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OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Boston, MA, August 21, 2008

The meeting followed Vespers service at the Cathedral. His Grace Bishop Nikon and Fr. Alexander Garklavs (the OCA Chancellor) were present. Participants included 8 clergy and 33 laity, with about equal number of men and women present. The meeting began with singing of the festal Troparion.

Introductory remarks by Bishop Nikon:

The Church has suffered a crisis, and it is our responsibility to prepare for the AAC. We hope that this council will be different from all other councils, be more of a retreat & reconciliation. Restitution is necessary for the church. Members of Preconciliar Commission felt they needed help; they have included at some of their meetings a conflict resolution consultant. We had a special meeting – in Syosset, with Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, Mark Stokoe, and others – which was very successful. That motivated us to go ahead with the church-wide town hall meetings to get input from church members.

There is a perception throughout the church that the bishops don’t hear and don’t understand. Ideally we would like to have all the bishops at every meeting, but it is not possible due to financial and time constraints. The town hall meeting minutes are posted on the OCA-AAC blog site. Purpose of these meeting is not Q&A; purpose is for the people to state what’s on their mind, and for the bishops to sit and hear what people have to say. At the AAC there will be Q&A including a session with the whole Synod. At the town hall meetings, all church has a chance to participate in the AAC.

Introduction by Fr. Alexander Garklavs:

As His Grace, Bishop Nikon has stated, the Preconciliar understood that in planning for the All-American Council, we needed to address an important concern of the faithful.  That is that people are frustrated that they are not being heard and cannot get their message across. And so we have planned for these town hall meetings in different regions to give our faithful people an opportunity to air their opinion.  As they are structured, they are your forum for speaking, and we are not to respond.  That inability to dialogue makes this a less then perfect kind of encounter, but these are nevertheless important occasions. At this meeting, time constraints will be respected, but there will be some time allowed for responses from His Grace and myself. People should be considerate of time but will be allowed to stand up and speak more than once.

Father then noted the ground rules for the meeting:

  1. Dignity and respect
  2. No judgment of ideas
  3. No attribution
  4. Considerate of TIME

Questions:

I. How did the events of the church affect you? How do you feel about what happened in the OCA?

What do we mean as the scandal? I see it as two-fold – financial scandal which led us, since it was not taken care of in a timely manner, into what we understand about the attitude of the central administration. We live by apparent truth; what I saw was how Dn. Wheeler was handled – very poorly; put down, fired, etc. Bishop Job, – same way, and he is a very good and honest person. Actions of the other bishops – that’s the scandal.

I feel lack of trust, had to go and conduct re-destribution of an estate a large portion of which used to go to the Orthodox charities. How the bishops acted between themselves – very poor towards people they are supposed to be shepherds of; incompetence; lack of credibility and trust; style of expression on the Internet – Bishops of the West and North especially. Personal story – I had a run-in with a funeral home about mistreating a widow. Funeral home director returned part of the money to the widow, apologized for his rudeness toward me; the manager apologized to the bishop and said that I concealed the fact that I was a deacon at the church. Administrator yelled at me at the Diocesan meeting, said I had a wrong attitude. I drove for two hours later to confront the administrator; he put me down and told me to “get over it”. From reading subsequent stories on the Internet I learned that these actions were condoned and endorsed by the bishops. Bishops lack their teaching ability.

==

The stories make us feel sick. Shame for the church. Our honor has been besmirched, the goal should be to restore that honor. There is more to restoring honor than following “best practices”. Leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ has not been enough to ensure that that honor be upheld; perhaps the flag of our country at the Chancery would be a reminder of our civil laws. (Written statement was submitted and follows the minutes.)

==

The question is fascinating. People are denying that there is a crisis. Most information is on the web; the clergy & the leadership are not adequately explaining what is going on. Need someone from Syosset to define the crisis precisely. Credibility is shot. We’ve blown post-Cold War opportunities to reach out into Russia. Our influence to talk as a church is terribly affected; people are always looking at America, and there is not much inspiration here right now. What is church? Are we like any other tax-exempt corporation?

==

I feel helpless, and feel serious doubts about whether or not this council will be different. We lost the language of the church. Why are we calling this a town meeting? Is this a campaign or a public event? It is not what I want to see in the church. It should be a dialogue, even as a Q&A. The language that is constantly being used is the language of the lawyers, businessmen, teachers, not the language of the church. We don’t know what it is, and why would the AAC be any different?

==

I am not a cradle Orthodox, I converted to Orthodoxy in Russia when I was 18. Had a hard time there with the church where no questions were allowed to be asked, where everyone had to follow stale protocol. Came to America and thought I found a real Orthodox church in the OCA – the church founded on the patristic tradition, with openness and communication. Saw other parishes that did not feel as good as the Cathedral parish, but still had rose-colored glasses on. When I first learned about the crisis I thought, big deal, so money was mishandled, surely THIS church will be able to deal with it in a jiffy. Now, several years later, I am very depressed by how it was handled but even more by what has emerged as a lack of coherent ecclesiology, lack of communion inside the church. I do not feel in communion with many members of the OCA. I don’t feel in communion with the people who denigrate the bishops on the Internet or with bishops who see us as the great unwashed. Are we even a church? During the Alaskan crisis I wrote the Synod, like many other people, and saw the Synod acting only from public pressure in this, after exposure, after dozens of letters, after the Chancellor put his head on the chopping block, and that is not right…

==

Deep, deep disappointment. I agree with the two previous speakers. Back after the issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly there was life, excitement, vision about what OCA was going to become. It pains my heart to see where we are today. We are not a messenger to this country, we have not reached out to the community, we keep to ourselves. Retain parochialism; have not done anything with our autocephaly. Bishops are distant. Yet to see anything to come out of Syosset that is a unified statement. Need not an administrative but a spiritual solution. “Why are we here in this world?” We don’t get this from our bishops, they do not “rightly divide the word of Your truth”. We need to bring what the vision was 35 years back, bring back the light, otherwise in another 35 years the OCA will cease to exist. Changes in other jurisdictions will overwhelm us. Need to get deep spiritual guidance from our bishops, chancellor, deans, clergy, so that people can reach out to the rest of the community.

Where is the soul of our church today? Where are we going and where are we being lead? We don’t need administration, we need to have truth, confidence, and most of all, we need love. We do not feel love.

==

I feel angry, grief-stricken, confused, a lot of personal outrage. We are so small, we all know each other, we are all related. Nothing that’s going on in the church doesn’t affect us personally. It is a scandal of identity. If we were clear on who we were, if we were clear of our identity, so much of this could be avoided – money, hurt. Ultimately the answer is that we are the body of Christ, but we don’t know what this means. We lost the language of the church, and the language should be dynamic. We are a ship without a rudder.

==

I am a very recent convert, I became Orthodox in April. I don’t know many details about the crisis, but know that people are very angry, and people are very nervous about the financial affairs in the church, and it does make me nervous. In spite of what has happened I am hopeful. The church is dealing with it itself, the world is not cracking up on the church, unlike with the Roman Catholic church which was assaulted by everybody. Nobody is bashing anyone else except inside the church. There is hope because it is contained.

==

(Comment by Fr. Alexander): At all meetings at some point, a new convert speaks who says I am new but I am not bailing out. This is reassuring, because it means that in spite of all of the mess that we’re in, the Holy Spirit is leading good people to the Orthodox Church.

