Reflections On The Scandal
MY MOTHER IS SICK
Fr. John Dresko: Syosset New York
Imagine, if you will, that you and your brothers and sisters are called by your father one day and told that your mother is sick — very sick. She had been looking, feeling, and acting poorly for some time and finally went for a check up. The doctor decided to run some tests (over her objections) and the diagnosis came back. She has cancer of the lung and cirrhosis of the liver.
You and your brothers and sisters are not surprised. After all, you all had been hinting, then prodding, and finally nagging her to quit smoking and drinking for over twenty years. You knew that her lifestyle would catch up to her and that day has come. So you go to the hospital, and you stand at her hospital bed with tears in your eyes. She is really sick. You hope and pray that something can be done.
The doctor comes up to all of you and tells you that there are two choices:
You can authorize treatment to start, and the prognosis will be good. But it will take diligence, money, specialists and a daily effort to watch over your mother’s lifestyle. If she starts smoking and drinking again, then there is no hope. But above all, it will take time, because a lifetime of hard living is not turned around overnight and the effects of all that hard living will be mitigated only with lengthy and painful treatment.
You can stand here at the bedside, scream at your mother for her awful lifestyle, throw the doctor, nurses and technicians out of the room, refuse to pay their bills, and watch her die.
How many of us are willing to admit that we would be small enough, callous enough, and hard-hearted enough to just choose to watch our mothers die? I’m not.
How many of us are willing to admit that we would watch her die and then just remember that it was “her own fault” and she got what she deserved? I’m not.
How many of us are willing to admit that we would feel justified before Christ in our holiness in condemning that awful woman for her lifestyle? I’m not.
How many of us would turn to the doctor and say, “Please, doctor, she’s my mother. Do everything you can do to save her. I don’t care what it costs. She’s my mother. Please.” I like to think that I would. I believe that most people would.
The Mother in this story, of course, is our beloved Orthodox Church in America. One does not have to be a doctor to see that our Mother is very ill indeed. Much of her illness is her own fault. Some was hard living, some was an unwillingness to exercise and get in better shape, and some was an inability to recognize the sickness setting in and take preventive measures. None of that, however, changes the fact that she is our Mother.
What has been going on the past few months with our beloved Mother is nothing less than matricide. It is so easy to look around during these election season times and see all sorts of catchy little phrases that politicians use and hope we remember. “Don’t blame me. I voted for Kerry….” But ultimately they are trite and an insult to our intelligence.
Such a catchy little phrase is “Are the allegations true or false?” Such a clever question. It has become an effective rallying cry. But when asked again and again even though an investigation is ongoing, it becomes truly explosive and destructive, with no true good at its heart. Why? Because there is no definitive answer, at least at this time. This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?
I have seen a brother priest reflect that “The charges had not been investigated, and the charges were not false.” (Reflection of Fr Chris Wojcik) Whether or not the Holy Synod had actually investigated “the charges”, I have no idea. But I DO know that no one knows yet if “the charges” are true, because the investigation is not complete, at least to my knowledge. Such inflammatory language! Fr Chris also goes on to say, “Extortion has not only been tolerated but rewarded by reappointments of the perpetrators to high-ranking positions.” What extortion? What toleration? Who is the extortionist and to what high-ranking office has he/she been appointed? There is plenty of gossip and speculation about all of it, but what are the facts? Never mind that it is not Christian to slander another human being in this way without proof (heck, even with proof) and without going to him one on one, but it is borderline legal slander. Being “free men and women in speech” does not excuse anyone from “speaking the truth in love.” This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?
A reproduced memo of the recollections of someone about a meeting is not a “fact.” It is an opinion, an observation, a charge — one that must be investigated, to be sure. But it is not a fact. It is the recollection of one person against the recollections of others. To anyone who tests every spirit and word, it could also possibly be seen as a very clever fabrication to cover up one’s own misdeeds. Everything seems laced with expressions like, “My understanding is…,” “I’ve heard that…,” “Reliable sources say…”. This is acceptable Christian discourse? If true, then there should be consequences. But only if proven true. If false, there should also be consequences.
Serious criticisms have been leveled at the leaders of the Church: that the Statute has been disregarded. That the Metropolitan Council has been circumvented. That the All-American Council “really” wanted a different candidate for Metropolitan and that was circumvented, when it is the “highest legislative body” in the OCA. That a new and very quick All-American Council must be convened to speak on this matter! All of these criticisms can be seen as reasonable and defended very easily.
