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Reflections On The Scandal


by Fr. John Garvey

The current crisis in the OCA is serious, and the calls for transparency, honesty, and repentance are all on target. But although the response of the Synod is far from what it should be, and---despite a good beginning---the Metropolitan Council has yet to live up to its responsibility, I would argue that this is in some respects the healthiest period yet in the history of the OCA.

Some fixed notions may prevent us from seeing this.

There is a prevailing illusion about what autocephaly has really meant to our church. After the OCA was granted autocephaly, it did in fact offer a model of what a truly unified Orthodoxy in America might look like, through its inclusion of the Albanian, Bulgarian, and Romanian dioceses, along with the old Metropolia. But the more important accomplishment of the granting of autocephaly was in fact far more modest: it made the former Metropolia canonical, restoring it to a normal place in world-wide Orthodoxy. Even with that not unimportant, if modest, shift in its status, the OCA is still not recognized as truly autocephalous by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and several other old-world churches, although we do have a canonical relationship with them. Autocephaly solved a problem that had placed the church in a kind of limbo from the time of the Russian Revolution until its granting. Although they were divided internally, the other Orthodox churches on this continent did have canonical status, and the Metropolia did not. Autocephaly remedied that problem.

We should not act as if our current situation is a fall from some previous height. Not long after the granting of autocephaly Father Alexander Schmemann---who was largely responsible for our autocephaly---was edged out of his important advisory roles, and a few years later we saw the scandals begin, accompanied by a kind of triumphalism about the OCA's autocephaly. The scandals may have coincided with the reign of Father Kondratick and Metropolitan Theodosius, but many who knew or suspected what was going on were willing to remain silent and look the other way. This is not a time for which we should feel any nostalgia.

People who know me know that I am not a silver-lining kid of guy. So it might surprise them when I say that while this is a time of crisis, it is also a welcome change from a past in which a kind of sentimentality blinded us. The scandals can no longer be dealt with by pretending that silence and cover-up will keep "the faithful" (those poor sheep) from being shocked, and bishops from looking bad. (This attitude replicates that of the Roman Catholic bishops, from whose sad state our bishops have apparently learned nothing.) On this website and elsewhere committed priests and laypeople have offered thoughtful, searching critiques of the attitudes and evasions of personal responsibility that allowed this crisis to arise.

Several people who have commented here have noted that a defective ecclesiology has hurt us. We know that now. We avoided it before. We are for the first time talking among ourselves---thanks to this site, one or two dioceses, and too few hierarchs---about what has gone wrong, and what we should do. This is healthy. But the calls for heads to roll, the anger, the gleeful desire to see clerics on perp walks, the unwillingness to take to heart the understanding that repentance means not only the confession of the guilty but also the compassion of all the rest of us---all of this is disheartening. A real apology on the part of the Synod and an honest account of everything that has happened should lead to forgiveness. To the extent that this can be legally done, we should leave the civil authorities out of it.

I believe---I hope and pray---that we are capable of this.

(Fr. Garvey is attached to Holy Trinity Church in East Meadow, Long Island. He is a regular contributor to "Commonweal" magazine, and the author of several books.)