Wednesday, April 12. 2006
What would you add to Fr. Tom's list? Is the Metropolitan Council the place to do it? Is a Council the place? Your suggestions and ideas are welcome. I encourage you to sign your posts.
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Without real checks and balances in this system of church government, though, despotism is the inevitable result.
What we need to do is return to the model where the real highest legislative/authoritative body is the regularly and frequently convened General Church Council of the National Church (All-American Council for the OCA)... perhaps it would be good if decisions at these councils were arrived at through consensus of the three "houses": hierarchs, clergy and laity, working together in synergy.
I realize the primary focus now has to be on getting to the bottom of the financial problems... answering the question, "Are the allegations true or false?"... but without a fundamental re-assessment and change of mind (a real *metanoia*) of the false system of clericalism that's been allowed to infect the Church these problems - or others as bad or worse - will simply continue.
I've never heard of an Orthodox Christian model of conciliarity in historical precedent that includes a "system of checks and balances" between "three houses" of bishops, clergy and laity in a council. That sounds more like secular American constitutional law or the conventions of the Episcopal Church USA, with their separate "houses," than the Sacred Tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church expressed in her Bible, her Councils and her Fathers. Needless to say, the Church has no need of secular political or heterodox, Protestant models. Let's draw from our own God-given Sacred Tradition, and start using it and living it faithfully and properly.
According to the holy canons of the Church, the bishops are the highest canonical authority in the Church and have the last word, for which they have to answer to God. There's simply no getting around that and remaining Orthodox Christian. The current Statute of the Orthodox Church in America states the Holy Synod of Bishops is the supreme canonical authority in the local Church, and the All-American Council (which includes the bishops, as well as clergy and laity) is her highest legislative and adminstrative authority. It's workable, canonical and orthodox.
The Church is a family, "God's household" as the Bible calls it, and families have parents and children. She is a living body, the "Body of Christ" as the Bible calls it. What family divides itself into "houses" to "check and balance" each other, parents checking children and children checking parents? What living body functions as separate body parts that "check and balance" each other in and of themselves? All the body parts must be part of a coordinated, integrated whole regulated by the brain and nourished by blood to work. That's why bishops, clergy and laity meet as one Council, rather than separate "houses," to arrive at consensus -- a consensus that must always be in line with the Sacred Tradition of the Church, in fidelity to the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body.
Even the lay activists of the Belarusian and Ukrainian brotherhoods resisting Uniatism in the 16th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth never conceived of doing anything without episcopal blessing and charter, despite most of their erstwhile bishops deserting Orthodox Christianity for Byzantine Rite Roman Catholicism. They sought out and got the blessing and charter from the Patriarch of Constantinople.
"Let no one do anything pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop," Saint Ignatius of Antioch tells us. "Anyone who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop serves the devil." Sobering words, indeed.
Anticlericalism is no less unorthodox than hyperclericalism.
#1.1 Gregory Orloff on 2006-04-12 22:12
We Orthodox talk right past each other many times. I propose that we start listening to the intent behind the words rather than necessarily the words themselves. I suggest we refrain from being so quick to criticize another's incorrect vocabulary, and rather, listen to the meat of the suggestion first.
In doing so, we can probably more easily find common ground with which to agree and move forward. For example, the previous "three houses" suggestion. While it is true that there is not such a notion, per se, in Orthodox Christian theology, we can find plenty of theological support for the basic concept being proposed. Simply waving the suggestion aside as "secular" is not particularly helpful, and may, in fact, not be true to our incarnational Tradition.
Does a "three houses" concept have a theological analog? I believe it does. The Holy Trinity is three divine Persons in one essence, united in love... and mutually accountable. What if bishops, clergy and laity functioned similarly? Would that not be three houses, as it were, working together in a community of love, modeled upon the Holy Trinity? Would these three houses not comprise the Conciliar Body of Christ? Would their need for order not presuppose a "president" or hierarch, responsible to oversee the proper functioning of the body, as the head? I would propose that while people's vocabularies may not be "Orthodox", the basic notions are pretty much aligned.
Even the "congregationalist" label that we Orthodox love to malign isn't that out of place, really. Go to any Congregationalist church and I guarantee you you will see a natural hierarchy in the midst of all their theoretical egalitarianism. We human cannot help it, that is the way God in Trinity made us!
What about the notion of "checks and balances." What is wrong with that notion? Mutual accountability presupposes checks and balances. Confession, forgiveness, almsgiving are all checks and balances to the effects of sin. Just because James Madison instead of St. Paul said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary", does that somehow make the concept less true or less of a guide to how we should live and govern ourselves? I think not.
I have little problem studying systems of human government, including American government, for examples of systems and procedures that are effective at keeping the peace and working for the common good, whatever the particular vocabulary that is used to describe that system per se. Because, in the end, anything that is good, and right, and true, comes from God. We Orthodox are called to make such affirmations wherever we find truth. Such is our responsibility that is rooted in the Incarnation. Perjoratively labeling concepts with an intent to marginalize them kills the spirit and prevents us from being able to learn new and fresh things about our God and His moving in this world.
