Pittsburgh Town Hall Held
The scheduled two-hour meeting Town Meeting at the Carnegie church hall began at 6:57 Thursday night, July 31st, 2008 and ended precisely at 11:00.
Bishop Tikhon, locum tenens of the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania presided and Fr. Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor was the facilitator. Fr. Eric Tosi, OCA Secretary, assisted. Fr. Garklavs began the meeting by setting ground rules. He said the evening would not be a dialogue, but a series of statements that will be shared with the Holy Synod, noting the widespread feeling of a "general disconnect between the Holy Synod and the people of the Church."
About 90 people were present, of which 24 were clergy, and several monastics. Most people stayed to the end.
The first question was posed by Fr. Garklavs:
"What has happened? How has it affected you?"
• Fr. John Reeves was the first to speak.
(Read his statement here.)
• A priest's wife said that the events have brought her to tears, and her soul feels like it has been ripped out. When she was a child, she would watch the old Babas burn the dead brush on the local hillsides in the Spring, to ready the ground for cultivation. Now we cannot sit in a room and "sing Kumbaya, and pretend everything is all right". It is not a good time to plan for evangelization and stewardship; everything is NOT great. She implored the hierarchs to get together and stop the suffering. It is time to rid the Church of the dead and the decaying.
• A priest stated that we have "been betrayed by the administration and our bishops", who failed to do anything "when it should have been done."
• Another speaker listed four concerns :
- disillusionment with those who we counted on to guide us
- lack of trust: we are now suspicious about everything from the central church (although there has been
- resentful: our Primate and others think that I am an idiot, that I don't understand what is going on. I feel patronized by them.
- lack of confidence: the Metropolitan cannot lead us out of the scandal, even if he has chosen to do so, because of a lack of both ability and character.
• A speaker was visibly angry and upset with the Holy Synod and especially the Metropolitan for their actions. "We can't go ahead with their leadership."
• The next speaker has followed the scandal, and has lost trust in our leaders. He was concerned that some think this will be solved at the AAC, but and will not be solved overnight and it might take years,
• Then Metropolitan Council member Gregg Nescott spoke. (Read that statement here)
•A priest followed and said "There has been a lack of dealing with the problems. It's affecting all our churches. We are losing people."
• A priest's wife spoke: It has affected us corporately, because if God's money has been misused or stolen, there must be a concerted effort to repay it. I am angry that's God's work has not been done.
• One man said that in light of how the scandal has been handled, he has to question anything said by our Primate and bishops.
• A priest spoke emotionally of how the scandal has made it difficult for him to speak, and this after more than 50 years as a priest. "I feel complete demoralization, that I am at the edge of a cliff." Pride and greed have risen and caused things to be done that monks vowed they would never do. We have not cleaned out the wounds to our Church, they are festering.
Fr. Garklavs asked:
"How do we change? Where do we go from here?"
• A priest said: "We must open our hearts to God, and to the wonderful gift of repentance." The problem is, at the root, that our leaders have never asked for forgiveness. With forgiveness, there must be changes in personnel and systems. Through pride, our leaders have destroyed their own credibility. The Holy Synod must truly repent and a new primate must be named as a 'figurehead', until such time as a new metropolitan can be elected.
• Another speaker said that since the original Special Commission's investigation was frustrated and blocked by the Metropolitan, he has had little faith that the (new) SIC (Special Investigative Committee) will reveal the truth, even in a best-case scenario.
• A speaker concluded the SIC report must contain a complete disclosure of the truth.
Several speakers then followed:
• Although there are some areas of the country that have not lost their vision, the OCA as a national church has indeed lost its vision. That vision must be recovered.
• We must stop talking about the past, we need to let go. I donÕt need to know about someone else's sins. We should focus on the future.
• We must follow the law. Those who are guilty must be punished.
• We must restore accountability, both financial and administrative.
• The best case scenario would be if we never had to hear the SIC report. But we need forgiveness to be asked and the principals to come forward and say what they have done.
• A nun spoke: The church has changed over the centuries. The priest used to be the best-educated, but now the people in the pews are very well-educated. "The saints in America will not look like the saints of centuries ago." The best-case scenario is that we recognize that the Church has changed -- with text messaging and the internet and so much else -- and then be who we are in the 21st century, where we are. We canÕt keep people frustrated forever.
