Structures of the OCA
In Opening Session
• Advocates OCA Statute be rewritten
• All-American Council "No Longer Effective"
• Synod must assume "Main Responsibility and Accountability for the Material Resources" of the
• Re-visioned Metropolitan Council "Primary Fiduciary Duty to be Fund-Raising"
In a fourteen page opening address to the Metropolitan Council at is first business meeting on Thursday morning, February 19th, Metropolitan Jonah offered a far-reaching "re-visioning" of the structures and life of the OCA. (Read an edited transcript here). The ideas were offered as a starting point for a church-wide discussion on the future of the OCA that will take place in a Strategic Planning process now underway. The Metropolitan's frank and personal remarks envisioned a much smaller "Office of the Metropolitan" rather than a "central administration", in an OCA where dioceses will be clearly be the focus of church organization. As all work will be concentrated in the dioceses in the future, dioceses, not Syosset, will need to be well-funded. In turn, each diocese will be expected to dramatically expand their ministries and structures.
Crisis and Opportunity
The paper began with a review of the canonical tradition of the Church in the context of the themes of responsibilities, accountability and obedience. According to the Metropolitan, key questions have emerged out of the recent Time of Troubles, including questions of primatial leadership, and the responsibilities of the Synod and the Metropolitan Council. As regards the Bishops, the Metropolitan sees the Synod as having responsibility for "both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Church", so that the Synod should, in his understanding of the canonical tradition, be responsible for both the budget of the Church, as well as all matters pastoral. Each Bishop would be accountable to his brother bishops, with the Metropolitan as the locus of accountability. The Metropolitan himself would be accountable to the Synod.
Citing a "time of crisis and opportunity" the new Primate was clear that the current Statute of the OCA must be re-written to reflect this understanding, and that this would be an integral part of the Strategic Planning process the OCA has now begun. In this new Statute, as envisioned by the Metropolitan, the role and responsibility of the Metropolitan Council would be dramatically decreased and the All American Council reduced to an ad-hoc gathering. Speaking specifically of the Metropolitan Council, the Primate saw no real need for a Metropolitan Council, as he envisions interaction between dioceses as basically being the work of the Synod of Bishops. Everything, except external relations, clergy transfers and coordination of programs best overseen on a national basis (like theological education) and the like, would devolve to the dioceses. Given this much-reduced scope of action, there would be little for a Council to do, or administrate.
It was made very clear that +Jonah foresaw the future funding of the OCA based on tithing, not a head tax. Because much less money would be going to the "Office of the Metropolitan", there would be far less temptation to misuse those monies as has been done in the pass.
The paper concluded with a frank review of several issues facing the OCA at this time. Out of an abundance of caution this part of the Metropolitan's remarks were not published by OCA.org. The Metropolitan identified these issues as:
- the question of funding as it relates to legal issues, especially current lawsuits,
- the many difficulties that are emerging from the results of the current investigation into St. Tikhon's monastery and its bookstore,
- and issues surrounding theological education.
Following his prepared remarks, the Metropolitan invited questions and comments. He revised his remarks by pointing out the that the figure he cited having been spent on legal fees relating to the Kondratick lawsuits was, in fact, the sum for all legal fees for the past two years. The Metropolitan was also questioned about his comments regarding St. Herman's Seminary. Bishop Benjamin, who was present as a member of the Lesser Synod, explained that his comments "were not fully accurate", but that "the intent was there for St. Vladimir's to engage in joint efforts with St. Herman's" so as to "help with accreditation". Fr. Oleksa, clergy Council member from Alaska, then explained the important of St. Herman's becoming re-accredited because many Alaskan Native Corporations might then be able to offer scholarships to students.
The Metropolitan explained that his opening remarks were only "finished yesterday", and while the other Bishops had not yet seen them in print, they did represent "a developing consensus" among the Bishops. This "common mind" emerged from their recent visit to Mexico to elevate Bishop Alejo, where an agreement concerning many issues "was discerned." While not all the Bishops were present in Mexico (such as +Job and +Nikon) all the Bishops will be present at their meeting next month in Colorado to clarify these issues.
Questions were raised about the redefinition of the former central administration as the "Office of Metropolitan" and how its expenses would be met. The new "Office of the Metropolitan" is envisioned to be very small - and it should be able to be fully supported by the tithes of the dioceses.
