Reflections On The Scandal
THE TEST OF OUR INTEGRITY
by Igumen Philip (Speranza)
Edmonton, AL, Canada
Sources report that Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, former Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, will appear before a Spiritual Court on June 11 to answer various finance-related charges. How the Spiritual Court conducts the trial and what we expect of it will be the acid test of our moral integrity and our spiritual maturity as individual persons and as the Orthodox Church in America. The standard against which we will be measured is found in Micah 6:8, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
The moral virtue of justice might best be defined as “the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour.” Justice towards God requires us to give to God the worship, the glory, the respect, the obedience and the love that are His by right; justice towards other people disposes us to respect their rights and to establish (insofar as we are able) that harmony with them which creates and develops equity (fairness and equal treatment) of persons and the common good. To “do justly” means actually living that definition, as God expressly commands through the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream (5:24, RSV).”
In the case of Fr. Kondratick, the virtue of justice demands of him what he owes to the Spiritual Court and to the Church as a whole: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In Ephesians 4:15 the Apostle teaches that one inalienable characteristic of spiritual adulthood is “speaking the truth in love;” in verse 25 Paul insists that being “members of one another” in the one Body of Christ demands that “each one of you speak truth with his neighbour” (NKJV). The former Chancellor owes it to all of us to tell us the plain, unvarnished truth about how finances were handled in the Central Church Administration and what his role actually was. If he is guilty of wrong-doing, he must heed the injunction of James 5:16 to “confess your trespasses to one another,” because that is the only way for him and for the Church to even begin to find the healing we so desperately need. If he has made mistakes, bad decisions, and/or errors in judgment, he needs to own up to that as well, and in as much detail as possible. More painfully, he must break the ingrained habit of discretion and speak the truth in love about other leading figures in our drama and about their roles in our financial fiasco. We deserve to know.
By the same token, the Metropolitan, the Accuser, the attorney for the prosecution, and the Spiritual Court, both members and president, owe a great deal to Fr. Kondratick in this matter. They owe him clarity in the charges and full disclosure of the evidence against him. As has been noted elsewhere, in Matthew 18:15, the Lord Jesus Christ commands us bluntly, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…;” hence, the prosecution has a duty to be very explicit and focused in its charges; to tell the accused in detail why such charges are being brought (i.e., disclosing all the evidence upon which they are based); and to bring only charges for which the accused can legitimately be held responsible.
One would also suggest that, although it be a departure from ordinary practice, because this is so high-profile a case, the prosecution owes it to all of us to disclose publicly exactly what the charges are and to disclose at least the Special Commission’s report, upon which (reportedly) the charges are based. To give the whole Church the mushroom treatment, especially in a case like this, is to withhold from us what is certainly our due, viz., information which concerns all of us.
In that vein, justice also requires the Spiritual Court to cite explicitly, not only to Fr. Kondratick but also to all of us, some Canon, some provision of The Statute, or some officially-sanctioned document which makes crystal-clear what responsibilities and areas of accountability the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America actually had during the time in question. Simply to assume that the Chancellor bore ultimate responsibility for anything and everything that happened in the Central Church Administration overall and from day to day, especially with respect to financial matters, for example, violates the provisions of Canons 38 and 41 of the Holy Apostles, which lay such responsibility on the shoulders of the Bishop (and by extension here, the Metropolitan), and Canon 26 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which lays responsibility for day to day financial administration on the shoulders of the steward (who corresponds more to the Treasurer than to the Chancellor). Another example: was it the Chancellor’s responsibility to examine each employee’s work product to make sure that person was actually doing the job he/she was paid to do, and doing it properly; and, if so, how often? If failure to do so is one of the charges (directly or by implication), upon what authority is that charge based?
