OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Orlando, Fl, August 30, 2008

Meeting began with the singing of “O Heavenly King” at 11:40 am

Approximately 50 persons attended the meeting held at DisneyWorld Contemporary Resort in conjunction with the 82nd National FOCA Convention. Majority of attendees were FOCA members; members of local parishes also present.

Fr. Andrew Jarmus began the meeting explaining that this is not a plenary session of the FOCA but merely a use of their facilities. Organized by the PreConciliar Commission in preparation for the 15th All American Council. Stated that clergy and faithful needed an opportunity to speak about the events of recent years and a place to voice their concerns in preparation for the AAC. Referred to the Town Hall Meetings as “Living Workbooks” for the Council. This is the final and 15th Town Hall Meeting. This meeting is different than others as it includes parishioners and clergy from all over the country, including FOCA members and local parishes.

Spoke of the SIC meeting that will be released at the upcoming joint meeting of the Holy Synod [HS] and Metropolitan Council [MC].  His Grace, Bishop Tikhon is present on behalf of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, who was scheduled to be here but could not attend due to his upcoming back surgery.

Bishop Tikhon said that he was present representing the Holy Synod of Bishops and Fr. Jarmus represents the administration to hear from you. Welcomed the attendees. Difficult and painful issues face us today. Keep our hearts open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit with love, humility and concern for the life of our church. It is important to the Holy Synod to hear the concerns of the members. Spoke of his trip to Alaska and listening to the faithful. Important to remember that we are all one. We are all equal, we have the same commandments to follow regardless if we are a bishop, a priest or a lay person. HS truly is willing to listen and to share with the faithful and the clergy of our church to work together for the building up of Christ’s Holy Church. SIC report will be read to the HS and MC. Yesterday the HS issued a pastoral letter to the clergy and faithful of the OCA. He then read the statement (see on website). 

Fr. Andrew explained ground rules: Names will not be listed in notes unless persons requests; Respect each other in a spirit of Christian love; No judgment on comments made, and Balanced air time. He then reviewed the three questions to be addressed at the meeting: How has the situation impacted you? What do you see as a best case scenario for the Church as it goes forward? How can we address these concerns?


Question 1: How has the situation in the OCA central administration impacted you.

One additional act is needed. Submit HS to the All-American Council for vote of confidence. If a bishop receives less than 1/3 vote of support will voluntarily retire; those with greater than 2/3 votes continue on. Establishment of a committee to review OCA By-Laws.  Areas of conciliarity should be established to present something like this from happening again.  Fresh start is needed in order to bring confidence back.


Spoke about the FOCA and its relationship within a parish. As the bishop goes, so goes the clergy – as the clergyman goes, so goes the parish. Many clergy are lukewarm or negative to the organization. How to approach this to resolve the situation? The room would then be filled. What can we do to convince the hierarchs and priests about their attitude towards FOCA. 100 percent buy-in from OCA for support of the FOCA. 


Ashamed of the leadership of the church. Another corrupt institution. Our own Enron scandal. Real work of the body of Christ has been neglected. This part of the scandal has been overlooked. Shameful is our leaders reaction to the scandal. Thanked HS for their most recent letter. Has there been a change of heart afterwards. Bishops should listen respectfully to the voices of others. Demonstrate true humility. Don’t demand obedience. Profound repentance and change by HS. Met plays a fundamental role by leading by example and should at a minimum resign. How the respond will determine whether the church will survive. (Applause)


Never had a chance to discuss outside of a few people. An emotional issue. A lot of disillusionment, disappointment and lack of confidence in our leadership. Where is the forgiveness? Lack of it amongst leadership, with each other and our faithful, within own parish. Has never been discussed in the parish council meeting. Went to Dean of of Deanery to discuss. Worried about how it would impact his children. Hasn’t. Has a business background. Was hopeful people would step forward. Not how people responded. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do when they occur.  It’s a two way street. Could have dispelled a lot of pain. We can be stronger once this is over. It is how our faith responds. It has helped him focus more on his faith. Caused him to pray more. Reflect on how we can turn a negative into a positive. Best-case scenario is new leadership at the top. Consider new location of headquarters from a practical standpoint. Different location might be more central to faithful. The FOCA organization will continue to help despite what has happened. Shows the love of our faith. Hopes that when the FOCA gathers next year we can say this is behind us.


