about the Moscow-dependent OCA & it's problems
Comment: Why read all this?
Well, because in short, it gives some glimpses into what all is going on inside Worldly-Orthodoxy, here in America... and what is happening to those churches which have linked themselves to Sergianist and Ecumenist Apostates, as those who run the KGB-MP organization, etc.... and more and more so, the historic Patriarchates.
Because, this man's observations give many insights into the on-going inner workings and severe problems of the 'OCA', a historical successor to the old Russian North American Metroplia, though in unlawful schism from our Exile Synod, since about 1923-24, and then in 1970-71, it foolishly submitted to the authority of the KGB front, called, the 'Moscow Patriarchia', masquerading as, THE Russian Church, etc.
Not everyone who reads this critical analysis, by a loyal though very disgruntled OCA layman, George Michalopoulos, will understand all that he is alleges, as the inner workings of his OCA have become murkier and more confusing, year by year. (& I must add, less and less according to Orthodox norms!)
Poor George!... he is one among the many naive American OCA members, who believes that 'Pat. Kyrill'-Gundaev is legitimate, and that the MP is also, and that the OCA should listen MORE to their motherly advice, etc.
Also, he foolishly/blindly adores his recently deposed Met. Jonah-Paffhausen, seeing him as some sort of martyric persecuted saintly bishop,... when the full simple truth about the poor inept man is more that, he was very incompetent to run his church, though he meant well, and too much an MP tool. He needed to go.
But, George sees nothing wrong in him.
However, if one reads carefully what all George states, he is rather surprisingly conservative in some aspects of his Orthodox vision, including for the fact that he is unhappy with his church's over-involvement with the NCC, The National Council of Churches (ecumenism), which he blames mostly on Syosset power-broker Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, a life-long leftist, pro-MP, pro-Roman Catholic, and very pro-ecumenist man, though of (Great) Russian decent, born in Los Angeles, and mentored by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, at St. Vlads Seminary.
ANYWAY...read this, for those who may be interested in this subject.
From OCA laymen, George Michalopoulos's Monomackhos blog:
How Did We Get Here? Part I: Syosset and the Dearth of Vision
Clearly very little has gone right for the OCA over the last nine months. Even those who take a Pollyanna attitude have found it difficult to state otherwise. Crying over spilt milk is useless at this juncture, nevertheless it is necessary to ask how we got here. And ask we must for barring public repentance, there is no way that the continued, slow-motion implosion of the OCA will reverse itself. Some of course claim that the autocephaly of the OCA is to blame. That is to say that its many overseas critics are correct, that the Metropolia did not have the spiritual maturity and clerical depth to accept the heavy burden of autocephaly. Perhaps this criticism, stinging though it may be, deserves some introspection.
In any event, the OCA was not without its signal accomplishments. The successful anglification of the Liturgy, three seminaries, and mission-planting grants are testaments to a robust evangelism. The explosion of Orthodoxy in the Diocese of the South (a region with virtually no Eastern European Orthodox immigration) likewise could not have happened without the shackles of overseas authority stricken from the legs of the Metropolia.
In addition the emphasis on diocesan involvement in the selection of bishops as well as the election of Primates at All-American councils — with vivid, real-time input from clerical and lay delegates — is to be jealously guarded at all costs. An authentic, unified, American Orthodoxy would be the poorer if it abandoned any and all of the above.
So where did we go wrong? In the opinion of this writer, the reasons are many. We shall examine them in a three-part series. As always, the input of our readers and correspondents will be welcome.
In American corporate culture, there has been a heavy emphasis on “human resources” over the last few decades. In order to motivate workers, the stated emphasis is usually on some nebulous concept like “quality” or “empowerment” or “togetherness” rather than crass concepts such as profitability and productivity. Conferences, memoranda, emails, and what-not are trotted out at various intervals to this effect.
After a certain time though a certain, subconscious lethargy creeps in. Sometimes employees mumble among themselves when they realize the paucity of the latest “message.” At boring conferences some even play a game which they cynically call “Buzzword Bingo,” in which they secretly write certain key phrases down and then cry “bingo!” when the motivational speaker du jour recites them. In the OCA, Corporate HQ (Syosset) and its propaganda arm (OCANews) had two such words which they treated as nothing less than sacred revelation: Accountability and Transparency. These were the be-all and end-all of the ecclesial governance model as far as Syosset was concerned.
Though OCANews had to fold up its tent when it became obvious to all but the most obtuse that its purveyor made the news as well as “reported” it, the modern, corporatist paradigm that it championed is still very much in play in the OCA. This is not to say that there was anything wrong per se with greater accountability and transparency, nor the vigilance required to abide by legal and financial norms as found in the secular world, it’s merely to say the sincerity behind them was lacking.