II. Solutions?

I am encouraged by hearing that the bishops had the meetings with the facilitator. The bishops should be brothers to each other because otherwise they cannot be fathers to us. Because they are not brothers, the church is in disorder. For the AAC, there are three things the bishops should do: say sorry to each other, admit that it was their fault, and tell the truth ALL THE TIME (to quote the recently departed Randy Pausch). Then you can spread your actions to your deaneries and to all the people who have been wounded – expelled, punished, silenced. It starts with the truth, otherwise you can leave the AAC after the first four hours.

==

We are going through the solution right now. If we didn’t have this crisis we wouldn’t have been here today. I have been a priest for 35 years and have been watching all this for 35 years – bishops out of touch with the people. The church has to be a homogeneous structure, and the homogeneity comes from being united in Christ. Synod, seminaries, administration, parishes are operating independently, there is tremendous disintegration, everyone has their own “rule book”. Bishops are leaders in the world, but Christ is the head of the church. They are like absentee parents – they are not around and when they get involved they make things worse. Now is the good time. Everything is out, and everything is in the open and needs to be dealt with. It used to be that no one talked, no one could talk to each other, all was dark. If we remember that Christ is the head of the church we will not need more money or better administration, we will have a different church. We don’t need central administration as the answer to the crisis at the church. Administration is not the answer, the answer is the Gospel. Administrators are frustrated businessmen. The church is the church. We have to speak its language, we have to walk its walk. It is a time to be positive, people have to forgive, life has to go on.

==

People cannot forgive until there is truth and transparency. The loss of the good that resulted from misappropriation of so much money. The silence around what happened is disturbing. Human condition is we are all corruptible, we are all subject to sin, but to not have an example at the top tier on how to confess, how to accept responsibility, is discouraging. We are ready to forgive but we cannot do it until the truth is out. The Metropolitan and the Synod have to tell everything that happened. Nothing will happen at the AAC if this doesn’t happen. Real crisis of leadership.

==

I have been a student of church history of the 2nd through the 5th century. Comparing this crisis to the true theological crises of the first centuries, this crisis is relatively minor. The loss of money is bad, but the issue is not as black as it could be. Sometimes I think it would have been exciting to live in the first centuries when the theology was being hammered out, but it is better to live with what we have to deal with now. We need from the hierarchy the admission of complicity, asking of forgiveness from people who have been betrayed. In Dante’s Inferno, the bottom circle of hell is reserved for betrayers, this is where Judas is. The hierarchy has betrayed us and they have to admit it and ask for forgiveness. I work at Beth Israel-Deaconness Hospital and the CEO of the hospital started a blog which reports on the Internet about everything that is going on at the hospital, including all the mistakes. Transparency before the community – all the truth, and the community supports the hospital because it is so honest. It is critically important to build up trust and confidence. That is what we need in our church, the hierarchy to come out and admit everything that is going on. If we do not do this action we will wither on the wine and that will be very unfortunate. We cannot further the Orthodoxy in this country if we have all this dirty laundry in the closet. We need truth and transparency.

==

I am also a convert to Orthodoxy and I was very confused at first about the crisis. There are plenty of theological, Christological controversies in this country. There is a world of need for a strong, unified Orthodox witness in this country. Need to focus on what the need is and where we are going, use our autocephaly to lead the others. I raised money for Beslan among the Lutherans and other non-Orthodox, through the OCA, and then found out about the financial shenanigans and felt profoundly betrayed.

==

I lived in many places in the country and saw the same things. Bishops move about so much, they come to meetings and agree to things and then go back to where they live and just follow whatever they please. There is no oversight. If clergy and bishops are not trained as administrators, let other people who are trained to do administrative jobs.

==

I wanted to share my solution privately with His Grace but decided to share it with the group. What is the role of the bishops, their relationships with each other, their interpersonal relations with each other. The operating suggestions for this bond of brotherhood: since the Synod is so small, they may go back to early church practice and open their deliberations with an open confession to each other so that they are imbued with the function of what they are there for. In the early church people reconciled to each other before partaking communion. Instead of meeting as a board of directors there was a sense that they were there to witness to the truth.

==

I agree with everything that has been said, but have a slightly different perspective. My background is a historian; I study history, and when I read Leskov’s “Cathedral Folk” I thought that nobody could think that OCA was in a lot of trouble after reading this book. The leadership betrayed us but we betrayed them also. The kinds of things we see are not just individuals misbehaving – it is the church which lost, drifted away from its center in Christ. We as parishioners drifted away from the light of Christ. If the church members were stronger the events would not have such impact. It had such impact because the structure has been weakened.

==

HUMILITY!

III. Ideas for the All-American Council

Any Metropolitan should live close by to the headquarters. At the AAC, implement the recommendation by Fr. Thomas Hopko in his letter to the Pre-Counciliar Commission. Metropolitan should resign. In Metropolitan Herman’s answer to questions in the interview by Protodeacon Peter Danilchik, he indicated that he was aware of problems before. Then, why did he allow the then-Fr. Kondratick to be in charge of the church.

==

Question: Has the PCC come up with a theme? – Answer from Fr. Garklavs: The theme is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians “Members of one another in Christ.” The theme is on the OCA-AAC website, it comes from a longer passage in Ephesians (4.25-30). The common theme is emerging from the church meetings, a lot of people have spoken.

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Question: Has the PCC set the ground rules for how resolutions will be handled? – Answer from Fr. Garklavs: The information on he resolutions protocol is on the OCA website. Resolutions from the floor will also be accepted.

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Question: Has the agenda been set? – Answer from Bp. Nikon: The agenda is being formed. I would like to emphasize again that there will be a Q&A session with the bishops.

==

The agenda should include the discussion on what episcopal and pastoral leadership means. There is evident lack of pastoral care and leadership shown, among other things, by the way people communicate about the crisis.

==

Need discussion of how bishops are elected. We keep saying that the bishops are not transparent, not competent – so who will succeed the Metropolitan? The pool for candidates is extremely small, it’s more of a puddle, there are so few candidates for the episcopacy. Unfortunately, it has fallen to those who are celibate but because of lack of the monastic training in this country this pool is very small. Because of the state of our autocephaly we may not be able to discuss married episcopacy, but some discussion is necessary. Bishops should come from their respective dioceses. The discussion should include the voices of the clergy and the laity, not just the Synod.

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It will be edifying if the bishops and the Metropolitan make a statement at the AAC on the “State of the OCA” right after the opening liturgy. It will set a tone.

==

Discussion on the strengthening of the monastic community.

==

A discussion of the forgiveness session, maybe around the country. – Fr. Garklavs: It is on the agenda.

==

I want to see bishops respond to the questions. We have unreasonable expectations of our bishops. We don’t give them a chance to make a mistake because we perceive them as being very high up, and so they cannot admit to mistakes. They can do a good job with administrative duties, but they need help, they need a team, they need help to be human. What is the selection process not just for the bishops but also for chancery staff? What is the selection process for church leadership? – Bp. Nikon: Anybody who is there now and who has accepted the responsibility to be there under such adverse condition must feel something for the OCA…

==

If we are a church that receives sinners whom Christ can forgive and renew, then why can’t we “recycle” the bishops if they take the time to gather together and pray for the Holy Spirit and see where that leads them. Maybe we don’t necessarily need “fresh blood”. What we need is spiritual renewal.

