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What Can You Do?
 

11.28.06 Second in a series

 
 

The following is a transcript of an interview with Archbishop Job of Chicago, conducted by Mark Stokoe, editor of OCANews.org, this past weekend.

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"Time Is Our Enemy. Too Much Time Has Lapsed, And Too Little Has Been Done..."

Stokoe: One year ago today you sent a letter to Metropolitan Herman in which you asked a question which haunts this crisis: “Are the allegations True or False?" (Read that letter here.) What prompted your November 2005 letter?

Archbishop Job: “Injustice. Not so much as to how I was treated, but how my diocese had been treated. In June 2005 the diocesan council of the Midwest, with the best of intentions, simply asked that there be more accountability with regard to finances of OCA at the upcoming All-American Council in August 2005. We were rebuffed in a way that made no sense. (Read that letter here.) It was a total manipulation of who was responsible to whom in the Church - as if the Metropolitan Council was not responsible to the All-American Council, as if the Council could not ask questions without the approval of the Metropolitan Council, without their permission. Which is more important? The All-American Council doesn’t report to the Metropolitan Council - it’s the other way around."

What happened then?

I informed my delegates of Fr. Kondratick’s reply. I also received a letter from His Beatitude (Metropolitan Herman) asking me, well, instructing me to be “well-behaved” at the All-American Council.

You mean not to ask “difficult” questions?

Yes. I was well behaved, and so I said very little, if anything, the entire Council.

What changed that led you finally to begin asking the difficult questions?

At the fall session of Holy Synod (October 31 - November 1, 2005) I saw that nothing would be accomplished as regards Protodeacon Eric Wheeler’s allegations. And so, I would not accept the budget for 2006 as presented.

Why?

All of these salaries, for example, of the Central Church administration were lumped together, so you couldn’t see what or who was being paid for full-time, part-time. Everything was put under one general heading. I had always asked for a breakdown, so we, the bishops, could see what we were paying our employees. That was always refused, and was so again. It was always things like this. So, finally, I said: “This time I will not accept such a budget.”

What happened?

(Laughing) It was to the consternation of many people. Later, I found out that my negative vote was not included in the official minutes. That made me angry yet again. After that, I began to say openly that we needed some real answers. I knew I owed it to the clergy and laity of my diocese.

You suspected things were seriously wrong?

I had a long conversation with Protodeacon Eric Wheeler in the last week of March of 2002 - right before the spring session of the Holy Synod that year. This was just before everything started to change, with the retirement of Metropolitan Theodosius. It was before we knew the main event of the Council would be the election of a new Metropolitan. Eric told me a lot of things of which I had no knowledge of - and many things I did not want to know.


The thing is, I am the kind of person that can listen to things and then put them on the back burner. Far back burner. I was taken up with the winds of change then. I thought maybe things could be rectified with a new Primate and new administration.

A year passed, and then two. And then the diocese’s questions were refused. I realized that little had changed in the three years since the election, that everything was essentially the same. The secrecy, lack of transparency, deception. Only some of the players were different. So, when I read the first draft of Eric’s “Call to Accountability”, in July 2005, it had so much more impact on me. I realized that I, all the bishops, had been deceived and manipulated regarding the so-called “discretionary” funds in 1999. That made me more angry - when was this going to end?

Radical measures were needed to effect change. I brought this concern to the Fall 2005 session of the Synod. I asked for an in-house investigation, conducted and led by three bishops, and anybody else who it be beneficial to have it on that committee. It fell on deaf ears.

I knew then that if the Bishops did not act, but ignored Eric’s allegations, the Metropolitan Council would be made aware of them, and from there it would get out into the internet. and from there everyone would know everything, and it would be unchecked. “If that happens then we will deal with it”: that was the message given.

By the Synod?

Yes.” If that happens?” It was sure to happen! It was a wake up call to me. I may be a Luddite when it comes to technology, as a now-retired Bishop so often stated, but I do know we live in the 21st century. It is an era of instant communication and we must respond accordingly. Collectively there was real lack of responsibility of dealing with this scandal.

As an aside, has Bishop Tikhon really retired?

Yes, to my knowledge.

Did you ever get an answer to your November letter, or to the question you asked?

The response from Metropolitan Herman was brief and to the point. He just repeated his standard answer: it had all been reviewed by Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod and the subject was ‘closed’. That was the first response to the whole scandal given in 1999, and nothing has changed in six years.

That was not acceptable?

Things that happened in 2003 and 2004 could not have been “closed” in 2000. But then came the dramatic changes in March, with the termination of Fr. Kondratick and the launching of the investigation into the restricted funds, into the 9/11 funds, which led us into taking on the debt....

Are you surprised where things have gone?

