Part II - Some reflections on the AAC
As postive and groundbreaking as the recent All American Council was, it was not impervious to some negative elements that should also be addressed in order for a well-rounded assessment of the Council to emerge. We hope and pray that the new direction of the OCA, guided by the Spirit in the election of our new Metropolitan Jonah, will slowly prevail over time. Many of the faithful, reading some of his speeches and papers, are quite impressed by his combination of theological knowledge and pastoral concerns. So, we will continue to pray that the promise the new metropolitan brings to his role as the primate of the OCA will be fulfilled in due time to the glory of God and the well-being of the Church. No transition is perfectly smooth, as obstacles and "baggage" from the past do not simply disappear. Based on what I witnessed and heard at the Council, here is how I assess some of these troubling spots:
In his report to the Council, our chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, reminded the gathered delegates that there are three independent lawsuits pending against the OCA. One of them is ludicrous in my opinion: a $25,000,000 law- suit brought against the OCA by Robert Kondratick for "defamation of character." Many believe that this is an ill-conceived attempt at intimidation by the deposed and defrocked Kondratick. Something like: "the best defense is a good offense."
However, the OCA is counter-suing him, and this became a rather contentious and time-draining issue at the Council. Fr. David Garretson, newly-voted on to the Metropolitan Council, challenged the wisdom of this counter lawsuit based upon the Scriptures (In I COR. 6, the Apostle Paul reprimands Christians for taking each other to court); and the "cost-effective" nature of the suit. Legal counsel is not inexpensive. The debate dragged on inconclusively, and the suit and counter-suit are both pending - to drag on indefinitely? The other two suits are more serious and can pose some real problems in the future, again threatening to impose some devastating financial burdens on the OCA.
The forward thrust of the Council clearly dominated the mood and decisions of the Council's deliberations. By this I mean that the delegates were turning to the future and a hopeful recovery for the OCA following the release of the SIC Report and its affirmation of financial and moral malfeasance in the highest level of the OCA's administration. By the time of the Council the reality of the scandal had settled in - even for its most ardent deniers I would imagine -and damage assessments had been made. With the public dicrediting of the two former metropolitans - Theodosius and Herman - for their complicity in these crimes; and the discrediting and then defrocking of the former chancellor, Robert Kondratick; there was a kind of weary relief present that not only have we "survived" this tragic event, but that we can now move into the future strenghtened in our faith and sense of mission here in North America. Hence, the near-euphoria at the election of Metropolitan Jonah who embodies all of those hopes.
Nevertheless, there was still more than a backward glance at the ambiguous and troubling role of the rest of the Holy Synod as the scandal unfolded. How much did the other bishops know and when? Were they complicit, and to what extent? As our spiritual leaders, were they far too passive in trying to uncover the truth of what occured and deal with it swiftly and effectively? Why did the other bishops not support Archbishop Job who was trying to act decisively? Since the supposed three "letters of apology" from the Holy Synod were received with an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction, would the Holy Synod, as a body, make some gesture of repentance to the assembled delegates so that the past could be decisively put behind us? No such gesture was forthcoming. Basically, there was no sign of repentance. The "Service of Repentance" on Monday evening was a great disappointment for many, in that it amounted to a Compline Service with a talk attached at the end.
The challenging questions that were asked remained unanswered, avoided, or dismissed. Bishop Benjamin of San Franisco and the West, as chairman of the committee, did deliver a good summary of the SIC Report; but his evasion of the questions that followed was further marred by a certain sarcasm, condescension and irritation directed toward the floor and the various speakers who posed their questions or comments with restraint and respect. When asked a challenging question about the apparently "light" disciplinary actions taken against the two former metropolitans, Bishop Benjamim managed to elicit a ripple of uneasy laughter by his sarcastic retort that in "this age" we don't whip people and throw them in dungeons. Clearly, a re-entrenchment of episcopal authority and "prerogatives" - that bishops are only accountable to each other - was on display, much to the dismay of many of the delegates, including myself.
Of all members of the Church, how sad that it is our bishops - our spiritual leaders - who see an act of public repentance as a weakness that must be avoided. Spiritual authority is grounded in humility and moral strength, not in juridical and legalistic attitudes. What a lost opportunity to set an example that would have had a powerful impact on all who were present! Then the past would really have been "buried" once and for all. The Holy Synod chose otherwise.
On the brighter side, I was informed by one of the new members of the Metropolitan Council, that in its first session with the Holy Synod, there was a good sense of over-all cooperation and support for Metropolitan Jonah. The metropolitan was also at ease and made it clear that he will remain very accessible to all persons and concerns in the future. Hopefully, this spirit of goodwill will prevail in the upcoming months of reconstruction and renewal. The Council undoubtedly concluded with a very positive sense of new direction. Metropolitan Jonah is a man of vision for the OCA. We lost that vision in a dark era. It is the responsibility of all Orthodox Christians - clery and laity - to work for its restoration and the proclamation of the Gospel here in North America in the years to come.
Fr. Steven C. Kostoff is the parish rector of Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, OH. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he teaches in the theology department.