==

Education of young people. What do we expect from young people? – Fr. Alexander: Encourage the young people to think of priesthood as a vocation. It is thought of as a leftover career…

IV. Why the OCA is important?

(Fr. Alexander Garklavs) This Holy Trinity Cathedral parish is important, it is alive, it has great pastoral leadership, it has a lot to contribute to the church. It is a great example of what is good about the OCA. The town hall meetings are a good thing, although they are rather painful at times for the church leadership. There is a lot of good in the OCA.

==

One of the missions is to evangelize America. There are so many parishes that are small, have had people die, leave. We have to think of the re-evangelizing the people whom we lost. Be more conciliatory, revitalize existing parishes instead of establishing new missions because of some disagreements and issues. We should try to work out our problems better than we have, missions should not be formed by conflict in a church. We should not have a church and a mission within half an hour drive of each other, both struggling. We need to solve our conflicts, and the parish priest needs to understand that we have problems.

==

The OCA needs to be taking a stronger position in America. Orthodox churches tend to be associated with the ethnic groups. We need to be more present to everyone as the Orthodox Church in America, our Metropolitan needs to become president of the SCOBA. We are part of the Orthodox Church in the whole world and need to assert our presence in the world.

==

The OCA should serve as a nucleus to help bring together other Orthodox churches into a truly autocephalous church with a patriarch, not be something of itself alone. Work with the Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, etc. We cannot tell how many Orthodox there are because there are so many people who rarely show up for church – need to evangelize.

==

The OCA is embedded in the American culture. It needs to respond to concerns that are raised by this American culture, such as same-sex marriages, to stop avoiding these issues, to open the dialogue, not leave people to deal with them on their own. There needs to be communication, needs to be dialogue.

==

To complement the previous speaker – we need to deal with the issues of America. We can, as a church, give much to the culture, but because we are in the culture, we have to know the culture. How are we going to deal with these issues if we are not comfortable with what we are? Trust the Holy Spirit in acquiring the identity that is authentic. We don’t have what the ethnic churches have, the solidarity of their ethnicity. They have a certain comfort and confidence that we don’t have. The new calendar and the pews don’t make us an American church, something else has to make us an American church.

==

My dogmatic professor at the seminary says that the OCA is a Russian church in translation. The break has occurred in our understanding of our relationship to the hierarchy. The hierarchal principle cannot endure without relationship to the laity. The bishop cannot be a bishop without that relationship. Thinking of the laity as stupid sheep does not help the relationship. The ethnic churches are holding on to ethnicity and it is rather sad because the center to hold on to should be Christ. There is nothing to hold on to until we repent and go back to Christ. There must be a serious underlying problem in the OCA that hasn’t been addressed that is so much more important that the financial crisis.

==

(Fr. Garklavs) Ethnicity and Orthodoxy are deeply entrenched. Being patriotic is good, but we also now see two Orthodox countries at war. We in the OCA feel the vacuum of the American dream. We don’t come to church enough, and so priests don’t have enough services, cut sermons. We are not praying enough. Someone told me the former chancellor brought the OCA out of the back yard and into the mainstream of American culture.  At the time that made all of us happy. We wanted to be on the map and were very proud of it. We bought into that because being on the front page meant being accepted into the “American dream”. With acceptance come money, with money comes corruption. The church has to respond to lawsuits, to internal strife. This is the crisis – we want to be church in America but we haven’t figured out what that means. The matter of identity is a communal thing. Just as the late Aleksander Solzhenitsyn said about Russia after the fall of communism, the whole OCA has to repent.  And after all, we are talking about the basics of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, we should do it every day anyhow.

==

If you want to see a challenge of what we have to react to, see the op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Matthew Kaminski and what he has to say about the Orthodox. We must respond.

==

The OCA has to be what happened at the Pentecost, that Christ speaks to people in their own language. We must preach to American civilization and bring Christ to them.

==

OCA is important because we are the church of the new age, a canonically established church, regardless of what the Ecumenical Patriarch may think. We have the legacy of the best theological thinking of the 20th century from St. Sergius and then St. Vladimir’s, the thinking that went back to the roots of Orthodox theology, to the Patristic tradition, clearing away layers of ethnic baggage, of imperialism, centuries of baggage. We are based on the canonical geographical principle, not on ethnicity, and we are also not associated with any government, unlike other Orthodox churches. This is all very valuable, it is worth fighting for.

==

We have to change our name to American Orthodox Church, because we sound like something that is foreign to America, brought into America.

==

The ethnicity is such a stereotype. We should not make a mistake as other ethnic churches, by becoming another ethnic “American” church. We are in this world but not of this world. Our problems are not American, they are universal. We need to look at the Orthodox church which is somewhat independent of culture.

==

When my children were growing up I prayed, Lord, if they do something wrong, let them be caught. I am glad that the scandal came to light because I see it as a hand of God. God has outed us, and it is a good thing. We have to reveal Christ. We have to be what Christ is to other people.

==

As persons, individuals, as a body of Church we do not come from nowhere. We cannot shed cultural roots and just jump into this amorphous “American identity”. It is not an issue of chucking ethnic ties, it leads to nowhere. It is an issue of Christ being primary, first, at the head of everything. If Christ is at the head then it doesn’t matter if we are a Russian church in translation because then we are reaching out.

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In some Orthodox churches there is an American flag somewhere in the building, in some there are not. Is there a policy? I feel that a visitor going into the church seeing the American flag sees that it is the American church. It is a way to show that we are American. Does a priest have a right to rule on it? – Answer from Fr. Garklavs – Talk to the priest, bring this up in the parish the meeting.
Closing remarks by Bishop Nikon:

When I was appointed to chair the Preconciliar Commission I felt I was being set up to fail, but I have no intention of failing. We are going to Pittsburgh to repair, going there for repentance, for forgiveness, and to take care of the business of the church. We are taking the input of the church in all these meetings. The meetings were being set up so the bishops would be made to hear.

The agenda will look at how the money are actually generating good deeds, missions, etc.

After the formall meeting concluded, His Grace, Bishop Nikon took questions from participants.

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

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: South River, NJ, August 2, 2008

Fr. Andrew Jarmus welcomed the participants to the South River, NJ, and discussed the “Ground Rules” of the Town Hall Meeting.  He mentioned that these meetings are to hear the thoughts and concerns of the faithful before the All American Council.

Fr. David Garretson, Rector of the host parish welcomed the participants and spoke briefly about the rich history of the parish.

QUESTION #1: How have the events of the last several years affected you?

Matushka Mariam Vernak read a statement (see comments section below).

==

I converted to Orthodoxy in 1984.  The scandal has not affected her faith one bit, but she feels we need to “be the Church.”  We, as the True Church, can not allow what has happened over the past 15 years destroy us.  If we truly believe that we are the true faith, that we have been given a great gift from God, it is imperative that this situation is resolved as soon as possible!  Legal action must be taken, and there is nothing our Lord said that prevents justice from being taken.  What has happened in recent years and months is a microcosm of what has been taking place in the secular world: people look the other way or turn their heads.  We must clean the slate so that we do not dissuade prospective converts to the Orthodox Faith.  We all have a unique role in this, and our very lives are example and we must strive to live more like Christ and don’t loose focus!  Something significant must be done at the AAC.

