that discernment process in this crisis– it hasn’t been welcomed into that discernment. Difficult to understand how you can get access to that process without feeling that you’re a troublemaker, or that you’re just stirring things, or just making it more difficult for the bishops. It seems to me that there really is not a culture of consultation that is encouraged. It is more a kind of paternalistic, just leave it up to us, we’re muddling through, we’ll get there in the end and trust us. I think that that can only go so far in a culture where you have an educated laity, you have professionals, you have people who are used to having opinions in their political life, in their jobs, in their family life – there is a lot of consultation in civilian life. And we do it somehow better outside the church than we do inside of the church. And I have actually been quite scandalized at time to hear words like ‘the bishops are the church’ – that kind of rhetoric. That’s not why I’m a member of the Orthodox Church. I remember when I was growing up in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral where I didn’t understand Greek at all, but there were many ordinations and consecrations of bishops, and I remember when I first heard the word ‘Axios’ and asked my father what that meant. He told me, it means ‘he is worthy’. The people have to say ‘he is worthy’ — they can’t do anything without the people saying Amen, or Axios. And I remember even as a 12 year old being so impressed that I could be part of a church where my voice counted. I don’t think it’s very easy if you’re just in a parish trying to do the best you can, it’s not easy to see where you can put your voice – where can I speak? Where will it be heard? Do I have to go on a website so that maybe somebody will hear what I have to say? Or if I talk to my bishop will it get passed on somehow or is it through the Metropolitan Council or through my priest? How does my voice get heard so that I feel that somehow maybe the Holy Spirit can even work through me — maybe I’m part of that discernment process.

==

What authority will you have on actioning any of this? Where will it go – will you table results, be a report, is something going to be done? Otherwise it’s a waste of time. All these issues are about leadership, symptomatic of a wider, deeper leadership problem. Lead from the front and you lead by example. So if there’s not leadership happening there, you’re going to have sort it out very quickly or else, as the scriptures says, ‘without a vision the people perish.’ Leadership is required for vision, without a vision there will be no church.

==

I always try to find an irenic more peaceful way, so it is very painful for me to speak here. I have an excellent relationship with Vladyka [Seraphim], we speak and email often on these issues. I’ve spoken openly to Metropolitan Herman. But all of these cumulatively has led me to the understanding that even after all the discussions, results get lost in the woodwork. We need to address this concretely. How does transformation happen? ‘Only through enlightened leadership’. That’s been my conclusion about church life. Even though we have best practices in church life, it is really about enlightened leadership. It’s not that we have to have solutions – we have to hear each other in love and respect. This kind of meeting should be a regular feature of church life. But we have spoken largely in generalities. The distillation of all of that comes down to a question of leadership, specifically the leadership of Metropolitan Herman. I cam to this by thinking about myself as a shepherd – how I would react if I were to learn if there were a lack of trust in my leadership, I would gather my flock and ask them to tell me if they wanted me to remain as their pastor. If 20% of my leadership said, ‘Father, it might be time to go’ I would really have to think about that? I would really have to think about that. Would I want to stay as a father to people who said, father we love you, we don’t want to hurt you, but it’s time consider another course….I’m bringing to you the heartfelt feelings of my parish who are intelligent, involved, loving people, fellow priests and so on. I don’t know of any other direction to go.

===

A proposal was read (posted in the comments section below) asking the assembly to entertain a yes or no confidence vote in the Metropolitan’s leadership by secret ballot.

There was considerable discussion about whether or not this was the right way to proceed even if people agreed. While there was the option to abstain, because no consensus was reached on whether to take a vote, the proposer withdrew the proposal to vote. The main points made in the discussion about the voting process are given below.

==

The church was always built on the hierarchy. I can vote for my priest – I know if he is a good leader or not a good leader. I know about my bishop, I know whether he is a good leader or not a good leader. But I do not know much about the Metropolitan. I cannot judge his leadership – the people who are close to him, they can vote. I don’t think it is fair to address us with this question.

