Category Archives: Town Hall Meetings

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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St. Vladimir’s Seminary hosts 6th Town Hall Meeting

CRESTWOOD, NY [OCA Communications] — St. Vladimir’s Seminary was host to the sixth Orthodox Church in America Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, July 12, 2008.

His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese attended the meeting with OCA Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, serving 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.

In his greetings on behalf of the seminary, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chancellor, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, said that these meetings were significant in directing the Church in its renewal and that the Seminary was very happy to be part of this process.

Approximately 60 people engaged in a heartfelt and open discussion about the Church. Many participants spoke of a need to regain the vision that was the foundation of the OCA in the first two decades its autocephaly.

Another common theme of the discussion was the need for genuine acts of repentance on the part of those involved in recent administrative mismanagement in the Church whether through their actions or through inaction.

Participants also shared a desire to feel a closer pastoral bond between members of the Holy Synod, as the chief shepherds of the Church, and the Church’s wider membership.

Regarding the forthcoming All-American Council, participants expressed the belief that, given the amount of work yet to do in the Church and the short time before the Council, the All-American Council could mark the beginning of a renewal process for the OCA.

“We can come out of the AAC with a sense of having turned the corner on this,” one participant said, “but then we need to give it time to rebuild in a genuine, prayerful way.”

Another participant added, “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 [i.e., to the next Council], not just having people go home and wait.”

In his final remarks, Fr. Alexander Garklavs said that all the hopes and concerns that had been articulated at the meeting regarding the OCA’s healing, renewal and the restoration of vision is shared by the four members of the Chancery’s Administrative Team. He invited all present to visit Syosset to see the work that is done there “We are all looking forward to the Council,” he said. “Having gone through a communal process of grief and catharsis, we hope to move forward with a strengthened vision and purpose.”

In closing the meeting, Bishop Nikon emphasized that the Council must be a unique event in the life of the OCA. “We have three days,” His Grace said. “The darkest days in human history were transformed into the brightest days in human history in three days. I pray that in the three days that we have we can experience a healing process and be revitalized in being the Orthodox Church here in North America. It is amazing to non-Orthodox that in the face of this crisis our people do not just leave. We stay because 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.”

Notes from the sixth Town Hall Meeting will be posted shortly on the All-American Council blog.

The next Town Hall meeting will take place on Thursday, July 17, 2008, in Brooklyn, OH (Cleveland metro area) from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

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St. Herman Sobor, Edmonton, hosts second Canadian OCA Town Hall Meeting

EDMONTON, AB [OCA Communications] — St. Herman Sobor, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was the site of the fifth OCA Town Hall meeting in preparation for the Church’s 15th All-American Council in November of this year. The Edmonton Town Hall Meeting was the second one to be held in Canada.

Taking part in the meeting were His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada; His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese, and approximately 50 participants from numerous parishes in the Edmonton area. The meeting was facilitated by Preconciliar Commission member Matushka Michelle Jannakos.

“Characteristic of all Town Hall Meetings to-date, participants at the Edmonton meeting engaged in a candid and open discussion about the state of the Orthodox Church in America at this time,” said Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications. “Participants spoke of their overall satisfaction with the Church locally, within the Archdiocese of Canada and in their parishes. However, they noted that the central Administration of the Church was in need of a concentrated effort to restore it to a proper, functional place within the wider framework of the OCA.”

“Participants also shared their disappointment that the OCA does not do more to visibly express that its canonical territory includes all three North American countries: the USA, Canada and Mexico,” Father Andrew added.

Notes from the Edmonton Town Hall meeting will be posted shortly on the 15th All-American Council blog.

The next Town Hall Meeting will take place at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Saturday, July 12, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

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Faithful gather in Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, DC, for Town Hall Meetings — next meeting Edmonton, July 3

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — OCA clergy and faithful gathered at the end of June 2008 for three more in a series of 15 Town Hall meetings that are taking place across the US and Canada.

