Monthly Archives: July 2008

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Burr Ridge, IL, July 24, 2008

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.

GROUND RULES

•    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.

THE QUESTIONS:

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?

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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My wife converted to Orthodoxy. “I joined the Church and beg all to keep up the fight for truth.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In response to a question regarding whether or not any Statute amendments been submitted, Fr. Alexander Garklavs said yes.

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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.

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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.

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

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Hartford, CT, July 23, 2008

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I would like to see this AAC look at the expansion of liturgical roles for women in the Church.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Bethlehem, PA, July 19, 2008

The Town Hal Meeting at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Bethlehem, PA, began at 10:05 a.m. with the singing of “O Heavenly King”.

His Grace, Bishop Tikhon made brief introductory comments and welcomed everyone to Bethlehem parish.  He explained that we are here to listen to people’s comments and to share ideas humbly and in love and reminded the gathering of St. Seraphim’s feast day today.  He thanked everyone for making the effort to come.

Fr. Andrew Jarmus also greeted everyone, reminding them that the notes from meetings are posted on the 15th All-American Council blog.  If anyone has a statement, please limit same to 500 words so that the meeting does not lose momentum.  More housekeeping: there was an anonymous request to have the meeting recorded, and the group reached consensus that recording the meeting was acceptable.  Fr. Andrew mentioned the importance of openness and dialog leading up to the All-American Council.  He explained the history of these town hall meetings and said that they are part of a broad dialogue with the faithful.   “We want to hear from you—your relationship with the church, your faith, where should the church go from here in terms of programs, AAC  ideas, etc.”  He reviewed the basic ground rules as stated for each town hall meeting:  no attribution, no judgment, respect each other, and balanced “air time”.

Question #1:  How have the events in the OCA in recent years impacted you?

I teach and have time this summer and have been traveling and spent the week at St. Tikhon’s camp; the people I see are largely serious Orthodox; they have been in the church faithfully, whose lives were shaped by Orthodoxy.  There is a huge discontent within this group; a crisis of confidence in our hierarchs and the way the church is now.  Imagine the OCA as the Titanic: are we in blue water, or have we hit the iceberg? When the Titanic hit the iceberg, everyone was confident the boat would never sink, yet it sank in two and a half hours; you can’t raise it. My sense is that we’re at the 2nd hour.  Another naval illustration:  Admiral Nimitz was commander of all American forces in the Pacific when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  It wasn’t his fault but that of bad translations, slip ups, time differences, and bad luck, but he resigned.  He understood that if he was going to ask his people to give their utmost, he must himself be beyond his career; he had the intelligence and integrity to step down.  I don’t hear this from the Orthodox, and I felt it was my duty to voice it today.

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I have been a member of the church for 77 years and have never seen guidelines as to how to provide for a parish priest; what are the church’s obligations?  A home?  Pension?  Furniture?  Etc.

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Communications are a concern; Christ is “logos,” the communicator of the faith; then you see internet things or other means; when it is communicated, it’s sometimes one-sided and spun a certain way.  At the same time, the representation of the church hasn’t been voiced.  Thank you to Fr. Andrew for improved communications to the clergy, but that’s only recently.  The national church has been silent; in this crisis, it’s problematic and detrimental to not say anything, because what’s said on the other side is not always true.  When nothing is said, people don’t always see it as favorable; there are certain things he would rather NOT know for his salvation, but there are other things that we do need o know to help the people.

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We need more communication because in the past few years, so much of what we have read, especially on the computer, is on the “other” web sites; this is very upsetting because we’re not being told the truth; I’ve been traveling to other churches, etc; I hear “we’re do tired of this”; somehow the new administration has to resolve it because our OCA is dying and being fragmented.  That’s what I hear from other deaneries and dioceses.  Our leadership has to keep us moving forward; people are quitting, not donating, going to other dioceses, individual parishes are suffering, it’s snowballing.  Somehow between our synod of bishops and central administration, we need to have something to look forward to.

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One of the things which bothers me and has for many years is that things will be decided at the Metropolitan Council or at various levels and when people go back to the diocese there is not a unified following of directives/decisions. Two weeks later there’s a message from diocese or bishop contradicting everything that was done at the previous meeting.  Recently an official diocesan statement came out which directly contradicted that done at another meeting.  If a unified message does not come out from the head; there has to be unity all the way down.  Also, e.g., in the situation with the retired bishop in Alaska we had to retreat; people don’t understand these things because they don’t see what went on behind; it’s an issue of follow-through;  the national church tries to do something as a united front and gets crossed up as it goes down the line.

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My wife and I are converts from the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches; we spent most of time in the Episcopal faith until a lot of prayer and searching led us to Orthodoxy.  This was the only place to worship God in spirit and truth.  If we lose that as a body of Christ, we will both now and later suffer “big time”.  I have not read every blog but they go on and on about how things are or are not being dealt with; it’s a crying shame that we are going through this kind of suffering.  At different times in my life I’ve had to stand up within my personal career and take on issues that were not pleasant to do.  If I didn’t, how could I face my people in the morning? I guess the question I have now is, what is your mission statement?  Where do we go from here?  My God, we have a new, English-speaking Orthodox presence in this country!  I was watching Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis; there was a quote at the end of the movie; it was about the bad racial cleansing.  In it was a quote from an 1800’s philosopher who said “evil prevails when good men sit by and do nothing.”  There’s so much info out there, but if we can’t get back to what initially drew us to the church, it’s gonna be really sad.  There are a lot of good people in this church; you see the dedication of men, women and children who give their whole lives to the church; it would be a shame if what the saints and martyrs  gave was all for naught.  It’s not the OCA that I’m attached to; it’s the mission of Christ that we’re attached to!  It’s spreading the gospel, establishing mission.  On the way here we see ads from churches, billboards; how do people even know we’re out there?  How do we evangelize?  The church that’s the true evangelizer doesn’t even evangelize.  St. Andrew’s camp isn’t even being utilized; we used to go up there with youth; we need to wrap our arms around that which really does count.  I don’t worry about some bizarre doctrine and that the truth is going to change; this Church needs to return to being the true anchor.

[At this point, Fr. Andrew asked the speaker to expand on spirit of truth, delegation of time, our faith being jeopardized.]  The participant said if I said to someone come and look at us—(Mormon church ads are wonderful and obviously it’s another whole situation)—God forbid they look us up on the internet and see what’s going on in the chat rooms; how do you bring someone that doesn’t know the church and say we’re wonderful?  We ARE wonderful, we have the spirit of truth, but we’re lacking in vision, in evangelization, and in having a clean slate.  God forbid they find out about our scandal.  We have a wonderful priest and we do 98.9 percent of our liturgies in English, and thank God we can understand what’s being said; this baggage is crippling us.  I don’t have the answers; I had 17 years with a company and then lost my job. The church should not be the thing we worry about; not like retirement, or about my kids in college, etc., but I worry about what I’m supposed to be doing in terms of Christ.  The OCA does have an important mission as an English speaking, evangelistic presence in America.  After being in the Episcopal church for awhile, look what they’re suffering with; look what the Roman Catholics are suffering with.  We need this Church, and it needs to function optimally.  We have a worthy adversary, and if we don’t beat this, he’ll eat us alive.  I sometimes wonder if the dedication of the martyrs and the saints, that their sincerity in prayer is what carried us down through the ages.

