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11.09.08 Commentary

How I will vote in Pittsburgh

by Mark Stokoe

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The All- American Council was supposed be held in 2010, not 2008. We were supposed to listen to the usual boring reports - not discuss one from a Special Investigative Committee. The old Metropolitan was supposed to be re-affirmed in his leadership - not a new one chosen. The only debate was supposed to be about how much to raise the head tax - not how much to lower it.

It wasn't supposed to be like this at all.

And yet, by the Grace of God and the hard work of many, it will be.

Consider where the OCA was three years ago this very week: in response to Protodeacon's Wheeler's "Call to Accountability" detailing the financial and moral misdeeds of the preceding 15 years, the OCA reported:
"Our love and concern must be for the Church, Metropolitan Herman stated, adding that recent allegations, especially those circulated on the internet, are not for the good of the Church. In response to questions about earmarked donations, Father Strikis noted that such contributions are used as specified by the donors." (OCANews/11/5/2005)

Diversions and outright lies had become standard operating procedure in a central administration that ignored widespread financial irregularities, tolerated administrative malfeasance, encouraged corporate complacency, in a general culture of incompetence. The OCA, despite the glittering facade - or rather, in large part because of it - was dying.

No more.

In the past three years, the financial irregularities have been exposed, the complacency overcome, and the incompetent and criminal removed from office:

• the former Metropolitan and his heir apparent in Alaska were forcibly removed from office by a Synod who could no longer ignore their misdeeds.

• the former Chancellor and his entire staff were swept from office and replaced by more competent, moral men.

• the Metropolitan Council, once moribund, is complacent no more, but actively participating in overeeing the administration and defending our conciliar Church.

The golden calves raised up by the former administration to adorn its Potemkin Village are being torn down one by one, as are the facades that covered up the culture of fear, lies, and deception. People, parishes, deaneries and dioceses, eager for help in spreading the Good News, are asking questions again, passive no more.

To the OCA's many critics, at home and abroad, these are signs of turmoil and impending collapse. But unto them which are called, to paraphrase St. Paul, it is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God working among us. The turmoil of the last three years signals not our impending collapse, but the first signs of our renewed life.

And there is much more to do. How it will proceed begins with a choice. Our choice.

Arguably, the upcoming election for a new Metropolitan is a most important, perhaps the most important choice the OCA will make, since receiving the Tomos of Autocephaly in 1970. The Report of the Special Investigative Committee (SIC) minced no words about Metropolitan Herman's actions as acting-Treasurer, acting-Metropolitan, and then as Metropolitan. The SIC offered evidence that Metropolitan Herman had knowledge of financial malfeasance since 1999 at least. Furthermore, the report demonstrated that the Metropolitan not only failed in his fiduciary responsibilities to rectify this situation but actually sought to silence inquiry into the matter through legal maneuvers and intimidation of clergy who sought to speak out and raise questions about the allegations of impropriety. But the SIC also revealed that Metropolitan Theodosius, the first Metropolitan elected after the autocephaly (1977), was also part of institutionalized misappropriation of funds dating back as far as 1988.

In hindsight, we choose poorly.

I say"we", because unique in world Orthodoxy, the nominees for Primate of the OCA are the choice of its clergy-lay assembly known as the All-American Council. The canonical election is by vote of the members of the Holy Synod. That is, both clergy and laity participate in selection of our Primate. The Synod is responsible for electing them; we are guilty for nominating them.

In both elections, 1977 and 2002, the Synod chose the candidates who had finished in second place, by considerable margins, rather than the front-runner. (Prior to autocephaly, the Synod had done likewise in 1965 when it chose a successor to the saintly Metropolitan Leonty.) For whatever reasons, the bishops have historically chosen contrary to the sentiments of the majority of the several Councils. (To point this out is not to argue for direct democracy: but it is something we should ask ourselves: What were the bishops thinking? Why did they choose as they did?)

The sad fact is all of us,  including the Synod, have paid a heavy price for those decisions. The OCA has floundered during much of our short attempt at self- government because the two men chosen as Metropolitan were at best, ultimately weak men, prone to being controlled by others around them and ineffective in countering immorality in church administration. At worst, both were complicit. As we face the choice of a third Metropolitan of the OCA, much hangs in the balance as to the type of man to be elected by the Synod, no matter whom the Council nominates.

