ARCHPASTORAL LETTER #129
Venerable Andrew Rublev
July 4, 2008
To the Esteemed Clergy of the Diocese of the Midwest AN ARCHPASTORAL LETTER
"l know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.
I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. " (Rev. 3: 15,16)
My Beloved in the Lord,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
It is the Fourth of July. Last evening I returned from the St. Mary's Camp, this year held at Lake Waponasset near our Holy Trinity parish in Clayton, Wisconsin. As usual it was an edifying experience for me - a pan-Orthodox experience and an example of what a united, pan-Orthodox effort can accomplish - over 300 campers, counselors and staff - united in Christ and living, working, laughing and loving together to His glory and to that of his eternal Father and All-holy Spirit. I returned to Chicago energized from the experience as well as from the Chicago Deanery summer camp earlier in the week. These were both experiences of a Diocesan Church doing what she is supposed to be doing. Next week is a Parish Health workshop; we are concerned that all our parishes and missions must be "healthy" - doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Today I thought a great deal about my experience of the Bicentennial of our nation. That was thirty-two year ago and only six years "into autocephaly." In 1976, the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday. Prior to that a Service of Thanksgiving was sent to the parishes by a very different Central Church Administration and I remember being very pleased with the effort and the service itself. It was an exciting time for the nation, for the Church, and this was yet another "promise of good things to come." For us at St. John the Baptist Church in Black Lick, Pennsylvania, it was an especially exciting time. We had just purchased an additional portion of land on which to build our new temple to the glory of God, On that Sunday early in the evening a handful of faithful gathered with me at the property and we repeated in the open air that Service of Thanksgiving that we celebrated earlier following the Diving Liturgy. It was a much happier day than today. Those were all much happier days. There was a vision; there was excitement; there was hope; there was joy; there was confidence; there was expectation.
This morning's scripture study brought me to the third chapter of the Revelation (Apocalypsis). Having read about the church of Laodicea, being neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, I could not help pondering on how an apocalyptic letter to the autocephalous Church of North America might read. The footnotes to this chapter found in the Orthodox Study Bible appear to be pertinent to our situation:
"To those faithful to Him, the Lord Jesus will in turn be faithful during the hour of trial which will come to the whole world by preserving them through that trial and protecting them from demonic assaults. Although the faithful will not be rescued from sufferings, persecution and martyrdom, they will be sustained and supported so as to persevere in their faithfulness. The hour of trial is an apocalyptic image referring to the testing and tribulation preceding the manifestation of the eternal Kingdom of God... The Laodiceans are lukewarm in spiritual fervor and good works; their lack of commitment is revolting to the Lord, who would have them go one way or the other. Preoccupation with material wealth and comfort has deadened the fervor of the Laodiceans. They have fallen into complacent self-satisfaction which is denounced by the Physician of our souls and bodies. Christ counsels them to seek spiritual wealth, forgiveness, resuruection, life, and enlightenment. He offers a loving chastisement which can bring about true healing, true and lasting riches." (Orthodox Study Bible, pp. 598, 599)
My Brothers and fellow workers in this portion of the Lord's Vineyard - the God protected Diocese of the Midwest - I realize that you are hurting - some more, some less. And your people are hurting - some more, some less. But no one can be indifferent or unaffected. It is over three years since our Diocesan Council respectfully asked for accountability from the Central Church Administration - an accountability yet to be fully disclosed. The crisis has continued to drag on, and in ways inconceivable and ludicrous, in many ways too "far out" even for the most imaginative devotee of science fiction! We have observed in utter amazement that the intrinsic core of the crisis and scandal is not merely about financial accountability, it has to do with our very identity and life as Church and virtually every aspect of that life: honesty, integrity, honor, vision, responsibility, respect and love, only to name a few. We have witnessed mistake after mistake, dysfunction upon dysfunction. One has only to review the catastrophic bungling of the past four months - the Alaska debacle, the Romanian issue (the inability of the Synod even to address the situation, let alone provide direction and set policy), the SCOBA developments (about which the Synod has yet to receive a report) and the total lack of leadership, vision and direction.
I submit, my dear Fathers and Brothers, that these matters are more serious than the still unaccounted for millions!
There have been various proposals of possible solutions to further transparency, reconciliation and healing of our Church. Many have called for the resignation or
retirement of the Metropolitan. Many are calling for the resignation of all the hierarchs. I regard Dr. Paul Meyendorff's proposal as being not at all unreasonable and lately I have been giving it a great deal of consideration. It prompts me now to disclose to all of you a personal aspect of the last All American Council in Toronto, previously known only to a few persons.
