New Year: Same Old Lies
In his New Year's message, the Metropolitan asks us to flee division, end dissension, abjure cynicism and reject self-interest. (Read that message here)
What divides the OCA is the truth. Consider the AP story that ran in the Washington Post on August 31st. In that story Fr. Andrew Jarmus, the Metropolitan's new Director of Ministries and Communications, is quoted at length. The article states:
"The treasurer had said Metropolitan Theodosius, the retired head of the church, was involved. But a church investigation concluded that Kondratick was solely responsible, said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, an OCA spokesman."
That is not true. In a signed letter to OCANews.org, published today, Fr. John Reeves, a member of the Special Commission states:
"As a member of the Special Commission, I am inhibited from revealing what was in the Preliminary Report. However, I am not inhibited from commenting upon what was not in the report. In no way did we conclude that Fr Kondratick was solely responsible. This is a misstatement, to say the least.
Else, why did we request that we be allowed to complete the investigation?
Fr John M. Reeves"
Or this from the AP story:
"Jarmus said Tuesday that he didn't know whether a criminal investigation was under way."
This, too, is not true. According to multiple witnesses, the entire Synod and the Metropolitan Council were told, by Proskauer Rose itself, as well as by acting OCA Counsel Jim Perry, of the ongoing FBI investigation at the joint meeting of the Synod and Council in December 2006. The Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda personally knew of the investigation as early as July 2006 when subpoenas for the OCA's records in Syosset were served on Fr. Strikis.
This fact of the ongoing investigation was painfully reiterated at the March 2007 meeting of the Metropolitan Council, when again, according to multiple witnesses, Council member Gregg Nescott mentioned it. Metropolitan Herman immediately sought to challenge Nescott saying: "Who says there's a federal investigation?" There was a pained silence in the room - until the Metropolitan himself remembered he had already told that very Council that one of the reasons for not releasing the Special Commission's preliminary report was not to "threaten" the federal investigation. (That's a lie, too, by the way.)
Was Fr. Jarmus lying under orders - or being new, just ignorant of the last 18 months in the life of the OCA?
His penultimate assertion to the AP suggests he was lying under orders. The AP report states:
"He (Jarmus) said the IRS hasn't contacted the church about its nonprofit status."
Concern about IRS involvement has been a constant theme of Metropolitan Herman and Fr. Kucynda as a way of derailing investigations into both the missing ADM funds and the diversion of the appeal and charitable funds. Most recently, at the last Metropolitan Council meeting, this notion was even inserted in Fr. Mark Sherman's motion to restore the Special Commission. (Read the minutes here) The OCA's own accountants have, on multiple occasions, told the Metropolitan Council there was little chance the IRS would take any interest in the OCAÕs troubles, since they were the result of inappropriate actions by individuals, not corporate resolutions.
The issue is a total red herring.
It is this mention of the IRS red herring as well as his references only to those decisions of the last Synod and Council meetings aimed at rectifying the scandal along the lines suggested by the Reorganization Task Force, that suggests Fr. Jarmus was given talking points to mention in dealing with the press. (Let us pass over the references to a 400,000 person OCA in silence. At the very least, it is a step forward from the 2 million cited by Fr. Kucynda to the New York courts a year ago - or the 1 million cited by Metropolitan Herman to the press in June.) If the talking points he was given were untrue, it means he was meant to lie, deceive and distract the press and us in the OCA as well.
And the Metropolitan wonders why there is dissension?
• Protodeacon Eric Wheeler dissented and broke ranks with the malefactors in Syosset;
• OCANews.org dissented and broke the code of silence;
• Seventy senior clergy dissented, demanding accountability;
• OCA laymen and women dissented, first by the handful, then by hundreds and now by the thousands by stopping their contributions;
• The Metropolitan Council dissented, first by a handful, then a majority and most recently unanimously, demanding transparency;
• OCA parishes, then deaneries and now the whole Diocese of the Midwest have dissented by escrowing their assessments;
and dissent continues to grow...
Moreover, it will continue to grow and spread. In the face of continuing lies and cover-ups, there is no alternative to such dissent in the OCA. Protodeacon Eric Wheeler tried to work "in the system" and failed. Protodeacon Peter Danilchik tried to work "in the system" and left because of the lawyers. The Special Commission tried to "work in the system" - and was suspended when its members wanted to go places the Metropolitan declared off limits. Attorney Jim Perry tried to work "in the system" pro bono - and left as well.
Syosset's response to dissent has been to blame Robert Kondratick for everything, put forward 'Best Practices' and offer a 'Reorganization'.(One might ask if it was all really just Robert Kondratick, why do we need "reorganization" or "best practices"?) The reality is that the Metropolitan conveniently ignores 'Best Practices' when it comes to himself, his office or his desires. How else can one explain his continuing control over the Special Commission for which he is a 'subject of interest'? As for 'Reorganization', how effective is a 'Reorganization' when the fact remains that the Metropolitan shows up for work one day a week? In a hierarchical Church how effective can the body be when the head is absent? And as we have seen, how helpful is a 'Reorganization', even with new software, when the new people are ordered to lie like the old people? "I was just following orders" didn't work at Nuremburg, didn't work for Kondratick at his trial, and won't work for the new crowd either.
After two years of stalling and lying, it would be easy to be exhausted with the OCA and cynical about its leadership. The Metropolitan is counting on this to help derail growing dissent. But dissenters still believe in the vision and purpose and goals of the OCA. What we no longer believe or trust in is the Metropolitan, his Acting Treasurer and their pronouncements.
The general lack of cynicism is no more evident than in the most recent act of dissent to emerge from a most unlikely place: the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania. It has been reported to OCANews.org that at the recent Diocesan Council meeting a motion was unanimously adopted calling on the Metropolitan Council to oversee full audits of every stavropegial institution in the OCA. The actual target of this motion is St. Tikhon's monastery, the Metropolitan's own fief, that has avoided any kind of audit for years. If cynicism and exhaustion reigned in the OCA, such requests, such faith in the ability of our institutions to move, albeit slowly, would be pointless, indeed stupid. But it is not the clergy and laity of the OCA that are cynical - it is the Metropolitan and his minions that block such moves, as they have all moves aimed at uncovering the truth of our existence.
Here is real cynicism: After months of covering-up the preliminary Report of the Special Commission, the Metropolitan has now asked Archbishop Job to officially join him in the effort. The Metropolitan, forced by the financial implications of the Midwest's withholding, has reportedly asked +Job to 'edit' the Report for publication later this month.
At first the preliminary Report was said to be too explosive to release because it mentioned former Chancellor Robert Kondratick by name, and included page after page of financial misdeeds. But the Report is no longer needed for that: Kondratick has been deposed, and a careful reader can discover much of the how, if not the what and why, of the misdeeds by reading the "Updated response to the September 27, 2006 letter addressed to the OCA Audit Committee elected at the 14th All-American Council." (Read that here)
Then the fear was that if the OCA officially acknowledges that $4.75 million in ADM grants were not used as intended, the OCA might have to repay those funds, with interest. But it is unlikely ADM would ever ask for its money back; and if it does, we should, as Christians, pay it back. God forbid we should emulate Zacchaeus, and offer to pay four times what we took so that we too might hear the Lord say: "Today salvation has come into this house..." (Luke 19)!
Let us hope Archbishop Job does not take the poisoned bait. Let us hope he demands the Report be released as written. To continue to hide the truth, to avoid admission and refuse to accept the consequences of one's action or inaction, as the case may be, is not the Orthodox way. It is a cynical attempt to manipulate the situation for one's own self- interest. The Metropolitan's self-interest.
In his New Year's Address, the Metropolitan emphasized that "we", in the OCA, "are family". In his mid- seventies, I doubt the Metropolitan is totally familiar with Sister Sledge's rock anthem, but he seems to have taken the little-known verses to that stadium staple to heart:
"Living life is fun and we've just begun
To get our share of the world's delights"
and it continues:
"No, we don't get depressed
Here's what we call our golden rule:
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won't go wrong
This is our family jewel."
The OCA is a family - but for too long this family has been kept dysfunctional as the world's delights flowed to Syosset. If self-interest is the issue, the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda win hands down for their "golden rule" to "have faith in" themselves and the things they d". The truth is, that given their self-interest repressing the Special Commission, withholding the preliminary Report, refusing the requests of the Metropolitan Council, etc., etc., etc., they may have faith in the things they do - but the OCA no longer has faith in either.
The new year, ecclesiastical or secular, is always a time to look ahead with hope. Is there hope for the OCA in our present circumstance? The answer lies with the forthcoming All-American Council. The choice before us is stark. The Council can provide us with an event of reflection and repentance, a fresh start, and an empowering restatement of our vision and goals. Or, it can be more of the same.
It cannot be both.
Either we reflect and repent on what has occurred - or we continue the same old, same old - and continue our long defeat. Reflection and repentance involve change, and in an hierarchical Church, change must be reflected at the top. Either we start afresh with new leaders at the top - or we continue with the same old, same old - and continue our long defeat. It is not enough to just restate our vision and goals - they must be spoken with the healing power of confession, repentance, and acceptance of the consequences of both. The Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda to date are unable to do this, guided by both poor judgment and their own self-serving interests.
They both need to retire. They can announce this before the All-American Council - giving the process hope; or they can continue to resist the inevitable, draining the OCA of all hope. This is an issue the All-American Council cannot avoid, nor its planners. For the truth is clear: What is the point of an All-American Council that will not address the issues facing the OCA? What good is "Reorganization" if it, too, results in lies, cover-ups, suspensions and diversions? How is it different then than the old "organization" that led us to his impasse? To raise these questions is not cynicism -- it is facing the facts. To ask such questions is not self-interest -- it is dealing with the truth. This is not dissent -- but honest recognition of our painful reality.
Admission of our sins, a fresh start, with new leadership, chosen by and at the next All-American Council is the only way for us to avoid continuing defeat. It is the only way to a real future in this New Year.
- Mark Stokoe