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Core Issues Facing the OCA

 by Rev. Deacon John Zarras


I am a member of the OrganizationalTask Force, which Metropolitan Herman established in September 2006 to study the OCA Chancery’s operations and staff performance. Our goal was to increase productivity and accountability while lowering operating costs. The Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod unanimously approved and adopted the Task Force recommendations in December 2006 and asked it to continue its work with the focus shifting to implementation.

In December 2006, His Beatitude, with the concurrence and support of the Metropolitan Council, appointed me to be the Transition Officer to facilitate and oversee the passage of the Chancery from the old organization to the new. I served in this position until December 2007, then resigned when I saw that we had reached the objectives set forth in my charter:

Implementing the new organization;

Evaluating on-board Chancery personnel and future personnel needs;

Searching for and hiring new Chancery leadership.

The new Chancery leadership team is now carrying on the work that the Task Force and Transition Officer began. The Task Force continues to provide assistance and support as needed or requested.

Experience and Qualifications

My experience as Transition Officer and Task Force member has given me a first-hand, up-close look at the central administrative structure of our Church and enabled me to understand how it evolved into a form leading to the operational and financial dysfunctional performance that imposed an enormous burden on the Church and interfered with fulfillment of its Christ-given mission of bringing the Gospel to all peoples in North America.

Also germane, (Please forgive any perceived lack of humility) is the fact that I volunteered for my assignments as Task Force member and Transition Officer after having graduated from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, (M.Div. May, 2006), and after serving for ten years prior on its Board of Trustees and as President of the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Foundation.

My educational background is in engineering, and I am a retired corporate executive from the air freight industry, where I was responsible for an annual operating budget of more than a billion dollars. My career challenges often involved organizational assignments similar to the assignment at the Chancery but of larger magnitude and included merging different companies into new entities.

I was blessed with being born into our Orthodox faith and have been active in parish administration all my life in different parishes of both the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America.

By drawing on my life experiences I humbly offer for the consideration of our OCA some observations concerning what I deem to be at the very heart of where we have been in our relatively short life as the autocephalous Church in America and more important what we must address going forward building upon what has been accomplished in the past two years to strengthen our life as the Church in America.

Core Issues

I believe I can best present and summarize the issues in three key areas.

Ecclesial Organization of an Autocephalous Church;

Episcopal, Clergy, and Lay Leadership in the Church;

Timely Operating Discipline.

Ecclesial Organization of an Autocephalous Church

No clear consensus exists among the Episcopal leaders of the OCA on the relation of diocesan functions and responsibilities to those of the centralized Church, including its Synods and Councils. The role of the centralized administrative body (Chancery) versus the functions that dioceses and parishes perform, has not been adequately defined to give proper and effective order to the day-to-day functioning of the Church. This lack of consensus, and even public disagreement, among the Episcopal leadership, is the principal source of continuing controversy among the clergy and lay faithful. Simply put, we must ask and answer the question: what functions and responsibilities should the Church assign to parishes, to dioceses, and to the central administrative entity to provide the most effective organization for His Body in the world?

The written expression of ecclesial organization of the OCA from the time of autocephaly was set forth in the Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America. The trials and tribulations of events of at least the past ten years have brought to the forefront the need to review, and revise where necessary, elements of this key organizational document of the Church.

In conducting its study and proposing a new organizational structure for the central administration, the Organizational Task Force used as its reference document the present edition of the Statutes. Within these Statutes one can find the original intent of the founding membership of the OCA, i.e. to present a conciliar vision of church operating life and administration. The Statutes define the relationship of the three primary administrative bodies of the Church to each other and the specific assigned responsibilities of the All-American Council, the Holy Synod, and the Metropolitan Council.

I have concluded, based on my study of many historical documents and discussions with many members of our Church, that all the constituents of the Church; namely the bishops, the priests/deacons, and the laity, have never fully embraced these Statutes. Some members of the first Holy Synod harbored reservations and major disagreements on the validity of the Statutes and their conformance to canonical history. These reservations and disagreements have continued through our history to this very day. Thus, it is fair to state that a common mind on the ecclesial administrative organization of the Church does not exist, especially among the bishops of the Church.

