Syosset, New York
Syosset, New York
June 13-14, 2006
Reverend Fathers, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:
It is with the joy of the Holy Spirit, Whose descent we just celebrated, that I welcome you to the 2006 spring session of the Metropolitan Council.
Surely, it is the Holy Spirit, Who is “everywhere present, filling all things,” Who guides us as the People of God, the Church; Who inspires us as we struggle to build up the Body of Christ; and Who fills us with His very presence as Orthodox Christians called to proclaim the fullness of truth, despite our sins and flaws, to any and all who would receive it. It is in this context that we gather today, relying on the Holy Spirit’s direction in our deliberations and seeking to do, not our own will, but the will of Him Who brings us together.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is discernment—the ability to differentiate and distinguish between that which is true from that which is not true. This is not an easy task, and it is sometimes the case that we stumble in the process. But the Holy Spirit always abides in us, correcting our steps when we stray, lifting us up when we fall, and granting us the ability to refocus on that which is essential in the life of the Church from that which is of no benefit or spiritual benefit. In striving to discern—and do—the Lord’s will, it is the Holy Spirit upon Whom we rely, in Whom we place our faith and hope, and by Whom we ultimately experience the love of the God Who is Love Itself.
We invoke the Holy Spirit to fill us as we gather once again to consider where we have been and are as a Church, and where we are going. Much has transpired in the life of our Church in recent months. New missions continue to be planted. Young men continue to be ordained to the holy diaconate and holy priesthood. Our Church-wide departments and offices, in most cases staffed by talented volunteers who freely offer their time and talents to the Church, continue to strengthen existing ministries and to develop new ones. Our widely acclaimed web site continues to attract a growing number of visitors from around the world, while the new magazine format of “The Orthodox Church” continues to receive positive reactions. The essential life of our Church, rooted in worship and revealed in service to God and His People, remains strong and vibrant, thanks to the devotion of countless clergy and laity who labor, often in the midst of difficult circumstances and growing tensions, fo r nothing other than the glory of God. In these, and in countless other areas of our Church’s life, we find the indwelling and operation of the Holy Spirit, and we find much in which we can indeed rejoice.
At the same time, however, it has been painfully obvious to me—and I am sure to you as well—that our Church is facing a multitude of intensely serious issues that have dampened our joy, shaken our faith and hope, and in far too many instances hardened our hearts to the love of God. It is no secret that we are facing accusations and allegations, aggravations and assumptions. They range from the demand for accountability in the area of financial management and practice, to an increase in parochial isolation and disunity, to an increasingly evident conflict rooted in competing ecclesiologies and visions, as they relate to the very nature of the Church’s administration and ministry.
During our deliberations, we will consider in detail the ongoing investigation of our financial practices, past and present, as well as the growing number of serious concerns that have surfaced as a result of the findings. At the recent meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops, I shared my conviction that, if all issues are not addressed squarely, firmly, and appropriately, and dealt with openly and forthrightly, the Orthodox Church in America will face an even deeper crisis than we presently are experiencing, one that will take years, if not decades, to reverse. Today, I share this same conviction with you, calling upon you to maintain focus on that which is essential to the life of the Church, even as we struggle to sort out and sift through the various means at our disposal to bring about concord and stability to the Church.
The Time for Action Is Now
I will refrain from presenting details that will be offered by others during our time together. However, I do want to offer my observations on some of the most current, major issues that demand our immediate attention and unified action. We cannot ignore that which has been discussed publicly and that, for many, appears self evident. True or false, public opinion cannot be ignored as if it did not exist. In order to stabilize the life of the Orthodox Church in America, restore trust on every level, and return to our fundamental mission and ministry as the Church, the time for action is now.
Since the fall of 2005, as is well known, numerous questions with regard to the financial practices of the Orthodox Church in America, past and present, surfaced as Protodeacon Eric Wheeler raised in the public forum a number of concerns dating back to the early 1990s. The controversy that arose as a result is widely known, and there is no reason to trace its chronology in detail at this time. It is important to note that, after much prayer and reflection, I became convinced that an investigation of the Church’s finances and financial practices was appropriate and necessary. Hence, a special session of the Holy Synod of Bishops was convened in the early days of March 2006 to address the issues that faced us at that time. Unfortunately, our deliberations were inconclusive.