The first of the meetings took place at Saint Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX, on Tuesday, June 24, during the annual Assembly of the Diocese of the South. About 70 people joined His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South and Meeting facilitator, OCA chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs. Most of those in attendance were delegates at the Assembly, though a number of people came only for the Town Hall meeting itself.

The second meeting took place on Thursday, June 26, during the Assembly of the Diocese of the West at Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco, CA. His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West took part in the meeting, which was facilitated by Preconciliar Commission member Michelle Jannakos. Most of the 47 participants were from the Bay area, but some participants drove several hours to take part in the meeting. There were also five people who offered input via e-mail. Two of the participants at the San Francisco Town Hall were also members of the Special Investigating Committee that is wrapping up its work of examining acts of financial mismanagement at the OCA Chancery in recent years.

The third meeting took place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, June 28, at Saint Nicholas Cathedral. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, took part in the meeting and Fr. Alexander Garklavs was the facilitator. Over 60 faithful from the DC area gathered for the meeting.

Frank discussions about the current state of the Church were witnessed at all three meetings. Faithful shared their experiences of frustration and pain as a result of the financial scandal and at each meeting, there was a call for a reevaluation of the OCA central administration and for changes in Church leadership to help the OCA move forward. At the Dallas meeting,there was a strong emphasis on the independence of the diocese from central Church authority. Participants in San Francisco expressed a desire for a more clear delineation of responsibility between the central Church administration and the dioceses. In Washington, the rebuilding of trust between the faithful and Church leadership was identified as a priority goal for the upcoming All-American Council in November.

A highlight of all three meetings was the spirit of candor and openness in which dialogue was conducted.

Notes from these and other Town Hall meetings are available on the 15th All-American Council blog.

The next Town Hall Meeting will take place on Thursday, July 3, at St. Herman Sobor, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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Town Hall Meeting Schedule Updated July 1, 2008

For the latest schedule of OCA Town Hall Meetings, updated July 1, 2008, click here.

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OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Edmonton, AB, July 3, 2008

The meeting was called to order at 6:00 pm with the arrival of Archbishop Seraphim and Bishop Nikon

Approximately 49 laity and clergy were present, representing six parishes.

Both bishops were introduced as well as Michelle Jannakos by Archbishop Seraphim

It was noted that St. Herman’s has more people in attendance than Ottawa had for the same meeting.

The comments from this meeting will be posted on OCA.org.  Scroll down to the AAC blog and you may view the minutes for all the Town Hall meetings.

The theme of this year’s council is “Members of One Another in Christ” Eph 4:25-32.   Michelle read the entire passage which is very relevant to our church’s present situation.   The goal of these meetings are to hear what people have to say.  The PCC wishes to be as inclusive as possible in the planning for the upcoming AAC.

There are 4 ground rules:

  • No recording or attribution of names to comments
  • Respect each other
  • No judgment of ideas
  • Balance the air time

You may add your comments to the blog at anytime or email them to ideasforaac@oca.org.

The discussion centered around three main questions:

1.  What is working well in the OCA?

Communication has increased through the internet and chat sites. This has been positive in that they increase dialogue.   However, having so much information from various sources can have both good and bad results.

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Having the town hall meetings is a positive step.

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Our recent problems have forced us to re-examine ourselves.

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We are working in a language that is understood

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All the resources on the website are good.  Especially church school and music

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Getting youth involved

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We have a hard working Bishop

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We have wonderful working, worshipping parishes that, on a regular basis, hold bible studies, Sunday schools, education, and vespers, etc.

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We adhere to and maintain the Tradition of the church.

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We do have a vision for the North American church

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We tend to be welcoming of new people from all backgrounds.

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Our bishop in our archdiocese does listen to the faithful and is very approachable as are the clergy.

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We acknowledge the rich histories of our rural parishes. We have traveling congregations going to all the parishes to support each other.  Instead of 6 people, there are 35-40 people attending.

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There is much more cooperation between the parishes and across jurisdictions.

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Church planting concept seems successful and in line with our mission

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OCA in Canada is very mission oriented

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Our parish is very welcoming to people from all walks of life and all economic groups

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We have young, educated, and welcoming clergy

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We have done a good job in making a seminary education more accessible, especially with St. Arseny here in Canada

2.  What are your concerns and suggestions for the church?

Evangelism and the lack of it, we don’t do a whole lot that I am aware of and we don’t support our local tools, e.g. Welcome Home our Orthodox radio program, it has been running for 4 years and people aren’t rallying around it.

==

OCA Silence on social issues

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There have been times where it seems we don’t call on the collective wisdom of the past 20 centuries and we compromise it. It seems that everything is negotiable and subject to a vote. The church has lost the vision of authentic conciliarity.  Why aren’t we using what have we learned over 2,000 years?   There is uncritical acceptance of present-day culture values that are not in line with Orthodox Christian values (e.g. Bringing the civil authorities in to clean house, calls for big brother state in the church, everything being submitted to a democratic vote).  The Church did not follow when the majority were Arians, rather it was the minority that stood for the Truth.  We are supposed to be counter-cultural and stand up to the world around us. We don’t do it.  We are too concerned with numbers, that success equals big numbers and budgets. Just because the church is full or empty isn’t the proper assessment of how we are doing our job.

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Words like accountability and transparency are dangerous words in the church; using democratic thinking will undermine us. We are in danger of losing the hierarchical and conciliar aspects of our church.

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We have no process of conflict and dispute resolution from top to bottom (in all levels of the church). We need to look at the ministry of reconciliation in a serious way.

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The example of the bishops is not one of servant-leadership.  The Holy Synod does not seem to communicate with each other and they don’t lead by example.

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We are poor, small, and wounded, and we need to act that way. We have to admit that we are not Greek or Antiochians.  We don’t have their money or numbers, but that is OK.

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My impression is the OCA, as a whole, fully bought into Fr. Schmemann’s vision when we received our autocephaly. That vision has been lost.  We are trying to gain credibility from others and not acting like an autocephalous church. We should behave like one, not have an inferiority complex, and not worry about how we align with other jurisdictions

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There is concern on the operation of the Holy Synod. According to the official minutes, something would be decided at a Synod meeting and immediately afterwards, a bishop would write on the internet that he didn’t agree with the decision. It’s tough to have unity in the Church if there is no unity apparently in the Synod. The synod appears to back pedal all the time in public. The synod is a group of equals one should not override one another.

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There are official minutes taken and if consensus is reached how does the consensus fall apart after the meeting and release of those minutes?

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(Response from the hierarchs) How does the Synod work? – we don’t vote, we talk until we all agree. We discuss an issue and we make decisions and agree even if we disagree. If we decide we don’t agree later we should go back to the brother bishops and say I disagree and not do it over the internet

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The role of the Metropolitan is very unclear.

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We need to see that all of us as fallen and sinful and we don’t do the reconciliation, we punish instead. Priests and parishes are in fear in the states, we don’t live with that here

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Our church leadership has been absent and has responded with silence.

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Our bishops, priests and lay leaders must be taught leadership skills.  We must not assume that everyone has this type of education.

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We don’t know the whole story of what happens at Syosset.  There is the perception that no one has acknowledged the mistakes and things have simply been “swept under the rug.  Our perception is our reality, but it may not be the true reality.

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(comment from the hierarchs) The investigative committee will release their report to the synod and the metropolitan council at the same time so there is not the perception of the report being edited.

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My perception is that we are not a small, poor, wounded church and we should not feel that or believe it. We need to be victorious rather than be victimized.

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We are having full disclosure of an incident this fall 2008 and if it wasn’t for the internet we probably would never have found out about the problems in the Syosset. Apparently Met. Theodosius was involved so why did this take so long to come out?   We deserve to know.

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(comment from hierarchs) Where did all the money go?  I am afraid we will never know. It is cash and has disappeared. Most of the dealings were in cash so we may never know unless the person who took it tells us. We have been too trusting and there were no visible clues to believe otherwise.  Part of the issue is Met. Theodosius’ discretionary account. No one knew how large it was. There was no record of size of discretionary funds or a limit.