We must admit that the choices are indeed limited. Several members of the current Holy Synod had knowledge of possible financial misdeeds, at least as early as 2004, Like +Theodosius and +Herman, they have shown themselves ineffective in dealing with the knowledge they had. Thus, if one eliminates from consideration all the bishops named in the SIC Report - and there is good reason to do so - the choice narrows further. Archbishop Dmitri, Archbishop Job, Bishop Benjamin, vicar-Bishop Irineu, Bishop Tikhon (Mollard), Bishop Alejo, and newly consecrated vicar-Bishop Jonah are left as potential nominess. It is little wonder that some have even openly advocated and promoted election of a bishop from outside the OCA, or proposed we simply draw a name at random from a chalice....

The question being put to the OCA, and in particularly to the delegates to the All America Council, and more specifically to the Synod is this: Are we going to repeat the mistakes of our recent history? Or, to put it another way:  Is the Council going to nominate poorly again? Will the Bishops choose poorly again? Many argue that do so might possible seal the fate of the OCA - such that a fourth Metropolitan may never be, or irrelevant even if elected.

The fact is, we do have a choice.

Only one member of the Synod has shown, from the beginning of the scandal, that he was willing to seek the truth.

Only one member of the Synod was willing to suffer the abuse and contempt of fellow bishops for doing so.

Only one member of the Holy Synod was willing to ask a simple question: "Are the allegations true or false?"

His dogged insistence that the allegations of financial impropriety be investigated and proven - or disproven - marks Archbishop Job as a man of integrity. It is lack of integrity - personal and corporate - that is at the heart of the scandal. And if we are to right ourselves, we must start restoring our integrity by choosing someone who has demonstrated it. A commitment to the pursuit of truth, no matter the cost, should be paramount in our consideration of the next Metropolitan, whatever other failings or weaknesses he may possess. Archbishop Job has many weaknesses - and as the Archbishop will attest, I have never been hesitant to point them out to him privately when asked - and on occassion, when asked, to others. To the frustration of many, the Archbishop often does the same.

But whatever, or how many, these faults are, the fact is that, alone among the Bishops Archbishop Job has demonstrated time and time again that he is willing to lay even his episcopacy on the line in defense of his flock. No other individual in the Synod has had his mettle so tested. No other individual has stood as firm, for so long. The bottom line is that if the man we nominate and elect lacks this kind of integrity, we will have gained little in the past three years, despite all our efforts. Once again, we will have chosen poorly.

For his part, Archbishop Job makes no pretense about his desire to retire in three years. And some believe that this - in and of itself - should disqualify him from consideration. Yet, this is the same quality of forthrightness which has seemed so sadly lacking in some of the other members of the Synod. Archbishop Job harbors no illusion about his being indispensable in the functioning of the Church. He knows that he is not. As we plan for our future, what better leader could we have than one who understands it is about Christ and his Church, rather than about new vestments and a white hat? Isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

Thus, on the first ballot, a vote for Archbishop Job is in order, and so I shall cast mine. This is not the time to waste the Council's time, and the important responsibility given to us, by nominating friends, favorite sons, those who are totally unknown to the rest of the body, or to make personal protests, as has so often been the case in the past. In reality there is only a handful of possible candidates, and we do best by choosing the best one on the first ballot. By nominating +Job on the first ballot, the Council will send the strongest possible signal to the Church that the OCA scandal is over, whatever else may or may not emerge, for we will have chosen integrity, above all, as the standard for our vision of the future of our Church. By then electing him, the Synod will confirm this to the world. United, we can once again take up the reigns of our mission to North America, which we have let slip for so long.

Should Archbishop Job receive a majority, but not the 2/3 majority required for nomination, a second ballot will be required. If this is the case, the two names I wlll write down are Archbishop Job and newly-consecrated Bishop Jonah. I invite other delegates to do the same. The Synod will thereby be given a stark choice: place their fate, and ours, in the hands of someone who, no matter his talents, is the youngest, untested rookie on the team for the next thirty years - or accept the choice that Providence has given us and prudence seems to require.

Let us choose wisely this time and choose Archbishop Job.


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