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1.12.09

The First 100 Days
By Reader Nilus Klingel

When Metropolitan Jonah was elected, the OCA was euphoric. Finally, we had a hierarch who understood our call to accountability. Finally, there was a shepherd who would lead us out of "business as usual." We were told it was a brand new day. I believed it, but my skepticism has returned. In OCANews.org's last post of 2008, we learned about two unfortunate mis-steps by our leaders; mistakes which promise to spoil the euphoria, and return us to a period of suspicion and mistrust.

We are more than half-way through the 100 days which, in American presidential politics, are so pivotal for new administrations. The first 60 have been marred by these small controversies. Perhaps with bold leadership, the next 40 will prove to bring us back on track.

The $13,000+ Panagia

The headlines are dominated by news about our failing economy, the climbing unemployment rate, and the plummeting housing market. Against this backdrop, an already cash-strapped diocese is asking for help paying for nothing more than an exorbitant piece of jewelry. If this set of panagia for the National Primate is so necessary, and so expensive, why was there never any consultation or discussion about its commission before there was a financial commitment? Why is it the financial responsibility of only three dioceses? ‘Speed’ or ‘secrecy’ are not acceptable answers in this new, accountable landscape. At a time of financial crisis and hardship for parish economies, this $13,000 request may not actually be an undue burden, but it is exceptionally poor taste, and from a standpoint of fiscal accountability, it is unacceptable.

To preserve the Church’s trust in His Beatitude, and in His Beatitude’s commitment to "shaking up business as usual,” Metropolitan Jonah should:

(1) Refuse this luxurious purchase by making a public repudiation on OCA.org, and have the commission for this piece of jewelry cancelled, or if it is too late, return it.

(2) Take exemplary disciplinary action against the chancellors who saw it fit to commit their dioceses to such exorbitant and expensive obligations. (Or, if chancellors are allowed to make such discretionary expenditures on behalf of the diocese, this policy must be revisited.) An example must be made: secret financial dealings (of any kind, for any purpose) will no longer be tolerated in the OCA.

A New Vicar-Bishop

This news "beggars belief." With his astute and inspiring writings, Metropolitan Jonah has demonstrated he has great theological and canonical understanding. Why does he not see that the practice of consecrating vicar-bishops is retrograde, demeaning to diocesan ecclesiology, demeaning to the episcopacy, and in need of extinction? This conclusion is evident to anyone who understands the history and importance of a bishop as the chief shepherd and father of his flock. But instead, His Beatitude is determined to install a new vice-bishop for himself. I have heard that Archpriest Basil Summer is an exceedingly kind man, but his selection as vicar-bishop is a mistake for different (and numerous) reasons:

(1) There has been no diocesan plea for a vicar-bishop. The only grumbling perhaps occurred when former Metropolitan Herman unilaterally merged NY/NJ and Washington, with the complicity of the Synod. If this hybrid diocese is now unmanageable, it needs to be un-merged.

(2) There has been no diocesan conversation about who to elect. Metropolitan Jonah himself states in his wonderful paper Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches: A Monastic Perspective that "the presbyters should elect their bishop." Why then, has he unilaterally (and secretly?) submitted Fr. Basil’s name for the Synod’s consideration, without any diocesan consultation? This is a page out of Metropolitan Herman’s playbook.

(3) Fr. Basil has been retired for many years, presumably because he thought that the pressures of running a parish would be better left to a younger priest with more energy. He is retired from priestly ministry. Why, then, is he a candidate for episcopal ministry? What we need now, after this period of spiritual devastation, is a strong, charismatic, intelligent and energetic bishop (like Metropolitan Jonah) after the spiritual neglect of the last 25 years, started by Archbishop Peter, and continued by Metropolitan Herman. Any abdication of Metropolitan Jonah’s episcopal ministry to an auxiliary bishop would be enormously disappointing.

(4) Fr. Basil is not a monastic. Surely, as a scholar who has stressed the essentiality of monasticism to the character of the episcopacy, Metropolitan Jonah would be subverting himself by consecrating Fr. Basil, after a merely perfunctory monastic tonsure.

To avoid the appearance of impropriety and back-room dealmaking, and to ensure the confidence of the Church that this is not business as usual, Metropolitan Jonah should:

(1) Either rescind his nomination of Fr. Basil, or postpone any Synodal decision until an extraordinary diocesan assembly is able to discuss this issue.

(2) Establish a commission, consisting of both clergy and laity, to investigate whether the Diocese of Washington and New York is too large to exist under one hierarch, and, based on their findings, either maintain the diocese as it is, or ‘un-merge’ it back to its pre-2005 status.

(3) If the diocese will be split, Metropolitan Jonah should initiate an open and public search to identify episcopal candidates to serve, long-term, as the Bishop of New York and New Jersey.

Conclusions

It is clear that vicar-bishops are uncanonical and an insult to correct Orthodox ecclesiology. Metropolitan Jonah himself states in his aforementioned paper that "The bishop recapitulates his local church in himself." This icon is distorted when the bishop is undermined by some sort of sub-bishop; whose seat on the Synod is denied, whose See is within another bishop’s diocese, and thus whose episcopacy is crippled. In his book Being as Communion, the acclaimed theologian Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) advocates for smaller episcopal dioceses, and condemns "the scandalously uncanonical institution of the assistant bishop, which is a modern western invasion into the Orthodox tradition." (Page 251, footnote 6)

(1) If we, as a Church, are going to fight the heresy of phyletism / multi-jurisdictionalism on canonical grounds, we cannot at the same time condone the practice of consecrating vicar-bishops.

Without an assistant bishop, we most likely must split the Diocese of Washington & New York, back to its pre-2005 status. One of the few reasonable arguments against this course of action is that the Chancery, the office and residence of the Metropolitan (the Bishop of Washington) would be within the territory of the Bishop of NY & NJ. Some thought creating a single diocese would mitigate the absurdity of Syosset serving as our national headquarters. But it does not. Syosset, aka the Griswold Estate, sits among the mansions of The Great Gatsby on Long Island’s Gold Coast. It is far from any civil, religious, or geographic center. It is an inefficient HQ, an icon of the privilege and largess that has plagued our church these past 30 years. The chapel there is superfluous, as there exist two OCA parishes within a 20 minute drive east or west.

(2) To resolve this jurisdictional anomaly and to normalize the administration of our central church, the headquarters at Syosset must be sold. The proceeds should go to setting up offices in Washington DC, the national capitol, and the seat of the Metropolitan See. In awaiting an economically advantageous moment for the sale, all activity at the Chancery should be directed towards leaving – not staying. This would include a moratorium on any building projects, or the establishment of any monastic community, as Metropolitan Jonah has suggested may occur at Syosset.

During "the speech" the night before his election, Metropolitan Jonah coyly referred to Obamamania, perhaps an acknowledgement that he knew he would be elected the next morning. Yes, this is Obamamania: a lot of people starving for change, wolfing down sublime rhetoric. Some claim Mr. Obama has betrayed his promise of bold change, choosing instead to reconstitute the Clinton administration. In these fragile first days of our new administration, I fear that we too, in the OCA, might find ourselves caught in a recapitulation of "business as usual" – unless we see bold action from Metropolitan Jonah, soon.

(Reader Nilus Klingel is Co-President of the Syracuse OCF)

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