Your Eminence and Graces, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
It is great to be in Seattle, and to be together as the Church. There is a sacramental aspect to our meeting together as a Council, to come together to discern the will of God for the direction of our Church. We have to prepare for this Council like we prepare for Holy Communion — which we celebrate every day — with prayer and fasting, putting aside all passions and lusts, all judgment and resentment, all criticism of others and anger in our hearts. Otherwise, how can we participate in the Holy Mysteries, how dare we approach one another with the kiss of peace, how can we listen to God? This is the task set before us: to hear the voice of God, strive to comprehend His will, and to do it. First, I wish to thank His Grace, Bishop Benjamin, for hosting us and all who worked on the Preconciliar Commission; to Fr. John Pierce and the whole local committee: Lynelle, Michelle, Dmitri, and the hosts of others who have worked tirelessly to put together this event, and care for its every detail. May the Lord bless you, and multiply His grace on you! I wish also to thank the staff at Syosset for their commitment and their labor for this Church, especially Fr. Eric Tosi who was the main liaison for this Council, and all there. In particular, Fr. Myron Manzuk has, once again, been instrumental in every aspect of the planning and execution of the work to prepare for this Council; assisted by Peter and staff. There are a multitude of others.
I will tell you of some of the positive achievements in our Church since I was elected Metropolitan in 2008 and the vision I and the Holy Synod now wish to pursue. But as most of you know there is another side. These last three years have been the three most difficult years of my life. I have been under a relentless barrage of criticism for most of this time from every forum I am meant to oversee: the Chancery officers and staff, the Metropolitan Council, and — most troubling to me — the Holy Synod of Bishops. I admit that I have very little experience in administration, and it was a risk for the 2008 Council to elect me, the newest and most inexperienced of bishops. I have worked very hard to fulfill your expectations. But this is not an excuse. These three years have been an administrative disaster, and I need to accept full responsibility for that.
I did not understand the depth of the breakdown with the bishops. I thought we had a good working relationship but obviously there is something very broken. I need to regain the confidence of my brother bishops and of many others in leadership positions in our Church. I tell you all here and now that I am deeply sorry for that and ask for your forgiveness.
How to get at the root of this breakdown in trust and repair it, if at all possible, is the real challenge for me, and I am willing to do whatever is necessary, working in close collaboration with the Holy Synod. As a first step, I have agreed to begin a process of discernment that will include a complete evaluation in a program that specializes in assisting clergy, starting the week of November. I have chose to do this out of love for you, the people of this Church.
I ask you all for your forgiveness, understanding, prayers and support. At this point, I wish to commend the staff in Syosset for their work for the Church. They strive to serve the Church as well as they are able. In particular, I wish to thank Fr. Alexander Garklavs for his work as Chancellor during this very difficult time, with the transition from Metropolitan Herman to myself, and the conflicts we have had. What is very sad to me is that the job gets in the way of a good friendship. While we found it increasingly difficult to work together, it is my hope that our mutual forgiveness will bear much fruit through our respective continued service to the Church.
On a different note… Over the past three years I have visited the dioceses, many parishes, monasteries, seminaries, and other institutions, for meetings, anniversaries, diocesan councils and assemblies, and simply to encourage, and get to know, the people of the Church. During this time, I was diocesan bishop for the New York/New Jersey Diocese, then including Washington. These were separated in order for the parishes of New York and New Jersey to have their own bishop undistracted by the demands of the Metropolitanate. Washington is now its own archdiocese, and we are beginning to develop its life. I was Locum Tenens for the Bulgarians, the South, and the Midwest, after the untimely passing of Archbishop Job, of blessed memory. As Locum Tenens of the South until the end of February of this year, I tried as best as possible to fulfill the role of the regular diocesan bishop. Many months I would be in my own bed no more than 5 or 6 nights.
I wish to note that this is the first All American Council after Autocephaly where we do not have the presence of Archbishop Dmitri. May his memory be eternal!
We have elected and installed several new bishops, filling long vacant diocesan sees, with several more to go. We have elected and consecrated Bishops Melchisedek of Pittsburgh, Michael of New York, Matthias of Chicago and Irenee of Quebec. We have received Bishop Mark into the OCA, and established Bishop Alejo as a full diocesan bishop. We have just elected Fr. Alexander Golitzin for the Bulgarians. We have yet to fill Alaska and the South. All of this has taken large numbers of meetings, phone calls and discussions in each of the various dioceses. It has been a great joy for me to become acquainted with the wonderful people of our Church, who in each diocese strive to serve Christ, and to do the best for the Church. I love our people, the Orthodox people of North America, in all our diversity, for all our strengths and weaknesses. I am honored to be your Metropolitan, and know myself utterly unworthy of such a task.
The seminaries and seminarians are one of my greatest joys. Both St Tikhon’s and St Vladimir’s are vibrant and each have their own set of challenges. There was an immense challenge to sort through the issues at St Tikhon’s over the past three years, and now they are on a much more solid footing. Both seminaries have suffered from the economic turn down, and both need greater support from the body of the Church. St Tikhon’s has a new Dean, Fr Alexander Atty, who is making some major improvements to the life and facilities of the Seminary. St Herman’s in Kodiak gives both Eastern schools a run for their money, turning out very competent graduates to serve in the difficult conditions of rural Alaska. They are all to be lauded! The Boards of these seminaries are composed of remarkable people who work tirelessly for their schools, and it is a joy to work with them.
St. Tikhon’s monastery has undergone a radical renewal, now with its own abbot and with seventeen monks and novices. They have thoroughly renovated the monastery, and added a new building, with more to come. They were left with an immense debt, from before, which they are struggling to pay off. The other monasteries are doing well, and it is my hope to again convene a Conference of Superiors, both of the Diocesan and Stavropegial Monasteries.
Interchurch relations have taken a substantial amount of time and travel, both in terms of the other jurisdictions in this country, the Episcopal Assembly and formerly SCOBA, as well as with the foreign churches. I have developed solid relationships with the heads of the Greek, Antiochian, and Serbian jurisdictions in America. In particular, I have developed a strong relationship with Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR, with whom we have worked out a full rappproachment, with unhindered communion and concelebration. Our relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church remains very strong, both with Archbishop Justinian, the Patriarchal Representative to the US, as well as with the Russian Patriarch and his Department of External Affairs head, Met. Hilarion. While my international travel has focused on Russia, I have also been to Georgia, and plan a trip to the Balkans. I met with the new Patriarch of Serbia, as well as the Metropolitan of Prague, Krystof, earlier this year, as well as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
A fundamental aspect of our identity as the Orthodox Church in America is that we are, and have been from our foundation, a missionary Church. Our mission is the same as the monks who came from Valaam to Kodiak, in 1794: to bring North Americans to the Orthodox Faith. Theirs was a focus on true evangelism, which means bringing people to faith in, and commitment to, Jesus Christ in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Over the past century, we had to focus on issues of immigration, ethnic integration, community building and consolidation. We had to battle against litigation. We have struggled over the use of English and the calendar. Now we are battling against secularism and the capitulation to values alien to the Gospel and a false sense of needing to conform to the surrounding society. Part of this comes from the immigrant experience of wanting to integrate into the broader culture. Part of it comes from the dominance of worldly political convictions. But, insofar as we have embraced the wisdom of this world, and rejected the foolishness of the Gospel, we have lost our way and betrayed our true identity and calling.
We must rekindle our dedication to authentic evangelism, outreach and bringing people to faith in Christ, and to nurturing the spiritual life of our people. We must turn away from ourselves, and towards God and other people, both personally and corporately.
Over the past forty years, the OCA has been transformed. It has grown from a small homogeneous community of ethnic churches with a single Archdiocesan structure, with a strong center and some auxiliary bishops; to a local church with multiple dioceses, each with its own life, character, and its own mission to the particular communities in which they find themselves. Old inner city churches are being revitalized, in some places filled with new life. New waves of immigrants are being served and integrated into the life of our Church. There have been thousands of converts from every race and background. There are at least thirteen languages used on any given Sunday in our parishes (English, French, Spanish, Slavonic, Georgian, Romanian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Yupik, Aleutiq, Aleut, Athabaskan and Tlingit). There are also some variants of Nahuatl and Mayan, with texts in preparation. We have become a deeply diverse, truly indigenous North American community. This is a beautiful thing, a realization of the original vision. And we have more work to do.
Over the past three years, we have increased out attention to the development of our missionary outreach, particularly in Mexico and Alaska. In 2009, the exarchate of Mexico was elevated to a full diocese and Bishop ALEJO was elevated from auxiliary bishop to ruling bishop of his diocese. The entire Holy Synod travelled to Mexico to participate in this historic and joyous event and to witnesses first hand the missionary labors of the Diocese of Mexico.