I propose that we Orthodox have a lot to learn from our fellow human beings who do not use our vocabulary, yet who live vibrant lives full of Truth.
#1.1.1 Name Withheld by Request on 2006-04-13 20:12
As Hitler once said, "How fortuniate for the government that the people are ignorant".So it could be said for many in the OCA who worship by habit and without understanding! Is it only the a select few few who "must come to the knowledge of Thy truth", that is our Bishops,
our priests, etc. What about our laity?? I stand behind Fr. Hopko 100% and laud his courage and thank him for educating countless seminarians to strive to understand
our faith and teach others to do the same!However, in a faith that is so steeped in ethnicity, we have been blinded by the comfort many find in old ritual practices engaged in out of habit, etc.How much of the missing monies was used to educate the laity.Were our church to beter educate the faithful about the faith, perhaps, we would find unity
in that our love for Christ and His church and understand
exactly what it is we profess to "love" at least "as far as we could bear it".
#22.214.171.124 mary katherine koretski on 2006-04-16 16:39
This and several post's like have been quick to point out the historical and "canonical" realities of Orthodoxy. They point out that Orthodoxy has never used the more modern paradigms of "checks and balances" and the like. I think this is important, as I do not think the protestant "congregational" model is any sort of improvement - if I did, then I would be protestant. What I would like to know then what is the "system" or "method" that Orthodoxy uses when the ecclesial body utterly fails. I think this is important. It has happen before in history (I am thinking here of how St Mark of Ephesus was apparently the ONLY bishop who did not go off the deep end at Florence). I am not saying that the situation is that dire here, but we do seem to have a fundamental ethical and consensual problem here among our bishops. What if they can't resolve it? What if they remain deadlocked and confused?
I have had my disagreements with Fr. Hopko in the past, but I think he really summarizes what I am talking about here when he says:
...including our disagreement about the relationship between bishops, priests and lay people, the function of Orthodoxy in a pluralistic democratic society and the significance for our church of the 1917-1918 All Russian Church Council
To come to the point, if not a "system of checks and balances" then exactly what are we to do about this Bishop Tikhon? Just what sort of "Holy Cannons" are these that allows this man to remain a bishop? All we have had so far is negative feedback as to what not to do. Fine, for it is important to not make the situation worse. However, where do we go from here and what is the functional equivalent of "checks and balances" within Orthodoxy?
#1.1.2 Christopher Encapera (OCA - North Carolina) on 2006-04-13 22:09
I profess to know nothing about how the Church should be properly ordered administratively, so I will not muddy the discussion with my ignorance.
I can answer the question you pose in the broadest possible sense: What are we to do? We ought to pray for ALL of our bishops, priests, deacons and faithful. I write this as much for myself as for anyone else, perhaps more so.
Remember those who serve the local parish as well as the Holy Synod by name each time you come before God in prayer, whether in your car, at work, school, at home before the family icon corner.
To paraphrase what is said in Chicago: "Pray early and pray often." As we all are often reminded, the prayers of a righteous man avail much... now like Diogenes, I take up my lamp and start looking... I don't see one in the mirror, this I know for certain.
Holy Saints of North America, pray for us!
Most Holy Theotokos save us!
#126.96.36.199 Reader Theophan on 2006-04-15 13:41
This is an extensive, thoughtful, prayerful and open letter from Father Tom. It is a breath of fresh air to ask for debate with a goal of working at long standing, unsolved problems, especially troubles and challenges in clergy families
and to analyze how this can be linked to how we handle finances.
I think in our lenten journey Father Tom's letter is some view from the treetop to try to get a look at Jesus.
For those that demand silence, stating "its Lent" "be quiet", you wonder have they never heard or studied the Gospel of Saint Luke 19:1-27?
What is the first question asked us before our lenten journey? Have we taken money wrongfully? If we did, we must give back like Zachaesus and more
than what was taken.
Isn't this Archbishop Job's question?
Are the allegations true or false?
I am thankful for Father Tom's letter.
I pray that it will be heard.
I pray with this invitation to debate and discussion and analysis with a commitment to problem solving, a stronger communal force powered by the winds of the Holy Spirit will help us know what to do.
Maybe we will not be the media church of prestige by pretense and outward appearance, but I would really like to be part of a repentant church that can work together to help clean each one up and prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Glory to God for All Things!
#2 Matushka Carol on 2006-04-12 16:38
Thank you Fr. Tom,
Your voice is well respected in the entire Orthodox world. You spoke forthrightly and eloquently. To hear you speak the truth on so many issues of what we need to solve IS a breath of fresh air as compared to the rhetoric of some of the OCA members that do not seem to know how to work themselves out of a paper bag.
