A Reflection on Day 2
of the General Assembly
by Andrew Geleris M.D.
May God grant Metropolitan Philip many years.
I was an attendee at the Archdiocesan Convention in Palm Desert these past few days. As I get ready to leave the convention I am filled with grief over what I have observed. I grieve because of what appears to me to be the sorry state of our Church at this time. Let me try to explain why I feel this way.
On one hand I am happy that there were obviously so many people in the General Assembly who love Metropolitan Philip deeply. I am happy that they have a hero that they feel deserves so much honor. On the other hand I feel vaguely queasy that the Metropolitan seemed so willing to accept their adulation, much of which he had to have known was coming, and which he could have squelched had he chosen to do so. I fully confess that accepting such adulation is a temptation I doubt I could avoid, but somehow I had hoped for more from our spiritual leader. Somehow this just doesn’t seem to be how Jesus reacted to praise, or the Fathers.
I grieve because there are so many of our clergy who deeply fear Metropolitan Philip. He has denied that this is true and that they have any reason to do so. Nonetheless, if you ask many of our clergy in private, and they trust you enough to keep a confidence, you will find out that this is true. Several times recently he has “reminded” clergy who disagreed with him that he (he or the Archdiocese?) had paid for their seminary education, or had done some other favor for them in the past. The clear implication was that any criticism was therefore an expression of personal ingratitude. In his speech today the Metropolitan illustrated, at least to me, why many of them might feel this way. He quoted (not quite accurately but close enough. I will give the correct quote) the following statement by Mark Twain, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man..” When speaking eloquently today about our call as Christians to give generously to those in need, he said (and I am not quoting this quite accurately, but it is close enough),”Those who give should forget that they have ever given, and those who receive should never forget that they have received.” It seems that in his statements to his clergy the Metropolitan chooses to apply only half of this equation. How can our clergy truly model the compassionate love of God to us, their spiritual children, when their own spiritual authority holds many of them in what they at least perceive as a state of great fear?
I grieve because of what appeared to me to be the powerful behind the scenes politics going on throughout the Convention, both by those who feel that the Metropolitan can do no wrong and those who wanted to question some of his decisions and policies. Call me naïve, but In a Church that purports to be the vessel of the Holy Spirit, and a light to the world, I am deeply troubled at the apparent unwillingness of people who might have different points of view to engage in meaningful dialogue in the context of brotherly love, If this is the brightness of the light that is in the world, no wonder the world is now such a dark place.
I grieve because the Church seems so willing to settle for mediocrity in our fiduciary responsibilities. I believe that we have an obligation to act as good stewards of God’s money and to provide a witness to the world of transparent integrity in our financial management. We should provide an example of financial integrity that not only meets but also exceeds the standards of the world.. Instead we don’t even meet the world’s standards. The primary issue is not whether anything is amiss in our finances. The issue is the process by which we demonstrate our willingness to be good stewards. Our church has not had an independent financial audit in decades. Today Metropolitan Philip said that he would ask for an audit, but it seemed obvious to me (and I hope he proves me wrong) that this would not be the kind of fully independent audit, for example, by one of the “Big Four” accounting firms that would demonstrate to the world our commitment to financial transparency and righteousness. Repeatedly Metropolitan Philip, and his supporters, insinuated that those who were asking for an audit were accusing him of malfeasance. I believe this was an intentional obfuscation of what was a simple call for our Church to demonstrate true financial integrity. The issue of the cost of an audit was raised repeatedly. Obvious efforts were made to say that those calling for an audit were asking for an audit of not only the Archdiocese but also all the parishes. This was clearly not what was being requested. But suppose it cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, what price tag shall we put on the integrity and good name of the Church of Jesus Christ?
I grieve because our entire Church now faces enormous financial risk because of our support, directly or indirectly, of the ongoing active ministry of a very prominent clergyman who has recently been convicted of a sexual offense and is a registered sex offender. The Roman Catholic Church has recently had to sell many of their church buildings and other properties to raise money to settle clergy sexual abuse offenses. If the clergyman that we are now supporting commits another offense while engaged in active ministry then our Archdiocese faces a similar liability, not only financially but also morally. And I fear before God more for our moral liability than our financial one. Furthermore, I grieve because, according to Metropolitan Philip, it was our Patriarch, Ignatius IV, who asked the Metropolitan to “put him (the above clergyman) to work.” If this is true, then it is not only our North American Archdiocese that is legally and morally at risk, but also our entire Patriarchate.
Most of all I grieve because I know that all of the above is my fault. It is our fault. The Scriptures clearly teach that when the people of God seek Him with all their heart that He brings peace and prosperity to their land. I know that it is my sin and my lack of repentance, our sin and our lack of repentance, that creates a situation in which the kind of strife and conflict occurs that was so palpably present today at the General Assembly meeting. I am now committing myself to a season of repentance under the direction of my spiritual father. If there is anyone else who shares my grief at the current state of the Church I urge you to join me in such an effort. Even if you don’t share my grief, if you think that things could be better, I would ask you also to join in this season of repentance.
May God turn the grief of those who mourn into a season of great joy.