Yes and no. Some things were predictable, given how individuals have reacted in the past. There is a pattern of operation and behavior there, in Syosset, that has not changed.

But at the same time the whole situation has assumed a life of its own, and revealed a lot about our OCA, and its leadership, and various persons within the church. A lot that has been revealed was always there - and this is the scary part. We have seen malice, backbiting, undesirable things. This crisis is necessary to expose these things that were always there, but were not readily apparent. This is not the way a Church is supposed to be. If we are committed to the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Tradition, the whole ascetic tradition of Christianity itself, which is loving and repenting, then such hidden things are unacceptable.

For example?

The Holy Synod was constantly deceived. We were always told what they, Syosset, believed we wanted to hear. It was always unclear as to who actually was the “Central Church Administration”. We were told by the former chancellor that the administration was the Holy Synod, and they, the people in Syosset, were there to serve and facilitate. But in reality this was not at all the case. The Bishops were simply expected to be a rubber stamp, be agreeable and not to question.

Has that changed?

It, it is in the process of change. In terms of the Statute, which has been criticized by some, my philosophy is that we have to live by Statute, to try it first, and then change it, if needed. We have never done that. This is the problem , the cause of all our woes: the intentional lack of safeguards, of checks and balances, which protect not only the finances of the Church, but also the ecclesiology of the Church.

If you could change one thing that has happened over the past year, what would you change?

The easiest answer is “everything” (laughing). Clearly, I would not have hired Proskauer Rose. I think we could have made much more progress and been further along in making the changes we need to make, if we had had a serious in-house investigation.

Proskauer Rose is holding back change?

Not necessarily. My point is that if we can’t look to ourselves, our own people, hierarchs, clergy and lay to solve these problems, well that is itself a real problem. I have always thought that going outside, to attorneys, was a problem. The attorneys are not investigators. Our bishops are not investigators either, but I always thought we could do it. And then of course, if we needed legal help, we could have asked for it.

Do you expect Proskauer Rose to report at the joint meeting in December?

There had better be a written report for the joint meeting! But, more importantly, they had better have at least one representative there to answer questions in person. I am not confident that that report is going to tell us all we need to know. The situation in Syosset was out of control, and so a lot of these indiscretions and manipulations affected other areas of church life, institutions, individuals as well. I am afraid we are not yet fully aware of them all. Once you make an exception, it gets easier and easier to make more exceptions....

Once you get the report what do you plan to do?

That’s difficult to say. What I have been trying is not to think too much ahead, but to see how developments continue to shed light on the problems. I was disappointed that Proskauer Rose didn’t speak to the Fall session of the Synod - so now I would like to wait till they do, before making predictions about what should happen.

But you do have expectations for the joint meeting of the Synod and the Council?

In my 24 years on the Holy Synod there has only been one joint session between the Council and the Synod. So, a joint meeting is, in itself, a good beginning. I would hope that we could meet annually from now on, that we could have overlapping meetings in order to have direct communication. Otherwise, it will remain “they said, they said”; and so we were pitted against each other and manipulated. Joint meetings would eliminate the possibility of such manipulation. That would be a good result - a move towards more openness and transparency.

Some people are worried that the presence of so many Bishops will stifle the Council....

I don’t think so. I will meet with the representatives from the Midwest before meeting, so we enter the meeting in oneness of mind, so we are sure as to how to proceed, so that our questions are answered. I don’t think it will be the case that people will be stifled. A lot of Bishops are waiting to see what will happen, and waiting to hear recommendations from the Council, especially since there have been changes in the Synod since our last meeting.

The Metropolitan’s reorganization plan has been given to the Synod, announced to the staff in Syosset, but not yet to the Council. What do you think of the restructuring?

It’s a good thing, although it needs to be fine-tuned. Basically, it eliminates the one-person-in-charge-of-everything, who then, in the past, would report to the Metropolitan, or not, according to his own agenda. It adds checks and balances.

Has the Church been damaged in all this turmoil?

Yes. Definitely. Her reputation, her role in the future of Orthodoxy on this continent, have all suffered. But in this case, I would liken it to cancer. It takes surgery to heal. Only when the surgery is done, can healing begin, and can life go on. We need surgery - and this is what is happening. No one enjoys it, but it is for the best, and so it has to be endured. We must have faith that God will bless our efforts as we work for the purity of the Church.

We have discovered, in a definite way, that we have lost the vision of autocephaly and its potential. When the smoke clears and the dust settles from all of this, we need to find it and work on it again. We lost all of that. But to keep the status quo? We could never have survived that.

Your diocese voted overwhelmingly to support your withholding its assessments. Are you ready to do that?

It depends on next month’s meeting. It is all important.

What happens if nothing happens?