==

We are the church, we have a right to say.

==

Bishop Nikon: I support the opinions of the town meeting – whether that would be a vote or not is another question.

==

The only thing that bothers me about it is that it is such a closed question: I have confidence or no confidence. I think there is a large middle. I would be concerned that such a vote could overshadow some of the more nuanced responses, and some of the more human and hopeful thoughts we may have as a group. It does really reduce it, but I do appreciate that it’s a question that needs to be asked – especially bringing it down to the Metropolitan’s leadership – but the two answer together seem to me to be very stark.

==

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. We have under 40 people here, and yes, although we are the church, this group is going to determine if they have confidence and it’s going to put out for the world to see– I would feel more comfortable if this was an assembly, or a regional assembly –this is very dangerous, only because we are such a small group.

==

I wonder about bringing the ballot process into the process and how valid that would be.

I think one of the reasons we felt uncomfortable with this idea of voting is because there is an undercurrent about this idea of democracy—that the church is not a democracy. I think we would all agree, but because we are so restricted about how we can speak about these things, it’s like a child learning to walk – it’s quite awkward. We don’t have the right mechanisms to make this quite gracious and elegant – I fault the leadership for not providing more opportunities for knowing each other’s minds and coming to a better places in better ways to move ahead with the life of the church. And I think this just shows us how difficult it is going to be to get us to where we want to get to.…

==

The participant that proposed the vote, seeing that there was no consensus on the matter, withdrew the suggestion; the discussion then continued.

==

Fr Symeon Rodger read a prepared statement (posted in the comments section below).

==

I share the concerns but not the same passion. In my experience this is quite an amazing process going on. I feel saddened by what happened in the OCA. But there’s corruption everywhere. We don’t expect corruption in the church but we are all human beings. We get what we deserve. If the church doesn’t have the holy people to draw from for its leaders then it is our problem. As far as what might come out of the AAC, we are already beginning by making sure with these meetings that everything is out in the open and no one can hide. It is up to us to make it meaningful. Our human nature is to go around the rules if there is an opportunity, so if we don’t have the right lay people in the right positions, people will find a way to get around the rules. We need to read the reports, talk about these things openly and discern what is going on, bear witness to it as the church. I actually am very optimistic because of this process. I’ve seen worse scandals in the church. And I don’t feel I have lost my faith – quite the opposite – our faith and our church is above and beyond the quality or the character what each one of us individually and even collectively as a Synod show at any particular moment. And don’t forget that the people who were elected and appointed to the Synod came from our ranks, they were part of our parishes and our organizations.

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

An action plan for the future of the church.

===

Strict financial control mechanisms.

==

What’s needed are tools for dialogue.

==

We need to grow in maturity – this crisis and this process will help us mature.

==

Mechanisms of accountability that are built in. We can’t be inventing them when there’s a crisis.

==

A new Metropolitan would allow us to move forward.

==

Fr Andrew invited Bishop Nikon and Bishop Seraphim to make any closing comments

Bishop Nikon

I’m very pleased with the candor that has been expressed here. We know the anger, frustration and betrayal that is felt by the faithful. I once mentioned to my brother bishops before a meeting – ‘this month I survived bishop-hunting season.’ Don’t think that the members of the Holy Synod are not as frustrated, as angry, as betrayed, as cheated as the rest of the church. And yes, it was our responsibility to keep watch, so to speak, and it is our responsibility to try to rebuild that trust. And we knew when we set up these Town Hall Meetings that comments both ways would be hurtful in some instances but they would be honest. I thank you for your honesty, I thank you for your openness, I thank you as facilitators of this town meeting, because I didn’t want to go to Pittsburgh and have everyone throughout the church still not having had the opportunity to express their feelings. Your feelings you’ve expressed here will be passed on to the members of the Holy Synod – they have to know the feelings out there of the faithful. For the most part, from my point of view, when you look around the table of the Holy Synod, I don’t see men that don’t care about their flocks, don’t care about their clergy, don’t care about their faithful. It just seems that from the point of view of the clergy and laity on the outside we don’t seem able to function when we’re together, separately we’re fine. This is not always so, this is not always true. Sometimes we have to look into many aspects before we make a decision that is right and true. But our responsibility before the All American Council is to come together, and I thank you for helping me and the members of the Pre-conciliar Commission help guide the All American Council, help guide the Synod in these things.

