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8.22.08

Restoring Trust

I am writing to dispell the false idea that we don't need full disclosure of the Special Investigative Report for the restoration of trust in the OCA.

Respected individuals have exhorted us to forgive, and move forward. Some have said we don't need to answer all the allegations first charged publicly three years ago, in order to achieve "reconciliation." Such an idea comes from a confusion between forgiveness and reconciliation, which is the fundamental condition for constructively working together as a Church.

Forgiveness is an Act of The Forgiver

Forgiveness is completely different from reconciliation. Forgiveness is something done exclusively by the forgiver, and is a free gift of grace, performed by the power granted to all of us when we ourselves are forgiven by God. I exhort all of us to forgive, and to forgive completely, without reserve. This act itself may take some time for individual hearts --indeed, forgiveness often takes a great deal of time and effort, but it is absolutely necessary for every Christian. Everyday we pray, "Forgive us our sins as --to the same degree-- we forgive those who have sinned against us." Mother Alexandra, of blessed memory, explains, "Our Creator...promises us absolute and complete remission of our sins, on one condition: that we, ourselves, forgive."

Forgiving others allows God to forgive us. Jesus said, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you" (Mk 11:25). If I may dare to put Christ's words into the context of our current crisis, Jesus tells all of *us,* "If you forgive Bob and Metropolitan THEODOSIUS and all others involved of their fraud and theft, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive them their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mt 6:14-15). Note that for forgiveness there are no conditions in these commands of our Lord. Christians forgive, without requiring an apology --even when the offender does not realize or admit s/he has sinned.

Forgiving is something we do regardless of what our offender does. Reconciliation is possible only when both parties come together to resolve an offense, but forgiveness is a solitary act. Reconciliation involves brothers (and sometimes the whole Church); forgiveness involves one person, the forgiver.

Forgiveness must take place in our hearts even if we never achieve reconciliation with our brother. True forgiveness is free; it is not dependent on anything.

No apology is required, because forgiveness is not based on the person's deserving to be forgiven! Forgiveness is unconditional.

In fact, without our forgiveness of other's sins, we will not be saved. In His parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:23-35), after Jesus pronounced condemnation on him, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." Forgiveness can be a painful process, especially when the sting of betrayal comes from a trusted friend. Nevertheless, a willing heart can find the strength to forgive, through realizing the forgiveness s/he has already received from God.

Reconciliation Requires Complete Honesty

We do forgive. But forgiveness is not at issue here. Reconciliation is, and reconciliation is necessarily a mutual act beginning with the wrongdoer recognizing and admitting his/her wrongs. Reconciliation allows us to go back to God's work together. Only complete honesty regarding all the allegations raised by our current scandal can begin the work of restoring trust.

In the early Church, confession was public, and the idea still holds (we are to confess to the priest as if confessing to the whole Church --and in fact we are confessing to the whole host of angels, the Mother of God, and the entire Church Triumphant). But confession of sin privately to our priest is not enough, if we have seriously wronged another person (especially if the other person knows it!). We are to go to our brother whom we have wronged, admit our wrongs, and in that way humbly seek reconciliation (Mt 5:23-24, 18:15-17). As one blogger put it, "If the Synod of Bishops wants to have full confidence from its people, the people must have full disclosure and full transparency... The first step is full disclosure of the scandal. Acknowledgement comes before repentance. The central church administration hasn't yet come to acknowledgement (full disclosure)."

If Bob Kondratick had stolen Father X's bank account while Father X was a financial officer at Syosset, then Bob would need to confess his sin to his priest (of course) for absolution, but he would also need to confess his sin to Father X (and do what he could to make restitution), in order for the two of them to work together again with honesty and trust. (Indeed, in order for the two of them to receive holy Communion, they must be reconciled with one another; this is what our Kiss of Peace proclaims.) Father X may genuinely forgive Bob as soon as he realizes his money is gone, but only Bob's humble admission to him begins reestablishing trust between them.

In our case, as the media has broadcast to the world, Bob and Metropolitan THEODOSIUS didn't just steal from one person, but from the entire OCA. Therefore, having defrauded the members of the Church personally (anyone who contributed to the OCA from 1988 to the present), Bob and Met. THEODOSIUS must admit to all of us exactly what they have done.

The same goes for Metropolitan HERMAN, the staff at Syosset from 1988 to the present, and each member of the Holy Synod of Bishops. Perhaps most of them committed sins of "omission," or only need to repent of succumbing to passivity out of fear, but they nevertheless need to "come clean" before all, because they have directly betrayed all. This is just step one of reconciliation!

We cannot continue to hide our sins and restore trust at the same time. The lack of full disclosure, which is in essence continuing to cover up serious sin, comes from a self-denying faith which says one shouldn't confess if there are negative consequences. In other words, we should speak repentance when it is painless, but if by confessing we would incur judgement, we should abandon the practice of our Faith. Truly, we shall be condemned to wander in a spiritual desert many more years if we to follow this faithless logic.

Repentance Accepts Responsibility

True repentance cares more about eternity than about temporal punishment. (In fact, one who is genuinely repentant desires to fulfill acts of penitence, to at least in some measure demonstrate the sincerity of his repentance --both to those he has sinned against and to himself!) The penitent heart cares only about ridding itself of its sin --all of it-- through thorough and complete confession, to any and all offended. Some have said that "the legal implications will need to be considered," but such considerations are antithetical to true Christian repentance. "Real" confession is "full" confession, especially in this corporate case where the allegations are public knowledge. "Real" repentance is nothing less that admitting all wrongs to all offended. After all, as Christians we believe this life is merely a brief test, a conditioning prelude to eternity.

For our part, the People of God must hold our leaders accountable with compassion. Our fallen sense of justice may want to put down the offender as evil, sick, or depraved and to reap vengeance on him in righteous anger. Hence the many posts on this site, calling people "evil personified." This is sinful, untrue, and completely inappropriate for Christians. Saint Nicholas of South Canaan taught, "A strong man gets his revenge by reprisal, a weak man by hatred." We must keep in the forefront of our minds that we are called to discern and judge wrongdoing, not to condemn people! I and many clergy friends of mine know that in the confessional, the priest's pronouncement of absolution and assessment of penance (for healing) is directly related to the genuineness and the degree of repentance shown. For "I am but a witness, bearing testimony before the Lord of your repentance and contrition. Therefore, open your mind, heart, and soul to Him, lest having come to the Physician, you go away unhealed." I am a sinner, too.

However, wrongdoing has consequences. As I tell abused wives in confession, to forgive does not mean we excuse the wrongs, or that we continue to relate the same way with an abuser --especially if he won't admit what he has done. Forgiveness is not excusing wrong --in fact, there is no real forgiveness until we admit thereís something wrong to forgive! We don't pretend the wrong never happened. We don't diminish the weight of the harm done, and we don't allow the abuse to continue. As Louis Smedes writes, "Forgive me and you heal yourself. Tolerate everything I do and you are in for trouble."

Therefore, forgiveness does not mean we allow an abuser to remain in the same position from which he abused us. When trust has been violated, we would be foolish to jump right back to the way things were. We must be forgiving, but not foolish. If someone has grossly wronged us and won't rectify the situation, we cannot relate to him in the same, unrestricted way. It would not be loving or loyal 'toward' him for us to pretend what he did was okay --not because we are hold bitterness, but because we respect ourselves and we value truth and honesty among members of Christ's Church.

Restoring Trust Requires Full Disclosure

Forgiveness is unqualified, but for an honest relationship of trust to start again, wrongs must be admitted and worked out. Christians are forgivers, but are not self-made victims. To go on pretending would be masochistic and would create a false relationship. In corporate terms, this would only lead to greater dysfunction (emeshment, enabling and abuse), and would place our entire Church life on a foundation of mistrust. The root of our dysfunction as a Church is an attitude of worldliness, but the fuel which keeps us spiraling downward is our family "secrets."