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A few words mentioned by the last speaker triggered what I’ve been thinking about here in the Catholic Allentown Diocese; they are closing close to 40 churches.  I sometimes wonder, no offense, but what are you priests doing; what are we doing about bringing these people into the fold?  We’ve never done anything about billboards and bringing these people into Orthodoxy.  I love my faith, and what’s been happening in the church, I can honestly say, I only know a little about; I don’t follow the internet, but my responsibility as an Orthodox Christian is to worship the Lord and use the talents given me.  I will be judged for what I did and not what others did with the money; look at the closing of 40 churches; isn’t this a great opportunity to see our church grow?  That’s how I feel.

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I’ve been trying to deal with the problems of our church; it’s really interesting because the things we come up with are the things we see everyday; we talk about various outreaches and various ways to invite other people to our church; we have a lot of meetings, not unlike today where we say a short prayer and get down to work.  I always look to business concepts and ideas. When you get right down to it, it’s not us who are going to build the Orthodox Church; it’s God.  It’s God’s church and He’s going to build the Church.  Is it our role, really, to put up billboards, or is it to walk the walk in the Christian way?  In other words, the Christian example will be what attracts people to the Orthodox Church and is why I became Orthodox after being Presbyterian for so long.  We’ve missed the point; we always fall back on the worldly things and we forget worship, adoration, prayer; that’s what God asks us to do.  You’re not going to witness that love of God until you feel the love of God in a real way.  If someone says why are you so happy, we can answer because we’ve got God next to us?  At the All-American Council, we’re going to come up with projects, activities, etc., and I would challenge the AAC to teach the concepts of prayer, as Jesus did, so we can attract other people.  They’re only going to join if they see it as something good, valuable.  We can say the Baptists have billboards, the Catholics have this or that, but they’re not necessarily the example we would want followed.  We will succeed when we start doing it God’s way and stop doing it our way.

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In our parish in the last two years we’ve added 30 people to the parish; we didn’t put one billboard up, only an article in a small paper, but it was the people in our parish inviting their friends to “come and see”.  It’s not just the priest; of course we have responsibility, but it’s not just other people watching to see what we’re doing.  Sanctify the place where we’re at, and people will come to you.  People are STILL coming to Alaska because of St. Herman, because it’s a holy place.  People will come by default and will be attracted to it.  Right now our church is a hornet’s nest and there’s no peace there, and so we need to get back to what God has given us and we will be saved.

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I appreciate the ability to speak.  What I hope we can fix—I came into the priesthood after a long career in business.  I saw what blind power does; I saw what playing politics was; and when I came to the church, I thought I left that behind.  But if we look at what we’ve been doing, it’s destructive to our whole lives.  At first when this started, I thought it was about money.  As Archbishop Seraphim said, my older and more experienced parishioners say it’s just money. So I thought oh it’s just money and we can survive.  Then, I thought it was about morals; but now I think it’s about the failure of the basis of the church, like love—I don’t mean love in a fuzzy sense.  We have come to the point that the only way we can show love is to tolerate stuff; I’m talking about dying for each other, to speak the truth to each other, love.  It’s the very basis of what I believe Christ to be as He walked through this life.  It’s like when someone said to me, “Father, you’re going over a cliff.”  Thankfully I took their advice, and that’s one of the most beautiful things we can do; when we’re going over the cliff, someone comes to help us.  The culture certainly has lost the ability; we’re supposed to tolerate everything because we’re so loving; but not in the church!!  I used to hang around Syosset; I went to all those meetings that accomplished nothing, be it diocesan council, MC, or AAC; there was another conversation in the hall.  The truth was in the hall; in the room was a sham, because no one wanted to speak truth.  The things we are dealing with were rumored; it became a joke; we watched our brothers go over the cliff because we couldn’t say “Friend, you are killing yourself and your church.”  So we went in the hall and laughed at them and we lost the ability to love our brother, in a die-for-you kind of way.  When we lost that, we lost the very basis of what we’re supposed to be.  If I love you, I will admonish you; if you love me and see me going over the cliff, you may admonish me.  You may lose a friend, but you will perhaps gain a brother.  In all these meetings, nobody speaks the truth.  When I was a junior priest, at 40 years, with senior priests around me, whenever you asked a question about these things that are now scandal, the answer was “go take care of your parish, Father; get out of here, we got this handled.”  That was the answer over and over again; or you got a phone call from Syosset: “you’d better keep your mouth shut”.  This is what we became; these things were known or ignored, and when we questioned, we were told to be quiet.  We can’t love each other enough today to admonish one another.  And when we see a brother say publicly that he is not afraid of judgment or to admonish people who disagree with him, ignoring all advice, and we vote to support them and tell them they’re doing a wonderful job, we don’t love that brother, we’ve abandoned that brother.  The leadership of our church directed us to take care of our parish. By doing that we abandoned our brother; I suggest to you that the “conventions” with parties, shopping, etc., will cause us to explode.  Let us reinstate an attitude that we can simply as  brothers and sisters speak the truth, receive it, and deal with it as best we can, and that there will be no more threats;  believe me, I worried more about all kinds of things instead of what I was supposed to be doing; but I am imploring someone to bring us to the point where we can speak the truth to each other, and as we do in the business world, go have lunch, and still be able to talk to each other.

Question 2: What would you like to see for the church?  What could the church be at the end of all of this? What would you envision as a “best-case” scenario?

A prepared statement was then read by Dr. David Ford (see comments section below).

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I am a convert, baptized 6 years ago; I don’t know how I found you guys.  Thank God you’re here. My only choice was Protestantism or Roman Catholicism; I went to Russia and saw pious people; then I learned about saints, Mary, whom I was taught not to venerate; I came to a majestic, proud heritage, and then became a brother.  I’m a farm boy who finished the 12th grade.  I understand now what my father used to admonish me about on the farm—be careful, don’t be complacent, because it can kill you; “wake up and die right”. Our paradigm as Orthodox Christians is death, judgment, heaven, and hell. That is the paradigm of every prayer we say every day.  Not only do we worry about the judgment, but we must worry about dying right, because that is where the judgment is placed.  I do not have a public speaking background, but have an admonishment from my father that I did not understand until I became an Orthodox Christian.  It is our responsibility to live right; we are not supposed to be spending the church’s money on the Marquis Marriott.  Wake up and die right!

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This is about common work; we’ve all had hard times and one thing we can do is give ourselves a goal. I have two–one is fairly simple.  A lot of us are aging; it would be wonderful to have an Orthodox retirement home on the grounds of the monastery; a lot of us would like to be there, and it’s an easy task. Second, a lot of people in the Synodal Church have not accepted the Moscow Patriarchate. I suggest we reach out to them.  It will focus our energies, bring us together in spiritual uplift, and will give us common work.  We will be better; our service will help them and us.  These people are near us; if you have friends in the Synodal church, talk to them and the clergy.  Ultimately it will help us.

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One reason I joined the OCA in the 70’s is that I saw the vision of an American church: an American church, served by American priest, using the English language.  One goal could be to go back to the original vision, mission statement that we will serve as an American church.  I have nothing against my Russian heritage, but since the break of communism the thought has been to go back to the mother church, take care of the people coming over, etc.  I have no problem taking care of these people, but let us serve as the American Orthodox church; not  Serbian, Russian, etc.  I get a bit tired when the mother churches attack us.  I would like us to once again serve our people as an American church.

