Truth and Order
In his opening address to the New England Diocesan Assembly, held this past weekend in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Bishop Nikon spoke of the OCA scandal only indirectly. He became quite specific, though, when dealing with mention of his name in the recent Special Investigative Committee (SIC) Report. The Bishop stated:
"As we all know the Special Investigative Committee report was released and many of you have read it.
As their committee has stated it is still a work in progress and there may be items to be clarified in the report. Some of those corrections have appeared in the preliminary minutes that have recently been posted. There is one aspect of this report that needs clarification I am referring to an incident that occurred in 2004, that included me, Archbishop Nathaniel and Archbishop Seraphim .....
The preliminary minutes stated that:
'Bishop Nikon noted his strong displeasure with the section of the SIC report concerning a visit the he and
Archbishops Seraphim and Nathaniel made to Moscow in 2004 at which time Archimandrite Zacchaeus
informed them of Kondratick's attempt to misappropriate charitable funds. The report says that the hierarchs did nothing in response; however, Bishop Nikon stated that the three did take action. Bishop Nikon also voiced his disappointment that he was not approached by the SIC to speak about the incident.'
The facts are that immediately upon being informed by Archimandrite Zacchaeus of the attempt to
misappropriate funds the three of us reported this to His Beatitude, fully expecting that he would address the
issue in the appropriate manner since Robert Kondratick served the church under his omophorion."
Since September 3rd, both +Seraphim and +Nikon have now admitted they were told by Fr. Zacchaeus of an alleged embezzlement attempt by Kondratick in December 2004; and each has now stated he told +Herman of the incident. Neither, however, has said when this information was shared with +Herman. Assuming it was in a timely fashion, such an excuse only begs the question: what did +Nikon, +Seraphim and +Nathaniel then do when +Herman did nothing? All we do know is that for eight months - from January 2005 through the 14th All-American Council in July 2005 - as money continued to be diverted - they remained silent.
What did they then do when +Herman chose to re-appoint Kondratick as OCA Chancellor at the end of July 2005? (read that story here)
They remained silent.
Or when Syosset's own accountant from Hostelly indicated a diversion of funds in October 2005, followed immediately by Protodeacon Wheeler's further allegations later than month (read those stories here)?
They remained silent.
Or when the Lesser Synod declared the issue 'closed' in January 2006 (read that story here)?
They remained silent.
Or when Bishop Tikhon of the West called for Archbishop Job's removal precisely for speaking out in February 2006 (read that story here)?
They remained silent.
Or when 70 Archpriests, including many of their own, called for an investigation later that same month
(read that story here)?
They remained silent.
Or with Kondratick gone, and +Herman ordering "this turmoil in our parishes, in our dioceses and throughout the Church to cease and desist..." in April 2006
(read that story here)?
They remained silent.
Six opportunities in just the first six months of the public crisis, when at any time, the voice of all three, or even two, or even just one more episcopal voice added to that of Archbishop Job's would have made a huge difference - and perhaps spared us three years of agony. But they remained silent in public not only in 2004, 2005 and 2006 before Kondratick left - and kept silent in 2007 and most of 2008 after he was removed.
Silence and The New Technology
Bishop Nikon explains his public silence this way:
"In my capacity as a member of the Holy Synod, it became a responsibility to address this crisis. Naturally, this was difficult since the problems leading to the crisis were multifaceted. It dealt with malfeasance, financial mismanagement and moral failings. And with the new technology the world not only watches, but individuals with limited knowledge of events had the opportunity to offer their opinions over the internet on several websites whether or not they were privy to truthful information. Another complicating factor was that we have proceeded at too slow a pace in bringing the malfeasance to light, and openly addressing the wrongdoing. Communication from the central administration was often slow in coming, if it came at all. In any crisis, the 'fog of war' makes it difficult to discern what is true and what is false."
The Bishop is being disingenuous. The issue in 2004, 2005 and 2006 was not "what is true and what is false". The issue then was whether the OCA should begin a serious investigation on the basis of credible allegations to answer that question. At every step Metropolitan Herman denied, delayed and diverted calls for such an investigation. And +Nikon, +Seraphim and +Nathaniel remained silent - although they themselves now admit having had personal knowledge of yet another serious allegations most of us did not even know about...
What makes it "difficult", therefore, is not "the fog of war". It is being told about the criminality by a victim (Fr. Zacchaeus) , seeing it on tape, having another victim come forward (Dn. Wheeler), dismissing him as well, then continually keeping silent despite mounting evidence for three years until, when confronted with the facts of one's silence (in the SIC Report), one tries to argue one did nothing wrong. What is difficult is trying to argue that the "malfeasance. ...mismanagement and moral failings" were confined to Kondratick, +Theodosius and +Herman. No wonder that "new technology" is seen to be so frustrating - what with all those written records of who said what, and when, are now available for all, in black and white, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, forever on-line...
