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8.15.08

Statement of Fr. Stephen Kostoff to the Indianapolis Town Hall

How have I been affected by the financial and moral crisis afflicting the OCA?

This entire scandal/crisis has to a great extent shattered my more or less traditional respect and trust in the Church's hierarchy, as appointed and consecrated men who do their best to lead their respective flocks despite any and all personal limitations.

I have arrived at this unenviable reassessment slowly but steadily over the course of the last three years. This is based upon witnessing near intolerable levels of incompetency fused together with a persistent perception of immorality from within our local episcopacy. The spectacle of the majority of our Holy Synod's Bishops scurrying for cover and thus abandoning their role as decisive leaders and concerned pastors for the sake of personal and institutional survival has been quite disheartening. This flight from accountability, inspiring leadership , and a basic trust in the Lord's protection of His flock, has aroused a spectrum of reactions from anger to indifference. Right or wrong, I now have the suspicion that the exposure of the weakness of our own OCA hierarchy is a microcosm of a world-wide malaise within the Orthodox Church. The reasons for this are probably in a near-fatal combination of personal shortcomings -- shared by all universally -- and a centuries-long process of a hierarchy that has effectively shielded itself from healthy criticism.

Of course, I am convinced that many good bishops continue to guide their flocks within world Orthodoxy, but apparently not very many of them belong to the Holy Synod of the OCA. The exception to that dreary assessment is our diocesan hierarch, His Eminence, Archbishop Job. I would like to personally offer my own gratitude to him and convey the gratitude of many of my parishioners, for his resolve, good faith, and desire for the sordid truth behind our crisis to be brought to the light, thereby allowing it to be overcome by the truth, the Light which no darkness can overcome. If anything I have just said above is true, then we should not be surprised at His Eminence's growing isolation from the Holy Synod. In fact, this is a sign of his moral fiber during the time of this crisis, and we need to continue offering him our full support.

Another major effect concerns the broader issue of 'mission'. I have read many excellent statements made at these Town Hall meetings concerning the needed restoration of our missionary vision and voice to a spiritually thirty North America. I cannot but agree.

However, just how does a parish priest now deal with potential converts to Orthodoxy? For the sake of honesty and openness - for this is truly a life-changing decision on the part of another human person - do you tell them about our scandal/crisis when they first show interest in becoming Orthodox? And, if so, do you assure them, with less than genuine conviction, that the matter should be cleared up in the near future? Or, do you wait until they have made the commitment to begin catachetical training? Or, do you uneasily await your catechumen's own discovery of our current crisis and then dissimulate by down playing its significance?

Or, do you perhaps wait until they become Orthodox - and while the holy chrism is still wet upon their brows - inform them, in a "By the way..." scenario?

I can imagine a conversation along these lines: "Yes, John or Mary, you are about to enter the One , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, where you will embrace the True Faith and participate in the life-giving Mysteries of Christ. However, I should tell you that presently we are passing through a financial scandal of some magnitude which has exposed a crisis of leadership within our Church. In fact, it seems that we are facing a cover-up engineered by a majority of our Bishops. And some of them may be morally compromised. Our future as an autocephalous Church in North America is somewhat uncertain for the moment, and you may just possibly have to find a home in another Orthodox jurisdiction. But the Church has suffered and emerged from many such scandals in the past so just only tight and hope for a better future."

The inevitability of some such conversation - for to completely avoid the topic as irrelevant to the eternal truths of the Faith seems like an exercise in evasion - has somewhat diminished the enthusiasm with which one first greets potential converts to the Church.

One further issue would be the pastoral challenges that this scandal/crisis has raised for me in my parish. The basic question has been: to what extent and with what regularity should I keep bringing my parishioners back to this unfortunate issue? How to balance a determination not to soften the meaning of what has happened, with a nagging fear that strong comments and the 'naked truth' may serve to 'drive' someone from the Church. Am more interested in the 'truth' or in keeping my parish peaceful and my parishioners protected from the implications of that truth? Or, in the face of indifference or apathy, to what extent should I attempt to arouse interest in an issue that some parishioners are trying to avoid? How far to carry disagreements with parishioners who interpret events differently?

In short, the road to recovery and the restoration of the Church's vision to be the body of Christ in practice as well as in theoria, will be long and hard. With God all things are possible, but God, if I am correctly interpreting our own Tradition, desire co-workers in this process. The majority of the hierarchs that make up our Holy Synod, as presently constituted, do not at all seem up to the task. This abdication of a sacred duty began when our own diocesan hierarch's question -

"Are the allegations true?" - was greeted by his brother hierarchs with an almost contemptuous silence.

What should the focus and goals of the upcoming All American Council be in the light of the unresolved crisis?

If, at the conclusion of the Council, Metropolitan Herman continues to remain in that position, than I believe that the Council will essentially have been a waste of time, treasure and talent. How can we possibly look to the future with such a compromised hierarch at the helm of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America?

During the Council, all issues and goals must be subordinated to an open, and if need be, painful, emotional, and purging discussion of 'what went wrong and why?' Hopefully, if questioned, and challenged, our hierarchs will not retreat in to a pseudo-pious cocoon of silence. Personally, I would like to see Dr. Meyendorff's rather radical proposal adopted and acted upon, but that seems highly unlikely to happen.

What is working well in the OCA?

I believe that this pen Town Hall meeting is a sign of non- passive, but rather committed laity, which has been energized by unrighteousness 'in high places'. They have been joined by a good portion of the clergy who are wounded by this scandal and still struggling to guide their respective flocks. At least within our diocese, both laity and clergy feel free to openly make honest comments of a strongly critical nature of recent developments in the Church 'for the sake of righteousness'. The fact that this scandal has not been laid to rest by episcopal fiat is indicative of a Church struggling for the right balance between hierarchy and conciliarity. OCANews.org is further indicative of this freedom to speak and disagree with the 'good of the Church' in mind. This is very healthy and helpful for the future of the Church.

This has been a very humbling experience of many of us in the OCA, who, it seems at times, succumb to a spirit of condescension and even arrogance toward the so-called 'ethnic jurisdictions'. St. John Klimakos wrote that if you do not humble yourself, then God will humble you. Perhaps we can appraise our brothers and sisters in different jurisdictions with a bit more charity.

At the same time, we have many strong parishes with many faithful members committed to the Gospel and not to other preoccupations - including ethnic pride - that dissipate our energies and resources. In fact, some of the parishes of the OCA are proving to be successful experiments in a non-ethnic Orthodox Christianity that unites people of great diversity. This is clearly one of our strengths.

 
 

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