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I look at the church and it is the foundation of the faith. This foundation is good even though some the issues are not positive. People make mistakes and now safeguards are in place. One bishop made a mistake and we have many other bishops who are positive.  We must pray to remain faithful.

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Don’t put your trust in princes and sons of men

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How can the Metropolitan appear to commit to spending large amounts of money before Synod approval (Proskauer Rose)?  Revising the statute a few years ago, appears to give the Met. quasi papal powers. The statute needs to be revised and brought into line with the canons.

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Problem with fair share concept and the need for true stewardship. Where is the free will in this type of giving?  Let’s live within our means.

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Bishops are overextended and so busy with “stuff” that they cannot be effective.  They need support.

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It’s been said that the problem is primarily about money. I take exception to that, money is not the problem. The money given to central office is a stewardship issue and has to be handled very carefully. If the money is not used for what it is intended, it means some needy person is not getting that money.  This is a moral problem that is deeper than just “money.”

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What has happened is a serious breach in the level of trust in the leadership of the church. It can’t be resolved quickly or easily. One step to repairing the trust is take the suggestion of Paul Meyendorff that all the bishops resign and only those that are re-elected should be allowed back.

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It is time for us to have a new metropolitan given the amount of scandal. Not so much because he is the most culpable, but he can no longer be an effective leader as the problems have gone on too long under him.

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It has always bothered me to say I am in the Orthodox Church in America. Canadians are not Americans. The ultimate slap in the face was when we were at the last AAC and I went to the mission booth.  The map only had the US missions.  Canada and Mexico were not on the map. The reply was that they couldn’t find a map of Canada. I hope that the issues of central office will be resolved.  I hope we put our efforts into building the Orthodox church in Canada.

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For our Archdiocese, being second class citizens has to stop. We have to be given autonomy to run ourselves.

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Have you noticed in the US that we are referred to as the National church? It is an international church. There is a lack of understanding between Canada and the US.

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Canadians have a different mindset of how to do things which is different from the US. We went through the process of getting an auxiliary bishop and the process was dismissed by the Metropolitan and the Synod. It was not explained to us why this happened. It was not handled well at all and we don’t understand it

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(comment from the hierarchs) There are two weaknesses in the process that Paul Meyendoff has suggested that have not been thought through. The election of a bishop must not be a popularity contest.  He should be living out what he has been called to do.  If all the bishops resigned there is no episcopacy and therefore no Church. What happens if all the bishops decided to live in retirement?

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The problems have forced us to re-examine ourselves and figure out why we are here.

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I have a concern about our process to select bishops. How do we end up with some bishops whose mental stability is questionable?  Two of these undermined the process of elected our auxiliary bishop. We have to have a more stringent selection process. Why don’t we take bishops from widowers? I don’t know what the criteria is. Do we do psychological testing?

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(comment from hierarchs) We have to be careful of the discretion of the process. We have learned from our selection process in the past.

==

In light of numerous events that have happened in the OCA in recent years that have created much distress I would like to point out the six key components of a strong organization. These elements can apply to any organization (church, non-profit, charitable organization, business, school etc.).

The 6 key components are: Strong leadership, Common Goal, Rules of the Game, Action Plan, Support Risk Taking, 100% involvement/inclusion

STRONG LEADERSHIP

Leadership is defined as the art of influencing others. Strong leadership means someone that is taking us somewhere and is willing to make decisions. In the past few years the Synod of Bishops in time of crisis appears to be doing not much of anything. I have heard is said that the rule of thumb coming from people in Syosset is that of “when in doubt, do nothing.” If a decision is made to do nothing, then at the minimum, leadership is letting the people know that you are doing nothing.  Do not remain silent. This is why so many of the issues of the past few years have moved into the public forum so someone would make a decision about something. What is our vision and where are we going?  If we are supposed to be the church of North America, why are we not being the Church of North America?  Leadership is taking a stand and taking responsibility.  It is showing people the way, even if the way is not popular. I am not aware of us teaching clergy or the faithful leadership skills anywhere, yet we are called upon to lead all the time.

