FOUR VIEWS OF THE
DC TOWN HALL MEETING
A three hour OCA Town Hall meeting, held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington DC, on Saturday June 28th, revealed that the FBI investigation into the OCA continues, the report of the Special Investigative Committee will be given to a joint meeting of the Synod and Metropolitan Council on August 27th, and that Metropolitan Herman feels at ease with his actions in the scandal. These revelations apart, the Town Hall, which gathered some 60 participants (clergy and lay) from several local parishes, together with Metropolitan Herman, OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs, and Ms. Lisa Morris, a member of the Pre-Conciliar Commission (PCC) from St. Nicholas Cathedral, received decidedly mixed reviews from participants.
One, a layman, described the meeting in an email to OCANews.org this way:
“....I was surprised by the relatively large size of the turnout. The number of clergy (12+) attending was impressive, although a third or more were assigned or attached to St. Nicholas Cathedral. Thirty to forty lay members attended with 16 from St. Mark’s (in Bethesda) alone; the next largest contingent was from the cathedral.
Among the lay members were at least 4 self-identified attorneys, who all criticized the Metropolitan and the Synod for withholding the report and the compiled evidence of the 1st Special Investigative Committee. ....
Overall, I found the town hall meeting the most excruciating ordeal I have had to endure in memory. The lack of visible response from His Beatitude to the calls for his resignation and the multiple reports of disappointment and betrayal, especially from the laity called the purpose of these meetings into question. While I was heartened to see and hear in Fr. Alexander Garklavs a priest dedicated to bringing these scandals to a proper end in due time, I was left with the further impression that His Beatitude is incapable of seeing any errors in his behavior regarding these scandals....”
A Second View
A second clerical participant was much more critical:
“In a few words; it was an absolute farce. Basically what was said was, we are here to listen to you, but when substantive things were said, people were told to “sit down and shut up”… +Herman said nothing till the end and Lisa Morris was ... useless. Garklavs made several .... comments, which only agitated people more. At the end +Herman basically said he didn’t care if we judged him, it only matters what God thinks of his actions…”
He then elaborated:
“In his introductory remarks, Fr Garklavs stated that they (the OCA representatives) were “here to listen” and that the meeting is meant to be “one-way,” not a dialogue, but an opportunity for all present to speak about the current situation in the OCA. Fr. Garklavs, then stated that the meeting would focus on four questions:
How have the events (i.e., the scandal) affected you personally?
What solutions would you offer to make things right?
What would you like to see happen at the All-American Council?
How would envision the OCA in the future?
He then posited the first question and asked for responses. The one aspect of the meeting that went well was keeping with Fr Garklavs’ agenda. In order to ensure compliance and keep the attendees focused, at the appropriate times, in other words, when they were ready to move on to the next question, Fr Garklavs and Lisa Morris militantly cut off participation in order to, as they stated, keep comments relevant to the question that they imposed on the participants. It was clear that they had an agenda to get through and they were going to make darn sure that it was adhered to.
The “one-way” format, or listening session, did not last long. At the outset of the meeting, when a comment was made alleging that former Metropolitan Theodosius is a homosexual, Fr Garklavs felt “compelled to comment.” In fact, it turned out that Fr Garklavs found it necessary to comment on several of the participants’ statements....
It is clear that there is a lot of anger, mistrust, irritation, confusion, cynicism, and grief among the faithful in the Diocese of Washington and New York, as evidenced by the impassioned statements by many, including clergy. Several participants submitted prepared statements for the minutes and for distribution to the other attendees. The “dialogue” which eventually became the norm for a large part of the meeting, or more accurately, the back and forth of a sincere comment, observation or impassioned plea by a member of the faithful and immediate rebuttal or “clarification” by Fr Garklavs obviously heightened the emotions of many present for the duration of the meeting.
Throughout the meeting Metropolitan Herman remained quiet, stoic and aloof to his surroundings. All notions of his dispassionate demeanor dissipated, however, when he gave his closing remarks. After a very brief comment thanking participants for their devotion to God and the Church, he proceeded to berate his critics and detractors, essentially stating that no one is in a position to judge him but Our Lord Himself, which he gladly awaits. He also intimated that all in the OCA bear some responsibility for the current state of affairs. Even a casual observer would summarize his commentary as extremely defensive, bombastic and self-serving...”
A Third View
A third participant, another layman, described it this way:
“In attendance ... were Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Metropolitan Herman and LIsa Morris, who was a member of the Preconciliar commission. She repeatedly said that it was not a question and answer session....we were only to be able to express out opinions based on the three questions that Fr. Garklavs put forward (see below). Their job was just to listen. Whenever anyone addressed too many questions to Fr. Garklavs (Metropolitan Herman was silent until the very end) or one question that they didn’t want to address..they stopped the discussion and reminded us of the rules. It was more often just a series of personal statements than a flowing discussion where one comment lead to another. Lisa wrote down a few words on a pad on an easel (things like “reestablish trust”, “unity”, “music”, etc.) to be the minutes of the meeting.
The questions were:
1. How has the scandal affected you personally?
2. What issues would you like to see addressed at the AAC?
3. What is your vision of the OCA in ten years?
The rules were:
1. No attribution (Although curiously, Martin Paluch took photos of most everyone who spoke..)
2. Dignity and respect...
3. No judgment
4. Balance-- no monopolizing of conversation”
A fourth participant, a woman, offered the following, much more detailed version of what was discussed:
“Fr. Garklavs gave an intro, set down the ground rules and emphasized that it was not a dialog, that it was an opportunity for people to speak and them to listen. He read a prayer from St. Isaac of Syria and then he read the questions the PCC submitted.
There were probably about 60+ people. I didn’t get a count but there were two people up front taking notes for the PCC so they probably got a count.
