Council Concludes with Resolutions, Elections, Optimism
• Courage of Alaskan Priests, Protodeacon Wheeler
and Family Honored
• All Elected to MC Had Visible Roles in Change
• Synod and New Metropolitan Council Meet
The 15th All- American Council is history. More importantly, it was historical as the winds of change swept through the OCA, clearing the air.
If the first days of the Council seemed to run on Byzantine Standard Time, rather than Eastern Standard Time, the final day saw good old-fashioned confusion. Such is the price of re-learning conciliarity in a Church which is more accustomed to stage-managed Party Congresses where the outcomes were largely pre-determined and the decisions mostly meaningless. It was a small price to pay for integrity, and one which will come easier in the future. It was healing, even if it was frustrating at times, because it signified the whole event , at long last, had meaning.
The Council voted not to lower the assessment to $50 as several dioceses had suggested, but to lower the assessment only $1 - to $105 - for the next three years. Make no mistake, the intentions of the Council were to be supportive of the new Metropolitan - and a real vote of confidence in the integrity of the new Treasurer and the outstanding work of the Metropolitan Council's Finance Committee under Fr. Matthew Tate. But given the financial realities of many parishes it is a safe assumption that the OCA census will report the loss of at least a thousand members next year. Such is the reality of a head tax system. Metropolitan Jonah made it very clear in his comments that it would be a priority of his administration to move away from the head tax to a system of proportional giving. This was met with sustained applause.
The proposed amendment to the Statute changing the way OCA internal auditors were selected - from direct elections to appointment by the Metropolitan Council - along with new, detailed specifications of their terms, qualifications and reasons they may dismissed and replaced if dismissed for cause - was adopted.
The 'Goblet of Fire' amendment to the Statute (i.e. pulling of the name out of a chalice), which the Council had voted to postpone until after the election of the new Metropolitan, was almost forgotten in the exuberance that surrounded the election of Metropolitan Jonah. There was a vote, however, and it was agreed to table the amendment indefinitely.
A resolution was then made, and adopted by unanimous consent, to commend the Alaskan priests (several of whom were present) for their courage and steadfastness during the recent crisis in Alaska surrounding Bishop Nikolai. The long, loud, and standing ovation was memorable.
A resolution was then made, and adopted unanimously by voice vote, thanking Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, his wife Alla, and their family, for their courage; apologizing to them for the suffering they had endured in standing up for the truth; and pledging the Council's love and prayers. The symmetry of it all was not lost on those who had been present at the last Council in Pittsburgh (in 1999) for it was there we began the descent into the scandal. It took nine years to acknowledge the wrongs done, but the repentance, if measured by the applause, was sincere.
A resolution of thanks was offered to OCANews.org for its role in uncovering the scandal; as well as an "opposing" one requesting that OCANews.org now cease posting. The Synod tabled both. Althought many expressed their disappointment to me privately at this outcome, consider this: The Synod of the OCA just tabled a motion asking OCANews.org to stop posting. Things have changed!
Finally, the perennial resolution to withdraw from the National Council of Churches was made; and this time after a brief discussion, the new Metropolitan asked the discussion to cease since this was not really in the competence of the Council, but by Statute was the responsibility of the Synod. He then asked all the delegates to express their opinion on the matter in a 'straw poll', so that the Synod could gauge popular sentiment on this issue. Both sides of the issue shouted loudly when the Yeas and Nays were called: but it was clearly a tie.
Before, during and after the Resolutions we had an election. At issue were seats on the Metropolitan Council and the Pension Board. In a change from the past, many attendees stood for election, and again in a change from the past, all were brought forward so people could put names and faces together. Everyone was given a brief biography of the candidates as well.
All those elected, with one exception, have names well-known to readers of OCANews.org. For the laity, Dr. Faith Skordinski of the SIC Commission was returned to the Council for a six year term. Protodeacon Peter Danilchik, a name associated with 'Best Practices' was elected to a three year term. (Deacons are considered laymen for the purposes of the Council - talk to your Bishop about that one, not me.) Dr. Paul Meyendorff of St. Vladimir's Seminary, who made the proposal from the 1917 Council that all the Bishops resign and be re-elected, was chosen as the alternate.
