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09.13.06 EDITORIAL

An Open Letter

Dear Mike:

For the only the second time in almost a year I take the unusual step of publicly answering a recent comment to OCANews on the front page of this website. (Read Michael Geeza's comment here). For many months you have posted comment after comment, invariably supporting the current administration, with a passionate, yet articulate intensity. I have appreciated your contributions, even while disagreeing with your analysis and prescriptions, because our Church life, even as our salvation itself, is based on dialogue. In Time our salvation began with the passionate "Yes" Mary answered in response to God; in each of our individual lives it begins with that same "Yes" in an ever expanding dialogue with God that leads to eternal life.

That "Yes" and all it means, is the very reason why I must say to you now: "No".

You say: “Anyone who keeps getting in the way of working toward a solution to our problem should simply walk away already and find another hobby.”

No. This scandal is not a “hobby” for anybody; but a matter of our Church’s existence. The existence of which I speak is not administrative, or canonical or financial; but the most important existence - our existence in truth or untruth. Ultimately, it matters not if our budgets are balanced, our books in order, our practices the best, if we cannot tell the truth about so fundamental a matter as our common life together. If we lie, cover-up or dissemble about so important a thing as our life together in the Church, as the Church, we betray the very Gospel we claim to be preaching. By choosing to live in untruth, we do not just avoid the truth for convenience’s sake, we do not just ignore the truth for the sake of peace or overlook the truth for a greater good; we condemn ourselves to forever live in fear of truth. Choosing to ignore our present scandal, covering up our present troubles, or asking others to overlook the truth will not exorcize the truth - it will continue to “get in the way” of any “solution”.

Existence in truth has a steep price; but the price of existence in untruth is inevitably higher.

You say: “Here’s a thought, instead of people complaining and constantly moaning about every single move the Metropolitan or Fr. Kucynda makes, how about they come up with a solution of their own to the problem?”

Scores of people have come up with scores of solutions - but all have been ignored by Syosset these past eleven months. Fifty eight priests from the Diocese of the Midwest proposed a solution at the beginning of February. Have they received an answer? No. Seventy archpriests from across the county made concrete suggestions about how to solve the problem at the end of February. Have they received an answer? No. Seven prominent lawyers in the OCA -  including some with significant experience in dealing with large non-profits and well-versed in fiduciary responsibility- have twice offered, in March and again in June, suggestions to help solve the problem. They volunteered their legal help. Have they received an answer? No. Fr. Hopko, the most well-known theologian in the OCA has offered suggestions, publicly and privately, towards solving the problem. Has he received an answer? No. The list goes on.

No, Syosset is not interested in dialogue but engaged, rather, in a monologue encouraging us to do no more than be silent while droning on that "changes in the "Administration" of the Church currently underway are sufficient.  Let us be clear: "Administration" did not misuse and abuse our donations - those in the "Administration" did. Systemic changes in the "Administration" mean little until those responsible in and for the "Administration" are themselves changed.

You say: “I really believe the Honesdale National Bank and the NY State Attorney General’s Office could care less whether the OCA has 2,000,000 or 27,000 members. The only thing they are interested in is do we have any collateral to utilize against the loan, in case payment isn’t made. “

No. The issue is not the loan; it is the lies used to get it. It was lying that got us into this mess - and lying cannot get us out.

What lies, you ask?

The lie that the OCA was always in crisis. Does anybody remember a time the OCA was not in a crisis? A financial crisis, an administrative crisis, a crisis of autocephaly, or recognition, of this or of that. It was all a lie. Our Church is just fine, thank you, and always has been pretty well off, if truth be told. The vast majority of our parishes are stable; as are our dioceses, insitutions and organizations. The only "crisis" was that those who were running Syosset did not have enough money to cover their lifestyles, ambitions and greed. The truth will not destroy us - but more lies will.

The lie that there were only a few people who were competent enough, and talented enough, to run things. Always you and me, wink, wink, nod, nod, but never "them" - and it didn’t matter to the former Syosset administration who “them” were: St. Vladimir’s or St. Tikhon’s alumni; Carpatho-Russians or High Russians; FROC’ers or non-FROC’ers; ethnics or Americans; traditionalists or liturgical reformers; converts or cradle Orthodox; those priests; those laypeople; or those bishops. Fr Kondratick’s constant policy of formenting division succeeded for almost twenty years. It succeeded so well that on the Synod, on the Metropolitan Council, in our Church ministries we are now in almost a state of total paralysis.