I admire your courage to stand up and to bring up several important issues that the OCA needs to address.How many of these issues become solved remain the question...
Perhaps one thought is to have a certain Bishop have so many senior clergy members be in charge of a task force to study and analyze the problem under their charge, and then this task force reports to the Metropolitan Council and Synod. For example, timelines can be set for certain completions of the various steps in the task force. For instance, as only an example, say 6 months to one year to analyze and collect data on the problem and to have preliminary recommendations presented in the report to Met., Synod, and Council.
There would probably have to be several task forces created, perhaps as many as 12 (!) with all the issues you have raised that have been ongoing concerns for many of us in the church.
We need to start this process soon after, or if not in conjunction with, the financial problems, that are occuring in the OCA. Each problem has merit to try to work with and solve.
I don't know how much we can put on the Synod's or Metropolitan Council's plate with outstanding financial issues unresolved.
I believe the problem solving sessions are long overdue and a few creative minds could be called upon by the Metropolitan, Synod, and Council to start this critical process at their Spring Session.
If the OCA can turn its financial mess around, maybe there is hope to turn other problems around.
#3 Patty Schellbach on 2006-04-12 18:11
Well, there it is in a nutshell--a frank and full delineation of the issues facing the OCA! How is it possible, leaving aside the out-of-date marital impediment, that such a man is not a bishop by acclamation of our Church?! Compare and contrast his intelligence, demeanor and yes "authority", earned, not commanded, with others who for reasons of charity will remain nameless.
#4 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2006-04-12 19:57
Bishop Tikhon calls Fr. Hopko's letter "an unconscionable and mob-inciting RANT"?
Gee, what a surprise
#5 Christopher Little on 2006-04-12 21:23
Fr. Thomas's thoughtful words of lamentation evokes a complicated mixture of personal feelings that motivates me to struggle to express them for reflective thought.
It is not an exaggeration to say that we do have a remarkable diversity of talent and resources throughout the OCA that is ready and willing and have been trying to address those issues that Fr. Thomas has raised. I can say this from direct experience and relationships with many of those Faithful who have been a living part of that ongoing process.
It is also not an exaggeration to say
that those individuals who make up the Holy Synod and those individuals who now or in the past are/were part of the OCA Administration and supporting staff are also diverse in talent and personality and are also equally ready and willing to serve the Church's Life and Ministry. I can say this from the personal contact and experience with these individuals.
They are not clones of one type.
However, there has been a longstanding developing culture of concealment and secrecy that is advocated and championed by certain individual personalities who coerce incoming members of the
Holy Synod. OCA Administration and its supporting staff into what sociologists describe as "a Group Think" that concealment and secrecy is the safe and secure way to act in the best interests of the Church.
This is not to say that all matters must be publicly known and published, which is the opposite extreme and practically unrealistic. However, the opposite extreme of living within a culture of concealment and secrecy becomes an obsession
and a mentality that breeds a lack of trust and good will and obstructs the development of healthy partnerships
to share authority and responsibiility.
It has continually and personally and profoundly grieved me to know and see how various individuals that join the Holy Synod, the OCA Administration, and/or its supporting staff struggle with and become victimized by depression over being coerced into living within this culture of concealment and secrecy that they themselves are uncomfortable with which makes them feel soiled.
The Holy Synod and the OCA Administration, whether they realize or acknowledge it or not, have been indoctrinated into a culture that requires them to live out a double life that gives public lipservice to a Conciliar Church, while they pursue
a policy and practice of concealment
and secrecy. They need help to break free of this bondage and captivity, but it will take a spirit of humility, faith, trust, and courage and reconcilliation of the entire leadership of the OCA to fully enact the current statutes of the OCA and make what further admendments to them to clarify what the actual partnership of authority, responsibility, and accountability is
in policy and in practice. Ambiguous discretionary rights and powers have to be frankly addressed and discussed and clarified to prevent misunderstandings and suspicions that will lead to a lack of trust and good faith and even possible fraud.
We should absolutely refuse to accept a prevailing culture where a few individual personalities can keep the Conciliar Church process tied in knots and obstruct its partnership role in its Life and Ministry.
Let us pray for wisdom as to how we collectively can constructively
confront and vanquish this evil culture which divides us and creates a lack of common trust and good faith to share authority, responsibility, and accountability at every level and part of the leadership of the Church. In Christ all things are possible in faith, hope and love.
Let us pursue our life of repentance and reconciliiation fervently and fulfill the vision of our common calling as a Conciliar Church in Christ.
Resolutely in Christ the Victor!
#6 A unworthy churchman from the OCA on 2006-04-12 23:47
Would it not be interesting if in examining the captivity in which the OCA works in this dysfunctional "group think" to find that we are the problem in fixing the jurisdictional question?
It all looks like some sort of neo-gnosticism in which hierarchs imagine that there are many secrets that must be kept from those on the outside (meaning sometimes other heirarchs and certainly the faithful presbyters and laity).
