Letter from Pittsburgh
The Council, so long anticipated, has begun.
As a member of the Metropolitan Council, I am faced with the difficulty of time management. I can fully participate in the Council, or I can try to report about all of what is happening. I have chosen the middle path. My focus shall be on participating, but when things get slow, as seems inevitable in such gatherings, I shall take the opportunity to write and post brief reports. Official press releases from and concerning the Council are available on www.OCA.org (here). In a signal that some changes are underway, Fr. Jarmus, the Director of Communications of the OCA, has assured me that all decisions will be posted nightly.
So, what has happened? Several things stand out from the first four sessions:
• Archbishop Dmitri's opening address, focusing as it did on the theme of "moving on", met with tepid response from the 550+ delegates and 200 observers. It stood in noticeable contrast to the spontaneous standing ovation, and sustained applause, some minutes later that greeted Mr. John Kozey, former Chair of the OCA Audit Committee who was dismissed from reporting irregularities in 1999, when he took the gavel as the Lay Chair of the Council.
• A resolution from the floor was made, during the approval of the agenda, to move consideration of the Statute Amendment that would accomplish the election of a new Metropolitan through pulling a name from the Chalice (which wags referred to as the "goblet of fire" amendment) from before the election to after it, so that such a change, if approved, could only take effect at the next Council, not this one. The motion was approved.
• The "Town Hall" was no such thing. Rather, it was a brief question and answer session that began with working at their tables to come up with two questions each to ask of the Synod. The questions were then collected, and after a brief pause, Bishops Benjamin and Nikon selected and answered two or three general questions. The session was then ended, with the promise that more questions would be answered at the next session.In fact, they were not. The questions were deferred to the following session yet again, as priority was given to the SIC Report - and then postponed from the next, until in the evening session.
• The "Act of Repentence" consisted of an hour-long Compline service with a 12 minute general reflection on theme of the Holy Saturday by Bishop Tikhon (Mollard). No more, no less.
• The SIC Report consisted of Bishop Benjamin reading the introduction to the report and then answering questions from the floor. No new information was given. Perhaps the most telling question and response was from Fr. Christopher Wojcik who stated to an answer from Bishop Benjamin:
"You said earlier, a priest said to you - "Thank God this is only about money." Given what you have just said, would you care to retract that thought? This is not about money. It is about integriy, morality, accountability, about honesty and about truth, far more than it is about money. You can't just say "If we keep better records everything would be fine." It's not just about keeping better records. It is about broken hearts, and failure, a failure to hear direct apologies, and a lot of excuses."
In response to Archbishop Nathaniel's claim made earlier that he had not "dropped the ball" because he told +Herman of Kondratick's attempted embezzlement in Russia, Wojick stated: "People in high places 'didn't drop the ball" because they made one phone call. I hope your words about new era of episcopal accountability (are true) because without it, we won't get there." His words were met with loud applause.
• It was not until the final session of Tuesday evening, when Fr. Jillions of the Pre-Conciliar Commission pointed out that the Council had been promised answers to the list of "Questions to Bishops" the PCC had compiled, that the Bishops agreed to answer some.
The Bishops then sent Bishop Jonah forward. The newest Bishop in the OCA spoke for 45 minutes on the need for love and forgiveness, arguing that "the evil was over. It's over." He spoke more bluntly of the misdeeds of the past than anyone had before, and as forcefully of the need to move on for our own salvation, lest we fall into vindictiveness. In the context of the ecclesiology he had carefully laid out, he then declared that he had, in effect, answered all the questions. There was much applause, and many stood. Clearly, there will be no more questions.
• Several Bishops have made it clear that the clergy and laity are accountable to each other, the clergy and laity are accountable to the Bishops, the Bishops are accountable to each other, and to "other Orthodox Churches", but there is no accountablity of Bishops to clergy or laity. "Of course, " said Bishops Benjamin,
"we would be foolish not to listen to your advice."
• Finally, prior to the first evening's opening session the Metropolitan Council and Synod met in joint session to hear an appeal by former Council member Dr. Alice Woog . Following her appeal the Council re-affirmed its decision 17-10 to remove her for cause. The Synod announced the following morning (Tuesday) to the Metropolitan Council that "out of Christian compassion" the Synod does not bless this decision, and Dr. Woog is to remain on the Council for the rest of her term (that is, three days). Since the cause was a violation of "Best Practices", the Synod has rendered "Best Practices", an option, not an imperative.
For another account of the last two days, read the press releases on OCA.org, or you can follow the proceedings on Ancient Faith radio.
- Mark Stokoe