– Now that the new leadership of the OCA is firmly entrenched it is sad to report that the paltriness of the Enthronement of the latest First Hierarch, Archbishop Tikhon Mollard of Philadelphia, was pretty much a bust (as has been reported on this site already). In many ways, this was inevitable given the self-inflicted wounds of the last seven months. It’s a microcosm of what the OCA has become. Basically it was a moribund institution going through the motions.
A brief recap. As is known, Syosset engaged a DC hotel with a block of rooms and a ballroom size similar to previous enthronements. They booked a banquet room for 500 and enough rooms in anticipation of a similar turnout. However within a few weeks they realized that this particular enthronement would not be like the last two. Because the response to the festivities was so flat they were forced to ask for a smaller meeting room for the banquet; not 500 but 150, and they had to inform the hotel that they would not need nearly as many rooms as they first planned.
If that wasn’t bad enough it looks like the new OCA leadership had to beg people to attend the banquet by giving tickets away. Of the 140 people who attended, only 60 tickets had actually been sold. The rest were complimentary. The smaller room was filled but the only at great cost to Syosset. And there is more bad news.
Besides the OCA, only one bishop from oversees was present, a bishop representing the Georgian Orthodox Church. He didn’t need a hotel room because he was staying at St. Nina’s Monastery (the monastery of “the DC nuns”) –a not so subtle message to Syosset. As for the American jurisdictions, the Antiochian Archdiocese sent their most junior bishop, not Metropolitan Philip. ROCOR sent Bishop George of Mayfield (another ironic choice) and the MP jurisdiction sent Archbishop Justinian. The Serbs sent a priest and the Greeks, the Carpatho-Russians(!), and the Ukrainians sent no one.
Here is another sad reality, not one former OCA Metropolitan was invited nor any of the retired bishops who still comprise of the OCA episcopate. An enormous mistake in protocol.
In the final analysis this was nothing more than a little in-house gathering, choreographed and recorded in such a way as to mitigate the cloud of illegitimacy that hung over the entire affair. As mentioned in other reports, When Metropolitan Herman was installed in 2002 EVERY Orthodox Church in the world was represented with bishops or high level representatives, even Constantinople! Even the legal incumbent’s enthronement had near-universal representation from here and abroad. Then the OCA was a Church to be seen with, today, not so much.
All of this goes to the point that the actions of the new OCA leadership in the treatment of her Metropolitans has not been lost on Orthodox here in North America or around the world. Once respected, the OCA has been reduced to a Church that few want to be associated with. Those who have preached for years that the OCA can do whatever it wants, however it wants, whenever it wants, and it doesn’t matter what others think now have their answer –others don’t like what the OCA has become.
So, the OCA is now an isolated Church at best and given only a formal toleration by Moscow.
That the OCA had been reduced to an embarrassing afterthought (or a “little Church” has been noted by John Jillions, its Chancellor) is now obvious. Sadly, from the point of view of the Syosset Apparat, this is not a bad thing. Those now in charge have it the way want it, believe it or not. I guess it’s better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond –even if that pond is drying up. This is a sad starting point as we go forward, wounded and dealing with the reality of a dwindling membership and less funding; a jurisdiction speaking to few outside their little population, and more grievously, offering nothing to the other jurisdictions in way of American ecclesial governance. How sad and how high the price for the “new” OCA.
As for the new Primate himself, it appears that he will gladly accept the administrative shackles placed upon him by the Revered Protopresbyterians who run Syosset. Unlike the legitimate Metropolitan whose vision and charisma made him chafe whilst wearing them, Tikhon has the soul of a bureaucrat. Not a bad man to be sure but if the speeches and sermons he gave over the inaugural weekend are any indication, he very much exemplifies the dearth of vision in the OCA. It could be said that the man has met his moment. Unfortunately, as can be gleaned from the seating arrangements and the graceless and hateful remarks of Frs Tosi and Kishkovsky respectively, the moment is a mediocre one, therefore the man must be one as well. Those who have spoken privately with him describe him as “nice” but “befuddled.” Like the OCA in general, he is flailing about, uncertain about what to do. What the OCA needed was a bold visionary, one who could weather the upcoming storms and guarantee the OCA the five years of normalcy (at least) that it needs in order to regain its footing. So why not go with a visionary? A bold man? Why not be audacious? Because there was only one man who fit that bill, and he was thrown out. All the rest had impediments of one sort or another. Tikhon was literally the last man standing. And anyway, the bishops don’t run the show.
There are other indications that Syosset cannot make sense of the future and recalibrate its downward trajectory. A hallmark of this failure is the OCA’s continued isolation. The recent visit by Archbishop Justinian to the OCA Chancery was not a happy gathering. Sources close to Syosset report that the meeting of the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative in the USA, as Jillions said in his January 23 Diary, was “congenial, informal, candid and wide-ranging.” The candid part was clear and unambiguous: Moscow continues to reject the manner in which Metropolitan was “retired” and the way he is now being treated. This continues to be the consistent and unchanging message delivered to Bishop Alexander Golitzyn of the OCA and Fr Leonid Kishkovsky by Patriarch Kirill in the Ukraine last year (Al and Lefty’s Excellent Adventure). They were told then and they were told again by Archbishop Justinian that Metropolitan Jonah must be treated with respect as befitting his primatial dignity.
Now the issue is squarely on the plate of the OCA Synod. They met on January 28 to discuss the “candid” remarks by the OCA’s Mother Church. They continue to shackle Jonah. Relations between the OCA and her biggest supporter (so far), the Russian Orthodox Church, will continue to decline and possibly set in motion an intervention by the Russian Church.
Other, internal indications do not bode well for the future. The Diocese of the South has been without a bishop for almost three years now. It’s floundering in ways that would have been unimaginable during the reign of Dmitri Royster, even in his last, declining years. Same story with Alaska. The Diocese of the Midwest is in some kind of episcopal limbo. Rumblings coming from the Albanian exarchate are not irenic and the Romanians continue to think aloud about pulling out of the OCA. It is uncertain whether the Diocese of Philadelphia will accept Bishop Mark Maymon as its head or if it will be merged with Pittsburgh. Even Pittsburgh is not without its concerns regarding the length of Bishop Melchisedek Pleska’s tenure. Will the Diocese of Boston continue after its present bishop retires? Canada continues to be without an archbishop. One OCA priest told me that as long as these dioceses remain vacant, it is not impossible to imagine the GOA putting its foot down and subtly instructing the OCA that there is no need for “superfluous” bishops in cities that already have metropolitans. Metropolitan Methodius of Boston was the first to proclaim this prerogative some five years ago when he forbade all priests in his diocese from having anything to do with the OCA upon the election of Nikon Lalion as the OCA’s bishop there. This embargo stands to this day. (Indeed one correspondent told me that another bishop from another jurisdiction told his priests that they are to have as little to do with OCA priests as possible.)
Under these conditions, even two years of normalcy seem a lot to ask. Regardless, the present matter is more urgent. Will Syosset continue to treat Jonah in a disrespectful way against the wishes of our Mother Church or will they cut their losses and let him go? Their decision will have far-reaching repercussions. Is the present regime up to the task? Is ROCOR up to the task? If not, then the OCA is clearly at another “tipping point.”