Reflections On The Scandal
Mr. John Lickwar
Clearly the opportunity for renewal comes to us while current circumstances within our church have forced needed changes in our administration. These changes prompt a look into the internal struggle for churchly leadership, fruitful interaction among the people of God and genuine personhood.
There is a natural inclination on our part to make things better by changing our surroundings and in effect, our environment. Currently our Metropolitan and Holy Synod have acquiesced to audit requests, but are reluctant to disclose all findings. Many thank Protodeacon Eric Wheeler for persistently requesting audits – while others blame him, as if his requests were the problem.
Our Chancellor, Fr. Robert Kondratick has been terminated and the position he occupied still remains vacant. Our church's administrative culture is being transitioned from "personality driven" to "system driven". Our Metropolitan Council has been displaced and is no longer the totem of the OCA it once was. Our mounting debts wait to be paid, pending the acquisition of a loan for which our faithful cringe at the words "personal liability". Truly unknown to the faithful are the potential possibilities for criminal indictments and prosecution of church members...
These are the issues which occupy our lives and require handling with a personalization of a new and right Spirit, like that of the repentant David.
As ludicrous as it may sound, some admirably calling for the truth to be told, now stand face to face with others broadly propagandizing on the current scandal in our church: a real feeding frenzy of one on the other. I doubt whether anyone would admit openly to the down side of this propaganda and its scudded delivery – any more than the scandalous handling of money. Our handling of information via this website and our church's own website, no matter how poised and poignant it's delivery, in the end is either going to destroy us or strengthen us!
It is not enough to hear of truth or deception, to comment on it and hope someone will hear you. It is certainly not enough to cover externally all the legal bases, only to shut out a responsible and collective internal look at our Church's expectation for its leaders. It is certainly not enough to change business cultures from "personality" driven to "systems" driven without seriously considering the possible consequences of dehumanizing the image of our leaders, including the appointment of future seminary deans.
It is difficult to voice genuine concern with clarity.
Our current scandal clearly tells us of confusion, mistrust, misdeeds and resulting disunity among the people of God; in short, the fallen state of man. I would liken our current state of affairs to an auto accident, a collision of conflicting actions and ideologies. We are the causalities, damaged goods, which cannot speak or work together, suffering the wounds of conflict.
While business must be handled, we are not exempt from changing our perspective, looking to what the Church says about herself and the life she calls us to. For this reason I have included passages from Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book, "Church World Mission". His chapter on "Freedom in the Church" is nothing more than a reminder to follow our Tradition:
"The churches come together and fulfill themselves as One Church in and through the unity of bishops. 'Episcopatus unus est', and the supreme power in the Church belong to the bishops. This truth needs no elaboration for the whole Tradition supports it. The only point which indeed needs elucidation is the modern trend to include priests and laity in the "supreme authority" of the Church, to make not bishops' councils but the council of bishops, priests and laity the organ of that authority.
The fundamental danger of this trend is that, by undermining and confusing the hierarchial principle, it undermines at the same time the genuine conciliarity of the Church. If, as we try to show, hierarchy is the very form and condition of conciliarity, it really belongs to the bishops to express the whole life of the Church, to be the true representatives of her fullness. The actual structure of our clergy-laity councils, however, creates the impression that each "order" of the Church has its specific “interest", so that the laity, for example, has needs and interests different from, if not opposed to, those of the clergy. Clergy become representatives of clergy, and laity those of the laity. But then the "conciliarity" of the Church simply ceases to exist and is replaced by a “balance of power" which results too often in constant frustration for both clergy and laity.