Fr. Garklavs asked: "What would you say to the All American Council?" The following were given as answers:
• Follow the Statute we have. There needs to be an understanding of the roles of canon law and the secular law.
• The SIC report must be released well in advance of the AAC. There are serious cracks in the foundation of the OCA, and trust must be earned back.
• A priest stated: The problems are overwhelming the concerns of a suffering diocese, that there are no clergy available or being ordained. There are errors in the new liturgical publications that no one is fixing. The AAC must focus on the message of Christ.
• One priest spoke at length about 'the culture of mediocrity' in the OCA.
• Another priest said that the AAC couldn't be structured like the old AACs, with workshops and break-out sessions. There should be no workshops, but that everything should be conducted in plenary sessions. The entire first day should be a 'plenary workshop', with the whole Council meeting and discussing the problem.
• It is important to witness to the community at this AAC, to feed the hungry, clothe the poor. And make plans to sell the Long Island headquarters (of the OCA).
• It is said that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops. "We have not been told the truth." How much more grievous are the sins and lies of the bishops and clergy in this, because they are to lead us? With the scandal, we were given the head of Kondratick to appease us, but there has been no repentance, no love, no humility. All those who were involved should be removed.
• A parish priest for 35 years said he was concerned that the AAC would be like those in the past, pushing through things at the end, with nothing really accomplished. He sees the OCA on life-support, if we don't make positive changes now. He is devastated by what has happened; we aren't fixing the problems of the Church, and we aren't bringing other people into the OCA. He implored the bishops to guide us through the AAC to an OCA with a long life.
• 72 hours is a very short time for this AAC. We shouldn't have a banquet, we should have sandwiches instead.
• In response to a comment, Fr. Garklavs said that the SIC report, once accepted by the joint meeting of the MC and the Holy Synod in September, will be presented to the whole Church. Fr. Alexander also noted that different opinions are welcomed in the Church, and we seek a transparent, open, and honest Church.
He then asked: "Why do you love the OCA? Why is it important to you?"
• A nun began: The OCA is as important to us as a monastery in this English-speaking country.
• We are the Church Christ put in North America. We must be the Church for all Orthodox, without exception.
• After Fr. Reeves spoke about commitments to any institution a speaker responded that without the OCA, there would be no seminaries. "I respect the hierarchs and I don't want to see demonstrations outside the AAC hotel."
• A speaker talked about his battles with his demons and said how the Church had saved his life. When battling any addiction, you have to be honest, open-minded, and willing, and get rid of your secrets. We need the OCA to do God's will, and we can't let it fail.
• A priest's grandson talked about priestly formation being a key to growth. "We have to do better in evaluating candidates for the seminary and ordination, and look to the example of our finest experienced priests."
• A recent convert said that the OCA is the only Orthodox church that can be effective in evangelizing America in the English language.
• The scandal causes us to forget that we have three healthy seminaries, and lots to do.
In closing remarks, Fr. Garklavs said that monies had been "poorly spent", that the OCA had had been guilty of "triumphalism", to a degree, and that "we need to accept our humiliation" and try to begin to move ahead at "this incredible moment in the history of the Church."
The evening ended with Bishop Tikhon speaking for 30 minutes.
Saying he could say merely "good night or talk for hours", he chose instead to make a few remarks:
"We should be thankful to God for this remarkable event, that we are able to be here and speak to each other..... In our church, people can speak the way they do, say what they want..... We are now smoothing the rough rocks against the grindstone....
We should disseminate the full SIC report.....assessments should be reduced; in his diocese, 3/4 of the assessment collected goes to the national church.....
The mindset should be repentance.... I need to offer repentance for everything that may appear in the SIC report. I am not guilty for the sin of Adam, but I bear that responsibility.....the Church is to be seen like an inverted pyramid, with Christ at the bottom, bearing the weight of all on himself.....the OCA has been dragged through Hell, we have been humiliated - we can lie there, or we can get up and keep going, toward the Resurrection... we all know in our hearts what we must do, we must continue through, with prayer, love and repentance....
.I have been accused of being against the internet, but I am not. I look at YouTube and think that there are ways the OCA can use that ....
.I am hopeful for our Church."
The meeting ended at 11 PM.
Mark Stokoe compiled this report from the notes of participants. Thanks to all who assisted.