Archbishop Seraphim

Simply to say, thanks for your candour, and for those who are concerned about revelations of details, we have the report of Bishop Benjamin and the Special Investigation Committee coming in late August that will be a full disclosure of everything. We are expecting it will be given to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan council at the same time.

Fr Andrew Jarmus: I hope this has been a worthwhile process for you. Please give us feedback, this is our pilot town meeting, so your input as far as the process is very important to us.

[This ended the Town Hall meeting, which was followed by Great Vespers then supper together].

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

5 responses to “OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Ottawa, ON, June 7, 2008

  1. Statement read by (Presbytera) Laurie Larissa Rodger at the Ottawa Town Hall Meeting

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    I, like most children, adored my mother when I was growing up. It wasn’t as though we didn’t have our disagreements, arguments, and occasional bouts of yelling (which usually ended up with me storming off to my room and slamming my door). I knew that she had her own foibles and eccentricities, but that was OK because that was just all part and parcel of who she was. A divorced, spiritedly independent woman, she worked outside of the home and was friends with a man whom she knew was gay (all quite unusual for the 1960s). She drank, she smoked — but then so did everyone else back then. The bottom line was she was my mother, I loved her more than anyone or anything else, and, in my mind, she could do no wrong.

    That all changed the day my much-older brother talked to my young adult self about his childhood relationship with her. “I had a friend at school,” he said, “who used to show up the odd time with a black eye, or the outline of large fingerprints bruised into his arm to complement the split lip or smashed ear. When I would go home and report his latest condition to my mother she would just smile quietly and say that Freddie’s dad should learn to hit where the bruises didn’t show.” He continued, “After all, that’s what she did with me.”

    Life is full of parallels, and the one between the administration of the OCA and my mother is quite painful, and difficult to bear.

    Both have been (and, in the OCA’s case may still be) abusers, and…Both have been (and, in the OCA’s case may still be) adept at hiding the abuse, knowing full-well that the abuse ought not to be happening but letting it continue.

    The Orthodox Church in America became my spiritual parent in 1981. After many years of searching for a spiritual home I unexpectedly stumbled upon a tiny parish which has since grown into the Cathedral Church I now stand in. From mission status through amalgamation with a dying parish to growth into Cathedral, from truly humble ‘house church’ beginnings to grand building, I have been both witness to and participant in the greatest joy available to mankind. I became Orthodox because of that joy. I became Orthodox because through Orthodoxy God’s capital-T Truth, Beauty, and Goodness were revealed with clarity. I became Orthodox because of the manifestation of Christ’s love through His people. I became Orthodox because in and through Orthodoxy God’s pure light was shining, calling, beckoning. Here at last I could trust in this Truth-filled Theology, for “Christ is Risen!” and it, at last, all made sense!

    The trust that I, and many many others once had in the integrity, honesty, purity, and holiness of those whose job it is to be faithful in leading us with Truth, Faith, and Love is shattered. It is not because the abuse is now public knowledge that this is so. It is because the abuse has occurred (for the past 15 years, if not longer) at all that trust is broken. Archbishop Seraphim seems to think that, like some of his “older and experienced parishioners…it is only money after all”(Canadian Orthodox Messenger, 19:3 Summer 2008). His Eminence has entirely missed the point if this is what he believes. Money is involved, yes, but it’s the broken, severed trust behind the mishandling of that money that is the issue.

    To answer one question put to us by the PCC: What are your concerns and suggestions for the future of our Church?