In fact, however, it is the very essence and purpose of the clergy to express and to fulfill the real “interests” and needs not of the “laity” as opposed to clergy, but of the Laos – the People of God, the Church of Christ. No one in the Church has interests or needs different from those of the Church herself, for it is the very life of the Church to unite all of us in grace and truth. If the true conciliarity of which we speak here is restored on each level of the Church, if every member of the Church fully participates in her life according to his calling, gifts and position, if, in other words, the Church is fully and truly council in all her manifestations, there is simply no need for anything else as the ultimate expression of this council but the council of bishops – the very image and fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. This does not mean that the council of bishops has to be a secret, closed meeting of “executives.” It can and must be open to the participation, advice, interest and comments of the whole Church. “Public opinion” in its truly Christian form – as concern for the Church, as an active interest in her life, as free discussion of her problems, as initiative – is another and most welcome form of “conciliarity,” and the fear of it, the tendency of our hierarchy to act by means of faits accomplis, without any previous discussion of ecclesiastical matters with the body of the Church, is indeed a dangerous tendency, a misunderstanding of the true nature of power in the Church. The Church is hierarchical because it is conciliar. It fulfills itself as “council” by being hierarchical. This fundamental truth is the starting point for a truly Orthodox theology of councils.” (pgs. 177, 178)
Maybe this is an over simplification, but if we know who we are and what we are supposed to do, then why do we shut each other out in doing the business of the church? Why do our hierarchs want to put off the next All-American Council?
Fr. Schmemann tells us replacing conciliarity with a "balance of power" results in frustration for both clergy and laity. While this statement hits the nail on the head, today we might even say it is an understatement for our current situation. Our central church administration’s new system means a new order. This new order aims to bring continuity, regardless of the personalities who will come and go. Instead should not our first priority be resisting the urge to depersonalize ourselves and the gift from God of our humanity? Change can be far reaching. While I understand our central church administration wants to avoid future scandals and therefore be system driven, to me it seems we are exchanging one battle ground for another, personality for system. Are we really fighting the good fight or rather the right fight? Does the Holy Spirit inhabit the system or the person? Did Christ come to save the system or the person?
Father Schmemann continues:
“My first question concerns precisely the foundation of the problem, as it is reflected even in the title given to this paper: “Freedom in the Church.” One is immediately struck by the dichotomy implied in this formulation which the preposition in indicated, suggesting that freedom and Church are two different concepts, which are if possible, to be brought together, but which even when coordinated and reconciled remain distinct from one another. The ways and methods of this “coordination” may in turn differ, depending on whether one puts emphasis on freedom or on the Church. One may, while asking for more freedom, still subordinate it to the Church, and one may, while accepting the Church, still subordinate it to freedom. In both cases, however freedom and the Church are thought of and remain two distinct concepts and the problem consists in finding the best mode of their “correlation” and “interplay.” And such has been up to now at least, the Western formulation of the problem in its two main religious expressions: the Catholic (emphasis on the Church) and the Protestant (emphasis on freedom). But perhaps the first task of a theological investigation of freedom in the Church is precisely to challenge and to revise the very presuppositions on which this formulation is based.
Are they not the result of a development – spiritual, theological and ecclesiastical – in which freedom has come to be understood and defined mainly, if not exclusively, in terms of authority, in which, in other terms, freedom and authority appear to “ground” each other as two necessary poles of an essential dichotomy? Freedom here is the relation to an authority, and its definition and even experience depend ultimately on the definition of a corresponding authority, for without this authority freedom becomes a meaningless vacuum. Given a specific “authority,” how much “freedom” does it allocate to those who are under it? – such, in an oversimplified form, seems to be the ultimate question. And whether this freedom is defined as freedom from (power, control, guidance, authoritative pronouncements) or as freedom to (express oneself, theologize, act, etc.) it still remains dependent on, and ultimately subordinated to, the concept and the definition of authority.
But it is this very subordination, this very dichotomy that in my opinion must be questioned and rejected if we are to see the real problem of freedom and Church. And it must be rejected because in fact it is a self-destructive dichotomy. Pushed to its logical conclusions, it simply annihilates the two concepts which it claims to “ground” and to define. And if the institutional Church is slow to realize it, and is still dreaming of an optimistic compromise in which some reasonable freedom will not threaten and undermine some reasonable authority, provided the spheres of each are authoritatively defined, the tragic dialectic of freedom, which constitutes the real spiritual itinerary of the so-called Christian world and which is incapably rooted in the tragedy of freedom within the Church, is here to denounce this dream and to doom it in advance." (pgs.180, 181)
…In his essay ‘On the Western Confessions of Faith’ the great Russian lay theologian A. S. Komiakov wrote: “The Church is an authority, said Guizot in one of his remarkable works, while one of his adversaries, attacking him, simply repeated these words. Speaking in this way, neither one suspected how much untruth and blasphemy lay in the statement… No – the Church is not an authority, just as God is not an authority and Christ is not an authority, since authority is something external to us.”