==

For the past few years, we’ve been receiving correspondence about what has and has not been happening.  I am disturbed by the comments of our faithful, bishops and priests.  Are we Christians or are we Bolsheviks?  People are piling on and it has become a mob scene…just as when the Jews cried “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  The time has come for us to move ahead and to be constructive…helping to heal our Church, not tear it down even further.  We forget the teachings of St. Cyprian of Carthage: Where the bishop is, there is the Church.  We must forgive the mistakes of the past and move forward.  If we cast the first stone, we don’t see our own sins.  We will always have problems in the Church, but we must proceed with faith, hope and love.  I hope for an honest report in September and that all can forgive each other for our misdeeds.

==

Sometimes there are issues that are complex, but we avoid them and how to solve them out of fear.  I hope there is a fair and honest report from the SIC.  Have we as Orthodox Christians lost the concept of justice?  I mean, after what is found in the report is disclosed, will there be consequences for their actions?  There are investigations, accusations, trials and acquittals and/or sentences given.  Are we afraid?

The only way to resolve things like this scandal is through forensic investigations, like fraud.  If the allegations are true, the OCA can loose is tax exempt status.  I am a layman with no special legal knowledge, but we can avoid tragedy of this magnitude by having a true, honest investigation and submit this to the civil authorities.  Basically, we need to be proactive in this, rather than the civil authorities.  We must turn to the civil authorities, confess and accept our just punishments.  This crisis is not about the Orthodox Faith, but about individuals.

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Getting involved with civil law and with the government is what we are trying to avoid, and in fact, we should respectfully avoid dealings with the state regarding Church matters.  If the Church solves its own problems, then we don’t need to be involved with the state.  The Church has its own rules/canons regarding how to deal with these things and to deal with them in the right way.  Think positive!

==

I sing in the choir, come to Church, and that’s about it.  I go to the sacraments, put money in the basket, go to rehearsal, etc…and it doesn’t bother me very much.  The most disappointing thing is that there was no real oversight to help prevent this from happening.  There needs to be a “watch dog” organization, etc…and if it’s the Metropolitan Council, then fine.  If this is it, then they have failed and must be revisited.  It is a shame and I ask people to be patient and let the process work itself out.

==

Archpriest John Shimchick, rector of Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Medford, NJ, made the following statement:

“The reality of Christianity is this:  the taste of truth, the eating and drinking of truth.” (St. Macarius)

“All around the country, Orthodox people attending Town Halls are asking for the same thing: the taste of truth, the experience of truthfulness within the life of the Orthodox Church in America.

“Probably most of us, especially those who are married, have children, are pastors or allow themselves in any way to be held accountable to someone else have been told when what we say contradicts the way we act.  But what can be said when a Church, or at least its leaders, act in such a way that contracts the very nature of what the Church represents?

“When thinking of an All-American Council in Pittsburgh, I am reminded of the last one held there in 1999.  I was both extremely proud and then, in retrospection, overwhelmingly saddened by the events that took place there.  It was, as I remember, a reflection and celebration of what could be called the “vision” of the OCA:  the possibility of preaching the Kingdom of God, of bringing all people to Jesus Christ, no matter what their background.  Metropolitan Theodosius delivered a very upbeat and dynamic talk that was interrupted a dozen or so times by standing ovations.  I left the Council thinking that the OCA might not have all the resources of other Orthodox or Christian jurisdictions, but it did understand its mission to America.  And its leaders had integrity.

“Shortly later I learned that despite what seemed to be taking place, in fact chaos, bitter infighting, and self-destruction were growing more and more out of control behind the scenes within our Administration.  As financial mismanagement and irregularities were being revealed, the Church’s watchdogs were being discredited and humiliated.  This would lead to the firing of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, the prime whistleblower, and to the continual re-appointing of the very individuals (like Bob Kondratick) who were involved in the mismanagement and irregularities.

“It became quickly apparent that the OCA neither had significant resources, nor leaders with integrity.  While it possessed a certain vision for the possibilities of Orthodoxy within America, there was a terrible disconnect between the words offered by its leadership and their actions, a disconnect which continues to this day.

“How do we as a Church recover the taste of truth as long as there remains this disconnect between our vision, our words, and our deeds?   This is how the crisis within the OCA has disturbed me and it is the question which I raise to our Metropolitan and to the Holy Synod of Bishops.  I hope it will in some way be addressed by the gathering of the All American Council.”

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When I visited my bishop, I had a resignation letter in my pocket.  I cannot be a part of an organization that is corrupt.  This was embezzlement, and that is a crime!  What is more disturbing is that this embezzlement and this crime is a symptom of the disease that we as Church do not provide a safe place for bishops, clergy and laity.  My biggest disappointment is the lack of brotherhood with the priests…we gossip, complain and click our tongues when they get into trouble.  We complain that the bishops only contact us when we’re in trouble, but never call the bishop.  Our laity talk about each other, talk about the priest, the council, etc.  The council has to do this, the Church school has to do that, blah, blah.  The money will be dealt with by the civil authorities and that’s okay.  But WE need to recover the vision of 1970, because our Church is not the same today.  The Church is the body of Christ, but the Church is everywhere!  We make excuses about why our children don’t come to Church, but the bottom line is that that the see that we don’t trust each other as Christians.  How can we expect the bishops to be transparent with us if we cannot be transparent with each other?  Would we be safe to ask our neighbor for help?  To Vladyka….feel safe with us and honestly tell us what happened.  All of us must recover the vision Christ has given us.

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I look at the event of the Church of Greece a few years back, but dealt with it in six months.  We’re going on 6 years! The participants read a prepared statement (see comments section below).

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Concerning children, I’ve been blessed with 4 boys who are college age.  We’ve have had the honor of attending three AAC’s.  The programs dealing with the youth have been squashed because of the scandal and now the youth have been left behind.  They’ve developed friendships, exchanged emails, etc. and have been looking forward to another AAC to meet their friends, but now that is not going to happen.  If they’re not told the truth the first time, how do the children know what to believe later?  They, as well as all of us, remember the messages of the clergy of the Church and people are very perceptive.  We have a very important responsibility as the OCA, and we must always be the example to not only other jurisdictions, but to the entire world.  When we look to ourselves, we must remember to change our ways, repent and pray to see that throughout the entire Church and throughout the world.  Once we do this as a Church, we can truly move forward.  The Church has faced much worse than this scandal and God will give us the strength to endure!  We all have certain strengths and gifts.

Question #2: What do you feel is a “best case” scenario for the OCA at this time?

Be the Church and spread the gospel locally.  We must focus on the local mission primarily.  We must use media to teach and help people.  We must reestablish ‘sobornost’ in our Church.   We must take financial stewardship seriously.  Put the financial report towards the front end of the meeting to send a message that this is important and that we are completely transparent.  Focus on the parish as the “workplace” of the Gospel.  The national Church exists for the parish, not the other way around.  Bishops must work with priests and parishes to help the parishes grow and flourish.  We are looking for loving and caring characteristics in our bishops, and everyone.  We must strengthen deanery life throughout the OCA in order to do the work of the Church.  We need a Church that inspired the clergy to sharpen their skills and renew themselves whether through further education and/or spiritual retreats, etc.  We need a Church that inspires vocations to the priesthood, especially young men who grow-up in the Faith.  We need a Church which inspires its members to live a life according to the Gospel…at every level, because we fail as individuals and it is evident in many facets of Church life.  We need a Church that cares for its entire membership.  We need a Church to support missions that are failing.   We need to encourage parishes to work in the community and encourage them to help out with those that are already in place.  Most of all, I would like to see these things accomplished in love and obedience.  Let us recover the vision of the OCA which is firmly rooted in the Gospels, and need to rediscover the sacrificial love of Christ which we need to acquire if we’re going to the Church.

