I can’t resist posting on this, although I should be writing my patristics paper. I am not in the OCA (Orthodox Church of America), yet I attend and OCA seminary. And the OCA is the only autocephalous (that is completely independant) Orthodox Church in America, so is key to our getting this jurisdictional mess we find ourselves in resolved eventually, God so willing.
From those I know who attend the council, it seems clear that the whole direction of the OCA shifted in one evening, with the giving of on speech. I list here for you, both the audio of that text:
Bishop Jonah’s Speech on the Second Evening of the 15th All American Council
On the first day of the 15th All American Council, delegates were asked to form groups and formulate questions that would be compiled by the Pre-Conciliar Commission and presented to the Synod of Bishops for public response. By the second evening there had been no response from the Synod of Bishops, and a concerned priest approached the microphone and inquired about the lack of response. Bishop Nikon, Chair of the Preconciliar Commission, responded that the Preconciliar Commission compiled the list of questions in a meeting where he was not present (and further, that the Holy Synod had not officially received the questions for review) and so the Holy Synod was not prepared to respond. There was a noticeable negative response by many delegates to Bishop Nikon’s statement, and so the Synod of Bishops convened for a short discussion of the matter. Immediately after the Synod’s discussion, Bishop Jonah of Fr. Worth rose and offered the following words.
Christ is in our midst!
One of the reasons the Holy Synod wanted to postpone the answering of these questions was in order to give it more serious consideration and so that we could come up with a conciliar answer to these questions. But part of that discussion that we had was that I would try and set out some theological principles which underlie these questions so that we can look at them together, and consider what we are doing together as the body of Christ in America according to the calling that we have been given – according to that calling that we have been given to be the very presence of the one Holy Catholic Church in America, constituted by the gospel, constituted by our faith, constituted by the canons of the holy fathers, the traditions of the holy fathers that have been given to us and all of those traditions that have been passed down to us.
Because ultimately, what I see in many of these questions (and from the results of the town hall meetings) is a plea from the Church for teaching, to be taught. What is the ecclesiology of the Church and how the Church is supposed to operate? Who are we, and what are we trying to do? We have to be able to separate what is going on in the Orthodox Church in America according to the canons and the traditions and the statute from a lot of the preconceptions that float around in our culture about how organizations operate. A lot of the very notions are distinct.
We are a hierarchical Church, but what does that mean? I think history has given to us an inheritance where hierarchy has been completely confused with imperial aristocracy. Sometimes some of our bishops, Bishop Benjamin in particular, like to joke about it. You know, what happens to a guy – you put him on a stand in the middle of the Church, you dress him up like the Byzantine emperor and you tell him to live forever. You know, as Americans. And I would assert first and foremost as Orthodox Christians, our leadership, the leadership of the Church, that element that comes from above is the divine element, but the leadership that is within the Church, the leadership of bishops in the dioceses, of the Metropolitan among the Synod (because, what is the Metropolitan, he is the chairman of the Synod), the leadership of a parish priest in his parish – if you sit there and you lord it over your parishioners that, “I am the priest, and I can do whatever I want, and I can spend the money however I want without accountability,” you’re not going to go very far. And in fact you are likely to get thrown out because you will get into all sorts of problems. I think that form of leadership is over.
That form of leadership is over, obviously, as you all know within the parishes. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in a monastery where I have been for the past 12 years. It doesn’t work, obviously, on the diocesan or the national level.
Our leadership is leadership from within. Underlying this is the central theological principle that is in every aspect of our theology. It underlies our soteriology. It underlies our Christology. It underlies our ecclesiology. That is the principle, in the word of St. Paul, of synergy, of cooperation. And it has to be a voluntary cooperation. And obedience within that context is not some guy who can lord it over you and make you do what he wants you to, and you’re going to get in trouble, one way or another. Obedience is cooperation out of love and respect.
Monasticism is the sacrament of obedience. You see what it is incarnate when you experience the communion of a brotherhood with its spiritual father in a spirit of love and respect; everything goes smoothly. And, boys will be boys. You know? But everything goes smoothly. What happens when that love and that respect break down, when passions enter into it, when jealously comes in, or anger, or bitterness, or resentment or revenge? It all breaks down.
