OCA “Town Hall” Meeting
Boston, MA August
The meeting followed Vespers service at the Cathedral.
His Grace Bishop Nikon and Fr. Alexander Garklavs (the OCA Chancellor) were
present. Participants included 8 clergy and 33 laity, with about equal number
of men and women present. The meeting began with singing of the festal
Introductory remarks by Bishop Nikon
Church has suffered a crisis, and it is our responsibility
to prepare for the AAC. We hope that this council will be different from all
other councils, be more of a retreat & reconciliation. Restitution is
necessary for the church. Members of Preconciliar Commission felt they needed
help; they have included at some of their meetings a conflict resolution
consultant. We had a special meeting – in Syosset, with Protodeacon Eric
Wheeler, Mark Stokoe, and others – which was very successful. That
motivated us to go ahead with the church-wide town hall meetings to get input
from church members.
There is a perception throughout the church that the bishops
don’t hear and don’t understand. Ideally we would like to have all the bishops
at every meeting, but it is not possible due to financial and time constraints.
The town hall meeting minutes are posted on the OCA-AAC blog site. Purpose of
these meeting is not Q&A; purpose is for the people to state what’s on
their mind, and for the bishops to sit and hear what people have to say. At the
AAC there will be Q&A including a session with the whole Synod. At the town
hall meetings, all church has a chance to participate in the AAC.
Introduction by Fr. Alexander Garklavs
As His Grace, Bishop Nikon has stated, the Preconciliar
understood that in planning for the All-American Council, we needed to address
an important concern of the faithful.
That is that people are frustrated that they are not being heard and
cannot get their message across. And so we have planned for these town hall
meetings in different regions to give our faithful people an opportunity to air
their opinion. As they are
structured, they are your forum for speaking, and we are not to respond. That inability to dialogue makes this a
less then perfect kind of encounter, but these are nevertheless important
occasions. At this meeting, time constraints will be respected, but there will
be some time allowed for responses from His Grace and myself. People should be
considerate of time but will be allowed to stand up and speak more than once.
Father then noted the ground rules for the meeting:
judgment of ideas
I. How did the events of the church affect you? How do
you feel about what happened in the OCA?
do we mean as the scandal? I see it as two-fold – financial scandal
which led us, since it was not taken care of in a timely manner, into what
we understand about the attitude of the central administration. We live by
apparent truth; what I saw was how Dn. Wheeler was handled – very
poorly; put down, fired, etc. Bishop Job, - same way, and he is a very
good and honest person. Actions of the other bishops – that’s the
I feel lack of trust, had to go and conduct re-destribution of an estate a
large portion of which used to go to the Orthodox charities. How the
bishops acted between themselves – very poor towards people they are
supposed to be shepherds of; incompetence; lack of credibility and trust;
style of expression on the Internet – Bishops of the West and North
especially. Personal story – I had a run-in with a funeral home
about mistreating a widow. Funeral home director returned part of the
money to the widow, apologized for his rudeness toward me; the manager
apologized to the bishop and said that I concealed the fact that I was a
deacon at the church. Administrator yelled at me at the Diocesan meeting,
said I had a wrong attitude. I drove for two hours later to confront the
administrator; he put me down and told me to “get over it”. From reading
subsequent stories on the Internet I learned that these actions were condoned
and endorsed by the bishops. Bishops lack their teaching ability.
stories make us feel sick. Shame for the church. Our honor has been
besmirched, the goal should be to restore that honor. There is more to
restoring honor than following “best practices”. Leadership of our Lord
Jesus Christ has not been enough to ensure that that honor be upheld;
perhaps the flag of our country at the Chancery would be a reminder of our
civil laws. (Written statement was submitted and follows the minutes.)
question is fascinating. People are denying that there is a crisis. Most
information is on the web; the clergy & the leadership are not
adequately explaining what is going on. Need someone from Syosset to
define the crisis precisely. Credibility is shot. We’ve blown post-Cold
War opportunities to reach out into Russia. Our influence to talk as a
church is terribly affected; people are always looking at America, and
there is not much inspiration here right now. What is church? Are we like
any other tax-exempt corporation?