For Khomiakov the initial tragedy of the West, transcending its internal schism, or rather provoking it, was the identification of the Church with something alien to her nature – an external and objective authority. It made inevitable a revolt against this authority, but the revolt remains necessarily within the framework of that which it negates – and resulted therefore in a simple replacement of one external authority with another.
“The Church inspired by God,” he writes, “became, for the Western Christian, something external, a kind of negative authority, a kind of material authority. It turned man into its slave, and as a result acquired, in him, a judge.”
Once more, I quote these harsh words only because they can lead us into the real dialectic of freedom, and I am fully aware that the temptation of an external or material authority is indeed a universal temptation. The important point here is that, in the thought of Khomiakov (and it could be shown that he truly reflects and formulates a position common to the whole Orthodox East), this kind of authority is derived not from the Church, not from her theandric nature, not from her God-inspired life, but from that which in the New Testament and in Church Tradition is described as “this world,” i.e. the fallen state of man.
The very principle of authority as something external to man is thus the result of the fall; the fruit of man’s alienation from the true life. But then the freedom which that authority posits as its own point of application, as its necessary counterpart, is also a “fallen freedom,” a negative freedom, a freedom of opposition and revolt and not the ontological freedom in which man was created and from which he alienated himself in his fall. It is in fact a pseudo-freedom, for in its fight against one external authority it is motivated and dominated by another authority to which it is sooner or later enslaved. And it cannot be otherwise, because it is a negative freedom, made up of revolt and protest and having no positive contents of its own. Whatever “contents” it may find in its revolt will again and inescapably become “authority” and provoke the same endless process.
According to Khomiakov the central tragedy of Western Christianity consisted in this, that it accepted as its basis, as its formative principle, the principle of authority – which is the very principle of the fallen world; and this acceptance of necessity, led to the opposite principle of “fallen freedom.” A principle not only alien to the nature of the Church but radically opposed to it was thereby introduced into the very texture of her life. The whole problem of freedom in the church was thus vitiated in its very foundation, and became incapable of a right solution. For the Church is not a combination of authority and freedom, of limited authority and limited freedom, a combination which, if it is kept, preserves from abuses on both sides. The Church is not authority, and therefore there is no freedom in the Church, but the Church herself is freedom, and only the Church is freedom. There can be no continuity between the fallen freedom of man and the Church as freedom, because there is no real freedom outside the Church but only the meaningless fight of mutually annihilating “authorities.” Therefore it is not by applying to the Church, the abstract and natural concept of “freedom” that one understands freedom in the Church. Rather is by entering the mysterion of the Church that one understands it as the mystery of freedom. Ecclesiology is indeed the starting point of a theology of freedom.
If ecclesiology, as a theological discipline, as a systematic treatise, has failed so far to reveal the life of the Church as the mystery and gift of freedom, it has been due to one of its greatest deficiencies: the neglect of the Holy Spirit in His relation to the Church.
For reasons which it is impossible even briefly to analyze here (but of which some, as least, are directly connected with what we have said about the acceptance of “authority” into the concept of the Church), the doctrine of the Holy spirit was in many ways cut off from the doctrine of the Church.
“And in the Holy Spirit, the Church,” such is the earliest form of the third article of the Creed, and it unites – one could almost say it identifies – the Holy Spirit with the Church. But in the course of centuries this article was dislocated. If within systematic theology the Holy Spirit was given all honor and attention in the De Deo uno et trino, in the De Ecclesia He retained what could be termed without exaggeration a subordinate position. From being understood as the very life of the Church, He came to be seen as a sanction and a guarantee. Where authority was stressed as the formative principle of the Church, He was presented as the guarantee of that authority. Where individual freedom was stressed against authority, He became the guarantee of such freedom. And finally having acquired a clearly defined “function” in the Church, He began to be measured. “It is not by measure that God gives the Spirit” (John 3:34). Theology, however, spent its time measuring the Spirit. The wind of Pentecost was duly deposited as a capital of grace to be used with caution.
No wonder that the Holy Spirit, not only as the source but indeed as the very content of that freedom which is the Church, as both the gift and the fulfillment of freedom or better to say as Freedom itself, was forgotten.
