An Inspired Choice?
by Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster
The more senior members of the OCA may remember the 1968 Hollywood film based on Morris West’s 1963 novel titled, The Shoes of the Fisherman. The prescient plot revolves around the election of the first non-Italian pope of Rome in some 450 years—Kiril Lakota, Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop of Lviv—whom the Soviet dictator has just released from years of hard labor in a gulag. I shall not spoil the dramatic climax of the film (and novel), which alone makes the film still very much worth viewing and pondering. There is, however, an earlier scene that may provide indirect inspiration and guidance for the election of the next metropolitan of the OCA at our All-American Council in November.
The conclave of cardinals appears deadlocked, when Cardinal Rinaldi (played in the film by the delightful Vittorio de Sica) notices Cardinal Lakota (the always personable Anthony Quinn) in his little cell, on his knees, deep in prayer, vested in his Byzantine Rite white klobuk. At the next voting session, here’s how the dialogue proceeds (as printed on the Internet Movie Database website):
"Cardinal Rinaldi: [standing before the cardinals in the conclave] My brothers. My brothers, we have already failed seven times to reach an election. I stand now to claim a right under canon law. In all humility, I proclaim to you my belief that there is among us a man already marked by God to sit in the chair of St. Peter. Like the first of the apostles this man has suffered prison stripes for the faith. The hand of God has led him out of bondage to join us in this conclave. I announce him as my candidate and dedicate to him my vote and my obedience: Kiril Cardinal Lakota.
Kiril Lakota: [Stunned. Slowly rises] Thank you, Eminence. But I - I cannot consent to it.
Cardinal Rahamani: [after a moment, rises]
I too proclaim him.
Unnamed Asian Cardinal: [Rises] I also proclaim him."
That begins a cascade of cardinals rising and adding their own personal support, until the conclave is unanimous.
Why do I relate those details from a film about a fictional conclave of cardinals and election of a pope of Rome? What does any of it have to do with the challenge—and opportunity—confronting the OCA in November? Isn’t a papal role model, or anything that so much as hints of the papacy, the last thing we need or desire after the recent petit tyranny in Syosset?
If we can get past the obvious differences and irrelevancies of the analogy, set aside our customary aversion to all things papal, and indulge my imagination just a bit, I would apply the film scene above to the momentous decision awaiting us in Pittsburgh (mutatis mutandis, as scholars might invoke the Latin phrase—“with the necessary changes”) by proclaiming, I hope humbly but confidently, the following:
There is among the Holy Synod of Bishops a man perhaps already marked by God Himself to become the servant of the servants of God among us, to lead the OCA out of the fiscal corruption and moral morass into which many of our trusted leaders have plunged us for more than a decade.
Alone among his brother bishops in the Synod, he has acknowledged his personal failures, dereliction of duty, and unworthiness as a successor of the apostles publicly, personally, repeatedly, without reservation, with obvious heartfelt remorse and genuine repentance.
Alone among his brother bishops in the Synod in the last couple of years, he has, with determination and prophetic zeal, tried to get to the bottom of the abysmal crisis in the OCA, pursuing the truth wherever it may lead and whatever the consequences for whoever may be implicated, including himself.
He has suffered insults, calumnies, and false accusations with a steady grace and pacific spirit.
In a non-fiction scene straight out of Dostoevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov, he has, like the Staretz Zossima, prostrated himself before an angry, mean-spirited, vindictive, considerably less worthy person.
He has recently announced his desire to retire as soon as possible to dedicate his post-episcopal life to prayer and repentance—yet another ironic indication that he is uniquely qualified to rise to the next level for our sakes, if not his own.
I believe the hand of God the Holy Trinity has guided this bishop through the present storm, and I, as a priest-delegate to the All-American Council, pledge to him my vote for the next Metropolitan of All America and Canada: The Most Reverend Job, Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest.
And I urge all of my fellow clergy and lay delegates to do likewise, ensuring Archbishop Job’s election on the first ballot in a resounding victory for all of us.
(Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD, is currently on active-duty at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, as a Chaplain (Colonel) in the US Army and continues to teach as a Professorial Lecturer in the University Honors Program at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.)