To the 46th Annual Assembly of the
Diocese of the Midwest
October 1-3, 2007
The Lord Said,
“Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand. Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be MY disciple.”
Reverend Father, Delegates, honored Guests, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
Several years ago, in my annual report I described diocesan life using the metaphor of a roller coaster ride – hills and valleys, highs and lows, successes and failures, joys and disappointments. Fortunately, that metaphor in terms of the life of our beloved Diocese of the Midwest, in my estimation, is no longer applicable, except perhaps in the feeling attained at the end of the roller coaster ride, after the ascents and descents, when one is again on level ground and coasting, in anticipation of the next adventure. We have but to read the excellent reports of the Chancellor and Deans to see that there is indeed stability in the Diocese, in our parishes and missions, and that we are striving faithfully, with God’s help, to make our Diocese the best that she can be. I will refer to these reports later.
In anticipation of this Assembly, returning once again to the Cleveland Deanery, I was excited by the fact that it is being hosted by three parishes: Archangel Michael in Broadview heights, Holy Trinity in Parma and St Theodosius in the Tremont Section of Cleveland. I should like to focus on the three parish temples, on the beauty that they share, but also on the unique differences or attributes that distinguishes each of them.
Holy Trinity’s temple, with its imposing architectural elements, both modern and traditional, and its beautiful scheme of iconography, is a new edifice, its consecration occurring only about ten years ago.
Archangel Michael’s temple is around three decades old, recently expanded and initially incorporating many appointments from the old church in Cleveland such as the iconostasis as well as the main cupola on its roof. The cupola crowns the temple and stands as a symbol of legacy and continuity. The interior of the temple boasts a gorgeously carved iconstasis and the whole temple has been, for lack of a better word, “transfigured” by beautiful iconography.
St Theodosius Cathedral parish takes pride in its temple – an imposing edifice of superb architecture which has stood as a monument to Orthodoxy for the better part of 100 years. It has recently undergone extensive renovation and refurbishing, achieving a beauty which, in my estimation, greatly exceeds the original expectations.
Every parish or mission community, whether building, expanding or refurbishing can look to one of these examples. They each possess in their own way a newness, a freshness – an image of a corresponding spiritual renewal.
My friends, months ago, in anticipation of this 46th Diocesan Assembly, I had determined that my report to you would concentrate on Diocesan life, on the successes, joys, and the things that we seem “to be doing right.” My intention was simply to acknowledge the ongoing crisis affecting the Orthodox Church in America, but with anticipation that the problems were not only being addressed but were being solved, promising happier days ahead. Finally, we could see a light at the end of the tunnel, maybe still a long way off, but definitely present. O foolish, foolish man that I am! Before beginning this report I read that of last year, again and again. I am loath to say that with changes in dates, and some minor adjustments, I could easily give that report again, now, one year, a whole year later. There is still no light at the end of the tunnel; the tunnel has become longer and has evolved into a maze, becoming evermore complex and convoluted. If the details of this ongoing saga were part of a surreal fantasy or science fiction adventure it could almost be entertaining, but my brothers and sisters, we are dealing with reality – a reality so dark and twisted that it challenges our very imagination – that can be described only as tragic and unthinkable. It pains me to report that since we assembled in Palatine last year, despite “official” proclamations of progress, improvements and optimism, in my estimation things have only gotten worse, and there is every indication that the situation will worsen. Unless there are drastic changes, and I will elaborate further on, we are on a collision course with disaster. So, obvious to most, the scandal has a profound impact on the life of our Diocesan Church and every parish, mission, monastery and institution within her – whether we like to admit it or not. And to pretend otherwise is to be in denial and to be out of touch with reality. As I have stated on many other occasions, souls are at stake!
I have mentioned that, thankfully, the roller coaster analogy doesn’t really apply anymore to the life of the Midwest, but, unfortunately, it most definitely applies to my life. The crisis and scandal have affected me greatly. Mine is a soul in distress. I feel compelled to bare it to you, my beloved, not to elicit from you sympathy or pity, but rather your understanding of one who has often described himself as sitting too high for his own good, or for anyone else’s for that matter. I began this report confessing my feeling of inadequacy. I must also apologize for the lack of coherence in this report. Even my sense of order and logical progression has become challenged as of late. I am cognizant of the fact that my leadership or lack thereof has been questioned by many, but I assure you, not any more strenuously than my own questioning of it. I have never been in this position before and I have never faced such challenges during my 24 years of episcopal ministry. I have often been nearly overcome by this feeling of inadequacy and I am painfully aware of my sinfulness, ineptitude, and deficiencies. Because of this acceptance of reality, I have sought counsel from trusted and greatly respected people – both clergy and laity. Very often the opinions are miles apart, and the process of discernment continues. Sometimes I feel like Reb Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “...on the other hand...but on the other hand...” Finally, I come to the conclusion, as did Tevye, “There is no other hand.” I will make this conclusion known to you later.
My dears, I confess to you that this crisis has been for me, more and more fraught with temptation: the temptation to be unrighteously judgemental; the temptation to condemn; the temptation to discard objectivity, to discard personal values, to betray noble motives; to become indifferent, even despondent, to despair.
I’ve often stated that in our little OCA, where many people know many others and have had longstanding relationships with them, we have largely failed in learning how to agree to disagree. I’ve used the example of a most unfortunate exchange; regarding not concepts or points, but personalities:
The first person says:
“You do not agree with me.
That means you are not with me.
That means you don’t like me.
That means you are against me.
That means you’re out to get me.
That means you are attacking me.
That means I have to destroy you.”
The Second person – should reply:
“No, it means I don’t agree with you. That’s all. Let’s have a cup of coffee and discuss it, and maybe you’ll convince me, or at least we might be able to reach some compromise.”
But, my friends, our reality has shown that the exchange would not take place. The second person would never have been given the opportunity to respond, and the attack by the first person, with the motive of character assassination would begin. And, my sisters and brothers, there would be no opportunity for discussion, for dialog, or for compromise. This scenario was repeated again and again and continues today and has become the basis for promoting personal agendas and lusting after power and authority. Is this noble; is it righteous; is it Christian? Can it ever be justifiable as being “for the good of the Church?” God forbid! And may He help us all, because this is how we’ve been operating in the Holy Synod and Central Church Administration for years, and we are slow to adopt an alternative.
I beg your indulgence as I quote from last year’s report concerning failures:
“The crisis facing our Church today is not theological; it is one of ecclesiology and how we have failed to live it, it is one of proper administration. It is not our hope in the Gospel and the Lord it proclaims that we lack – rather, it is the failure of the Church to administer herself effectively so as to proclaim that Lord and salvation in Him. And in terms of administration and governance, we must begin by admitting our failure. I have on numerous occasions confessed to you my personal failure, and do so again, taking responsibility for not doing more to help bring this crisis to an end.
The reality, apart from the why's and wherefore's, the who and the when, is that each level of administration has failed. Is there anyone who can effectively debate this? This is reality, and it is a sad one! His Beatitude has not yet succeeded in resolving this crisis. The Holy Synod has failed to resolve it, or even to address it satisfactorily; the Metropolitan Council has failed (although we applaud their most recent efforts to act responsibly). The Administration as a whole has failed. Most dioceses have failed even to address the crisis. The reality is that no one is exempt from this failure. If we are to deal with this crisis effectively, we must begin with this reality – not in accordance with our hopes, our dreams, our wishes, our preferences, our delusions, our set of villains or heroes, victims or abusers – but rather with reality. The reality is that we have failed, and given the scope and complexity of the crisis, we have failed miserably!
But if our acceptance of reality causes us to be sad, then there is hope, because we have the capability of repentance, of change. Is this not at the very heart of the Gospel we proclaim?”