Their uses were selectively applied. For example Metropolitan Jonah could be castigated for “acting unilaterally” but Archbishop Benjamin could embroil himself in the middle of a political firestorm in Alaska without any consequence. As noted by Monomakhos and others, the conflict of interest presented by Mark Stokoe, who not only operated OCANews but served several terms on the Metropolitan Council, should have raised red flags from the outset. That it did not showed either a stunning level of deceit on the part of Syosset or an astounding level of ignorance.
For our part, we believe that deceit was the modus operandi when it came to Mr Stokoe and his handlers in the Syosset Apparat. This allegation is dramatic but it is not baseless. For proof we can cite a leaked email generated by Mr Stokoe in which he essentially gave marching orders to an anti-Jonah cabal comprised of bishops, priests, a deacon, lawyers, and lay members of the Metropolitan Council as to how best to get rid of the legitimate Primate. This email was leaked on the Indiana Forum and picked up by Monomakhos a little over two years ago. It speaks for itself.
For Syosset “Accountability and Transparency” Never Applies
Like most clichés, “Accountability and Transparency” were used as a sword and shield in the crusade of a militant cadre to modernize the OCA by bringing it into more conformity with American corporate standards. In reality however, this was never really the case. They were used instead as cudgels against those who stood in the way of the Syosset and its continuing centralization scheme, to say nothing of its headlong accommodation to NCC-type theological liberalism.
To achieve this end, any means were used. But first Metropolitan Jonah had to be removed at all costs. Though he and his partisans presented a tenacious resistance, in the end no measure was spared in order to get rid of him. The success of this modernist/ecumenist cabal however was a Pyrrhic one and the OCA has been and will continue to be tarnished for years to come.
That is where we are at present. The question for our purposes at this juncture is how does the Apparat which really governs the OCA continue to function especially in light of its egregious, uncanonical, and possibly criminal actions?
Quite simply by not abiding by their stated principles. The Syosset Apparat has long been severely at odds with Orthodox ecclesiology, however their abidance by a more open, Americanist ethos was never seriously executed. By adhering to these principles it could have salvaged some credibility and perchance acquired some moral credibility vis-à-vis the other Patriarchates.
Instead it was wedded to an institutional mindset, one which precluded this possibility, hence its current morass. Instead of Accountability and Transparency, its autocephalist pretensions allowed Syosset to govern by means of Secrecy and Opacity. The irony is delicious. Yet no other phrase encapsulates the operating system of the OCA.
The various governing bodies of the OCA are anything but transparent. As for accountability, your guess is as good as mine. The Metropolitan Council for example releases only heavily redacted minutes and it goes into “Executive Session” at the drop of a hat. (A year ago, I’d asked for an organizational flow-chart for the OCA but such a Rube Goldbergian scheme would have taxed the artistic talents of a Jackson Pollock.)
Regardless, what’s at stake here is not real transparency but the desire to hoodwink the faithful so that they don’t ask too many question but continue to pray, pay, and obey; at least until the senior-most Protosbyterians are able to retire with their pensions.
Unfortunately as can be seen by the declining census figures and the remittances to Syosset, whatever it is that Syosset has been doing, hasn’t been working.
The Tipping Point?
So where are we as a Church? Where to start? The OCA has so betrayed its mission that our autocephaly (as it is currently practiced) will eventually be a moot point. None of the other jurisdictions want any part of us. As it was, it was only because of adroit maneuvers on Jonah’s part that we were even allowed membership in the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the first place.
In any event, we must start somewhere, so why not at Syosset? Here we must ask: where are we as an administration? One which has fiduciary responsibilities to take care of the needs of its retired bishops and clergy? Do the functionaries there think in the long-term? It is this writer’s contention that they do not. Exhibit A would be the tremendous number of retired bishops in our jurisdiction.
As is known, His Grace Matthias Moriak retired as Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest. As noted earlier on this blog, the OCA has five of its nine territorial dioceses vacant. Two of these diocese (Alaska, Ottawa) provide no material support to Syosset so it’s something of a wash in this regard. Two others however (Chicago and Dallas) are the biggest givers to Syosset. Philadelphia is rather moribund and has been for quite awhile. Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia present a long term financial concern. All told however, the five vacancies present a more grievous morale problem for the OCA in its self-identification as the local, indigenous American Church.
The OCA presently has ten active bishops and ten retired ones. Leaving aside the stresses such a ratio could make on the pension for the OCA, what does it say about the fact that the ratio of retired to active is one to one? Is this not a failure of character, or foresight? Compare this situation to Social Security. When this program was started some seventy years ago, it had roughly 60 workers paying the pensions of every one retiree (there was never an actual bank of paid-in funds but merely a “trust fund” loaded with IOUs.) We know how America got to this present scenario, the decreasing number of births and the lengthening of life together caused the present one-to-one equilibrium to be reached.