This is not because we have no talented, competent people - but because mysteriously every initiative seemed to go nowhere under the former administration They all faded somehow... Well, that "somehow" was Syosset itself, and Syosset blamed “them”. But it was all a lie.

The OCA is full of competent, talented people. Thousands of them. We were never as divided as we were constantly told we were. Sure we had disagreements, and continue to have them, but the truth is whatever disagreements we have had, or have, our unity in the Orthodox faith was, and is, far, far stronger.The current administration is continuing this by failing to share the truth with all of us; but confining the truth to an ever smaller group of people. Right now it seems it is down to just two people: the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda. But the truth is that the truth can never divide us- but more lies certainly will.

The lie that, well, that’s just the way it has always been and will always be in the Church, so it is best to cover up the misdeeds and just move on. This is the most pernicious lie. It was this lie that allowed us all to look the other way, to be quiet, to passively accept evil - but with the best of intentions - because it was all “ for the good of the church”. It’s a twenty-year old lie.

What has twenty years of passivity and collaboration with lies purchased us? If those in administration in Syosset hadn’t gone along in the 1990’s the ADM millions would not be lost; if the Bishops hadn’t meekly accepted what was told them and if the Metropolitan Council had made any attempt to ascertain the truth, the massive diversion of charitable funds would not have taken place so easily between 2000-2005. If, if, if - our history is a history of lost opportunities. Alaska land sales, the New York/ New Jersey-Washington diocesan merger, the list of scandal and outrageous behavior goes on and on. Well, no more.

The real tragedy is not that we were lied to; but that we collaborated in the lies. Bishops bought the lie. Priests bought the lie. And laypeople bought the lie. I bought the lie. And woe betide anyone who attempted to reveal the lie: they were dismissed, reviled, mocked, silenced, ostracized, ignored. And still are.

Existence in truth, friends, has as steep price; but existence in untruth is inexorably higher – as we are in the painful process of finding out.

Can the loan even begin to solve those lies? No.

Should we support the loan then?

You say: “I think the answer is a resounding YES.”

And again, I say "No". The loan is poisonous fruit from a poisonous tree. It is predicated on lies, and I will not join in even the little lie to the Courts about the size of the OCA. I will not deny them the truth just because Syosset thinks it acceptable to publicly abandon its veracity.

You say: “People, do any of you realize just how bad a financial position our Church is in? What other recourse do we have than to go the route of the loan? It’s easy for each of us, myself included, to complain, say why don’t they do this or that, etc., but the fact of the matter remains, the OCA is in a real financial pickle and there is no other way out. Would it be better to close up shop and let it go down the drain?”

Lies will close up this shop far quicker. Continue the lies, the silence, stonewalling and the monologue and our finances will continue to get worse. Begin a dialogue with the Church, tell the truth, make real changes, and trust will begin to be renewed - and the finances will improve. It’s that simple.

Is it good that our Church is in poor financial condition? No, but the truth is that poverty will never destroy this Church; the love of money and all its works, and all its ways, nearly has. Better a poor, honest Church ignored by our sister-churches, than a wealthy one, trumpeting our own autocephaly, built on corruption and lies. The world already has many of those - need we be another?

You say: “Withholding assessments is not the answer either.”

Why not?

• The Metropolitan, the Synod of Bishops, the Administrative Committee and a majority of those still on the Metropolitan Council have known about the ADM diversions since 1999; and chose to do nothing. Indeed, there was a massive cover-up; and complicity, as person after person was fired, and removed for revealing the scandal. Last October they were all informed yet again - but did they do anything? They did nothing.

In fact, as late as January this year, the Lesser Synod told us the issue was closed. Then, suddenly it is open again and being investigated - but not in response to a dialogue seeking the truth, but by fiat. And now, Syosset tells us, again by fiat, that it might be so bad, the Synod of Bishops, the Administrative Committee and the Metropolitan Council cannot even read the results? What is the difference between not investigating and having an investigation the results of which no one is allowed to see? Nothing.

• The Metropolitan and his administration have known about the diversion of charitable and missionary appeals since 2002 - and did nothing to stop it. Now we are expected, through the loan, to pay a second time for the money they diverted. And what are consequences to Syosset for such dereliction of duty - since the widows and orphans went without help, our missions were not supported, and our seminaries not funded and we have to pay twice? Nothing.