What makes Bishop Nikon's public silence, lack of public action but very public self-justification so egregious is not that he fell victim to his natural reticence, or chose to observe rather than do; but that he then chose to punish those who did dare to speak out, such as the Ansonia parish, which began withholding its assessments until the scandal was dealt with. Of this, too, the Bishop spoke at length in his Address:
"Unfortunately, one of the parishes in our diocesan family felt the need to independently withhold their financial stewardship. While their intention may have been to exert pressure on the Chancery, the unfortunate result of this action was that it compromised diocesan finances and more importantly was perceived as an action to separate themselves from the diocesan family. This action has caused much hurt and harm to me personally, and to our diocese at large."
It is a revealing confession. The Bishop admits the parish's action, in the face of his inaction, "caused much hurt and harm to me personally". How? He realized then - and now openly admits - the intention of the parish was not aimed at him in anyway but to "exert pressure on the Chancery". Many parishes in the Midwest, others in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania did the same. Yet one does not read Archbishop Job complaining that such actions "hurt him" personally. For that matter even Metropolitan Herman never complained personally about his withholding parishes. Ansonia's real misstep it seems, was that by their overt action they were inadvertantly shining a light on Nikon's inaction.
Order and Representation
In +Nikon's words they "were perceived... to separate themselves from the diocesan family". Because of this, the Bishop would not allow their parish council to meet without the presence of the Chancellor or Dean, or hold diocesan events at the parish, or officially allow them to receive new members. As the Bishop explains:
"My dear brothers and sisters, throughout the period in which funds were withheld; I approached the situation with love, care and pastoral sensitivity. I took measured steps to ensure that order was maintained in the parish and at no time was the liturgical life of the parish interrupted and the administrative work of the parish was allowed to continue."
Since the Bishop brings up the topic, one is forced to ask: who was the representative of true order here? The parish who refused to participate in what the Bishop himself admits was "malfeasance, financial mismanagement and moral failings" - or the Bishop who turned a blind eye to it?
The Bishop continued:
"When tempers flare, and when we take sides against one another nobody wins. When one parish, for any reason, believes that it has to act in isolation from the rest of the diocesan family, everyone is affected negatively. In this situation, a family quarrel has become public, and in some instances mean and hurtful things have been said in very public forums. This sad chapter in the life of our diocese has affected me personally, it has affected brother clergy, and it has affected many laypeople. Truly, when there is division in the family, when brothers fight with one another, the Devil rejoices. I pray that this kind of discord never again occurs in our diocesan family. I pray that our sister parish rejoins the work of the diocese. I pray that public forums like the Internet and parish bulletins would always be used to build one another up for the work of the Gospel. But, most importantly, I pray that a spirit of Christian love and cooperation would be restored to the Diocese. This cannot happen when we put our own egos and agendas first. Christ must come first, for He alone is perfect and without sin. I am not perfect, our Diocese is not perfect, and none of the clergy or laity are perfect. We are weak, broken and sinful people, trying our best to do the work of Christ for our salvation and for the life of the world. The division and discord that we have experienced cannot continue, I will not allow it to continue, for there is so much work that must be done. So many are suffering. So many are lost. So many in New England are spiritually suffering and dying..."
Once again, a frank, revealing and disquieting confession. If so many in New England are "spiritually suffering and dying", the Bishop may want to consider that this was most likely not because "a family quarrel became public" on the internet. Do people really "suffer" because a diocesan assessment isn't paid? They may be inconvenienced, at most. But if they are "suffering" the cause is usually more spiritual. In this case, could it be because conformity was elevated above truth? That potentially 'compromised diocesan finances' were given more importance than the actions of totally compromised individuals? Or that in the end, the supposed safety of inaction was chosen above the potential dangers of acting morally? Such choices are representative of disorder, not order - and it is no wonder, therefore, that so many are 'suffering' spiritually, and not just in New England.
Like the credit markets, many in New England - and throughout the OCA - are now experiencing a lack of confidence. It is not that Bishop Nikon - and +Seraphim and +Nathaniel - made poor choices. As the Bishop said speaking of us all: "We are weak, broken and sinful people, trying our best to do the work of Christ..." Poor choices can be forgiven, poor decisions revisited. A lack of integrity is much more serious.
The All-American Council
The issues in New England revealed in Bishop Nikon's Address are not just local problems, nor is Bishop Nikon alone in bearing responsibility for acting - or rather not acting - with integrity during the scandal. He, +Seraphim and +Nathaniel are just the visible tips of that spiritual iceberg.
