Category Archives: 15th AAC Reflections

Christ is in our midst!



I still cannot say for sure why I believed that it was so important for me to attend the 15th All American Council just completed in Pittsburgh. I knew our Church was in trouble and that we needed to come together as Orthodox people to help her. But I’m not so vain as to think that there was much I could do personally.

I hadn’t attended an All American Council since 1992, in Miami, and the most memorable things I came away with are that you can get the best fruit salad in the world in Miami, that the ocean really is bathwater warm there in July and that even if the temperature is not much hotter than a hot day at home there is a quantitative difference in the way the sun bears down on you. It literally bores right into you. And the humidity…we simply don’t know what humidity is up here…unless you’ve had the misfortune to work in a laundry on the hottest most humid day of the year you simply can’t imagine what constitutes a mid- summer ‘sea breeze’ in South Florida. Oh, yes, there were church services, too, and I got a great T shirt that said “Russia” on it in Russian.

In other words, I came away from that 11th All American Council without any real experience of the Church. When the next few Councils rolled around I couldn’t justify the cost of attending both in money and time. But this year it was different; I knew the heavy burden of hurt and anger our church was carrying as a result of the misappropriation of millions of dollars by some of our former leaders and because of rumors (and perhaps more than rumors) about profoundly immoral behaviors, along with a persistent culture of lies and deceit at church headquarters. I just knew I had to go even though the thought of long, angry meetings made me sick with anxiety.

When I arrived on Monday and rode in from the airport with a van full of people on their way to the Council the mood was tense and sorrowful. This only got stronger at registration and during Vespers and the period of reflection and discussion that followed. There were demands for the bishops to do more than say they were sorry for what had happened. There were demands that they resign. There was question after question about their integrity and the future of the Church. It seemed as if I might be witnessing the final collapse of the OCA. I could only think about the people I knew—Orthodox people—who would delight to see that happen.

Things weren’t much better on Tuesday morning. The Special Investigative Commission’s Report was reviewed and provoked even more anger. I couldn’t stay through the first session and didn’t even bother to attend the next. That evening I went to a session devoted to what ought to be the next step. The various administrative personnel introduced themselves and gave long, tedious, and not very interesting reports. I could tell they were exhausted, nervous, and afraid. More wrangling and arguing, and very little progress. I left after a vote about parliamentary procedure that would have been comical if it weren’t so sad. Many others did, too. We missed the first address of the man who would become our Metropolitan. But that was OK. I would get to hear him the next morning at the Divine Liturgy.

I attended the Liturgy—and somehow it seemed as if the air was a little less heavy and dark. I thought, of course, that it was because we were at the Liturgy and fully expected the sad weight to return afterwards. Then I heard the sermon. I didn’t know who the Bishop who gave it was, other than that he was young and I thought he was the newest one— consecrated only a couple of weeks ago. I had met him in the hall with Archbishop Seraphim and hadn’t noticed his “Panagia”—the icon of the Virgin Mary that bishops wear. Seeing that he was dressed as a monk, I asked where his monastery was and he told me that he was our church’s ‘youngest’ bishop (in age and in rank). It was a bit embarrassing. But now, at the Liturgy, as he spoke I recognized that he was no ordinary bishop. His sermon wasn’t in any way stunning for its style or delivery. It was very simple, even a little halting, but the message was absolutely crystal clear. He said that Orthodoxy is not about anything other than Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and about the Church’s wide open arms to all who seek healing and forgiveness in a sinful and broken world. He spoke about Orthodoxy’s special place on the North American continent to preach the gospel of love, forgiveness, and healing to the desperate and hopeless—many of whom have felt rejected by God and unworthy of forgiveness. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a sentimental person and that tears do not come easily to me…but I felt my eyes welling up. And all I could think was, “This is the man”.

I wasn’t alone. I could see people leaning forward, nodding, hanging on every word. And the most wonderful thing was that the words weren’t new. We all knew the message already. It was simply the gospel. But we could feel that this man really believed the words he was saying—he believed with all his heart and he was convincing us that we also believed. Again, it wasn’t his style or delivery; it was his faith that shone through.

The session after the Liturgy on Wednesday morning was to be devoted to the election of the Metropolitan. I had fully expected to write in the name of His Eminence, Archbishop JOB of the Midwest. He was the man who ordained me and I knew him to be a man of rectitude and strong belief. He had been one of the bishops who had started the process of cleaning up the Church. I even thought of writing in our own bishop, NIKON, but I’m too selfish to want to lose him!

As the canons for electing a Metropolitan were read I read Psalms 22 and 69—the psalms of Holy Friday—and from the Prophet Isaiah who warned of the fate of false leaders and unfaithful people. The air was electric. When the ballot came we were instructed to make the sign of the cross and write in one name. I wrote, “Bishop JONAH of Fort Worth”, that newest and youngest bishop I had met in the hall and failed to recognize as a bishop. While the ballots were collected and tallied we sang the hymns of Pentecost and the Troparia and Kontakia of the saints of North America. We sang them through perhaps a half dozen times before the tally counters returned. There was no two thirds majority. A number of names had been submitted, but only two—Archbishop JOB and Bishop JONAH had a large number. They were very close (in the middle 300’s), though Bishop JONAH led slightly.

In the next ballot we were instructed to write two names. I wrote Bishop JONAH and Archbishop JOB—as it seemed clear that these two men were the ones we were called to focus on. Again we sang and sang while the tally counters did their work. When they returned the count was still divided mostly between JOB and JONAH—though again, JONAH led by a little. It was now up to the Holy Synod to decide. They withdrew behind the curtains of the Holy Altar and we continued to sing. It was almost 3 o’clock and we had been at this for nearly four hours. We sang the Akathist to the Saints of North America. Many of us just prayed.

And then the Altar curtains opened and we sang “Ton Dhespotin”—the proclamation hymn for the new Metropolitan. We started before we saw him and then everyone began to nod and smile. It was JONAH! People started to cry. The air was light with joy and when we were called to proclaim, “Axios!” (“He is worthy!”), the walls shook. I’ve never heard anything like it. We continued with the Thanksgiving Service for the new Metropolitan and then came forward to receive his blessing. Again, it was unlike anything I had ever before experienced. The crowd of priests going to greet the new head of our American Church was so tight that I couldn’t even move my arms; I held them up against my chest as if I were going to Holy Communion. Normally, I’d be terrified to be stuck in a crowd like that—but this time it was sheer joy and I wouldn’t have broken free of it for anything on earth.

In those hours on Wednesday our Orthodox Church in America was changed. We had literally gone from the heartbreak and despair that the Lord’s disciples felt on the day of His crucifixion to the joy of Pascha. In three days we went from death to life. Our Church had been resurrected. I had been there to witness a miracle. After this, I will never feel quite the same way when I proclaim, “Christ is in our midst”—because without the slightest doubt of exaggeration or hyperbole I know with all my heart and soul that:



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It Wasn’t Supposed to Happen this Way!

Subdeacon Simeon (Terry) C. Peet, Lay Delegate

The delegates of the 15th All-American Council began arriving on Sunday in preparation for the beginning of the council the next afternoon. Most of us arrived with hope tinged with various levels of apprehension. The Church was in a mess after three years of scandal that was pried loose by the revelations of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, an insistent question posed by Archbishop Job of Chicago (“Are the accusations true or false”) and the catharsis provided by the OCAnews website maintained by Mark Stokoe all of which was followed by much soul-searching and investigations with a strong dash of acrimony and finger pointing.

Besides dealing with the scandal itself, the council was called to elect a new metropolitan. As the delegates arrived the odds on favorites were +Job, +Seraphim of Canada and +Benjamin of San Francisco; by Monday evening word was spreading that +Seraphim had withdrawn his name for consideration stating the pressing needs of his archdiocese and his concern, which I believe was unfounded, that as a foreigner he would have a difficult time presiding over a church that was largely U.S.-based. For example, +Seraphim said that he as metropolitan should be the guarantor of the majority of chaplains in the armed forces of the U.S.A. and how could he be if he were a foreigner. The answer is simple: a metropolitan who is a foreign national, would delegate the responsibility to a bishop who is an American citizen. By Tuesday a printed flyer containing a brief letter by +Seraphim was circulated confirming his desire to have his name withdrawn.

