Reflections On The Scandal
The Very Rev. Daniel Kovalak,
A pious, elderly widow on a fixed income is genuinely moved by the tragedy in Beslan Russia. But she will have to divert a portion of her medication costs to financially respond. She reaches for her depleted checkbook and, with arthritic fingers, signs her name to her humble offering. "It's a worthy sacrifice." As she now sits in her aged recliner watching Oprah, with a dozen pill bottles and piles of insurance papers close at hand, stand before her and say; "Sorry, but your donation went to pay a lawyer."
A life-long Orthodox Christian, conscientious parish leader, and generous benefactor of the Church on every level tearfully enters the parish office. "When my father was once counting the collection, a penny fell on the floor and someone said "let it be." "NO", said my father, "pick it up. It's the church's money and must be counted!" This distraught soul now painfully reviews reports of exorbitant spending, flagrantly-diverted charity funds and missing endowments.
In response to disasters, faithful pastors dutifully hold special services, publish articles, prepare sermons and Sunday School lessons, plan, organize, publicize, advertise and execute fund-raising activities and concerts. They involve parish youth (future parish council members!) in muffin sales, car washes, bowl-a-thons and pasta dinners to raise money. They imperatively beg the faithful to generously respond and invite their neighbors to do likewise; not through dubious, secular agencies but through the trustworthy vehicle of "the Church." Their inspired success in applying the Gospel incites a rare pastoral joy as they direct their prudent, volunteer parish treasurers to transmit the financial fruits of their labors to "headquarters." Now, look at these hard-working (generally underpaid) shepherds and the precious souls of their respective flocks and say: "Sorry, but the funds generated by your laudable efforts were used to pay finance charges on a line of credit."
These are the drawn, distressed and defeated faces of the deceived.
Widening the scope, could it not be argued that those orphans, widows, seminarians, missions, victims of terrorism and tragedy, needy clergy and laity, who were the intended recipients of diverted funds -- hopefully anticipating the charity of Christ through His Church -- are also among the deceived?
"We've made some mistakes but "Best Practices" (as if the Church should need them!) will assure they're not repeated. We've launched an investigation and hired auditors and lawyers to discern the truth and prepare us for anticipated regulatory litigations. We've put our (your!) property at risk by taking a colossal loan to satisfy old debts and restore admittedly-diverted funds to their intended use." "Oh, and by the way, we sincerely regret that your "fair share" contributions to "fulfill the vision of the Church" and "reach the world for Christ" will, for the foreseeable future, ostensibly be used to pay these escalating debts. Sorry!"
This brings little consolation to the faces of the deceived.
We show only our miserable faithlessness in believing that any Synod, Council, canon, committee, investigation or report, alone, can repair our brokenness; that resolutions demanding leadership to "adhere to the statutes" appear to trump our collective resolve to adhere to the Holy Gospel. This is what must change!
The fact is only Jesus Christ -- THE Head of the Church -- can begin to heal the profound wounds we have allowed to be inflicted upon "the members of His Body." Only He can restore the integrity and beauty to His Bride that we, in knowledge or in ignorance, have defiled. Only He can, if He so wills, ADD to this Church that we appear intent on subtracting from. And as only He can judge the good intentions of giving hearts, He alone will judge our "just stewardship" (cf Luke 16) and our corporate love -- or lack of it! -- toward those who, in His Name, have been egregiously deceived.
"...as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me."