(Editor's Note: This letter was written four days before the dismissal of Fr. Kondratick and the announcement of the engagement of Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate the finances of the OCA.)
March 12, 2006
Sunday of Orthodoxy
His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN &
The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences and Your Graces,
I ask your blessings.
Unity, peace and confidence can be restored to our Orthodox Church in America only by a dramatic act of courage, humility, repentance, forgiveness and trust in God, accompanied by a radical rethinking, renewing and restructuring of our purposes, policies and procedures as an autocephalous church.
We are now, as every day, confronted with the choice given to us by our God:
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse […], life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live….
I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendents may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him…. (Deuteronomy 11.26. 30.15-16,19)
A dramatic act that clearly demonstrates that we choose God’s blessing, life and good for our beloved Orthodox Church in America must, in my opinion, be something like this:
His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN and the Synod of Bishops would convene an extraordinary All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in August, on the feast of our Holy Father Herman of Alaska.
The Metropolitan and Holy Synod would announce the convening of this extraordinary Council at their spring session during this Great Lenten season. They would send the Council agenda for acceptance to all parishes and institutions with no commentary other than their fervent plea for sobriety, silence, fasting and prayer for its blessed fulfillment.
The parishes and institutions accepting this agenda would send their delegates’ names to the OCA Chancery by July 1. If a majority responds positively, the Council would be held with this agenda. No motions to amend or alter the agenda would be entertained either in writing or at the Council. If a majority of churches and institutions does not accept the agenda, there would be no Council.
The Council would last for about 24 hours. There would be no preparatory materials, reports, speeches, banquets or events of any kind. There would be no guests or observers. No members of the media would be present. Except for the written minutes, there would be no other record of the proceedings.
The liturgical services during the Council would, of course, be open to everyone. Metropolitan HERMAN and the Holy Synod might also give a blessing for these services to be technologically recorded.
The delegates (who would arrange their own lodging) would arrive in time for the Council’s opening in the early afternoon of August 8.
After celebrating a Service of Prayer and officially opening the Council, His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN, or a person delegated by him, would make as candid a presentation as possible about the financial matters now in question, especially the contributions of ADM and the US Military Chaplains and contributions made for designated philanthropic, missionary and educational purposes. Actions involving church finances that were considered justifiable and necessary “for the good of the church” would be explained. Actions now seen as misguided and mistaken would be acknowledged. Planned actions of reparation if necessary (for example for contributions not used for their designated purpose) would be announced. Nothing would be said to accuse or incriminate any persons, or groups of people. There would be no questions, comments or discussions about the report. It would be recorded as given. It would not be made available in writing to the delegates or to the media. The delegates would, however, be free to report on it orally in discreetly appropriate ways in their home churches or institutions.
Immediately following the presentation, His Beatitude would call for a vote by show of hands to receive or reject his report. Delegates who feel obliged to reject the report would decide how, in conscience, they would further conduct themselves in relation to the Holy Synod and the central church administration.
His Beatitude would then ask the forgiveness of the “fullness of the Church” for the harm done by and to everyone in this sorrowful story: hierarchs, clergymen, administrators, council members, employees, auditors and advisors; both accusers and defenders, critics and justifiers. He would call upon everyone to acknowledge their errors and sins, and to forgive everyone else, for God’s glory, the good of the Church and the good of all people.
While the members of the Holy Synod give each other the kiss of peace, the delegates would also give the kiss to each other as time and space allow. The Canon of Repentance would be read. His Beatitude would then exhort everyone in the Lord’s Name, for the sake of Christ, to put this sorry episode behind them once and for all. Those unable to do so would proceed to act according to their conscience before the Face of God.
The delegates would then go to the monastery refectory (and surrounding grounds) to eat a modest lenten meal in silence. During this time the lives of Saints Herman, Innocent and Tikhon would be read, perhaps with a selection of their words about Orthodoxy in America. Each participant would pay for his or her own meal.
After the brief meal, a full monastic All-Night Vigil would be served in the monastery church. After the Vigil, the delegates and other participants in the Vigil would be free to leave in silence. Those who wish would stay to keep vigil through the night with psalms, hymns and prayers led by our monastics until the reading of the Hours before the Divine Liturgy the next morning.
The next morning His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN and his fellow hierarchs would concelebrate the Divine Liturgy. After the Divine Liturgy, the Service of Prayer for the Beginning of a Good Work would be sung, and/or the Akathistos Hymn to the Saints of America. Clergy and monastics not present at the Council would conduct a similar cycle of services in their home churches.
His Beatitude would then declare the extraordinary Council officially closed. All would depart in peace to get on with their life and work in unity and peace. Those rejecting the report would act as they believe they must, before God. His Beatitude would issue an appropriate statement to the media about the Council’s proceedings and decisions.
Metropolitan HERMAN and the Synod of Bishops, in closest cooperation with the Metropolitan Council, would then appoint a new central church administration. They would choose whomever they deemed most competent and qualified to serve, excluding no one from consideration, including those now in office and those who served in the past.
The new administration with the church’s elected auditors and selected members of the Metropolitan Council would design and implement financial policies and procedures approved by professional accountants and financial advisors. The administration would report annually to the Metropolitan Council on the church’s financial activities from professionally audited books and records. This annual report would be publicized in appropriate ways in the church’s various media in order to secure ongoing confidence and support throughout the church.
The Metropolitan and Synod of Bishops would also initiate and oversee candid discussions in all of the church’s dioceses and deaneries about all aspects of the life and work of the Orthodox Church in America, especially about authority, decision-making, communication, and policies and procedures regarding the collection and use of financial resources.
I am convinced that only a radically humble, courageous and trusting action like this will demonstrate before God and the world that our Orthodox Church in America has decided to “choose life.” Only such an action will allow us to move forward as one body of Christ, with one heart, mind and mouth, for God’s glory and the good of God’s people. Only such an action will show that we truly believe in God and choose to live by “the law of the Holy Spirit and life” and not by “the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8.2) Only such an action will prove that we are truly Christ’s Holy Church.
What has to be done may not be exactly what I suggest here, though I dare to pray that it would be exactly this! Such an event would be a spiritual miracle that would demonstrate our reality, integrity and maturity as an autocephalous Orthodox Church. It might even inspire other Orthodox jurisdictions in America, and other Orthodox churches in the world, to be more humble, courageous and trusting in God in their attitudes and actions. Something like this is certainly the only way out of our present agony and turmoil. It is the only way to have a truly new beginning blessed by God for our beloved Orthodox Church in America.
I beg Your Beatitude, and Your Eminences and Graces, to make something like this happen as soon as possible. The Lord God and your God-protected People will surely rise up and bless you for it. May the Lord’s will be done.
Eis polla eti, Despota!
Yours in our Merciful Savior,
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko