An Open Letter to the Members of the Metropolitan Council
Dear Reverend Fathers, and Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Some historians say that the explanation for why the Christian Church in the Roman Empire’s Greek East followed a different trajectory in ecclesiastical development than the Latin West resides in the polyphony of voices which existed in the Christian East. While Augustine stands alone in the Christian west in terms of theological prestige, the Greek East had the Cappadocian Fathers plus the Alexandrian theologians to both broaden and sharpen perspectives. And while Rome alone in the Latin West claims an apostolic founding for its episcopacy, dozens of sees in the Greek East can trace their succession to the apostles. The effect of these differences, or so it is maintained, produces in the East a conciliar view of church governance based in the Ecumenical Councils, rather than in the infallible claims of one bishop. It is the very fact that there were a multitude of voices in the formative period of Orthodox Christianity which has made Orthodoxy rich in theology and tradition, and has kept in check the singular ambitions of any one man from dominating church thinking. This is the richness of Orthodox theology and ecclesiology.
In our day and age, there are some who seem to feel that the only way to unity in the church is to stifle discussion, disagreement and debate. I am writing to you to ask you to carefully consider whether in fact unity of heart and mind can be realized in the modern Orthodox Church by silencing voices and opinions.
I believe it is up to you as Council in cooperation with the Synod of Bishops, precisely as many voiced bodies, to keep the Orthodox tradition of councils and conciliar decision making alive in the OCA. And though the ultimate goal in the Church is that we might be one (John 17) and that we might with one mind confess our unity of faith (as we pray at the divine liturgy), the Orthodox Church has not stopped the very process by which we come to this common mind - speaking the truth in love. In fact through its Councils the Church enabled various thoughts to be expressed so that they could be tested for the truthfulness and their ability to convey the truth. In the Acts of the Apostles, the noble Boreans were perhaps the first to use this methodology as they discussed St. Paul’s interpretation of scriptures, “examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
So too, in our present scandal and leadership crisis, we need to be as noble as the Boreans and examine what is going on in the OCA, both examining and using the scriptures as well to see if we as Church and our leaders as Christian leaders are in fact following and allowing us to follow the Gospel in our pursuit of the truth and the evangelical life here in America. We need clear and open discussion of the issues, and we need clear and honest reports from all of those in leadership positions so that all leaders can fully and in an informed manner discuss the issues, and to examine the logic and claims of each other. We need an informed and invigorated base – the members of the Body of Christ – to hold us to Gospel standards, and not allow us to avoid difficult and painful issues.
We need to encourage the work of ocanews.org, and
of other outlets so that the various voices of concern and love for the church can be expressed and heard.
To allow this to happen we need to be guided by the Gospel and by canonical law, not just by legal expedience or defensiveness. Attorneys have their place even in the church, but theirs is a wisdom not always governed by the law of love, the only law we Orthodox are completely obliged to follow.
We are the Church, after all, the Body of Christ. Truth may at times be painful to us but we are never to avoid it or to cease seeking it or to stop proclaiming it. We have no such authority to do such things. We are the Body of Christ, and we will be healed by the wounds and stripes of the Crucified Lord. And as our Lord Jesus promised us, God may prune our branches so that we can bear more fruit (John 15:2) – though note He only promises to prune to branches that actually bear fruit, the fruitless branches are simply cut off and tossed away!
In our current scandal, some are thinking that we need to wait and see what if anything the FBI or some other law enforcement agency is going to do regarding the behavior of our church leaders. It is my opinion, and why I write this open letter to you, to encourage you as duly chosen Council, to investigate and report to the entire Church what it is you have discovered about the scandal and what actions you are taking as the discipline of the Church requires in order to preserve the integrity and holiness of the Church. We need to hear the voice of the Church, the mind of Christ, not just attorney advised opinions, in making our assessment of the scandal and of those involved in the wrongdoings or involved in enabling the scandalous behavior to continue unchecked.
It may well be that now the fabled Special Commission is going to wait and see what the FBI will do, but our inability or unwillingness to issue a report of our own is a failure of Church to be Church. Our ways are set by the Gospel not by civil law, though we do answer to civil law as well. Whether or not any law enforcement agency takes an interest in us, whether or not any illegal activity by our leaders is proven, we still need to give an accounting for our stewardship in terms of what is moral and immoral, not just what is illegal.
We need to do with things in our own way, on our own terms - cooperating as best we can with civil authorities. But whatever the law enforcers decide, we need to decide about our own and about who we are.
If we are going to be the Orthodox Church in America, and not simply Americans who are also Orthodox, then we need to apply the Gospel and the canonical tradition to our situation, and do what is good and right for restoring integrity and holiness to the Church.
We must be autocephalous not just in relationship to worldwide Orthodoxy but also in our relationship to our nation and civil authority. We do not need a power to subpoena, we have the power to call men to repentance. You as Council because of the Special Commission can lay before our leadership a detailed description, in as much as we know it, as to what went wrong and who engaged in scandal and ask our leaders to repent, and to accept what the canonical norms are for dealing with such failures in hierarchical and clerical and lay positions. If the state decides to prosecute some of our leaders, then we have an imperative to cooperate with this, but their decisions and interests may not be the proper limits to what we should be concerned about as Church.
We do not need to limit our actions to those found guilty in a court of law. Our authority comes from Christ, not the state. You, as the Council of our Church, are to help insure that we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but more importantly you are responsible to insure that we render to God the things that are God's. And in all issues of stewardship, though we have to conform to the laws of the state, the finances of the Church are God's. You must give an accounting of the OCA's stewardship to God and to the Church, not just to the state.