But how did we arrive at this point in the OCA? Were all of these bishops senile and/or otherwise incapacitated by age and needed to be retired or are these men compromised in some way? If so, then what does it say about the OCA that it elevated them to the episcopate in the first place? As for those that the OCA did not elevate but took in from other jurisdictions, are we to assume that they left one step ahead of the sheriff? Does it not make sense that a few of these bishops (the younger ones at least) could be placed in some of these vacant dioceses? If not, why not?
Barring some scandal, we’ll never know of course what with Syosset being as tight-lipped as it is (except when it comes to Jonah whom it libeled and defamed*). Rather than a studied rectitude being the guiding principle behind such discretion we should chalk it up to an inability to admit mistakes. This is one sign of unrepentance. Even more problematic from an ecclesial standpoint is that the Apparat showed that it would do whatever it felt was necessary to get rid of somebody they considered to be an irritant. Legality, canonicity, and even common decency could and would be shunted aside in order to get the job done.
(*Google Metropolitan Jonah to see the extent of the damage Syosset inflicted.)
Given the above exigencies, it is hard to see how the OCA has not reached the tipping point, one whose trajectory unfortunately is downward —the tipping point being the acme in this case, not the nadir. As to the cadre of retired bishops are we to realistically assume that all were corrupt and needed to be retired? If this is the case then why weren’t they defrocked? Would this have not removed several financial burdens from Syosset?
The answer may very well be that they couldn’t defrock them, not only because some of these men were innocent but because in doing so, nothing would prevent them from seeking legal redress. Then again it should not be forgotten that some of the men who still sit on the Synod are themselves not without a skeleton or two in their closet.
This results in a tenuous Mexican Standoff between the active bishops and the retired ones. In other words, it is better to let a man die with the episcopal dignity (even if he is guilty of some moral transgression) rather than expose those who remain to scandal and quite probably, legal repurcussions.
How Did We Get Here?
Your guess is as good as mine. The best analysis is that the OCA’s administrative organs have succumbed to an institutionalism-at-all-costs ethos. Add in a dash of arrogance and triumphalism, a disdain for monasticism and patriarchal governance, and we arrive at the present, decrepit state. This present reality has been operational for quite awhile. Jonah’s primacy was merely an interregnum of sorts. His tenure attempted to create on the American landscape the traditional Orthodox ideal of monasticism, patriarchal energy, and sovereign dioceses. He failed of course and the Strong Chancellor form of governance that obtained before Jonah has arisen from the ashes yet again.
The only difference between the previous pre-Jonahite corporatist administration and the present one is that whereas in the past the OCA paid lip service to Orthodox ecclesiology, that mask has been removed from the theological and social liberals who presently govern our Church.
To justify their actions they have denigrated asceticism by shouting the terrifying words “Jerry Sandusky!” in order to hide their malfeasance. Hence the need for Sex Czars, Clergy Cops, legal (if inept) directives, Continuing Education for priests who can barely afford to feed their families, video conferences with neat graphics, and a cult of personality centered around the present Chancellor. Bishops are in reality nothing more than mid-level regional managers now. And given the files which are kept on them, they can be kept in line fairly easily.
Of course there are other contingencies which shackle the OCA. As mentioned earlier in this essay, the OCA was not without its successes. Nevertheless, the OCA could never overcome the bane of all Orthodox jurisdictions and that is that when all is said and done, it is still an ethnocentric jurisdiction which is heavily concentrated on the East Coast. Despite all protestations to the contrary this is the reality.
For proof one need only look at the continued existence of the Metropolitan Council. Such a body made sense when the Metropolia was a largely immigrant-based archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Metropolitan was the only “real” bishop who was assisted by several auxiliaries. That is no longer the case and hasn’t been for forty years now. As to lay participation in the selection of the Metropolitan, that is belied by the facts on the ground. In three of the last four elections, the overwhelming choice of the delegates at the All-American Councils was overturned by the Synod. The historical trend regarding lay influence therefore is not positive. And of course there is the pseudo-conciliarist form of synodal governance which may prove to be the undong of the OCA.
An example of this is the continued existence of the ethnic dioceses. As is known, the OCA has fourteen dioceses. Eleven are territorial and three are ethnic (Albanian, Bulgarian, and Romanian). Though their existence was based on a felt need at one time, their continuance feeds the false idol of pseudo-conciliarity.