A more recent achievement was the finalization of the transferal of all Alaskan lands to the diocese of Alaska which was not simply a rightful restoration of land ownership, but also an affirmation of the great contribution made by the founding diocese of our Orthodox Church in America. We are especially blessed to have so many delegates from Alaska at this All American Council. The Alaskan peoples are an essential part of our Church, and we need their presence and their voice.
Most recently, a new chairman of the Department of Evangelization was appointed who will be charged with re-invigorating this central department of our Church…
The Central Administration
As a result of the OCA’s difficulties prior to the last All American Council, a concerted effort was made to improve the administrative structures and functioning of our Church. Although this process has brought with it certain very real tensions, there have been some very positive accomplishments in this area. The Holy Synod recently adopted some resolutions concerning the Central Administration and the roles of and relationship between the Primate, Holy Synod, Lesser Synod and Chancery. The Lesser Synod has participated in Metropolitan Council meetings on a regular basis and there has been an increased cooperation and openness between the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, including joint retreats and meetings. In general, the Holy Synod has been meeting more frequently for meetings and conference calls, both to address crisis issues but also to take a proactive role in areas such as the search for Episcopal candidates and to contribute to the direction of the Strategic Plan process.
Financial Accountability has been continually developed and the Adminsitration has been blessed by the dedicated work of our Treasurer, Melanie Ringa and all those who work with her, including the Finance Committee of the Metropolitan Council.
For the first time in many years, the OCA has received a fully unqualified audit opinion. This is admirable progress.
The issue of clergy sexual misconduct has occupied the time and energy of the Holy Synod as well as the members of the SMPAC. The Holy Synod is committed to developing better ways to respond to sexual misconduct allegations both pastorally and legally and is currently in dialogue with the SMPAC to address the specific issues of revising the Policies, Standards and Procedures and to search for a person or persons to fill position of Coordinator of the Office of Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations. Filling this Office needs to be a top priority for the next couple of months.
One of the most important pan-Orthodox developments of the past three years was the process of reconciliation between the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Initial informal discussion between myself and His Eminence, Metropolitan HILARION led to the establishment of a joint dialogue commission which drafted a joint statement which was accepted by the Holy Synods of the OCA and ROCOR. On May 24th of this year, a concelebration of several hierarchs of both Churches took place in New York City and a second one is planned for December 10th.
The hierarchs of our Holy Synod have been actively participating in the Assembly of Bishops for our region and each of our bishops is serving on one of the committees of that body. Although we do not have a place on the executive committee, we are committed to working with all the hierarchs of our various jurisdictions and are hoping to contribute in a positive way to the normalizing of the canonical situation in North America. As part of this contribution, the Holy Synod issued an Affirmation on Autocephaly which was published last December.
The OCA stands for the vision of a united fully autocephalous Church in America embracing all Orthodox Christians, with a single Synod and a single Primate, in communion with all the other Orthodox Churches and recognized by all. We need to be free to discern locally what is necessary for the mission of our Church in this land. However, we equally need to be in full and unimpaired communion and concelebration with the rest of the Orthodox world. There is much work to do. The Holy Synod and I strongly support the autocephaly of the OCA, and we support the movement toward Orthodox unity. It is our very nature as a Church.
The Development of the Dioceses
The development of the dioceses is the next most important challenge for this Church. Each diocese needs to take greater and greater responsibility for its own life, its ministries and outreach. This is what it will take to spread the Church’s presence into more and more areas. As we do that, our Church will become more diverse and will be able to serve more people, as we grow in the unity of the Faith by the Holy Spirit. It will enable us to equip and involve more people in the work of ministry, and fulfill our calling to spread the Gospel.
The Strategic Plan that has been developed over the past couple of years, and is the center piece of this Council, has a number of primary goals that will be the subject of our discussions. These goals are focal points for the Church’s work over the next decade. They revolve around several major areas: Evangelism and outreach, particularly to youth; Parish life and renewal; Orthodox unity; the funding of the Church; theological education and leadership training. All of these are important goals for the Church. It is critical that we approach these in the wider context of not only our history and identity as a Church, but also in the broader context of the essential vision of how we want the organization of the Church to develop. We must ask what is required in terms of personnel and funding, and how are we going to find and allocate the resources to fulfill these goals. Who will do these activities? Parishes, deaneries, dioceses or the central administration? What is the role of each level?