The council opened by singing the following troparion:

The Grace of the Holy Spirit has assembled us today
Having taken up Thy Cross, we cry:
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the Highest.

Two plenary sessions on Monday dealt largely with the results and recommendations of the Special Investigations Commission established by the Holy Synod to look in to the allegations of moral and fiscal improprieties. Both sessions were moderated by Bishop Benjamin with ample time for questions and answers. The tone of these sessions was civil and respectful; hard and direct questions were posed and equally hard and forthright answers were given by +Benjamin.  The bishop admitted the failure of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council in their duties. The tone of these two sessions, in hindsight, actually established a base standard below which the business of the council would never sink and in fact, the tone was incrementally raised higher and higher as the council proceeded.

In one of our plenary sessions, each table, having six to eight delegates, was asked to formulate two questions it wanted to pose to the Holy Synod. These questions were consolidated into about 15 questions for the bishops to respond to over a period of three days. At the plenary session on Tuesday evening, it was announced that the bishops would defer responses to the questions until after the election of the metropolitan the following day – an announcement that was not well received by the delegates. The bishops oddly or deliberately choose the rookie bishop from Ft. Worth, consecrated only 10 days earlier, to respond to all the questions. His Grace, +Jonah, having maybe all of five minutes warning, went to the microphone and in a period of approximately 45 minutes responded extemporaneously. His response was full of theological insight, was direct, honest, sincere; he acknowledged the sins of the past and he called on all to move beyond the acrimony and contention that had consumed the Church for the last three years. +Jonah’s reply was full of Love that only the Spirit gives; his was a clarion call for renewal and change and during his extended remarks, received two thunderous prolonged standing ovations.

It was after +Jonah spoke Tuesday night, that many of us, gathered around in small groups, began to see in +Jonah our new Joshua, a spokesman for all of us who felt betrayed and who articulated a vision of the Church that was desperately needed.  We believed what we heard and we were amazed. It was then that the atmosphere of the council began to soar; the hope and excitement were palpable.

Wednesday morning came and oddly enough the bishops had selected +Jonah to preside at the Divine Liturgy and to give the homily. +Jonah’s homily that morning was an extension of the remarks that he made the previous evening and only served to confirm those remarks. +Jonah’s constant emphasis was that our lives as Christians are 95% action and 5% prayer or divine services, only served to reinforce our growing belief that +Jonah was the man sent by God to us at this moment in our history for North America.

As it happened, the first vote showed that +Job and +Jonah received the lion’s share of votes with +Jonah receiving about 20 more than +Job’s 212. The second ballot revealed +Job receiving 364, +Jonah 473 and +Benjamin 140 (up from 75 on the first ballot). The two top vote getters were the nominees to be sent to the Holy Synod. The decision did not take long; within 15 minutes the bishops, minus the newly elected metropolitan, emerged from the altar and announced +Jonah as the new metropolitan.

Delegates were weeping and joyously shouting Axios! Delegates were embracing one another in relief and joy and everyone lined up to greet the new metropolitan, but not before pulling out their cell phones and dialing someone to let them know what God had wrought :  A church brought low in scandal rising like a phoenix from the ashes, a church inspired by the Holy Spirit to make a clean break by electing a real monk who had been bishop only ten days; a church that had re-discovered itself; a church that had formally received autocephaly in 1970, but had become autocephalous from old world culture of handling its business affairs 38 years later; a church like no other Orthodox local church in the world, that could subject itself to agonizing self-scrutiny and purge itself of its corruption; a church that elected a “convert”; a church like the apostle Paul knocked off his horse by a blinding light on the road to Damascus. The council will be seen, I am sure, as a defining transformational moment in the history of the O.C.A.