To be sure, their existence within the OCA was an artifact of the Cold War and Syosset did the right thing in granting them ecclesial cover. And of course it must be assumed that the treaties that were enacted between them and the OCA were executed in good faith, but the fact that these treaties were never revisited after the fall of the Soviet Union has led to some deleterious effects.
We are talking especially here about the “escape clauses” that each of these three eparchies have, ones which allow them to have only one foot firmly planted in the OCA. Regardless, these semi-autonomous dioceses with their escape clauses give the lie to the Americanist program of the OCA.
More to the point, they have caused serious harm to the OCA as an ecclesial polity in the interim.
Neither Fish nor Fowl
As stated above, the existence of permanent ethnic dioceses undermines the very vision of the OCA as the vehicle for a genuine American Orthodoxy. The dearth of vision in this area is astounding. Consider: where else could these jurisdictions have gone for canonical protection? Their patriarchal churches were under Soviet control. Constantinople did not appear to be an option for whatever reason. Serbia had its hands full with ROCOR.
In any event, Syosset never sought to reexamine the original treaties that brought in these ethnic dioceses. It could have demanded that as a condition for inclusion into the OCA that after a set period of time the various parishes would merge with the territorial dioceses in which they were resident. In addition it could have asked that the ethnic dioceses contribute to Syosset in levels commensurate with the territorial dioceses.
Of the three ethnic dioceses, the Albanian and the Bulgarian remit only negligible amounts to Syosset. The Romanians give somewhat more (approx. $22,000 in 2012) but even this amount pales in comparison to the six figures that San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and the others give. To put this in perspective, consider this: the territorial dioceses give at least ten times what the Romanians give. When viewed on a percentage basis, Dallas gave 38 percent of its income in 2012 whereas New York/New Jersey gave an astounding 88 percent. This hardly seems fair because in number of parishes alone, the Romanians outnumbers the Diocese of the South.
As to the governance of the Church, the Albanians and Bulgarians send delegates to the Metropolitan Council, however the Romanians do not. Yet Archbishop Nathanael Popp (its hierarch) sits at the place of honor in all Metropolitan Council meetings as the most senior bishop and was actually locum tenens for the OCA during the coup against Jonah. In addition, he sits on the Lesser Synod which sets the agenda for the Holy Synod.
Moreover, his disciplinary actions within his diocese have not been subject to scrutiny as can be seen by the suspension of Fr Vasile Susan, a man who brought credible allegations of immorality against a fellow priest within that jurisdiction. Rather than have his day in court, Fr Susan continues to languish in the limbo of suspension, going on eight years now.
This same hierarch has been able to leverage his influence in decidedly advantageous ways over the years. Several years ago for example, he entered into clandestine negotiations with Bucharest in order to unite with Romania’s patriarchal jurisdiction in North America —with himself as its Primate. Although this proposal ultimately fell on deaf ears in Bucharest, he suffered no consequences vis-à-vis Syosset. This is curious to say the least. One wonders what would happen to a Bishop Michael Dahulich (for example) should he desire to unite his diocese with the American Carpatho-Russian Diocese of America (ACROD, an ethnic exarchate of Constantinople)?
The ironies do not stop there however. As far as the Synod as a whole is concerned, Nathanael is quite possibly the most stalwart when it comes to publicly defending the autocephaly of the OCA. Indeed, a good argument can be made that the present, chilly relations that exist between Moscow and the OCA can be placed squarely at his doorstep as it was he who wrote pointed letters to the Patriarch of Russia, informing him that he had no business getting involved in the OCA’s internal affairs.
This of course is a political misstep of the first magnitude given that it is Moscow which at the end of the day is the OCA’s lone supporter. Regardless of its merits as an argument, it was still a rash thing to do. And given the fact that in his earlier negotiations with the Romanian Orthodox Church he was willing to place himself under Bucharest, quite ironic indeed.
This cannot be stressed enough. Although Moscow is presently committed to the tomos of autocephaly that created the OCA, there are limits to its patience with its daughter church. We saw some of these recently with the enthronement of Jonah’s usurper, which was poorly attended.
More ominously, we see it with the resurgence of ROCOR in North America, which as a semi-autonomous eparchy of Russia, is not bound by the tomos of 1970 which restricts Moscow to only thirty then-existent parishes and no more. It would be foolish therefore for Syosset to rebuke Moscow simply on the say-so of a bishop who has only one foot in the OCA. (And that foot only tenuously planted at that.) One has to wonder whether the Department of External Relations is up to the task.
Some have called this type of ethnic particularism “separate but equal.” Instead a better description of this situation is one in which one bishop is “more equal than the others.” The temptation for mischief is irresistible in such circumstances. In the final analysis, such intramural high-handedness will not redound to the benefit of the OCA but will instead help further its continued demolition.