My vision for the OCA is of a dynamic church, focused on missionary and charitable outreach, incarnating and standing for the full integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My hope is that we turn outwards, with open arms, to the thousands of people who are thirsting for what the Orthodox Church in America has to offer: liturgical, moral and doctrinal stability and integrity, a context of community in which to raise their families and live out their lives; and a deep nurturing of their spiritual lives and growth. Our Church is a place where the idealism of the young, and the wisdom of the elders, can come together.
Thus I believe there are three main areas on which we must focus among the ten goals of the Strategic Plan: Missions, Youth and the funding of the Church. Each of these goals has elements that can only be done on the parish, diocesan or central levels. We have to set concrete projects that will help us measure our progress, and mark the achievement of these goals. Mostly, however, we need to commit ourselves to working on the local level first, and then on the diocesan and central levels of church organization. We need to find ways to expose people to this vision underlying these goals, so that they turn their inspiration into action, and take up the cross of ministry. For example, Youth work can best be carried on at a local, parish or deanery level. It is very hands on, and needs that kind of hands on treatment to make it effective, and to pull people up to a higher level. For example, there need to be parish youth programs, to pull the kids together into deanery and diocesan programs. Then there can be OCA-wide youth rallies, coordinated by the central youth department. What we commit to is to first build those very local programs, in parishes and deaneries, then get the kids together on broader and broader levels. This will need parents to commit to organizing and running youth groups and activities in their parishes and deaneries. They are the ones to best determine how and where, and the logistics of it all. The there can be coordination among all levels, so that these programs synergize and support one another. On the central level, I want to see youth rallies each year, in different areas. This can be organized by meetings of the diocesan youth directors and leaders. The central level can also provide or facilitate training and education for youth ministry work.
Another Youth centered activity is OCF, which is one of the most powerful missionary outreach tools in the Orthodox Church. Kids may leave the Church in college; but we also get a lot of converts from college. The OCF needs to be supported on the parochial/deanery level, with activities on the diocesan level, and also on the national level. Again, we need people to commit themselves in their local communities to facilitate these groups and their activites. Much of OCF work has to be done by the kids themselves. But this needs to be supported by the surrounding parishes. There are regional OCF gatherings, such as the Christmas conferences; parishes or the dioceses can give scholarships for these activities. And the Central Administration can contribute to and encourage the national organization of OCF. Then there is a Metropolitan who loves to come to OCF gatherings and conferences and give talks.
Missions work is outreach to others, to bring them into the communion of the Church for the sake of their salvation. Mission work can only be done on the local level, as a very hands on activity. It requires diocesan supervision, especially when it comes to assignment of clergy and other workers, and the allocation of resources. However, the real work evangelism and guiding people into the Church, of nurturing growth in communities and planting new ones, is mostly a matter of priests, deacons and layworkers committed to building particular local communities, through the sacrificial offering of their lives and resources.
The central administration can convene mission conferences; it can also raise funds to support mission work and internships; but the main bulk must come from involvement on the local level. It can be most effectively financed by the diocese. Diocesan mission grants, both for new communities and to renew and revitalize old parishes, can only be administered on a local level. If there is central participation in funding, it is best administered through the dioceses. Parish renewal is just as much a missionary effort as founding new communities.
How we fund the Church is the core issue of this council: not how much the assessment is, but rather, how do we allocate our resources? We must consider, in the broader context, how the whole church and its work and ministries are funded. We have to look first and foremost at the development and funding of the parishes, the core element of our Church, the locus of most of its ministries and outreach, and the focal point of the lives of our people.
People experience the life of the Church in their parishes and, secondarily, in their dioceses. The parish is the center of liturgical and sacramental life, the locus of the Eucharistic community. The parishes need also to be vibrant centers of activity, with ministries, evangelical and charitable outreach programs for the youth, seniors and everyone in between. To do this, they need to be well funded, and the clergy need to be paid a living wage. We have clergy compensation guidelines, and they need to be followed. Every priest needs to participate in the OCA Pension plan. Every priest needs to be free of financial concerns so that he can minister freely, and guide and equip people in his parish to take up the ministries that build the community.
The dioceses need to be equally active, overseeing, sponsoring and coordinating the various ministries, programs and outreach activities, and providing the services and ministries that unite and synergize the parishes. Missions, continuing education, and inter-Orthodox activities are primarily diocesan programs and ministries. These kinds of activities are at the heart of evangelism, missionary outreach, and the revitalization of existing parishes. They flow from, and back to, the Eucharistic community. But this all takes financial resources.
