Editor’s Note: It has been reported that Melanie Ringa, the Treasurer of the OCA met recently with the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod in which she presented two budgets for their consideration. The OCA at present is funded on the national level based on an assessment of $105 per capita.
However a new plan which was proposed by the Diocese of New York/New Jersey was also considered. The “NY Plan” radically decreases this assessment by over 50 percent –down to $50 per capita. This latter plan has gained momentum in the Dioceses of the West and the South and as has been reported in pro-Syosset websites, there is a real fear that between the decreased attendance of the AAC and a high proportion of delegates from the West and the South, it is sure to be implemented.
Though this is unpopular with the Central Chancery, Ms. Ringa has exercised her fiduciary responsibility and taken the time and effort to present a budget based on the new numbers. Because of its length, the following essay will be serialized for the sake of readability.
Part I: How We Got Here
An Existential Crisis
In a hierarchical church, the fundamental building block is the diocese. A bishop is not a bishop without a flock. As St Cyprian of Carthage said, “where the bishop is, there is the Church. Where the Church is, there is the bishop.” As such the work of the Church is done close to the people. Regional, territorial or otherwise national churches exist when the bishops of said territories convene in a synod to deal with issues of an inter-diocesan nature. Examples would include the consecration of new bishops, discussion of theological matters, and so on. National councils otherwise that are held together by a strong central administration are an oxymoron.
That being the case, we could say that there is definately an existential crisis within the OCA at present. On one side we have a canonical Episcopate divided into several dioceses (each with its own chancery), and on the other a national chancery which acts on its own all the while siphoning money from the dioceses. This is indicative of eparchies which are dependencies of an overseas patriarchate, basically one powerful archbishop surrounded by several auxiliary bishops. That this still exists in the OCA indicates that for all its talk of autocephaly, it is still beholden to an archaic system that is not conducive to a national church but an eparchial one.
This means that not only are strong central chanceries problemmatic, but so are national “metropolitan councils.” The latter raise even more questions because they are for all intents and purposes equal to the Holy Synod, all protestations to the contrary notwhithstanding. As such, the present regime of church governance is untenable. At some point in the near future, the dioceses (which are growing in strength) will come to loggerheads with the central chancery.
This may not be obvious to many who are beholden to the old system and who view it as a necessary check on an Episcopate which has been viewed in the past as either corrupt or inept (or both). Unfortunately, future events dictate otherwise. If nothing else, the dire economic straights which this country presently faces (and will face for the foreseeable future), as well as the contentious leadership that central chancery and the Metropolitan Council have exhibited, make this conflict inevitable.
Let it be said at the outset though that just because the Metropolitan Council and the central bureaucracy are not canonical does not mean that they are illegitimate per se, just that within an autocephalous Church, there are no structures called “metropolitan” or “patriarchal” councils. In a vibrant autocephalous Church, central chanceries likewise concern themselves mainly with the direct activities of the primate. Even within churches that are considered overly hierarchical and centralized–such as the Roman Catholic Church–the dioceses are remarkably autonomous, with only the bishop being chosen by the Roman Curia. And though there is no canonical warrant for diocesan-level councils, they at least are more rational in that they are far less unwieldy at that level of ecclesial governance. And of course the parish council is perhaps the most necessary of all. Were it not for them, then I dare say that most of our parishes would cease to exist. No such rationale can exist for national councils.
At the risk of belaboring this point, a little history is in order. As is well-known, outside of the Alaska Mission, Orthodoxy in America was planted here exclusively as an immigrant phenomenon. The ethnocentrism of all traditional Orthodox immigrants did not melt away in the great American Melting Pot. This is ancient history. Moreover, the implantation of dioceses took place on a colonialist model; as noted, usually only one archbishop with perhaps a few auxiliaries. Ecclesial dependence flowed from overseas to the Americas while monies traveled via the opposite route. To institutionalize this arrangement, these exarchates felt the need to create central chanceries and archdiocesan councils. Both were usually headquarted in and around New York City, not the nation’s capital (as would be mandated by good canonical order). The reason of course is because most immigrant communities clustered in larger numbers in New York and could thus sustain a national archbishop and a central chancery.
In a situtation in which the local Orthodox presence is contingent upon an overseas patrarchate, the phenomenon described above is not unusual. In fact, it’s the only logical outcome that could be expected.
On the other hand, the OCA (which has proudly maintained its autocephalous status) continues to act like an exarchate, at least unwittingly. As such, the OCA is no essentially no different from the other jurisdictions as far as the facts on the ground indicate. With the exception of election of its hierarchy, the similarities with the other ecclesial dependancies are stark indeed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the veneration that lavished on the central bureaucracy which is located in Syosset, a town in the Diocese of New York. Viewed in this light, our autocephaly is almost an afterthought.
Is there however another model? One which is more in line with ecclesial governance? One that is not only canonical, but more rational? Yes, there is: it is called the Diocesan Model (DM); not only does it conform to historic Christian ecclesiology, but it is more efficient, more local, and more capable of evangelism.
The present hidebound system is clunky and inefficient, with no growth to show for it. This will be proven in due time. Moreover, the Diocesan Model is not burdened with any of the institutional memories that presently hang like albatrosses around the neck of the OCA. It will become obvious that not only is the DM vastly preferable. This is to the good because the present model, the Central Chancery (CC) is too unwieldy and unresponsive to local concerns. Despite the best wishes of those who are wedded to it, it simply is not sustainable.
Part III. Syosset: Ends, Means, Wants and Necessities (coming soon)
Part IV. Back to the Future? A History of the Diocese of the South (coming soon)
View entire essay (coming soon)