    If this trust is ever to be restored, it is imperative that everything that remains hidden be put out on the table before the convening of the All-American Council this coming November. Healing the Body of Christ demands that the putrefaction be totally exposed and purged. Only in this way can the Light of Christ shine on it and begin the process of binding us together again. At this point in time the Body of Christ of the OCA is gangrenous: if not fully excised it will kill us. It is folly to think that it can be done in any other way.

    To quote our beloved Matushka Juliana Schmemann in her open letter to the Bishops and the faithful of the OCA of April 8, 2008:

    Would you (our bishops) agree to be witnesses, martyrs,
    helping each other with courage, strength and tenacity
    in seeking the truth in spite of threats and outcries?
    What a sigh of relief and renewed hope would be
    felt by the church if a few of the Bishops could
    take a firm and courageous stand
    towards truth and transparency.
    (http://www.ocanews.org/news/SchemannLetter4.8.08.html)

    In fact, I would dare to say that unless ALL of the Bishops (and anyone else in the know) take ‘a firm and courageous stand towards truth and transparency’ in the months preceding the AAC, then there would be no basis at all for trust to be rebuilt. We, the faithful flock of the OCA need to be able to trust our Shepherds. Our questions about the scandals, financial and otherwise, do not make us unfaithful or disloyal. That we are committed to not only ‘reasonable worship’ but also to ‘reasonable governance and accountability’ show us to be intelligent, responsible people, people to be proud of, not dismissed as ‘having no business asking such things’.

    Another question put to us by the PCC is: What would success at the All-American Council … look like to you? In a word: reconciliation. Reconciliation that must needs be predicated on a) individual confession of specific sins by those who have abused our trust ‘willingly or unwillingly, in word, deed, or thought, committed in knowledge or in ignorance’ (this would include, by the way, a specific, unambiguous public apology to Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, among others), and b) the rite of forgiveness as practiced on Forgiveness Sunday with all attendees (bishops, clergy, laity) face to face, one poklon at a time.
    Our Archbishop Seraphim has been fervent in his appeals for our (collective) reconciliation over these matters, with the most recent appeal appearing in The Canadian Orthodox Messenger (19:3 Summer 2008). Quoting from his ‘From the Archbishop’s Desk: The time for reconciliation’ article: “…if we follow through on this work of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, our restructuring will be blessable by the Lord”. I think we all would have to agree with him about this, otherwise we’d be building on quicksand, to say the least.

    However, this ‘mutual forgiveness and reconciliation’ cannot come about as long as the members of the Holy Synod, and especially Metropolitan Herman, continue to deny wrongdoing, and refuse full disclosure and the acceptance of personal responsibility (‘Mutual forgiveness and reconciliation’ would not mean forgetting the errors of the past, for ‘he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it’). Even if, as Archbishop Seraphim claims in that same article:
    Our current crisis has had mainly to do with administrative difficulties. Our structure, as an Autocephalous Church, does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life. As a result, there is a vagueness of responsibility, which allowed for big mistakes to be made, and at the same time made it difficult for them to be seen until it was far too late.

    He continues:
    True, the Holy Synod of Bishops is always in the end responsible for everything – for good, or for bad. At the same time, both the Holy Synod of Bishops, and the Metropolitan Council…depend upon the clear presentation of facts, for them to make proper decisions. Both bodies (not only) had unclear information presented (although it appeared to be clear)…

    The ‘administrative difficulties’ and ‘our structure’ which ‘does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life’ of which he speaks indicates to me that he believes that the basic fundamental truth of living a moral life according to Christ’s calling cannot exist in the current state of affairs. I submit that it can indeed exist and it should have been existing from the beginning. No amount of administration reorganization is going to make people choose to live according to Christ. If they cannot do this without being told to, then they have no business being our leaders.

    That being said, ‘success at the All American Council’ would have to come in the form of forgiveness, reconciliation, and quite probably with the resignation and retirement of Metropolitan Herman, given the current ‘vote of no confidence’ expressed by what appears to be a great majority of the faithful (both clergy and lay), indicating his failure as a ‘good shepherd’.

    Another question put to us by the PCC is: What would you want to see the OCA do in the next decade?
    There are four areas of need that I see for the OCA in the next decade. The first is the need for transparency and accountability, specifically in the creation of the office of an Auditor General, such as exists at the federal level in Canada:
    The Office of the Auditor General of Canada is an independent and reliable source of the objective, fact-based information that Parliament needs to fulfill one of its most important roles: holding the federal government accountable for its stewardship of public funds. The Office audits departments and agencies, most Crown corporations, and many other federal organizations; it is also the auditor for the governments of Nunavut, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. ttp://www.oagbvg.gc.ca/internet/English/admin_e_41.html
    The mandate of this office (quite separate from the office of Treasurer) would be to be vigilant in its investigations and make public its findings with specific recommendations for improvement.

    Secondly, there is a need for clear, improved communication within all levels of the OCA. Sorting this one out could fall under the Auditor General’s purview.
    Thirdly, collaboration with the Antiochian and Greek Churches so that with the sharing of resources (i.e. Church School, Youth, and Young Adult ministries) can come a greater mutual respect, understanding, tolerance, and community. The OCA does not need to spend the time and money it does not have simply trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Working together to build up the Body of Christ (instead of being exceedingly territorial and possessive) is what all Orthodox churches are called to do. Let’s do it.
    Finally, (and I sincerely hope that this would happen within the next year, not the next decade): the reversal of the decision that denied an auxiliary bishop for Canada. Our Archdiocesan Assembly of 2004 supported the need for an auxiliary bishop and a candidate’s name was put forward. It was totally incomprehensible that the Holy Synod vetoed that archdiocesan decision and completely unjustifiable, given the need of this archdiocese for an auxiliary bishop, which it is able to support. It was wrong to passively abuse our overworked, overtired Archbishop of four years ago through this decision. His need, and the need of the Archdiocese of Canada for an auxiliary bishop is even greater now. Archbishop Seraphim, Eis Polla Eti Dhespota!

    My brothers and sisters in Christ, forgive me, for I am a sinner.

  2. Statement read by Dr. John Hadjinicolaou at the Ottawa Town Hall Meeting

    HISTORICAL MEMORY
    Some simple and humble reflections

    Your Eminence, Your Grace
    Brothers and Sisters in Christ

    It seems to me that part of our responsibility and tradition and part of our life in Christ, both for clergy and laymen, is to constantly desire to discern the mind of the church.
    But what is the mind of the church?
    Although it is true that the mind of the church is a mystery, it is also true that we develop an historical memory of how to approach mystery and/or mysteries.
    So here is a simple reflection into that memory bank with the help of the fathers, in my stammering effort to have a glimpse into their approach.
    We know quite well that the virtue of virtues – the virtue of discernment – historically, has always been articulated by the church in times of ecclesiastical crisis and turmoil through the vehicles of His choice, as long as the faithful and the church was ready to follow all stages of the approach.

    The approach requires preparation, prayer and patience.
    The insistence of the fathers is not that we need any one of these three more that the others, but that we need all of them. It is the only possibility for receiving the revelation of the mystery in whatever form it will be revealed.
    In other words approaching the mystery does not only presuppose understanding the mystery noetically or intellectually or sentimentally (although that can be part of the preparation), but really to do whatever is possible to prepare and open ourselves to discernment of His revelation.
    The harmony of all three: preparation, prayer and patience, opens the door to the discernment of His will.
    A few random thoughts about these three:

