July 10, 2012

Metropolitan Jonah’s Resignation

“God has so composed the body…that the members may have the same care for one another.” (1 Cor 12:25)

Up to this point in the “Chancellor’s Diary” I’ve always separated scriptural reflections from reporting on events, but today I’ll combine them. Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation came as a shock to many, and since I was (and am) closely involved with him and the events of the past few days some comment is needed.

I love St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. They were written in the early 50’s of the first century AD and are a precious—and unvarnished—record of community life in the early church.  Paul is up to his elbows in the messiness of a fractious body of people dealing with factions, arrogance, competition, greed, sexual immorality, liturgical disorder, questionable teachings, criticism over his authority. And all this in a group of maybe a hundred people. Probably less. Yet somehow they have accepted something of the gospel message of Christ. They were baptized. They celebrated the Eucharist. So in spite of the ugliness he sees among them he doesn’t throw up his hands and walk away saying they’re hopeless. He believes in them. He continues to believe that they can be saints, that they can be the body of Christ, bearing one another’s burdens and following “a still more excellent way.”

And I believe in the Orthodox Church in America. Is it an idol? It could be, but I don’t think so. I see people of good will working out of their love for Christ. Priests, bishops, laity—doing the messy work of keeping our little institution focused on a vision of doing God’s work in North America, in the Orthodox way we have received, as best as we can, calling each other to account in a spirit of truth and love. But that creates its own dilemmas.

My own natural instinct is to say everything. Be open. Reject underhanded ways. I am allergic to Byzantine intrigue. But that’s not always the loving response. Have you ever had someone say to you, “I really do love you…but here are all the things that are wrong with you”? They may be true, but it doesn’t feel very good. Or those faults may only be half the story and only a person who really does love us can see that other half. It’s even worse if they then go and tell everyone else the laundry list of our failings. And worse still when they do this in a spirit of pious self-righteousness. Real love should be better than that. Even corporations treat personnel matters confidentially, so why shouldn’t the body of Christ? Paul was able to look at the conflict-ridden Corinthians and see a lot more than their failings: because he loved them.  Beyond their problems he saw their spiritual gifts. “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Cor 1:4).

It saddens me when I sense that we have ceased to believe we really are brothers and sisters in Christ. It is all too easy, especially in administrative matters, to morph from Body of Christ, members of one another, into “a religious not-for-profit corporation of the State of New York.” 

We have come to see 1 Corinthians 13 as a trite text for weddings, but are any words more appropriate than these in facing difficult events among us? “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-6).

Please pray for all of us who have to paddle our way as well as we know how, relying on each other and on God’s guidance, through the rocks and rapids of the administrative responsibilities of church life. Pray for Metropolitan Jonah, Archbishop Nathaniel, Bishop Michael, Bishop Alexander, all the bishops, the Metropolitan Council, the OCA’s officers and staff. Most of the faithful people of the Orthodox Church in America will be oblivious to the changes now occurring. They simply want to go to church, say their prayers, lead a Christian life and bear their own burdens. But for those who do follow with interest the OCA’s developments, please make it more than gossip from the sidelines.