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6.16.08 Editorial

The Present Task

The most important challenge for the Orthodox Church in America at this moment is not how to deal with its
recent scandalous past; nor how to deal with its uncertain future. It is how to deal with the present. That is, before a consensus can emerge as to what happened in the self-aggrandizing Potemkin village that was a centerpiece of Kondratick's OCA; or what changes need to be implemented in the light of those abuses, the OCA must answer the question: does the moral and spiritual culture that made Kondratick and his Potemkin Village possible still dominate the OCA? This is not a question that can be 'investigated' by a Special Commission or Committee, nor one that can be

're-organized' by a Task Force. It is a problem of moral consciousness that demands a relentless spiritual self-examination of the past and present by every Bishop, priest and lay person in the OCA.

Consequences

In the Spring of 2006, the removal of Robert Kondratick was done suddenly and by fiat. Further discussions into the issues surrounding the removal were resisted for legal, political and personal issues. The ensuing outcry, however, forced the Metropolitan to reconsider this policy.

Denial runs deep, however, on both personal and corporate levels. Consider the editorial in a recent (March 2008) issue of the Orthodox Church magazine. It begins: "The last two years have been painful and difficult in our Church. Amid charges of financial impropriety in the Church administration, resulting in considerable disarray and confusion, loss of morale and trust, no one can predict ....." The editorial is correct in its recognition of painful and difficult times. But it is still in denial about its causes. There are no "charges", either canonical or civil. There were actual canonical crimes and personal abuses, misdeeds that have been admitted to by the Church on multiple occasions. And yet, the administration's chief publication (let alone many Bishops, clergy and the laity) still has difficulty acknowledging this. The reality of the scandal remains simply too much, for too many, to admit, even now...

Denial though, is not without consequence. With the collapse of the Potemkin village a more clear and devastating picture of the true state of the Church's finances emerged. Syosset has been increasingly forced to end its policy of silence as the price of restoring its finances. In December 2006, a Special Commission was established. But the Special Commission and its epigonic successor, the Special Investigative Committee, have showed that it is almost impossible for church structures to effectively investigate, let alone prosecute, misconduct acquiesced in, if not perpetrated, by church authorities themselves.

So it was that after almost a full year of silence and denial, Kondratick re-emerged as 'the villain' in Spring 2007. He was portrayed, to quote the Metropolitan, as a man "we trusted too much", a "friend" who betrayed, a "figure" who took advantage. Kondratick was suddenly an enigmatic seducer of the OCA's Bishops, clergy and lay elite.

But he was little of this. Kondratick was not enigmatic, let alone a "figure" - he was widely known in the Church for more than 40 years - rising from parish priest to bishop's secretary to seminary instructor to Metropolitan's secretary to Chancellor. He was self assertive, often duplicitious - and always charming. His real and only "greatness" lay not in his vision of a "Great OCA", but in his seemingly endless exploitation of opportunities and people for what has been revealed as his own ends. He did seduce: but seduction takes two, and mutual need.

If we seek to move beyond our present state we cannot continue to deny the above, or avoid the question: How could we all have promoted, and followed, for so long, a man like this? How could we have designated him as one of the highest representatives of our Church, such that he was able to perpetrate crimes in our name for decades without serious challenge? Answering that question does not take an analysis of concrete historical details, ala a Special Investigative Commission, important though as they are. Indeed, relying solely on these kind of answers may be little more than an excuse for avoiding the discussions that would be the most valuable - and painful.

And so the Church, in the person of her Metropolitan, has continued to choose silence, rather than to ask these questions. By stating from the outset that the "... abuses of Church trust were determined to be centered on and around one individual", the spiritual pathology that gave rise to Kondratick has not been allowed to become an issue. Kondratick was never the only villain, or the real problem; he was but the symptom, the visible manifestation of the spiritual tumor we all choose to ignore.

By spiritual pathology I mean:

• the loss of moral and ethical sensitivity among the episcopacy, clergy and laity that rewarded people like Kondratick for their 'leadership'; including the continuing consecration and election of unsuitable episcopal candidates without appropriate vetting, widespread possibilities for discussion, or even objection,

• the participation in, profit from and tolerance of many bishops, priests and laity in Kondratick's abuses,

• the willingness of so many to keep quiet about abuses, to overlook, ignore and excuse misdeeds and bad behavior as long as they, in the pursuit of their own goals, weren't hindered,

• the readiness to obey, without questioning, directives that were indeed questionable,

• the preference for appearance over substance,

• an inability to have or even allow real dialogue, debate or disagreement because of a constant need for the
'appearance' of unanimity,

• and then accepting that all the supposedly 'consensual' agreements will be undermined by allowing each leader to passively-aggressively enforce or ignore collective decisions on an individual basis,

• an inability to feel compassion for the abused by ignoring their problems, or diverting funds meant for them for personal goals...

And this is but the tip of that iceberg of problems which has torn such a gash in the side of the ark that is the Orthodox Church in America.

Instead of real spiritual reflection and re-orientation, silence has produced a general exculpation. Those who have been incriminated, mainly Bishops and priests, are currently in the process of being exonerated by each other. As a result the trial that has been held is criticized as unfair, and the investigation(s) dismissed as a sham. Despite the sincere efforts of many, the events and actions to resolve the scandal have been ill-conceived and unsuccessful because they have failed to confront the Bishops, priests and lay elite of the OCA with the question of their individual responsibility in the catastrophe. Fellow-travelling, opportunism, elitism, silence, fawning to power, unquestioning obedience, avoidance of open conflict, monolithic thinking, and passive-aggressive behavior remain the norms of our Church life. Sadly, the past 18 months have contributed to, rather than overcome, the general dishonesty regarding our common involvement in the Potemkin village.

As a result, the past year has been a traumatic, but largely unproductive experience, as diversion has been heaped upon silence and denial. Public discussion of any questions regarding responsibility for the Potemkin village have been diverted to discussions on re-organization rather than re-examination. The underlying theory is that if jobs and structures were changed, so, too, would be people occupying them. There was an intense, widespread, and almost unshakable belief by many in positions of power that re-organization and new financial systems could free Syosset, and hence the OCA, from the shadows of the past. In this they have not succeeded, nor can they, for they do not address our underlying conditions which created the problem in the first place. It is but further evidence of that spiritual pathology which seeks solutions, even dysfunctional ones, rather than honestly dealing with the problem. And we continue to wonder why attempts to "move forward" are stalled and unsuccessful?

Change

Without resolving this matrix of problems - the continuing silence and denial, the spiritual fallacy of "Kondratick alone", the diversion of' reorganization before real change has occurred, of leaders failing to accept personal responsibility and the consequences thereof, before any sense of shared responsibility has been engendered, - there can be no successful change in the OCA.

This present lack of understanding regarding our situation is a special disappointment to those who understood the collapse the Potemkin village as a kairos moment: a special opportunity given by God to reconstruct a more stable, sustainable and conciliar OCA. This is not to say that there was nothing good accomplished in the twenty years of the Potemkin village: much was. This is not to say everything that took place was wrong; that is not the case. But what did take place was not predicated on conciliarity, not sustainable, and thus not stable. When the Potemkin facades began to tumble, they took some of our real OCA structures with them...

Self-criticism, a coming to terms of our Bishops, priests and lay elite with their responsibilities for the facade, is the necessary precondition of rebuilding our Church as community; and not just rebuilding yet another Potemkin village, albeit this time on a smaller budget. An inner change of heart predicated on a unconditional self-examination by every Bishop, priest and layman and woman has to be accomplished in full integrity if the realization of conciliar, stable and sustainable structure is to be achieved.

Anything less is built on sand.

And yet, the Bishops, priests and laity of the OCA have never been asked to accept the misdeeds, abstract and specific, as being in any way their own. The reasons we have failed to do this are legion:

• deep trauma caused by years of abuse - of Bishops by each other, of Bishops by the former Chancellor, of clergy by imperious Bishops, and of laity by imperious priests, etc,:


• disillusionment and frustration at the ineffectiveness of repeated attempts at change by bishops, clergy and laity alike;


• the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality regarding so many issues;

• preoccupation with one's own survival, whether in the diocese or parish because of fear of retaliation;


• the sudden unmasking of long-held and church-approved convictions and their terrible consequences;


• the continuing minimalization of the misdeeds and failings of the past twenty years, or in some cases, open denial in a refusal to apperceive the truth;


• the illusion that we can "get past" it all, without any further disclosures, sacrificing transparency and accountability again and again for a false notion of "for the good of the Church";


• a confusion of reorganization with personal repentance;


• fear of a dminished future;


• the disorder of the current process.

The list goes on...

Non-discussion of responsibility (and yes, guilt) on the individual level, and on the collective level of the OCA, accompanied by a remarkably lax prosecution, has led to our current impasse, both individually and as a community. By ignoring the spiritual conditions of decline that enabled the rise of the Potemkin village, all our current attempts at change are, in truth, merely perpetuating the dysfunction.

Opportunity

In the Orthodox tradition the individual always has freedom of action, is always capable of a decision to act morally or immorally. It only takes a few individuals to warn of the phenomena of moral and spiritual decline in a given community; and even fewer to challenge the rest to live up to the standards they all profess, and thereby initiate the change they seek. Change is always possible, and the Tradition has given us the way forward, if we are courageous enough to follow.

At this present moment in the OCA it falls on the Bishops of the OCA to lead by assuming their individual responsibility for the establishment and functioning of the Potemkin village that was the OCA these past twenty years. They can lead by word and deed, and thus fulfill their ministries as our Fathers in Christ, by humbling themselves, as Christ did before them. Professor Meyendorff has suggested the way that this can be done: by each one agreeing, as did their brothers Bishops in another moment of crisis in Russia in 1917, to stand for re-election, and then resigning or retiring if they are not re-elected. And this change should begin at the top, with the Metropolitan.

In this one action, they will initiate the moral and spiritual change that is so needed on every level of the OCA. In their action the Russian Bishops re-acquired the moral authority to lead the Church through the ensuing decades of turmoil. In our case they would re-acquire the moral authority to lead the OCA after two decades of turmoil. They will transform the All-American Council from one that simply repaints the facade on the Potemkin village, to one that lays firm foundations for a community rededicated to its foundational principle of self-sacrificing love that leads to Resurrection.

The details and specifics required by Church law and common sense can be worked out; but the fundamental integrity of the act could not be more powerful, cathartic or healing. No other single act or actions could cut through the demoralizing haze of hypocrisy, deceit, lying, deception, and half truth that has characterized so much of our existence in the Potemkin village, and the ruins of that crumbled facade in which we still live. We may indeed decide that the leaders we have are the leaders we wish to have. So be it. But they will return to office with authority, not just position; refreshed by the cleansing that repentance and forgiveness grants all.

The Metropolitan has a leadership opportunity to transform everything by the love he continually professes for the Church. His initiating act alone will begin the necessary change that may lead other Bishops - and by extension the priests and people - to make the changes they are as yet unable, or unwilling, to make. He needs to agree to stand for re-election; or simply lead the way by retiring. Only this can begin the process of sustainable change. Nothing less will suffice; little more is needed.