My friends, these words were written one year ago! What, essentially has changed? Granted, some players have been eliminated at Syosset, and others added. I feel sorry for the new administrative team. It seems that they are not provided with any direction, largely because the “director” still chooses to reside in another state, in defiance of the Canons and the OCA Statute. The Metropolitan Council has acted admirably, but their decisions have been disregarded. It is painful for me to address the fate of the Special Commission, so I will refer you to Father Vladimir Berzonsky’s report. However, I will share with you a portion of His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN’S letter of September 18, 2007, in which he accepts my resignation from the special commission, along with those of Archpriests Vladimir Berzonsky and John Reeves.
“While I understand the frustration that you and others feel with the pace of the progress in our common purpose of restoring the integrity of the OCA, I must confess my deep disappointment that you have continued to alienate yourself from the very process of reform. When I appointed you to chair the Committee, it was my hope you could be a force for uniting the Church in a common goal. However, the result has been anything but unity. We have become polarized over issues that have nothing to do with our spiritual mission or doctrine. Rather, the focus has become who gets to decide what and who is compromised and who is not. You have missed a golden opportunity to help lead us closer to renewal and for that, I am deeply saddened. Hopefully, the new committee that I will appoint to continue your work will have more success.”
I invite you to analyze those statements for yourselves. My only comment at this time is that all we wanted was to continue our work – unimpeded – but our efforts were constantly frustrated, precluding any semblance of “success.”
Out of fear that I may be depressing you as much as I am depressing myself, I should like to speak again about our Diocesan Church. Despite the menacing shadow of crisis and scandal, I want to emphasize that so many good things are happening in our communities. I hope everyone has carefully read the deanery Reports, the Missions committee Report, and the Parish Health Ministry Report. They tell of youth camps, late vocations, seminarian support, charities, educational programs, property upkeep and beautification projects, Marriage Enrichment Seminars, Choral Concerts, FOCA Activities and events, community outreach, parish retreats, greeters ministries, soup kitchens, food and clothing drives for the needy, family festivals, stewardship workshops, support for overseas missions, support for the Hogar Rafael orphanage in Guatemala and Project Mexico, parish bookstores and coffee houses, building of new temples and their consecrations, tremendous improvements at St John’s Monastery and a new home for Presentation of the Virgin Monastery, etc. etc. This just illustrates that our parishes, missions and monastic communities are doing what they are supposed to be doing. When I get down, I just look at the beautiful, new iconostasis at Christ the Savior Church at the Chancery, and I receive instant encouragement and hope.
Our Parish Health Ministry has been very successful and its work must continue and we must provide necessary funding. Quoting from the report:
“ To our knowledge reaction has been almost universally positive… ‘A breath of fresh air’, ‘a fine resource’ and ‘the web-based tools are a big help’ have been common words of encouragement.”
Glory to God for all of these blessings and sincere gratitude and a tip of the klobuk to all who make these “successes” possible through their dedicated efforts requiring time, talents, resources, and most of all, their love.
In compiling the prayer for the health of our Church for the special day of prayer and fasting and repeated earlier today at our service for the beginning of this Assembly, I made references to hierarchs and others who have gone before us and to their vision for a united Orthodox witness to the North American Continent, and that we may be restored to that same vision which unfortunately we have allowed to be diffused and to fade into obscurity. Among those visionaries is our own Archbishop JOHN of thrice blessed memory. On Bright Wednesday of this year we observed the 25th Anniversary of his falling asleep in the Lord. May his memory be eternal.
My Brothers and Sisters, I began this report by quoting from the 14th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel, quoting the Lord Jesus who asks two questions: the first regarding the building of a tower and the second regarding the waging of war of one king against another. Both address the need for prudent assessment of the situation and careful planning at the beginning of each project and certainly along the way. Failure to do so, in the first instance is to invite mockery, (“this man began to build and was not able to finish.”) and in the second case feasibility and the possibility of negotiation in order to avoid defeat and destruction, (“…while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.”) Both examples are given after the Lord’s “hard saying”, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26) This implies selfless sacrifice.
