The coup to oust +Jonah failed. And like all clandestine conspiracies it left a lot of collateral damage. People have been hurt. Some who were considering Orthodoxy as a refuge from the moral chaos in their own denominations are left wondering if Orthodoxy is any better. Others no doubt have left. The list of casualties is not complete and more may fall.
Internal civil wars are unseemly affairs and leave scars that take a long time to heal. My initial conclusion was that the damage would be confined only to the OCA. I don’t think so anymore. I believe that the self-destruction that the Stokovites has wrought will have deleterious effects in the other Orthodox jurisdictions in time (if they haven’t already). At any rate, seeds of the destruction of American Orthodoxy may have been sown by these unfortunate actions.
Why do I say this? The one gift that the OCA had to offer the ethnic jurisdictions was its autocephaly. It meant that we could take care of our own problems, elect our own bishops, and, if need be, remove them should the need arise. We are not encumbered by overseas potentates who would act only on their terms and interests.
We are loosing this freedom and may have already lost it. The real “dream of the OCA,” is close to shambles. The Stokovites, and this includes Bishops Benjamin, Melchizedek, and the malcontents at Syosset have made us the laughing-stock of American Orthodoxy. In one fell swoop they have justified the derision of the Old World and eviscerated the moral case for the other jurisdictions to join us. They have delegitimized the raison d’etre of our Church; the vision of a local, territorial, and accountable American Orthodox Church.
Make no mistake: if the Stokovite vision of the OCA prevails, then we run the very real risk of governing ourselves by shibboleths instead of canons and mindless pieties instead of doctrine. Take, for example, the deformed concept of conciliarity where the Primate becomes sock-puppet of the Holy Synod, which is in turn is bound to a Metropolitan Council led by laymen of questionable character. That’s not a prescription for success but mediocrity and ultimately failure. The Metropolitan Council was too weak to challenge corruption for almost a quarter of a century. Today it fears to challenge a major instigator of mistrust who sits in their ranks.
Why must the efforts to reduce the office of Metropolitan to bureaucratic functionary be resisted? Because in the end the office of every bishop will become superfluous and every bishop demeaned. A bishop must remain free to act according to the dictates of his conscience, one that is shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ in the awareness that both the protecting of the integrity of the gospel and the proper teaching of it rests on his shoulders first. That is the principle responsibility of a bishop and he must be free to exercise it.
That’s why the attack on +Jonah is morally reprehensible. The man has done nothing to warrant removal except that he offended the sensibilities of a vocal minority who think they know better how the Church should be run. If bishops are not free to speak out on issues they deem important, then the prophetic ministry of the Church is rendered mute. At that point the Church will devolve into little more than an exotic version of the Episcopalian Church with none of the wealth but all of the corruption. We will conform to the world, not to Christ.
So far we Orthodox have been given a pass because of our immigrant background. It was all our ancestors could do to build houses of worship and parish halls. Life was hard and that they were as successful as they were in implanting the faith in America is a monumental achievement and testament to their faithfulness. It is different for us. We don’t have an excuse. Our responsibility is as needful as theirs but is directed not to our survival alone but also the salvation of others. I am convinced without a shred of doubt that the survival of Orthodoxy in America depends on bringing the Gospel to this great land. If we don’t take the bushel off the lamp, we will die and so may this country. It’s time to use our gifts to preach the Word and to bring America back to its former Christian self. Without doing so, then Orthodoxy will wither.
I am not overstating the case. The OCA is retrenching much like the GOA has done in the last fifteen years following the removal of +Iakovos. Most jurisdictions are not growing and many are in decline. Why is this do you think? Is it because Americans don’t like ethnic food-festivals or smells and bells? Not really. We are not growing because no jurisdiction can grow unless it can give a good reason for being part of America. No, I am not talking about the “gorgeous mosaic” or other peans to diversity newspeak. Oh sure, we’ll attract some people attracted by the exotic feel of Orthodoxy or the comprehensiveness of its dogmatic, liturgical and aesthetic structures. But this won’t mean much in the end. It won’t reveal the Christ that many Americans long for in deeper measure and meaning.
Autocephaly means nothing if we don’t intend to live and preach the Gospel. The deeper apprehension of the Gospel that is found in Orthodoxy and the promise that one can appropriate it in greater measure and thus live in Christ more fully is what draws many people into our faith. This truth however, has to be lived and actualized, and people must see it in our leaders first. +Jonah understands this. He also understands that the call to preach the Gospel has nothing to do with diversity, exotic forms, even aesthetic comprehensiveness. Instead, it has everything to do with speaking to the moral confusion in culture and clearing that ground so that the Gospel can be heard. Why do you think he was received with such gratitude by the Episcopalians? Why do we want to diminish that moral clarity among our own people?
The attacks on +Jonah are morally reprehensible because they are rightly perceived by those considering the Orthodox faith as an attack on his message. The attack by the Stokovites display a complete lack of Christian charity not only toward +Jonah, but toward those who see +Jonah as a beacon of moral clarity and thus the Orthodox Church as a place where they may find refuge and safety. That +Jonah’s detractors don’t perceive this speaks to the darkness that bad actions foster in the actor. Their witness is not Christian. A distraught Christian could be forgiven on Judgment Day for shaking the dust of the OCA off his shoes. The Orthodox who displayed this atrocious behavior will not be so easily forgiven.
Therefore, I ask the men gathered at this week’s Episcopal Assembly to admonish those bishops of the OCA who have embraced the Stokovite ideology and the destructive thinking it represents. Public or privately it does not matter. Besides displaying a lack of Christian charity towards their primate, they have conspired to remove him or, failing in that, to marginalize him.
Make no mistake: this is not about conciliarity versus primacy. We all believe in conciliarity and primacy. However the antagonists of +Jonah mock their own intentions and betray the trust that true conciliarity requires when they give out information from their gatherings to laymen who are known agitators. Ask yourself this: would any of you feel comfortable discussing church matters in the presence of men who have an open pipeline to the agitators? Why do we even envision a united American Holy Synod? It’s not possible under these circumstances and it will destroy any jurisdiction that participates in these kind of machinations.
We are tired of insider manipulations. We are tired of those who thwart the preaching of the Gospel because of moral compromises in their personal lives. We are tired of the promise of Orthodoxy in America never being actualized in any appreciable sense by some of our leaders who, if they really understood their calling, would show us the way to be Orthodox in America.
Therefore we ask the Episcopal Assembly to censure those bishops in the OCA which have acted in such a manner. If you don’t, a new and dangerous precedent will be created; a well that in due time will poison everyone who drinks from it. It will erode from the inside the vision of a an independent Orthodox Church that can indeed bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to America.