PROLOGUEThe title for this essay comes from the Hippocratic Oath. As is well known, Hippocrates’ singular singular contribution was in making medicine scientific rather than shamanistic. That being said, he also realized that it was an art as well as a science. And that it is the common experience of reasonable men everywhere that in in any endeavor, in any place, and at any time, people can make things worse than they already are.
In poring over the short history of the OCA, it is doubtful that this lesson has ever been learned. Syosset has continued along its customary path of taking an uncomfortable situation and making it infinitely worse. Make no mistake, the ouster of Metropolitan Jonah based on false allegations and illicit conspiracies did just that.
The illegal and unjust ouster of His Beatitude by the Synod is now a fait accompli. Six hundred delegates showed up at a plenum in Parma which was carefully stage-managed in the finest Soviet fashion. No discussion was allowed, no questions were asked, and guards were ever at the ready. Nor was the overwhelming choice of the delegates for Metropolitan honored by the Synod, who had earlier decided whom they were going to elect.
There was something decidedly “un-American” about this council. Hierarchs in Moscow looked askance at the quiescent proceedings unable to square the vaunted independent American spirit with the obsequiousness of the attendees. The OCA thus continued an almost continuous streak of misfeasance which was only briefly interrupted by the archpastorate of Metropolitan Jonah.
Shockingly, five of the territorial dioceses that showed up to “vote” at Parma are presently vacant: Alaska, Dallas, Ottawa, and Chicago (Washington was usurped). Even with this impediment, the subset of eligible, that is to say non-controversial, candidates was even more limited. At most only three bishops had no known moral objections to their candidacy: Tikhon of Philadelphia, Michael of New York/New Jersey, and Nikon of Boston (the last of whom is gravely ill and thus out of serious contention).
The treatment of Metropolitan Jonah has severely depleted the stock of the OCA in the eyes of the other jurisdictions and autocephalous churches. The “congratulatory” letter that His Holiness Kirill of Moscow sent to the new Metropolitan was a diplomatic spanking of the first order.
Why did Syosset blunder so? How did it squander its moral authority so completely?
A LITTLE HISTORY
The election of Bishop Jonah Paffhausen, the newly-elected suffragan bishop of Ft Worth in November of 2008 was a watershed moment in the history of American Orthodoxy, to say nothing of the OCA. For the first time in the history of the OCA, the majority choice of the delegates for Metropolitan to the All-American Council was ratified by the Synod.
Jonah’s popularity was instantaneous. There was a rock-star quality about the man, the moment, and the movement that was palpable to even the most casual observer. He was openly feted by other patriarchates and Christian confessions. After a brief flowering in the mid-90s, it appeared that this time, Orthodoxy would gain wider acceptance in the American culture. The Orthodox Moment had finally arrived it seemed.
Alas, it was not to be.
Some blame rests on the shoulders of Metropolitan Jonah. A man without guile, he did not know the waters wherein he was treading. He certainly could be forgiven initially for thinking that despite his inexperience as a bishop, things were going to work out for the best. For one thing, immediately upon his election Moscow’s pleasure was instantly apparent.
After a triumphal tour to Russia in which he was treated as an equal to the Patriarch of Russia, Jonah came back to America emboldened. He audaciously defended the autocephaly of the OCA after an archimandrite attached to the Patriarchate of Constantinople delivered an hysterical diatribe demanding the “submission” of American Orthodoxy to “the First Throne of Orthodoxy” while speaking at Holy Cross.
Paradoxically, the institutionalism that guided Syosset could not see that a new day was dawning. In particular, the ecumenist faction which is headed by Fr Leonid Kishkovsky, who in his capacity as director of the OCA’s Department of External Relations, has long entertained fanciful hopes of reconciliation between Syosset and Constantinople.
Be that as it may, the canonical situation of the OCA was always complicated. Though recognized as autocephalous by Moscow and a few other patriarchates, the non-Slavic churches continued to look upon it as an autonomous eparchy of Moscow. To say that this is a sticky wicket is an understatement. Yet Jonah somehow managed to thread the needle and placate the anti-OCA faction of Orthodoxy by stating openly that his church would have to “re-imagine autocephaly.”