As you know, the request from the Diocesan Council to the former chancellor regarding a full financial report to be provided to each delegate generated an absurd response by the chancellor attempting to explain the impossibility or impracticality of providing such information. I then sent all our diocesan delegates a copy of said letter and my refutation of its contents and reasoning. Shortly thereafter I received a letter from His Beatitude who commented that I had rarely, if ever, questioned anything of a financial nature before and cautioning me to show restraint with regard to my words and actions at the forthcoming AAC.At about the same time I received several calls from clergy outside the Diocese alerting me of a rumor that "Syosset" was seeking to "get dirt on Job." The week prior to my departure for Toronto was marked by apprehension, worry, disgust and despair. Could this really be happening in the life of our Church? After prayerful reflection I composed a short letter of resignation addressed to the Metropolitan. I had Father Vladimir prepare three originals (He can confirm this.) for me to bring to Toronto "just in case." They were dated but unsigned.
The weekend prior to the opening of the Council was indeed challenging. First there was the unexpected call from Protodeacon Eric Wheeler informing me that he had written the preliminary draft of A Call for Accountability. Second, at the joint dinner of the Synod and Metropolitan Council following Vespers on Saturday evening His Beatitude announced that he had reappointed Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick as Chancellor for the next triennium. (At that point I simply wanted to return to Chicago.) Then on Monday I received and read Protodeacon Eric's document, which literally made me sick. On Tuesday night, with unsure hand, I signed the letters of resignation, beseeching God's mercy.
On the next day, at our Diocesan "mini-Assembly" a real blessing occurred and this is the reason that I have disclosed the above to you. As we gathered together in the name of the Lord, I realized that I had signed the letters of resignation at a time of severe weakness, when I felt alone and without hope. At the Assembly I realized that I was not alone: you and the lay leadership there were my strength. I was both edified and humbled by the experience. I also felt ashamed of my weakness and my attempt to "take the easy way out." The signed documents were taken back to Chicago and then fed to the shredder. The struggle for truth and righteousness had begun, and we began it together. There is strength in our "togetherness," our striving for excellence, for our Diocesan Church to be the best she can be. Therein lies the blessing. I will never forget that Assembly!
My beloved Brothers, I know that you are tired of all this. So am I. I know that you are frustrated and disappointed. So am I. But you must not be without hope. Nor will I. I hear that some of you are looking to "greener pastures," other portions of Christ's Vineyard where, right now the "grass is greener" or at least appears to be. We wish them well and ask their prayers for our well-being. But we have been given a special responsibility - to be the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, unworthy though we be. We have more than adequately demonstrated that by squandering the gift of autocephaly, losing its vision, and yielding to corruption.
My friends, we must not resign ourselves to defeat. We must fight for what is right and true, and we must seek oneness of mind to accomplish this dauntless task. We must work to restore the original vision and purpose of the Orthodox Church in America. We must pursue the genuine "good of the Church" and restore the integrity of that phrase, which has been so often abused, misused and prostituted as a "catchphrase" for excuse and the promotion of personal agenda. It is in this spirit that we must prepare for the 15th All American Council. We must prepare to speak loud and clear with one voice as Diocesan Church. I urge you to encourage among your people maximal participation in the Town Hall meetings in the Midwest where all may speak freely, no comment or question being "out of bounds." For those who are unable to attend one of the three Town Hall meetings, my office has set up a special email address where comments and questions can be sent for inclusion at the meeting. That address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Fathers and Brothers, since by means of this letter - meant for you clergy but sure to be presented to the world in a matter of days or even hours - I have placed myself in the most vulnerable position, I might as well go further and reiterate my position concerning the office of Metropolitan, first announced at last year's Diocesan Assembly. Nothing has changed regarding my lack of confidence in His Beatitude's leadership, except that it is marked with ever-greater conviction than last October. The new administrative structure in Syosset is not working despite some very good efforts, simply because it depends on a resident "CEO," i.e. First Hierarch. We do not have one. As long as His Beatitude resides in a different state there is not the slightest chance of positive change. I regret to say that even if he now consented to the move, it is too late for positive change. Having left the Spring Session of the Synod early (due to the consecration of Christ the Savior Church at the Chancery and my stubbornness in insisting on driving as usual to New York) I was saddened and greatly disappointed when I read that after my departure the hierarchs issued a statement of support for the Metropolitan's leadership and they expressed gratitude for his perseverance. With respect to my brother hierarchs and with apologies to His Beatitude, I cannot concur with them. I cannot support nothing; I cannot express gratitude for perseverance in irresponsibility. I know this is a "hard saying" but it is true and I stand by it. May God forgive me for my audacity and impertinence!
"Those for whom there is no leadership fall like leaves." (Proverbs 11:14 Septuagint)
At the time of greatest challenge and urgency we require bold and motivated leadership, lest we "fall like leaves".
My beloved, though it is safe to say, I believe that we could not be described as "cold," we cannot be complacent and "lukewarm." We as Diocesan Church, together with the other dioceses, must be "hot," that is filled with zeal for the Lord, for His Gospel, for His glory, for our mission to North America. May we hear the words of the Lord directed to us as to the faithful Church in Philadelphia in Revelation:
"l know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name... Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world...He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God..." (Revelation 3:8,10,12)
So, my friends, let us work; let us increase our strength; let us persevere; let us overcome.
Invoking God's Blessing upon you, your families and all the faithful entrusted to your spiritual care, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest