How has the Scandal Affected Me?
by Priest Jonathan Ivanoff
Three years ago, the Orthodox Church in America gathered in Toronto for the 14th All-American Council. I had been looking forward to this Council for many reasons, not the least of which had to do with themes I feel very strongly about, church growth and parish health among them. The Council was disappointing on many levels, but that is not why I am writing this Reflection today.
Now, I should begin by pointing out that I worked in the national Chancery of the Orthodox Church inAmerica from May of 2002 until September of 2007, so I might have a rather different perspective on a lot of issues than others. Not better, not smarter, just different. While I was there, until the day I left, I considered it an honor to work for the national church. I still do. I had hoped that in some way, no matter how small, perhaps my contributions would or could make a difference. But again, this is not why I am writing this Reflection.
I am rather motivated to write this because of a particular event and its aftermath that transpired on the last day of the Council. It was Friday, and, to me and to many other priests and delegates, a rather curious thing had transpired over the course of the preceding five days. Literally or figuratively, the entire Holy Synod had seemed completely mute during the entire time the Council was in session. They hardly spoke, they hardly joined in the discussions and (what few real) debates there were. I heard many, many people ask the question, “Are they paying attention?”
So, I decided to ask that question on the last day of the Council. I got up at one of the microphones and expressed the concern that we had not heard from the Synod during the week, that we missed hearing them speak and participate, give direction and opinion, and I expressed the wish that they should have done so, or at least done much more than they did.
Metropolitan Herman then stood up and said, in so many words that I will now never forget, “We may not have said much but you can assume that we have been paying attention.”
Not thirty minutes after that plenary session concluded, (then Protopresbyter) Robert Kondratick approached me and told me that Metropolitan Herman was "very displeased with (your) remarks." Very displeased!
So, the Synod can sit there during an entire week of an All-American Council, a time when – supposedly – so much of the strategic direction of the Orthodox Church in America is charted (not that it’s ever really followed, but I digress...), and we are to assume they are listening, that they are paying attention.
Now, I grew up assuming a great deal about bishops.
I was in awe of them, they were larger than life to me, men of great intellect and wisdom, courage and conviction, in some cases tested by the fire of persecution. I assumed they always had the best interests of the Church at heart. I assumed the same thing about the sacrifices they would be willing to make for the flock intrusted to their care. And, for quite some time up until now, I carried those thoughts and convictions with me, and held to them thinking - hoping - the Holy Spirit certainly had something with the selection process. But then came Toronto, and the terrible aftermath of the last three years.
And we were told to assume they were paying attention. How dare I question that! Indeed!
Are we to assume the Synod was paying attention when Protodeacon Eric Wheeler first tried to point out financial irregularities with national church finances?
Are we to assume they were paying attention when Lambrides Lamos & Moulthrop first brought these irregularities to light even earlier?
Are we to assume that, the claims of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler having been found true, and further having not one of his claims disproved or proven even exaggerated, the Holy Synod, and Metropolitan Herman in particular, will issue both an apology clearing his good name and a commendation for boldly and bravely bringing the truth to light?
Are we to assume that, as members of the original Special Investigation Commission claim, the work of that commission went and functioned as freely and unhindered as promised by the Holy Synod, and in particular by Metropolitan Herman.
Are we to assume the Holy Synod will listen to their senior clergy when they are tasked and sent out to accomplish an investigative task, and then report back, only to be refused by the Holy Synod the dignity of giving the very investigative report he was sent out to accomplish, such as the trip by Archpriest Alexander Garklavs to Alaska earlier this year?
Are we to assume that the Holy Synod, former Chancery officials, and members of the Metropolitan Council back in the '90's and later cared absolutely nothing for the growth of the Church in North America by funding ecumenical and external affairs to the tune of over a half-million dollars, while funding programs of growth and evangelism by less than one-fourth of that?
And, finally, are we to assume that we have bishops and even a Metropolitan who, claiming to now hear the voice of the people, a voice collectively calling for the Metropolitan's resignation, for the good of the Church, will heed that call?
I am reminded of the parable of the man who had two sons telling both of them to go work in the fields. One said he wouldn’t, but then did, the other son said he would but didn’t. The Lord then asked those listening who did the will of the Father. The answer was, of course, the son who actually followed through with what he was told to do. No one assumed that mere words were an assent to the Father’s wishes; it was, rather, the evidence of actual deeds that affirmed the obedience of the one son to the will of the Father versus the laziness or ineptitude of the other son.
For far too long now, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America – unfortunately, very unfortunately and sadly – reminds me of the second son. The Father did not assume any son was going to do his will until he actually saw the proof of that in his deeds, out in the field, doing the hard work, doing what was necessary even if that was the last place in the world he wanted to be right then and there. But he was there because the Father asked him to be there, and obedience to the Father’s will won out over any other concern or issue or sense of self-preservation.
I’m sorry to have to say this, I truly am, but I don’t assume – any more – that our Synod knows what the right thing is to do, let alone have the courage to do it. Individual members of it may (and indeed have shown that), but collectively there is something terribly wrong with the way in which our Synod operates and functions. I will no longer take for granted that they have the best interests of the OCA at heart, or that they have thought through correct and brave courses of action for our faithful.
No, Your Beatitude, I no longer can assume what you want me to.
And I am deeply saddened to have come to that point.