There have appeared some emails rightfully pointing out that what happened in our church is not merely the failure of leadership, but also entails a number of people willing to be enablers of the situation. I think in terms of the OCA, this resulted not so much from their being so many ambitious men seeking their own interests, but rather it resulted from too many being inactive and from inertia being the main force in the OCA.
We have allowed to happen in the OCA the very thing some historians mentioned above think was what differentiated the Western Church from the East:
we have not had a polyphony of voices to openly and actively debate issues and ideas. We have not openly and honestly discussed a vision, a plan for our future nor the problems of the OCA. We have stifled such discussion which has led to the inactivity and inertia of the OCA. It has come to the point where in our current crisis the constant attitude seems to be let's watch and see what others will do so we can follow or hide.
The OCA whose very role in the world is to proclaim the Gospel has allowed itself to have its voice taken away.
I am asking you as Metropolitan Council both to encourage different voices to enter into the discussion of our problems, and also to allow the voice of our commissions and reports to be heard throughout the OCA.
We need our problems to be discussed, so we don’t end in disgust. We need good, honest and open discussion about what it means to be Orthodox in America and to be an autocephalous church. This whole discussion may also prove to be very difficult and painful for us.
It may expose how divided we are and how far we need to go to attain unity, or how little we have come to grips with the meaning of Orthodoxy or autocephaly in the 21st Century. But how else are we going to discern the mind of Christ? How else are we going to follow the Orthodox tradition of conciliarity if we stifle discussion? How else are we going to make use of the richness of our many-voiced tradition of the Christian East and the role which church councils have served in problem solving? How else are we going to make use of the many gifts which God has bestowed upon all His people if we continue to try to limit who is involved in our decision making process or which voices we allow to speak?
So, I ask you as Metropolitan Council members to stop us from doing things they way we were doing them during the height of the scandal – with no reporting,
no accountability, allowing one person to control everything, preventing open discussion and debate and thus stopping the discerning process of spiritual wisdom, of silencing questions and concerns of the membership. The Fathers honed their theology in the open debates of their times. We can use the same processes to restore the integrity of the Church.
In Acts 15 as in the Ecumenical Councils, they dealt not only with theological problems, but also with practical
We need you, as Council, to use your voice to insist on reporting to the Church what we know and what we are going to do about it. The fact that there is order in the church, and hierarchy, does not mean that there is no reporting or accountability. The first church council of Acts 15, sent a letter to the entire church to report their decisions, not to enforce an understanding of hierarchy which says there is no accountability. But not only did they send a letter to be read in every congregation, their deliberations, no matter how briefly, are recorded in our scriptures for all eternity. Councils do effect the life of the entire church, and so their decision making also needs to include open and recorded debate, reflection, and discernment. The problems the Christians were facing in Acts 15 were every bit as practical and divisive as is the crisis facing the OCA today. And in that Council in Acts 15, they wrote, "WE and the Holy Spirit." But this "WE" they could only say because they had allowed expressed and they had heard the differing opinions and perspectives of those who had something to say about a very contentious issue.
We need you as Metropolitan Council to insist that the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan take full responsibility for their role in our leadership crisis and financial scandal. Who is and has been responsible for the appointments that have been made? Who is and was responsible for overseeing the behavior and decisions of the leadership of our church? Who is responsible for taking the evangelical and canonical actions to discipline those who are guilty of dereliction of duty and for those who took advantage of their offices and ordinations to misuse money and power in the OCA? We need you as Council to insist that the consecrated leadership of the Church take their full responsibility
for creating the problems which occurred and bear their responsibility as duly consecrated hierarchs for being part of the resolution of these problems in the present and in the future.
It is you as Council who can invite all bishops and clergy and laity to acknowledge ways in which they may have in fact benefited from the misuse of funds. Those who received gifts and awards and travel from the leadership of the OCA should be asked to come forward now – now that we know where the funding for these things came from – and admit their own participation in what was the possibly secretive misuse of funds.
Let those who received various gifts and awards that came from Russia or where ever, return those rewards to Syosset, so that they can be sold to help pay back the missing funds and reduce the OCA's debt. Let those who received paid for travel recognize publicly, now that they know the truth to acknowledge what they did. They may have accepted such benefits in all sincerity and never questioned how an OCA which constantly had no money, could have paid for these travels. But seeing the big picture now, invite them to offer repentance for having participated in the bankrupting of the OCA. Let this all be part of a truth and reconciliation action by the members of the church to acknowledge our corporate failure and sins.
Let us demand that a total financial accounting be made of the Thirteenth All American Council in Orlando. This 13th AAC seems, according to the Metropolitan Council Minutes, to have led to the OCA needing to borrow one half million dollars to pay for excessive expenses of this 13th AAC. It seems possible to me that certain individuals excessively and extravagantly spent a fortune to honor the very metropolitan who had overseen the spiritual and financial bankrupting and the membership demise of the OCA. These individuals apparently benefited and enjoyed the money spent on this council and in honoring the metropolitan who had made their decision making and life styles possible. This should be investigated and if found true, repentance should be asked of these church leaders.
We need this accounting so that we can set the record straight, and restore integrity to the OCA, and to give us reason to energetically and joyfully carry on the mission of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. Otherwise we are doing nothing more than asking our membership to continue funding the past misdeeds of scandalous leaders.
We need you, as Metropolitan Council, to give reason to the members of the OCA to put their full energy and joy and support into the Church which is trying to be the Body of Christ in America. In my opinion this can happen when you at Metropolitan Council encourage the Church to have voice, and take the courage to listen to the voices of our membership.
May God help you and us.
Fr. Ted Bobosh