Nothing has moved them these past seven years.

Maybe withholding assessments will.

You say: “I have said on numerous occasions before, that one person had complete and absolute control over the entire finances of the Church for a very long time. That person is no longer employed and things are finally changing for the good. “

No, that is not true.

There is no question the former Chancellor ruled the roost - indeed, the whole barnyard. But was he alone and absolute? No. The Metropolitan has known the full details of the ADM scandal since 1999 when he was appointed acting treasurer in the place of the dismissed Eric Wheeler. He has known of the diversions since becoming Metropolitan in 2002. And he has known of the Moscow videotape since 2004. His reaction? He reappointed the former Chancellor to his position in 2002 and again in 2005! Only, only when he himself was attacked by the former Chancellor in the infamous Kutner letter, did he, by his own admission, act to stop the insanity.

The sad fact is the Metropolitan did not act in 1999; nor in 2002; nor in 2004; and his act in 2006 was a desperate attempt at self-preservation - as witnessed by his Acting Treasurer in an interview with the Washington Post: “Finally the metropolitan came to a point where he realized, ‘I have exhausted all of my possibilities, people are beginning to say that I am incompetent, that I should be deposed,’ and so he decided to act,” Kucynda said.”

Just one man responsible? I think not.

As for things “changing for the good” - let’s see:

• Fr. Kondratick, the man at the center of the controversy still resides in the Chancellor’s house six months after his termination, his wife still runs the church’s pension fund (now with additional benefits, thanks to the Metropolitan) and he still serves weekly as the head priest in the Metropolitan’s own Chapel, although according to all reports, he steadfastly refuses to cooperate with the Proskauer Rose investigation...

• The Proskauer Rose investigation and audits have not been released; not to the Synod of Bishops, the Council, or the Church. Should they ever be released, they will be released only by the Metropolitan, who himself was a major participant in many of the events under investigation. Moreover, instead of real dialogue, we now have the same old monologue in yet another form on the OCA website. The latest lie is that the truth is not what it is, but something that can be parsed, in the manner of President Cinton, into “levels of disclosure”...

• The much heralded "Best Practices", announced a year ago, and introduced on January 1st 2006 according to the OCA website, (but are actually only now in the process of being composed) are being compiled by a handpicked group that includes the Acting Treasurer, the woman who loaned the Metropolitan $50,000 to pay for Proskauer Rose, her assistant, and a Protodeacon who, although not an employee of Syosset, answers questions on their website, as if he were....

Stop right there. The whole “change” story is absurd from beginning to end. And you, and me, and everyone who goes along with such absurdities are not contributing to “change for the good”, but rather, are participating and furthering the lies upon which it is based. Instead of an unassailable Chancellor hand picking his small group of insiders to govern the Church by lies and fiat, withholding information from the Synod and Metropolitan Council, you now have an unassailable Metropolitan hand picking a small group of insiders to govern the Church by fiat, and ever more lies, who are withholding information from the Synod and the Metropolitan Council. This is change? It is absurd.

You can't fix a broken Statute by breaking it again; you cannot make people adhere to the Statute by ignoring it; you cannot return good government to the Church by simply reappointing and reshuffling the characters who caused the collapse, or at least stood by and watched its collapse, into new positions throughout the Church. It is just plain absurd.

So I say again, if there are people out there, or parishes, or deaneries and even perhaps a diocese as a whole that no longer wants to live in the upside-down, inside-out, “black is white” and “wrong is right” world created from Syosset by withholding their assessments, I will not gainsay that decision. Not because I believe it to be a wise short-term financial decision; but because I do believe it to be a wise long term moral decision to no longer participate in existence in untruth.

You say: “Problems indeed exist and monies are still owed to their proper places. The loan will enable the Church to justly return what rightfully belongs to others. If anyone out there has a better solution and/or fast access to cash, then by all means, stop complaining already and step up to the plate and come up with a solution!”

Mike: when you find yourself in the hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Paying people back by lying to the courts does not justify us; it only condemns us more. Therefore, I may not be able to stop Syosset from digging its hole of lies: but there is no reason for me, or others, to keep handing them the shovel with which to do so.

Its time for everyone to put the shovel down.

With all best wishes,

Mark Stokoe

 

 

 
     
 

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