On a broader level, our whole life in this Church together is a life of synergy, a life of voluntary cooperation, a life of obedience to Jesus Christ and to the gospel. If it is not about obedience to Jesus Christ and the gospel, what are we doing here? What are we doing here? The gospel has to be first and foremost above every other consideration, and it is the canon by which we measure ourselves. So, when we look at our ecclesiology, when we look to see what the Church is and what the Church can be, it is always in that process of becoming. It is always in the process of entering into that Divine synergy which is nothing else than the very process of our deification, together as one body, with one spirit, with one heart, with one mind. And it is a mutual decision to cut off our own will, to cut off our own selfishness, to cut off our own ideas, to enter into that living synergy which is communion. Otherwise our Eucharist is a sham, and we are alienated from Christ if we are not at peace with one another.
Now that does not mean that we cannot work out our disagreement. God knows, and as Orthodox, we love to fight, right? But we need to work it out so that we can enter into that living experience of communion in cooperation and mutual obedience and mutual submission in love and mutual respect.
Now, with this as our basic principle, how do we look at some of these questions? There are several that I cannot address. I have been consecrated as a bishop for what, 10 days? I am rather new to this august group of bishops, each one of whom I profoundly respect – profoundly respect. I see each one in their own uniqueness, each one with the gifts that they have to offer. Thank God for that.
So, the first question, it rather follows from what is a communion in love and respect trying to work toward synergy, a culture of intimidation is alien to Christ. Unfortunately this has been something that has prevailed in certain sectors and still prevails in certain sectors of the Orthodox Church. And this demon needs to be exorcised. Intimidation, fear is never appropriate. Now, that doesn’t mean that you are not going to get a rebuke, because what father doesn’t, out of love, rebuke his children? Even the scriptures say so. God chastises those whom he loves. But for our life in the Church to be controlled by fear and intimidation - and I had plenty of it, I had more than I even want to think about, and I resolved that never, ever would I allow myself to fall into such a thing because power corrupts. And that power needs to be renounced, because it is only in our powerlessness it is only in our weakness that we can allow ourselves to become vessels for Jesus Christ, the ultimate image of whom is the ultimate in weakness surrendered dead upon the cross.
We need to be able to speak our minds. But we need to do so in a sober way. Sobriety is not just about the use of substances. Sobriety is sobriety in regards to the passions – anger, bitterness, resentment, vengeance – it is all selfish passions. And whenever we are possessed by those passions we need to sit down and shut up because all we are doing is sinning and compounding our sin by the words that come out of our mouths.
It is so important for us to keep watch over ourselves, to keep watch over our words and to keep watch over our thoughts. Because if we are possessed by anger, by judgment of someone who has sinned (Have they sinned? Obviously. Do you sin? Obviously. How can you judge?), it is the same kind of hypocrisy that St. Paul condemned.
The elder who founded the hermitage in Point Reyes, Fr. Dimitri Igoroff of blessed memory, had a saying which I think is of the greatest value to us as a fundamental spiritual principle, “You must mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within yourself.” Mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within yourself. If we can do this as a community, the gospel of Jesus Christ will shine through us.
The SIC Report if you look at it in a certain way basically said that the last two metropolitans were corrupt, that they had abrogated their responsibility of leadership on all levels. So is it a wonder why the Synod, being leaderless, would not function as well as it should ( Is it a wonder?) because of the culture that only a few knew about, of fear and intimidation, which operated within the walls of the chancery in Syosset, a culture which was fundamentally sick. And that has been removed, thank God. Thank God.
And so, the bishops attended to their dioceses. And I think we all know how much, in each diocese, we love, and care [for] and respect our bishop. The problem is not in the dioceses, it is not in the parishes, the problem was in Syosset. The problem was in the chancery. And because of that absolute vacuum of leadership in a sick dysfunctional situation, the Church was looted. It was an expensive lesson – a very expensive lesson.
And I don’t think that in any way, shape or form, the next Metropolitan who will be elected from among this group of men is going to in any way shape or form let down the confidence of the Church if he knows that we are operating in an atmosphere of love, of respect and of hope. If we can build that community of love and respect, seeing how our passions have distracted us from that living communion with God and have turned us against one another have created all sorts of hostility between, well we just saw it, between the body of the All American Council and the Synod of Bishops (I heard “boos.” Right?) , between the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council – talk about a sick, dysfunctional situation (Why? … because our passions have gone awry).
Yes, we were betrayed. Yes, we were raped. It’s over. It’s over. Let it be in the past so that we can heal.
When we maintain resentments in our souls, and it doesn’t matter whether it is on an interpersonal level, it doesn’t matter whether it is in a parish, within a family, between friends or within the Church on the largest level, when we maintain resentment within our soul it is a cancer that will eat away our soul and destroy us as persons. And it will destroy the community that we have with those other persons. And who do we resent the most but the people that we love the most.
