July 24, 2014

Looks like Met. Jonah is serious about correcting past errors

I don’t know the details of the conflict mentioned in the release below and don’t need to know. What is notable is the apology of a chief hierarch of the Church. Please, don’t post the details of the conflict. They will be deleted. Instead, be encouraged by Metropolitan Jonah’s frank apology. This is good leadership.

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Orthodox Church in America


SYOSSET, NY [OCA] – After discussions that took place at the joint session of the Lesser Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America at the Chancery here during the first week of March 2010, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah issued the following statement.

“As the Archbishop of Washington, certain matters of the dispute between the Archpriest Raymond Velencia, Pastor of Saint Matthew Church in Columbia, MD, and Kristine Koumentakos fall under our hierarchical/diocesan oversight. This has also been a serious concern within the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America. Complaints from Ms. Koumentakos were brought to the attention of the administration of the Orthodox Church in America in January 2007. An investigation by the Orthodox Church in America took place in the early part of 2007. Ms. Koumentakos protested that the investigation was incomplete and brought her concerns to the members of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council during the summer of 2007. The response to Ms. Koumentakos by the Orthodox Church in America was inadequate. During that time a private letter containing sensitive information was improperly shared with members of the Metropolitan Council.

“I apologize, on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America, to Kristine Koumentakos and to her family, for the lack of pastoral attentiveness and sensitivity to the matters at hand. The lawsuits that came about as a result of the disagreement between Ms. Koumentakos and Father Velencia were most unfortunate and should have been avoided. At this time the Orthodox Church in America is in the process of revising and updating its Policies, Standards and Procedures that address questions of alleged misconduct. Together with that there is an ongoing review of how to respond to complicated pastoral issues, conduct pastoral investigations, provide pastoral comfort and address allegations of misconduct. We will do all in our power to insure that the response and intervention in such matters of alleged misconduct will be ethical, professional and proper, as is befitting the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the teachings and canons of the Orthodox Church.”

Comments

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    orrologion says:

    It should be noted that Met. Jonah was only elected as Metropolitan of the OCA and Archbishop of the then Diocese of Washington and New York on November 12, 2008. In 2007, he was simply Abbot Jonah of the Monastery of St. John in CA.

    I think it very good he was willing to apologize for something he had no responsibility for – for a pastoral (then legal) problem he inherited and tried to manage once it had already become acrimonious, litigious and unmanageable. I hope this is a step in the direction of a more rational pastoral, legal, canonical and disciplinary resolution of the problem concerning all involved – aggrieving and aggrieved.

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    Fr. John says:

    Metr. JONAH sets a very high mark for the rest of us by taking the blame, as it were, for the controversy. This is kenotic leadership that the whole Church can look to for example; it makes it easier for us ‘in the trenches’ to act like real men and real Christians, to see our leader actually lead, laying down his life for his bride.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Clearly. the spiritual element is central to this. However, I can’t help but think that Met +Jonah’s laudable actions may engender the correct thinking about a united American Church, in that each diocese should be autonomous and not blameworthy for the acts of other dioceses. (Notice what +Jonah says about this issue being a “pastoral” concern of the Diocese of Washington –as it should be.)

    Speaking generally, the modern corporate model shows us how this could be: each diocese would have strictly defined borders and members. They would contain an episcopal assembly (i.e. a board of directors) made up of priests, abbots and laymen and be headed by a bishop who is akin to a chairman of the board. The officers (chancellor, bursar, deans, etc.) would be up for some time of selection/election by the members (a clergy=laity assembly?) and would serve specified terms, be indemnified, etc. Elections for bishops should proceed from within the diocese, perhaps a three-man slate which is submitted to the Holy Synod.

    What do you think?

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      George,

      I agree that having dioceses with well-defined borders is a good thing. But for this to happen we also need to have parishes with clearly defined borders. The absence of territorial parishes–even within a given diocese–is part of why we have the problems we have.

      If a layperson doesn’t like Fr A or parish B, he can shop around for a parish more to his liking. This places parishes, and priests, in competition with each other.

      Most priests know of instances when they’ve had to deliver hard news to a layperson–no I won’t give you communion, no under the circumstances you can’t be married in the Church, etc.–only to see the person (or persons) go to another priest and get a different answer.