Some individual members of the Holy Synod have always questioned the role, if any, of the Metropolitan Council. Those holding this point of view have thought that responsibilities delegated to the Metropolitan Council rightfully belong to the Holy Synod. This thinking has led to the opinion that the Metropolitan Council is an unnecessary administrative body interfering in the Church’s administrative responsibilities, which more properly reside solely within the Episcopate.

Other major sources of differing ecclesiology within the Episcopate of the Church are the relationship of one bishop to another, these hierarchs’ diocesan authority, and the manner in which the unity of the Church manifests itself in North America. The prevailing point of view is that within a specific diocese, there can be no interference of any sort from bishops from outside the diocese in the affairs of the specific diocese under any circumstances. We can refute this wrongly held view on many levels, the most important being the unity of the Church as the Body of Christ. Scripture is replete with teachings of this core principle expressed in analogies of the body as one with many parts, all necessary for the body to operate and function properly. The Statutes of the Orthodox Church anticipate that there would be valid reasons for the Holy Synod to act as one body and address specific types of issues that may arise within one of its dioceses. Article II, The Holy Synod, contains two simple expressions of responsibility of the Holy Synod that transcend the boundaries of any single diocese. Very recent events surrounding issues in the Diocese of Alaska seem to indicate that there is in fact disagreement on the application of these two functions. Specifically, under Section 7, Competence, can be found the following two reasons for intervention into the affairs of a specific Diocese by the Holy Synod:

Solution of problems arising in the administration of individual dioceses and requiring the judgment of the entire episcopate;

Pastoral supervision over all Church organizations whose activity extends
beyond the boundaries of a single diocese;

The failure to reach a consensus and come to one mind on the interpretation and application of the Statutes is at the heart of many of the issues we currently face as Church and has contributed to our past failures.

The devil himself has recognized and taken advantage of these ecclesial organizational issues, including the role of the Holy Synod versus the Metropolitan Council, and within the Holy Synod the role of the Diocesan Bishop to the Synod as one Body, and working through the administrative organization of the Church, has caused dissension, pitting brother against brother and family against family (Holy Synod vs. Metropolitan Council). It is within such a misguided and erroneous interpretation of our Statutes that corruption, sin, envy, strife, and disharmony could find root and grow until the consequences became so grave that they could no longer remain hidden.

With the removal of manipulators who stoked the fires of disunity for personal gain and aggrandizement, new hope has arisen within the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council; new thought is emerging with the uprooting of seeds of distrust among individuals and bodies and the planting and cultivation of new seeds, yielding harmonious and cooperative life.

Therefore, the highest priority for us as Church is to bring these issues of ecclesial organization into the light and debate them prayerfully and respectfully with each other at all levels of our Church, seeking His Will and properly coming to one mind, His Mind, on how we are to act administratively as His Church. In so doing, we witness to His Love through our own personal expressions of love for each other. This process has started both within the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council and must continue. The forthcoming All-American Council offers the promise of becoming the venue for a new life in Christ by a cooperative ecclesial organization united in witness to Him.

At stake in correcting this core issue is the very autocephaly of the Church in North America. How can one profess a vision of administrative Orthodox unity without the ability to demonstrate that a structure is in place that provides an outline of how this unity is made manifest in all situations and issues that the Church faces in our contemporary culture?

Episcopal, Clergy, and Lay Leadership in the Church

Having operated under misguided and false ineffective interpretations of the Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America for over 30 years and within a manipulative environment that benefited from a divide and conquer attitude that fostered disunity, it is no wonder that key commonly held attributes of organizational leadership could not and did not flourish, or develop and mature among the individuals elected to the three administrative bodies of the Church: the All-American Council, the Holy Synod, and the Metropolitan Council. Without a common understanding of what membership in these administrative bodies requires, key personal attributes (experience and education) were neither mandated nor sought as conditions or prerequisites for membership. The result was a leadership vacuum and a failure to grasp the gravity of the problem of future attempts to administer the Church without properly qualified and prepared personnel.

This fundamental failure of leadership gave rise to poor oversight and ineffective procedures for monitoring the short- and long-term life and health of the Church. The leadership ignored and did not adopt or implement commonly held and time-honored practices such as dividing work into functional committees according to their expertise (legal, financial, education, church history, canons, worship, operations, investments). The numerous ministries the Church needs to promulgate and spread the Gospel went begging. The personnel resources making up the membership of administrative bodies lacked organizational leadership experience of sufficient depth to sustain the basic tenets of administrative management. I realize, of course, that there have been and continue to be exceptions that transcend my broad generalizations. The presence of exceptions notwithstanding, their rarity helps explain why and how it took more than 30 years for administrative leadership problems to bubble up and reach out-of-control proportions.

The accomplishments of the last two years should engender optimism and provide the basis for pressing onward. Much work remains to build upon the foundation that the two primary working bodies (Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council) have put down, as they each come to terms with discarding old practices that were counterintuitive to both the written Statutes and the principles of modern administrative management. Also, the preparation of new, clear policies and standards is underway across all the functional areas of our Church life. The adoption of jointly held sessions is fostering the recognition and respect on the part of each body for the functions, responsibilities, and talents of the other.

The All-American Council, currently in its planning stages, will be the first opportunity for the Church as a whole to take stock of how it should administer itself at this level, indeed, as the Body of Christ, coming together as a new and resurrected body, perhaps for the first time realizing the immensity of the responsibility its Chief Shepherd has given to it.

What does this mean across all administrative levels of the Church to those engaged in the work of the Church at the All-American Council, the Holy Synod, and the Metropolitan Council?

First, membership on any of the administrative bodies is a sacred position of responsibility entrusted to those who are willing to accept responsibility and leadership in doing His Work. And as the Scripture teaches, the body requires many components skilled in all the gifted areas of life. Those who serve should be diverse in their God given gifts in order that the bodies have all the prerequisite talents and expertise to confront the challenges of the times in our modern culture.

The leadership should consciously and carefully develop and nurture programs designed to give both clergy and laity opportunities to train for positions of increasing responsibility. When we elect Church members to the Metropolitan Council, whether we conduct the elections at the All-American Council level or at the Diocesan level, the leadership should ensure that emphasis is placed on the importance to the Church of such elections and should consciously attempt to select the best from the wide and diverse skill sets existing in the membership of the Church. Once elected, the Metropolitan Council should be deliberate in assigning responsibilities and selecting committee membership in accordance with individual gifts and talents and in ensuring that members participate in an incremental progressive development program. As a whole body, the Council should learn to recognize and respect the gifts of its individuals so that it can assign and execute projects with maximum efficiency within the established committee structure.

Again, much evidence has appeared in just the last two years that this time-tested approach to administrative management is finding its way to adoption and implementation. As time passes, one would expect the building of trust among Council members and that as the level of experience, talent, and commitment of the membership increases, so will the level of optimism.

A related issue is the role of personal financial support and commitment of individual Metropolitan Council members to the work of the Church. In most non-profit boards, members are expected to make a strong annual financial commitment to the organization’s development programs. The leadership body, in this case the Metropolitan Council, should set an example as committed financial supporters of the Church’s work and well being.

The members of the Holy Synod are called to an even higher level of commitment to each other and to His Holy Church. During their third confession of faith declared openly at their consecration to the Episcopacy, they each specifically declare:

“I promise that in all things I will always follow and obey the Holy Synod of Bishops, and in all things to be of one mind with His Beatitude, the Most Blessed
Metropolitan, the Archbishops and Bishops, my brothers, and that together with them I will be submissive to Divine Law, and the Sacred Canons of theHoly Apostles and Holy Fathers. I promise with all sincerity to cherish towards them spiritual affection, and to regard them as my brothers in Christ Jesus our
Lord and Savior.”

In accepting and making this confession their own, they accept the highest level of co-leadership with each other in leading His Holy Church. Yes, they have specific territorial responsibilities to shepherd their individual flocks, but collectively they accept a responsibility to “conjointly” lead with “spiritual affection.”

Against this leadership requirement of members of the Holy Synod, it becomes clear that conflict and disagreement on what constitutes interference in the affairs of the Dioceses is the cause of our inability to resolve items that have arisen within our ranks and undoubtedly will continue to arise in the future. Again, one need only cite the recent issues we face as Church with the Diocese of Alaska. Another example of such disregard for this aspect of Episcopal leadership is the fact that the public can tune in to the disagreement between the Bishop of Alaska and the Archbishop of the Midwest on the Internet and in the Archbishop of the Midwest’s Nativity letter to his flock. Feuding bishops in the public arena, while not new to church history, remain a cause for weeping among the faithful, as they are a visible sign of disunity at the highest spiritual leadership level of our Church.