Let us also note that “doing justly” demands that the charges against the former Chancellor be only those “breaches of canonical or moral discipline” over which The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America (Article XI,3) gives the Spiritual Court jurisdiction. Since the one and only penalty prescribed by The Statute for clergymen in these cases is deposition from Holy Orders; and since nowhere do the Sacred Canons order the deposition of any presbyter or deacon guilty of incompetence, errors in judgment, well-intentioned but ultimately bad decisions, and/or sheer stupidity; therefore the charges against Fr. Kondratick can be legitimately only those breaches of discipline which are the product of knowing, deliberate and sinful wrong-doing. Making mistakes and/or generally screwing up are not sufficient canonical grounds for deposition; deliberate wrong-doing is.
Fairly obviously, “doing justly” requires the Spiritual Court to give to the accused, not only all the evidence against him, but also any exculpatory evidence; sufficient time to review the evidence; and both full opportunity and fairly wide latitude to present evidence and testimony to refute the charges. All of these we find in secular courts; and because the Lord tells us in Matthew 5:20 that unless our righteousness “exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” our standards certainly cannot be any lower than those of secular courts. Admittedly, Article XI,4,d of The Statute empowers the Court to determine what “experts and witnesses” are “acceptable to the court” (one of the more dangerous provisions, in this writer’s opinion); but given the weight of power and authority against the accused, justice demands that the power to exclude “experts and witnesses” as unacceptable be used sparingly, if at all.
The bottom line is really quite simple: for the Spiritual Court, “doing justly” means providing what all of us raised in the traditions of the British and American justice systems would see as a genuinely fair trial.
But to what end? Here, the test is whether or not we genuinely “love mercy.” In a recent reflection, Fr. John Garvey wrote, “ …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.” Amen! How often must we hear the words of the Apostle in Galatians 6:1 before we actually take them to heart and live them: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted”? How often will we deliberately choose to pass over in silence the Lord’s insistent teaching in Matthew 18:15ff that the purpose of discipline in the Church is not punishment but to “gain your brother,” to effect repentance on the one side and forgiveness and reconciliation on the other? Calling for Fr. Kondratick’s head does neither.
Further, many of us among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Canada remember well how the then-Chancellor was present at the trial of one of our brother priests in the Spiritual Court of another diocese to which he had been transferred. Perhaps improperly, but with genuine pastoral love, Fr. Kondratick intervened several times, entreating the accused simply to promise to be obedient to his Bishop (in a matter in which the Ruling Hierarch had every right to demand obedience). If the accused had done so, the charges against him would have been dropped. Only because he continued to refuse such obedience was he ultimately deposed. Fr. Kondratick understood clearly that the Scriptural object of that exercise was to gain his brother, not lop off his head.
Do we understand that in his case? Do we understand that to “love mercy” is not optional? Do we understand how chilling we should find the words of the Lord in Matthew 7:2, “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”? Even supposing (purely for the sake of argument in matters which demand real, concrete, substantial proof) that Fr. Kondratick were guilty of everything with which he is charged and of all our worst imaginings: what then? If anyone’s desire and goal is anything other than to gain a brother, that person does not love mercy and will receive none from the Lord.
Which leads us to the point that doing justly and loving mercy can occur only when we do “walk humbly” with our God. It is only when we are bluntly, brutally honest before God with ourselves about ourselves…and our own sins…and our own failings…and our own nasty little secrets we want to take to the grave with us…and our own mistakes and errors and dumb decisions…and our own stupidities…and our own pride and arrogance…and our own rationalisations of our sins and faults…and all the excuses for our bad behaviours and bad attitudes that we pull from our soul like Kleenex from a box: only then are our “righteous indignation” and demands for the punishment of that evil s.o.b. over there transformed into a hunger and thirst for true justice and a longing to exercise mercy. This does not preclude appropriate discipline; but the spirit in which that discipline is desired and deployed makes all the difference.
June 11 it begins. By what happens, by what all of us allow to happen, by what we want to happen, our moral integrity and our spiritual maturity will be tested yet so as by fire. What will the verdict be…on us?
Igumen Philip (Speranza) is a misanthropic old misery in the Archdiocese of Canada.
(Editor's Note: His description, not mine.)