      To be sure there are times when the priest is unreasonable. But even with an unreasonable priest, the ability of the laity to go to another parish only hides the problem

      At all levels of the Church transparency requires consistency. It is not a lack of transparency that has done the most harm but the embrace of a consumer model of parish life.

      So yes, let us have dioceses with clear boundaries–but let’s begin with territorial parishes.

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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        Michael Bauman says:

        Fr. Gregory, it is not the territorial boundaries that are the solution or the lack of them that is the problem. It is the self-will of those involved.

        Territorial borders will never, in and of themselves, solve the problem. It comes back to obedience and spiritual formatation at all levels.

        Right now ‘bishop shopping’ is possible only because there is no clear, unified understanding of what it means to be Orthodox and how to live in the Holy Tradition. Neither is there any clear and steadfast direction, especially from our Patriarchs who are so far away.

        Reasons for having a local church. But we like our protestant approach to things don’t we?

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          Michael,

          You are of course correct when you say that “Territorial borders will never, in and of themselves, solve the problem.” And your call for sound spiritual formation and “steadfast direction” from the episcopate is also spot on.

          That said, however, I think that stability is part and parcel of what you (rightly) say is needed. Territorial boundaries will no more than make us good Christians than not committing adultery will make for a happy marriage. I would argue however that without stability there can be no fidelity.

          Until priest and congregation realize that they are “stuck” with each other and have to work out their differences, however, there will be no spiritual formation. Formation requires stability and as long as a layperson and priest shop–or a priest can be confident that his “troublesome” parishioners will eventually just go away–this formation won’t happen.

          The real work of spiritual formation, like the real work of monastic life and of marriage, only begins when I have given up the option to walk out when I don’t like the way things are going.

          To be sure there are bad priests and bad parishes. But in my experience we have bad parishes because of the hyper-fluidity of congregational membership. Put another way, the wicked (laity AND clergy) tend to gravitate toward each other.

          I’m open to other ideas here, but I think also as we allow people the ability to opt out of a parish, or at least to opt out without cost or consequence, things will only get worse.

          In Christ,

          +FrG

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            Michael Bauman says:

            Fr. Gregory, there are times when changing parishes, even jurisdictions is the only healthy thing to do, but it should be an exception rather than the rule.

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        George Michalopulos says:

        very good points, Fr. words for me to ponder. Of course, it’s almost a chicken-and-egg type of thing: Parish-hopping is acceptable because of lack of canonical norms. Lack of canonical norms happens because of no episcopal accountability. Episcopal accountability happens because there is no united Church, etc.

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    Andrew says:

    Here is a question: When was the last time the primate of any jurisdiction in America apologized for any wrong doing or mistake? Honestly, I cannot think of any. Has the GOA publicly apologized for any of its clergy abuse cases? During the recent OCA scandals there may have been vague calls forgiveness but I do not think there were direct apologies.

    Met. Jonah’s words are refreshing because they reflect a new model of leadership.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Is it enough? Is it real? Is it sufficient?

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Time will tell but my sense is that it is real. Sufficient? To whom much is given much is required. Sufficiency, like anything requiring discipline, has a bar that is raised whenever you reach it.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    It seems that, in human terms, being a bishop is a no win situation. God bless and strengthen them all.

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    orrologion says:

    Fr., the more detrimental opt outs are apostasy and abandonment. Apostasy is when someone converts to another faith; full abandonment is when someone simply stops practicing a faith, any faith. However, the most insidious opt out to the health of the Church has been the one-way abandonment.

    One-way abandonment allows a person to stop practicing the faith in any regular, meaningful way, but to continue being treated as a member in good standing. Such one-ways are given seats on parish and archdiocesan councils, honors, influential positions, and voting or veto privileges determining the goals and activities of the parish.

    You once wrote a post or comment that divided parish members into a three groups. It identified the spiritual states of those constituencies, but, most importantly, tied those states to the level of influence those members should be allowed to have on the Church.

    That is, nominal Orthodox should be welcomed, but they should not be setting policy and priorities for the parish. Ethnic, Pascha-only members should be reached out to pastorally and greeted with the joy of the Resurrection, but they should not be on the parish council – even if they write big checks. The same goes with new converts – they aren’t stable or grounded enough to handle the responsibilities (and, too often, offense) of leadership in the Church – and those committing manifest sin (e.g., cohabiting, publicly flouting the teaching of the Church).

