OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Dallas, TX, June 24, 2008

V. Rev. Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor of the OCA, presiding facilitator

Introduction by Archbishop Dmitri, Diocese of Dallas and the South: Archbishop Dmitri gave a brief history and update of the DOS

Abbot Jonah (Paffhausen) was introduced as the possible Vicar Bishop of the DOS

Abbott Jonah asked everyone to pray for St. Herman and St. Xenia Monasteries as they had been evacuated due to the fires in northern California. His own monastery was OK.

Fr. Alexander Garklavs stated that this was his first visit to Dallas. He read a prayer of St. Isaac the Syrian, and briefly described the work of the Preconciliar Commission, which is planning for the 15th All-American Council, to take place in Pittsburgh, PA this coming November. He stated that this Town Hall Meeting was to obtain feedback from the people in the local diocese. His first question was

“How do you feel about the OCA today regarding the financial crisis and any other issues?”

“It hurts my heart and brings me to tears. We should be like Christ wants us to be.”

==

“History will judge us by what we do today. We have made the church as a business with a CEO. There is New York and the rest of the church. This is a ‘Rome Idea’. People gather together to confess Christ. Being involved with administration instead of spreading the Gospel is a ‘trap’. Let love be among us, and let Christ reign in our hearts.”

==

A priest sang the praises of the DOS and asked, “What do we do about this?” He stated that the DOS has set the example and needs to show how to sit together, repent, and go in the direction we should go.

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“I’m delightfully ignorant of what is going on in Syosset. I don’t think about politics, but simply standing in God’s presence is enough for me. I am delighted to be under the leadership of a real bishop. Please figure out this mess and fix it.”

==

A woman stated that she had huge hopes that the OCA would be the leaders in the USA. Rumors of priests and scandals from in Syosset have filtered down to her from relatives in Pennsylvania. “It hurts me, and I want to get beyond this through honesty,” she said. She emphasized the need for information to be put out honestly on the OCA web site rather than through rumors. At this time, she does not feel comfortable about bringing people into the church, lest they go on the internet and discover these negatives regarding Syosset.

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A layman stated that Orthodoxy has the opportunity to grow in a large way; however, if you are looking on the OCA web site and see what is going on, this would turn him off. The OCA web site “should not be the Metropolitan’s sounding board.”

==

Fr. Alexander Garklavs pointed out that the office in Syosset knows that we have been lied to, betrayed, and insulted. He also stated that he now knows what it is to have “a bad day at the office”. “Clearly bad things happened in Syosset. Syosset is a sad place. We are under pressure to clean up our act.” Along with these remarks, he added that the national church is as transparent as it can be, that there are no extravagant receptions or travelling, and that Syosset is not the same as it used to be. Fr. Alexander then posed the question,

“What do you think we should do in preparing for the AAC?”

“Syosset should be sold to get us out of this financial pickle and become what it should be.” He then apologized to Archbishop Dmitri, but “he is lumped in with the synod of bishops.” He then stated that a number of people in his parish agreed with a prepared statement entitled “Where are the men?” and proceeded to read it. This statement is posted in the Comments section below.

After reading the letter, the participant re-emphasized that he believes it is what many feel, and stated that he loves Vladika (Archbishop Dmitri) dearly and knows that he will do what is right.

==

At this juncture, Archbishop Dmitri relayed how he was sent to Moscow and asked, “Why was the Metropolia not releasing parishes to the OCA after 1970?” Bishop Nikodim of Leningrad replied, “Because your church does not know how to act like an autocephalous church.” Archbishop Dmitri asked him to “please give us a formula as there is no model to follow.” No formula was forthcoming. All representation should be from the diocesan level to the AAC, not parish representation. There are many dioceses which constitute the OCA, and in studying the models of other autocephalous churches in the world, we need to stop being a Metropolia. Archbishop Dmitri then asked those gathered there to “Let us know what we can do to regain integrity and cease operating on a false premise.”

==

A priest stated that he felt good about the OCA, but not Syosset, not the Metorpolia, and not administrative operations. However, there were some bright spots, namely the Diocese of the South and the Diocese of the West. He also stated that we are in the process of purification and need to leave behind the Metorpolia and go through the growing pains to true autocephaly. The local churches are striving to live out Orthodox Christianity in the light of Jesus Christ and The Kingdom of God. Institutional agendas, etc., are a distraction to following Christ. In the West, all we see of Syosset is a magazine.

==

A lay woman stated that she was fairly uninformed, but is concerned about the outrageous material on the internet and the lack of being able to find official a statement acknowledging the problem. She asked that the national church take steps to improve the communications, post what they are doing regarding this problem and what they will do at the AAC, and not practice “business control” by not communicating information. She ended by asking the question, “Why do you have a monastery/seminary/head office, etc. in one geographic location?”

==

Archbishop Dmitri relayed the history that the Synod of Bishops was not aware of the financial problems at Syosset until Protodeacon Eric Wheeler left a large envelop in each of the bishop’s boxes at Syosset. Till that time, there was no hint of anything being wrong, and there was no accusation of misuse of funds till then.

==

A priest said he felt he was at a show at the AAC in Toronto in 2005 and that he left there feeling that the OCA was not doing what it should be doing. As a priest he affirms that the churches in his deanery would do the church’s work. He also stated that he used to think Archbishop Dmitri was harsh in his assessment of Syosset. He ended by saying that the central administration needs to serve the needs of the Dioceses and should be streamlined in doing so.

==

Another priest echoed much of what he heard and stated that the argument against the central office is justified. His notes are posted in the Comments section below.

==

A priest stated that we (DOS) should set the example of sending a Diocesan Representative to the AAC rather than parish representatives. He also stated that we should stop sending the “head tax” and only send the tithe.

==

Archbishop Dmitri retorted that we (the DOS) need to deal with the national church according to the OCA Statues and redo the structure of the OCA and AAC or at least bring ourselves back into line.

==

Fr. Alexander Garklavs stated that the OCA is a very young church and then gave a general history of the Orthodox Church and the OCA in particular in which he noted that in the early Church dioceses were created from the ground up, as parishes expanded and found it necessary to be in contact with each other in a given geographic region. The entire OCA, when it was first established, was actually one, large North American missionary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. Dioceses came into the OCA at a relatively late date, from the top down, so to speak. The Diocese of the South, for example, was a created diocese, a mere 30 years ago, and therefore our present understanding about how the central Church and dioceses interact has to be seen in as a developing relationship. He also noted that there is no “quick fix” and that we must keep struggling. Fr. Alexander wanted to know if there was anything specifically that we could comment on regarding the upcoming AAC.

==

One woman said that she feels strongly that this Church is her Church, but feels that she should love God and speak out when things are wrong. “What is anyone’s role/task in the Church to advance the Kingdom of God?” she asked. She also said that this is a great break in trust. She would like to see the leaders of the OCA accept responsibility for their part, apologize, and repent. She asked, “Is there a healthy place for lay involvement in The Church?” She also quoted Archbishop Dmitri, “Serve in the places where we are”, but added that the hurt is not addressed.

==

A lay person stated that the past Metropolitan and the current one have only suffered the consequences of bad press and that Metropolitan Herman seems to be doing business as usual. A question is, “Are there provisions to replace him?”

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A priest said that Metropolitan Herman has no influence and is a lame duck; trust is lost, and there is no integrity. He ended with, “We need a new beginning.”

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A priest stated there was in Syosset a sense of disconnect from the rest of the OCA and Syosset did not see themselves as the problem and could not overcome their disconnectedness. They thought that bigger was better and could help even the smallest parish/mission. They also thought that they could project themselves as bigger than they actually were. This did not project the Gospel. Now, Syosset cannot fix anything and that the life of The Church is in the Dioceses. The AAC needs to make a clear statement that the Statutes of the OCA is an antiquated document that is a “dressed up” version of the old Metropolia statutes. The AAC that was to be in 2010 was to present revised statutes penned by Bishop Tikhon of the West and Archbishop Nathanial of the Romanian Episcopate; however, this is now on hold. Syosset now had a very limited budget, he said. We must move beyond this time and restore trust so that in time history can be written with truth. He stated that Metropolitan Herman needs to retire. He also stated that this part of the past is not part of the solution and quoted from the Hippocratic Oath, “Do no harm.”

==

A priest asked, “Can the Holy Synod call for the Metropolitan to resign?” He stated that his biggest fear is that we get to the AAC and nothing is resolved.

Archbishop Dmitri stated that at this time the Holy Synod of Bishops was not willing to call for Metropolitan’s resignation. His Eminence then thanked everyone for participating and expressed his fervent desire for the Church to be brought back to full integrity.

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3 Comments

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

3 responses to “OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Dallas, TX, June 24, 2008

  1. Statement read at the Dallas, TX, Town Hall Meeting:

    Where are the men?

    “A hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.” — John 10:12-13(NKJV)

    In the unfolding scandal that has been brewing in the OCA for the past 15 years or so, our Synod of Bishops has been either complicit or passive. When Dn. Eric Wheeler alleged financial improprieties to each member of the Synod, the collective reaction was “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” When (then) Archbishop Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius retaliated against Dn. Eric for exposing the scandal, the Synod could not muster the moral courage necessary to confront the deacon’s episcopal persecutors. When Robert Kondratick was publicly and credibly accused of robbing widows and orphans (among many others), the public pronouncements and actions of more than one bishop indicated they were more concerned with protecting the wolf rather than succoring the sheep.

    Why the dearth of the manly virtues amongst our bishops? We are supposed to have good shepherds, but instead we have hirelings. Where is the bishop who will stand up for the victimized orphan and widow? Why is there such a deficit in moral discernment that Robert Kondratick held the Synod in thrall for so long? Where is the man who will stand up to protect his flock from the rampages of the wolf? Our bishops were not put to the test of martyrdom, rather they were put to the test of being scorned by some of their fellows, and the results are dismaying.

    Whatever the path forward out of this morass, let us, the priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and laity, resolve that we will not accept more moral adolescents as our leaders. Let us, instead, look for men who have consistently and powerfully shown by their deeds that they are willing to stand up for the fatherless and the widow and lay down their lives to protect the oppressed. It is unpopular in our feminized society to extol manly virtues, but those virtues are precisely what we need in our future bishops. We have had enough of the alternative.

  2. Statement read at the Dallas, TX, Town Hall Meeting:

    I want to suggest today that we take a more parochial approach. That is to say, perhaps we should look at the dioceses, rather than the central administration, for the solution because it’s possible that Syosset is simply mirroring what transpires at the diocesan level. Please allow me two minutes to relate this point of view. I’ll begin with the words of Christ from Matthew 25, from the parable of the talents: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.”

    It seems that the Statute of the OCA is one of the “little things” we should be faithful in. The Statute exists from the first year of an autocephalous OCA, predating the founding of this esteemed diocese and representing the vision of a conciliar, indigenous Orthodox presence on this continent. As recently as one year ago, the hierarchs of the Holy Synod, save one, affirmed the Statute of the OCA is the “minimum standard of expected behavior” throughout our Church by adopting a broad statement of Best Practices (page 5, section A; page 9, section B.I).

    However, we routinely violate the “little” provisions of the Statute in our diocese. I offer some examples:

    1. The diocesan council does not meet at least twice per year as required by the Statute.

    2. Not all of the delegates to the Metropolitan Council and Diocesan Council are elected by the diocesan assembly, as required by the Statute (V.I, VII. 3. a, and VIII. 1. a). [The clergy delegates are still appointed.]

    3. The agenda of the diocesan assembly, including both texts of general resolutions and a proposed budget approved by the diocesan council, have not been provided to the assembly delegates three weeks prior to the assembly, as required by the Statute (VII. 8). Note that this particular failure means there is no opportunity for discussion of these matters at the parish level.

    4. Audits of diocesan finances are not conducted at least twice per year, as required by the Statute (VIII.7).

    5. The diocesan assembly is not allowed to control its agenda when in regular session, as required by the Statute (VII. 8).

    6. Parish clergy are not allowed to participate in the election of deans, as required by the Statute (IX.4).

    Each of these individually seems but a “little” thing, and of minimal concern, but we are required to be faithful even in those. If, for whatever cause, we fail to uphold the “minimum standard of expected behavior” in our diocese or dioceses, how can we expect our central church administration to meet an even greater standard? We are angry at our church leaders, and justifiably so. However, it seems worthwhile to consider removing the log from our own eye first. Otherwise, we should find it unsurprising when the central church administration meets the same standard we permit ourselves here in the Diocese of the South.

  3. Email sent to His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri and Fr. Alexander Garklavs by a DOS clergyman prior to the Dallas Town Hall Meeting:

    Your Eminence and Fr. Alexander,

    Christ is in our midst!

    I noticed on the DOS website that we are encouraged to participate in the upcoming town hall meeting even if we are not present at the diocesan assembly. Since I will not be able to attend and since there were no specific instructions on how our input is to be submitted, I have decided to submit this message and hope it is received openly.

    It seems that the OCA is particularly interested in the two following questions:

    What would success at the All-American Council and in the Church in general look like to you? What would you want to see the OCA do in the next decade?

    In response, success at the AAC would look like the laity reclaiming their authoritative responsibility by demanding accountability from its leaders and by exercising that authority by bringing about changes that will enable the OCA to recover from the scandals that have brought shame to the only autocephalous jurisdiction in the Americas. This may result in a new elected Metropolitan and accountability from the former Metropolitan. It may also result in a further shakeup of the Holy Synod to assure the integrity of current leadership in a hierarchal organization comprised of bishops who must assure the people that they truly have the best interests of the church in mind as they govern the church in the Americas. Success at the AAC would equate with justice, so the scandals of the church must be dealt with by the highest legislative authority in the OCA so that our jurisdiction can regain the respect of its peers and show our fellow Orthodox throughout the world that we are worthy of the autocephaly that was bestowed upon us. Moreover, if we can deal with the problems that plague and paralyze us without any attempt to sweep the problems under the rug or ignore their existence, the OCA can then gain enough respect to inspire others to join with us rather than depart from us and the OCA can unite the Orthodox in the Americas. To me, success at this AAC would render the OCA unrecognizable because it would insist upon unity with ROCOR and with SCOBA and insist upon immediate recognition from every canonical jurisdiction in the world once this objective is achieved. This could be achieved if it were courageous enough to trust God at this critical juncture in the life of the Church in this American land. The fact is that administrative unity is essential for the life of the Church here and everywhere. This is what it would look like if the AAC were completely successful this year.

    In the next ten years I would like to see fiscal responsibility in church administration, which would necessarily include a complete overhaul of the group insurance and retirement plans. I’d also like to see centralized administration of the church and an end to a multiplicity of jurisdictions in one place which contradict the canons of the church. As a result, I’d like to see smaller diocesan territories. I’d like to see the laity, women and deacons become more active in church ministry and church polity. I’d like to see a more effective educational program functioning in our churches so that the faithful do not apostatize so easily and more vocations will be fostered thereby. I’d like to see a thriving campus ministry that is not so inflexible and bureaucratic. I’d like to see Orthodox seminaries thrive, grow and multiply as priestly vocations are fostered in these theological institutions. I’d like to see a good diaconal training program developed and operated by deacons. I’d like to see the OCA routinely recognize deacons as clergy delegates at future All-American Councils and allow deacons to be treated with due respect as clergy in major orders. In particular, I would like to see deacons be allowed to function as deacons have historically ministered in the church – beginning with the examples of St. Stephen and St. Philip. I’d like to see more involvement in military and institutional chaplaincies. I’d like to see monastic vocations fostered in a healthy manner based on the best examples of the monastic tradition. Most of all, I’d like to see the Orthodox Church in the Americas simply be the beacon of holiness to this American land as God has ordained from all eternity. It would be wonderful if this can occur in the next decade. If the OCA is serious about this survey, it can begin this year with the All-American Council and perhaps also at our own Diocesan Assembly next week. By God’s grace, may it be so.

    Most Reverend Master bless!

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