I was made aware of the utter seriousness of such public allegations and the effect they can have on the life of not only the central administration of the Church, but on every parish enrolled as a participant in the government recognized tax exempt roster filed each year with the United States Internal Revenue Service. To the extent that we must conform to all financial regulations emanating from the federal government, to take no action is generally perceived by regulatory agencies as negligence by the leadership of the Church. All things considered, for me not to exercise my authority as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America when I did, could have resulted in placing the very existence of our beloved Orthodox Church in America in jeopardy.
Special Meeting of the Administrative Committee
As Primate of the Church and in my capacity as Chairman of the Metropolitan Council, I convened a special meeting of the Administrative Committee of the Metropolitan Council on March 16, 2006, as you are undoubtedly aware. I announced at that time that I had taken a number of actions.
On a number of occasions prior to the day of the meeting, I had encouraged the Chancellor to take an administrative leave of absence, but in each instance he refused to consider this. My efforts to resolve our administrative differences—particularly following the Fourteenth All-American Council—were unsuccessful. I perceived that my administrative directives were treated as opinion, especially as I attempted with the Acting Treasurer to chart a new course of financial management of the central administration of the Church. The initial Financial Guidelines which were to serve as the basis of the financial management for this triennium were challenged.
I informed the members of the Administrative Committee, that due to my dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Chancellor’s conduct related to a number of areas of concern—especially after receiving a letter from the Chancellor’s personal attorney on the eve of the meeting—and after careful and prayerful consideration, as well as a sleepless night, I found it necessary to terminate him from his duties as Chancellor of The Orthodox Church in America. I also announced that, after careful consideration and wise counsel, I chose to engage the law firm of Proskauer Rose, on behalf of the Church, to initiate a full investigation of various matters related to our central administration particularly as they relate to all financial allegations that could be identified from various sources.
Since the accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos and Multhroup already had been engaged to conduct an independent audit of our 2004-2005 financial records—an ongoing process that began in January 2006—I asked them to coordinate their work with the attorneys from Proskauer Rose. As requested by the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, I also authorized that all financial transactions related to Special and Annual Appeals conducted under the auspices of the central administration of the Church from 2001 to 2005 be audited. As a cost saving measure, it was agreed that the activity of the auditors would be used to supply the law firm with any and all data that they needed to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.
As reported to the Lesser Synod of Bishops at its meeting of April 28, 2006, questions were raised by the independent auditors about funds distributed in years past not only internationally, but domestically, without supporting documentation. It was further reported that, for a number of years before the current independent audit, only compilation reports for each year, which were audited by the internal auditors of the Church elected by the All-American Council, were available. Though these may be considered as audits by some, all will recognize that they are the least reliable for any organization.
Though the work leading to an independent certified audit for 2004 is nearly complete, it is not yet known if the auditors can actually certify the audit at this time. From 2005 and thereafter, however, with all procedures in the recently adopted “Best Practices” fully operative, an annual independent audit will be produced.
Restoring our Financial Integrity
I also reported at that time that creditors were rightfully demanding payment for goods and services rendered and that following the 2005 fall session of the Metropolitan Council, Acting Treasurer, Archpriest Paul Kucynda began to search for an appropriate lender in earnest. After his efforts came to naught, I contacted The Honesdale National Bank in Honesdale, PA. On May 3, 2006, they offered a letter of commitment in the amount of $1,700,000 without penalty for prepayment, 20 years in duration, and at the rate of 7.97% for the first 48 months.
As you know, during the Extraordinary Meeting of the Metropolitan Council of nearly two hours in duration on May 18, 2006, the commitment from The Honesdale National Bank was accepted.