We may find doing the examination called for by Fr. Tom that the greatest obstacle to the jurisdictional situation in the Americas is the Autocephelous church that has been dwelling there.
#6.1 Anonymous on 2006-04-14 08:37
That is a lovely letter. A sad letter, yes, but an honest letter that asks very good questions.
I think we could each think about these issues and use the very, very little time that remains in Lent to contemplate our own attitudes and behaviors that contribute to these issues.
Now is a time for prayer and contemplation. Silence can be a negative thing, the active supression of debate and honest dialogue. But it can also be a positive thing -- a foucsing inward, a quelling of internal strife for a time, a re-focusing on what matters most.
Let us pray that as we focus ourselves on the center of our faith, the awesome mystery of Christ's sacrifice and ressurrection, that we emerge on the other side able to engage in these matters with love and good will.
#7 Rebecca Matovic on 2006-04-13 07:27
Is it your intention to expand the stated purpose of the website by publishing Fr. Tom's thoughtful and painful letter? If so, I welcome it. The study and discussion proposed in the letter are long overdue and desparately needed.
Several of the points raised by Fr. Tom are directly related to or emanate from ecclesiology. In conversation with three priests in different areas of the country, I have come to understand that among the hierarchs and clergy there are at least two different operating ecclesiologies. The excerpts of letters from two western bishops published earlier on your website expose a long festering fracture line within the Holy Synod, which in large part may be due to different ecclesiologies taught at different seminaries or picked up from heaven knows where.
Notwithstanding honest differences of opinions, how can a hierarchy present a truly unified face if the various hierarchs are working from different pages? The financial scandal and crisis and the loss of parishioners are symptoms of deeper problems, some of which are outside the Church, but need response by the Church.
Your website can be a force for good and constructive dialogue, action and change from the bottom, but corrective action and cleansing will almost certainly have to be from the top down.
I know we're in a heck of a mess. We can either ignore it or tackle it. If we tackle it in a manner suggested by Fr. Tom, the process can be akin to an examination of conscience before confession - illuminating and therapeutic.
#8 Terry C. Peet on 2006-04-13 08:41
Fr. Hopko's letter is neither unconscionable nor a mob-inciting rant. It is thoughtful, sincere, and very challenging - not only to the leadership of the OCA, but to all of our jurisdictions.
Like others before him, Fr. Hopko is appealing to the hierarchy to take a deep breath and commit itself to its God-given role and mission in the life of the Church - to build up the body by rightly dividing the word of truth. That cannot be done by merely announcing a matter is closed or off limits. Nor is it helped by fights over statutes of human devising.
Lent is not a time for silence! It is a time for repentance, weeping, and confession - the liturgy itself teaches us this in Forgiveness Vespers, the very opening of the Lenten Fast, as we prostrate ourselves and beg forgiveness for any offenses, known or unknown, intentional or inadvertant. When I became Orthodox, I was taught that what was unconfessed ran the risk of being unhealed -- and if it was intentionally concealed it was "the greater sin." Surely this applies at the ecclesial level, not merely the individual level.
Pascha approaches - though our sins be as scarlet, they may yet be made white as snow in the light of the Resurrection. No matter what mistakes, brokenness, or sins have occasioned or prolonged this terrible scandal, the Lord of Love has opened his arms on the sacred Wood of the Cross in order to enfold us in forgiveness. Only those who shut their eyes, plug their ears, bite their tongue, harden their hearts, and hide in darkness need be left unembraced.
The sinner Michael
#9 Novice Michael on 2006-04-13 09:08
The author is Martin Franzmann, a Lutheran who helped me find the Holy Church.
"O lavish LOVE, that didst prepare
A table bounteous as thy heart,
That men might leave their puny care
And taste and see how good thou art,
This day we raise Our song of Praise, Adoring thee,
That in the days when alien sound Had all but drowned
Thine ancient, true, and constant melody,
Thy mighty hand did make A trumpet none could silence or mistake,
Thy living breath did blow for all the world to hear living and clear:
The feast is ready, Come to the Feast,
The good and the bad, Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast!"
"O Holy LOVE can you not brook
Man's cool and careless enmity?:
O Holy love, thou wilt not look
On man robed in contempt of thee.
Thine echos die; Our deeds deny Thy summoning
Our meddling sound Have all but drowned
That song that once made every echo-ring
Take up again oh, take The trumpet none can silence or mistake,
And blow once more for us and all the world to hear,
Living and clear:
The feast is ready. Come to the feast,
The good and the bad. Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast."
Let us set our minds aand heart on the Feast of Feasts that is now but a little while away. Let nothing, no puny care nor Hierarchical rant, nor opinion of Inaction by the Holy Synod or over reaction of the Metropolitan, alleged moral and financial failure, nor any care trip us up as we approach the Feast.