Selected as clergy delegates to the Metropolitan Council from the All- American Council were Fr. David Garrettson, who was a judge on the Kondratick trial and Fr. Theodore Bobosh, a frequent contributor to this site. The alternate chosen was Fr. Thomas Moore from South Carolina.
Synod, Metropolitan Council Meet & Greet
Following the conclusion of the Council, the Metropolitan Council and Synod, together with the Pre-Conciliar Commission and Local Organizing Committee met. Nine years ago this meeting signaled the beginning of the OCA scandal.
This meeting signaled a beginning of something so very different. Having just been voted a $105 assessment the Council prudently adopted a $90 assessment budget, (with some additions, given the expenses that will accompany the enthronement of a new Metropolitan). The Council will also meet early in 2009, together with the Synod, to begin the strategic planning process. It marked the beginning an ascent, not a descent.
I cannot tell you what is going to happen in the next three years, but I can tell you things have really changed for the better. The discussion began with a change - we were all handed 'Best Practices' documents to sign, including the new Metropolitan. Fr. Reeves, given the unpleasant events of the past week regarding a former member (Dr. Alice Woog), informed the Metropolitan that neither he, nor others at the table, were prepared to waste time by signing papers to which people were not going to be held accountable. The Metropolitan promised that he would hold people accountable.
If such assurances were comforting, so too were his actions. To encourage communication he gave everyone present his private cell phone number and his private email address. And yes, he texts. To encourage dialogue he pointed to the white klobukh in front of him and said no one should be intimidated by a hat. Most importantly he did not do all the talking - although he did contribute. He listened intently to a serious, sometimes intense, discussion in which most of the members, and many members of the Synod participated as well. It was a dialogue, not a monologue.
One could sense that the other, older Bishops felt more free and comfortable than they had in years. While Archbishop Dmitri sat next to the Metropolitan, telling all he was 'pleasantly annoyed' at being deprived of his new vicar, Bishops Tikhon, Nikon and Benjamin, Archbishops Job and Seraphim did not, preferring to sit comfortably among the members, new and old, participating in, but no not dominating the discussions.
The OCA will take much time to heal, for our sickness was long and serious. There is perhaps no better way to end a report of the 15th All- American Council, and the hope it implies, than with the words of one who gave the OCA so much hope. Writing 35 years ago, in another difficult time, of another Pittsburgh Council, Fr. Alexander Schmemann said:
"All week, from Monday through Thursday night - in Pittsburgh at the All American Council. Great fatigue on the one hand, but on the other, an unexpected , almost miraculous ray of light. Contact again with the mystery of the Church, not rhetorical, not exaggerated. I went to the Council downcast , disenchanted: what good can come of all this? But in the end, after three days of intense pressure.... it suddenly became clear: the Church is alive in spite of everything, and a gathering of very 'small' people is transfigured into the Church. Wonderful services. Hundreds of communicants and most importantly, of course, is a kind of common inspiration. .... An almost mystical paradox of our Church: she 'has a hold' on her Bishops ( through statute, structure, the impossibility for them of irresponsible highhandedness, as before, justified as 'archpastoral authority') but she is also 'upheld' by them; impossible to exist without them.... I experienced all of this very acutely, and my mood is still uplifted by the Council. A miracle of the Holy Spirit in an American Hilton." *
"A miracle of the Holy Spirit in an American Hilton" is about the best summation of what occured, and that from a man who wasn't there physically, but was very much present in spirit and in the hearts and minds of those who were. What occurred in Pittsburgh was not, as some would like suggest, an 'immature' Church suffering "growing pains". These were very adult Christians dealing with very real problems in a very adult and spiritual way. The OCA did not need to "grow up" in Pittsburgh, as if we were some callow, rebellious youngster struggling to solve our problems. As Orthodox Christians from the United States, Canada and Mexico we confronted our sins, admitted them, and choose as a Church to grow in the Spirit. Not the full measure, not all we need to, or can, or will - but grow we did. Thus we were able to proclaim with integrity through our Bishops: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us...". And that is the defination of a truly autocephalous Church, whatever others may say.
Fr. Alexander would be so proud.
- Mark Stokoe
* Kudos to OCA archivist Alexis Liberovsky for finding this quote in the Russian translation of Fr. Alexander's Journals and posting it, albeit way too inconspicously, in the display of the Archives Department.