Thank goodness for the internet because it is the only communication the faithful have. As a business person how does one effectively communicate? That is what we lack now. Nothing recapped from the prior fourteen meetings except what has been said. Most meetings said the same thing. Questioned how effectively has the HS communicated to the parishes. Vacationed in Ohio and priest there told it like it is. Told pros and cons. Refreshing. Church he is in is treated like game show “I’ve got a Secret.” Need a computer or a dark corner to find out any information. We preach but we don’t tell it like it is. Not as optimistic as others who have spoken. Letter came three years later. Appreciates that they are sorry. Appreciates that +JOB lets his clergy and parishes discuss this. Where he is it is not discussed. Impacted him from an emotional perspective. Not getting answers, afraid of asking questions. What is the gameplan for the letter that has gone out. If only on the internet will it be read in every parish? Posted on bulletin boards? Doubts that it will be. In business if something goes wrong you are held accountable for it and it starts as the top. He forgives, it is easy to forgive but what will keep that going? Haven’t reached out as we should have. How will we communicate not just what has happened but what is going to happen down the road. Fr. Andrew clarified that speaker’s wishes are that more clergy should communicate about the situation. Speaker discussed about how to reach the masses outside of the internet. Dispensation of information depends on who the Bishop and priest is. Resolve problem through new leadership and prayer not only of Metropolitan and Bishop but others in the administration and for the upcoming meetings. Fr. Andrew said that the encyclical was sent via email to all OCA clergy. Clergy should know that an encyclical is to be read to their parishes.


Matushka said most of us come here with extremely heavy hearts. Letter was fine but a little bit too late. Setting the stage for the AAC. It’s too late. Call for +Herman to step down…. call done at each Town Hall meeting. He has solely done many things without talking to fellow brothers on Synod. He has decided that he will not reside in Syosset.  He is at St. Tikhon’s. They are in good hands. He no longer needs to be at St. Tikhon’s. Affected herself, her husband, her children and grandchildren. Will continue to affect them until the HS recognizes that we do not feel honored, do not have a voice in the church, haven’t been listened to. Disillusioned that bishops don’t walk around in humility. Love and humility most important aspect in our church as Christ showed us. Should resign not just merely apologize. Gives us an opportunity to begin again as trust has been broken . At AAC where we have voted for a new Metropolitan, our vote did not count. HS voted for someone else. New leader needs to answer to us and to the HS. 


Credibility and leadership is gone. Only solution is there must be a change in the leadership and head of Church must resign. Look at selection of bishops. Process if flawed. If we put our trust in them they should be worthy of that. Too much pomp and circumstance, too much ritual and not enough effort and energy in evangelizing. Grandchildren probably won’t live nearby but scattered all over. Spend more effort and energy in evangelizing. Leaders need to serve and not be served. Can find this in the Scripture. We need people there to tell the truth to the leaders. Telling the truth cost Christ His life. If we continue in the same way nothing will change, a lot of rhetoric and talk. People want action. Show me. Let me see some concrete action being taken to address the problems. Take whatever risk is involved in the process. We need faith and trust in the leadership. Credibility is completely gone and can no longer support the leader of the OCA as it is now.


Question 2: What do you see as a best case scenario for the church as it goes forward?

Hard to say because we need to deal with the problem first and there are a lot of unknowns. No direct missive from the Metropolitan to pray for the situation, to acknowledge there is a problem and that we are working on it. Source credibility is a problem. Appreciates HS apology but with that must come acknowledgment of problem and how we can go forward to rebuild and refocus the OCA. Born into faith. Thanks grandparents who left the old country and hardships to come to the country. Lights a candle for them every week. Denial is a stage of grief but we have been in it for three years and we need to go forward with it. Sad and impatient. Faith has turned inward. Go back to our faith. AA prayer talks about courage. We need this. Acknowledges that it will not be pleasant nor easy. Admit to the past and go back to the faith. Metropolitan needs to step down.


Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says commitment is a verb. You can be committed but unless you take action nothing happens. Hierarchs come to parish anniversaries, conventions but don’t visit with the people. Take the time to visit with all the people and hear what they have to say. Make the time.


Communicate and recap where we have been and where we are going. Be consistent with the message. Better chance of winning Lotto than this apology going out to the people. Reevaluate the leadership starting at the top. Pray weekly for the situation. What is the timeline of where we are going from here.  Shameful that his best friend is now ocanews in order to get information.


Wants at AAC a new elected Metropolitan by peple not HS. Synod should submit themselves to vote of confidence but doesn’t expect that to happen. Commission set up to revise bylaws. Close affinity between HS and MC.  Put checks and balances in place, upwards and downwards to resolve issues.


Concern is that Metropolitan doesn’t voluntarily resign or retire. Will the AAC be a council f this doesn’t happen? Resignation must occur before AAC otherwise it will be business as usual. Supposed to be new change. We should have gone to St. Tikhon’s so we can be on holy ground to discuss issues, not to a hotel for a convention.  We need to begin the AAC with the Service of Forgiveness, then Divine Liturgy, commune with one another, embrace one another and then get back to the vision of the OCA from 1970. What we have is nothing compared to other churches that have problems only in their case the timeline when their problems were fixed is months not years.


