A BALANCED APPROACH
by David Barrett
There has been much talk on this website lately, especially since the events of this past week, for one of two extreme approaches.
The first can be called, for lack of a better term, the “forgive-and-forget” approach. This perspective says, “Okay! Metropolitan Herman has resigned. Now, let’s all just forgive and forget everything that has happened, let’s not dwell on the details, let’s just put all of this behind us as quickly as possible, so we can move on!”
The second can be called the “tar-and-feather” approach. This perspective says, “Okay! So, Metropolitan Herman resigned. Now, let’s string up him, Metropolitan Theodosius, Bob Kondratick, Frs Kucynda, Oselinsky, and Strikis, and anyone else even remotely involved in the wrongdoings to our Church!” As usual, both perspectives are extreme and are mutations of what we are called to, according to the Scriptures.
The first approach is one that is practiced with regularity in dysfunctional families, of which the OCA is just one example. This view is rooted in denial, because it misunderstands the essence of forgiveness. It looks at forgiveness as a validation of the wrong that has been done. It thinks forgiveness means, “That’s okay! What you did wasn’t really so bad!” or “What you did actually didn’t hurt me, after all!” or “Since I forgive you, that wipes the slate clean, as though nothing bad happened in the first place!”
To see the error of this perspective, one only has to look at the icon we venerate at Pascha, The Raising of Adam and Eve from Hell (according to the Greek, this is the real title of this icon, not “The Descent into Hell”). On this icon, Christ, after His Crucifixion and in being raised from the dead, still has the marks of the nails on His hands and His feet! To confirm this, we also need to re-read John 20:19-31, the story of Thomas’ doubt, where, again, the Risen Christ invites Thomas to “place your finger in My hand, and place Your hand in My side”, to see the scars from His wounds.
The Resurrection didn’t somehow miraculously or magically “undo” the Crucifixion. It didn’t wipe everything out, and make everything okay. It didn’t make it seem as though the Crucifixion never happened. Why? Because, Christ was still raised from the dead! As we still sing, even in Bright Week, “Through the Cross, joy has come into all the world!” The Troparion of Pascha says, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”, that is, His death!
The same holds true for the concept of forgiveness: forgiveness is freely offered for what actually happened. How can one forgive a betrayal if nothing was betrayed? How can one forgive a lie if no falsehood was told? This is the essence, impossible with men but possible with God, of forgiveness: you betrayed and hurt me, and I forgive you!!!
Forgiveness also doesn’t just automatically wipe the slate clean, either. It doesn’t say, “Since I forgive you, you are therefore unaccountable for your behavior and don’t have to answer for it!” No! In fact, as most priests know, forgiveness always means accountability and often means restitution. Forgiveness is freely offered in the Sacrament of Confession to one who truly repents. Yet, many times, a penance is required, not as a means of punishment, but as a means of reaching the heart of the penitent, the severity of what he or she has done, so as to (hopefully) not do this again.
Other times, more concrete restitution needs to be made, as, for example, with someone who has stolen money: a return of the money is part of making things right, and is part of the penitent’s act of contrition and repentance. Other times, for someone who does not think they have done wrong, a reprimand, punishment, or other actions may be necessary to soften the person’s heart to the point where they can acknowledge what they have done wrong, repent, and (if applicable) make restitution. This last point seems to be immediately applicable to the situation of those involved in this crisis (Metropolitan Herman, Kondratick, etc.).
Concerning those calling for the “tar-and-feather” approach, it is understandable to see why these people (as well as all of us) are at that level of anger. Let’s face it: money was absconded, trust has been violated, actions that should have occurred years ago to resolve this were delayed. Those whom we trusted as our leaders to guide us, who were given the stewardship of handling our hard-earned monies, who should have heeded the warning signs, the bells, whistles, blaring red lights, and other indications of this crisis, failed us, and, more than that, failed us miserably. Hearts and souls are still rent, and will take a long time in healing.
Moreover, the ability of any of us to trust our leadership, especially our bishops, is going to take even longer. We are not robots, calculators, or computer hard drives. We are people with minds, hearts, souls, and emotions, and we cannot be expected to have our trust restored in the blink of an eye or the flip of a light switch! And yet (and this is the difficult part), while rightfully demanding accountability on the part of those who have done wrong, we also are called to work and pray for the salvation of those who have betrayed us. We may think that, because of what they have done, that they are the least of those in our midst (and only God knows if we are justified in feeling that way). Yet, Christ has soberly taught us that “as you have done it to the least of these, your brethren, you have done it unto Me!” (Matthew 25:40).
Yes, we have the right to be angry! Yes, we have the right to be outraged! Yes, we have the right to demand accountability and restitution! But, we are also obliged to pray for their salvation. Christ, Himself, while hanging on the Cross in the midst of His Passion, said, “Forgive them, Father!” (Luke 23:34). We are all called to not only pray, but also to work together towards their salvation, and the salvation of all of us.
Many of us have leaned towards one or the other of the two extreme approaches. I know I have, and I’ll be the first to admit it and to ask forgiveness of all. Yet, if we are to be the Church, to be the Body of Christ, we have to strive to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). To do this, we need to work on staying on the narrow path Christ has called us to: to continue to speak the truth, demand the truth in all its details, demand accountability and restitution from those who owe it to the Church, and, at the same time, to pray and work towards their eternal salvation and the salvation of all of us in the Church, even the least of our brethren!