But does no one see the irony that the very same people voicing these criticisms and outrages want to circumvent the All-American Council by withholding Fair Share, which was a decision of the All-American Council to fund the basic day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts administration of the Church? The Metropolitan Council is given the statutory responsibility to establish the operating budget and to collect funds in the manner prescribed by the All-American Council. So it is OK for us to circumvent the All-American Council, the Statute and the Metropolitan Council when it suits our purposes, but not for the purposes of the nefarious “others.” This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?
I was visiting a dear friend (yes, in the Midwest) a couple of weeks ago and he very passionately told me that God was purging our Church because of our sins. I bought it for a while because it sounded “scriptural.” But the more I think about it, the more I realize how wrong my friend actually was. God is not purging our Church — He is testing it. And we have failed the test on both sides of the questions. He doesn’t want anyone “purged.” Purified, perhaps. But not “purged.” Those entrusted with the central administration of the Church (and we do need a central administration) have failed to exercise proper care over the gifts given for various purposes. But those who rabidly seek vengeance and judge and slander every single person with whom they disagree also have failed the test. There is more than enough room for repentance on both sides.
I ask my brother priests — If this type of situation occurred in your parish, would you encourage the type of comments you have been making publicly? Would you want anyone who made mistakes in the administration of your parish to be held up to public scorn and commentary? Would you encourage your parishioners to shun that person or to receive him in love and forgiveness? More importantly, which approach would best serve your local expression of the Body of Christ? Which approach would build up the Church? Which approach would heal our Mother?
Irony Upon Irony
I happened upon another reflection, by one of the “senior respected priests” of the OCA. He said:
“…there will have to be the recognition of the almost universal suspicion that virtually every institution and department of the OCA has been violated by dishonesty and duplicity. In every institution and department of the OCA those entrusted to positions of authority, responsibility and accountability have fostered dishonesty and duplicity.” (Fr. John Nehrebecki)
Fr. John, a priest I have known and respected since I was a teenage seminarian, has stated that every institution and department of the OCA cannot be trusted at all. St. Vladimir’s Seminary, St. Tikhon’s Seminary, St. Herman’s Seminary, Ss. Cosmas and Damian Adult Home, all the monasteries of the Church, any other institution — all of them — are rife with dishonesty and duplicity. Now we must not only withhold our Fair Share, but even our charitable donations to any other entity of the Orthodox Church in America? This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?
He has also stated that anyone entrusted to positions of authority in those institutions and all the departments of the Church have fostered this dishonesty and duplicity. The irony here, of course, is that such charges can be leveled against another presbyter in such a public manner when the canons are clear that a presbyter must be accused by two or three witnesses of good repute. I am a presbyter. Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky is a presbyter. Fr. Eugene Vansuch is a presbyter. Fr. John Matusiak is a presbyter. Fr. Gregory Safchuk is a presbyter. Fr. Chad Hatfield is a presbyter. Fr. Eric Tosi is a presbyter. Fr. Steven Voytovich is a presbyter. Fr. Theodore Boback is a presbyter. Fr. Andrew Morbey is a presbyter. Fr. Michael Westerberg is a presbyter. Fr. John Breck is a presbyter. Fr. John Erickson is a presbyter. Fr. Michael Dahulich is a presbyter. His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill, is a bishop. His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri, is a bishop. His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, is a bishop. His Grace, Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald), is a bishop. His Grace, Bishop Seraphim, is a bishop. On top of those mentioned, there are other lay leaders and 277 volunteers who do the work of the departments, boards and commissions.
ALL of the presbyters and bishops mentioned (including me) chair a department, board or commission. Some head institutions. I will go on record, speaking for every single one of them, in saying before God and anyone reading this, that we are not dishonest and duplicitous. I demand two or three reputable witnesses to testify against me. Furthermore, it demeans the dignity of the priesthood to air such a reckless and sweeping charge. Ironic that it also violates the canons. I will not ask for an apology, because I know one is not forthcoming. This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?
It is so easy to sit at a keyboard and solve the problems of the world and the Church. It is so much more difficult to actually govern and face the questions that those in administration face. Gregg Nescott has been very loquacious in his analysis of the current state of affairs. He has even misrepresented the development of the Fair Share program and slandered my name and intentions in the desire to build his case before the eyes of the internet crowd. He has become a hero for his “courageous” stand. But when push came to shove, he quit the Metropolitan Council rather than stay and do the heavy lifting of change. So much easier to comment from afar and behind a screen than to face people with their faults and failings, but also with their virtues and personalities. He is not the only one, nor is such a cowardly approach limited to laymen alone.