Again, there is reason for optimism that core issues of leadership, both within the ranks of the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod, are now coming to light and are being openly discussed as opportunities to embrace a new manner of life in His Holy Church.

Yet another way of discussing the leadership issue is to place it in the context of “servant leadership.” Servant leadership is a leadership of love and respect for one’s coworkers. The new Chancery organizational structure proposed and now being implemented is based on this model of servant leadership. Four equal positions at the Chancery jointly take responsibility for its management and administration: the Chancellor, the Secretary, the Treasurer, all specified positions in the Statutes of the Orthodox Church, and the newly created position of Director of Ministries and Communication. It is imperative that this model of leadership become the norm for the entire Church, within each of the three major administrative bodies alongside the Chancery itself. Built into such a servant leadership structure is the added benefit of checks and balances among many, so that no one individual or body is as likely to err or act independently.

Timely Operating Discipline

Finally, I must point to a glaring shortcoming in the working of the Church over recent years as many grappled with all the scandalous administrative and leadership issues of its operations. The issue is one of timeliness of action.

For the record, the Statute calls for the three administrative bodies of the Church to meet on a regular schedule to carry out their respective responsibilities.

The All-American Council is called to meet once every three years.

The Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council are called to meet a minimum of twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

I believe it would be fair to say these meeting frequencies are characteristic of what most would consider to be a normal operating environment for the Church.

Most organizations, profit or non-profit, in the public and private sectors, have set frequencies for normal meetings. However, during unusual times or times of emergency or crisis, it is a normally accepted practice for the administrative leadership of organizations to schedule meetings with a frequency dictated by the needs of the crisis or emergency. Hence such terms as “we are in a crisis management mode” are often heard.

I believe many Orthodox take as a truism the expression “the Church always moves slowly” to excuse a lack of timeliness in dealing with what rightfully we should declare a crisis.

What might warrant the crisis designation in the Church? There are many events that might properly come under the heading of crisis. A physical or environmental event in some part of the Church; perhaps a freak weather occurrence causing damage to property and loss of life, might warrant a crisis designation.

The scandal of the last seven or eight years that has gradually unfolded and enveloped many of our faithful in its reach is indeed a crisis. Who can deny that it has affected the souls of thousands of our faithful and put at risk the faith of many? Who can deny the agonizingly slow response to confronting the depth and breadth of the crisis as it unfolded before our eyes in greater and greater detail?

Unlike most organizations, the tragedy associated with this Church crisis is that it never saw any of its administrative leadership bodies rise to the occasion and respond in an acceptable and timely manner. It is incomprehensible that any organization confronted with the explosive magnitude of what the Church has faced would fail to act with far more force and attention to time. The lesson of the path we have followed over the most recent years in dealing with unpleasant, embarrassing, scandalous, and sinful events in our lives is that it is of major importance to act swiftly and forcefully as one would in a life threatening situation. The poor excuse that the Church moves slowly cannot be acceptable to reasonable, Christ loving people – never. It should not have happened and must never be permitted to happen again. As events demand, we must embrace a sense of urgency and priority in future like circumstances.

The fact that it has taken us so long to address some of our problems related to what has unfolded, as we continue to pursue other yet related problems, cannot be laid at the feet of any one individual or administrative body. It has been a collective failure of many who bear responsibility together. There is no need for finger-pointing or self-righteousness going forward, just a resolve to take stock of what has happened and pledge to do our best to not let it happen again.

I set out to point to some issues that have become apparent to me from my life perspective that may help us understand what foundational core issues must be addressed if we are not to repeat in the future the mistakes of the past. If I have shed some light and perspective on these core issues; and we debate them together as His One Body with prayerful respect and love for each other, then I know we will move on as a stronger body, better prepared to proclaim Him to all He brings before us.

A commitment to follow through on the new administrative servant leadership models that have as their center His Gospel of love for Him and each other offers the promise of hope that most Orthodox Christians in North America seek. Let us all pray that it be so and come to pass soon, as we commit to strengthen our current Statutes in yet more conciliar and stronger loving language and terms.

















































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