- I feel
helpless, and feel serious doubts about whether or not this council will
be different. We lost the language of the church. Why are we calling this
a town meeting? Is this a campaign or a public event? It is not what I
want to see in the church. It should be a dialogue, even as a Q&A. The
language that is constantly being used is the language of the lawyers,
businessmen, teachers, not the language of the church. We don’t know what
it is, and why would the AAC be any different?
- I am
not a cradle Orthodox, I converted to Orthodoxy in Russia when I was 18.
Had a hard time there with the church where no questions were allowed to
be asked, where everyone had to follow stale protocol. Came to America and
thought I found a real Orthodox church in the OCA – the church
founded on the patristic tradition, with openness and communication. Saw
other parishes that did not feel as good as the Cathedral parish, but
still had rose-colored glasses on. When I first learned about the crisis I
thought, big deal, so money was mishandled, surely THIS church will be
able to deal with it in a jiffy. Now, several years later, I am very
depressed by how it was handled but even more by what has emerged as a
lack of coherent ecclesiology, lack of communion inside the church. I do
not feel in communion with many members of the OCA. I don't feel in
communion with the people who denigrate the bishops on the Internet or
with bishops who see us as the great unwashed. Are we even a church?
During the Alaskan crisis I wrote the Synod, like many other people, and
saw the Synod acting only from public pressure in this, after exposure,
after dozens of letters, after the Chancellor put his head on the chopping
block, and that is not right…
deep disappointment. I agree with the two previous speakers. Back after
the issuance of the Tomos of Autocephaly there was life, excitement,
vision about what OCA was going to become. It pains my heart to see where
we are today. We are not a messenger to this country, we have not reached
out to the community, we keep to ourselves. Retain parochialism; have not
done anything with our autocephaly. Bishops are distant. Yet to see
anything to come out of Syosset that is a unified statement. Need not an
administrative but a spiritual solution. “Why are we here in this world?”
We don’t get this from our bishops, they do not “rightly divide the word
of Your truth”. We need to bring what the vision was 35 years back, bring
back the light, otherwise in another 35 years the OCA will cease to exist.
Changes in other jurisdictions will overwhelm us. Need to get deep
spiritual guidance from our bishops, chancellor, deans, clergy, so that
people can reach out to the rest of the community.
Where is the soul of our church today? Where are we going and where are we
being lead? We don’t need administration, we need to have truth,
confidence, and most of all, we need love. We do not feel love.
- I feel
angry, grief-stricken, confused, a lot of personal outrage. We are so
small, we all know each other, we are all related. Nothing that’s going on
in the church doesn’t affect us personally. It is a scandal of identity.
If we were clear on who we were, if we were clear of our identity, so much
of this could be avoided – money, hurt. Ultimately the answer is that
we are the body of Christ, but we don’t know what this means. We lost the
language of the church, and the language should be dynamic. We are a ship
without a rudder.
- I am a
very recent convert, I became Orthodox in April. I don’t know many details
about the crisis, but know that people are very angry, and people are very
nervous about the financial affairs in the church, and it does make me
nervous. In spite of what has happened I am hopeful. The church is dealing
with it itself, the world is not cracking up on the church, unlike with
the Roman Catholic church which was assaulted by everybody. Nobody is
bashing anyone else except inside the church. There is hope because it is
by Fr. Alexander): At all meetings at
some point, a new convert speaks who says I am new but I am not bailing
out. This is reassuring, because it means that in spite of all of the mess
that we’re in, the Holy Spirit is leading good people to the Orthodox
- I am
encouraged by hearing that the bishops had the meetings with the
facilitator. The bishops should be brothers to each other because
otherwise they cannot be fathers to us. Because they are not brothers, the
church is in disorder. For the AAC, there are three things the bishops
should do: say sorry to each other, admit that it was their fault, and
tell the truth ALL THE TIME (to quote the recently departed Randy Pausch).
Then you can spread your actions to your deaneries and to all the people
who have been wounded – expelled, punished, silenced. It starts with
the truth, otherwise you can leave the AAC after the first four hours.
- We are
going through the solution right now. If we didn’t have this crisis we
wouldn’t have been here today. I have been a priest for 35 years and have
been watching all this for 35 years – bishops out of touch with the
people. The church has to be a homogeneous structure, and the homogeneity
comes from being united in Christ. Synod, seminaries, administration,
parishes are operating independently, there is tremendous disintegration,
everyone has their own “rule book”. Bishops are leaders in the world, but
Christ is the head of the church. They are like absentee parents –
they are not around and when they get involved they make things worse. Now
is the good time. Everything is out, and everything is in the open and
needs to be dealt with. It used to be that no one talked, no one could
talk to each other, all was dark. If we remember that Christ is the head
of the church we will not need more money or better administration, we
will have a different church. We don’t need central administration as the
answer to the crisis at the church. Administration is not the answer, the
answer is the Gospel. Administrators are frustrated businessmen. The
church is the church. We have to speak its language, we have to walk its
walk. It is a time to be positive, people have to forgive, life has to go
cannot forgive until there is truth and transparency. The loss of the good
that resulted from misappropriation of so much money. The silence around
what happened is disturbing. Human condition is we are all corruptible, we
are all subject to sin, but to not have an example at the top tier on how
to confess, how to accept responsibility, is discouraging. We are ready to
forgive but we cannot do it until the truth is out. The Metropolitan and
the Synod have to tell everything that happened. Nothing will happen at
the AAC if this doesn’t happen. Real crisis of leadership.
- I have
been a student of church history of the 2nd through the 5th
century. Comparing this crisis to the true theological crises of the first
centuries, this crisis is relatively minor. The loss of money is bad, but
the issue is not as black as it could be. Sometimes I think it would have
been exciting to live in the first centuries when the theology was being
hammered out, but it is better to live with what we have to deal with now.
We need from the hierarchy the admission of complicity, asking of
forgiveness from people who have been betrayed. In Dante’s Inferno, the bottom circle of hell is reserved for
betrayers, this is where Judas is. The hierarchy has betrayed us and they
have to admit it and ask for forgiveness. I work at Beth Israel-Deaconness
Hospital and the CEO of the hospital started a blog which reports on the
Internet about everything that is going on at the hospital, including all
the mistakes. Transparency before the community – all the truth, and
the community supports the hospital because it is so honest. It is
critically important to build up trust and confidence. That is what we
need in our church, the hierarchy to come out and admit everything that is
going on. If we do not do this action we will wither on the wine and that
will be very unfortunate. We cannot further the Orthodoxy in this country
if we have all this dirty laundry in the closet. We need truth and
- I am
also a convert to Orthodoxy and I was very confused at first about the
crisis. There are plenty of theological, Christological controversies in
this country. There is a world of need for a strong, unified Orthodox
witness in this country. Need to focus on what the need is and where we
are going, use our autocephaly to lead the others. I raised money for
Beslan among the Lutherans and other non-Orthodox, through the OCA, and then
found out about the financial shenanigans and felt profoundly betrayed.
lived in many places in the country and saw the same things. Bishops move
about so much, they come to meetings and agree to things and then go back
to where they live and just follow whatever they please. There is no
oversight. If clergy and bishops are not trained as administrators, let
other people who are trained to do administrative jobs.
wanted to share my solution privately with His Grace but decided to share
it with the group. What is the role of the bishops, their relationships
with each other, their interpersonal relations with each other. The
operating suggestions for this bond of brotherhood: since the Synod is so
small, they may go back to early church practice and open their
deliberations with an open confession to each other so that they are
imbued with the function of what they are there for. In the early church
people reconciled to each other before partaking communion. Instead of
meeting as a board of directors there was a sense that they were there to
witness to the truth.
agree with everything that has been said, but have a slightly different
perspective. My background is a historian; I study history, and when I
read Leskov’s “Cathedral Folk” I thought that nobody could think that OCA
was in a lot of trouble after reading this book. The leadership betrayed
us but we betrayed them also. The kinds of things we see are not just
individuals misbehaving – it is the church which lost, drifted away
from its center in Christ. We as parishioners drifted away from the light
of Christ. If the church members were stronger the events would not have
such impact. It had such impact because the structure has been weakened.