Contrary to the hyper-autocephalists in Syosset, this was not unpopular with the people nor unprecendented for that matter. Metropolitan Theodosius. one of Jonah’s predecessors, had gone even further fifteen years earlier when he said to thunderous applause, that he would gladly give up the white hat and transfer his titles to Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) if that would result in a truly unified and autocephalous American church.
For the moment though, Jonah had been able to engineer a more concrete accomplishment: the inclusion of the OCA into the newly-formed Episcopal Assembly of North America. This ended once for all the question of the OCA’s canonical status. In the face of determined opposition from Constantinople and derision from the GOA, this was the equivalent of a diplomatic hat-trick. In “re-imagining” autocephaly, Jonah was thus speaking to the choir. Unfortunately in the OCA there is more than one choir as there is no organic unity — or clear lines of authority for that matter. The institutionalists in Syosset together with the ecumenists soon made common cause with each other.
The Manhattan Declaration
Jonah was also one of the first signatories of The Manhattan Declaration. In an earlier and more openly Christian time, his signature would not have warranted a second look. Nothing in the Declaration was controversial. It certainly was not nearly as stupendous a primatial action as the public embrace of Dr Martin Luther King by Coucouzis in 1964. In fact, in regards to its stance on the elevation of homosexual coupling to marriage, the Declaration merely reiterated what the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) had stated in 2003.
Unfortunately Jonah acquired two significant enemies in doing so: the pro-NCC faction which is headed by the aforementioned Kishkovsky and the pseudo-conciliarist faction on the Synod which believes that every action by the Primate must be scripted in minute detail. Both of these factions have drunk deeply from the well-springs of modernism and thus are uncomfortable with Orthodox traditionalism. What Jonah was dealing with then is an institutional problem and such problems cannot be resolved by mere reform.
Regardless of his own administrative skills (or lack thereof), Jonah operated under the illusion that as a popularly-acclaimed Metropolitan he had the moral authority to act as one. As for the canons and the plain language found in the OCA statues, the role of the Metropolitan of an autocephalous church were crystal clear. The reality though was far murkier. In addition to canons and statutes which regulated the Episcopate, the OCA has a Metropolitan Council which is at least equal to the Synod. And of course there was the office of Chancellor who all-too-often decides to whom he will answer depending on the whims of the moment.
Simply put, there were no clear lines of authority within the OCA. To put not too fine a point on it, there is no organic structure which is problematic from a church-growth standpoint. In any event, the result was one of two conflicting visions of church governance — patriarchal vs. synodal (for want of better terms).
In retrospect, it seems clear that Jonah was simply out of his depth. The institutional strictures of any organization (no matter how dysfunctional) could not be broken by one man no matter how charismatic and/or beloved. The tentacles of this conspiracy were widespread.
One of its main auxiliaries was OCANews.org, a popular website run by a longtime OCA activist named Mark Stokoe, whose influence was partly due to his own institutional memory while employed in Syosset and other locations. By hook or crook, he was able to leverage his connections into executive power on the Metropolitan Council. While there, his stature only grew and he was able to actually shape the narrative on his website instead of report the news.
OCANews and the Sante Fe Putsch
It was thus relatively easy to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes because its name (OCANews) gave it an aura of official sanction. In reality, Stokoe was a provacateur whose grievances stretched back decades and whose tenure in Syosset and other venues was marred by scandal and usually ended on sour notes. Regardless of the controversy surrounding him, OCANews was used by the Syosset apparat to continually blacken the name of the Metropolitan and failing this, to magnify his missteps as outrageous pratfalls and/or catastrophic scandals of the first magnitude.
It is unclear as to when Jonah came to the conclusion that the long knives were out for him. In retrospect we can see that there were landmines and tripwires along the way that signalled danger from almost the start. The climax may have been in February of 2011, when at a Synod retreat in Santa Fe the trap that had been carefully laid-out for him sometime in November had been sprung. By hook or crook however, he managed to escape.
The machinations of this clandestine coup have yet to be fully explored. It is clear that international elements were in on this almost from the start. Just a day before the adjournment of the Synod meeting, a Greek-language website (www.romfea.gr) had announced the “resignation” of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the OCA.
How they could come to know the final details of a Synod meeting that was still taking place was curious to say the least. Someone had clearly tipped them off. Whether this news outlet was complicit in this coup is arguable; it’s certainly possible on the other hand that a Jonah sympathizer had leaked the story prematurely in order to tip him and his supporters off. It’s doubtful we will ever really know the full story regarding this website and how it acquired the original leak.
In any event, the apparatchiks decided to regroup. They changed their main point of contention from Jonah’s “unilateralism” to one of his supposed instability. Fr Thomas Hopko, a previously well-regarded theologian, openly stated that we should “pray for the gravely troubled” Metropolitan. To add insult to injury, Hopko said that all eyes should be turned to OCANews as an unimpeachable source of information. This at a time when it became increasingly clear that OCANews was anything but an honest journalistic enterprise.
From Bad to Worse
Things only got messier from there. Syosset and the Synod for their parts hardened their positions. Now Jonah was faced everywhere he turned with demands that he admit himself to St Luke’s Insitute, a facility noted for treating troubled priests, most of whom were implicated in the paedophile scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. This outrageous demand scandalized the Church worldwide. The very idea that a Primate could be incarcerated against his own will in a psychiatric institution induced nightmares in the Orthodox Churches of the former Soviet bloc.
More insidiously, institutions like St Luke’s made the paedophile scandal worse in that Catholic bishops abrogated their own best instincts regarding miscreant priests, choosing instead a therapeutic model which (in the popular mind at least) “cured” them of their perversions. The end result of this was that the bishops came to believe that a released patient had a clean bill of health and was now no longer a threat to children.
Under this “therapeutic” regime paedophiles were moved around from parish to parish as pieces on a chess board. That St Luke’s became a revolving door was largely ignored because of its clinical trappings. That this is lost on Syosset is troubling to say the least: either they don’t understand how SLI made things worse for the Catholic Church or they don’t care. It’s hard to say which is worse.
Sleepless in Seattle
Things came to a head in Seattle, when at the 15th All-American Council 2011, the Synod met secretly on at least one occasion unbeknownst to Jonah. The result of these meetings was a series of demands that he had to accept, the most egregious one being his forced admittance for one week’s evaluation at St Luke’s. To add insult to injury, Jonah had to announce his acceptance of these demands to the delegates there assembled in words that were scripted for him.
In a spirit of humility Jonah accepted these horrendous demands. It bought him some time but in the interim the Synod gained some time as well. Despite the fact that he constantly acquiesced to their demands, Syosset and the Synod continued to move the goalposts. In the end, it didn’t matter. If they had been divided as to whether or how to force his ouster, by the beginning of 2012, their resolve had hardened. Jonah would be removed by whatever means necessary.
The Holy Synod and the Spirit of the World
The picture presented above is not a pretty one. It is more than mere institutionalism run amok however. It betrays a modernist mindset, one that is not in accord with the Orthodox tradition in any way. More ominously, it is wicked. It was wicked in its intent and in its methodology. As even the least canonically literate person knows, the Synod cannot meet without the Primate as its chairman.
At any rate, by removing Jonah from the Primatial See based on trumped up charges which could not survive even cursory scrutiny, the Synod allied themselves with the secular world, the spirit that says that good (?) ends are justified by evil means. This is nothing less than a scandal. It sent shock waves throughout the OCA and beyond. Despite the canonical obstacles that would be inherent in leaving the OCA, priests and even entire parishes are seriously considering moving to other jurisdictions.