One of the areas that concerns me the most is the difficult plight of so many of our clergy, as well as our dioceses. So many priests are just scraping by financially, having to work outside jobs, their wives having to work to provide insurance. There are some, I have heard, even on food stamps. This is shameful for our church! Most clergy choose to sacrifice financially for the sake of the Church, one way or the other. How many missions and small parishes have the priest as the major donor? How many missions and parishes have to make a choice between a living wage for the priest and a building? It is admirable and praiseworthy to sacrifice; but it has to be voluntary. And it has to be voluntary on the part not only of the priest, but of his wife as well. But involuntary poverty is a different story. Our clergy are well educated, and deserve to be treated with respect. This includes how they are paid. In order to effectively grow the missions and ministries, not only does the priest need to paid, but there need to be funds to support the work of the ministries within the parish community. This should come from the parish itself, not outside funding.
Closely related to this is the situation of so many of our dioceses. The dioceses are radically under-funded, some to the extent that the bishop is not even receiving much beyond a nominal stipend, and hardly a living wage. Not to mention that there is almost no money for programs, services, and other ministries. Some dioceses can not afford a secretary or a deacon for the bishop, much less do anything else. In other words, the dues system has left us almost bankrupt and partially paralyzed.
But, what if we envision another model. A model of the diocese where it returns funds to the parishes, alleviates the financial burden of a mortgage, substantially funds missions, and adequately funds ministries. There are at least three dioceses in this Church that do that: the South, the West and Midwest, all in different ways. In the South and the West, the diocese is operated, partially, like a bank, taking deposits and loaning money, giving grants, and guarantying mortgage payments while limiting the parish’s payment to 25% of its income. It is a vision of parishes helping parishes, through the coordination of the Diocese.
This rests on a foundation of a system of tithing. It can only work if people are tithing to the parish, then the parish to the diocese. Ideally, the diocese should tithe to the central administration. We must consider this model for church funding. What is critically important in this is that this model develops and affects the parishes first and foremost. They are the context for our life in the Church, and all the local ministries. Then the dioceses also benefit, as the parishes develop; and they will have adequate funding to support deanery and diocesan wide ministries, as well as the central administration. It will take time to transition to tithing. But it is the right way to support our Church. If we claim to be Orthodox Christians, then we must truly be Orthodox. That only means one thing: to conform ourselves to Christ through obedience to the Gospel and commitment to living according to the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers. This is another aspect of what it means to surrender to God, and learn obedience to His will. It also means that we must reject the wisdom and values of this world, and live by the teachings of the Gospel. If we are within the Church, then we need to conform to it. We cannot be Orthodox Christians on our own terms. The world will hate us, feel judged and condemned by us, if we do not conform to it. And we will be reviled, rejected and persecuted in return. But if we are Christians, what are we to expect? Nothing but the cross. By our lives and convictions we show the world around us that there is another way that leads to true happiness and the healing of the soul. We can clearly see that the way of the world leads to death, to brokenness and despair. The way of Jesus Christ leads to healing, happiness and eternal life. This means that in the midst of this secular society, we stand for a way of life and values that are often the opposite of what is politically correct. First, we believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We stand for the integrity and sanctity of marriage, of one man to one woman, to last a lifetime. We stand for the integrity and wholeness of the family, of however many generations. We stand for the protection and value and the sanctity of human life from conception to a person’s last breath. We stand for the values of chastity and virginity, striving for purity of soul and body, a chaste marriage allowing no adultery; and the chaste integrity of intimate friendship between men and between women. We value the monastic life of commitment to Christ in community, in non-acquisitiveness, virginity and self-renunciation. These values show how we, as Orthodox Christians, value each person as beautiful and unique, and worthy of love and respect; and we value the uniqueness of the male and female.
There are thousands of people in our three countries on this continent that are thirsting for the stability and integrity of Orthodoxy. Let us make sure that they can not only hear our message, but that we also live up to its challenge.
We must make our stand known in the public arena. We are called to be like yeast, to leaven the whole lump of dough. We are like spice that flavors the food. We are called to be the fragrance of the presence of the Kingdom of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the midst of this corrupt world. The only way we can do that is to strive to quiet our minds and our hearts, to stop the clamor of our thoughts, and to listen, as Matushka Julianna Schmemann called us, to that “still small voice” which will lead us according to the will of God.