OCA Chancellor issues letter to clergy

The Very Rev. Alexander Garklavs, who began his duties as the chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America in early July 2007, issued his first letter to the Church’s clergy on Friday, July 20.

The text of the letter reads as follows.

‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor’ [Romans 12.9-10].

‘You have given great examples of unity and strength to the rest of the brethren. You have taught mightily to fear God, firmly to adhere to Christ; you have taught the people to be joined to their bishops in danger, brethren not to be separated from brethren in persecution, that a united harmony not only can in no way be overcome, but, at the same time, whatever is asked by all, the God of peace grants to peacemakers’ [St. Cyprian of Carthage].

“Two weeks have passed since my official appointment as Chancellor of The Orthodox Church in America, but I have been anticipating writing this letter to you, my brother clergy, for some time. The Church is presently going through a grave crisis. In time, with God’s help, we will get beyond it. One way or another, the crisis concerns all of us but the Central Church Administration here in Syosset is in the heart of the storm. The Chancery personnel, our roles and our tasks, are all being reviewed, restructured and redirected. Some have left and new personnel will soon be arriving. These changes have been difficult and adjusting to them has affected people’s demeanor. Yet the people who do work here continue to do so in the spirit of Christian discipleship, not growing ‘weary in well doing’ and trying to do good to all, ‘especially to those who are of the household of faith’ [Galatians 6.10].

“At the top of the list of things to review is the Chancellor’s role. A good deal of reflection and dialogue has already gone into this ongoing process. One fundamental part of the job, that is clear from the outset, is that it will involve addressing issues concerning the clergy of the Church. It is therefore appropriate that this letter is my first official communication.

“On the whole The Orthodox Church in America has been spared from having to go through the kind of sufferings and persecutions that other Orthodox Churches have had to endure. We have not seen calamities such as the destruction of church properties, confiscation of liturgical items, imprisonment of clergy, upheavals of deportation and exile. There were serious problems that surfaced in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution and also during the years immediately preceding and following the granting of Autocephaly in 1970. However, the Lord has providentially withheld this most difficult crisis until now. The fact that our Church exists in a land of great freedom and abundant comforts only adds to the overwhelming complexity of the crisis. Is it a case of singular malfeasance? Is it corporate ineptitude at the administrative level? Is it a matter of finding and rebuking the guilty party/parties? Is it a canonical issue involving pastoral ethics? Is it a legal matter pertaining to tax-exempt status and liability? Professional legal advice has been sought, which has been praised by some as unquestionably necessary and condemned by others as absolutely useless. It is certainly a spiritual crisis, but who does it most concern: our hierarchs, our chancellors, our theologians, the Metropolitan Council, the ‘Syosset’ staff, the entire Church? Needless to say, financial contributions to the national Church are at an all-time low, and our other ecclesial institutions have also been adversely affected. We now see a proliferation of self-styled pundits, offering diverse opinions, many being passionate pleas for immediate action and judgment.

“There is, of course, need for action and judgment. But let us remember who we are. We ‘are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ [1 Peter 2.9]. Any action or judgment must be preceded by heartfelt prayer, by fasting, by reading Scripture, by study of Church Tradition and by making every effort to abide in the spirit of Christian love. ‘He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes’ [1 John 2.10-11]. The complexity of the crisis does not prevent us from recognizing that we are dealing with issues of Church Order, in other words, with pastoral-theological issues of authority and accountability. Formulating these issues, which directly affect every aspect of our Church’s life, will require much spiritual discernment and diligence. You who are parish priests and deacons, who are on the front lines of Church life, will play a most significant role in setting the course of the future of The Orthodox Church in America. But this will not be accomplished by fomenting cynicism and dissent, by wasting precious time in judging others or by engaging in unproductive chatter.

“St. Paul sometimes used the concept of spiritual warfare and military imagery to make a point. As clergy we are soldiers in Christ’s army. Like soldiers, we are under obedience and we are held to codes of honor and fortitude, even if at times the officers are indifferent, the politicians self-serving and the people we defend unappreciative. Like all soldiers, we stand together. Without that esprit de corps we are doomed to fail and therefore we need to preserve this sense of brotherhood now more than ever.

“There is much anticipation about the All-American Council, which is to meet in August, 2008. Thoughtful planning is underway and more information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I hope to be able to reach out to you and to hear your thoughts. We are at the threshold of a holy and great opportunity. We proceed to face the challenges before us knowing that Our Chief Shepherd and Lord Jesus Christ, who is kind and merciful, ‘establishes us’ and ‘has commissioned us,’ and ‘has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee’ [1 Corinthians 1.22].”