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Hearing the above list reminds me of how we need to move deeper into it.  We need a resolution from the AAC that we will speak the truth.  We are to stop saying that we are a large Church…but we are indeed very small.  Our deeds must follow our words that we are a missionary Church and are to bring people to the life in Christ.  If we want to grow, we need to put the money behind what we need to do, and we haven’t been doing that.

==

As a pastor, I truly appreciate everything that is said today.  It helps to give us perspective and to evaluate the situation that much better.  We need to build our diocese and strengthen it, and we need people to help volunteer because if we want to build, we need to volunteer and help.

==

A participant read a prepared Statement-dealing with reevaluating the use of assessments to fund central Church activities (see comments section below).

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Let us think beyond what we are and have an idea of who we are and what we should do.  We need to deal with the problems we have now and have existed, not ignore them.  Fr. Schmemann spoke about such errors 40 years ago, and we still are doing them…sometimes afraid to talk about them.  We must deal with them specifically…how do we deal with it, this is what we think.  If not, we will always have the same problems we’ve had for over 40 years, never mind the problems we don’t talk about them.  Young people need to see the glory, but it’s only the glory if it’s alive.  If people don’t come to the Church, then like Fr. Florovsky said, this temple becomes simply a nice relic piece.  Talk about education more and how to have colleges, high schools, etc, and we have nothing.  If we want to keep people connected, then need to see that the Church sees and has worth in them.  If we don’t deal with problems, we can pack it up because Christ calls for us to do them work and deal with problems.  Why can I go to a Church in Passaic right across from a tenement complex, but our Church is empty cause we don’t want to send a Spanish speaking priest.  We’re all at fault and I want my Church to battle with it as well.  as a young person, and am looking for open discussion…to be able to look my hierarch in the eye and be honest about anything.

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I’m so very moved by the eloquence of the speakers today.  I feel that we need to think about education… equipping the saints with the armor of the faith.  The money that has evaporated could have been used for such better things.  We can invest money in professionals what can come to help us.  Protestants can organize things and I’ve been hooked into a Church like them and was utilized.  We need to copy people who do these things well.  Their faith may not be correct, but they support each other and get things done.  Perhaps people from the outside can help us?  Maybe some can be affected by us and by our Orthodox Faith.  We simply need to learn leadership and management.  The Lord concentrated on 12 men…and look what happened!  Our young people at a certain point the faith becomes irrelevant.  Why can’t we invest our money in professionals who can help us in all these areas?  We need to equip the clergy and come up with stipends and/or salaries for deacons.  When I hear what other Churches and paying there priests I am in awe of what they can accomplish with much less.  We need to give and invest and set-up the Church and do the great commission.  Our Churches are empty every day but Sunday.  Let’s schedule a retreat at Antiochian Village, mandatory for clergy!  We have the resources….LET’S DO IT!

==

When we try to get people to educate our children, it’s up to the parents of the young people in the parish.  I’d like to see more educational materials from the OCA.  I’d like to see forgiveness and move on, putting the focus on our youth for they are our future.  They must be with other kids and events.  Doing things for our youth is the most important thing we can do.

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If we’re looking at the Church in the years ahead, I would like to see a mechanism set up for groups of people to get together and think outside of the box.  The bishops are monastics.  Can the married priest be elevated to the rank of bishop?  We need fresh, innovative thinking at the next AAC.  The Holy Synod is not at all holier than anyone else and must make commitments in making their presence known regularly in the parishes.  Sit at the table with us and let’s get to know each other.

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We rearrange the way we do Church.  We’ve been doing the same thing as OCA the same way again, again and again, and it doesn’t work.  We must rearrange the relationship of bishop, priest, and parishes.  Let’s eliminate head-tables at banquets — lets rearrange the dog and pony show of the Church.  Let the bishop stay at the rectory, have a meeting at the council meeting without me and make the priests more accountable.  Our rhetoric is way beyond our reality and we are the size of 20-25 Roman Catholic parishes.  We have a culture where the priest is at fault all the time.  I’m expected to do all of the education, visitations, bereavement, etc…I can’t do it all!

One of the most frustrating things through this scandal is that very talented people in the Church have raised there hands to help, but we’ve chosen the incompetent.  We put people in positions for which they are not trained.  I can refute a heresy that was destroyed 1500- years ago and never looked at a financial statement.

We have an overemphasis on liturgy: the expectations of what a good priest is wrong.  If I show up and celebrate a liturgy and return my phone calls in 3 days, I’m doing pretty good.  We’ve been trying to deal with this, and it’s taken this long to get to this point.  The only ways all of these dreams will happen is when we can trust each other, but there is no trust.  I have less than 10 people here and I have one of the largest parishes in the diocese.  The greatest tragedy of this is that it’s shown our people how irrelevant the nat. Church and diocese is to the parish.

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Listening to the priests in particular, I’m well aware of what priests face and they are not trained in seminary to be missionary priests.  They obviously are looking to seminaries for guidance on how to do this.  Could you imaging what it would be like to have this training?

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The Best Practices document was the start of the change in the central Church administration.  Volunteers on the Organizational Task Force have worked very had in putting these into place and making them more modern and business-like.  I would like the record to show that we need to follow-up on things and especially see that all things are transparent.  I’m a convert from the Episcopal Church and I feel that music is vital in the life of our Church.  We have vacancies of choir directors in the diocese and this is because of lack of training and failure to compensate directors.  Perhaps congregational singing is a solution?  It is something to think about.

==

We talked a lot about the vision of the OCA, but I’m not sure what that is.  If we have a vision, I’d sure like to hear what that is.  I’ve always had a disconnect with the clergy, but maybe that’s just me.  Clergy and laity must come together and feel comfortable with each other.  I should not feel uncomfortable or unwelcome with the clergy.

==

I’ve been Orthodox my whole life, and when I was young, the services were all in Church Slavonic.  I had an older man who would translate the services for me, and I’ve been involved in the Church ever since.  When I learned about what happened at the OCA Chancery, I got angry.  Now, though, there are things being done at the Chancery! Today we have very four very excellent people in position in the Chancery who KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!  It’s the first time in over 20 years that this is the case.  We’ve implemented Best Practices, and had the first audit in the Church for 20 years! It’s the first time in 20 years that we have a balanced budget.  It was a world of fantasy, but not any more.  We have wonderful people in the Chancery, and they are doing a wonderful job.  There were 39 people in Syosset at one point and we were very top-heavy… now there are only 16.  There are things being said that are so out of proportion, but we have audits, best practices, etc…we are getting better.  We need to have a vision because it wasn’t there before.  If you go into the Chancery today and speak with any of the officers, you will see that there is a vision.