Horrified over situation in Alaska. Bothered her to hear that clergy and people were being verbally abused by their Bishop. Took so long to be resolved. Why did it take so long? Bishops are supposed to be true shepherds and have love in their hearts for their people? What happened? Took the clergy and people to write letters. Wants to see Bishops that are true shepherds to look after their people and would not let something like this happen. To be among the people, talking with them , getting to know their concerns. Extremely disappointed that HS, except for +JOB, gave a vote of confidence to +HERMAN. Metropolitan should resign. Perhaps we need new leaders for Bishops as well. Would like to see SIC report with full disclosure, full report (not a summary) posted on Internet. If we do not have full disclosure there is no hope for OCA. Prayer from every parish in the OCA every Sunday that we would be guided by the Holy Spirit and that we would be restored.


Priest quoted Fr. A Schmemann…”essence of a spiritual life is how do you deal with what you’ve been dealt” and how are we dealing with this? Some have failed. How are we dealing with this not them but us. We are stuck on the financial business…wishes we would rather have a sex scandal…it would have been easier to deal with. We are dealing with materialism that Satan has handed us. What is wrong with the FOCA? People believe that the FOCA is an enemy of the Church.

1977 +DMITRI beat +THEODOSIUS by 9:1 margin. He had 34 votes and won. 2002 +SERAPHIM beat +HERMAN 2:1. Second ballot went to HS. Each time in Montreal and Orlando the HS prayed for the Holy Spirit to choose a Bishop. The Holy Spirit gave us +THEODOSIUS and +HERMAN. If you don’t like the way it was handled do something about it. Not fair to blame the HS for voting. If we would have gone along with the council vote things would have been different. We dropped the ball. How could lawyers force hurry an investigation. Our Bishops were silenced by their lawyers. Some things should have been on the internet. The IRS is watching, the FBI is watching, the HS is watching, ST. Mark’s in Bethesda is watching. that don’t agree might get out. Hopes Bethesda doesn’t get out. How do you deal with what have been dealt and accept God’s will?


David Homyak, Phoenix, AZ, said that he has been a treasurer of church for many years. We operate off one key commandment: Thou shalt not steal. Those who work in positions of responsibility should be removed no matter what their position is. You cannot let perpetrators remain in positions of authority. Dealing with this situation hasn’t happened in a timely matter. How deep and wide is the collusion? Hopefully will be disclosed with SIC report. HS has lost credibility and needs to earn it back. That happens by action and appropriate deeds, not rhetoric, hypocrisy. Needs to continue at the forthcoming AAC. HS proceeded down the right path with actions taken in Alaska but only with the help of a swift kick planted by clergy and faithful. My livelihood and soul is hinged to my credibility, so should the Holy Synod’s and not a form of entitlement.


Learned more about what is going on from the Internet. It gives people a chance to process it could like to see that kind of a website in place so it is not just rumor. Using cronyism to put people into positions of authority without adequate ability has to stop. You need trust in those people.


Info hasn’t filtered past the Mason Dixon line. Also with respect to FOCA. Would like to see respect as we go forward. Can’t have a conversation with some priests because she feels she doesn’t have the respect of her clergy. In order for church to go forward we need more respect for laity including women. Communicate on an adult to adult level. Internet is wonderful but no way to determine what is truthful or not.


Came today not knowing what the issue was. It’s a secret only to be discussed in dark corners. Today is the first time she has received any of the information. She is here as one of those people that before today did not know that there was a problem.


Question 3: How would you like to see your concerns addressed at the 15th AAC?

Participant questioned the huge amount of money that observers must pay to attend the AAC; $250 each is a large amount of money. Can they lower the amount? Would be happy to attend. Perhaps large amount was done to keep people at home but doesn’t think so. FAJ explained that part of it was the cost of putting the convention on. Costs have gone up and has to be reflective in the costs of registrations.


A Matushka said that one of the main concerns is that in future we should be at humble surroundings not fancy hotels. Work within our means. We had delusions of grandeur. We lied about the number of members. We were angry that we were not present at a certain situation and not honored. We need to honor our Lord. Let it be so that our people can afford to attend. $500 is ludicrous!


What mechanisms are in place for informing delegates about the background of the scandal so that they can make informative decisions. Fr. Andrew responded that the full SIC report (not summary) will be posted on the website.


Participant from largest parish in the country sending only one representative. Budgetary issues. No one has communicated that the issues to be discussed are important. Priests from smaller parishes are discussing if they are going to go or not. Greater representation in Pittsburgh would be greater for the OCA in whole. We haven’t seen anything that encourages clergy and laity to attend with full representation. There is still time to do that. Encourages that it be done. Otherwise all voices will not be heard. Fr. Andrew asked for specific recommendations. Participant believes in chain of command. Has to come at the Diocesan level from each Bishop encouraging all the clergy to attend. Affordability is a huge issue, hopes that that would be addressed. Would like to see stronger participation. Send to parishes, boards and clergy as to why it is important to attend.