III. Ideas for the All-American Council
Metropolitan should live close by to the headquarters. At the AAC,
implement the recommendation by Fr. Thomas Hopko in his letter to the
Pre-Counciliar Commission. Metropolitan should resign. In Metropolitan
Herman’s answer to questions in the interview by Protodeacon Peter
Danilchik, he indicated that he was aware of problems before. Then, why
did he allow the then-Fr. Kondratick to be in charge of the church.
- Question: Has the PCC come up with a theme? – Answer
from Fr. Garklavs: The theme is from
St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians “Members of one another in Christ.” The
theme is on the OCA-AAC website, it comes from a longer passage in
Ephesians (4.25-30). The common theme is emerging from the church
meetings, a lot of people have spoken.
- Question: Has the PCC set the ground rules for how
resolutions will be handled? – Answer from Fr. Garklavs: The information on he resolutions protocol is
on the OCA website. Resolutions from the floor will also be accepted.
- Question: Has the agenda been set? – Answer
from Bp. Nikon: The agenda is being
formed. I would like to emphasize again that there will be a Q&A
session with the bishops.
agenda should include the discussion on what episcopal and pastoral
leadership means. There is evident lack of pastoral care and leadership
shown, among other things, by the way people communicate about the crisis.
discussion of how bishops are elected. We keep saying that the bishops are
not transparent, not competent – so who will succeed the
Metropolitan? The pool for candidates is extremely small, it’s more of a
puddle, there are so few candidates for the episcopacy. Unfortunately, it
has fallen to those who are celibate but because of lack of the monastic
training in this country this pool is very small. Because of the state of
our autocephaly we may not be able to discuss married episcopacy, but some
discussion is necessary. Bishops should come from their respective
dioceses. The discussion should include the voices of the clergy and the
laity, not just the Synod.
will be edifying if the bishops and the Metropolitan make a statement at
the AAC on the “State of the OCA” right after the opening liturgy. It will
set a tone.
on the strengthening of the monastic community.
discussion of the forgiveness session, maybe around the country. – Fr.
Garklavs: It is on the agenda.
- I want
to see bishops respond to the questions. We have unreasonable expectations
of our bishops. We don’t give them a chance to make a mistake because we
perceive them as being very high up, and so they cannot admit to mistakes.
They can do a good job with administrative duties, but they need help,
they need a team, they need help to be human. What is the selection
process not just for the bishops but also for chancery staff? What is the
selection process for church leadership? – Bp. Nikon: Anybody who is there now and who has accepted
the responsibility to be there under such adverse condition must feel
something for the OCA…
- If we
are a church that receives sinners whom Christ can forgive and renew, then
why can’t we “recycle” the bishops if they take the time to gather
together and pray for the Holy Spirit and see where that leads them. Maybe
we don’t necessarily need “fresh blood”. What we need is spiritual
of young people. What do we expect from young people? – Fr.
Alexander: Encourage the young people
to think of priesthood as a vocation. It is thought of as a leftover
IV. Why the OCA is important?
Alexander Garklavs) The HTOC parish is
important, it is alive, it has great pastoral leadership, it has a lot to
contribute to the church. It is a great example of what is good about the
OCA. The town hall meetings are a good thing, although they are rather
painful at times for the church leadership. There is a lot of good in the
- One of
the missions is to evangelize America. There are so many parishes that are
small, have had people die, leave. We have to think of the re-evangelizing
the people whom we lost. Be more conciliatory, revitalize existing
parishes instead of establishing new missions because of some
disagreements and issues. We should try to work out our problems better
than we have, missions should not be formed by conflict in a church. We
should not have a church and a mission within half an hour drive of each
other, both struggling. We need to solve our conflicts, and the parish
priest needs to understand that we have problems.