This is a core problem for the forthcoming All-American Council. Bishop Nikon and his fellow Synod members need to show that they realize the question of order is not about administration, or its size - but integrity. Having chosen poorly these past three years, the Bishops need not engage in demonstrations of their authority before or during the Council, for their authority has never been challenged. Neither do they need to convince the OCA that they are, on the whole, nice, generally well-meaning men. We know that. They need, rather, individually and as a Synod, to re-establish integrity, for themselves and as a group, for such grounds their public authority. Pious phrases and self-justifying gestures are not sufficient, for the former administrations excelled in them. Speaking the truth, openly; acting transparently; and holding themselves and others accountable would be a good way to start. So far, there has been much talk of forgiveness and even more self-justification. There has been not one word of accountability uttered. This is one of the things that can, and must, change in Pittsburgh if the OCA is to begin its healing. The SIC demanded it; the Metropolitan Council demanded it; and there is no doubt the Council will as well.
Arida Elected: $90 Assessment Supported
In other news from the New England Assembly, Fr. Robert Arida, the Dean of the Cathedral in Boston, was elected to the Metropolitan Council to finish out the remaining years of Fr. Mark Sherman's term. Fr. Sherman was a powerful voice on the Council and Fr. Arida should be as well. Fr. Arida was a signatory to both the letter of the 70 Archpriests and the letter of 37 former Alaskan church workers asking for an investigation into the actions of Bishop Nikolai. He is also is the author of several reflections to OCANews.org. Deacon John Zarras, the former Reorganization and Transition Chair, was re-elected to a second three year term as the lay Metropolitan Council delegate.
The Assembly also resolved to support the reduction of the annual fair share assessment of the central church from $106 per annum to no less than $90 per
annum. The vote was nearly unanimous - there was but one no vote. The resolution reads:
"WHEREAS the Diocese of New England is painfully aware of the findings of the Special Investigative Committee that egregious and outrageous abuses have
occurred over a prolonged period of time in the management of the monetary offerings of the People of God by officers and employees of the Orthodox Church
in America (OCA), and;
WHEREAS these abuses have not only damaged the image of the Holy Church and scandalized the faithful, but have injured the life, growth, and welfare of many
of our parish communities by draining essential resources, stifling parish programs, and inflicting unnecessary poverty and suffering upon the faithful clergy, and:
WHEREAS in spite of these abuses and misuses of Church resources there remain functions which can and properly ought to be performed by the central
administration of the territorial Church, and;
WHEREAS the cessation of many of these programs threatens the gradual disintegration and weakening of the Autocephalous OCA and a resulting polarization which would be an evil potentially as great in its consequences as has been our recent over-centralization, and;
WHEREAS we are the Autocephalous self governing Church in America, not autocephalous dioceses, and we need the archpastoral leadership of the Metropolitan, assisted by his administration as an 'icon of unity,' providing pastoring and stewardship to the dioceses and parishes as the Body of Christ, with
clear goals, boundaries and utmost accountability, and;
WHEREAS the OCA is the most effective agent for executing some of its present programs for the good of the Church, and;
WHEREAS the defense of the Church from legal threats by those who were demonstrably responsible for their majority of the aforementioned abuses, requires for a time the expenditure of substantial sums of legal fees, and;
WHEREAS the Church has acquired a substantial indebtedness in making restitution for past misappropriation of funds;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the 2008 Diocesan Assembly of the Diocese of New England endorses and supports the reduction of the annual fair
share assessment from $106 per annum to no less than $90 per annum with the anticipation that by the end of the ensuing triennium there can be further profound
reduction in the annual assessment;
BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that concurrent with our support of the previously stated level of support (Head Tax), we also support (over the next 3 years) a
process that will study the effects of moving away from the Head Tax system to one of percentage giving at levels necessary to support the appropriate ministries
residing in the dioceses and under the central church administration.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our aforementioned support is contingent on the adoption by the AAC of the Long Term Recommendation 6) of the SIC report dated September 3, 2008 that reads as follows:
1) The establishment at the 15th AAC of a long-term strategic planning committee to review:
(a) the relationship of the dioceses to the Central Church;
(b) theappropriate division of responsibilities and funding between the dioceses and the Central Church; (c) the separate and joint roles and responsibilities of the HolySynod (HS) and Metropolitan Council (MC) in the governance of the Church;
(d) the role, functions, structure, and funding of the Central Church Administration and its geographic location; and
(e) the development, documentation, and implementation of sound business policies, procedures, processes, and practices.
The committee will conduct a comprehensive review of The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America and all HS, MC, and Chancery policies to ensure accountability, openness, and communication to the Church-at-large. The committee will report to the HS and MC during their spring and fall sessions, beginning no later than the spring 2009 sessions and semi-annually thereafter."
Many of the papers from the New England Diocesan Assembly may be found here.
- Mark Stokoe