COMMON GOAL

A common goal is something that everyone can rally around and work towards. The only common goal we appear to have is to maintain the status quo or else lobby everyone to accept our autocephaly, which no one appears willing to do. So what is the common goal we are working towards in the OCA?  Let’s clearly set that out and let everyone, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and laity know what that common goal is.

RULES OF THE GAME

Rules of the game must be established for everyone and everyone must be held to them. Some of the things have been allowed to carry on for extended periods are amazing, given the outcry for various incidents to be dealt with. If we set out clear rules of the game, hold everyone accountable to them, and enforce them, we probably would not have had many of the problems the OCA is dealing with today. Organizational discipline, albeit with Christian love, is a part of these rules of the game.  Loving parents set rules and do not let youngsters run amok, hoping they’ll turn out okay.  In the OCA clear rules must be set out because of love. The consequences of breaking the rules must also be carried out because of love.  Being “nice” means nothing inside of me cares enough.

ACTION PLAN

An Action plan would say what we are doing by whom and when. Where are we going? Just maintaining the status quo or doing damage control is no action plan for any organization.

SUPPORT RISK TAKING

Supporting risk taking is definitely not something that is happening now or in the past. If we want to be the Church of  North America, we must step out of our ethnic comfort zone and stick our necks out.  The Apostles and Church Fathers took risks, as did many of the saints, because this is sometimes the only way to grow.  Risks that are thought out and necessary are worthy of taking and need to be supported, even with major outcry.

100% INVOLVEMENT/INCLUSION

100% involvement/inclusion – this is actually happening with these town hall meetings. This is a good start and a good thing. We also need to unleash the skills and ability of everyone within the church.  Many times I have met and talked with others who are thoroughly frustrated by clergy and parish councils who will not utilize the God given talents of individuals in a parish. So let us now go forth and start acting on the other 5 key elements..

3. What would you like to say to the All North-American Council?

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

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Educate Americans to regard the needs of other countries within the Church.  Changing the US perception of Canada and Mexico so they understand that they are not the centre of the universe and do not think themselves superior.

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We need to focus on mission and growth and all that is good and pure.  We need to get back on track as Christians in a visible way.

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Encourage patience. We don’t need to solve all the problems in one swoop.  We must not panic into quick fixes that will ultimately not work. If we are patient, prayerful and faithful, we will get through this.   God and the Church are larger than the OCA.

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The importance of the sacrament of confession. Each person has the responsibility of working out their salvation.  One indicator, that I have seen, which denotes movement in the positive direction is the relationship between deeds and how they line up with truth being eternal.  (The anecdote of Diogenes with a lamp going through the streets of Athens looking for an honest man, is an excellent picture of the relationship between truth and light).

As we know, how life ought to be isn’t always that way.  So, with the sacrament of confession being the best option to get back to life as it ought to be, I would like to ask this: what hasn’t been used to encourage people to use the sacrament of confession more often, other than recognizing that there is an eternal authority.  For it is very easy to exercise authority (Kissinger’s definition of leadership overlaps with this, namely that leadership is the courage of one’s convictions and a sense of direction), but the activity of people is only part of the total package of authority.

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I am seeing here what I have experienced in the past. All this stuff is a smoke screen to the real issue. The Orthodox seem to have a huge identity issue. Rebuild an eroding foundation of faith.  Canada has an identity crisis and it has filtered down to our faith. I thought Orthodoxy had an ethinic issue. We have to use one word only for the church:  Orthodox, not American or Canadian, etc.  Start somewhere and get going. Put the money issue behind and move on and build up the faith.

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We need to work on developing communication skills. We did some of this work at the AAC in Toronto. I don’t know where all this went, so it appears it was a waste of time. We need to see the results of all our talk and work.

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Many good things happened in Toronto that didn’t get off the ground

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After the last AAC came the publication of the scandal and everything else that happened in Toronto was forgotten. We have new people in Syosset and they didn’t know what happened in Toronto.

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Foreswear vengeance, declare an amnesty.  What is done is done. Stop flogging the dead horse and move on. The bloodthirstiness seen on the net is counterproductive and wastes energy. Get over it

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Restore to our bishops the concept of being a father instead of administrator of the diocese, let’s help the bishops do this for us.