The first example, the building of a tower, can be applied to the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America – the gift of autocephaly. It began on a good foundation, but we who came after did not build on it wisely. The second example can be applied to the crisis. Instead of recognizing and confronting the real enemy – Satan, the father of lies, others were challenged, the Gospel set aside, and the wisdom of this world was sought after, without determination of any “conditions of peace,” of “give and take” so that good can be accomplished.
Returning to last year’s report, there are three statements that I wish to review:
#1. “As to the convening of an All American Council in 2008, in accordance with the provision of the Statute, I am totally in favor of this.” No Change. One year later I remain in favor of this, and it looks like it will happen. But I must stress that it must be a real council and not a Toronto #2.
#2. “As to the withholding of assessments to the Central Church Administration and the placing of these funds in escrow, after giving this much thought and prayer, I find myself opposed to this…” Obviously this has changed, although in theory I am still opposed to the idea of withholding. It was an act of desperation; I feel that we were backed into a corner and were forced to take this drastic measure. It may seem ironic that the diocese that was always so faithful in the timely remittance of the monthly assessment payments and out of consideration even provided early payment if there was a cash flow problem in Syosset would now do otherwise. But, my friends, I submit that we continue to be faithful, but presently with greater cognizance of good stewardship. We remember the servant who hid his master’s talent in the ground. Need I say more? Our Diocesan Council members (and I am honored to be numbered with them) debated and considered over and over again the ramifications of such a drastic action and bent over backwards to give the benefit of a doubt. Then somehow, mysteriously, we agreed to a series of monthly benchmarks, giving the Central Church Administration adequate time in each instance to respond to our expectations. The first one – a special meeting of the Holy Synod to be held in July – was easy. The check was delivered. The second benchmark, the release of the report of the Special Commission, even in a redacted form, and the unimpeded continuation of the work of the Special Commission – that should have been easy also, because both were mandated twice by the Metropolitan Council and twice ratified by the Holy Synod. These two points constituted the proverbial “fly in the ointment.” I provided a courtesy letter to His Beatitude informing him that we would resume our work and implying that proceeding “without interference” would mean the restoration of Mr Gregory Nescott to the Commission. His Beatitude’s letter of reply stated unequivocally that neither was acceptable to him. This was a big mistake. I refer again to Luke 14:32, “Or else , while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” I submit that had he permitted the Commission to resume its work, even in merely formulating a gameplan to be submited to the Synod later this month, and had stated that he might be inclined to reconsider his dismissal of Mr. Nescott, I would have signed the assessment checks for August and September and directed that they be sent to Syosset. There would be no withholding, no cashflow problems in Syosset, and a definite boost in morale across the board in the whole church. Instead, no hint of good diplomacy, and no “conditions of peace.”
Before I come to the third point, I urge you and all our faithful to rejoice in the good things happening in the Diocese of the Midwest. We have a steady, yearly influx of seminarians to both seminaries. We try to assist them as well as we can. I am grateful to the clergy and lay leadership in our communities. I wish to thank our Diocesan Chancellor, Archpriest John Zdinak, for his wise consul, his patience with me and his constant encouragement. I wish to express my gratitude to our Deans: Father Thaddeus Wojcik, Father Thomas Mueller, Father John Steffaro, Father Andrew Yavornitzky and Father Timothy Sawchak. I also wish to express my appreciation for the years of service and wise counsel of Father Daniel Rentel, who decided to step down as Dean of the Columbus Deanery. Deacon Joseph Matusiak continues to do his multi-faceted job and continues to put up with my foibles and blunders. Mr. Rob Koncel, our Diocesan Treasurer, Father Luke Nelson, our bookkeeper and our Finance Committee members: Dr. Dick West, Mr. John Sedor and Mr. Sam D’Fantis continue to work their “magic” in keep our Diocese afloat, financially speaking. Father John Baker, as property manager, does an exemplary job with our buildings and grounds, although he finally gave up trying to keep my desk and office neat and presentable. And working with all these people and all of you people is a real joy and blessing for me. Thank you! And I will always be grateful for your prayerful support.