    A) Preparation
    We should have a look at history. Old and new. The facts should be unveiled. Reports should be prepared and analysed. Experts should offer their opinions. The wise and elders their words. The leaders and the simple faithful their feedback and opinions, frustrations and joys.
    Remember the councils. The gatherings. The exchanges. The arguments. The secret meetings. The anathemas. The prayers. The battles. The robber synods and the Holy councils
    All these are necessary, but they do not constitute by themselves the solution.
    B) Prayer
    We learn that it would be better to get on our knees than in our chairs, better to have our minds in the liturgy than in our offices and meeting places , better to talk to Him about His Church rather talking to the Church about Him.
    All these are necessary, but they do not constitute by themselves the solution
    C) Patience
    We learn not be anxious about having all our concerns and questions answered according to our own time schedule, our own calendars, our own emergency alarms.
    We cannot rush to the Resurrection on Holy Wednesday or Thursday. Although we always live in the light of the Resurrection, we know extremely well that there is no mature joy without a mature journey. For how long? For as long as will take to arrive at the real joy and not a fake one
    All these are necessary, but they do not constitute by themselves the solution.

    So, in what direction is there a solution?
    The patristic direction, in my very humble opinion entails:
    Prepare on your knees and be patient
    But do it as a church, as a body, all the steps simultaneously , together.
    And let the discernment come as mature fruit in whatever form and time and articulation He will allow it to come.
    And what do we mean by solution?
    A solution in a form within the tradition of the Church.
    This is the faith of the Orthodox Church.
    This is the faith that establishes the Universe.

  3. A proposal presented to the First Town Meeting of the OCA, Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, June 7, 2008

    We have reached a tragic stalemate in our Church’s territorial life. It must certainly be acknowledged that we have, as a local Church, failed to find adequate avenues to fully express and to solve our current concerns about administrative and financial accountability at the highest levels of church governance. Rank and file priests and lay people are frustrated and disenfranchised from engagement in healthy discourse and conciliar life beyond parochial boundaries.

    Some will claim that everything can be solved by obedience to the hierarchical order of the church: lay people obedient to their priests, who in turn are to be good foot-soldiers of their “general” bishops, under the overall benevolent oversight of the territorial Metropolitan.

    One might conceivably defend the merits of such a vertical schema if indeed the supremacy of divine love prevails, and therefore Freedom spreads her sweet fragrance upon the Church, so that obedience becomes the lover’s waiting upon the beloved. But that is hardly the air we all inhabit and breathe today.

    In a culture of technological efficiency, where human creativity gives way to the dominance of processes and machines, we are asked to believe that Best Practices will prevail where once we trusted in prophets and saints. But the Church’s historical road is paved not with procedures but with saints who in each age leave their remarkable trace.

    No doubt saintly and courageous leaders are here, but they remain silent for now, and we see ourselves rather as the stereotypical “victims”, broken, leaderless, abused, waiting for a Jeremiah.

    One cannot adequately describe that spirit of leadership in a document. It is either inherent in a person or it is absent. Its presence is self-evident to the Church, which responds naturally. If it’s absent, to whom does the body look?

    I am personally convinced that our crisis has alerted the vast majority in the church to the need for a restored model of leadership based on the tenth chapter of St.John’s Gospel, a gospel read at the celebration of bishop saints—the paradigmatic Gospel of love and trust, rooted in profound mutual knowledge: “The shepherd knows his sheep by name…they hear his voice and follow him.” We can only hope that our bishops would want to turn towards that model if they have failed in the past.

    Yet it is with the deepest sadness that we have to generally acknowledge the evident absence of such a desire, as witnessed in the discord and lack of unanimity in the Synod itself, and the stark absence of that Gospel model in particular in the current titular headship of the OCA, in the office of the Metropolitan. Under saintly and courageous leadership the present crisis could have been averted and dealt with expeditiously. Instead it has resulted in a protracted nightmare of failures for which there is no end in sight. Our primary mission today is not so much to nurture fresh vocations to the episcopacy, as to re-examine the ecclesiological foundations of that same episcopacy. For some of its tyrannical manifestations today are only partially the product of personality types eager for that office in its manifest distortions—they are in large part the result of how the entire church has de facto accepted a papal vs conciliar style of governance, shown in the way priests often refrain taking any creative initiative for fear of reprisals from bishops. And we know that such reprisals have proven a very effective deterrent to intellectual and spiritual growth.