OCA needs to be taking a stronger position in America. Orthodox churches
tend to be associated with the ethnic groups. We need to be more present
to everyone as the Orthodox Church in America, our Metropolitan needs to
become president of the SCOBA. We are part of the Orthodox Church in the
whole world and need to assert our presence in the world.
OCA should serve as a nucleus to help bring together other Orthodox
churches into a truly autocephalous church with a patriarch, not be
something of itself alone. Work with the Greeks, Serbs, Antiochians, etc.
We cannot tell how many Orthodox there are because there are so many
people who rarely show up for church – need to evangelize.
OCA is embedded in the American culture. It needs to respond to concerns
that are raised by this American culture, such as same-sex marriages, to
stop avoiding these issues, to open the dialogue, not leave people to deal
with them on their own. There needs to be communication, needs to be
complement the previous speaker – we need to deal with the issues of
America. We can, as a church, give much to the culture, but because we are
in the culture, we have to know the culture. How are we going to deal with
these issues if we are not comfortable with what we are? Trust the Holy
Spirit in acquiring the identity that is authentic. We don’t have what the
ethnic churches have, the solidarity of their ethnicity. They have a
certain comfort and confidence that we don’t have. The new calendar and
the pews don’t make us an American church, something else has to make us
an American church.
dogmatic professor at the seminary says that the OCA is a Russian church
in translation. The break has occurred in our understanding of our
relationship to the hierarchy. The hierarchal principle cannot endure
without relationship to the laity. The bishop cannot be a bishop without
that relationship. Thinking of the laity as stupid sheep does not help the
relationship. The ethnic churches are holding on to ethnicity and it is
rather sad because the center to hold on to should be Christ. There is
nothing to hold on to until we repent and go back to Christ. There must be
a serious underlying problem in the OCA that hasn’t been addressed that is
so much more important that the financial crisis.
Garklavs) Ethnicity and Orthodoxy are
deeply entrenched. Being patriotic is good, but we also now see two
Orthodox countries at war. We in the OCA feel the vacuum of the American
dream. We don’t come to church enough, and so priests don’t have enough
services, cut sermons. We are not praying enough. Someone told me the
former chancellor brought the OCA out of the back yard and into the
mainstream of American culture.
At the time that made all of us happy. We wanted to be on the map
and were very proud of it. We bought into that because being on the front
page meant being accepted into the “American dream”. With acceptance come
money, with money comes corruption. The church has to respond to lawsuits,
to internal strife. This is the crisis – we want to be church in
America but we haven’t figured out what that means. The matter of identity
is a communal thing. Just as the late Aleksander Solzhenitsyn said about
Russia after the fall of communism, the whole OCA has to repent. And after all, we are talking
about the the basics of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, we
should do it every day anyhow.
- If you
want to see a challenge of what we have to react to, see the op-ed piece
in the Wall Street Journal by Matthew Kaminski and what he has to say
about the Orthodox. We must respond.
OCA has to be what happened at the Pentecost, that Christ speaks to people
in their own language. We must preach to American civilization and bring
Christ to them.
- OCA is
important because we are the church of the new age, a canonically
established church, regardless of what the Ecumenical Patriarch may think.
We have the legacy of the best theological thinking of the 20th
centrury from St. Sergius and then St. Vladimir’s, the thinking that went
back to the roots of Orthodox theology, to the patristics, clearing away
layers of ethnic baggage, of imperialism, centuries of baggage. We are
based on the canonical geographical principle, not on ethnicity, and we
are also not associated with any government, unlike other Orthodox
churches. This is all very valuable, it is worth fighting for.
have to change our name to American Orthodox Church, because we sound like
something that is foreign to America, brought into America.
ethnicity is such a stereotype. We should not make a mistake as other
ethnic churches, by becoming another ethnic “American” church. We are in this
world but not of this world. Our problems are not American, they are
universal. We need to look at the Orthodox church which is somewhat
independent of culture.
