OCA Metropolitan Council Retreat and Meeting: A Marvelous Experience
by Fr. Thomas Hopko
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to lead a retreat for the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America, and then to attend the Council’s regularly scheduled meeting. It was an amazing experience. I can’t believe how wonderful it all was: instructive, inspiring, challenging, encouraging, edifying and comforting. I don’t believe that anything like it occurs in contemporary Orthodoxy anywhere on earth.
With Metropolitan Jonah’s blessing, the OCA chancery staff asked me to lead a preparatory “retreat” for the members of the Council, the bishops and the members of the chancery staff who would be participating. I was told that I could do whatever I thought would be most helpful to everyone. As it turned out, the participants were Metropolitan Jonah, Bishops Benjamin, Tikhon and Melchisedek, almost all members of the Metropolitan Council, and the entire Chancery staff.
I sent out preparatory materials for the retreat in two parts.
The first part was a list of 10 questions and comments designed to aid in an examination of one’s personal life in regard to one’s ministry in the Church. The participants, beginning with the Metropolitan, were asked to write answers to the questions. The answers were for the private use of the participant only. They were not to be discussed at the retreat. I did, however, ask at the meeting if anyone would like to share reactions to the exercise with the gathering. A few did. And I asked the participants to do two things: to answer the questions in the exercise in writing if they failed to do so, and to share their answers with at least one person whom they trusted for response and counsel.
The second part of the preparatory materials also consisted of questions to be answered in writing. These questions and answers were for confidential discussion at the retreat. They consisted of each person telling what he or she believed was the single most important thing that they personally, and Metropolitan Jonah, and the Bishop’s Synod, and the Metropolitan Council, and the Chancery staff had to do right now in order to fulfill their respective ministries in and for the Church. Each participant was asked how each church leader, and each church organ (primate, synod, council and staff) could specifically assist all of the others in fulfilling their respective duties.
I cannot, of course, report on the discussions and exchanges that occurred over the ten or so hours of the retreat, which included the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. But I can report that the interventions and interchanges of views were powerful in their love, truth, wisdom, courage, humility, sobriety, clarity and candor. There was no rancor or bitterness at all; no personal attacks, and no shaming, accusing or embarrassing of any kind. There was little straying from the respective points, and little loss of focus. But there was also plenty of deep and difficult discussion and debate about specific issues, attitudes and understandings that needed attention and care, with plenty of suggestions about what needed to be done, and by whom, and how, and in what spirit and to what end.
Following the retreat I was blessed to attend the meeting of the Metropolitan Council itself, with Metropolitan Jonah, the three bishops from the Holy Synod, and the Chancery staff. It was the first time in my life that I was at a Metropolitan Council meeting, having never been either a member or consultant in my 47 years of church service. The issues addressed, mostly legal, fiduciary and financial, were all extraordinarily difficult and delicate. And they were all, without exception in my view, directly and energetically handled with extraordinary courage, competence and care.
What lies ahead for the Metropolitan Council, and, of course, for Metropolitan Jonah and the Synod of Bishops as the fathers of their respective dioceses and, as such, as the overseers of the Church as a whole, staggers the imagination. The work “going forward” is filled with difficulties and fraught with dangers. The challenges to the OCA, and to Orthodoxy as a whole, are immense. All is far from perfect. Countless critical issues must be confronted and resolved. But I believe that what I experienced at the recent Metropolitan Council retreat and meeting should assure and encourage everyone that the OCA leaders are performing their duties as competently and accountably as can be expected of them in these trying times. And for that we can all be exceedingly grateful as we strive to support and encourage them by our good will, assistance and prayers.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Protection of the Theotokos 2010