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Speaker had two questions: As our Holy Synod meets, is there going to be anything more on THEIR feelings and conclusions on how we move forward?  I saw the days of the AAC (program) beginning Monday with Akathist, etc; will something be coming out from these town hall discussions prior to the AAC so that the followers will know how to prepare for the Council?

Question 3: How can your concerns be addressed at the All-American Council?

As a physician we need to be looking at our situation. We cannot come up with ideas, etc. until the source of our disease is identified and treated.  It has to be done before anything else can heal us.  We are dying and need to be dealt with.  Is it true/false?  If it is true, it must have consequences.  It has to be transparent and apparent; the only way to do that is to face it and cure the disease.  Many people are more afraid of the cure than the disease.  I don’t think that’s the case here.  Spiritual death is happening every single day.  I see children cutting themselves, hurting themselves, because they have nowhere to go.  Vladyka, please help us!

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We’re all waiting for a report; think it’s gonna be out in September.  We’re all expecting great results.  I think we’re going to be discouraged.  I don’t see how a report can resolve the problems that the Church has.  We have a lot of constituents we have to deal with: those who quit coming/paying or expressed continually their disregard for the hierarchs of the Church; we have the cynics who say wait, you’ll see, it’s just a matter of time, and those who say wait and see, it’ll be okay.  Some have been workers who say let’s get going and get it done; and there are many people who are wallowing in the moment.  All of these people must have their needs met in order to come back to the church and feel everything’s okay.  We want to know what to do now so that this comes together at the AAC.  I suggest we spend more time in prayer, reviewing  our fundamentals, and less time reviewing our emotions, with a mission for the next couple of years which says let’s have prayer retreats, across the country, and that that become the real goal; that we start living and working an Orthodox life every day.  Anything else is putting up billboards; other churches will want to be part of a church that is spiritually based, the real church, and that’s the Orthodox Church; we can’t lose sight of that, because that’s what makes us different from all the rest.  We are a spiritually based church as we live and breathe.

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Positive mentors have an impact on the youth of the Church; they instill discipline, motivation for people, like the speaker (for college age, especially); they act as good examples/models because the youth learns things from their friends (both good and bad things) and need our support and guidance to instill discipline, motivation, and hope.

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I was Chrismated on Pentecost ’07; what I heard today is all leaning in the same direction.  I haven’t listened to any contradictory address to each other; let’s hope that we are not just a debating society, but that something will be done about it.  (i.e., the leadership problems in the church)

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Question:  You’ve all been working on this for awhile; can you say, what’s the plan? What’s it gonna be: part 1, part 2, part 3?  What’s the plan?  It seems to me at this meeting the current situation has not been addressed; let’s talk about it.  If the plan is to forget it and move on, it’s not gonna fly!

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I hope that when Christ returns we’ll all be part of His Church and that the gates of hell will not prevail.  This has been 3 years of discussing this stuff, coffee discussions with me and my wife; all of us have made the decision to be Orthodox, and we need a nice, clean place for our grandchildren; nothing can sway me from the church, at least with the grace of God.

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Where has the money gone, who spent it, and why?  The result of all the scandal is that the clergy are demoralized.  I’m disgusted by the fact that there are only a handful of us from our deanery.  They won’t cooperate with each other, won’t discuss this; we had a deanery meeting a month ago; there was the host pastor and me.  Where was everyone?  This is not only true of the OCA.  We have Orthodox 60 priests in my area and if we have 10 attend a clergy fellowship meeting we’re doing really well.   Complete bewilderment of the faithful.  People have asked questions for years now, and there are no answers.  Not just silence, but worse—no answers.  They see the hierarchs and the priests just have contempt for us.  People start to think that it’s all about money, but it’s worse than that—there’s no vision.  If there is a vision, why haven’t we been told what it is?  IF the vision is only the scriptural one—naked, thirsty, prison, fine; we already do it anyway, but not everyone is as strong as that.  People are falling by the wayside because they’re not getting guidance from the clergy and above.  The priests are saying it’s no fun to be a priest, and that’s pretty sick in my book.  When I was a seminary student, we got to take part at the Sobor on 2nd Street and got to sit up in the balconies and hear what was being said; there was a lot of discussion from the floor.  People got a chance to say what they wanted to say.  NOW, what do you get; all the reports are being read to you when you have it in front of you, and you’re not invited to speak or argue with anyone you disagree with, and you’re told to see the town, go to the zoo, and the worst thing is that stupid banquet that we have to go to.  I’m sorry, but I see absolutely no value in those banquets. The food is bad, the speeches are way too long, and there’s nothing to do there.  It’s a big expense!  Why do we do that every time?

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In the diocese of New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., we have a question about the release of the report of the SIC.  Fr. Eric has said it will be released in entirety, but at our diocesan assembly in Nov. ’07, several priests raised questions about the scandal.  We were all told that we were out of order by the chair, and there came a clamor on the floor of the assembly, almost a riot.  In order to quell the riot, the treasurer of the diocese, also an attorney, said we cannot reveal these things; we cannot release this info because it will destroy the church.  Now because there is an ongoing FBI investigation, I wonder how we can reveal what the scandal is all about.  Is it no longer going to destroy the church, or will the report be reduced or redacted to generalities?  Otherwise, we have not made much progress.

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Someone was missing from my parish, so I went asking where she was, just like Christ did.  The first question Fr. Andrew asked was reaction to the crisis.  I take issue with the word crisis; to me a CRISIS would be your child is dying.  A SCANDAL would be the child isn’t yours.  For these things to be dynamic and draw attention, they have to use that word.  We have to be careful; we have internet now; announcing the crisis, but it’s really not a crisis at all.  We would be like the blind leading the blind; so the question is, what impact did all this have?  I think it made me a better priest; I never thought about teaching about money or whether our church is run by more Judases than Peters and Pauls; surely these are tremendous ideas for sermons.  Regarding question #2, the answer would be right here; this is the church; in the streets of Jerusalem, the cross didn’t stop Him; all of us are guilty.  If we’re in a marriage, we sometimes misappropriate funds.  I misappropriated my funds on a Harley; my wife had a conniption, but she loves me, so she tolerated my misappropriation of funds.  This is a vision, where people can come together, in this group, as brothers and sisters, laity and clergy.  Every priest should have been here; this is very important about the priest; when he is ordained, the bishop who ordains hands him lifts the consecrated lamb and says “you take this lamb and you preserve it, for you are accountable at the second coming.”  When a priest encounters Christ at the second coming, he says “I am here with my sheep”, and I want all of you to be there.  Unexplainable love and sacrifice are the essence of the church.  The other thing we have to remember is that our church describes itself as militant.  This is never gonna go away anymore than all the good in our life.  The Church will be always militant and never triumphant until we say “Lord, it is I and my sheep” before the dread judgment seat.  None of this will affect us as long as we stay focused and be at the foot of the cross.  The harm is done and we need to move forward in the light of Christ.

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I agree that I’m disappointed that my brothers from the diocese are not here.  I think there’s a misconception that the priests of Eastern PA are forbidden from speaking their mind because the Metropolitan is from our diocese.  I am not afraid to talk to His Grace (Bishop Tikhon); I have no confidence right now in anything.  I am disillusioned that I made the right decision to be a priest in the OCA.  I happened to go to Sobors as an auditor, coming in through some difficult circumstances.  We are rewarding bad behavior.  We are rewarding people who do nothing, promoting ideas that mean nothing.  It’s frustrating that we don’t hear more from you, Fr. Andrew; as director of communications, communicate!  I also know that we have been giving money to heads of departments, and I don’t see accountability.  People feel there’s no accountability.  We’re spending money on all kinds of things and see nothing done.  Regarding evangelization and missions, a program was developed and then put on the shelf.  We wonder why we’re not growing.  What I would like to see is a church where people are held accountable.  I think we need to have people in church who actually know what they’re talking about, and if they don’t, give them a review, and they should not have their position because they know someone.  This would go a long way towards re-establishing trust.  To His Grace’s credit, not one time did he censor us.  Thank everyone else for their wonderful comments.

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I’m very glad the report is coming out; will we rehash everything again?  What about the church as a whole—we’re all waiting for this. Will it result in more anger and frustration?  I think we need guidance.

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Part of above answer depends on how it’s handled; I don’t want to hear anyone’s confession; as I tell my children, a lot depends on attitude, and that’s what we can get from our church: mentoring, teaching, and the more I have seen as a mother, we really need the same kind of parenting little children do.  To pretend the dysfunction isn’t there just breeds more dysfunction.   I sense that merely to change a few names on the letterhead really doesn’t change the way the church has been guided the past few years.  We believe in the church; we want the church to be the church; we’re not leaving the church; we’re hoping in the church.  To be emotional about it is appropriate.  I attended a Catholic education seminar and felt much like a fish out of water, being the only non-Roman Catholic.  For the first time in my life I realized that if it should ever come up, I would be reluctant to be admitting to people that I’m an Orthodox Christian, not because of the scandal, but because of the way we handle/don’t handle things.  Children and dogs can sum up a situation pretty easily; my children can sense the spirit in a church when they visit.  “Please don’t show us how much you don’t believe in the church” when referring to people who have been in charge of a parish a long time.  Please DO get emotional; that’s what we need.

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Albanians have been truly blessed and have learned the church from wonderful priests; if it were not for them, I would not have the hope of salvation that I struggle for every day, so I pray for those priests; it’s almost unfair that they have to answer for my sins. I am very deeply concerned because the priests of our church have been so hurt; by becoming priests they take on a responsibility for teaching and caring for us, healing, living in a Christ-like way; that is an awesome responsibility.  To see them this hurt, I fear for what will happen to all of us; corporately also in our country.  In our parish our priest says if the priest prays like this (placing hands towards the floor), the people pray like this; if the priest prays like this (with uplifted hands), the people pray like this.  I would like to say to all our bishops, we need hierarchical leadership that prays like this (hands uplifted).  Whatever it takes, we need credible, spiritual leadership from our Synod so that our priests will not be demoralized and feel as if they have been abandoned by their shepherd so that they as priests can be shepherds over the laypeople.  All of us desperately need you to be that credible, spiritual leadership for the sake of our very lives.

In his closing comments, His Grace, Bishop Tikhon said that the Holy Synod has learned — especially from recent events such as the situation in Alaska — how important it is to actively address the concerns of the faithful. We certainly need changes in the Church and have seen changes recently. “The reform of our life, our Church, our parish, our family, comes in the context of repentance—all of us—to live the life of repentance; when we repent, we not only say we’re sorry but that we are changing our lives in accordance with God’s commandments.”  We are the Church here, His Grace said; we have bishops, clergy, and laypeople and must first seek the kingdom of God.  The OCA needs to express that faith in the kingdom on all levels—the bishops, the clergy, and the faithful need to be living icons. “It is evident from the openness and honesty of those present that you are striving to follow the gospel as well; to hear, listen and live the Holy Gospel in our lives.  May God bless all of you; please keep me, the Holy Synod, and one another in your prayers so we can walk with boldness towards God’s kingdom.”

The meeting closed with the singing of “It is truly meet” at 12:45 p.m.

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OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Brooklyn, OH, July 17, 2008

The meeting opened with “O Heavenly King” and greetings from Archbishop JOB, welcoming everyone and Bishop NIKON as the chair of the Preconciliar Commission. Michelle Jannakos was introduced as the evening’s facilitator. There were approximately 140 people in attendance, coming mostly from the Cleveland area, but also representing Columbus, Akron/Canton, Lima, Western PA, SE Michigan.

The ground rules of respect, sharing air time, accepting all comments without judgment, and not attributing comments were reviewed. These and all other comments from these Town Hall meetings will be compiled and posted on the OCA.org website under the All American Council section. Comments can also be added by submitting them to Michelle Jannakos via email or to the council site.

Because of the large amount of people present, 2 microphones were passed around the room, enabling everyone and the recorders to hear all of the comments.

The theme of the council “Members of One Another in Christ” and the scriptural context were read to keep in mind as we organize our discussion around three main themes:

  • What is working well in the OCA?
  • What are some concerns for The Church?
  • What is one thing you want to say at the All North-American Council this year?

What is working well in the OCA?

40 students attended St. Vladimir’s church camp in Farmingdale, Ohio. Six states were represented. Youth work continues to be strong.

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The OCA website has many good resources

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Downloadable Choir music is available on website.

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First attempt to restructure has been in a positive direction.

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Many parishes are working well.

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We are the true faith. We have no major heresies

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Archbishop Job is a wonderful bishop

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Town Hall meetings have given us the opportunity for open dialogue.

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Our crisis has had a positive side. The concern for the Church has increased. More clergy and laity have taken a more active interest in the church and want it to be a better place. This has led to pursuing changes to better the life of the church.

Concerns with the Church

Some concerns regarding youth work: significant budget has been taken away and a voice to reconnect major events across the OCA is absent among youth.

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Internet The disrespect we show to others on the internet and in public ways is terrible. We need to treat each other as Christians and use derogatory names for those in a God-given office. (i.e. Frankie, Joey) We have to be careful what we say on the internet because people are always watching and listening

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Lack of transparency and facts from official church media. Instead, facts were leaked through other internet sites.

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The Holy Synod acts like a “closed club.” Are the hierarchs avoiding the situation?

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The unity of all Orthodox churches in North America is in jeopardy. OCA is losing its leadership position among other Orthodox churches and is losing respect from others.

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We are losing the vision that we had at the beginning of our autocephaly. Do we even have a strong vision? The whole church is at risk as a result.

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The overall umbrella issue of our crisis is that of leadership. Holy Synod of Bishops are supposed to lead us, but their actions are inconsistent. They say things and then don’t do them, such as unanimously adopting the use of modern English but coming out with various and questionable translations and publications.

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Disconnection with Bishops. There is a big gap (and a widening one) between Bishops and laity. This is shown by the difference between how the crisis was dealt with before information was leaked to the public (non-action) and now that it has been leaked (reactionary and haphazardly).

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There is a loss of trust in our leaders. The crisis was denied at first and nothing was to be done about it, but now that the information was leaked action is being taken

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Even though much of the crisis seems to revolve around former chancellor, nobody is taking specific responsibility for mistakes/ nobody is owning their own personal sins.

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Major misuse of funds and problems are not a one-time event, but a result of ongoing and systemic abuses of power.

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More than just accounting problems- now major issues of morality, blackmail

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There has been no public apology even though this crisis really started over a decade ago. We need to know why this has been going on for almost 15 years.