my children were growing up I prayed, Lord, if they do something wrong,
let them be caught. I am glad that the scandal came to light because I see
it as a hand of God. God has outed us, and it is a good thing. We have to
reveal Christ. We have to be what Christ is to other people.
persons, individuals, as a body of Church we do not come from nowhere. We
cannot shed cultural roots and just jump into this amorphous “American
identity”. It is not an issue of chucking ethnic ties, it leads to
nowhere. It is an issue of Christ being primary, first, at the head of
everything. If Christ is at the head then it doesn’t matter if we are a
Russian church in translation because then we are reaching out.
some Orthodox churches there is an American flag somewhere in the
building, in some there are not. Is there a policy? I feel that a visitor
going into the church seeing the American flag sees that it is the
American church. It is a way to show that we are American. Does a priest
have a right to rule on it? – Answer from Fr. Garklavs – Talk to the priest, bring this up in
the parish the meeting.
Closing remarks by Bishop Nikon
When I was appointed to chair the Preconciliar Commission I
felt I was being set up to fail, but I have no intention of failing. We are
going to Pittsburgh to repair, going there for repentance, for forgiveness, and
to take care of the business of the church. We are taking the input of the
church in all these meetings. The meetings were being set up so the bishops
would be made to hear.
The agenda will look at how the money are actually
generating good deeds, missions, etc.
Q&A session with Bishop Nikon followed but at the
request of His Grace, no minutes were taken. The meeting concluded with several
“Axios!” from the floor and the singing of the Theotokion.
Minutes respectfully submitted by Alice Carter and Inga
OCA BOSTON TOWN HALL MEETING COMMENTS
August 21, 2008
1. HOW HAS THE SCANDAL (EVENTS OF THE LAST
SEVERAL YEARS) AFFECTED YOU?
We have spent countless hours reading thousands of words on the web. It makes us feel sick. From the beginning we have felt great
shame for our church and understand why few have expressed that painful
feeling. Also, we have not seen
anyone note that our honor has been besmirched. Above all, our goal should be to restore that honor and
insure that it will never again be placed in jeopardy. To do that, may take more than just
following best practices.
Unfortunately, the presence of our Lord Jesus during Liturgy has not been
sufficient to insure honest behavior.
He recognized that Caesar’s government was needed to provide civil
functions for the good of all.
Perhaps if the flag of our country had been prominently displayed at the
chancery, it would have acted as a reminder of the civil laws and standards of
behavior that must be obeyed and met.
2. WHAT IS THE BEST CASE SCENARIO FOR
THE OCA AT THIS TIME?
Some have proposed sincere, constructive and well thought-out solutions that
advocate wiping the slate clean and making a new start as an autocephalous
church. We endorse them. And we agree that our church deserves
full time management and oversight at the chancery. Therefore, a single
headquarters location should be selected and the Metropolitan should be
required to live close by.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN AT THE ALL-AMERICAN COUNCIL?
We would like to see implemented the
recommendations proposed by Fr.Thomas Hopko, former Dean of St. Vladimir’s
Seminary, in a paper presented to the Preconciliar Commission earlier this
In support of his first recommendation that
Metropolitan Herman resign at the opening of the AAC, the following example of
the Metropolitan’s lack of leadership is offered. It is the Metropolitan’s answer to Protodeacon Peter
Danilchick’s question #8 on September 8, 2006. To quote:
“Finances at the
chancery were in fact controlled by one person. Financial reports were carefully prepared for the
Metropolitan Council so as to invite little if any questions. I intervened on at least one occasion
to better understand what was happening and I did not meet with a pleasant reaction,
quite the opposite. It was always
difficult to get accurate financial data.”
did the Metropolitan tolerate an unpleasant reaction from a subordinate and why
did he tolerate difficulty in getting accurate financial data? Apparently he was not really in
charge. In effect, he allowed the
then Fr. Kondratick to be solely in charge of the finances of the church, and
also to usurp the Metropolitan’s own authority by default. Such action does nothing to warrant the
confidence in him that the Synod recently voted. Were they not listening to his words?
and Marie Senio
Annunciation Orthodox Church