And now to the third and most difficult point. Last year in Palatine I stated in my report to you, “As to the resignation of Metropolitan HERMAN, I do not want this to occur. I want him to solve the problems and put an end to the crisis, but with full involvement and assistance of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, as it should be.”
My friends, my heart goes out to His Beatitude, and I mean that sincerely. I cannot imagine the pressure he is under as he endures bad press, hurtful and insulting criticisms and even an on-line petition for his resignation. I honestly wanted him to oversee a process for discovering the truth, making it known and devising a plan to restore integrity and confidence in the Central Church Administration. I hoped against hope for this to happen, but in reality, a year later, we are in worse shape than ever, and again, it promises only to get worse. Mistake after mistake; dysfunction upon dysfunction. I realize that I now place myself in a most vulnerable position. By all that I hold in honor, and out of duty to the Church, to the Diocese and to all of you, it is certainly no joy for me, but rather an agony, to state that I have no confidence in the leadership of His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, and with respect and out of love and concern, I ask him to step down as First Hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America in order to assuage the suffering of the Church and her people.
I am encouraged by the recent article by Archpriest John Breck which recently appeared on the OCA website from which I offer a few quotes:
“...in every tragedy, every disaster, every experience of anguish and pain, Jesus is present as the Suffering Servant and Crucified Lord. The crucified and living One not only knows our every experience, good and evil, but that He also shares in them, He takes part in those experiences to the full. In the midst of every natural disaster, just as in crises provoked by human ambition, greed, weakness, stupidity or pride, He is with us, sharing fully in that situation, assuming its consequences, and bearing its bitter fruit into eternity. God does not simply "break into" our domain of time and space on occasion, to work out some particular project or effect an astonishing miracle, as some Christian theologians would have it. Orthodoxy has always known that God "is closer to us than our own heart," that He knows, governs and participates in every aspect of our life, without exception.
“But this means as well that there is nothing that happens – no event or occasion, however tragic it may be – that does not in some mysterious (sacramental) way, serve His purpose for our salvation and the salvation of all creation. This does not mean that God creates tragedy or encourages sin. These are consequences of human freedom in a fallen world. Nevertheless, whether we can perceive it or not, there is no such consequence that God cannot and does not use for His purpose and to His glory. When it is assumed with faith, however shaky, there is ultimate meaning to all our suffering, no matter what its cause or how great its intensity. With the apostle Paul, we can have absolute confidence that our anguish "completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions," and does so by God's grace "for the sake of the Body, that is, the Church" (Col 1:24).
“Christ in His infinite mercy and compassion is present, sharing all the pain and suffering of those who are victims of natural disasters, of abuse perpetrated by those who should know better, and of their own legacy that often means ongoing depression and misery. He is present, but not merely to accompany us. Because that presence is one of suffering love, it serves also to heal, to bless, and to save us.
“… God is truly Lord and the Church into which we are called by His boundless, unqualified love is truly the Body of the Risen Christ. That living and life-giving Body is and will remain the source of salvation for us and for the cosmos itself. And we can be certain – we can bank our very life on it – that no matter how great the tragedy or how corrupting the sin, not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.”
That being said, it is time to conclude this report. There is a popular Orthodox saying that God love three’s. So for the third year in a row I conclude, rejoicing in the fact that the Diocese of the Midwest is identified with HONESTY, INTEGRITY, OPENNESS, COURAGE and HONOR. To these qualities I will add LOVE OF TRUTH. As long as we continue to work for them and cherish them, God will continue to bless our endeavors. Glory to God for all things!
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest