October 25, 2014

Rod Dreher: How to govern a Church: a case study

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

I want to contrast the way the institutional Catholic Church is struggling to deal with its problem bishops, versus the way the Orthodox Church in America (my church) has done it recently. It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but I probably need to: this is not an argument for why Orthodoxy is more true than Catholicism. It is only a comment about administration.

A church is both a human and a divine institution. Because of its human element, there will always be sin among its people, including its leadership. As the famous saying goes, if you find a perfect church, join it, but know that the minute you yourself walk in the door, it will cease to be perfect any longer. It is hopelessly unrealistic to expect that the clergy of any church will always be free from sin. What matters is how those in authority deal with that sin once they become aware of it. The Catholic scandal is not really over priests molesting children, but over bishops who became aware of it refusing to deal effectively and justly with the sins and crimes.

When I joined the OCA, it was embroiled in a very serious scandal at its summit. The then-Metropolitan, one Herman, stood accused of fraud and corruption, possibly criminal. As I understand it, the scandal was primarily financial, but it was a messy one indeed. There had been longstanding attempts by concerned laity and priests to compel the Holy Synod to deal forthrightly with this cancer growing in the church, but they kept kicking the problem down the field. Whether out of weakness, naivete, loss of nerve, or whatever, the Synod of Bishops, who had the authority to act, did not. Meanwhile, the laity and some prominent voices in the clergy grew ever angrier.

Note well: they did not want to change church doctrine. They wanted rather the Metropolitan to live by church doctrine, which included not committing fraud, and involving the church in potentially criminal activity (btw, the OCA just released the executive summary of its own investigation into Herman’s corruption). They kept up the pressure in a direct way. The church really was coming apart over all this, and over the inexplicable paralysis of the Holy Synod in the face of Herman’s behavior. And then, at an anxious All-American council of bishops, priest and laity called to elect a new Metropolitan, the newly ordained Bishop Jonah was told he had to address the assembly. He had three minutes to prepare.

If you go to this item on my old Crunchy Con blog, you can find your way to an audio link of the speech Jonah gave that fateful night. I remember standing in my kitchen in Dallas listening to it. Jonah, who had only recently left the monastery of which he was abbot, spoke with a gentle but firm voice, but he said things that that landed like thunderclaps. He said the two previous Metropolitans were “corrupt,” and had “raped the church.” He said that the OCA had been without leadership for 30 years. He said that had to end, and it was going to end. He said that if the church is only about beautiful liturgy, nobody should care about it. And then he said:

“Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability. It’s not power.”

A friend of mine in the audience said as he spoke, you could feel the atmosphere in the room changing. Suddenly, people had hope, and could see the way clear. Shortly thereafter, his brother bishops elected him the next Metropolitan.

He has had a very, very difficult time trying to clean up the filthy messes his predecessors left. But his view of the primate as a servant of Christ and his people, and not as an enabler of episcopal power exercised for its own sake, and in service to lavish episcopal lifestyles, was not only the correct one, but had the power to renew a church in despair over decadence among its bishops. Jonah spoke the truth — and it changed everything. But if his were only words, and had not been accompanied by the Synod, under fire from the laity and the lower clergy, forcing Herman to resign, they would likely have made people cynical.

Words and deeds. Humility. Authority inseparable from accountability. That’s what a true servant-leader of mine or any church should be about. With great power comes great responsibility.


Source: Beliefnet.com

Comments

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    George Michalopulos says:

    I love +Jonah’s quote. Note the striking difference between the GOA hiearch for Atlanta: is the latter accepting responsibility for the sodomoite priest that attempted to assault the Marine? And then defamed that serviceman’s character?

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      pobre says:

      Father Alexios Marakis was the innocent victim of a vicious hate crime. He is no ‘sodomite,’ and the so-called Marine is no victim.

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        Michael Bauman says:

        Whether the priest was or was not an innocent victim, I cannot judge. However, the issue is proper application of Church authority. When we lack proper governance from our bishops, suspicision is thrown on all. If we had a track record of purity, uprightness and morality in our actions as well as the ability to produce prelates and clergy who are consistently well formed spiritually–there would be no question.

        If despite our best efforts, a priest went astray, then the priest would be held accounable and a public apology would be issued.

        We don’t have that. Despite Mr. Dreher’s comments to the contrary.

        The fact that Met. Jonah was the only viable candidate for the office he holds is sad beyond belief. He is young both in age and in his episcopate, he is a convert. The process of repentance for past errors and beliefs and genuine conversion to living the Orthodox tradition takes time. It takes even more time for such a man to be able to rightly divide the word of truth.

        I pray for Met. Jonah and I hope he is able, by the grace of God, to overcome all of the handicaps he has in the situations he is faced with. I expect he will to some degree achieve some measure of reform, but I do not have high hopes at this juncture.

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          pobre says:

          A surveillance tape showed the priest getting mercilessly beaten with a tire iron. The man who beat him changed his story several times even within the span of one 911 call, calling the priest a robber, a molester, and a Taliban terrorist who had yelled “Allah akhbar”. The only reason he was given a free pass for assaulting Father Alexios is because he is a criminal informant in drug cases. Clearly, this is an upstanding member of society who would never, ever lie to get out of trouble!

          Metropolitan Jonah converted in college, thirty years ago, and has two master’s degrees from seminary. How much more experience do you want him to have?

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            Geo Michalopulos says:

            pobre, if what you say is true, then why doesn’t the diocese of Atlanta pursue this case further? I would.

            The fact that the Marine beat this priest “mercilessly” begs further questions. Although I condemn such attacks, even in self-defense, the fact remains that something egregious happened to this man to make him behave in such a fashion. I’m not a lawyer, but I know that in the law there is are concepts such as “fighting words,” and “reasonable man.” It appears to me that the case against the Marine was dropped because it became apparent to both prosecution and defense attorneys that he had been provoked in an outrageous manner. Remember, if the state had a case, they would have pursued it given the nature of the beating.

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          Isa Almisry says:

          Christ is risen!

          Met. Jonah was not the only viable candidate: so too was Bishop Job of blessed memory.

          So Met. Jonah is a convert. So what?

          Time? According to whose clock? Or calendar?

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            Michael Bauman says:

            Bishop Job has reposed as you noted. He had already announced his desire to retire in short order. In retrospect (and God knew then when +Job would repose)–Met. Jonah was the only viable candidate–literally.

            Time and conversion:
            Would you prefer seasoning? Some forms of heretical thinking take deep and repeated work to overcome. Mental ascent and understanding is not the same as a healed heart. All converts suffer from such a burden. Yes, such things can and do breed genuine humility and allow for the grace of God to work powerfully. However, in my expeience, for most people actual calendar time is required for prespective and balance to be obtained. I pray that Met. Jonah has done sufficient work. We will see.

            God can overcome all of these handicaps, but they are handicaps especially when one is entering an office subject to as much temptation as chief bishop or any bishopric–especially when there is little history of support from a dynanmic and functioning Holy Synod, in fact just the opposite.

            All things work for good to those that love God, but that does not mean that the situation is ideal. Would it not have been better if all or most of the Holy Synod had been deemed worthy and possible candidates?

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            Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

            St. John Chrysostom was a convert too.

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            Isa Almisry says:

            …Michael Bauman says:
            April 6, 2010 at 1:55 AM
            Bishop Job has reposed as you noted. He had already announced his desire to retire in short order. In retrospect (and God knew then when +Job would repose)–Met. Jonah was the only viable candidate–literally.

            Isa Says:
            Since, as you noted, only God knew the date of +Job’s departure, that would not have been a factor in the Holy Synod’s decision.

            …Michael Bauman says:
            April 6, 2010 at 1:55 AM
            Time and conversion:
            Would you prefer seasoning? Some forms of heretical thinking take deep and repeated work to overcome. Mental ascent and understanding is not the same as a healed heart. All converts suffer from such a burden. Yes, such things can and do breed genuine humility and allow for the grace of God to work powerfully. However, in my expeience, for most people actual calendar time is required for prespective and balance to be obtained. I pray that Met. Jonah has done sufficient work. We will see.

            Isa says:
            Not quite sure what you are looking to see. Met. Jonah was received at the age of 18, indicating that he had begun his journey out of Protestantism and into Orthodoxy before, and has lived all his adult life (over 30 years, so nearly twice his age at conversion) in the Church. He embraced monasticism at Valaam monestary in Russia, and served as a hieromonk for a few years and an abbott for a decade before serving as an archmandrite, bishop then metropolitan in rapid succession, the only part of his resume which is lacking time.

            …Michael Bauman says:
            April 6, 2010 at 1:55 AM
            God can overcome all of these handicaps, but they are handicaps especially when one is entering an office subject to as much temptation as chief bishop or any bishopric–especially when there is little history of support from a dynanmic and functioning Holy Synod, in fact just the opposite.

            Isa says:
            Is this any worse than, say, the subservience of the Holy Governing Synod of Russia to the Autocrat of All the Russias? Under the Bolshevik yoke? The Phanar’s captivity to the Sultan and the Turkish Republic?

            There is much to be said about the “Traditional Orthodox Countries,” but, much as Kierkegaard pointed out in his “Attack on Christianity,” there is much to be said about places where, as in Met. Jonah’s jurisdiction, one has to choose to be Orthodox.

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    Dean Calvert says:

    George,

    “Leave the dead to bury their own”….

    In the turnaround business, we say “You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.”

    Episcopal Assemblies aside, we have one Orthodox primate in this country who gets it. They can do whatever they like in May, that is not going to change.

    One of the strongest arguments for Orthodox unity in this country, “unity” defined as “locally elected bishops, sitting in synod” – is that it is the ONLY way the Church will have the ability to correct itself. While unity has never been held out as a panacea, the recent problems in the OCA have proven that this system, i.e. locally elected bishops, sitting in synod, has the unique ability to cleanse itself. It may not be pretty, but it works.

    None of the jurisdictions controlled by “the Old Country” can say that – as the experience of the past few years in both the GOA and the AOCA has proven.

    May God grant Metropolitan Jonah Many Years!

    Kali Anastasi,
    Dean

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    Geo Michalopulos says:

    Dean, you’re absolutely right. That’s what I’ve been trying to say but not as effectively as you just did. It’s more than just the fact that the OCA being locally governed corrected itself –it certainly did that. The bigger question is why? One must look at the details.

    An analogy: A family is not an amorphous concept but a conglomeration of individuals, each with their own strengths. In the case of the OCA, the national church was comprised of autonomous dioceses, which as per canonical norms, cannot be interfered with by the presiding hierarch. While +Methodius and +Herman were mismanaging Syosset, the individual dioceses were humming along quite nicely. The parishes did not depend on Syosset for sustenance nor more importantly, did the dioceses. The dioceses received their funding from the parishes.

    Now contrast this with the foreign-dominated ethnic jurisdictions. The parishes send remittances directly to the national HQ, which then sends back the bulk to the diocesan auxiliaries (if any). And some back to the foreign overlords. In my opinion, it is because of this more dysfunctional quasi-top-down/foreign colonization scheme that it will be impossible for ethnic eparchies to come to grips with any internal problems.

    That is why I am forced to agree with you and other critics of the Episcopal Assembly structure: he sanctity of the individual churches tied with apron strings to the foreign patriarchates is not to be messed with. Of course, this provides an escape hatch for any and all of these bodies which is a relief if the GOA goes merrily along the path to worldliness, but as a modus vivendi for solving national problems in a local manner, it’s an automatic non-starter for reasons stated above.

    Anyway, your larger point is correct: only a local church which is independent has the necessary seeds for its own renewal. That of course does not mean it will use them (there are dozens of extinct churches) but foreign-dominated eparchies can never renew themselves unless they become independent themselves. In the case of North America, even this won’t be enough as they would have to join the already existing canonical structure.

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    Greg says:

    Not that the Catholic Bishops don’t deserve whatever drubbing they get for “refusing to deal effectively and justly with the sins and crimes;” however, I wonder why Dreher doesn’t compare how the OCA is doing in relation to the Orthodox Churches who have some of their clergy listed on POKROV.ORG?

    Source: POKROV.ORG: A Resource for Survivors of Abuse in the Orthodox Churches

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Greg, et. al, while I generally support the work that POKROV.org is attempting to do, they do tend to go off the rails in some cases and paint with a wider brush than necessary. Of course, if the bishops would discipline the real offenders and give genuine pastoral care to the victims there would be little need for POKROV.

      Anytime someone you know is accused of sexual abuse, especially someone in authority, the first response of most folks is to disbelieve. And, in fact, not every accusation is founded on reality and truth. However when covicted offenders such as Demetri Khoury are kept in office and a concerted attempt is made to rehabilitate him, the suspicion extends to all who serve. Why are not the solid priests raising a loud clamor with their bishops to do something?

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    Andrew says:

    I really understand where Rod is coming from on a number of levels. I can certainly sympathize. However, I want to caution Rod and others about putting any Bishop on a pedestal. Its a dangerous thing to do and can easily lead to despair. We all want to think every new bishop will change things, right wrongs, and make things better. Despite seeing many new bishops in my lifetime, the Church’s problems still persist and the disappointments are many.