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Our church leadership needs to earn their respect. Their actions do not reflect their words. Issues have not been addressed.

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As in many abusive relationships, the victims are blamed. In this case, the laity has been disrespected by our hierarchs.

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We need to be careful that the church does not turn into a bureaucracy. We need to be the Church.

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There is extreme disappointment that we have not seen sincere repentance from our hierarchs. This should be expected.

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We have been wounded by the scandalous behavior of the Holy Synod- Bishops allowing these wrongs or are ignorant of what’s going on.

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There is a complete lack of vision seen by His Beatitude. The Metropolitan needs to resign or retire immediately.

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We have a chance to make changes at the AAC and need to take advantage of this opportunity. We need to put on the “mind of Christ” and be concerned with the salvation of all.

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We should not condemn and vilify our brothers in Christ. Humility is necessary and we need to keep at the work until it is completed.

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Honesty and accountability needs to be first and foremost.

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Rotate leaders in charge of money. If this “power” is rotated, a checks and balance system can be used.

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Archbishop Job in his recent letter is a shining light. There have been very few positive responses from the Holy Synod.

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The Holy Synod must realize how their decisions affect many. Recently, the Holy Synod gave Metropolitan Herman a vote of confidence (after Archbishop Job left) and this was not reported to laity. What was the vote of confidence based on?

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People are leaving the church because of the lack of truth and transparency.

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Rank does not confer privilege, but rather demands responsibility and personal integrity. This should especially be shown in the church. For example, the originally published HS minutes “omitted” the mention of the vote of confidence for the Metropolitan.

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We must not allow these problems to take away from what we should be doing as the church; taking care of the poor, evangelizing

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Not “missionizing” America is unacceptable

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Until special investigative committee report comes out, we don’t know what needs to be done. We cannot have an agenda of things to accomplish unless we know the truth

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It is not our place to ask Metropolitan to resign. Asking someone to step down is not going to solve the problem. We have to look at what’s going on with the entire Holy Synod as well as retired Metropolitan Theodosius.

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How effective is the AAC anyway? Laity/delegates of AAC are simply overruled by Synod.

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Damage has been done from this crisis. Parishes, family and friends have been divided. People and clergy have been bullied into silence.

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All levels of the church must work together. Tremendous gap between clergy/laity and bishops.

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Since the SIC report is now being released in September, can the resolutions process be altered (deadline dates) to accommodate this?

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Trust in leadership has been shattered.

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We have a dedicated church membership and we must move forward to creating a stronger OCA.

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Our priority must be to settle these issues quickly. We must work to keep our youth, enabling them to be future leaders.

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The spin doctoring and lies have got to stop. Comments to the Holy Synod are not taken seriously. They are supposed to set a higher standard. Not enough action, not fast enough.

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On the whole, we are very apathetic. Although about 200 people in attendance tonight, our numbers in this area should be much higher. Many could care less about crisis. While others seem to be consumed by the scandals.

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Need to minimize damage at local level. Strengthen our churches, not weaken them.

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Too many fingers are pointed only to the hierarchy. Lay people are not doing everything they can

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Fault of many people–need to hold many people accountable

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We ourselves need to take responsibility and also be accountable. We should be praying and forgiving as if these sins were our own.

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We should re-double our efforts to be Christ-like. Increase our prayer, fasting, almsgiving.

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The truth should never frighten us. How does our fear of the truth reflect upon us as a church?

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We should look towards using the models of Zacchaeus and others such as Mary of Egypt. Zacchaeus showed the joy of public repentance, admitted his sin and repaired the damage done. We are all sinners but we try to present ourselves as someone we are not. These sins should lead us to salvation and ultimately to a stronger church.

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We have to admit that we are all not “on the same page.” The question should be if we are growing in Christ? How can we call ourselves Orthodox if we are not striving for this?

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Leadership needs to face the facts. We need to dialogue, but ultimately, our leaders simply need to lead.

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In times like this, it is very difficult for our youth to say that the Holy Synod are our spiritual leaders. It is hard to “look up to them”

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We need to urgently flee from evil. To quickly deal with issues and evils and move on.

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The OCA will never be destroyed. We will eventually solve our financial issues and the church will prevail. But we need to work together for a solution.

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Will we learn from our mistakes now? What will it be like 40-50 years from now? We must never allow these mistakes to be repeated.

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We need real communication from our church. There should come a time when ocanews.org is not necessary. Need to embrace modern society and use new technologies to our advantage.

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We have a problem with giving to charitable organizations such as the IOCC. People are hesitant to give money because of scandal- don’t know exactly where it’s going

What should happen (what would you like to say) at the All North-American Council?

We need new leadership with vision

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We must help the Holy Synod to understand. Perhaps some sort of intervention is necessary.

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Agendas have been proposed by clergy such as Frs. Hopko and Berzonsky. There must be clear and specific repentance. There must be no denial and/or cover-ups.

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Adopt Dr. Paul Meyendorff’s proposal

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Work must be done to articulate our vision for Orthodoxy in America. This is not just financial scandal- it is a fight for the future of OCA

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SIC report must be made public to all.

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Official apology to Protodeacon Eric Wheeler

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We need to resolve spiritual court issues and disciplinary issues.

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We need to say “Axios” to a man of vision.

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Each of us needs to activate our given roles, using our freedom to address each other and to address the problems.

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National church assessment should be cut in half until there is transparency.

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Why are we using a hotel for the AAC? Why are assessments being made for it? It is more of the same thing. We should have used St. Tikhon’s.

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First off at AAC- the Rite of Forgiveness like at Forgiveness Sunday service

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The Holy Synod should not be constantly separated from the faithful. They need to mingle and dialogue with delegates.

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A Service of Unction should take place for healing.

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Resolutions should be accepted from the floor- with an up or down vote

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1. The SIC report must be released prior to the Council

2. The Metropolitan should retire and a new one elected.

3. We need to consider the “big picture” of the church. What does autocephaly mean? How does this reflect our vision for the future? We must come together under this vision and not become isolated into separate dioceses, parishes, etc.

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Dr. Meyendorff’s proposal is probably not realistic. Rather, the AAC could hold an Election of a Lesser Synod to run day by day affairs of church. This would be a permanent body to administer.

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A question on whether to take a straw vote regarding the resignation of the Metropolitan was raised, several comments were made and it was determined that this was not the appropriate venue for such an action.

Bishop NIKON and Archbishop JOB both delivered their thanks to all present for their participation and made their closing comments. The meeting was closed with the singing of It is Truly Meet at 8:50 pm.

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OCA Chancery addressing recent news reports concerning Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — The Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America is currently working with All-American Council Manager, Archpriest Myron Manzuk, to follow up on media reports claiming that the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel, site of the Church’s 15th All-American Council this November, is in a financial crisis.

In a recent communication from the Hilton Hotel, Fr. Myron learned that initial reports had overstated the level of urgency in this matter and that most of the problems reported were issues that the hotel had addressed sometime ago. In an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review dated today, July 18, 2008, spokespersons for the hotel’s owners said that they did not foresee past financial struggles hindering the completion of planned renovations nor did they anticipate any disruption to the regular business operations at the hotel.

The Preconciliar Commission and OCA Chancery administration will continue to monitor this situation to ensure that the 15th All-American Council takes place as announced.