    This is a roundabout way of saying that stopping ‘jurisdiction shopping’ won’t stop ‘church shopping’, the ‘drifting away’ of members, acculturation leading to turning one’s back on ethnically-defined churches, and apostasy. In a multicultural, religiously free society, there is always the option to leave. These latter forces have had far more effect on our parishes than the “hyper-fluidity of congregational membership” leaving for other Orthodox jurisdictions.

    I would place the problem at the feet our churches’ penchant for managing parishes as if they were voluntary associations rather than the Church of Christ. That is, parishes are managed to served ‘our people’ and not ‘their people’. That can mean the Greeks start their own parish rather than attend the Russian parish, that the Romanians start their own parish as soon as possible, or it can mean focusing on non-Orthodox Christian suburbanites and the college-educated over ‘ethnics’ and non-Christian Africans and Asians, Jews and Buddhists.

    Each parish is called to be the Church of Christ for all people in that area, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, regardless of ethnicity or language. The ‘stuck with each other’ mentality has to regain its sense of diversity and breadth. It’s not enough to serve a well-defined demographic (‘ours’) deeply leaving all others to fend for themselves. It isn’t appropriate for the Church of Christ to disregard the needs of those in its region in favor of the linguistic, liturgical, cultural and aesthetic preferences of the members of the voluntary religious organization. Pastoral ‘mixing’ of traditions and liturgical practices from other local churches must be promoted, outside of new immigrant communitieis a lingua franca must be used on Sundays and major Feasts that the vast majority can understand (including potential inquirers and visitors in the neighborhood – no good using English in the barrio or Chinatown or Quebec City), but other languages must be sprinkled throughout the services and the availability of services in other languages throughout the week must also be promoted (e.g., Greek or Slavonic Liturgies every Saturday morning and on national feasts; Spanish- or Georgian-language Akathists or Vespers during the week; etc.)

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      Chrys says:

      Amen! Amen! On all points – Amen!
      I particularly support your comments in the 4th paragraph regarding the involvement of various types of members. Some parishes, to be sure, may be too small to have this applied properly – but we can recognize them for what they really are: mission parishes. Converts need usually proper formation before assuming significant responsibility; of course, there are always exceptions, as there have always been. (St. Ambrose, anyone?) And one of my pet peeves: people who attend infrequently (C&P Orthodox) should also be recognized for what they usually are: visitors. Even if they write big checks. (But then leadership in the Church can not be bought without selling its integrity.) Learning to live with those around your is the lesson of family – which, as St. Paul often notes, is what the Church is. If we are blessed enough to participate in the resurrection to come, we will not get to choose those with whom we are raised. In fact, we must learn to love the saints here below, or we will never enjoy the love of the saints above. As Father noted, we have allowed the Church to be turned into a cafeteria offering – which is really how “we” want it – and are shocked to find out that we have lost the power of authentic Tradition, of which Michael speaks.
      Again, Amen!

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        George Michalopulos says:

        Orrologion, your comment, the “Each parish is called to be the Church of Christ for all the people in [a local] area” is both the best description of what the Church is and the best prescription for what ails us. It has escaped my notice as well. How can we effect it? I don’t know, however I definately think we are probably going in the wrong direction.

        Permit me to elaborate: the “sensitivity” which the organizers of the episcopal assemblies are famous for shows that perhaps we are putting our worst foot forward. Why should bishops who manifest Christ –who let us not forget was a courageous man who voluntarily suffered a horrible and shameful death–have to worry about “senisitivity”? Are they sissies? Christ and the Apostles weren’t. Neither were the martyrs, many of whom suffered agonies in the arenas of the Roman Empire. We are better than they? Is an emphasis on the diptychs what they’re all about? Instead, we and they (I’m not letting the laity off the hook here) should be serious about going into every city of North America and “being the Church.” If that means worshipping in a Haitian lean-to, a corrugated-tin shack in Nicaragua, or an abandoned building in an American ghetto, then so be it.

        We’ve lost so many Orthodox from several generations quite possibly because we have not “been” the Church.

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