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    Geo Michalopulos says:

    Andrew, you’re correct. Nobody deserves to be on a pedestal. “Put not your trust in princes or the sons of men.” Amen. However, the plain facts are as he states and he is describing two different paradigms. In an open society, especially one in which the Church is dependent upon the goodwill of free men (and not the state or oligarchs), it is incumbent that those who know describe the situation at hand. One the one hand, the uber-hierarchical model of the RCC and the papalism of the ethnic patriarchates, and the more open atmosphere that has dawned on the OCA since the election of +Jonah. We deserve to know the differences. Whether we act on them and enhance them, is our duty.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Note 1.1.1. Michael Bauman writes:

    Time and conversion:
    Would you prefer seasoning? Some forms of heretical thinking take deep and repeated work to overcome. Mental ascent and understanding is not the same as a healed heart. All converts suffer from such a burden. Yes, such things can and do breed genuine humility and allow for the grace of God to work powerfully. However, in my expeience, for most people actual calendar time is required for prespective and balance to be obtained.

    Very good words, Michael. Let me amplify it a bit.

    St Paul writes:

    I beseech your brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice unto God which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (nous in Greek), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

    The “healing of the heart” and the renewal of the mind work in tandem. In other words, the healing of the soul is actually seeing with more clarity. And that “seeing” involves our habits of mind, how the world “appears” to us. We tend to think that how we see the world comes from the outside in. In fact, our interior world shapes how we see the world outside.

    So yes, converts suffer from a particular burden, but so does everyone else. Converts have to shake the notion that the apprehension of truth is propositional; the idea that if I can “just figure it out”, then I will see.

    Clarity of course comes through encounter with Him who is Truth. The deeper that encounter (often driven by the vicissitudes of life), the more the mind is transformed (Christ being “born in you” as St. Paul puts it), and the deeper the clarity on the other end — often because the difficulties engender repentance, the metanoia or “change of mind.” Old habits of mind lose their (idol like) grip; new ways of thinking and thus seeing emerge.

    It’s a process of sorts, but one that cannot be quantified, only experienced. People experienced in it can guide others. But it is not limited to converts alone. It’s the charge of all Christians. Converts are just afflicted in one way, while others are afflicted in other ways.

    And yes, absolutely, the process requires time. That is why we should not despise our sufferings.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      I have a friend who has been in the Church his entire life. He maintains that in order to really become Orthodox, we have to convert, i.e., encounter Jesus Christ in the Church, repent and follow His commandments.

      That being said, the burden for converts in this nihilistic/secular culture is of a particular nature that converts such as Saul and John Chrysostom did not have to face–an enculturated hatred of God even among many who are called Christian. That impacts us even if we don’t want it to. Growing up surrounded by the presence of a loving God in the Church, even if not appreciated, makes a big difference.

      Folks are protected in ways they can’t even imagine.

      Of course, both Saul and John Chrysostom spent time under instruction and in solitude before they began their ministries.

      All the more reason to pray for our bishops, especially Met. Jonah, that our love for each other may increase

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        Geo Michalopulos says:

        Michael, that’s true what you say about Saul and Chrosostom. Let’s not forget that +Jonah likewise spent the better part of his adult life (almost 25 years) in a monastic setting. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s the only primate (I agree, let’s find a better word) of the other SCOBAits who is a true monk. Right now, I can think of only two or three other bishops of the 65 in North America who are also monks –+Basil of Wichita (AOCNA), +Melchisedek or Pittsburght (OCA) and +Longin (Serbian). There may be others, if so, I’d like to know.

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          Michael Bauman says:

          Met. Joseph of Bulgaria had a monastic formation as well. I suspect the ROCOR bishops probably have had that as well (not SCOBA, but still…)

          I appreciate the fact that Met is a man sincerely dedicated to God and a genuine monastic. That being said, what was the nature of his monastic experience? Was it under the guidance of an experienced spiritual father? I’m not trying to be critical, just saying that idealizing our leaders is dangerous. Both cynicism and adulation effectively separate the bishops from the flock and leave them isolated on the side of the mountain in the middle of a storm.

          We all have a long way to go. The fact that Met. Philip has established and is promoting a woman’s monastary at the Antiochian Village is as wonderful as it is surprising (at least to me). Of course he had to borrow a woman nun from the OCA, but maybe that will help genuine unity.

          +Basil only embarked upon his monastic life after being consecrated a bishop. His monastary is in Essex England, kinda far away. His vocation is evident nonetheless. (I’m lucky, he is my bishop and my parish is his cathedral so I get to see him and talk with him often).

          Met. Joseph is my brother’s bishop and I’ve encountered him on some of my visits to my brother. Met. Joseph is top drawer.

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          Justin Bosl says:

          +Tikhon of Philadelphia was deputy abbott of St. Tikhon’s Monastery for some time.

          Met. Jonah’s spiritual father is Bishop Pankratiy, Abbott of Valaam. He also maintained a dialogue with Elder Joseph of Vatopedi on Mt. Athos and other monastics in this country, including Elder Ephraim in Arizona.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Isa, you’re right.

Care to comment?

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