and the Struggle for Light
by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood [or overwhelmed] it.”
The light of Christ was held up in our Orthodox Church in America’s darkest hour, and it was held by our beloved, now late, Abp. Job. One incident I now share with you who remember and honor his name.
To our shame the scandal of misappropriation of millions of dollars and the efforts to conceal the deed took place at the highest levels. The salacious facts are rather well known at least in general terms and figures, while the whole story has yet to be exposed. I’m writing only of one interesting event, the decision to investigate the “accusation” by the Metropolitan Council in the early days of the disgrace, when it was still covered up by intimidation and denial.
The first day’s MC meeting, as usual in Syosset, agreed at least to place on the agenda the possibility to create an investigating committee. The decision as to whether such an investigation was necessary was to be decided the following day. Of course the hotel where most were staying was abuzz with the topic. Were there ample votes to affirm that the investigation was necessary, or would the majority accede to the obvious wishes of +Herman and vote in the negative? The half dozen of us most interested in exploring the matter tallied up the membership, about three dozen persons, and came up at best with eight members shy of majority to proceed. We all knew that it was only our Abp. Job from the Midwest who was in favor of finding the truth of the matter, in his term made classic: "Transparency". At best only six of us felt that the scandal had to be exposed and brought to light. We hadn’t the votes—we had only faith in the Lord’s will to be done.
Early the next day another setback — it was announced that due to the heavy agenda the matter of investigation of the scandal would be the last item before adjournment. All knew what that meant. After lunch the agenda wears down. Items are treated expeditiously. Many members are on their way to the terminals and airports. Not the time for serious business.
When the item was brought forward by +Herman he treated it with scorn and disdain, ashamed to have it presented to such a serious assembly. The standard "Amen corner" endorsed his evaluation heartedly, and it seemed apparent that it would be summarily dismissed. +Job, sitting at the presidium suddenly rose, face flushed, cassock askew, asked permission to speak, then went into a storm of indignation. What he said was all but incoherent, because it was so uncharacteristic of his nature. (Editor's note: You can read a report of the Archbishop's comments that day here:)
Finding himself at a loss for further words he made sort of a half genuflection before +Herman begged forgiveness and asked for a blessing to be excused, storming out of the session.
I for one realized his pattern; i.e., to drive away from Syosset westward, across New Jersey on into Pennsylvania and to take refuge in his beloved little house in Black Lick. Or so it appeared to him at the moment. The joy of getting into his auto, turning on the ignition and driving away from the chancery, putting behind him the locus of so many humiliations. The two tigers that over and again made sport of his humble self-effacing demeanor. Recounting his uncharacteristic passionate eruption, like the One about whom it was said: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John.2:17).
Enough of pretending that all was in order, reflecting on the humiliating suppression of truth and honesty, going along with the scheme to deny that millions had been misappropriated and the cover-up ordered by those most responsible.
Enough of lies and posturing, such as the scandal of the All American Council in Toronto, July 2005, marching in and out of sessions with all other bishops, obeying a gag rule to have no free and open conversations with the clergy and lay delegates lest the truth get out, and to skip out without paying the bill for the entire fraud. He drove towards the setting sun.
(Interesting the place automobiles played in his life on earth. Leaving the Maumee hotel he didn’t quite make it to the safety of his automobile. And then his last trip along the highway he knew so well from Chicago to Black Lick with a stop on the way in Cleveland for us his spiritual children to express our love for our beloved Vladiko. There in the woodlands of western Pennsylvania he would be safe, comfortable in the first parish he had served, comforted by the Holy Spirit who comes to those who know the meaning of Christ’s instruction: ‘When you pray, go into your room [closet]close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen…” (Mt. 6:6). +Job was lucky. He knew the meaning of that admonition, and now he is there, or his body is—though his soul is elsewhere.)
What he missed I’m sure he later regretted.
We had placed our colleagues in a cruciform around the room. Dr. Faith Skordinski took the podium with her prepared agenda. Fr. John Reeves was along one wall and I on the other, Gregg Nescott, Esq. against the back wall. Following Faith, who set forth the rationale for the proposed investigation, Fr. John rose. I had the feeling I was seeing a New England Reformation preacher. He had the Bible in his right hand, and said, “We’ve not had enough from this book,” then he preached a rousing homily on integrity and transparency.
I followed by taking his lead: “I am the Way, Truth and Life,” had become for us the wrong way insisted by even our hierarchs that it was leading to salvation; Truth suppressed because the Church was not capable of handling it; and Life of the Orthodox Church in America crippled because the leaders could nor would not allow the Light to shine on us again.
Gregg Nescott was eloquent, taking +Herman’s phrase “For the good of the Church” and exposing one financial scandal after another, asking how the fraud and falsehoods enhanced that phrase.
By a miracle of persuasion the Council members’ hearts were transformed. The voting was for approval of a committee to explore the matter of financial mismanagement.
+Job was told of the outcome on his cell phone partway through PA. He didn’t turn around actually or metaphorically. He never ceased in his search to find and elevate the transparent truth about God and humanity. May he walk in light, truth, honesty and transparency.