Reflections On The Scandal
Twelve Steps for Healing the Church
Mr. David Barrett, Southbury CT
As our beloved Orthodox Church in America continues through the various scandals in Syosset and Alaska, it becomes increasingly apparent that her situation is parallel to that of a dysfunctional family, whose members have recently discovered that their dad is an alcoholic who is in total denial over his disease and the effects of it on the rest of the family. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, she, like her Lord, has two natures: divine and human. While the divine nature of the Church has kept untainted her teachings and Holy Tradition, her human nature, alas, has suffered from the fallenness of her members, particularly those who are called to lead the members of her flock. As the various 12-Step Programs of Recovery (Alcoholics Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, etc.) have helped countless addicts and their families to heal, perhaps an Orthodox set of 12 Steps and their application may assist our Church and her members, both leaders and flock, to face and admit the reality of our present spiritually-empty crisis and take action towards accountability, healing, and closure. The following is offered as a possible beginning.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over sin, that our lives had become unmanageable.
The Holy Scriptures teach us that “there is no one who does good, no, not one” (Ps 52/53:1,3). The first key Step that all of us have to take is that we are all powerless over sin and the effects of sin. Even the great Apostle, St Paul, admitted, “For, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19). It is obvious to so many who have commented on this crisis that not only was one person not responsible for this scandal, but it could not have been long perpetuated without the knowledge, collusion, and acquiescence of others. Our Lord Himself stated that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). If Christ Himself is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6), then to admit the total truth about every aspect of this scandal is to be doing the work of Christ, and, conversely, to hide any of it (that is, to “lie” by omission of the total revealing of the truth) is to be doing the work of the evil one.
Step 2: Came to believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, could restore us to sanity.
The God Who reveals Himself in Holy Scripture, Who led the Israelites into the promised land of Israel, Who leads us into the promised land of the Kingdom of God, is the only One Who can save us. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is the Image of the invisible God, Who said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30) and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9) tells us explicitly, “apart from Me, you can do nothing!” (Jn 15:5). If we really believe and embrace the reality of our powerlessness, then only God, the One Who is all-powerful, can save us and heal us through this crisis. For, as our Lord again reminds us, “What is impossible with men is possible with God!” (Mt 19:26, and parallels).
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as He reveals Himself in the Holy Trinity: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
From an internal and spiritual perspective, this may be the most important Step we need to take. This is the vital, key action that those involved in this scandal need to take. For, it is obvious, based on the behavior we have witnessed to this point, that this spiritual surrender to God is precisely what has been lacking. We constantly chant the Lord’s Prayer. Yet, do we really heed the words, “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”? From a soteriological point of view, what is frightening here is that those who refuse to surrender now to God may find themselves eternally cut off from Him in His Kingdom. We all need to surrender ourselves to God, so that we may be open to His Holy Spirit working in us, and in our Church.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The reason many do not want to surrender their wills and their lives to God is because they are afraid it will lead them precisely to the work of this Step. Looking within ourselves is never an easy matter. If we are really honest, it is a painful experience. Who really wants to see the darkness within? Yet, those who have courageously embraced the work of the 12-Step Programs know that what is not faced is not healed. This is why we all need the community of the Church: we all need the love, acceptance, and support of one another as we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). Furthermore, we need to offer this love, acceptance, and support to those who have betrayed us in this scandal, to offer them a place where they can feel safe enough to make that searching and fearless moral inventory. While we are justified in our anger towards these whom we may deem the “least” of us for violating this trust, we need to remember that our Lord admonished us, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt 25:40).
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our sins.
I believe one could not find a better definition of Sacramental Confession than the words of this Step. Yet, again based on the recent actions surrounding this scandal, the question must be asked: Do our Church leaders, themselves, partake seriously and with the fear of God, in Sacramental Confession? Everyone assumes they do, but that assumption does not make it reality. If our leaders have been given the divine responsibility of watching over the flock, then who watches the watchers? What has happened financially during this crisis shows that, without checks and balances and accountability, material temptation proves to be too much. How much more so on the spiritual level? If our spiritual fathers are not getting their spiritual needs met, then the fact that we are in this crisis ceases to be a surprise. In dysfunctional families, a crisis of this magnitude would preclude an intervention by other family members for the one suffering, even if it is a parent (which is often the case). Shouldn’t spiritual intervention be possible when our spiritual fathers are in crisis?
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these sins and to lead us to repentance.
This is the natural outcome of one who has seriously worked the previous Step in Sacramental Confession. What is of paramount importance is that those who are guiding our Church leaders by hearing their Confessions should gently but firmly work them towards this readiness, to make themselves open to God and the working of His Holy Spirit.
Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our sins and our shortcomings.
Creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance and a safe place for them to admit their sins, and having those hearing their Confessions leading them to an openness to God, result in the acquisition of humility on the part of our Church leaders. This is a vital Step, since God Himself is humble. Therefore, the embracing of humility is the embracing of the qualities of God, and, furthermore, of God Himself. The successful working of this Step brings about miraculous healing from God.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This Step begins the work of accountability to the Church for those who have violated the trust of her members. Once the work of the previous four Steps have been done, to begin this accountability will be easy, taken within the context of the love, acceptance, and support of the other members of the Church. The healing that has been brought about not only in those involved in the scandal, but also in all members of the Church, will encourage those who are accountable to manifest that to all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
It is obvious from the past two years that not making direct amends is what is hurting the Church and her members. This Step would be the longest and most tedious one to implement: careful study, discussion, and (most importantly) prayer will be needed to determine what form(s) this direct amends should take. Again, however, an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and support is needed to successfully carry out the detailed workings of this Step.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and, when we sinned, promptly admitted it.
In the various Programs, this has been referred to as the Maintenance Step. Once the work of resolving the crisis has been completed, checks and balances of accountability need to be put in place. Yet, we need to see beyond just the material and financial checks and balances. The spiritual ones are even more essential. If our spiritual leaders are accountable to others for their prayer life, their Sacramental Confession, and their spiritual growth, then the material problems almost become a non-issue.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as He reveals Himself, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
This is a vital element for all of us: leaders, flock, clergy, laity, men, women, children. For, it is only through prayer that we can keep in communion with God and keep His word. And, as He reminds us, “If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Jn 14:23).
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message of the Gospel to all nations, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
It is only by living the life of the Gospel ourselves that we can bring its message to others. For, as St Paul reminds us, “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word” (2 Cor 2:17). The pagans of the early centuries were moved to Christianity because, as they told each other, “Look how they (the Christians) love one another!” It is through this spiritual work and openness to God’s healing that we bring the message of the Kingdom of God to the world.
(David Barrett is a MA & MDiv graduate of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has been a choir director in the OCA for thirty-two years, currently serving at Christ the Savior parish in Southbury, Connecticut.)