November 29, 2007
Beloved Vladiko JOB,
I ask your blessing as I share with you some reflections on the state of our beloved and battered Orthodox Church in America. We are at a crucial moment in our sacred history, an intersection that will determine our Church’s future. It must make a choice and travel in only one of two fundamentally divergent directions.
A. If we continue on the present course set forth by the administration, led and directed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, it will continue to insist that all is in order, the Church has weathered the storm of scandals, embezzlement, obfuscation, intimidation and all the rest which we both have dealt with: You in the Holy Synod, me in the Metropolitan Council, then both of us in the frustrating and fruitless initial Commission for truth and fact finding which you chaired.
Nothing is new along this path other than to put pressure on all who have been identified as anti-Church, a “small minority” of stubborn malcontents who impede the progress of the Holy Church. +H sorts out all members of the Church as being either with or against him, which is to identify oneself as for or against the Church itself. He is the Church personified. L’église, c’est moi.
Among the problems of identifying oneself with this position is that +H offers no vision beyond the ceremonial rituals that he enacts as the essence of Orthodoxy. Worse, his administration is proven to be fatally flawed, failed, fractured and futile for our holy Church’s future. He has demonstrated the impossibility of managing and guiding the Church from a remote distance. He offers “Best Practices” as evidence of a new up to date business program that precludes the misappropriation of funds at the base of our scandals; however, Best Practices require a Best Practitioner. Even the best bureaucracy requires a hands-on director.
To continue in office one would suppose he would realize that he cannot lead from out of state, and he would move into the newly named chancery in Oyster Bay. He is not promising to do that.
He told us that “I never knew about” the financial misappropriations laid at the desk of the former chancellor. That doesn’t exempt him from culpability. Where did he think the money was coming from that financed the multiple shuttle flights across the Atlantic, complete with entourage? If he didn’t know he should have, and if he did, he’s culpable.
And add to that the ongoing demand that the Holy Synod remain mum to the exposure by Protodeacon Wheeler and others and more, to the castigation of that brave whistleblower. Add to that the stony silence of all the hierarchy at the last AAC in Toronto, 2005. He insists that it’s all old stale news.
Time to move on and put it behind us; but the Church at large is not ready to go with him.They know that the new and latest fact-finding Commission will end as ours did. They will be denied the only interview that might bring some accountability and closure to the scandal; i.e., with the Primate himself. That will not happen.
The crisis intensifies now with one and perhaps several openings on the Holy Synod at hand. Either he will seek and install docile, pliable candidates who will follow party line, or refuse to elevate the real choices from the laity of God.
Staffing of the chancery is an exercise in inoculating against any with a spirit of self-will and openness to the voice of the contributors and supporters of the holy Church. We should praise the Lord that we have such an array of intelligent, faithful, concerned people, successful men and women in all fields who have not abandoned, but rather come to the aid of their and our Church—at least to the extent that they are welcomed and invited to share in the tragic dilemma that appears to have no immediate resolution.
B. I am writing this which we know all too well in order to strengthen your resolve and affirm the course that our diocese under your courageous leadership has taken. So much depends on holding the course steady. You must remind your fellow hierarchs that the eagles you stand upon during the sacred services symbolize the blessings of grace from the Holy Spirit to look above and over [epi-skopos] the entire Church and put into perspective the vision that may elude the earth-bound.
You have been blessed to analyze the present scandal that will not go away and hear the cries from a concerned laity pleading for justice, transparency and accountability. They and we would remind you of the times when our voices were not heard, such as past elections of the Primate. Vox populi vox dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God) is an axiom worth heeding. Only the hierarchy can undo what they had made happen.
What is at stake transcends the apathy, disenchantment, frustration and hostility of a continent of faithful believers who are unhappy with the operation of the Church. It’s even more than the millions squandered in ways yet not accounted for, the bobbing and weaving, the denials, the pomposity of a hierarchy insisting that they are above accountability, that their word should be enough to satisfy the outcry of rage from the children of God yelling for justice only to be met with scorn, indignation and silence.
The issue far transcends the survival of a single individual and whether or not he is able to continue in office without accounting for his role in the scandals that have afflicted and infected the Church as he continues his adamant refusal to explain, repent, reveal or deal with his involvement in the matter. This is about much more than our Church’s survival. This is nothing less than the possibility of ending the vision of an embryonic patriarchate in the western hemisphere and a fatalistic acceptance of the Americas as an ecclesiastical no-man’s land where Old World Orthodox jurisdictions are free to go on existing as Christian tribes without accountability to one another “unto ages of ages,” or at least until the second and glorious coming of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ .
Many of us remember the elation of having been granted the great gift of Autocephaly from our Mother Church of Russia in 1970. It was far more than a mere document. It was and is the only hope to establish an American patriarchate alongside those great patriarchates in the Old World. This is not about the survival of the Orthodox Church in America, or the fact that we have lost many of our loyal communicants over the scandals afflicting our Church this past decade. It’s not just that we have proven incompetence from our hierarchy, corruption of our chancery and inability to manage our administration in a way commensurate with any secular business organization.
We are in danger of killing the dream of American Orthodoxy.
Read Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s rationale for approaching the Russian Orthodox Church, an action that he and others were reluctant to take on because they did not want to have any dealings with a Church at the time under the control of an atheist regime. They were part of those who had personal experiences of the effects of Communism on their families and who accused the leadership of the ROC of collusion with the atheistic government of the USSR. It was not easy for our own hierarchy, feeling the same antipathy towards dealings with “collaborators” in order to negotiate the treaty that brought about our autocephaly.
It wasn’t only their own revulsion or those of the ROCOR believers, many of them members of their own families, that Frs. Schmemann, Meyendorff, Florovsky along with faculty members of both St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s with pre-revolutionary roots had to deal with. Read the justification of the audacious appeal to the Russian Orthodox Church for autocephaly written by Fr. Schmemann: “A Meaningful Storm” (STV Quarterly, V.15, #1/2, 1971] He called it a storm, because it raised a tornado of opposition in America and abroad, especially from the Greek Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. +Athenagoras wrote a caustic letter to the Pat. Alexis of the USSR refuting and rejecting his right to bestow upon us autocephaly, denying his authority as an action usurping what he, [EPA] considered his sole right to decree autocephalies world-wide. [All in op.cit.].
Fr. Schmemann called it a “meaningful” storm, because it not only made sense; historically it is the only way the American Orthodox Church would ever hope to have a Church untied to another Church across the seas. As large and impressive as the Greek Orthodox Church is, an American patriarchate is not for them now and will not be a consideration in the future. Otherwise, how would they maintain and expand their ethnic identity? So too with many if not most other ethnocentric jurisdictions on the continent.
We can use the image of St. Paul in stating that we hold these truths in earthen vessels, as we have to our regret proven this past decade. Nevertheless, we are the best hope for what was envisioned at the Episcopal gathering in Ligonier 1996, and squashed by the Greek participants, proving my point. Otherwise, why would the healthy, spiritually strong and growing Romanian Archdiocese remain with us, if not for the promise of a future American patriarchate? It is to their credit that Archbp. NATHANIEL and Bp. IRENEIU can look beyond our failings to a greater glory.
So too the other national Churches who are within the Orthodox Church in America. The theological point is not to berate the Greek Archdiocese or Ecumenical Patriarch, but to point out what Fr. Florovsky even in exile had the courage to proclaim: Christian Hellenism is an emphasis on the universal message of the Orthodox Church. It cannot be reduced to ethnocentrism. In our humble and all too human way the Orthodox Church in America is upholding the commonwealth of Byzantine theology in a nation where it is all too easy for nationalism to create and continue ethnic conclaves inclusive of national ties and exclusive to others.
Fr. Alexander termed it a “Meaningful Storm,” but it has become a meaningless fog in which we muddle along behind a leader who claims that we are headed in the right direction, but whose focus is on his own survival. Interesting, that Fr. Schmemann began with a quote: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor; for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25). Just think of how that mandate from St. Paul serves as an indictment of our present administration in its refusal to reflect, repent and plead for mercy and forgiveness from a Church that will not condone deceit, dishonesty, and denial.
Beloved Master in Christ, I adjure you to comprehend how imperative it is that the Orthodox Church in America must have a change of leadership, but even more urgent and pressing is the need to liberate the Diocese of Alaska from the ongoing suffering which has afflicted that glorious Church. In the name of the seven missionary monks who never made it to our shore, from the first canonized saint, the blessed humble Herman, St. Innocent the Missionary to the Aleuts, the holy martyr Juvenaly, the native Alaskan Peter the Aleut, St. Jacob, down to those closer to our time who offered their lives in service to the Alaskan people, like Archbishop GREGORY (Afonsky) and the Kreta family of Fr and Matushka Joseph and their child, the glorious archpriest Peter who lies buried on Spruce Island, that suffering, patient source of saints now suffers in agony I plead on behalf of that precious place where Christ’s holy Cross was planted firmly in America, which we sing about with such conviction and passion. Please urge the Holy Synod to take immediate action that would alleviate the situation in that diocese so sanctified by missionaries, martyrs and faithful native believers now and in the past.
How has it happened that the Holy Synod can first select a recent convert from the Byzantine Catholic Church, give him the precious name of that spiritual giant, St. Innocent as though it were a caricature, being neither innocent by name or definition, only to watch him so ignominiously fail in leadership? Then again, as if that were not enough of a mistake, in this time when we celebrate the model for all pastors and spiritual leaders, St. Nicholas the wonderworker of Myra in Lycia, yet another bishop is sent to Alaska bearing the exalted name of Nicholas, but not a miracle worker.
Quite the contrary. He has demonstrated that he is the antithesis of the beloved Nicholas honored by Christians of all denominations. Alaska deserves so much more than this. If it’s a joke to have bishops with such sacred names act in ways opposite to their namesakes, only the demons are laughing. The situation is too abysmal to relate. How long must those gentle people with such warm, tender hearts endure the agony inflicted upon them by their bishop? A shroud drapes over that North Star of Christ’s holy Church. We can only read and suffer with our Orthodox brethren who humbly and faithfully go on witnessing to their sacred Church in the midst of proselytes and evangelizers of all sorts of religions. Please search for some way to alleviate their distress.
From this day, from this hour, from this moment let us who love Jesus Christ pray to the God of Mercy to send to Alaska somebody filled with love and devotion to the Holy Trinity and not to himself.
Your humble servant in Christ’s holy Church,
(Archpriest) Vladimir Berzonsky