We can’t wait until the Spring session of the Synod to make decisions. In that case, the failure to make the difficult decisions now will only be a foretaste that nothing will happen then either.

I am very dissatisfied with the Proskauer Rose investigation. They still maintain that even though the Church is paying their fees, those who are responsible, the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council , do not have the right to a report. We have received nothing. They have no sense of understanding of the structure of the Church. They think the Primate is the Church personified, and that reporting to him is reporting to the Church, which it is not.

We all need to be aware of the truth of what has happened. We can’t know where we are going if we don’t know where we have been.

All of what has happened?


We need to know the truth, but clearly some of the details will not be edifying, and need not be laid out in all the gory details.

So how do you then avoid charges it will be the same old cover-up?

It would be have been easier a year ago because trust was there. What we have done by our inaction is simply to make a grave problem for ourselves now and for the future. I do not think we need to disclose absolutely everything to everybody, but certainly we need to disclose everything to those who are responsible for making it right. As for the rest, we need to be as open and transparent as we can possibly be. That is the only way trust can be re-established.

What about that those who say forget about it all, it’s time to just move on...

No, that is not possible. It would be a terrible injustice.

Did you have any idea that any of this would happen?

I thought we could handle this by being called to a realization of our teachings - and then acting in accordance with them. Little of that is being done. We have been looking at the wisdom of the world instead. And this is frightening, because in so doing, we are living by two standards. One is a kind of fiction, no, that it is not the right word, by a pretense of church life. We say things that are nice to hear, we use pious platitudes, we misuse Scripture, and talk of repentance but mean none of it. Some talk of “for the good of the church” - what a tired phrase! They turn it all into what it is not. And then, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, they look to bank loans and falsifications of facts and figures, and lawyers. This is simply intolerable. Let me give you another example: when evidence was procured, it became more important to them as to how and whether it was “legally obtained” rather than the content of that evidence, to what it revealed was still going on.

You are talking about the Moscow tape. Have you talked to the FBI?

No.

You have mentioned the joint meeting several times. Who do you see taking leadership there?

I really don’t know. I pray it will be pray the Holy Spirit. I am looking to individuals, open to the truth and brave, to come up with a plan to put things in order once again.

Define “order”.

A restoration of proper ecclesiology. A disclosure of what happened. A commitment to honesty in future dealings. We all have a burden of guilt here for the disorder - through ignorance, through not asking questions. I ask myself: “How was I able to allow these things to happen? “ I used to justify myself saying

“You can’t fight city hall”; and throw my hands up. I was wrong. In seeking answers, I am seeking forgiveness for my own shortcomings in the whole thing - my own failures. In order to make this repentance complete, I have to know more of what to repent for, so I can really do it. And then, I need to make reparations, especially to all of the souls that are entrusted to me who I have failed. This burden of failure, this lack of leadership, is very painful.

Now it is all falling to pieces, and rightfully so, so that it can be rebuilt on a firmer foundation.

Speaking of a firmer foundation, do you see an All- American Council in 2007 or late 2008 as the Metropolitan has suggested...?

Right now, I don’t think we can wait until 2008. We need it no later than autumn of 2007. Time is our enemy. Too much time has lapsed, and too little has been done, even in terms of the investigation, since March. And to be told that the reason for this is that it is “ongoing”, without be given any facts, let alone any answers, is just intolerable.

What hopes do you have for the next Council?

I remember the first two Councils in that process by which we became the OCA. The first was in 1970, and it was a different world then. Part of the liturgy was in Slavonic, and the sessions were done bilingually. By the second Council, we were much more sophisticated, we had earphones and simultaneous translation for those who needed it. There was an openness there. People were not afraid to speak out, to give their opinions about things. They were sometimes emotional, especially about the Moscow Patriarchate, which was still under the Soviet regime. There was honesty there, and sure, people said some stupid things, but they were not afraid.

Our last All-American Council was disgusting. No one spoke out about anything. You remember the phrase - “Thank you all for being a good audience”? That could never have happened in 1970. So I think that the earlier Councils were far healthier than the past ones. People are so much more polite now, but behind the scenes they are no less offensive. Such behavior is a facade, which we have allowed to exist - and perpetuate.

When the crisis began, three images came to my mind. The first was a Potemkin Village - all our chest-pounding about autocephaly was a facade. The second was the Emperor’s New Clothes, and the last was the Grand Inquisitor. Somehow, our life as the OCA became like all these. It was a facade, no one had the courage to speak out, and so we were happier with our security rather than the truth. None of this was, or is, healthy. And if we find out this all we really have - then we are in trouble.

We need to have a Council where we are no longer afraid to speak, where we are not afraid to listen, and then together make the changes we need to - that is the way we can begin to restore trust.

Thank you, Vladyka.

 

 
 

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