And so, what is the essence of the gospel? It is repentance and forgiveness. And what is that repentance, it is to see that these things have become distractions for us, that they have become ends in themselves, and that we have lost sight of God and to turn back to God. Repentance also means conversion. It means transformation of the mind. And that is a constant process for every single committed Christian. It is a constant process that we have to engage in both personally and corporately. And when we engage in that process we have to confront the anger and the bitterness and the hurts and the pain and the resentment that we have born within us as reactions against the people that have hurt us.
And by forgiving we are not excusing the action. We are not saying that Kondratik was right to loot the Church. We are not saying that Metropolitan Theodosius was right to abdicate all of his responsibility to the bottle … or whatever. We are not justifying anything. What we are saying is, “My reaction is destroying me, and I need to stop it. If I value Jesus Christ and the gospel and communion with God I need to stop it and move on.”
The Holy Synod needs a chance to function normally with a leader who is engaged, who is not drunk, who is not preoccupied, with somebody who is engaged in building that synergy and building that communion. It is not just about that particular Metropolitan or that particular leader, it is about every single one of us. And you, all of you here, you are the leaders of the Church. Every priest here has probably dozens or hundreds of people who look to you, and your authority is based, is founded, on that responsibility to convey the gospel, to convey the message of Christ 95% by your actions and your attitudes and 5% by your words.
Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability. It is not power.
So, we look at some of these questions. Was the Holy Synod leaderless? Yes. For thirty years, thirty years, Metropolitan Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius … we need to give them [the Holy Synod] a chance with the full, complete, voluntary, willful support of the Church. Let them, and help them, bear their responsibility so that you can bear your responsibility.
Hierarchy is only about responsibility. It is not all this imperial nonsense. Thank God we are Americans and we have cast that off. We don’t need foreign despots. We are the only non-state Orthodox Church. In other words, we are the only Church that does not exist under the thumb of a state – either friendly or hostile. So, the Church is our responsibility personally and collectively, individually and corporately. What are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with your part of that responsibility?
Maybe you haven’t been entrusted with the leadership of a parish. Maybe you are not a priest. Maybe you think, “Oh, I am just a housewife.” What incredible responsibility you have to your children, to your friends, to your neighbors, to the parish. What incredible responsibility to bear witness to Jesus Christ by how you love and respect one another.
If you are a priest, think of the responsibility that you bear as the spiritual father for your parishioners.
One of the hardest things that happened in my ministry was the death of a 22 year old brother. Who happened to decide to go out river rafting in the spring thaw thinking, as any 22 year old would, that he was immortal. As his spiritual father, I knew the sacrament, this mystery of spiritual fatherhood, after his death I knew that I was standing before God with him pleading for his soul.
As priests, you have the same responsibility. To stand at the Last Judgment before the throne of God with those whom God has entrusted to you. It is an awesome thing. And, as bishops – think of that responsibility. We need to come together in love and respect, to be willing to put aside the anger and the bitterness, and show love for one another, show respect for one another, to recognize the awesome responsibility of those who will give account for your souls.
We will stand before God for you at the last judgment, whether it is your personal last judgment or the general one. This is the Scriptures. And this is the reality of the great mystery of our union in Christ.
How do we reestablish trust? There is only one way. It is to choose to love. It is the only way. There is no other way. There is no organizational method, no kind of business practices we can invoke, no corporate ideologies, none of that. If we are Christians, we have the choice. Do we choose to enter into the love of Jesus Christ for one another, including our hierarchs, including our priests, including those who have betrayed us, including those who have failed us miserably, including those whom we judge and criticize all to our own damnation – we have to choose to love; we have to choose to forgive. And this is the only way if we are Christians.
Now, we could have a nice organization, but who cares? Who cares? You know, we could have all the nice rituals, but to quote Fr. Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory, “Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that we could have nice rituals.” It is not about religion. It is about our souls. It is about our salvation. It is about our life – our life as one body, united by the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ sharing his own relationship with the Father. If we choose that, everything will be clear. If we choose the other, things may be clear, too, organizationally, but our salvation is forfeit.
So, I think I have addressed most of the questions on here. Please forgive me.
Upon completion of this speech, the delegates rose for an extended standing ovation (the first of the Council), and there was a dramatic change in tenor of the entire Council. The following morning Bishop Johan presided at a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, and he was subsequently elected as Metropolitan at the session immediately following the liturgy (receiving the most votes in the first ballot and a substantially higher number of votes in the second ballot).