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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4 Comments

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

  1. Written statement to the Brooklyn, OH, Town Hall Meeting prepared and read by Donna Hodges, St. Stephen Orthodox Church, Lima, OH:

    How refreshing to have an opportunity of share in a forum such as this. After reading and dialoguing for the past 3 years of various issues, I am deeply concerned for the financial and moral issues, but I am even more concerned for our lack of evangelistic vision as the Church for America. However, we must first understand, why, how, when and who all was involved in any way in embezzlement, this must be made public, if we are to restore trust. This we must do.

    I am reminded by Jesus that we are called to be His disciples and go forth proclaiming the Good News. We need to stop our status quo, halt, and redefine our vision. Without a firm vision, we will perish. This became strikingly clear to me at the last All American Council. I was hoping for something new, a positive direction, but once again, we were used to rubber stamp a budget that was irresponsible and certainly not in line with a vision to Bring the Good News to America, to proclaim the Truth, to proclaim Jesus. In the budget was a gross amount of money to be used to update Syosset. Wow, where was the money for new missions?? Missionizing America is what we should be all about. It is to our shame that America does not know about the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. We need to have an Orthodox Presence everywhere. Where are our missionary priests, where are our missionary lay leaders? It is to our shame that as we all travel to various locations, we see the 1st Baptist, the 2nd Baptist, the Presbyterian church, the Assembly of God, probably two Catholic churches, the United Methodist Church, but NO ORTHODOX CHURCH. Something is wrong. We need to wake up and smell the coffee.

    This financial scandal is horrific, the moral scandal is even worse, but not going out and missionizing America is UNACCEPTABLE. Absolutely Unacceptable. I ask myself, what can we do as the people. It seems that the only thing that carries any weight is the budget. When the Midwest withheld, it was only then that we started getting some answers. At this All American Council, let’s not just rubber stamp. We must reject the budget, start talking, start listening (this means the Bishops, too) and move forward proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  2. Email comment to the Brooklyn, OH, Town Hall Meeting:

    We’ve heard numerous words from our primate regarding his concern over the open discussion about our current situation in the OCA. How, in his opinion, it’s damaging to the Church. We’ve heard of his actions to silence individuals, ignore the document signed by 70 senior priests, and disregard completely Fr. Hopko’s suggestions, among those of other talented and informed laity and clergy. In general, it seems that his solution to all of this is to forge ahead with business as usual, all in the best interest of the Church. He promises accountability but we’ve yet to see any.

    It seems to this author that a Synod of ruling bishops who truly had the best interest of the OCA as their goal at this point in time would have the courage to seriously consider at least the following actions:

    Lead the Church. The Metropolitan is the ‘First among equals’ not the pope. He can only act as enabled by the entire synod. It seems, however, that silence prevails more so than not, among the bishops and so the Metropolitan gets his own way on most matters. This is unacceptable. There seems to be no common vision of what the OCA should be and so the Metropolitan perceives himself as the face of the OCA.

    Sell the entire estate that now houses the central administration in Syosset, Long Island (one of the most expensive places to live in the US not to mention its upkeep) along with the Chancellor’s former residence. This could net (according to some experts) around $11 million.

    With the monies generated from this sale, the $1.8 million loan could be repaid along with all the funds in question. A small mansion, possibly in Pittsburgh or Cleveland, could be purchased for cash to house the new headquarters of the OCA, (or office space could be rented and a separate residence purchased for the Metropolitan), with the remainder of the monies placed in the bank. By implementing the above, the OCA would immediately be fiscally sound.

    Another alternative to buying a new Central Church location would be to allow whoever is Metropolitan to remain in his see and have two offices, one for his diocese and a separate one for the Central Church administration.

    Move the archives to St. Tikhon’s Monastery (possibly within the Metropolitan Theodosius Museum) where a dedicated and qualified monk would tend to them. The monastery would be paid a stipend to buy and maintain the special climate control equipment required for archives.

    Reduce the new headquarters to house the Metropolitan, and his office along with those of a Chancellor, Treasurer / Bookkeeper and a small staff as deemed necessary. No other paid positions in the Church would exist, at least for the time being, as the Central Administration reevaluates and rebuilds. The current Desk Calendar lists 17 full or part time offices. Again, how can such a small church afford this?

    Cancel all Bishop Stipends now funded by the Central Administration as each bishop receives a compensation package from their respective Dioceses. Travel and accommodations to synod meetings would continue to be funded by the Central Church.

    Begin a five year plan to consolidate St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s into one school inasmuch as a church of less than 30,000 members certainly cannot afford two seminaries not to mention two separate and opposite visions of what the American Orthodox Church should look like.

    Limit all overseas travel to Official business, period. When necessary, this would be handled by the Primate or his designee and one or two traveling companions all flying coach. The monies saved here should be earmarked for the American Mission. We should quit worrying about proving our autocephaly by dancing all over the globe. The OCA will be visible and viable when she’s sowing the gospel and reaping the fruits of healthy, growing parishes.

    For decades now we’ve been purchasing champagne on a beer budget and now extreme measures are necessary to bring the Central Church Administration into conformity with reality. This, of course, will take great courage and at this juncture, is exactly what is needed from a Primate who claims to be acting in the best interest of the church.

  3. Jon Marc Teusink

    It is good to see these town hall meetings taking place, but at the same time it is hard to see how our American (in the broad sense) Orthodox Church is going to survive. The points made about our Holy Synod are valid – it is so divided that one of our archbishops is avoiding his responsibility to our Metropolitanate by seriously negotiating for the union of his flock with a foreign patriarchate!

    At this time in the history of the Church in North America, when we see the unity of the Church of Rus’ restored and our position weakening, we should ask ourselves whether our autocephaly is truly God-ordained or premature, poorly worked out, and inappropriate for the spiritual health of our churches and of the totality of the Church here. It breaks my heart to write all this, but it is hard to see how even a courageous hierarch like Archbishop Job can rescue our Metropolitanate now.

    Whatever happens, this is a clarion call to all of us – hierarchs, clergy, and laity – to repent of our spiritual shallowness and our sins. The meeting was right – this crisis does not reflect solely on the hierarchs, it reflects on the spiritual deadness of the whole of our Metropolitanate. May God grant us all true repentance!

  4. Ryan Close

    I disagree with the sentiment that the OCA will not be destroyed. How can we know this for sure? The One Holy Church will never be destroyed, but surely we are not so arrogant to believe that our lamp stand cannot be removed just as it was in Ephesus and in Rome. However, there are many pious, Christ like Christians in parishes with committed priests. The Orthodox Church is so wide spread in America that many of us simply go to the temple nearest our homes. So the Christians in our area have little or no choice as to which “jurisdiction” they belong to. We are devastated by the crisis and becoming insular, becoming an isolated dioceses. This is heartbreaking and militates against true evangelisms. If the lamp stand is taken away from the institution known as the OCA, many of the faithful my loose their faith and their souls. But others will have to seek elsewhere for a Bishop and Primate that will shepard them as the icon of Christ. Perhaps this is why we still possess multiple jurisdictions in America, so that there will be places for parishes and priests fleeing the sinking ship to go which is still the Church. God forbid this happens. If we repent and turn from our wickedness, we can unite all the jurisdictions under a single unified Synod for all of North America. It is little wonder that the world’s other Orthodox Primates see little future in allowing their flocks to be united fully to the OCA Holy Synod as it is today. Full unity in for Orthodoxy in America will only come when either the OCA Holy Synod has been renewed or removed. In the first case many souls will be saved. In the latter case many souls will be lost.

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