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15th All-American Council Registration Information

As you know, the Orthodox Church in America is preparing for the 15th All-American Council, to be held at the Hilton Pittsburgh Hotel on November 10 – 13, 2008. In preparation for this, the Preconciliar Commission, chaired by His Grace, Bishop NIKON, has been engaged in addressing the many different aspects that go into making for a successful Council. The 15th All-American Council comes at a time when serious questions and issues face the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America. With prayer, hope and good-will, the Council will address and begin to resolve many of those issues. Preparatory materials and study papers will be forthcoming. At this time the Registration Forms for the Council are available in PDF format online:

Regarding registration please make note of the following:

  • The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America outlines the composition of the Council as well as the requirements for clergy and lay delegates.
  • Delegates can be:
    • Assigned parish priests and an equal amount of lay delegates
    • Lay delegates where there is no parish priest.
    • Members of the Metropolitan Council.
    • Two delegates from each theological seminary.
    • Members of the Preconciliar Commission.
    • Military chaplains
  • Lay delegates are members in good standing in a given parish, elected by a parish meeting, are approved by the parish priest and diocesan hierarch.
  • Observers must also be members in good standing, approved by their parish priest and diocesan hierarch.
  • Retired clergy are treated as special observers who can sit and participate with Council delegates but do not have voting privileges.
  • The Registration Forms can be duplicated if necessary.

Registration at the 15th All American Council will take place on Monday, November 10, from 10 AM until 10 PM. At 9:00 PM on Monday evening, there will be a special liturgical service and the Akathist to the North American Saints, followed by Confessions. The First Plenary Session will follow the Divine Liturgy on Tuesday morning, November 11. A Formal Dinner will be held on Tuesday evening. Plenary sessions and workshops will continue on Wednesday. The Divine Liturgy will precede the final Plenary Session, which will conclude by mid-afternoon, Thursday, November 13.

The Hilton Pittsburgh Hotel has set aside rooms for Council participants, which are available on a first-come first-serve basis. The special rate of $129.00 will be honored on the days of the Council (Mon. through Wed.). A limited number of rooms are also available on Sunday and Thursday. If you have not yet made your hotel reservations, please do so soon. Information is available on the OCA website.

We would like to remind you that, while there are still four months until the Council, the time will go by quickly. Please note that if you are planning to make significant resolutions at the All-American Council the deadline for doing so is September 15. The information about making resolutions can be found at our website.

The 15th All-American Council is an important gathering of the Church; it is our joyful reunion in the sacramental bond of the Holy Eucharist, it is the holy responsibility to come together and to “speak the truth with love,” it is also the opportunity to look to the past, give thanks for the present and plan for the future. It is, above all, an opportunity for all bishops, priests, deacons, monastics and lay people to mutually acknowledge the grace of the Holy Spirit working in our midst. At the 1917 All-Russian Council held in Moscow, the former Bishop of America, Tikhon was selected to be the new Patriarch of the Russian Church. His former assistant in American, the priest St. Alexander Hotovitsky was then the sacristan at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior where he greeted the newly enthroned Patriarch. St. Tikhon then responded: “You remember that when we were in America, I said that, if our work there in establishing Orthodoxy achieves any success, it is not because of our own accomplishments, but is due to Our Lord God alone. We are now facing greater difficulties and I again find confidence in faith that Our Lord will not abandon us at this time.” St. Tikhon’s difficulties were much more complicated than those that we face. However, his firm spiritual conviction that Our Lord Jesus Christ can accomplish wondrous things is exactly the quality of faith that we must have.

In the near future we will be posting additional information and study papers. Should you need more information about the All-American Council, feel free to contact the Chancery.

Sincerely yours in Jesus Christ our Lord,

Archpriest Alexander Garklavs
Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America

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OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, July 12, 2008

The Town Hall Meeting at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY, was held Saturday, July 12, 2008, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

The meeting opened with the singing of “O Heavenly King.”

His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese attended the meeting. OCA Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs served as facilitator. Also taking part in the meeting were the other three members of the OCA Chancery Administrative Team: Secretary, Archpriest Eric G. Tosi; Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos; and Director of Ministries and Communications, Archpriest Andrew Jarmus.

His Grace, Bishop Nikon, briefly greeted all present and thanked them for coming.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chancellor, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, welcomed participants on behalf of the Seminary. He said that these meetings are significant in directing us in our renewal and that St. Vladimir’s Seminary is very happy to be part of this process.

Fr. Alexander pointed out that this is the first Town Hall where all four members of the new OCA Chancery administrative team appeared together.

Fr. Alexander also noted that our upcoming AAC will be one unlike any other in the OCA. He spoke about the origins of the Town Hall meeting concept and said that this is an opportunity for people to speak out. It is an opportunity for those who have gathered to speak to the administration and especially to the hierarchs of our Church.

Fr. Alexander went on to outline the ground rules set for the meeting:

  • No attribution of comments
  • Respect for each other
  • No judgment
  • Balance of air time for all participants

He then asked participants the first question of the meeting.

How do you feel about the situation in the Church today; what do you feel has brought us to this crisis?

If we could have dialogue — a real exchange with bishops – it would go a long way for moving things ahead. So far this has not happened. One “geographical” issue is that bishops sit on a stage and the clergy and laity somewhere else. Being able to have a “back and forth” exchange with the leadership of the Church seems to be necessary.

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I absorbed the vision of the OCA in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I also heard the bits of gossip about who attended what dinners and who received or paid what money. At that time I saw the Church vision and this gossip as unrelated. Somehow I managed to disregard this until I read Dcn. Eric Wheeler’s letter about the scandal and his call for accountability. Until that point, I thought it all didn’t matter to me and to my parish. When I read that letter I realized we can’t ignore these issues because the vision of the Church taught by Frs. Schmemann, Meyendorff, and others was completely incompatible with the extravagance and mismanagement in Syosset and throughout the Church. We cannot ignore these things. We cannot go forward unless we repent, and we cannot repent unless we are honest about what happened.

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What happened to the OCA’s vision? What happened to the inheritance of St. Tikhon and of the first Sobor in Mayfield, PA, in 1907? St. Tikhon expected this jurisdiction to adapt in some way to American standards of “doing business.” How does the Holy Synod, and especially the Metropolitan regarding this? What is the vision of the hierarchy regarding the life of the Church? What should our Church in the US look like and what kind of accent should it have?

We seem to have a massive diversity of opinion about the goal and structure of the day-to-day operation of the Church, especially the relationship between hierarchs and lower ranks of clergy together with the laity. This difference seems to have gotten wider and wider and we now experience a serious clash of expectations.

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We have had sobors that called for accountability and transparency and every time there has been an opportunity for transparency it has been ignored. We had issues of the misappropriation of funds in our diocese and we were told to ignore it. The same is happening in the Church. We need to know are we truthful or not, are we transparent or not?

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I left another jurisdiction to join the OCA because I saw for the first time a Church that had vision and direction to bring Orthodoxy to America, to bring Christ here. With that background, these events have been incredibly hurtful and devastating. Dialogue and accountability are important, but first and foremost, we are people of God and God is a God of those who repent. We are a Church of repentance. Those who do wrong need to confess. When wrong has been done publicly and openly then repentance must be done publicly and openly.

I am certain that our people are the kind of people to say, “We forgive you.” As long as that confession is still forthcoming any dialogue is fabricated and is not authentic and not of God. This has been stated in many ways, including some very wrathful and angry ways. But it needs to be stated again, because those who have done wrong need to know that they will be received back if they ask for forgiveness. And then real dialogue can happen.

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You hear the rumors and these rumors are embarrassing. Then influential people in your life reveal that these things are true. This is more than embarrassing. It becomes difficult to tell your friends about the Church, because if you bring them, what are they going to see? My question to the hierarchs is will there be accountability? What will you do with the authority that has been given to you, and will the Holy Synod police themselves? Where are our bishops? What is the plan for handling this crisis? Who will be accountable for reaching out to the wider membership of the Church?

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Fr. Alexander Garklavs said that one of the common comments at these Town Hall Meetings is, “We want to know what happened.” Although we all have our theories, there have yet been no conclusive answers to the question of what went wrong. Currently the Special Investigating Committee is working on this and a lot is riding on their work and their report. What has been communicated – which thus far has only been their objectives, not their findings – is that they want to do what everyone is asking: to outline as best as they can how we got into this crisis. Their report will be ready in early September and will be made public after it is presented to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council.

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There has not yet been a frank admission of responsibility. One Archbishop has written that these are relatively small matters and that criticism is “patricide.” Many in the New York / New Jersey diocese were told to sit down and shut up because there would never be disclosure of financial mismanagement there. We see that same thing in the Church and we are hoping that we will see openness for the Special Investigating Committee, but we are not sure that it will.

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One of the problems is that many feel that it is not within their place to question what the bishops are doing. We speak a great deal about the conciliar nature of the Church. There exists a kind of papalism with the idea that the bishops are in charge and we are in no place to question them. We no longer have a reality that the bishops are shepherds who know their sheep by name. Suggestions that questioning a bishop is patricide are in error. We need to reexamine our ecclesiology so that priests see themselves as co-shepherds with their hierarchs.

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Is the role of the bishop to be king or steward? St. Ignatius has the image of a monarchial role. It seems that sometimes we have a reversal — instead of a monarchial episcopate we have an episcopal monarchy. This idea is not only prevalent among the hierarchs. The notion that any given person in the Church is beyond questioning should be alien to us. Without accountability we are not functioning authentically as Church. The headship of Christ in the Church is manifested by Him dying for the Church, of husband in the family is by his dying for the family, and therefore the headship of the hierarch is through dying for the faithful.

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What went wrong was that the bishops were not in charge. Another managerial structure was in place that took the authority away from the bishops. The new administrative structure at the OCA Chancery has been established to ensure that such a situation never happens again. When my parents came to the OCA, they did so because they embraced an American vision for the Church; to see the Church in this predicament so many years later makes me very sad. There are many to blame for the situation that we are in, but knowing something and taking part in it are different. To Bishop Nikon I would say that once the Special Investigating Committee report is complete it must go out to the people in its entirety. The report is not just for the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council but it belongs to everyone, no matter how hard it might be to read what will be in it. Without this step we will not have accomplished anything.

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Another problem is a perception that we have had a self-perpetuating Synod. Synod members select their own peers. It is important that the whole diocese put a particular bishop in their particular diocese.

What specific suggestions or recommendations would you have for the AAC or what would you like to see come out of the Council?

In response to a question about how many 501 [c] 3 organizations are part of the OCA, Fr. Michael Tassos said that this matter is still under review and it needs to be addressed at the All-American Council. He added that the last Metropolitan Council meeting affirmed a decision of the 9th AAC regarding just this. But it is not something that can be resolved in a 30 or 60 day time frame; it must be approached in a methodical manner.

Fr. Michael went on to say that there has been a great deal of work accomplished cleaning up the bookkeeping in the central administration, but we are yet to address administrative issues. For example, we have to present a budget at the Council but without a vision it is hard to know how to prepare a budget. One of the most pressing challenges for this AAC is what is the vision of our Church and what can we reasonably fund, given our size? Before we can make major decision about the Church, its holdings, work and expenses, we have to know the vision that drives these changes.

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We are hiding our treasures from Syosset because we do not know who you are and what you will do with it. The problem is that there is an expectation to “forgive and forget,” but this is not authentic. Our feeling is that all the Metropolitan is interested in is that we pay our dues. How can we have a vision of the future if we cannot clean up something that happened three years ago? We come and speak. We try to find a solution. But what is going to change? We want to feel a fatherly attitude from our hierarchs. Instead we feel like part of a franchise. What my parish wants to know is will the Metropolitan resign? We feel that this will bring positive changes.

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Part of dialogue is being able to ask questions. At our diocesan assembly this was not allowed. Maybe one idea is to decentralize work and perhaps we need this in the Church. Another issue is being able to ask questions and not be demonized for doing so as we were for many years in our diocese.

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Acts of repentance at the AAC are essential. But to have this happen there needs to be a heartfelt admission of guilt form those who had complicity in the event. Instead the blame is always passed to someone else or we hear that “it was for the good of the Church.” The Church is complex and wrong things happen for the good of the Church but not to this extent. There has to be some accountability for what went wrong, and specifically this must involve the Holy Synod and the Church administration. We have an entire culture that went astray and the leaders that when astray must accept responsibility for this. There have been calls for a mass resignation from the hierarchs, whether this would be effective or not is unknown, but what there should be from the Holy Synod is a resignation of denial.

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The question is not just what went wrong but what is wrong; what are the lingering problems that have to be dealt with? This discussion has to be conducted in honesty and openness so people can ask questions and receive a straight and genuine answer. Many times I see authority without responsibility; I would hope that the AAC would have a forum where tough questions could be asked and tough questions would be answered. We need to think about the responsibilities of our legacy and what it means to us. I would like to speak with my bishop as a father but I cannot. I would like to see my leaders connect with the faithful in a meaningful way. This is what I would like to see come out of the Council.

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My fear is that the AAC will be a spewing of vitriol and then we will all go home angry. After an act of repentance, we have to go home with something positive that we can focus on, an identity. We need to hear a voice that can speak to us and will help us feel good about who we are; the bishop who is currently the greatest defender of the OCA’s identity is Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) from Vienna; he should be at the Council. We also have to get the video tape of Bishop Basil of Wichita that was presented at the 14th AAC. In that video he gave us three things we should do, we should hear from Bishop Basil again because he has given us something concrete and proactive to work on.

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We need to be reminded of who we are and to be enthusiastic again. And our budget needs to reflect our identity and our mission. Our budget needs to reflect an emphasis on evangelization.

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We need to elect a new Metropolitan and we need to spend the balance of time at the AAC evaluating what happened. Then we need to take the next three years to reflect on our vision and our work. We can come out of the AAC with a sense of having turned the corner on this, but then we need to give it time to rebuild in a genuine, prayerful way. We need to define our Church, not by the worst in us, but by the best in us.

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There is tremendous build-up to this AAC. It’s clear that there is more work than can be done up to this Council. One thing that should come out of this Council is involving the Church as a whole in that work over the three years following, not just having people go home and wait.

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These Town Hall meetings are very important. I hope the Preconciliar Commission will come out of them with major issues in the Church and that the AAC agenda be dedicated to these key issues. These should not just involve discussion but also resolutions. Some key ideas include – in no particular order:

  • Financial accountability (practical transparency from Syosset to the dioceses / dioceses to parishes) to ensure that this doesn’t happened again.
  • Hierarchy vs. Monarchy
  • Recapture the vision of the OCA as it was articulated when we received autocephaly.
  • Implementation of the decisions of the Special Investigating Committee – how will this be done?
  • What does conciliarity mean – in very practical terms – in the life of the Church.

