STATEMENT READ TO THE PRE-CONCILIAR MEETING
by Presbytera Laurie Rodger, Ottawa, Ontario
Your Eminence, Your Grace, and my Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I, like most children, adored my mother when I was growing up. It wasn't as though we didn't have our disagreements, arguments, and occasional bouts of yelling (which usually ended up with me storming off to my room and slamming my door). I knew that she had her own foibles and eccentricities, but that was OK because that was just all part and parcel of who she was. A divorced, spiritedly independent woman, she worked outside of the home and was friends with a man whom she knew was gay (all quite unusual for the 1960s). She drank, she smoked -- but then so did everyone else back then. The bottom line was she was my mother, I loved her more than anyone or anything else, and, in my mind, she could do no wrong.
That all changed the day my much-older brother talked to my young adult self about his childhood relationship with her. "I had a friend at school," he said, "who used to show up the odd time with a black eye, or the outline of large fingerprints bruised into his arm to complement the split lip or smashed ear. When I would go home and report his latest condition to my mother she would just smile quietly and say that Freddie's dad should learn to hit where the bruises didn't show." He continued, "After all, that's what she did with me."
Life is full of parallels, and the one between the administration of the OCA and my mother is quite painful, and difficult to bear.
Both have been (and, in the OCA's case may still be) abusers, and
Both have been (and, in the OCAÕs case may still be) adept at hiding the abuse, knowing full-well that the abuse ought not to be happening but letting it continue.
The Orthodox Church in America became my spiritual parent in 1981. After many years of searching for a spiritual home I unexpectedly stumbled upon a tiny parish which has since grown into the Cathedral Church I now stand in. From mission status through amalgamation with a dying parish to growth into Cathedral, from truly humble 'house church' beginnings to grand building, I have been both witness to and participant in the greatest joy available to mankind. I became Orthodox because of that joy. I became Orthodox because through Orthodoxy God's capital-T Truth, Beauty, and Goodness were revealed with clarity. I became Orthodox because of the manifestation of Christ's love through His people. I became Orthodox because in and through Orthodoxy God's pure light was shining, calling, beckoning. Here at last I could trust in this Truth-filled Theology, for "Christ is Risen!" and it, at last, all made sense!
The trust that I, and many many others once had in the integrity, honesty, purity, and holiness of those whose job it is to be faithful in leading us with Truth, Faith, and Love is shattered. It is not because the abuse is now public knowledge that this is so. It is because the abuse has occurred (for the past 15 years, if not longer) at all that trust is broken. Archbishop Seraphim seems to think that, like some of his 'older and experienced parishioners' it is "only money after all"(Canadian Orthodox Messenger, 19:3 Summer 2008). His Eminence has entirely missed the point if this is what he believes. Money is involved, yes, but it's the broken, severed trust behind the mishandling of that money that is the issue.
To answer one question put to us by the PCC: What are your concerns and suggestions for the future of our Church?
If this trust is ever to be restored, it is imperative that everything that remains hidden be put out on the table before the convening of the All-American Council this coming November. Healing the Body of Christ demands that the putrefaction be totally exposed and purged. Only in this way can the Light of Christ shine on it and begin the process of binding us together again. At this point in time the Body of Christ of the OCA is gangrenous: if not fully excised it will kill us. It is folly to think that it can be done in any other way.
To quote our beloved Matushka Juliana Schmemann in her open letter to the Bishops and the faithful of the OCA of April 8, 2008:
"Would you (our bishops) agree to be witnesses, martyrs,
helping each other with courage, strength and tenacity
in seeking the truth in spite of threats and outcries?What a sigh of relief and renewed hope would befelt by the church if a few of the Bishops couldtake a firm and courageous stand
towards truth and transparency."
In fact, I would dare to say that unless ALL of the Bishops (and anyone else in the know) take a firm and courageous stand towards truth and transparency in the months preceding the AAC, then there would be no basis at all for trust to be rebuilt. We, the faithful flock of the OCA need to be able to trust our Shepherds. Our questions about the scandals, financial and otherwise, do not make us unfaithful or disloyal. That we are committed to not only "reasonable worship" but also to "reasonable governance and accountability" show us to be intelligent, responsible people, people to be proud of, not dismissed as "having no business asking such things".
Another question put to us by the PCC is: What would success at the All-American Council look like to you?