Two women on the Metropolitan Council, basically vilified to one extent or another by both sides in this issue, at least have the courage, strength, brass and commitment to stay and work despite obstacles and difficult sledding. They are heroes in my eyes — not because I agree with everything they have said and done (or even anything necessarily), but because they had the courage of their convictions to fight and not hide behind a keyboard. May God bless them! Would that we had more leaders like them.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to all the difficulties and problems our Church faces at this juncture in our history. I know that asking “This builds up our Church? This heals our Mother?” can be seen as just the type of trite catch phrase that I criticized above. I hope it isn’t. I hope it is a ruler with which to measure our comments and actions.
Some have heard my analogy of the current state of affairs to the sick mother. They have told me that the problem is that the doctors are guilty of malpractice and need to be replaced. That question is not my intent to address in this reflection, but it certainly may be true. The fact is, however, that we are who we are at this moment. So how can we move the Church forward?
People don’t like to agree with or even consider the fact that part of the problem with the whole systemic difficulties of the administration of the Church is that it has never, not once in its entire history, been adequately funded. The OCA has never been supported properly by its faithful and as a result good people trying to do good work get tempted to cut corners. Every one of your parishes does it, also. If we were tithing and supporting the Church the way Christ commanded us to care for it, we would have been meeting about how to spend the excess (Mission? Food pantry? Elderly care? Etc.). Instead, the discussion often became, “Which bill do we pay, leaving the others until the fair share comes in?”
Besides the steps already taken in making financial administration more secure, living within our budget, praying and fasting, what can we do? We need to wait and see what happens with the investigation, the Metropolitan Council meeting, and the Holy Synod meeting. In my opinion, the most important need is that we need less silence from above and more silence from below. The heat and volume need to be turned down from those hurt and offended, and the forthrightness and openness from the administration needs to be increased (I know that some would say it needs to be “started” period).
The administration has done a very poor job of making the finances transparent and publicly posted. That will change and the change will help. But I know what won’t help:
The callous destruction of human beings. Two people whom I love and admire have been destroyed and held up to public ridicule and gossip. People debate the most intimate details of their lives publicly with no shame. One has lost his job with no verifiable charges made public. Many have decided he is a crook. That goes against every experience I have ever had with him. I have seen desperate clergy come to him for assistance and receive it. Some then actually slander him or do not defend him when others do so.
The constant hashing and rehashing of the “scandal.” I work at the chancery and I do not know what happened or didn’t happen. I believe no one, even former treasurers and editors of web sites, knows exactly what did or didn’t happen. This is spiritual voyeurism, it is not edifying, and the fathers warn against it.
The withholding of Fair Share commitments. This will destroy the Church and prevent any change. It will not “get someone’s attention.” It will not “teach them a lesson.” It will only harm the Church. It also makes every conspirator in such an action (including diocesan bishops who allow it) no better than those whom they criticize in circumventing the Statute and decisions of the All-American Council. Since August 2005, every single donated penny, restricted and unrestricted, is where it is supposed to be. Although I don’t agree with it, I can understand the voluntary withholding of donations beyond Fair Share pending further developments. But the Fair Share is a basic obligation of those who participate. Your representatives to the All-American Council were inspired and voted to pass it. The fact that probably 10-20% of the actual OCA supports the administration of the Church is a different problem that does not relieve us of our own obligations. God grant that we reach a day and spiritual maturity when we can fund the Church voluntarily!
The passionate and venomous disrespect and public crucifixion of anyone with whom we disagree. The mob mentality fueled by this web site and other “forums” lead us to type and hit send before our brains and hearts engage. It harms souls and leads others to temptation.
I have worked full-time at the chancery only since January. I believe my lifetime of work in the Church speaks for itself and gives me the voice to say what I am saying. Those who know me well will, I believe, at least attest to my honesty, if not my wisdom and direction. There are those of you who will discount anything (everything?) I say because I work for “them.” Those of us who work at the chancery have become accustomed to being greeted by the villagers with pitchforks and torches at the town border. But it’s not fair. And it’s not true.
Fr. Chris Wojcik stated that our Church is “pathetic.” I agree. But not for the reasons that Fr. Chris believes. My Mother — the Mother who I have loved and cared for, who I have nourished and been nourished by, who is the source of my life and has given me the possibility of life eternal in the Son of God — is very sick indeed. Perhaps unto death. But many of her adored children are standing at the bedside poking her with sticks and relishing the chance to pull the plug.
And that’s sad.
Fr. John Dresko
Director of Development and Stewardship
Orthodox Church in America