I’ve heard that the bishops are not accessible, but it is a two way street.  Vladyka Herman has bee extremely cooperative.  Any time we’ve come into a problem and needed advice, he would offer that advice to move on.  Whenever we’ve asked for a meeting or help, he was there!  There is a vision and positive movements within the Church!  I hope the SIC tell people what they want to know.  I my mind, I will confirm what I already know: that right now we are healing and are better.  For 20 years the Metropolitan Council sat there and were basically yes men…but now it is not like this.

QUESTION #3: What would you like to see happen at the AAC?

Let’s not reinvent the wheel. We should implement what was identified in Toronto as three areas critical to the life of the Church: evangelization, religious education, and Orthodox administrative unity in North America.

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Reestablish trust.  Eliminate the assessment method for it sends the message that we’re a country club with nice icons.  By doing so, it tells the Church that the bishop and Syosset trust the Church.  Every priest trusts his parish to support him financially, and Syosset needs to do the same.  By eliminating assessments, it eliminates this dues paying members nonsense…it shows the people that the bishops and the nat. Church trust us or not, and this is a walk of faith.  Our parish spends almost 25% of its operating budget on assessments.  Go to a tithe to the diocese rather than assessments.  Until people do a dramatic action of trust, anything else is moot.
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I love the Church and I’m a CFO of a practice.  Our problems stem from something that has been here for a long time.  C-A-L: Leadership must COMMUNICATE.  I hear the changes in Syosset, etc…these are wonderful.  Leadership must take ACTION.  To speak of it and to do it are two different things, and it is by doing it that change happens.  LEADERSHIP is very important.  If you can’t be a leader, then you’ve abdicated a responsibility.  The Church calls for all of these things.

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Maybe we can take 3-4 things on which we can take action during the AAC.  How can we free up the bishops schedule to visit more with his priests.  It’s important to do things TODAY.

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Fr. Eric Tosi spoke about the planning stages of the AAC.  In one way, it is a no win situation: if we do too much, the PCC is being excessive; if too little is done, the PCC is incompetent.  There is a true understanding that we have to do something and have people reconciled and to move forward.  If not, then we have failed.  The town halls have been invaluable in our planning of the AAC because we want specifics.  One challenge is that as the AAC’c grew over the years components were added that became institutionalized and it becomes difficult now to alter or remove them.  One of the best points we’ve heard is that we won’t accomplish everything, but make it the catalyst for change…at least a 3 year change.

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Fr. Andrew Jarmus: one of the difficulties is that we have a much shorter Council this time, really only two and a half days for sessions. I’d like us to address what has happened over the past years, and build from there.  I look forward to the SIC report next month and hope that by November we will already have in place a plan of what to do based on the report.  I’ve heard the word vision coming up again and again, and we really need to, in a concrete way, recapture and implement that vision.  Clearly a psychology developed at the OCA Chancery over the years that the Church was here for Syosset.  We do not believe that: the Chancery exists to serve the Church.

The meeting closed with words from His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman:  We express our thanks to His Grace, Bishop Nikon and the Preconciliar Commission and for establishing these town hall meetings.  It shows that people are concerned about the Church and that we must continue to build up the Church.  In the face of troubles, people immediately want to point out the errors of other people.  Do we really exercise the spirit of love and humility in these situations? I commend you for the good manner in which you’ve participated in this meeting today.

The meeting concluded with “It is truly meet.”

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

OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Carnegie, PA, July 31, 2008

The Town Hall Meeting opened with “O Heavenly King” at 6:59 PM

His Grace, Bishop Tikhon opened with some remarks: he was here not only as Locum tenens but as a member of the Holy Synod. He said that it was a joy to meet in Christ – even in bad times. He stated that we are here to find Christ Himself, and to move in that direction as we struggle to find the truth. He stated that the bishops want to discern the way – they need the people to do this. He reminded everyone that there is no flock without the bishop and there is no bishop without the flock and that we are to guard ourselves with the sign of Cross. He implored everyone to share their comments openly and lovingly.

Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor of the OCA, who represented the Preconciliar Commission and acted as facilitator, offered some comments:  He was here in Pittsburgh at the Hilton the past few days concerning more details about the upcoming AAC. He reported that the hotel is not in danger of imminent closure and is not in bankruptcy – things look fine for the AAC. He said that joining him for this Town Hall meeting was Fr. Eric Tosi, the new OCA Secretary. Notes, not minutes, will be taken at this meeting to provide highlights of the remarks.  He talked about why we are here; that the Church is going through difficult times and grappling with the complexity that challenges us in planning the AAC; there is no substitute for face-to-face encounters to hear as many opinions as possible; everyone’s voice is important. He stated that people feel in general that there has been a disconnect between the Holy Synod and the clergy/laity.  The Town Hall notes will be presented to the Holy Synod for reflection.  He reminded that this is really a forum, not a dialogue. The Chancellor stated that not everything presented can be implemented at the AAC by the Preconciliar Commission but that all voices should be heard. He listed four ground rules for the meeting:

  1. No Attribution
  2. Respect for each other
  3. No judgment
  4. Balanced Time

Also – written statements can be submitted (name is optional).

The remainder of the meeting focused on the four questions listed by Fr. Garklavs to frame the meeting’s comments. Each question and the personal responses from meeting speakers follow in these notes.

Q1: How have the events of the past several years in the OCA affected you personally?

Fr. John Reeves read a written statement (see comments section below).

==

Besides crying, I feel like my soul has been ripped out.  I don’t think I’m ready to go to the AAC even though I know people have been working hard.  Get rid of the decay –we are mired in the muck.  To pretend that we are ready to sit in a room holding hands and sing “Kum-by-ya” is unfair.  There is a big white, smelly elephant in the room.  We come to the AAC tarred.  We are not ready to make plans for stewardship, etc. while this sore festers.  We are ALL the church.  This problem cannot become our AAC, we deserve better, Christ deserves better.  Find a way to get together and end our suffering – perhaps a negotiating committee between the different levels of the Church. (Also see written statement in comments section below.)

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Sense of betrayal – by the Central Administration and by the bishops because they failed to do anything about the problem.  We looked at them as pillars of truth and we found them to be giving us smoke instead of real actions.

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Four things:
1. Disillusionment.  IS there somebody “in charge” of the church?
2. A lack of trust.  We’ve reached a point where anything we hear is met with skepticism from the central church.  There have been improvements.
3. Resentful.  I feel let down by people at the highest levels.
4. A lack of confidence. I do not believe that senior leadership can lead us out of this crisis and back onto solid ground.

==

I am ashamed of the Church, the so-called OCA.  I am ashamed of the bishops, ashamed of the Metropolitan – he is a liar.  +Archbishop Kyrill said that he was sorry he put him in as Metropolitan.  We will not go ahead with the kind of leadership that we have now.

==

I cannot trust the Church anymore.  It took ROCOR 80 years to overcome their trust issue.  Now bishops have come from being card carrying members of Communist party to card carrying members of Discover Card — how did this happen?  This isn’t going to go away overnight.  This Diocese should meet outside this meeting with the Metropolitan Council reps.  It is good we are blessed with town hall meeting opportunities, but why not sooner?

==

This meeting has only a 2 hour time slot, others had 3 hours. (Fr. Garklavs responded that we will be flexible regarding time.)  We cannot pretend that the scandal has touched everybody.  Some have no idea.  Some don’t care.  It’s all politics to some people – particularly in the South and West.  Personally, I have friends of 30 years that I no longer speak to.  Priests aren’t speaking to each other.  Laity attacked clergy, and vice versa.  Some priests have silenced their parishes.  Some priests have been silenced.  Parishes that withheld assessments long ago were reprimanded.  People have picked sides – the Metropolitan’s side, the Kondratick side, the Kucynda side, etc.  We’re all on Christ’s side.  We’ve lost people from the OCA and Orthodoxy.  We’ve lost people who were interested in coming into the faith. Why? Because leaders have failed to deal with the problems.  For a long time everything was “fine.”  Fr. Melchizedek (Pleska) mentioned in his recent visit to the Archdiocese about the recent problems with scandals in the Church of Greece. “In six months, it was dealt with and over.”  Now in November it will be three years for us – no end?

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Discouraged at what has happened and even more so in how it has been dealt with.  As a priest, I am asked “why aren’t you doing something?”  We need to do something to appease the people who are affected and to relieve their pain.

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I am not personally affected, but corporately we are all affected.  It was God’s money that has been abused.  If God’s money was used and stolen, there must be an effort to repay it quickly.  Syosset must be sold so interest can be repaid.  The “no one will know” mentality is not right.  I am truly, truly concerned about this money.  May God continue to bless us.

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At the Orlando AAC, the bishop’s overruled the will of the people concerning the new Metropolitan.  Now we are hearing rumors that the decision was set in stone prior to the AAC. Now I have to question everything that is coming from our primate and our bishops.

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It is difficult to speak because I am standing on a precipice.  I find myself fighting everyday saying “Why Lord, have you placed another stigma on my cross?” Shame on all of us (as clergy.)  When I think of Christ crucified on the Cross, we have done the same thing to our Church by taking a spear (this crisis) and piercing Her — and we’re not healing the wound.  We’re letting it fester for years and years and years.  What good is going to come of this?  We need to clean the wound, sew it up, and go on with the will of God.  We’ve let pride and greed come into play.

Q2: Comments/thoughts/reflections on how to improve situation. How do we change? Where do we go from here? What is the best possible outcome?

No one has the answer other than God, and we must open our hearts to His will and to receive His message. A written statement was read by Fr. A. Matychak (see comments section below).

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I don’t have an answer.  But we thought we had a situation that was a best case scenario.  But they were forced to resign.  I’m waiting for the SIC report to be released.

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The best outcome is that there be complete and total disclosure.  Whatever it may be, theft, sexual perversion, substance abuse, whatever, the truth must come out.  The SIC results MUST be released as a whole to the body of the Church.  Not sure what happens from there.  Who is driving the train at this point?  Even if truth comes to light, who has the authority to say what will be done?

==

For us collectively to recover the vision that was the OCA which has been lost.  This is not simply about money, but about vision.  This vision is gone because it is difficult to hold up the OCA in the midst of this crisis.  Let the vision be recovered and let it be understood that God’s work is most important.

==

I don’t know completely but I know what part of the solution is.  Far fewer people showed up for our episcopal candidates’ visits than are here tonight.  We’re talking about the past tonight, when are you going to talk about the future?  We don’t need to hear about our brother’s sins, I have my own to worry about.  We need to move forward.

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This is the OCA. America is a land of laws, and we must be law abiding.  Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  Everything needs to be examined and conclusions must be made. If they are guilty, we must take care of it.  Yes, we have compassion, however, what does it say to the future if we say you can do what you want?

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We need to restore accountability, financially and administratively; no cronyism.

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That we never have to hear the SIC report, and the main people come forward themselves and say what’s happened.  This is a cancer and it must be healed.  It can be healed by divine healing.  If not, then it will have to be removed by other means that we prefer not to use.

==

We’ve been frustrated for a long time.  A lot of this is coming from a cultural background.  We haven’t acknowledged that the people in the pews are smart and are well spoken.  Best case scenario: the Church be the Church in America in the 21st century.  We just can’t take the model of the church of 100 years ago and expect it to work.  The Church has changed (technology, etc.)  The whole Church has to shift.

Q3: Suggestions for the AAC?  Specifics/recommendations/what would you say to the AAC?

The OCA does have a Statute, and it needs to be reinforced at the AAC.  If it is out of date, we need to change it, and follow it. We need to do a better job at understanding what aspects of church life are governed by canon law and which by secular law.  We need the appropriate division of labor.

==

Fr. John Reeves read a second written statement (see comments section below).

==

I am a convert from Catholicism.  Any reports on the scandal should come out well in advance of the AAC or else the AAC is useless.  I am equating this current situation with a building that has a cracked foundation and all that has been done is spackling with bricks continued to be put on it, and that will not work, the foundation will give out.  Money limited going into central administration.  Trust and respect aren’t awarded, they are earned.  Once they are earned God’s blessing will once again flourish the OCA.

==

What I would like to tell the AAC, depends on 3 things happening before the council.  What are we as an autocephalous church?  We are the only Orthodox Church in this country that is autocephalous.  Other jurisdictions would be very happy if the OCA would die.  Just this week, Archbishop Lazar wrote that the OCA should disappear by this fall.  We’ve hardly talked about evangelization tonight, and we’re all missing that boat. The SIC report is due to be release on Sept. 3, 4, 5, and if truthful and complete and points out what went wrong, and why, and — like it or not — who was responsible and why they should not be in these positions again.  This report needs to be released without deletions by this date. Metropolitan Herman is a native son of this diocese but it must be clear that he has lost the trust of the people.  It has been shattered and his leadership has vanished. The Metropolitan Council last spring went into a private meeting and afterwards there was a motion asking him to retire, but was tabled by a priest.  If it had gone to a vote, it would have passed.  It seems that he can no longer lead and the people will no longer follow him. Bishop Tikhon is here tonight, yet its clear there are problems with the Synod being our Synod, specifically, problems with hiding things and silencing people and saying everything is fine.  The Synod needs an Aqua Velva moment.  Somehow they need to wake up.  The Synod needs to stand up like men at this point.  After Archbishop Job had left the Synod meeting the Synod voted a vote of confidence for the Metropolitan.  The Synod needs to wake up!  Randy Pausch died last week at the age of 47.  He made the news because he gave his “final lecture.”  “If I could only give 3 words of advice, they  would be ‘tell the truth’ –  3 more would be-  ‘all the time.’”  It seems that some of leaders do not know how to tell the truth.  If we don’t begin telling the truth, our problems will not be solved.

==

Something a little greater than the AAC, such as ordinations (in this area) are on hold because we don’t have a bishop.  I’ve never heard of this rule before.  Our Locum tenens are not able to focus as our Locum tenens for whatever reason.  We are the Church – we need to be the Church. The AAC must focus on the message of Jesus Christ.  It starts with our hierarchs.  We need to get over our paralysis.  This scandal has cost souls.  We need to put the focus back on the Gospel and be the Orthodox Church of North America.  Right now we are failing because we are too wrapped up in garbage.  Put the garbage back in the dumpster where it belongs.