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Please do everything you can to keep the church from becoming a business. I don’t want to be a part of Wal-Mart. I want to be part of the body of Christ. Have faith that the answers are in Christ.

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We need practical papers and “How to” steps in reconciliation to prepare for the Council and also coming out of AAC.

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The council has to understand the disparity of the rural to urban parishes. The idea of a parish that sees a bishop all the time is different from a parish where the bishop is not there very often. Educate people on the role of the bishop.

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What I would want to say can be summed up in three Prokeimena:

Arise O God and judge the earth, for to Thee belong all the nations!

Who is so great a God as our God?  Thou art the God who doest wonders!

God is our King before the ages! He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth!

The Bishops each gave short, concluding remarks of thanks for everyone’s participation, candor and openness and the meeting was closed with prayer.   The parish provided a wonderful buffet and many participants stayed for fellowship.

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

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Washington, DC, June 28, 2008

His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, Diocesan Bishop, began the meeting with the singing of “O Heavenly King.” Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and Lisa Morris, Preconciliar Commission, were in attendance. Approximately sixty (60) people (clergy and laity) participated.

Father Garklavs facilitated the meeting and opened by stating that we are here to share hopes for the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and not all ideas coming in can be implemented at the All American Council (AAC) as it is only three (3) days long. It is a work in progress. Father then read a prayer of St. Isaac, the Syrian.

Posted ground rules:

· No Attribution

· Dignity and Respect

· No Judgment of Ideas

· Balance Time

How has your life been affected or how do you feel about the current state of the OCA?

Strained relationship with family and tearing parish apart. Source of disillusionment, doubt and pain. Serves as subdeacon and is now hesitant to serve if an OCA hierarch visits parish.

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No refuge in my Church. Feels like going through a divorce. Need to restore trust. Would like to give to Christmas Stocking Fund and married seminarian housing at St. Tikhon’s without worry that it will not go there and the land site has title or ownership issues. Asks that current Metropolitan step aside.

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Too little, too late. Letter then read that was previously written by a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Bethesda, MD to Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications (posted in the comments section below).

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There is value in coming clean. Release entire report. Requests resignation of some members of the Holy Synod.

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We are not divided but concerned. Comes from Russian/English parish. We work together and love each other.

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Metropolitan Herman stepped into a hornet’s nest. This scandal happened before his watch. Please continue your efforts. Es pola Eti Despota!

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Would like summary of report to give us hope.

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Need to show more leadership. We need to be transparent; we are hiding things. Need more monks.

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Metropolitan Herman and entire Holy Synod should resign and a new statute written.

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We should glorify God and not leave the Church.

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My parish has been unaffected by the OCA crisis. In our forty-seven years, we have suffered three major splits. That fact along with our Balkan ancestry made us very guarded to avoid a dispute. We know too well the pain of conflict within a parish. The OCA became our refuge. My heart goes out to those here today and to those faithful across the country who are suffering in their parish communities. It is a spiritual battle on every level. It is spiritual warfare that we must fight with prayer and fasting for the Church.

If you had resources, what would be your solutions for resolving the crisis in the OCA?

Our trust is corrosively damaged. Need the truth, whole truth, nothing but the truth.

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Address undercurrent of homosexuality in the Holy Synod. Clarify or address.

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Create an opportunity for dialogue. Chances for open and honest dialogue is very important. Will go far to restoring trust.

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Noted a financial impropriety that previously happened at the Antiochian Village. We should take investigation to the State’s Attorney.

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Need financial records. Remove hierarchs and obtain three (3) replacements from the Patriarchates. Need more monastic formation.

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Wants spiritual feeling in the Orthodox Church. Where are we going? There is more room for forgiveness if we get it all out. Have the AAC instill checks and balances to ensure this won’t happen again.

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Wants someone from Syosset to apologize.

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We are about salvation.

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Invite other hierarchs to con-celebrate.

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Clean slate, resignation of Holy Synod.