It is obviously impossible even to outline adequately in this short paper the various steps that would lead us from a fresh investigation of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to a new vision of the Church as freedom. I can only state that in my opinion the first step here must be greater attention to the very Person of the Holy Spirit as has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures and in the spiritual tradition of the Church. We must recover the vision and the experience of the Holy Spirit: the biblical vision of Him, first of all, as the ruah, the wind “which blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” (John 3:8), and also as the hypostatic Life of the Father and, thus, of the Blessed Trinity itself. Writes Professor Verhovskoy:
'To be the Spirit of something means to be the living expression of its content, its dynamic power. The Holy Spirit is often described in Scripture as Power, and the manifestations of the spirit are always manifestations of a divine, living, creative power. We find the same idea in many names of the Holy Spirit. He is Light – as the living and creative manifestation of the Divine Wisdom. If the Son is Wisdom and Truth, the Spirit of the Wisdom is the Holy Spirit; in Him, or better – by Him, the whole Wisdom and the whole Truth of the Son is revealed as Life.'
(S. Verhovskoy, from God and Man, p. 367)
Here is the fundamental intuition, common to the entire Eastern Orthodox tradition concerning the Holy Spirit: He is the Life of God, and this means, in terms of this paper – the hypostatic Freedom of God.
In the context of the problem which interests us here, this intuition can be formulated in the follow way: without the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, without our communion with Him, God would indeed be authority of all authorities, and there would be, therefore, no other freedom but that of revolts, the freedom of Kirillov.
And without the Holy Spirit not only God but, in fact, the whole of reality, all being, would also be “authority” – an external, objective, compulsory order, Berdiaev’s repulsive “world of objectivity.” Truth would be Authority, as well as Justice, Order, Equality, etc. and, in fact, all these “values” are authorities in the fallen world, including ultimately freedom itself: an empty and meaningless principle of choice and dissent, a “right” leading nowhere.
But it is very “function” of the Holy Spirit to abolish authority, or rather to transcend it, and he does this be abolishing the externality which is the essence of authority and the essence of “this world” as the fallen world. The proper role of the Holy Spirit is to connect and to unite, not by a form of “objective” link, but by revealing and manifesting the interiority of all that exists, by restoring and transforming the “object” into the “subject”(the it into the thou, in the terms of Martin Buber).
And he does it not from the outside as “sanction” or “guarantee,” not as “authority,” but from “inside,” for He Himself is the “interiority” of all that exists, the Life of life, the gift of Being. He is the uniqueness, the “fragrance” of everyone and everything, the light of eternity in each moment of time, the reflection of divine beauty on the ugliest human face. He is both Freedom itself and the “content” of freedom, or rather in Him the tragic contradiction between freedom as an eternal possibility of an eternal choice and thus as an eternal, self-annihilating vacuum, and freedom as fullness of possession, as fulfillment of life – the contradiction which inescapably makes one freedom negate the other – is resolved. Freedom is free. It is free not only from enslavement to authority but also from enslavement to itself. And it is free because it is neither a negation nor an affirmation of something external, which both are inescapably “authority.” It is the Presence, not of an abstract or formal principle, but of a Person who is the very meaning, the very joy, the very beauty, the very fullness, the very truth, the very life of all life – a Person whom we possess in knowledge, love and communion, who is not “external” to us, but is in us, as light, love and truth, as our communion with everything.
This vision of the Holy Spirit is also the experience of the Church. A certain approach to theology, although of course it does not negate that experience, denies it the status of a “source” of theology, that of a locus theologicus. It draws a line between theology a rational structure, as a science, and “mysticism,” and it relegates the latter to a special religious category or phenomenon, distinct from theology. But in the Eastern Tradition all genuine theology is, of necessity and by definition, mystical. This means not that theology is at the mercy of individual and irrational “visions” and “experiences,” but that it is rooted in, made indeed possible, by the Church’s experience of herself as communion of the Holy Spirit.