It took at least an hour for everyone to approach the new metropolitan to receive his blessing and to wish him well. Thereafter until the end of the council 24 hours later, the atmosphere was highly charged.  I could not find one disappointed person and we all later learned that the bishops’ vote was unanimous – unprecedented in OCA history. And to be blunt, the election of a layman or a monk/hieromonk to head a national church is historically closer to the canonical model than we had ever seen here in America.

My impression of Metropolitan Jonah is that he smiles a lot; he is articulate always speaking in clear complete sentences and never mumbles; his explanations, though steeped in theology, are couched in phrases the hoi polloi can understand; the new metropolitan said that we are called to love everyone including the guy with substantial tattoos over his body, body piercings and spiked hair; he believes that the Orthodox should be very proactive about witnessing to the world. Did I mention that he smiles a lot?

Subsequently the new metropolitan articulated his own ideas such as the establishment of Orthodox hospitals, schools, senior citizen residences, the building of student housing with Orthodox chapels on university campuses or nearby throughout the country and is supportive of abolishing the head tax in favor of a tithing system, parish to diocese, and diocese to the national church.

The proposed amendment to change the method of electing a new primate (metropolitan) was tabled since there is to be a wholesale review and revision of the OCA statutes. The potentially contentious amendment to restrict the per capita assessment for the national church to $50 completely evaporated in the euphoric atmosphere; instead the delegates voted in favor of leaving the assessment at $105 ($1 below the current $106) so that progress made by the new team at the central church administration would not be undone, but strengthened.

The council in Pittsburgh turned the corner and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. But very hard work remains before us. The proper Christian response is to roll up our sleeves at every level, parochial, diocesan and national and get to work. Let only the cynics — the true unbelievers – remain aloof.  To be sure, not all trust has been restored; it will take time, but trust is truly being restored now and healing is coming to this vineyard planted by the Lord’s right hand.

Unlike previous stage-managed councils with specific pre-ordained results, this council managed to finds it voice in conciliarity. In the end, when all of us delegates returned home, whether by car or jet, we really flew on magic carpets — elated, ecstatic and full of hope for the future. It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.


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A Reflection on the election of the Metropolitan

By: Cristina Perdomo

Althought I personally did not attend the AAC, from the reports I’ve heard, I think everything that happened this week has been very inspiring and moving of the Orthodox Church in America.

As a student at a secular college, surrounded by a secular world, the election of Bishop JONAH to Metropolitan and everything else that occured at this years’s AAC is also inspiring.

I feel that it brings hope, hope to America. I always feel so discouraged as I interact with the world, so cut off from all that is holy and sanctified. Everyone around me, I often feel, is so lost. The whole world seems so lost. Sometimes, I also feel lost in the world, drowned in the filth which saturates the university; it takes a strong swimmer to keep his head above the stormy waters.

Alone, I cannot withstand the raging waters; I myself cannot show the Light to those in darkness. In fact, we humans can never shine the Light, really. It is God who does that…But all the same, the Church in America has in the past been a sort of “sitting duck.” We have been “the best kept secret in the United States:” we have hidden from the world when we should have been engaging the world.

We are in the world, although not of it. This does not mean we ignore the world, it doesn’t mean we can just sit around on Earth, yet not care about its condition or the condition of our neighbor.

However, I am alone no more. The Church is alive; it has awoken, or we to it. The sleep and grog and alienation of the past has all been stripped away. We are here. We are the Orthdox Church in America. We are in this world, we are here to minister to it. God, who has much reason to be greatly saddened by us, has come and touched us, raising us from our living death. It brings the Paschal hymns to mind:

Let God Arise!

The whole Church proclaims.

Let His enemies be scattered! Let those whohate Him flee from before his face!”

Pascha of Beauty; Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord! For today from life to death and from death to life, Christ has shown forth from the tomb… And so let us sing: Christ is Risen from the Dead, trampling down death by death, an dupons those in the tomb bestowing life!”

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