Turning to the Metropolitan Council, the Metropolitan shared that he did, in fact, see the primary goal of a new Metropolitan Council as "fund-raising", which he described as part of its current fiduciary duties. Unfortunately, the Council is not currently fulfilling this development function. In addition, the duties of the new Council would include "implementing the decisions of the Synod".
It was repeated more than once that in the Metropolitan's version of the history and development of the OCA "...the AAC (All-American Council) doesn't work as an effective legislative body." He explained: "Perhaps electing a primate when needed, but it should not determine policy. We need to come up with a new, different entity where we can come together and share." A significant structural difference between the present Council and the envisioned Council is that the latter would composed of "almost entirely diocesan representation" because " the whole point is to build up the local". There would be no representatives chosen by the All-American Council itself. In turn, he envisions diocesan assemblies becoming ever more important.
The Metropolitan's vision was clearly shared by many of the Bishops present. (The current Lesser Synod attended the Metropolitan Council meeting, with Archbishop Seraphim substituting for Archbishop Nathaniel.) As there was little discussion following by Council members ( the agenda was very heavy, and matters pressing) no inferences can be made about how they took his vision, other than the many expressions of thanks for his openness in sharing it with the Council. He repeated that his remarks were not made to suggest immediate changes, but to define and outline a discussion. (The Statute of the OCA, as it currently stands, may only be changed by a vote of the All-American Council. The process of amendment is outlined in the current Statute. (Read that here). The next All American Council, according to Statute, will be held in 2011. )
In that sense the Metropolitan's comments were most welcome; although, as member of the Council, I found three areas where questions lept to mind and require real discussion.
First among these is accountability. If the Metropolitan and the Synod can't get the most publicly deposed priest (Robert Kondratick) in the OCA removed from continuing to lead an OCA parish, let alone get him to stop wearing a cassock while doing so, one has to question what "episcopal accountability" means. This is hardly "retribution", but a simple question of basic ecclesiastical discipline. If the Bishops can't do such a simple, obvious thing now as a Synod, can one reasonably expect timely and responsible synodal action on more serious difficult and controversial charges, of say, alleged sexual misconduct or potential criminal activity by a bishop in his own diocese in the future? Hardly.
In the same manner, if the OCA had been operating under this new vision, it is most likely that the former Bishop of Alaska would still be in Anchorage, not Australia. Why, having suffered through Nikolai's predations, ( and the Synod as much as his diocese) would the Synod, the Metropolitan Council, or the OCA as a whole then want to endorse and embrace something so similar to his oft-repeated vision of "diocesan" sovereignty?
Finally, the Metropolitan spoke warmly of "lay participation in the decision-making of the Church". But it was unclear what, if any structures, would remain where this would, or could, find expression. The Metropolitan envisions that it would finds its fullest expression on the diocesan level, rather than the national one. But, for example, the new vision only spoke of Bishops nominating and choosing Bishops, and that being done through the practice of vicarage - that is, each Bishop , or the Synod as a whole, would nominate their eventual successors. Thus, even on the diocesan level, the clergy and laity are simply removed from any participation in this most basic and fundamental "decision-making" regarding their spiritual lives. "Lay participation in the decision-making of the Church" , as the Metropolitan took pains to express, is not about "power". Agreed: but while he spoke of "lay participation" in the sense of possibly advising Bishops, there was no talk of how lay or clergy would "participate" in actual decision-making. This does not sound very new at all.
As expressed, the vision of the Church as currently offered by Metropolitan Jonah was largely synodal rather than conciliar. Such a vision may make us more in line with ancient Byzantium, but is it really an effective model or witness to a pluralistic, diverse North America society to whom we are called to serve? How does such a synodal "consolidation through devolution" square with the conciliar tradition of Patriarch St. Tikhon, who began the All-American Councils more than a hundred years ago? And how does devolution to 5,7,9 or however many independent dioceses the Bishops will decide may continue exist in the coming years, square with the idea of one autocephalous local Church? Such questions must be asked, and to his credit, the Metropolitan seems to welcome them.
Let the discussion begin!
Monday: Decisions Dominate Days Two & Three