At this point I must emphasize that, as the Primate of The Orthodox Church in America and in light of the fact that I have taken full responsibility for all that has happened and is now happening, I will not be apologetic for exercising the leadership prerogatives afforded to the Primate as described in the Statute of The Orthodox Church in America.
As I noted in my letter to the faithful on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, not everyone will be pleased by my decisions—this includes even some among us gathered here. But the time to act had arrived. It had become clear to me that only an investigation of our finances and financial practices, appropriate audits and reviews, would enable us to determine the facts regarding these issues and hopefully bring closure to this dark period in our history.
Our Differing Opinions Made Public
What initially had been a series of long-standing, serious concerns with regard to finances has, unfortunately, brought a number of other issues to the surface, not the least of which is the unfortunate impression that the Holy Synod of Bishops is divided internally, that we inhabit a house divided against itself. This impression, to be frank, has been evident in countless postings on the internet, on a number of web sites of questionable nature, and in a variety of public internet forums and lists. Letters and other documents intended to be confidential in nature, especially between hierarchs, have been subject to posting, judgment, editorialization, and worse. Specifically, the writings of His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the West, not only questioning my position as Primate of the Church and challenging decisions I made in an effort to address the mounting issues we face collectively, but also calling for my retirement and even deposition, have only complicated an already complex situation. If questions of financial practices, past and present, have served to polarize many of our clergy and faithful, the slanderous statements, demands, “revelations,” and other venom that has appeared on the internet have only served to plant further distrust and disenchantment. This was especially evident during the season of Great Lent, as the rhetoric intensified and internet postings multiplied dramatically.
I have categorically stated that as Primate of the Church, I take full responsibility for all decisions I have made related to the issues we are attempting to address and resolve. I have no intention of retiring or resigning. To do so would not only hamper the investigation of our finances that has been undertaken, but will create further confusion and lack of trust among the clergy and faithful.
A Reflection on Competing Ecclesiologies
It is becoming clear that there are somewhat different ecclesiologies operating within our Church. This phenomenon is not something limited to The Orthodox Church in America, nor to recent years, as we increasingly hear of the role of “democracy” in the Church. This merely serves to call the hierarchical principle that stands at the center of Orthodox Christian ecclesiology into question, to create a “we/they” divide, and to reduce The Orthodox Church in America to a collection of autocephalous dioceses, each operating independently of one another with no central oversight and administration. Naturally, in a culture such as ours, where one continually hears about the “right to know” and “freedom of information” and “majority rule,” the Church’s hierarchal principle and fundamental ecclesiology is bound to be challenged and questioned as inconsistent with “democracy.” But the fact of the matter is that the Church is not a democracy, even though it exists within a democracy. Nor is the Church a corporation that, rejecting its fundamental nature and ecclesiology, must conform to an exclusively secular business model. If we truly believe that we are guided by the Holy Spirit, then we must uphold the hierarchical principle upon which our ecclesiology is based, even to the point of defending it in the face of those who would replace it with a “by the people and for the people” model.
The conflicting ecclesiologies that have surfaced have had an impact on our clergy and faithful, especially on the parish level. Polarization, the “taking of sides,” fear, and confusion have infected the life of our Church.
I have spoken with numerous clergy who are, pure and simple, afraid that their otherwise stable parishes and missions have become preoccupied with politics, “Synod-watching,” finger pointing, and the darker aspects of the crises we are facing. It is imperative that we not only clearly state our ecclesiology, but that we apply it and live it, even when instances in which the Primate must make a decision on behalf of all for the good of the Church. This is especially so in instances in which the Holy Synod of Bishops and/or the Metropolitan Council must act with a unified voice, with one heart and mind, as a model and example of consensus. If we fail to acknowledge this need, I fear that we face even darker days, especially on the parish level
With regard to the current financial status of The Orthodox Church in America, Father Kucynda, as acting treasurer, together with Fathers Stavros Strikis, John Dresko, and Eugene Vansuch, will offer detailed reports. At this time, however, I wish to note that in general, income from the “fair share” continues to be received from all dioceses. “Fair share” income is no longer being withheld by the Diocese of the West.