==

Two things I learned from Archbishop Kyrill: 1. Who cares about your opinion?  2. Talk is cheap.  Words, words, words.  I am disappointed in the OCA.  As long as we believe it is God who handles things, and not us, it will be done.  We are assembled together as a Church because of God.  Fr. Schmemann’s saying, 2 no’s, and 1 yes.  Changing of whole culture.  Culture of mediocrity.  Mediocre attitude.  Priests not implementing Synod directives.  Nothing has happened since 2003. Why no new encyclicals from the Synod?  Right now, in this Diocese, all liturgies are invalid since they bear the name of a deceased hierarch.  I don’t believe that at this point the AAC is really able to accomplish what it needs to.

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I’m not sure that what needs to be done before the AAC will be held.  So it needs to be asked – should there even BE an AAC in November? If it must occur, there needs to be a sense that the AAC cannot follow the thinking of other Councils – i.e. a whole schedule of workshops.  First thing should be a “plenary workshop” – a chance to respond, and think as a Church.

==

If we do an AAC, we need to be passionate about feeding the hungry.  Let’s do something.  That’s why I want the money back. I don’t hate Long Island, but I hate long debt.  Let’s talk and evangelize.  Let’s be the one who does it.  Let’s do the work of the Church.

==

There is a saying “the path to hell is paved with the skulls of priests and bishops.”  There has been talk at other town halls about forgiveness.  We need to talk of condemnation.  Those who are fault, we must condemn their actions.  At the AAC, we must condemn those who were involved and throw them out.  Let them reap their just rewards then they may repent and ask us for our forgiveness.

==

I’ve been a parish priest for 35 years and a chaplain in healthcare for over 17.  If we don’t make a change in the AAC right now, I see the church as a person on the operating table connected to life support on its deathbed.  When the plug is pulled the body dies.  We are the body and Christ is the church.  What are we going to do at the AAC that will be a reviving shot in the arm for our Church?  We’re not fixing the problem. We’re not bringing people into the Church.  I’m afraid it’s going to be like all the other ones.  Everything was pushed through at the end and nothing was accomplished.  I look to the hierarchs of the Church to guide us with the Holy Spirit to guide us through this and keep the Church alive or else we will die.

==

I believe the AAC will be in session for 72 hours, and will be used wisely.  Make every hour worth it. There shouldn’t be a banquet, or, at least, some of the dinner ticket price should be put towards a charity – perhaps feeding the homeless.

==

Fr. Garklavs reminded us that we are bound by our statute to hold an AAC.  Some have trepidations about it and hope that it won’t happen, but it will happen.  The SIC report will be presented at the joint meeting in early September, and once it is presented it will be presented to the entire Church (likely via the website.)  No question about it being delayed. Many tonight did not speak, but are present.  We all love God and love the church.  We have different opinions, and it’s always been this way.  We are the Church that was founded on Pentecost.  In spite of our best efforts to mess things up the Church goes on.  We believe in the Church.  Those of us who work in Syosset believe in the Church.  Syosset is anything but luxurious.  It’s never black and white, we bear each others burdens.  We all believe in the hereafter.

Q4: Why is the OCA important?  Why is it important to you? Why is it important that it not die?

Mother Alexandra (Holy Transfiguration Monastery) wanted her monastery to be in the OCA and wanted it in English.  It is important to our monastery.  We are under Archbishop Nathaniel.  The Romanian Diocese is a great diocese, are we going to let it leave?  I think the OCA better make a counter offer.  Will you just let us leave?  Is anyone going to invite us to stay?

==

As a convert, we are the Orthodox Church in America and we are the best thing going.  We are the church Jesus Christ put in America.  We must be an American church for all ethnicities.  The Church should be welcoming.  Our departed bishops left a legacy.  If we are the Church, we need to be the Church.

==

I am not committed to the institutional survival of the OCA.  I belong to Christ’s jurisdiction.  OCA triumphalism needs to go away.  We have spent 40 years being anything but an autocephalous church.  We have not proved ourselves worthy of being autocephalous.  The Greeks laugh at us.  The Antiochians laugh at us.  Had we spent the last 40 years being autocephalous, we might have had scandals, but we would have handled them properly.  We haven’t been worthy.  Maybe we will be, but it has to be for the right reasons.  Were we baptized into a jurisdiction or a church?  Institutionalism will kill us.  We need to see it as a body of Christ and not a bureaucracy.  Stop treating yourself as a corporate expression.  The church is not committees.  The church is local.

(Fr. Garklavs’ response: we were not founded merely as an institution.  In my eyes, we are not an institution, but a Church, a Church with a history, it has structure, it was built up by real people, and today it exists because of visionary people who preceded us.  There has never been a church like the OCA in this country, or in history.)

==

I disagree with what has just been said.  We are an institution. Without it we would have no seminaries, we would have nothing.  We are not Protestant.  We function as a great big organism.  Not as separate churches.  Terrible sins have been committed but they will be forgiven not by you, not by me, but by God.

==

I love this Church – it saved my life. The only way I got better was when I was willing to be honest.  I love this church, born and raised in it.  We are trusted servants, we don’t govern.  Honesty, being open-minded and willing to change – this is how you are healed.  Each and everyday I pray that I can do God’s will.  We will recover.  We need to pray and put Christ at the center.  It has to be ‘we” not “me.”

==

It comes from within.  We have to look at who are becoming our priests.  We need more men who are self-sacrificing.  We need to get away from this attitude of entitlement and handouts.  We need to get back to handing this Church down from generation to generation.  It starts with the family unit, and we are the family.  People in parishes need to know that they are being prayed for and are loved. The small parishes, even with only 10 people, need to be attended to by dedicated priests like many we have now in our deanery who give up much.

==

I’m a recent convert from the Methodists.  I see the OCA as the only effective organization in Orthodoxy in America.  The young people of America don’t want to be evangelized by Russians or priests who don’t speak English.  They don’t understand Slavonic or Russian or Greek.  They understand English.

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The scandal has caused us to forget about what the OCA provides us.  You want to go to seminary?  The three major seminaries are all OCA.  They are funded as OCA.  Other jurisdictions use ours.  You take away the OCA, what happens to our seminaries?  Our monasteries?  St. Tikhon’s is the mother monastery in America. The Church in our land was brought here by Russian missionaries with their effort and love.  We are worried about the wrong stuff.  We need to focus.

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Closing comments by His Grace, Bishop TIKHON:  First, what a blessing it was for us to be here.  We should be thankful to God for this remarkable event.  I think this it is what’s good in our Church.  Our meeting tonight reminds me of life in the monastery.  To go back to the roots of our faith is a good thing!  We need to be willing to enter into the crucible that is the monastery. Life in a monastery is like rocks bumping up against each other; they smooth out the rough edges as they touch.  We need to reaffirm our desire to enter this Town Hall meeting and talk with each other, and even if we beat each other up we still love each other in the end. We in the Church are not like a forest – we’re one tree.  Christ will give us direction in our Church.  Tonight I offer repentance.  In order to get to Christ we need to become humble and sometimes we need to be  humiliated to become humble.  If you’re going through hell, keep going.  Why? Because we are going to Christ and the Resurrection.  We need to preserve hope in our hearts through prayer and love and repentance.  Through God’s wisdom and grace we will persevere.  We should bear each other’s burdens.  Let us pray and work together so that the Lord will remove our burdens.   I am hopeful for our Church.  I am a bishop of the Church and I am involved.  I take seriously the responsibility I have as an Orthodox bishop and as an Orthodox Christian.  Christ is with us.

Closing prayer – “It is Truly Meet”- at 11 PM.

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

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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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