#10 Fr. Andrew on 2006-04-13 09:59
This letter from Fr. Hopko is excellent! The points he makes deal squarely with the systemic problems of the OCA of which the current financial scandal is merely one of several indicators available to be seen by all who care to look at the surface of things. Hopko goes below the surface issues to point out what needs to be addressed within the OCA in terms of the long range. The problems that are detailed in the letter, point after point, must be answered.
The strategies of episcopal and managerial silence in response to systemic problems will not work any more. Most thinking people who care to read the Hopko letter will want to know more about the points made in it and what will be done to deal with them. I certainly look for something more from the church than official silences and business as usual in pretty vestments.
Seeing the contents of the Hopko letter leaves little doubt in my mind as to why it would be attacked with such viciousness by Bp. Tkhon serving as a mouthpiece for the discredited Theodosius-Kondratick regime. The Tikhon ten page denunciation taking aim at Hopko, Wheeler, Stokoe, Herman and others was too full of fine detail not to have been heavily scripted or influenced by Kondratick himself, or at least one of his close associates. Fortunately, what Tikhon wrote can easily be disposed of in the crank letter file.
As to the future, the Hopko letter provides an intemized list of points and issues that the OCA needs to face as a national religious organization. Unless that is done and pronto, it's all downhill from here on for the OCA.
- Robert Zacher
#11 Robert Zacher on 2006-04-13 12:35
Thank you for a well written article. A pity I can't be a fraction as literate as you and other contributers to this topic.
#11.1 Stephen Petren on 2006-05-02 20:11
Thank You, Fr. Hopko for a indepth and concise list of symptoms and causes of the division and brokeness we see at this moment. Perhaps many of these problems can be solved individualy, one parish at a time. I may not be able to change the synod but I can change my parish. My children and the rest of the youth and young adults of Orthodoxy may be able to help Transfigure the human side of the Church.
Hopefully this scandal motivates us to die to all that holds us back from attaining Christ. That as a church we may realize that everything is not rosy, that there are things that need to be changed. This may be God's wake up call, to fufill who we are. Perhaps people on this website are not only called to bring accountibility but bring life abundantly back to the OCA.
I pray that by Christ we may turn back to the focus that distinguishes us from every other, the love of Jesus Christ!
#12 Michael on 2006-04-13 13:52
Staff at Syosset will not receive paychecks on time!
Interestingly enough Metropolitan Herman was in Syosset when the decision was reached and chose to put notes in everyones mailbox, rather than assemble the staff and tell them eye to eye!
#13 Alex on 2006-04-13 17:50
Father Hopko's letter is a well written Homily. I have heard this one before.
I agree with your first three paragraphs!
When you start your fourth paragraph with (however) this is what I am really afraid will happen. I am a seventy four year old, lifetime ORTHODOX. In the last Church, that I was a member, I heard on numerous occasions " what the Bishop don't know won't hurt him". This is known as a trickle down effect, and it starts at the top.
With good thoughtful planning, with only the CHURCH, as our focal point, and prayers, we will get through this rough time!
From a justice standpoint, nothing in this world is perfect. I suggest we first discover the truth after investigations have been completed as everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And oh, how humanity loves GOSSIP. Then, if you wish to hang anyone, be a non-Christian and do so. Or, follow Christ's teaching and forgive, and do everything possible to see that the problem does not repeat. Another suggestion: If you do not feel confident offering money to the Church, purchase items outright for the Church and offer your services in some way which will not require payment. Then you will know where every cent is going. If anyone in particular is found guilty after the investigations, they should be counseled to repay whatever is missing in installments, regardless how long it takes.
#15 Faith on 2006-04-15 12:01
May God's bountiful blessings be upon Father Thomas Hopko for his candid, accurate and honest depiction of the OCA and his plea for the Church's leadership to face up to these problems and do something to rectify them.
Fr. Hopko gives some twenty seven examples of dysfunction, lack of direction and downright pastoral failure. These are not abstract claims, but issues I have heard discussed at the parish, diocese and national level by concerned clergy and lay people. Many are issues I have personally witnessed. Concrete examples abound:
An OCA priest was unable to take a full time parish assignment due to medical disability. Over a period of two years, he underwent five major surgeries in a battle to prevent the need for a colostomy. He lived off his savings. At no time did his diocesan bishop contact him to see if he was in need of anything or to inquire about his health. Five major surgeries, and not one call from the bishop. He ended up destitute.
An OCA priest was hospitalized for two months following major emergency surgery. His dean and bishop were notified the moment he was admitted to the hospital. The dean lived 30 minutes from the hospital. The dean never contacted the priest. Had it not been for clergy of the Greek and Antiochian Churches, the Sacred Mysteries would never have been brought to this priest. The bishop made one brief visit to this priest, three days after the surgery, having been forced to go to the hospital by Met. Theodosius. Over the next three years, the diocesan bishop had no further contact with the priest.