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We have talked very little about the word grief in this entire process. The people involved were people we have loved and respected. As the truth came out about these events, we experienced a death in our relationships with these individuals.

The other thing is that it is important to take what is on paper and actually do some of it.

Finally, there are many in the Church who have a difficult time separating the Church from the leadership; the Church is about more than the people in it, it is about Christ. Our great concern is proclaiming the Gospel in America; this is the only thing that we need to worry about.

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As far as structural issues go, there is too much to do at this Council. On a spiritual level, though, having a sense of vision and unity and a sense of spiritual leadership is reachable at the Council.

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Fr. Michael Tassos commented that we speak about the truth coming out regarding the scandal. We have to be ready for the possibility that all of the answers will not be achievable. There are gaps in the records that we simply cannot reconstruct in the amount of time that we have. We want as perfect a report as possible, but it will not be without gaps and we have to be willing to accept this. We do not have all the answers because perfect answers are just not there. Hopefully, by God’s mercy we will have enough.

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At the AAC we must not be afraid to get down and work and do the work until it is done, without worrying about when it is time to go back home. Those who are delegates need to voice their opinion and not be afraid to say how they really feel. All participants at the AAC must take their role seriously. Also in past Councils the people spearheading discussions were the Archpriests; I hope that we will again see them leading us at this Council.

What would/should the OCA be like as it moves forward?

Fr. Alexander Garklavs commented that the OCA is unlike any other Orthodox Church in the world. In our current experiences we have been humbled and in dealing with these issues opened ourselves to the world. While there is some level of humiliation in this, on the other hand there is also a great desire for openness, dialogue and conciliarity within. These discussions would be unheard-of in a historic Eastern European Orthodox setting. Because we are able to do this, it speaks to our vision and our ability to grow in a healthy way.

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Scandals are in the Church and we are trying to deal with these scandals in an open and direct manner. The tradition of sweeping these things under the rug has not only existed in the Old Country, but also in Orthodox jurisdictions in America. In the way that we have been addressing our troubled we are potentially making a contribution to greater openness, greater conciliarity in Orthodoxy as a whole. Orthodoxy on a global level is getting more and more vulnerable. If we in a small, modest and humble way can bring forward greater honesty and openness this will be a contribution to Orthodoxy throughout the world.

Another important issue is vision; there are subtleties regarding vision. Much of what we envisioned for our Church in the early days of the OCA has been fulfilled (English-speaking hierarchs, AAC’s with a Eucharistic focus); however, the fruit of these changes did not come to us. For example, we have dealt for years with isolationism where people focus on their parish communities but not beyond. We need a vision that will lead us beyond where we are at this time and also where we were in the past before the scandal.

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I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy. My vision for the OCA is that it is a Church that is well equipped to fulfill its role as “fishers of men.” But it has to be a Church that has purified itself through repentance and has taken up the call to holiness, being the pure Bride of Christ. The OCA has to be a Church that can cast a great net and draw into it those who are not yet Christians, regardless of their background. The Church is not a democracy; however, integrity, accountability and disclosure are values of our culture that will not be neglected by its people. The Church has to be one that reflects a conciliar model of governance.*

(*This is a summary of a written statement prepared and read by Judith Komline. Her full statement is posted in the comments section below.)

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If things get too complicated they fall apart. Things have to be kept simple and this will help with the solutions. People don’t know who we are as Orthodox; we have to take our identity as Orthodox Christians in America. We need to identify with the American people and guide them into what the Church is about. We are God’s people gathered together for the purpose of doing God’s work, this has to be our guiding principle; when we are true to this the gates of hell will not prevail against us. To achieve this it is necessary that we are well educated as Orthodox Christians, and to be well educated we need to have sincere teachers.

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Some of what I have heard has made me a bit more anxious than when I arrived, but most of what I have heard has been very encouraging. The only way that knowing the full truth could destroy us is that it had either criminal or civil implications that would bankrupt us or jeopardize our tax-exempt status or ecclesiastical implications that make vulnerable our status as an autocephalous Church. I hope that the Special Investigating Committee report will show that none of these are in jeopardy.

It seems that our early vision was based on a process of indigenization, independent governance and unity with all the other Orthodox here. In some sense we have abandoned our role in these things. In North America we have one declared autocephalous Church whose autocephaly is not recognized by all other autocephalous Churches and one autonomous Church here (and possibly two with the Romanians). This is an ecclesiological issue that has to be part of our work in the future.

Also in hierarchical Church where there are problems with the hierarchy, the Synod of Bishops can deal with this by removing said hierarch; this is within the purview of a Synod of Bishops.

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What is the place of the OCA in the Orthodox world? How relevant is the OCA, especially in North America? In my perception the Antiochian Church has done more to function as the Church of America as far as mission in America. Do others have the impression that we are irrelevant? Our course for the future has to involve this question.

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I have heard of many problems throughout the years and I have closed my eyes to much of what has been going on over the past several years in the OCA. If we look at the Church as a family, we will see that in a family you have to be honest with each other, treat each other with respect, acknowledge your problems, and center your life in Christ. In the last number of years I have seen less cohesiveness within the Church. For example, the hierarchy of late has been much more distant from the presbyters and the laity. We need to work first on our fundament identity as a family with Christ as the center.

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The integrity of the Church is important to me. We have to be able to pass on to our children a Church that they can believe in. I find myself hiding discussions with my wife about the Church from my child. I don’t know how to explain to her what is going on in her Church. I find this disturbing, embarrassing and difficult to live with. I hope that we find a way to restore trust in our Church so that we can pass on to our children a Church that they can see as their spiritual home.

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The Church has been treating this situation as an administrative and financial issue. When we focus on Christ, we will realize that we have fallen short morally. If we come to the AAC is solely focused on finances and management we will have missed the mark.

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Fr. Alexander Garklavs said that everything that has been articulated here about the Church’s healing, renewal and the restoration of vision is shared by the four members of the Chancery’s Administrative Team. In spite of our sins, we have pledged ourselves to doing the best that we can to achieve these goals. In a short period of time a lot of damage can be done and it takes years to restore, especially when what has been broken is trust. He invited all present to come a visit Syosset to see the work that we do. For example, Fr. Michael Tassos has done an amazing job of cleaning up and modernizing the financial operation of the Church. We are all looking forward to the Council. Having gone through a communal process of grief and catharsis, we can move forward with a strengthened vision and purpose.

In his closing remarks, His Grace, Bishop- Nikon said that this AAC has to be different than other Councils. “We have three days. The darkest day in human history were transformed into the brightest day in human history in three days. I pray that in the three days that we have we can have a healing process and be revitalized in being the Orthodox Church in America.” He said that in the meetings he has attended he has heard many things about our hierarchs and some of it is true. “But when I look at my brother hierarchs I do not see men that do not care about their priests or about the members of their dioceses. Perhaps we were not as on top of things as we should have been and we are responsible for this, but we too were lied to.” He concluded by stating, “It is amazing to others that our people do not leave. We still know that for all of our flaws and all of our sins this is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that possesses the fullness of Truth.”

The meeting closed with the singing of “It is truly meet.”

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