Change must occur at different locales. We were into the situation already two years and we are still at an expensive hotel. Look at assessments that are sent to OCA. Put freezes in place so that delegates and clergy can afford to go. Money goes to “upper level management “ while churches struggle. When asked if a rough agenda is available, Fr. Andrew said that the PCC hopes to have it after the Joint HS and MC meetings. PCC meets week afterwards and will issue the agenda. It will be on the internet. 


In Pittsburgh there are 32-35 acres at Bishop’s residence. We could come together and not have to pay exorbitant rates. Should be a consideration for future planning. Could also meet at St. Tikhon’s. Churches are available to accommodate the numbers. Church in Cleveland has a catered hall, gymnasium. We don’t have to pay exorbitant amounts. Our people are humble people. Their voices can’t be heard because they are not part of the elite. Even in the FOCA, the masses cannot be heard. 


Internet has its pros and cons but it can be our friend. $250 per observer plus airfare is a little bit much. Take that $250 or less and invest in regional centers where the councils, meetings could be broadcast. He worked for Hewlett-Packard and was a standup lecture based instructor. Doesn’t happen anymore because of costs. Now has invested in minimally cost software so that he could teach via the internet complete with visual presentations. Gave them the opportunity to dialog in a real-time manner at a pittance of a cost. Believes that the Holy Spirit can accommodate the separation of the physical –bodies and would provide the capability of having a real-time discussion. Obviously wouldn’t happen for the upcoming meeting but believes that the capability exists out there to accomplish this.


Participant offered summation: taught Crisis 101. Identify the problem before it becomes a crisis. Letter is wonderful but three years too late. To get everyone to believe and to continue to believe have a concrete action plan in place by the AAC for issues heard at the Town Hall Meeting. If those issues not addressed by the time the AAC happens, the body will be in much worse position. Her father said you must be accountable for your actions. Those at the helm stepping down (not necessarily those who are at fault) is what is needed to retain belief in an organization.


In his closing words, Bishop Tikhon reiterated that he is grateful for the opportunity to hear our concerns and advice.  Thanked participants for their wisdoms and prayers. Dealing with technologies that have never before been available. Differences in the areas of our own country. Struggle with how do we get together at an AAC, how do we fund it, where do we do it? In spite of it we are still the Church. It is never impossible to follow Christ regardless of our situation and it is never too late for repentance in our Church. It is good for the Bishops to get some kicks in the pants. It is always how the church has operated. Thinks the situation in Alaska was handled quickly. Took 200 years for the Church to resolve that Icons were appropriate.

The Lord said He came to bring division and to bring fire. What is meant by that? We are undergoing division and how painful it is. But it is pointing us to the Kingdom. There is something beyond our earthly relationships that we need to focus on which is the Heavenly Kingdom. To overcome that division we must focus on the source of unity which is Christ and His heavenly kingdom. But he realizes that action is needed, and action will be taken. The current message is not a means of diverting attention away from the upcoming SIC report. With regards to the report coming so late, he commented that it is never too late for repentance.  Everyone from the Bishops on down need to offer that repentance.

His Grace said that he takes responsibility for the monies that are stolen. And that he is also responsible for everyone who died in the wars. We are not guilty of the sin of Adam but we take responsibility because Christ Himself took upon all of those sins. Our struggle is to follow Christ. Before he Resurrected, Christ descended into Hell first. Winston Churchill said “if you are going through Hell, keep going.” St. Silouan said “keep your mind in Hell but do not despair.” We are all struggling but must voluntarily keep going and following Christ not out of Hell but into Hell to get to the resurrection and the Kingdom. The only way to get there is to go through Hell. It makes us realize that we are in Hell. When we are there we have a choice to give up and despair and remain in Hell or repent and be lifted up by Christ to the Heavenly Kingdom.  That is what has been expressed today. WE all want to be lifted up and that is my hope as well. We need to pass through this hell doing so through repentance. We always think upwards.

The popular secular model is a pyramid with the executives at the top and the workers at the bottom but with Christ it is the reverse. Christ is at the bottom of the pyramid. Christ says in order to get to the top you must go down.  We fail to be humble and loving. It is a good thing to be reminded of the ways we fail in order to grow and learn from that. Thanked everyone for our words and swift kick and for prayers for the Holy Synod and the Church. Our trust must be confirmed in Christ and the Church. All that we do must be done for the glory of God.


Adjourned with the singing of “It is Truly Meet” at 2:00 pm


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

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