The famous Palamite controversy about the “created” or “uncreated” nature of the light seen in the mystical experience of the “hesychasts” was, among other things, a controversy about the nature of theology, or rather of the object of theology, which is Truth. Is the truth of theology a rational deduction from the “data” and “propositions” of the sources? Is it, in other terms, based on an external “authority,” a priori proclaimed as such, made an “authority”? Or is it, primarily, the description of an experience, of the experience of the Church without which all these “data” and “propositions,” although they may be “objectively” true and consistent, are not yet the Truth. For the Truth, whose knowledge, according to the Gospel, makes us free is certainly not an “objective truth,” certainly not an “authority” – of in this case the whole dialectic of freedom would again and inescapably be set in its hopeless motion. It is the presence of the “organ” of Truth in us and thus transforms the Truth as “objective” into “subject.” The one who has no Spirit knows no Truth and is condemned to replace it with authority and guarantee. “Where will we find a guarantee against error?” asks Khomiakov, and he answers: “Whoever seeks beyond hope and faith for any guarantee of the Spirit is already a rationalist. For him, the Church too is unthinkable, since he is already, in his whole spirit, plunged in doubt.” And here, therefore, the experience of the saints, of the “seers of the Spirit,” to quote a beautiful liturgical expression, is decisive.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian saint of the nineteenth century and one of the last great representatives of the Eastern spiritual tradition says: “When the Spirit of God descends to man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy, because the Spirit of God turns to joy all that he may touch.” We have here a perfect, yet existential and not rational, summary of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, of His relation to the Church, and of His very nature as freedom. And it is this doctrine which alone may free us from all false dichotomies and lead us into the proper understanding of the Church as freedom” (pgs. 183-189).
The saints are living witnesses of the human person’s capability to be an organ of Truth and among them we celebrate the uniqueness of a St. Seraphim of Sarov and a St. Herman of Alaska. A system by itself is not living but only suggests how to live and therefore is not capable of this presence. Today we are in desperate need of organic living examples of churchly conduct, not another worldly, systemized solution.
Father Alexander concludes: “We can come now to practical conclusions. “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church.” The Church is the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit. And this means that the Church is freedom. Freedom, in other words, is not a “part,” an element within the Church coexisting with and related to another element – authority. The Church, being the presence, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is that reality in which the very dichotomy of authority and freedom is abolished, or rather, is constantly transcended and overcome, and this constant victory is the very life of the Church, the victory of communion over alienation and externality. But – and this is very important – the Church is freedom precisely because she is total obedience to God. This obedience, however, is not the fruit of a surrender of freedom to an ultimate and ultimately “objective” AUTHORITY, acknowledged finally as invincible and unshakable, as indeed the “end” of freedom. It is, paradoxically as it may sound, the fulfillment of freedom. For the ultimate gift of the Holy Spirit is not a “state,” not a “joy” or “peace” in itself. It is again a Person: Jesus Christ. It is the possession of Christ and my being possessed by Christ, it is my love for Christ and His love for me, it is my faith in Christ and His faith in me; it is “Christ in Me” and “I” in Christ.” And Christ is obedience: “obedience unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). His obedience is the expression not of any subordination, of any surrender of freedom to Authority, but precisely of His total unity with His Father, of His divinity itself! For not only is His obedience free (for any freedom can freely surrender itself), but it is the very manifestation, the very essence of His freedom. And if Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit, if Christ is the life of the Church, then the essence of this life is obedience, not to Christ but Christ’s obedience. It is truly a divine obedience because it is beyond the dichotomy of freedom and authority, because it comes not from imperfection but from the perfection of life revealed in Christ.”
All this means that in the Church freedom is manifested as obedience of all to all in Christ, for Christ is the one who, by the Holy Spirit, lives in all in communion with God. No one is above and no one is beneath. The one who teaches has no “authority,” but a gift of the Holy Spirit. And the one who received the teaching receives it only if he has the gift of the Holy Spirit, which reveals to him the teaching not as “authority” but as Truth. And the prayer of the Church is not for “sanctions’ and “guarantees,” but for the Spirit himself – that He may come and abide in us, transforming us into that living unity in which the obedience of all to all is unceasingly revealing itself as the only freedom.
…And this mystery begins to be revealed and communicated to us when the same man says of himself “doulos Iesou Christou” – “The slave of Jesus Christ” – and then, to each one and to all of us, “Stand fast in the freedom in which Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1)"
The ultimate gift of the Holy Spirit is not a system.
A system can require of us conformity and even obedience, but only a person is capable of obeying and transforming.