The Kool-Aid that the Stokovites consumed last week in Chicago was described by OCANews.org in its “press release” in the most glowing, self-congratulatory terms. Not only was a fired employee (Garklavs) given a standing ovation but the only bright light in the OCA’s (Hopko) old guard gave a speech exhorting the faithful to not give up on “the dream of the OCA.”
Think of it, a man who was fired by the Synod for insubordination, together with its leading theologian (who all but proclaimed the death of the OCA just five years ago), were both feted at the most recent meeting of the Metropolitan Council. In a more sane world, this would be unthinkable. But we’re not talking about a sane world, we’re talking about the dying OCA, which, in its contempt for our Metropolitan, showcased for all the world to see its dysfunction in all its sordid glory.
I joined the OCA about eight years ago because as far as evangelism it was the only game in town. If you wanted to start a mission in the GOA, we were told you needed fifty stewards and $200,000 in the bank. I’m sorry, but that’s not a mission, that’s almost a cathedral. In this economy, that’s a total non-starter. Somewhat similar numbers were required for the Antiochian jurisdiction. In the Diocese of the South for the OCA on the other hand, the joke was that Archbishop +Dmitri would start a mission with “two old ladies and a hat.” This was different and the proof was in the pudding. After all, when the Diocese of the South was created in 1978, there were only six parishes and less than six missions in it. Today, the number of parishes and missions is about 70. There are three monastic communities. If memory serves, the South is the only diocese that’s growing in the OCA. In American Orthodoxy in general, this growth is only rivaled by the Diocese of Wichita in the Antiochian jurisdiction.
More importantly, we in the Diocese of the South were blissfully ignorant of the scandals, corruption, and overall ineptness endemic to the central chancery. Would I do it again? Yes. One of the good things about an autocephalous church is that the dioceses are very autonomous. If you got a good bishop who thinks and acts like a bishop, the sky’s the limit. It’s really that simple. Our liturgies are rigorous and celebrated in the beautiful cadences of Elizabethan English. The chant is traditional and sung in a full-throated fashion. I’d say that the average layman in the Diocese of the South who is interested in living for evangelism wakes up every morning wondering what he can do next to further growth. It’s like the feeling one has when one is young and in love for the first time. When the history of the OCA is written, I fervently believe that the ministry of Archbishop +Dmitri and his immediate successor (+Jonah) will stand out as a glittering jewel in a sea of dross.
Which is why I guess that those who are raised in the Toxic Culture must try to destroy it, root and branch. As corrupt and inept as the primacies of Theodosius and Herman were, they were incapable of foiling the plans of +Dmitri. Perhaps there was some guilt involved. As I mentioned in another post, +Dmitri was overwhelmingly elected to be the first Metropolitan of All-America and Canada of the newly-autocephalous OCA back in 1970. But Deep Institutional Mediocrity being what it is, this was a bridge to far. Instead, the “autocephalous” OCA reverted to the retrograde stereotype of ethnic American Orthodoxy. Sure, we were going to be evangelical and non-ethnic in the ideal, but when the rubber hit the road, the Mediocrities flinched and elected one of their own. In any event, +Dmitri licked his wounds, went along and preached the Gospel and did what real bishops are called to do, which is build up the Body of Christ.
The sad thing is that the bishop hand-picked by the then-Locum Tenens of the South (+Jonah) had every expectation to follow in the life-affirming tradition of +Dmitri. +Jonah was no slouch himself for that matter. (Despite a hectic schedule, we in the South saw him as a worthy successor to +Dmitri and miss him terribly.) In any event, like +Dmitri, the new bishop-presumptive was a convert who came to the Faith in the South. What’s more, he had shown his mettle in standing up to the irregularities that were endemic to tribalist Orthodoxy when he was Bishop of Toledo. He had been humiliated and punished for doing so. We took such courage as a badge of honor. I even wrote a laudatory letter to him at the beginning of Lent asking him what I could do as a parishioner to speed the process of his nomination. Little did I know that he had fallen into bad company and had forgotten the lessons of his resolute and admirable past and instead become a Company Man.
I’m not a pollyanna. I know that in this world we all make mistakes and sometimes, in pursuit of a good thing, we have to make compromises. I long suspected that he had used the offices of OCAN to plead his maltreatment by +Philip. In the long run, such exigencies are often necessary, especially when the procedures to redress grievances are arbitrary. I also know that when you are out of danger, it’s usually wise to become more circumspect in your dealings and leave the past behind. But for some reason, this otherwise admirable man didn’t let go. Having found safe harbor in the OCA, he soon found out that the only real “American” Orthodox Church had its own questionable corporate culture so he probably though it would be best to play along. One of the questionable ways of doing things is by using the offices of Mark Stokoe who is both an administrator and an “investigative journalist.” Are you on the Holy Synod and have a problem with somebody? Tell OCAN. Get it out early and often enough and you may get your way, especially if the guy you’re going sideways with is somebody that Mark Stokoe doesn’t like.
So, where are we now?
The new Locum Tenens of the South (+Nikon) is by all accounts an admirable man. Archbishop +Dmitri told us when he was ordained five years ago, that if all of the new bishops of the OCA were of his caliber, we’d have nothing to fear. A friend of mine who I respect tremendously told me that +Nikon was the type of man General Omar Bradley was, “a GI’s General.” If nothing else, +Nikon had the presence of mind to realize that things weren’t going as planned. On his own initiative he decided to make a pastoral trip to the Cathedral in Dallas, the epicenter of +Dmitri’s program. He listened to very real grievances. I’d like to think that he listened in good faith. He certainly didn’t accept some of +Mark’s recommendations. I want to believe that henceforth, he will act likewise. I also am realistic enough to believe that even if he’s a real man of integrity, the Synod may not listen to him.
Our quarrell in the South is not with +Nikon. After all, he’s just one man in the Synod. What they will do is anybody’s guess. I suspect that the Mediocrities will circle the wagons around the present Administrator. They’ve got too much invested in their present calamitous course of action. The Kool-Aid that their uber-procurator has brewed is too seductive. Moreover, I fervently believe that they think everything is hunky-dory, that the OCA will weather this and come out on top. Like Ruling Classes everywhere, they believe what they believe and know what they know, facts be damned.
And what will happen when the Diocese of the South collapses and the money dries up? They don’t know; they and probably don’t care. What’s important for them is that they win at all costs. This is clericalism at its worst. Beatings will continue until morale improves.
Lord have mercy.