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The plan for all bishops on the Holy Synod to resign in unfeasible. Simply put, without bishops, there is no Church. This cannot be done.

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Repentance is key issue.

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Truth of what has happened. How can we go forward without the truth?

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Double the monasteries.

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Have liturgical translations and music available on the website.

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Show laity in pictures on the OCA website, not just clergy and hierarchs. Focus on the people. Improve communicating on the web.

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Engage the youth.

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Council should be more of a seminar. Sit together in smaller groups. No need for resolutions. Discuss ethical issues (abortion, homosexuality).

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No limits on observers; the more people the better the Church is going to be. Observers should be able to participate. Welcome them.

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Who are we and are we growing?

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Bring people together and stay Orthodox. Address scandal.

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Convey Christ. Should have serious mediation and prayer at AAC. Devote time to prayer and ask for everyone’s prayers for healing. Look at schedules and banquet and call for restraint.

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Answer financial mess. Theology in the world, not of the world. Trust in God. Reflection of our own spiritual life.

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Need to reflect on our ecclesiology. Look at our unity as Orthodox in America.

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Need to reconciliate entire OCA, not committees. Do not keep Orthodoxy a secret. We need more evangelization and growth for the OCA and beyond the OCA.

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Hopes and wishes for OCA future

Orthodox Church of America. Embrace the energy of the society we live in with all its imperfections. What liturgical language do we want to speak? Thee’s and Thou’s? It is a personal call for all of us. It is a call to be who we really are.

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Refer to parishioners as brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Autocephaly is a great problem, return the Tomos and start over.

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Believe in forgiveness, must have penitence and petitions for unity.

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Autocephaly should be a more direct responsibility and duty to Christ as the head of the Church.

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We are the laughing stock of other Orthodox jurisdictions. Let’s fix the problem.

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We should still fund humanitarian aid, etc. We should do all of these things.

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Orthodox unity.

_______

More frequent encounters with hierarchs.

Closing remarks

Father Garklavs: The Orthodox Church in America is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We all believe this. And I believe that we all want the same things, salvation for our souls and good will for our Church. The Church is composed of people who err and sin as we all do. Judging is easy but judgment is difficult. Each one of us has limited authority about what we can and must do. The scandal and tragic things that happened pain all of us, but we know that with prayer and humility God will heal all.

The OCA is in a terrible mess. Some are waiting to see the demise of the OCA in November; if it is God’s will that there will be no OCA after November, then we can’t change it. But, we can still change now and we will do the best to save her. We are trying to be correct and spiritual. Brothers and Sisters these are tough times. “We’re here for you.” I apologize that we have failed and will try to be better. Syosset asks for your prayers.

Metropolitan Herman: Thanked Father Garklavs, Lisa Morris and the attendees for coming out and for our love for the Church. He stated that there is not one member of the Holy Synod that does not want to see this end. Trust must involve each and every one of us. We must forgive 70x70x70.

Only some individuals will be satisfied with the final report; not all will be. Nothing has intentionally been held back. He has had to endure comments, insults and has asked for forgiveness. We pray all of you will assist the Holy Synod and the chancery to help bring this to and end and bring back trust.

There are stumbling blocks for one (1) Church in America and in God’s time, it will happen. Thank you to each and every one of you. Continue your love for the church.

Meeting ended with the singing of “It Is Truly Meet.”

Additional notations: Lisa Morris reminded the attendees that they were not there to answer questions but to obtain information and suggestions.

Question was asked if Deacon Eric Wheeler will be exonerated. Father Garklavs responded that the truth will be revealed. Father then announced that Deacon Wheeler’s wife had just been diagnosed with cancer and asks for prayers.

Father also stated that Syosset is aware and feels everything that has been stated and this is shared by all clergy and laity. Every effort is being made to work on restoration of trust and reconciliation. Healing will take a long time and is occurring. We have a long way to go.

Father remarked that all monies collected are going to their designated areas and that the Special Investigating Comittee report will be released on August 27, 2008 at the meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council and should be made public thereafter.

Father announced that a mediation consultant was obtained for the AAC preconciliar council to assist them.

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