Unfortunately, the response to date to February’s Mission Appeal generated less than half of the $120,000.00 goal required to provide planting grants to five mission communities and maintain other missionary initiatives. This is but one matter that we must review with the utmost seriousness, as the planting grant program is crucial in maintaining and expanding our fundamental mission as the Orthodox Church in America—namely the proclamation of the Gospel and the planting of new communities, especially in regions with little or no Orthodox Christian presence and witness.
The Chancery Staff
With regard to the Chancery offices, I have had a number of meetings, both individual and collective, with the other members of the Chancery staff. Archpriests David Brum and Joseph Fester both requested a blessing to seek new assignments. Effective July 1, 2006, Father Brum will be released from duties as Secretary to the Metropolitan to serve a parish in the Diocese of the West, while Father Fester will be released effective August 15, 2006 to serve in the Diocese of the South. The remaining members of the Chancery staff continue to perform their duties in a responsible manner.
I have asked Fathers Kucynda and Dresko to gather the necessary factual information that will lead to a review of the management chart as well as individual job descriptions for all staff members including the duties fulfilled by Fathers Brum and Fester. With assistance, I will review this information to determine the skills required and the best use of present staff members as well as give consideration for additional staff if necessary. In some instances, tasks being done by staff may be outsourced if it is determined that this is the most efficient way to proceed.
I have increased my presence at the Chancery, and will continue to do so, in an effort to improve and promote better communications with the staff, as well as make every effort to keep the essential services of the central administration functioning as smoothly as possible during this period of transition.
The Ministries of the Church
One of the most important responsibilities associated with the central administration of the Church is to encourage and offer moral support and financial resources to the many members of the Church who participate in a genuine labor of love.
With regard to our numerous departments, offices, boards, and commissions, much continues to be accomplished with the excellent coordination efforts of Matushka Michelle Janakos, Church Ministries Coordinating Secretary. Every effort must be made to support the good work of all departments.
While our finances at this time are primarily limited to income from diocesan fair share contributions, it is my hope that as trust and confidence is restored, all who in the past have supported the Fellowship of Stewards of the Orthodox Church in America and the annual and special appeals will resume their ministry of generosity. As a final word in this matter, after money from the loan is used to restore all designated funds to their proper levels, the designated funds will be distributed in a timely manner.
In conclusion, we must acknowledge, with one mind, that The Orthodox Church in America is at a crossroad in its 212 year history. And I have no doubt that this session of the Metropolitan Council will be a pivotal one, not only in dealing with our past and present, but in charting the course for our future. There are a growing number of issues that need our undivided attention and require not only a consensus, but a commitment to maintain a consensus after our session has ended. At no time in my experience can I remember such an intense need for unity, for wise and objective leadership, and for the laying aside of our personal concerns, wants, and needs for the overall good of the Church.
I exhort you, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our midst, to guide us in addressing, once and for all, the issues we face, so that, as Saint Paul exhorts us, “everything may be done properly and in order”. I will not deny that this may indeed be a painful process, but it is a necessary one if we are to remain faithful to the vision of the Church we have inherited. As good stewards, we must cherish this gift, give thanks to God for His mercy and love, and use it to bring glory to His Holy Name.
Clearly, if we fail to confront all that currently confronts us, we will not only fail to restore trust to the faithful of the Church, but we will be dishonoring the calling which members of the Metropolitan Council have been given.
Finally, I offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, the Metropolitan Council, the Chancery staff, the members of our departments, offices, boards, and commissions, and everyone who has sacrificed so much in offering their time, talents, and treasures for the good of the Church. May God bless everyone for their support and dedicated service to Our Lord and to His People.
Through the intercessions of our Father among the Saints, Herman of Alaska, and of all the Saints of North America, may this session of the Metropolitan Council assist in bringing about a new beginning in the life of our Church now and in the days, months, and years to come!
Submitted this 13th day of June 2006,
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Primate of the Orthodox Church in America