    If this Town Meeting is a possible voice towards a realization of a benevolent and conciliar leadership, then let that voice be first expressed through a closed, YES or NO, ballot of confidence in the current Metropolitan’s leadership. One can hope that the collective voices on this matter expressed at all regional Town Meetings may prove an incentive for the entire church to focus her future deliberations on recovering her true purpose and existence. It is our belief that only an inspired and enlightened leadership can orient and adequately promote such a course.

    ===

    PROPOSED BALLOT:

    Please check ONE box:

    YES, I am confident in the leadership of Metropolitan Herman, and believe he should remain in office.

    NO, I am not confident in the leadership of Metropolitan Herman, and believe that he should voluntarily resign his post.

    ===

  4. Statement read by Rev. Dr. Symeon Rodger at the Ottawa Town Hall Meeting

    Your Eminence, Your grace, brothers and sisters, in Christ…

    THE FINANCIAL SCANDAL

    The OCA’s current financial scandal represents a fundamental breach of trust between the central administration and the faithful. This much is obvious to all. If it were only that, however, it would be a relatively easy matter to solve.

    In point of fact, the financial scandal has laid bare even more fundamental problems within the OCA and, for that matter, within North American Orthodoxy itself.

    It’s evident to any impartial observer that trust within the OCA can only be restored by a complete, open and unobstructed investigation of the financial scandal itself, an investigation that lays bare ALL the facts related to the scandal and those implicated in it, no matter how uncomfortable those facts are, and when those responsible take the full consequences of their actions, whether that means being deposed from the episcopate, removed from the ranks of the clergy and / or criminal prosecution.

    Without such an investigation, the upcoming AAC in November will go nowhere. The Holy Synod of the OCA has lost the trust of the body of the Church. Hence the importance of Professor Paul Meyendorff’s resolution, that the entire synod should resign at the council.

    In particular, Met. Herman’s removal from Episcopal office is imperative for the future of the OCA and the restoration of trust. His constant attempts to interfere with the ongoing investigations and to obstruct all attempts to get at the truth are more than sufficient grounds for his removal, irrespective of any personal culpability he may or may not have with respect to the misuse of Church funds.

    DELUSIONS

    During this crisis, the faithful have been subjected to unrelenting propaganda from many of the episcopate to the effect that all we need is reconciliation, to be nice to each other and to forgive all the wrong-doing, because, after all, it’s only money.

    This point of view is one of two things – at best it is pure delusion, springing from a naïve mentality that will do anything to avoid conflict. At worst, it is a self-serving attempt to deflect our attention from the issues at hand.

    This is a standard technique known and used by politicians everywhere, and often referred to as “wrapping it in the flag”. You attempt to reframe the issues by equating them with something so fundamentally good or beyond question that no one can see straight anymore. For example, the Bush administration is well known for trying to deflect criticism of its mishandling of the occupation of Iraq by painting all criticism as if it were an attack on freedom and democracy itself.

    Exactly the same tactics have been used by our shepherds since the financial scandal was made public. And, brothers and sisters, those who use this tactic must think you’re quite literally as dumb as sheep. It’s hard to say which is worse – someone who really believes that all we need is “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” or someone who is cynically using this as a tactic to cover up wrong-doing.

    Premature “reconciliation” that papers over the sad truth and perpetuates lies and cover-ups would be a great evil. Real conflict is much better than a false peace, because only this necessary conflict holds out hope for the future.

    The only way to restore health in the OCA is to get at the truth – the WHOLE truth. If we do not do so, then it’s inevitable that a) the sickness that lies at the heart of the OCA will persist and b) trust will not be restored.

    THE EPISCOPATE AS THE PROBLEM

    In truth, brothers and sisters, the heart of the problem lies within the synod of bishops itself and this problem is a genuine pathology that dates back many decades.

