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God vs. Caesar? Letters Reveal Legal Tension As Archbishop Places Scandal in Theological Context

Two recent Lenten letters, from Metropolitan Herman and Archbishop Job, reveal the legal and theological tensions that exist in the Special Commission, Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops on how to deal with OCA's ongoing crisis.

The Metropolitan's Lenten Letters 2006 & 2007

One year ago, in his Lenten letter of 2006 (only two weeks before he dismissed Fr. Kondratick) the Metropolitan made no mention of the growing scandal that was making headlines across the nation. Lent 2007 appears to be no different. In his letter to the faithful of the OCA this Lenten season, posted on the OCA's website on February 13th, 2007. Metropolitan Herman writes:

"One of the most beautiful hymns of the Divine Liturgy is the Cherubic Hymn. In it, we find a phrase that is deeply powerful and equally comforting: 'Let us... now lay aside all earthly cares.'

It is not uncommon to find ourselves engulfed by earthly cares. We worry about such radically diverse things as the economy, politics, our children and their future, the price of gas, terrorism, our health, and 'making ends meet.' Despite our sincere efforts to the contrary, we are so surrounded by the world in which we live that we easily can be consumed by it."

In 18 months of scandal, the message from the Metropolitan has remained constant. From Syosset's 2006 appeal that "This is a time of humility, of reflection, of silence", to 2007's appeal to "lay aside all earthly cares", the Metropolitan has consistently discouraged all discussion of the scandal. (Read the Metropolitan's 2007 Lenten letter here)

The Archbishop's 2007 Lenten Letter

In a much more direct Lenten letter to the clergy, monastics and laity of the Diocese of the Midwest, Archbishop Job, chairman of the independent Special Commission investigating the scandal, rejects silence concerning the scandal. To the contrary. Archbishop Job openly speaks of the OCA's present situation as "a state of crisis and uncertainty". The Archbishop continues: "In the midst of debates, denials, meetings, resolutions, investigations we see an increase of tension between rendering to God and rendering to Caesar." He then warns: "In the midst of the fray, we, the Church, the Body of Christ, in the confusion of the past year, may have lost our understanding of who we are, what we are, and how we are to live, to discern, to judge with righteous judgment and to fulfill our mission to preach and to live the Gospel of new life."(Read the Archbishop's 2007 Lenten letter here)

Silence for the State Vs. Righteous Judgment

Putting aside his vested self-interest in not pursuing the scandal (as the Metropolitan was Acting Treasurer of the OCA when the ADM cover-up occurred, and Metropolitan during the time when the Mission, Charity and Seminary funds were diverted), +Herman and those representing him privately argue that any open discussion of the scandal might 'possibly' compromise potential federal criminal action. In his perspective, a second and worse possibility exists as well - that the OCA could be open to civil lawsuits if it speaks to the actions of certain persons in a public manner. Thus, Syosset repeatedly insists on absolute silence on all aspects of the scandal – silence that must continue into the indefinite future – 'for the good of the Church'.

The Archbishop of Chicago, on the other hand, has now placed the issue in a broader theological context. In his Lenten letter, sent to his parishes on February 22nd, + Job argues deference to the state or fear of legal action must not overshadow the Church's own needs - among them "the need to fulfill our mission to preach, and to live, the Gospel of new life" - a new life which requires us "to discern, and judge with righteous judgment". While cognizant of legal concerns, those who see the theological dimension to the current scandal are equally adamant that the whole story (if not every fact and detail) must be made known to the Church. Only in this way can the self-identity of the Church be preserved without diminution or reduction, only in this way may trust begin to be restored. Until that happens, and unless that happens, the OCA's "state of crisis and uncertainty" will continue into the indefinite future.

Since neither the Commissioners nor Metropolitan Council members have spoken publicly about their positions, it is not known how many share the Archbishop's perspective, or how many the Metropolitan's. Given the way Archbishop Job leads, usually through consensus, one might reasonably assume the majority of the Commission agrees with him. What the Metropolitan Council thinks is another issue.

The Metropolitan Council meets March 13-14, in Syosset, to hear a report of the Special Commission as well as to make recommendations to fill the positions of Chancellor, Treasurer, Secretary and Director of Ministries and Communications.

-Mark Stokoe



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