AWE AND SHOCK
by John Nunnally, Baltimore MD.
I married into the Orthodox faith in the mid-1960’s and converted to the faith in the 1970’s. I have attended and been a member of St. Andrews Orthodox Church in Baltimore, Md. for over forty years. My wife and I have served on the church council on numerous occasions and at the present time, she is President of the Sisterhood and I am chairman of the Cemetery Ministry team. To close this background, I have represented St. Andrews at one All-American Council and attended the Diocesan meeting last November as an observer.
My family has benefited immensely from our membership at St. Andrews and by being part of the Orthodox Christian faithful. It is a wonderful parish with many gracious and most generous parishioners.
It is interesting to note that the church is located in the heart of Baltimore city, but only one family lives within walking distance of the church. All other members faithfully drive tens of miles from the suburbs to attend liturgy and holy day services. This is no easy chore in today’s economic environment, but you can reliably count on a significant portion of the membership attending Liturgy on a regular basis. The coffee hour is a fun filled and wonderful time after the Sunday services with most members staying for an hour or more to share friendship with other parishioners and visitors. This is all by way of saying that the Orthodox Church in America has a jewel in St. Andrews and
I am sure that there are many other such jewels in the parishes that make up the OCA.
These “jewels” enable the OCA to exist through their contributions and good deeds. Overall, the OCA Hierarchs should be in “awe” of its parishes and constantly remind themselves that their love and respect for these parishes should be paramount in their behavior. The Hierarchs should constantly remember that they exist first to serve God, but also the faithful of the church, and through their deeds insure that the full faith and confidence of the clergy and laity is never lost or questioned.
Conversely, the faithful holding the Orthodox Christian Hierarchs in “awe” has had a long tradition. Those faithful, with few exceptions, have always shown a deep respect for the church leaders, whether the local parish Priest, Bishops, Metropolitan or Patriarch. The faithful strongly desire to have this reverence for the Hierarchs of the church and have generally, over centuries, held them in “awe”.
Therefore, with immense “awe” flowing upward and in my opinion, little “awe” flowing down from the current OCA Hierarchs, the OCA financial scandal has brought “shock” that the OCA Hierarchs could behave in such ways and means. This “shock” by the faithful has brought questions to the fore about trust and simple honesty as to what the OCA Hierarchs and administrative staff could “have possibly been thinking”.
With probably only a few exceptions, it seems that the parishes do not operate in this manner. They enjoy councils with stewardship, honesty, by-laws and auditors to insure that the parish operates within defined boundaries and with financial responsibility. The “shock” from the faithful comes with the question; where was that same attention to reasonable operational procedures and honesty in its dealing with the “dollars” sent by each parish to the OCA for administrative and charitable purposes? The Metropolitan Council (MC) seems to have been asleep for years and is now coming out of its slumber and paying attention to its assigned duties and responsibilities. This period of slumber raises the question in my mind: Was the MC in “awe” of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan? Have they, like a large number of clergy and laity, been “shocked” to find that those held in “awe” have led the entire body of the church into scandal and disarray?
“Awe” can be a respectable and honorable behavior. But if it results in being blinded to human failings, the “shock” of bad behavior by trusted individuals will follow and should not be surprising. Leadership has wide responsibilities in any organization and those held in “awe” have a particularly heavy burden. When the “confidence” and “good faith” of the leadership comes into serious and prolonged question, the leadership (OCA Hierarchs) and administrative staff should step up and identify with full transparency the misdeeds, as well as the responsible individuals, and then hold these individuals (all and no matter whom) accountable for their actions.
Since a full accounting of the misdeeds has not been forthcoming, there may be a revolt by the same people who chose to hold the Hierarchs in “awe”. Some of the Hierarchs and their supporters have been trying in vain to suppress the truths and misdeeds, but failing at each turn of events. People in high positions come and go, but it is OCA that must endure with the faithful restored to their trust of the Hierarchs and the overall organization. This crisis in the OCA must be put behind the faithful with correction of the past misdeeds and removal of those responsible. To enable this cleansing, the current Hierarchs should recognize that the honorable thing to do is step aside and let the clergy and laity select a new body of Hierarchs at the upcoming All-America Council. This course of action would perhaps be unprecedented, but the redemption bestowed to all current Hierarchs would in my opinion be widespread and sincere.
During the All-America Council in November of 2008, the faithful will be watching as to how their chosen representatives and clergy address the established misdeeds and lack of accountability on the part of the Hierarchs. I have watched and read with “awe” as members of the clergy and laity have spoken out in public repudiation of the misdeeds that have soiled the OCA and I have observed in “shock” the attempts to cover up the misdeeds and a full accounting of all responsible parties.
Assuming the OCA Hierarchs do not step aside prior to November, I trust they in turn will be “shocked” by the fortitude of the clergy and faithful to restore the “moral authority” of the Orthodox Church in America.