"Real" repentance includes both the admission of all known wrongs, and the acceptance of the consequences of our sins. Full disclosure is not an unnecessary preference of an "unhealthy internet culture". Having gone through all we have for the past three years, it is an essential requirement for us to move forward. It is the initial act that will allow the past to be truly over. This isn't about retribution, or hatred, or vengence, but about establishing an environment of honesty in the Church. It is about restoring trust, which is predicated on genuine repentance, admitting what you've done wrong. Fr. Alexander (Webster) is correct: "Nothing less than full disclosure and full transparency--on the full gamut of alleged offenses...-- will meet the requirements of justice... If that trail leads to additional shocking revelations and subsequent resignations, retirements, or legal prosecution, then so be it... The pursuit of justice will enable us in the OCA to put our own house in order and lay the foundation for a genuine renewal."

The requirement of full disclosure is not "unrealistic"; every withdrawal of just-less-than-$10,000 was done in person, by someone who signed the withdrawl, and who either spent the money personally or gave it to someone whom they know. Those who carried large sums of money into foreign countries know who they are. Those who received cars, designer suits, "scholarships," trips to Las Vegas, unnecessary inclusion on international "junkets," etc., know who they are. Those who received jobs or advancement they weren't qualified for, or who received "overpayment," know who they are. Those who paid, those who received, and those who approved blackmail know who they are. If Metropolitan HERMAN can unilaterally hire a law firm to protect himself with a $750,000 dollar "firewall" using OCA funds, then we can commission a forensic audit.

Besides, money isn't what's keeping the truth hidden - people are.

How much money would it take to drive to Canonsburg and Venice? Between the two of them, the facts are known. And if they still won't come clean, why are they still allowed to be active in episcopal and pastoral leadership?

Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." If  secular executives caught in embezzlement are held to full account publicly by the world's standards, what does it say about the standards of Christ's holy Church when our own Christian leaders are not? The silence of all those who have information only underscores the fact that we continue to hold the values of the world and not the Kingdom of God.

We need specific, "come clean" repentance, not general platitudes.

For instance, Metropolitan HERMAN needs to repent for taking part (albeit, perhaps, passively)

• in embezzlement and fraud,

• for his part in the firing of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler

• his silencing priests and intimidating others into silence,

• for specific lies once accusations were made public regarding whether he knew wrongdoing had occurred, • for refusing to investigate the charges,

• for disallowing the original Special Investigative Committee to interview him,

• for saying he is only accountable to God,

• for using OCA funds without approval to hire lawyers to "build a firewall around the metropolitan,"

• for disallowing the original Special Investigative Commission to investigate anyone but Bob Kondtratick,

• for his "Black Friday" actions specifically, including disbanding the Special Investigative Committee, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and Metropolitan HERMAN is by no means the only one who needs to repent. The point is, he, Bob, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS, Father David Brum, Father Joe Fester, and all those at Syosset during The Embezzlement Years must come forward, before the whole Church, and admit what they did or didn't do, knew or should have known, and repent for it openly. Why? Because our salvation is predicated on the fear of God, not the fear of man.

At one of the Townhall meetings, I was told the agenda for the All-American Council calls for communion to be celebrated the morning of the first day of the council. It had been proposed that we have the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers Service of Reconciliation instead, as the first act of the council, because to have communion without reconciliation would be a lie. This is true, but the Service of Reconciliation has its preconditions, too, including full disclosure and demonstrated repentance. We shall soon see if the Service of Reconciliation is possible at our council, by whether the Special Investigative Report is complete and made public. We shall soon see if repentance is genuine, by Metropolitan HERMAN and others accepting retirement from holy orders.

King David himself sinned greatly, as our leaders have. When confronted with his sin, however, he didn't try to cover it up, but he repented so sincerely and fully and openly that his expression of contrition has become the most often prayed Psalm in the Church. I pray that our leaders, everyone at Syosset from 1988-the present, will follow his example. And I pray they keep in mind, that despite being forgiven, David's sin still had remaining personal consequences.

Frankly, I believe that had Bob, Metropolitans THEODOSIUS and HERMAN and others in leadership at Syosset "come clean" publicly as soon as the allegations were made, the people of God would have responded far differently, and this entire scandal would have been dealt with and been over years ago.

All it would have taken was genuine Christian faith on the part of those involved to come clean. And that's all it still takes.

Father Mark Hodges
St Stephen the First Martyr Orthodox Mission

Lima, Ohio

 
 

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