A disabled 60 year old OCA priest was serving as the assistant priest of a "large" parish. Claiming financial difficulties, the parish council requested that the bishop revoke the assignment so that they could cease his stipend, and the bishop complied. The bishop never contacted the priest, and he was officially informed of his new status and loss of meager income by a lay representative of the parish council. When news of this change was made at a general parish meeting, the parish was told that even if a majority of the parish was willing to continue to provide financial support to the priest, they could not. Numerous parishioners, concerned that the priest had been abandoned, wrote to the diocesan bishop and the chancellor of the OCA. The bishop never responded. The chancellor, responding to expressions of concern that the priest was left without any source of income, wrote, "If Father X needs money, he can ask his bishop. If the bishop does not have the resources, Father X can seek help from the Metropolitan. I am aware of no request for help from Father X, and therefore must assume he is not in need."
Every year, the Church, in her wisdom, prescribes the reading of the Sermon of the Last Judgement at the Divine Liturgy. Obviously, Christ's message to us has gone right over the heads of the church's leadership, as well as many of the flock. We are told to care for the neediest among us, for "Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." How can the church claim to be the followers of Christ when her most responsible members fail to care for "the least of these"?
The above represents some of my first hand experiences pertaining to just two of Fr. Hopko's "bullet points" - - "our church's failure to care for its troubled clergy and their families" and "bishops who refuse to speak with their priests". Situations such as the above are known to all of us.
It is time for change, Christian change. Prostrations, mimicry of 19th Cent Carpatho-Russian peasant piety, head scarves, declarations of how unworthy a sinner one is and all the other popular externals do not make the church a Christian community. Screaming "statutes and canons", while failing to visit the sick and caring for suffering, are not the message Christ preached.
Some will say, "Yes, I've heard of these things, but by the grace of God, my parish or my diocese is not like that." To these, I would point out that we are "ONE holy, catholic and apostolic church". Your parish and your diocese ARE part of this, and by ignoring these problems you give tacit approval to their existence. Every point Fr. Hopko makes is absolutely true, and every member of the OCA is part of the problem, either by active contribution or by passive acceptance. Just as the Sermon of the Last Judgement seems to have fallen on deaf ears, so have the words every Orthodox Christian prays before communion, "pardon my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, both known and unknown". Allowing un-Christian treatment of clergy is as sinful as the treatment itself, and silence in the face of such treatment allows it.
Bishop Job asked a simple question, and a direct, supportable answer has not been given. The Metropolitan appears to have taken action to provide a truthful answer, and two bishops attack him, In the ensuing storm, Fr. Hopko has stepped forward and stated some alarming truths, and at least one bishop has attacked him. If the church cannot be founded on truth in every regard, than it is not worthy of being called a church. And if all of us do not clamor for truth, no matter how well we live our lives in other regards, then we are part of the lie.
Sadly, since some diocesan bishops are known to be vindictive, I must ask that my name be withheld to protect the clergy that I know. Their lot is poor enough as it already is!
#16 Name withheld by request on 2006-04-17 02:17
Yes, your call to Christian Community is so needed. There are too many cases where we do not see our brothers and sisters need and are walled off in parochialism. I believe we need yet to continue in prayer seeking a means of repentance and change. The symptoms of what has happened in Syosset are relative and not apart from our parishes and structures and how we operate day by day in many cases not reponding in love. We need to daily question if we have made it a priority to love God and our neighbor as the first Gospel command.
With prayers of compassion and mercy for the members of the Lesser Synod, asking God to give them and us the strength and knowledge to reform and correct what is needed to bring us closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
#16.1 Matushka Carol on 2006-04-29 07:00
AMEN! And lest you think it is any different in the other two big jurisdictions in America (Greek and Antiochian) it is not. A recent convert to Orthodoxy, I feel at times like I am in a bad marriage. But I am convinced this is a time of purification for the Holy Church, and that it will ultimately bring about that which is necessary to share the truths of Orthodoxy to this country.
As an adult convert who was received in the OCA a decade ago and left the jurisdiction, with my children, for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, after a years-long period of disappointment at the behavior of some of the OCA's priests and hierarchs, I view the current crisis from something of a remove - but not so far a remove as to forget that the Lord "came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first." Perhaps it would be fruitful for all of us Orthodox Christians to spend our time and energy now praying - as often as possible - these words:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou are justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sins did my mother conceive me.
Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which Thou has broken rejoice.
Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will return to Thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Thy deliverance.
O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.
For Thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, Thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
Do good to Zion in Thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
Then wilt Thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Thy altar.
Mary Magdalene (Kim) McCann
#17 Mary Magdalene (Kim) McCann on 2006-04-17 16:27
I believe it is atrocious for Bishop's of the Orthodox Church in America to demand, that is DEMAND that a member of the OCA be forced to close down his web site. What part of the American Constitution, especially the 1st Amendment, doesn't these bishops under stand. Freedom of speech is for everyone and no one has a right to stop it. As far as the handling of the "ravaging of the church" goes it is time for an emergency All American Sobor so the little people can vote and make their choices known. It is time to clean up the house of the Lord and it must be done by the faithful of the Holy Church.
#18 Basil Sullivan on 2006-04-24 17:52
I think (and I have only been Orthodox for 3 years, so I readilly admit that I might be thinking incorrectly) that there should be no institutionalized role for the clergy and layity to oppose the bishops. The Holy Spirit gives the church prophets and raises up champios of the truth. We can see this in the Arian controversy, in which Deacon Athanasius played a very important role at Nicea. We can also see it in the Nestorian controversy. Interestingly, it was not any of the clergy who first objected to Nestorius’ novel teaching, instead it was a layman named Eusebius (later he was consecrated Bishop of Dorylaeum) who protested against the heresy. Eusebius was soon joined by two of Nestorius’ priests, Fr. Phillip and Fr. Proclus, who preached sermons condemning their patriarch’s heresy. It was only after these three raised the issue that St. Celestine (Rome) and St. Cyril (Alexandria) took action to stop the heresy. Layity and Clergy spoke out but did not demand the right to sit in judgement of bishops. Other bishops from other jurisdictions stepped in and dealt with the heretical Patriarch of Constantinople.
There was no need for an organized body of priests and layity then.
I don't think there is a need for one now. This scandal in the OCA is puny compared to what was going on in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Maybe this is just God's way of getting us all leave the OCA and unite under Metropolitan Philip (Saliba).
#19 Matt Karnes on 2006-04-25 08:08
Mark, I felt compelled to write this to you and your website. Feel free to do with it as you see fit. I am a lay member of the OCA but know none of the church administration personally. Here it is:
A Way Forward
As a concerned member of our church, I have been watching the developments posted on this site with great difficulty. However, I think it is time to use this forum to begin addressing the most fundamental concern, which I believe is responsible for entire situation we are in. After reading what has now become by default Father Hopko’s open letter to the leadership and faithful, I felt compelled to write this response.
An Identity Crisis
The problems, so clearly laid out in the letter, can basically be attributed to our Church’s profound identity crisis in a land and society it has little historical experience – or success in. As a result, the church is suffering from a profound lack of growth. For the first time in history the Church must learn to compete with other Christian faiths and groups, many with thoroughly modern, worldly, and - dare I say it – more effective ways to bring in believers. This fundamental fact is overlooked. From a 10,000 ft view one can argue that our Church’s financial crisis - and the scandal - can basically be attributed to the fact that our church leadership has yet to address this situation in any meaningful way.
Because we as as members have never been given a clear and consistent definition of who we are relative to other Christian faiths that are so influential in this country by our Bishops, most are confused and unable to communicate the basics of our faith to others. Inquirers and members alike find it difficult to answer the question, “Why should I become or remain Orthodox?”. There are hundreds of alternative churches, many using the same words, terms, ideas and even rites, at least on a superficial level. Our Church has not asserted itself to the world outside or to its existing members to let them know how to deal with them in any consistent fashion. Does our leadership find it OK that so many of our young people to leave us after they go away to College, and are exposed to other faiths, marry outside the faith, or lose interest entirely? Does it matter if they all become Protestants?
Learning To Compete
We Orthodox must compete with other “Christian” faiths not only for new members, but to keep existing members still coming. In our modern world, information is free and easily accessible, making it easy for messages to get lost in a sea of information. The challenge the Orthodox Church faces in America is simply that it needs to cut through the information with a clear and distinct message, using the form and context of our modern society to reach out and engage itself with the outside world.
Just imagine…if the church was motivated and excited about itself, if the laity were energized to share with others the uniqueness and fullness of the faith with a strong, clear and consistent message that can cut through the sea of evangelical Protestantism, the churches would be full and there would be no financial problems or scandals. But the episcopate and laity does not have the tools to compete, leaving it up to each individual member to figure it out for him or herself. Our leadership has not developed this message and has failed to properly explain the relationship we should have to these very different Christian churches and ideas that bombard us daily in the United States.
Orthodox Awareness Program
There is a way to use this situation for the positive. Our leadership can use this “threat of competition” for a lack of a better term, as motivation to re-energize the Church. Why not create a formal “Orthodox Awareness Program” to energize and focus the church on growth? A strong presentation clearly defining what makes us unique, different, and most of all, True, needs to be assembled for us to better learn about ourselves and explain to others who we are and what we stand for. At the same time it would be made interesting for inquirers to go that one step further and exciting for members to defend our True Faith in a world filled with falsehood. (Why not designate an entire year, let’s say 2008 – to undertake the program? The church can use 2007 to develop the plan and the next year to implement it).
A Unique Opportunity
We have a huge opportunity in this country to grow our church, for before is lies a unique situation unparalleled in history, perhaps as large and profound as when the Roman Empire adopted the Christian faith. New methods of communication were developed then to transmit the truth, as new methods are needed now. In a land of free speech, hundreds if not thousands of Christian faiths with their varied points of views await the spiritually inclined in a big religious marketplace. Most of them have a better sense of their identities than we do, and many of them not only openly despise our Holy Tradition but also teach that there is no need for our Holy Tradition - or that our Holy Tradition is heresy – in order to make converts of us. Shouldn’t our leadership be concerned about this? Should we consider such Christians as “our brothers and sisters in Christ”? Should our leaders be signing watered-down joint statements of faith with them? Shouldn’t every member of the Church instead be warned of coming into contact with such people and be trained to be able to explain to them what the True Faith is? The good news is that are many thousands of honest, believing Christians that are searching for the Truth. We need to be there for them when they are looking for us.
Today’s Primary Communication Method: Product Marketing
We live in a world where all of us are forced to make choices between competing products that offer similar functions. Our society is trained daily through advertising, television and their work to compare between similar products and make choices. Americans are sensitive to small differences that mean a lot, and are willing to pay a lot extra for products that offer only a little difference, because the makers of the product tell them in advance what to think about them. This is the essence of product marketing, and these basic methods should be used by our Church to better communicate to others what it is that makes us The True Church. Why does everyone know what a BMW is? Or what products McDonalds sells? The answer is simple…the companies told us. Similarly, it is the Church’s responsibility to plant in its members a clear definition of who we are relative to the society around us, and give us the tools to effectively undertake the mission to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded” so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”.
Target Marketing and the Religious Marketplace
Going further using marketing terminology, there are at least four distinct groups that all Orthodox Christians should be able to discuss their faith with in a way that can connect the dots. Our leaders should give us laymen the dialogue and perspective for each of these groups. This is that part the Orthodox has never openly done. Here is a list of the four with some basic comments:
1. Roman Catholics – The Roman Catholic Church has changed tremendously since Vatican II and many members crave the Tradition that seems lost and watered down in their parishes. Further members are disenchanted from all of their own scandals and aggressive Protestant groups, many with radically different faiths, assault others. Why not produce materials specific to this group showing there’s a home for them, where the true tradition still lives on?
2. Jews – We have a huge population of Jews in this country, Many of them are interested in Christianity but are turned off by the Protestant groups commanding most of the attention. Why not reach out to them, showing how we have kept so many of the traditions and rites of the ancient Jewish liturgies? We are able to easily demonstrate the link to Judaism by the way we pray, integrate the Psalms into our worship cycle, and revere Holy Tradition. So many would feel at home if they knew where to go.
3. Protestants – There are SO MANY Protestants church shopping, searching for the truth in a sea of confusion. This is the largest group to target. In practice, their faith and understanding of the Church is radically different from ours. Be cause we use the same language, but attribute different meanings to the words and phrases, this group presents the biggest challenge for the Orthodox. The Protestants, armed with a great memory of biblical passages index by Chapter and Verse, and many questions and they are looking for answers most of our members cannot provide them. Yet the incompleteness of the “Sola Scriptura” approach used by so, many of them leave so many wanting to find the truth but not knowing where to find it. It is up to us Orthodox to show them. Again, the correct dialogue sanctioned by our leadership needs to be created and transmitted to us.
4. Non-Baptized Americans – Believe it or not, there are millions of Americans whose parents never bothered baptizing, and millions more who were baptized but were never raised in any faith at all. Our responsibility is to awaken their interest by showing them we’re a different church and worthy of their investigation.
As a cradle Orthodox with immigrant parents, I was left to figure a lot of this out on my own. It’s been a long road. However what I have found to be most amazing about the Orthodox faith is that not only is it the only that works to preserves the truth. We also preserve and honor the living memories of all those real people who have gone before us. We stand with them, connected through space and time with a singular faith and love of Christ. We stand with the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Ascetics who have given us their words, prayers and experiences. Ours is not a faith to be studied and learned in a Classroom – a point our largely academic leaders should remember – but it is a faith learned, experienced and transmitted personally from one person to another. We bare witness to the truth of our short existence on Earth. It is truly all of our responsibility to grow and fill our churches in America, and bare witness to the True Faith – especially since there are so many waiting for us to step up to the plate and say what needs to be said.
In Conclusion – A Final Thought
I truly believe that we, as a Church will be held accountable to the Lord for our inaction in this Country. Our scriptures are misused, misinterpreted, and our believers are being leaving us on a daily basis. Our True Christianity is under siege. But where are the Martyrs? Where are the Confessors? Where are the people in opposition to so much heresy? We must prepare ourselves and demonstrate that we carry the True Faith. The financial problems and scandal, while serious, are diversions, and only demonstrate the current complacency we have allowed our Church to be in. The only way out is to formulate a growth plan.
#20 Gene on 2006-05-04 18:54
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