OCA “Town Hall” Meeting

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral

Boston, MA August 21, 2008

 

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 Troparion.

 

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:

 

  1. Dignity and respect
  2. No judgment of ideas
  3. No attribution
  4. Considerate of TIME

 

 

Questions:

 

I. How did the events of the church affect you? How do you feel about what happened in the OCA?

 

  1. What 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 scandal.
    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.

  2. The 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.)

  3. The 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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…

  6. Deep, 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 contained.

  9. (Comment 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 Church.

II. Solutions?

 

  1. 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.

  2. 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 on.

  3. People 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.

  4. 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 transparency.

  5. 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.

  6. I 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.

  7. I 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.

  8. I 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.

  9. HUMILITY!

III. Ideas for the All-American Council

 

  1. Any 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. The 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.

  6. Need 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.

  7. It 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.

  8. Discussion on the strengthening of the monastic community.

  9. A discussion of the forgiveness session, maybe around the country. – Fr. Garklavs: It is on the agenda.

  10. 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…

  11. 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 renewal.

  12. Education 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 career…

 

IV. Why the OCA is important?

 

  1. (Fr. 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 OCA.

  2. 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.

  3. The 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.

  4. The 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.

  5. The 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 dialogue.

  6. To 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.

  7. My 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.

  8. (Fr. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. The 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.

  11. 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.

  12. We have to change our name to American Orthodox Church, because we sound like something that is foreign to America, brought into America.

  13. The 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.

  14. When 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.

  15. As 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.

  16. In 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 Leonova.


Attachment #1

 

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.

 

  1. WHAT 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 year.

 

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.”

 

Why 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?

 

 

 

                                                                          Nicholas and Marie Senio

                                                                          Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church

                                                                          Maynard, Massachusetts