Some Thoughts on the Main Issue(s):
A Priest of the Orthodox Church in America
As I understand Orthodox ecclesiology, authority and leadership ideally come from within. Visionary leaders -- as some believe His Beatitude to be -- inspire people to change and sacrifice. Such behavior cannot be forced successfully upon parishioners or the Synod. Changes we -- the Church -- desire involve the transformation of the hearts and minds of people. They do not take place overnight, nor in two and a half years. As someone pointed out, "after years of scandal and hurt, righting the OCA ship (or any human soul for that matter) is like turning a luxury liner, not a speed boat."
Like many OCA members, I personally like His Beatitude very much, and think he has potential. With his election I, along with others, felt that the Orthodox Church in America was beginning a new era. I still believe that the possibility exists for the Metropolitan to make good on expectations and to become the type of leader people hoped for at the last AAC. For that to materialize, however, he must be patient, regardless of personal vision, and be willing to love and work in concert with an entire Body that has already experienced great dissension.
Thus, the Metropolitan must renew his efforts to know the American flock. His Beatitude seems to have made a beginner's error by pushing initiatives without first knowing his fellow bishops and the OCA as a whole. I personally was surprised to learn that over a year after his election His Beatitude was still unfamiliar with various OCA departments. Apparently, however, he has developed relationships with brethren in the south, as well as in the west. Yet, some of them have found the Metropolitan distant, unable to be still and listen attentively to their concerns; their relationship with him superficial at best. Additionally he has not been subtle in expressing open disappointment with northern Orthodox and confusion in relating to them. Unfortunately in his case, unlike that of a priest, beginner's mistakes affect an entire territorial Church, not just one parish, while grabbing international headlines.
But then, even if His Beatitude personally changes his thinking and method of leadership, there is still the question: "who is his main advisor(s)?" That is an equally large issue looming over the OCA which has been pointed to frequently. It seems strange even to ask, but is the Metropolitan free at this point -- emotionally -- to distance himself, geographically and in terms of communication, from his advisor(s) and gain less embittered ones? If not, then the OCA has another large issue to address. But such a shift would go a long way to show that His Beatitude is serious about relating to the entire Church membership. The OCA would see a somewhat different Metropolitan once certain advisors are replaced with individuals who think more comprehensively.
It's a start and a much needed one. The Metropolitan spoke eloquently about conciliarity in the past. People would love to see the "first among equals" exemplify this principle that "in principle" he strongly espouses. As long as he distances himself, however, from the Synod, the MC, Chancery staff and northerners; as long as he "pits brother against brother," (as one person described it) holding up publicly one or two dioceses over others; and as long as he keeps his current advisor(s) in place without balancing their counsel with wisdom from others, the desired model we saw at the AAC will not be seen again, in all likelihood, with this administration. We will experience increased division until family members are forced to take sides once again: "the North or the South? Moscow or America? the Synod or Metropolitan Jonah?" Such dissension as we see happening now in the Church does not need to exist. Righting the ship can take place if all parties, if the Church, desires it badly enough. Our recent forefathers in Christ, architects and visionaries of autocephaly, are assuredly turning over in their graves. Let us pray that we can go into the AAC in November with a renewed spirit of reconciliation, vision and above all conciliarity, which seems to be the most important issue on the table.
One more thing. Regarding Fr. Hopko's letter. There is an important aspect of this letter that has not been put forth or emphasized enough. Fr. Thomas was a professor to both Metropolitan Jonah and Fr. Joseph, as well as to many current Synod members, clergy and laymen in the OCA. If a person is able to read into this letter a correspondence of a "father in Christ" to his "children," as a father saying, "hey guys, enough is enough, and by the way, Fr. Joseph you need to be silent for now," (especially in light of Fr. Joseph's strong "up in arms" letter to the clergy) then the letter reads much differently. Fr. Thomas has a history with these men. He has watched them "grow up" in the Church, in their respective ministries. This fatherly relationship has to be taken into account and brings new meaning to the content, and even to the brevity, of such a letter.