Treasure in Earthen Vessels

‘The Orthodox Church’ News Magazine

Editorial of March / April 2006

During the last months the Orthodox Church in America has experienced a storm of high intensity. Allegations of misappropriation of money went by stages from a long letter by a former treasurer of the Church to the Holy Synod of Bishops, to a website dedicated to exposing the allegations to a wide public in North America and around the world, to newspaper stories across the country. Responses by the Metropolitan Council, Holy Synod, and Lesser Synod were made public, but the intensity of the storm did not decrease. The Primate of our Church dismissed the long-time Chancellor, and announced a program of audits in conjunction with both a law firm and outside auditors. The web site continues its program of activities. Most recently, our Primate addressed a pastoral letter to the parishes and the whole church.

Many people in the Church have been severely wounded during the months of crisis—bishops, priests, officials and staff of the church administration, laity in the parishes. These wounds are wounds to the Church, because they affect our cohesion and our credibility. In the midst of the pain, it is difficult—sometimes impossible—to find the way forward in pursuing the mission of the Church.

We are confronted by a truth which is actually an eternal, permanent truth about the Church, and not a truth limited to times of crisis, public scandal, and internal conflict. The treasure of our faith is held “in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians: 4: 7).

The human dimension of the Church is always fragile and vulnerable. This is so for every person who is a member of the Church, and it is so for the Church corporately.

Yet the full truth is that the glory of Christ is contained in the earthen vessels of our humanity. The fragility and vulnerability of our human nature hold within them the presence of Christ and the power of God.

At a time of crisis—as always—we are called to integrity. Our challenge is to respond faithfully, and not merely to react defensively. The journey towards rebuilding trust will require doing justice to financial integrity.

The story of the last months includes allegations, rumors, and conjectures. In the media and in views expressed by members of the Church allegations have at times been treated as facts, and those about whom questions have been raised have been judged as guilty. This is a violation of important principles of Christian behavior as well as civil behavior. The journey towards rebuilding trust will require acting justly towards the persons about whom allegations have been made.

Finally, the journey towards rebuilding trust is not only for the leaders of the Church and for the Church’s administration. In every dimension of life in the Church all of us—bishops, priests, and laity—are challenged to be responsible participants in the journey ahead. And responsibility calls for integrity, for compassion for one another, and for tender care for the mission of the Church.

The words of the Apostle Paul quoted above are placed in the Letter to the Corinthians in a larger context.

”...What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord….It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us” (2 Corinthians: 4: 5-7).

During His preaching ministry, when Christ saw the crowds gathered around Him, He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We have Jesus Christ as our Chief Shepherd. As Chief Shepherd and Risen Lord, He leads us forward, toward God’s future. We follow Him in full awareness that we are fragile and vulnerable, and yet in full awareness that what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord.

Christ is Risen!

Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky

Editorial appearing in The Orthodox Church, March-April 2006