January 25, 2007
The crisis in the Orthodox Church in America has revealed one very central problem: the Church has become unmoored from the Gospel of Christ.
The misuse of money is symptomatic of this problem. The ways in which money was distributed indicate that those dispensing funds felt entitled to spend as if the money belonged to them and not to Christ. Keeping account of money is the way we recognize that the money belongs to God; not keeping a careful account is a way of saying that the administrative officers of the Church were not interested in reporting to God, indeed, that they owed nothing to God. All the suggestions about Best Practices, reforms, committees are missing the point since none of them refer to this appalling condition. Without coming to grips with this separation from the Gospel, palliative measures will eventually vanish. How did it happen that our Bishops and administrative bodies such as the Metropolitan Council were able to ignore the financial disaster for such a long time if they were not also unmoored from Christ? This is the problem that has not been addressed. As well intended as the reform measures may be, by ignoring this fatal separation from Christ and His Gospel, they will not empower the Church to become the Church He has called us to be.
How do we begin to examine this and the many other problems we experience as a Church unless we begin to evangelize within our ranks the many who see the Church as an ethnic club, a family tradition, a convertÕs club of true believers, a society for perpetuating the Czarist traditions within the Church and the many other distortions we embrace? Who is going to tell us who we really are, what we are supposed to be doing in America and how we are to begin? If it is the Bishops who are ordained to rightly divide the Word, perhaps the evangelization of our Bishops would be a good place to begin. This is not to say that we, with our own separation from the Gospel bear no responsibility for this crisis; we also truly need radical evangelization. But perhaps beginning with the Bishops is where we need to start.
However tempting it is to prescribe reform of the Episcopate – and all the suggestions have some merit – monastic life, the retreat of the national office to St. TikhonÕs, asceticism, fasting, prayer – these all belong to a secondary level of reform. The first, most obvious issue for the Bishops is the intensity of their mutual animosity, which was revealed in this past year. What does the Gospel tell them and us about such personal conflicts and attacks? What good is a bishop who fasts and hates his brother? The level of disrespect, power plays, calumny and just plain viciousness that we have seen, has revealed the power of the gospel of this world, not of Christ.
These are flaws we fully replicate in our parishes and within our families, so they are not alien to us. Who do we seek when confronted with irreconcilable conflict? Many Orthodox Christians seek the spiritual help of monastics, lay people and priests, those characterized by humility, kindness and prayer. To receive their instruction and aid, the bishops might consider seeking them out. A sign that they are truly interested in committing their lives to the service of God would be their beginning such a search. Such an action would have to follow, not precede, the recognition that they are truly in deep trouble. What would make them recognize that fact, if they have not heard all the voices speaking to them this past year? Not many have focused on the level of episcopal animosity. Most of us have focused on the misuse of funds. What does that say about us?
If the disunity and separation of brothers in the hierarchy truly disturbs us – and it should – we need to let the Bishops know that what we demand of them as teachers of the Gospel is that they reveal the power of the Gospel in their existential, concrete situation. We need to communicate the distress caused by their way of relating to each other. If they begin to seek help for their conflicts and rage, they will be able to lead us forward by teaching us the Gospel of repentance and salvation through the Cross.