    Whereas the theory of restricting the episcopate to monks was to ensure a consistently higher level of spiritual life for the leadership of the Church, this custom has had exactly the opposite effect in North America, where there is very little monasticism and even less spiritually healthy monasticism.

    Having virtually no monks to choose from, the Church has felt itself obligated to look to celibate clergy to fulfill this role, despite the demonstrable fact that members of this group are very often psychologically dysfunctional. Consequently, the result of turning celibate clergy into bishops has been a long history of placing people with significant psychological abnormalities in positions of leadership.
    This is quite the opposite of what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote:
    “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? …moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (I Tm. 3:2-7)

    This reminds us of the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian, that not everyone who is ordained has been ordained by God, and that many of the bishops of his time did not meet even the basic requirements of catechumen.

    Despite this sad state of affairs, which is all to evident for all to see, many of the episcopate appear to believe that they rule by divine right, and that the priests, deacons and laity are mere appendages and sometimes inconveniences to their own power and authority.

    As someone who has taught university courses on Orthodox ecclesiology, I believe this is a key point. The whole concept of “sobornost’” or conciliarity that harkens back to St. Ignatios of Antioch’s words, “Only what you do together is right”, is simply dead letter in our Church.

    Many bishops appear to believe that, to use the infamous words of Pope Pius the IX at the first Vatican council, “I AM the tradition.” The bottom line here is that papist ecclesiology is very much alive and well… and ironically it is nowhere as alive as it is in the heart of Orthodoxy.

    To be fair to the bishops, of course, why should they not believe they rule by divine right? They have the impression of commanding the unearned respect of the laity and the obedience of their clergy. And there are fewer checks and balances on their power than on the power of most communist dictators. We have, essentially, built a dysfunctional episcopate answerable to no one.

    Now we are paying the price. Unless we are willing to go through the pain involved in transforming the synod from a dysfunctional group into a coherent body of spiritual men dedicated to serving God and others, we will be no further ahead, even if we do find a way to resolve the financial scandal.

    An episcopate of absolute despotism, where there is no collegiality and no checks and balances, and where the incumbents would cause scandal to any thinking person interested in real Christianity, these are factors that severally compromise any attempt to evangelize in the Western World.

    In short, brothers and sisters, the current situation is more critical than we think, because the real problem is greater than we think. We need to be resolute in our determination to get to the bottom of the financial scandal and to be honest about the real problems represented by our perilous practices for selecting bishops. This is our responsibility to our Church and to our children.

  5. Masters Bless!

    I am under the impression that general comments from “the crowd” so to speak are welcome here, thus here are my unworthy thoughts.

    I may be helpful to follow standard leadership axioms. It is truly too late for +Met. Herman to make amends in any form. That should have been done from the very outset. A good leader would have run up to the plate, said “mea culpa” and “here’s what we’re going to do to fix this.” Now it is to the point for His Grace to say, “mea culpa” and step down in peace.

    We are The Church. She corrects Herself from the inside. God will correct us and as my spiritual father said, “God’s mercy and patience are long and great. But when His patience is done, His fist is iron.” And His correction will not be what WE want, but will be His Divine Will – which is what we all ought to be praying for. And in humility the laity, I believe, ought to be upholding our Bishops and Priests in strong prayer for God to not only guide, but to give courage and strength for them to step forward and declare what needs to be done. They have been handed the Tradition of the Apostles. And like they Apostles, may God grant them strength to step out and speak boldly as St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Stephen and all of them did.

    I am not convinced full disclosure of all financial scandalous information is necessary. What I ‘do’ believe is necessary are procedures, signed commitments to follow those procedures, and then publicly documented quarterly audits showing accountability. With this type of transparency, only then will trust be built, slowly.

    I dearly hope this blog does not turn into the same kind as another website that comes to mind. May all of us who speak here, do so with the humility and love that we would do were we face-to-face with our Lord and Saviour Himself because our dearly loved Vladykas are His representatives.

    Kissing your right hands! Pray for me, poor and unworthy sinner, Athanasia

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