The Winter of Discontent
From the moment Fr. David Vernak offered a motion from his parish (Christ The Saviour, Paramus, NJ) at the Diocese of Washington-New York Assembly, held yesterday, November 5, 2007, in South River, New Jersey, it was clear Metropolitan Herman was not going to taken by surprise at his own Diocesan Assembly as he was at the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania's Assembly two weeks ago. The Paramus motion read:
"Motion concerning the continuing state of the OCA
At the last assembly of the diocese of NY/DC on November 1, 2006, His Beatitude, in his opening address said: "There are many who would say that the Orthodox Church is resistant to change, or that the Church moves too slowly, or that the Church and her leaders fear self-evaluation, re-evaluation and re-direction."
His Beatitude further said: "Yet we know that change is at the very heart of the Gospel. Clearly, Our Lord's call for repentance is a call for change- a radical change of mind, heart, intention, priorities and ultimately, action."
And since in the year since those words were spoken, there has been no admission of misdeed or repentance on the part of any in the leadership of the OCA, no disclosure of the facts of the misdeeds of past years, no "radical change of mind, heart, intention, priorities, and ultimately, actions" EXCEPT the charging of all misdeeds to one person, the former chancellor of the OCA, Robert S. Kondratick, his ecclesiastical trial, deposition and now the appeal of the same,
1) Be it moved that the diocese of NY/DC respectfully requests his Beatitude, the holy synod and the Metropolitan Council to specifically answer:
a) whether the allegations made by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler and others are "true of false";
b) admit their responsibility, and ask forgiveness for the same;
c) disclose everything regarding the misdeeds, as his Beatitude both promised and assured us at the November 1, 2006 assembly of his same diocese; and
d) themselves take the appropriate action with regard to their further service in these offices."
For no sooner had Fr. Vernak offered this motion than it was ruled out of order. The lay chair, Scott Anderson, denounced the motion as "contentious", "emotional", "personal", and "unproductive" without even consulting the clergy Chair, Fr. Ken Stavretsky. When the Assembly members began muttering, Anderson stated that if the Assembly desired, they could overrule his decision by a 2/3rd vote. Fr. Theodore Boback
(a member of the Metropolitan Council from the Diocese) then questioned if an accurate vote could be ascertained, given that observers were sitting with delegates. It was then suggested that the Credentials Committee produce the official registration list. The list could not be found.
Anderson then ruled the Assembly would move on to other business. A few topics and a few votes later, Dr. Faith Skordinski (another Metropolitan Council member) could no longer abide the farce. Rising to the microphone she stated: "What you have just done here is not ethical...." Dr. Skordinski complained that a vote could not be taken to overrule the Chair - but there was no problem with the Chair allowing other various and sundry votes to proceed.
Eventually a vote to overrule the Chair was allowed - but only after delegates were "signed in" by the secretariat to exclude observers from "sneaking votes". That is, after disallowing a secret ballot, proctors wrote down the names of those who voted, and how they voted.
The vote to overrule the Chair and allow the Paramus motion to proceed was defeated 31 to 49.*
What was surprising was not that, like in New England, the motion failed; but that so many priests and laity had the courage to sign their names knowing that defeat was certain.
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;"
An opposite resolution came late in the meeting from Fr. Michael Koblosh (St Nicholas Parish, Whitestone, NY). This motion was to proclaim the assembly's "support" of Metropolitan Herman "in this difficult time". The resolution endorsed all that the Metropolitan, Synod, Metropolitan Council (and others) have done in the past two years. Whereas criticism of the Metropolitan was ruled "emotional", "personal" and "unproductive" by the Chair, expressions of support for the Metropolitan clearly were not....
Priests and delegates then spoke for and against the Koblosh Resolution, in a candid exchange that was in marked contrast with the Assembly a year earlier, where no discussion was allowed. Clergy who supported the motion spoke against those who continued to ask questions, and who posted on various lists & websites. Others supported the motion and condemned any opposition to the Central Administration and hierarchs. One priest pointed out that Metropolitan Herman was being "crucified" on the internet.
Equally moving and forceful speeches by Frs. Jason Kappanadze, John Shimchick, David Garretson
(a judge in the Kondratick trial) and David Vernak favored transparency, "brutal" honesty and integrity.
Once again, there was no secret ballot. The vote was by raised hands, counted by the Chair, all carried out under the watchful eyes of the Metropolitan. The resolution of "support" for the Metropolitan carried, but with a much smaller margin of victory: 31 to 23 with 2 abstentions.
"And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house..."
Throughout the discussions and votes the Metropolitan sat silently. He had laryngitis, and apart from croaking his brief opening address (in which he blamed the current troubles "on a small minority") he sat silently for the six hours of the meeting. In his opening speech he did confirm that Kondratick's new lawyer had sent a letter to Archbishop Seraphim, as secretary of the Synod, with copies to all the Bishops, following the Appeal last month. The Metropolitan affirmed to the Assembly that a decision in the case is expected in December.
What the Metropolitan did not reveal was what was said in the letter. OCANews.org has learned that the letter states that if Kondratick was not restored to the priesthood what he has revealed about the scandal so far would be "only the tip of the iceberg".
"In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."
The Assembly included a more than half hour presentation by Deacon John Zarras on the reorganization at Syosset, a presentation by Mr. Robert Kornafel on the Metropolitan Council, and a line by line presentation of the Diocesan budget by Mr. Larry Tosi, Diocesan Treasurer. It was during this presentation that it was revealed that some 14 parishes were withholding, for a variety of reasons: some for simple lack of money, others in protest of the Central Administration. Interestingly, there were no threats issued against withholding parishes, as had been the case in the past.
Fr. Igor Burdikoff, however, stated that the Church was being "choked" by the withholding of assessments.
Fr. Jason Kappanadze remarked: "We worship Jesus Who is the Truth; Jesus built the Church on the foundation of Peter's statement of Truth. It is the absence of Truth, and not assessments, that is choking our Church."
It was then that the most telling moment of the Assembly took place. Larry Tosi spoke again, scolding those who were withholding or might consider doing so. Tosi, a lawyer, then insisted with great emotion that all the details and facts of the OCA scandal could never be made known. To reveal all of what was in the Proskauer Rose report , Tosi averred, "would kill the Church". To reveal all about the scandal would "bring embarrassment to individuals" and leave the OCA "open to federal and other prosecution".
Tosi's public, emotional revelation raises serious questions. How does Tosi, who is not a member of the Metropolitan Council, know what is in the Proskauer Rose report? On the other hand, it is unlikely that Tosi, a close confidant of Fr. Paul Kucynda, was 'speaking through his hat'. No one who heard his words doubts the sincerity with which they were uttered. They simply confirmed what many present had feared: that the long-term solution by Syosset to the scandal would remain secrecy and cover-up.
In short, the Assembly of the Diocese of Washington and New York confirmed that fear and deceit will continue to govern the OCA for the foreseeable future.
But resistance, too, is spreading...
- Mark Stokoe
*There were 101 registered delegates at the assembly. Thus 21 delegates, or 20% of those present, did not vote.