In a word: reconciliation. Reconciliation that must needs be predicated on a) individual confession of specific sins by those who have abused our trust "willingly or unwillingly, in word, deed, or thought, committed in knowledge or in ignorance" (this would include, by the way, a specific, unambiguous public apology to Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, among others), and b) the rite of forgiveness as practiced on Forgiveness Sunday with all attendees (bishops, clergy, laity) face to face, one poklon at a time.
Our Archbishop Seraphim has been fervent in his appeals for our (collective) reconciliation over these matters, with the most recent appeal appearing in The Canadian Orthodox Messenger (19:3 Summer 2008). Quoting from his "From the Archbishop's Desk: The time for reconciliation" article:
"If we follow through on this work of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, our restructuring will be blessable by the Lord".
I think we all would have to agree with him about this, otherwise we'd be building on quicksand, to say the least.
However, this "mutual forgiveness and reconciliation" cannot come about as long as the members of the Holy Synod, and especially Metropolitan Herman, continue to deny wrongdoing, and refuse full disclosure and the acceptance of personal responsibility. Even if, as Archbishop Seraphim claims in that same article:
"Our current crisis has had mainly to do with administrative difficulties. Our structure, as an Autocephalous Church, does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life. As a result, there is a vagueness of responsibility, which allowed for big mistakes to be made, and at the same time made it difficult for them to be seen until it was far too late."
"True, the Holy Synod of Bishops is always in the end responsible for everything - for good, or for bad. At the same time, both the Holy Synod of Bishops, and the Metropolitan Council depend upon the clear presentation of facts, for them to make proper decisions. Both bodies (not only) had unclear information presented (although it appeared to be clear)."
The "administrative difficulties" and "our structure" which "does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life" of which he speaks indicates to me that he believes that the basic fundamental truth of living a moral life according to Christ's calling cannot exist in the current state of affairs. I submit that it can indeed exist and it should have been existing from the beginning. No amount of administration reorganization is going to make people choose to live according to Christ. If they cannot do this without being told to, then they have no business being our leaders.
That being said, "success at the All American Council" would have to come in the form of forgiveness, reconciliation, and quite probably with the resignation and retirement of Metropolitan Herman, given the current "vote of no confidence" expressed by what appears to be a great majority of the faithful (both clergy and lay), indicating his failure as a "good shepherd".
Another question put to us by the PCC is: What would you want to see the OCA do in the next decade?
There are four areas of need that I see for the OCA in the next decade. The first is the need for transparency and accountability, specifically in the creation of the office of an Auditor General, such as exists at the federal level in Canada:
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada is an independent and reliable source of the objective, fact-based information that Parliament needs to fulfill one of its most important roles: holding the federal government accountable for its stewardship of public funds. The Office audits departments and agencies, most Crown corporations, and many other federal organizations; it is also the auditor for the governments of Nunavut, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. The mandate of this office (quite separate from the office of Treasurer) would be to be vigilant in its investigations and make public its findings with specific recommendations for improvement.
Secondly, there is a need for clear, improved communication within all levels of the OCA. Sorting this one out could fall under the Auditor General's purview.
Thirdly, collaboration with the Antiochian and Greek Churches so that with the sharing of resources (i.e. Church School, Youth, and Young Adult ministries) can come a greater mutual respect, understanding, tolerance, and community. The OCA does not need to spend the time and money it does not have simply trying to 'reinvent the wheel'. Working together to build up the Body of Christ (instead of being exceedingly territorial and possessive) is what all Orthodox churches are called to do. Let's do it.
Finally, (and I sincerely hope that this would happen within the next year, not the next decade): the reversal of the decision that denied an auxiliary bishop for Canada. Our Archdiocesan Assembly of 2004 supported the need for an auxiliary bishop and a candidate's name was put forward. It was totally incomprehensible that the Holy Synod vetoed that archdiocesan decision and completely unjustifiable, given the need of this archdiocese for an auxiliary bishop, which it is able to support. It was wrong to passively abuse our overworked, overtired Archbishop of four years ago through this decision. His need, and the need of the Archdiocese of Canada for an auxiliary bishop is even greater now. Archbishop Seraphim, Eis Polla Eti Dhespota!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, forgive me, for I am a sinner.
(Presbytera) Laurie Larissa Rodger
"Mutual forgiveness and reconciliation" would not mean forgetting the errors of the past, for 'he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it'.