A number of lawyers, at least three, maybe more, spoke and all of them said that in order to respore trust there must be an openness and “let the bright light shine”.
Many people asked for honesty.
One person compared it to a divorce and said that she wants autocephaly to work, she wants to trust again, but she can’t until she feels that there is honesty. Others mentioned how it has affected them physically, how even getting into the car to come to the meeting made them feel sick to their stomach.
There were a number of calls for transparency and stating that they didn’t feel things were yet transparent. Several people mentioned we should be addressing the real issues and that answeing the questions about the future were premature until we cleaned up the present mess.
There was a question about why the full report of the first Special Commission had not been released and Fr. Alexander explained that there were a number of reasons, including legal ones, but that the report that appears on the OCA website is really pretty complete.
Several people spoke about unity and a few spoke in support of the Metropolitan and the Synod, saying they were doing all that they could.
One person read from the recent Tatusko letter (Read that letter here) and one person read from the Grigorieff reflection (Read that letter here)
There were a number of people who spoke about the bishops stepping down. One priest countered that that is not possible, that if all the bishops step down we cease to be a church.
One person said we should give back the Tomos, but several people spoke about how important autocephaly is and that we should try to be worthy of it.
Fr. Garklavs said that the report of the second Special Investigative Committee would be givein to the Metropolitan Council and Synod on August 27th and that he believed it should then be released to everyone.
One man spoke about how there seems to be a conflation of what needs to be done for the protection of the church and for the protection of individuals.
One person said there are questions about Metropolitan Theodosius ...and someone else said that there are rumors about homosexuality in the Synod. This person said that it should be clarified. If there is, those Bishops should step down; if there is not, that should be stated.
One person recounted how the Antiochians had turned a case of illegal activity at Antiochian Village over to the state prosecutor and it was dealt with swiftly, while we are continuing to languish about.
Fr. Garklavs explained that the FBI investigation continues, but that it is at their pace, not ours.
One person suggested that there should be opportunities for dialog, rather than just one group speaking and the other listening.
There was suggestion that there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as was so successful after apartheid was abolished in South Africa.
One man said that we need to purge our sense of arrogance and instill genuine checks and balances.
One attorney said that we need to operate in a spirit of forgiveness and contrition, providing information and exposing the truth.
Several people asked that the hierarchs stand for reelection. Some historical examples were given where one or more hierarchs have stepped down or been forced out after a scandal.
When asked about what people see as positive things that could happen in the future most people pointed to unity with other Orthodox in North America, evangelization, music, photos of people other than hierarchs on the website, correct grammar in press releases, engaging young people, translations, liturgical language, and that every priest should refer to parishioners as “brothers and sisters in Christ”.
One priest said that in a crisis of credibility the administration must allow themselves to be vulnerable and to risk themselves. He said that the All-American Council (AAC) should be a place where young and old can dialog, less of a convention atmosphere.
One person said there should be no limits on the number of observers at the AAC and in fact more people should be encouraged to come.
A priest said that counseling should be available to those who are burdened by this and that we should have an atmosphere of prayer, repentance, forgivenenss and healing. Our society is dynamic and energetic and we must embrace that.
One priest commented that the present situation gives us an opportunity to start all over again.
One priest (not a member of the administration) asked forgiveness. “
One man suggested that autocephaly means that we have a more direct accountability and duty to Christ as the head of the Chruch.
There was concern about present day spending and Fr. Garklavs assured the group that every penny sent in goes to the designated expense.
A lot of people spoke. “
“There were a number of calls for transparency and people stating that they didn’t feel things were yet transparent. Several people mentioned we should be addressing the real issues - and that answering the questions about the future were premature until we cleaned up the present mess.”
Questioned as to whether the meeting was tense or confrontational, the correspondent replied:
“Well, there were two or three confrontational moments (Lisa Morris raised her voice to counter some subjects that were supposedly “off topic”) but I wouldn’t describe it as a real mess. .....Perhaps I’m numb to it. I actually thought that Garklavs did a masterful job - he could have done much worse. He was calm, careful.”
The Metropolitan Speaks
As the meeting drew to a close, all four correspondents agreed that Fr. Garklavs urged the Metropolitan, who had been present but silent, to speak. According to most accounts, the Metropolitan, who suffers from acute sciatica, had not looked engaged during in the statements, although others reported he was seen taking occasional notes by those who sat up front.
The Metropolitan said, in a clear and distinct voice, that there “may have been mistakes made”, but that “he has asked forgiveness” in a letter to the OCA last year. Our fourth correspondent continued:
“ He said we should bear in mind that this involves all of us, that we should forgive 70 times 70 times 70. He said that he would have liked to have that report out the first day it was received, but that it couldn’t be. He knows that he is insulted - but is confident about his own actions. He is confident that he will be able to stand before our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is concerned about the Last Judgement, but he is confident in his actions. We should consider our own trespasses and assist the Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council and Chancery to bring this to an end...”
And on this note, the DC Town Hall meeting ended.
The Metropolitan’s Sciatica
Following Saturday’s Town Hall, the Metropolitan attended Vespers at the Cathedral, but left the Vigil because of his sciatica. Walking only with difficulty, he did not serve Liturgy on Sunday at the Cathedral, but sat in the altar. He left as quickly as possible after the Liturgy. According to witnesses, this is the second time the Metropolitan’s sciatica has altered his service at the Cathedral. At Pascha the Metropolitan was unable to fully participate due to his back pain as well.
The next two Town Halls will be held on July 3rd in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with Archbishop Seraphim, and on Saturday, July 12th, at St. Vladimir’s Seminary near New York City, with Bishop Nikon present.
- Mark Stokoe