Laymen as well have moved on or stopped coming to church. Evangelism has come to a screaching halt. Honest inquirers have quietly dropped out of sight. It is impossible for decent people to not be scandalized. Why go to Church after all? Why pray, pay for, and obey bishops who acted in such a sinful manner? Why fast? Why honor the Church’s moral strictures if in the end might really make right? It is hard to see how the OCA can recover from this debacle. It is hard to see how a layman can listen with enthusiasm to the homilies delivered in liturgies, knowing that they are authorized by an episcopate that is morally compromised. Of such things scandals are made.
So where are we? It is my contention that a pseudo-hyperconciliarist regime is now firmly in control. The autonomist-diocesan model that was promulgated by the late Archbishop Dmitri Royster of Dallas and championed by Jonah will not be revived anytime soon.
The Diocese of Dallas Will Suffer
The consequences for the Diocese of Dallas in particular are grim: regardless of the personal integrity of whoever is elected to be its new bishop, his steps will be closely monitored. Any bold action by the new bishop will be cause for alarm and if necessary, a case for his removal will slowly but surely be created if it is felt that his continued presence upsets the Syosset-centric ruling paradigm. At the end of the day, the monies from Dallas must flow upward, all else is secondary. If things get too out of hand, then the new psychotherapeutic model will be trotted out. Indeed it is being justified now that Bp Matthias Moriak of Chicago is being coerced to undergo two years of “treatment” at St Luke’s. As for Dallas itself, several recent incidents indicate that certain Deans have bought into the new paradigm of rule by fear and intimidation on the one hand coupled with obsequiousness to Syosset and its democratist pretensions.
As for the other jurisdictions, the flamboyant self-destruction of the OCA will give them pause. Whatever moral authority the OCA had as an organic, American Church, capable of ruling itself has now been scattered to the four winds. Ironically, the Episcopal Assembly provides the other eparchies an exit strategy from ever having to be aligned with the OCA. The effect of this will be their further reliance on the various mother churches.
Most ominous of all, the incessant drone that has long emanated out of Constantinople —that Americans are too spiritually immature to have their own church—has now been legitimized by the actions of the Synod. Syosset has done what Constantinople could never do: place large morsels of meat in the thin gruel of Phanariote insincerity. Whether Syosset sees it or not —or worse, clings to some Kishkovskyite fantasy or eventual rapprochment with Constantinople—is immaterial. They see it: the Greeks see it, the Arabs see it, the Serbs see it, and more importantly, Moscow sees it.
THE ORTHODOX MOMENT: DERAILED YET AGAIN?
Earlier I had made mention of an “Orthodox Moment.” That is to say a moment in history in which one can look back and say, “this is the time when Orthodoxy became American and America started to embrace Orthodoxy. America has had three Great Awakenings. There is no reason that the fourth one couldn’t have been spearheaded by the Orthodox Church; after all the utter collapse of Protestantism demands that the vacuum be filled by some entity.
The Evangelicals Come Home
In the 1980s, the Antiochian jurisdiction spearheaded the first such an Orthodox Moment when it accepted some three thousand Evanglicals into Orthodoxy. Momentum from this auspicious event continued to build and in the 90s, the GOA appeared to be at the forefront. Festivals which were once tailored to highlight ethnicity were now being used to evangelize passers-by. GOA churches were openning their doors to well-known converts who were preaching the Gospel of Orthodox Christianity in a mature non-Zorba-the-Greekist fashion.
The culmination to this was the Ligonier movement, that brief point in 1994 in which all Orthodox bishops in America boldly proclaimed their desire for a united and autocephalous American Church. The sense of excitement was palpable; unfortunately the foreign patriarchates (not just Constantinople) strangled that baby in its cradle. American Orthodoxy languished in the interim.
To its credit, the OCA continued to take up the slack, this despite the fact that it was long viewed with contempt and/or suspicion by the other jurisdictions. Despite its relative insignificance, the OCA had many advantages which the other jurisdictions did not. Not the least of these was that the language issue had been settled once and for all. Others included a strong convert base, one which transcended the laity and extended into the clergy and even the hierarchy. The appearance of lay involvement in the election of the bishops and the Metropolitan certainly added a luster that the others could not match. And of course servile devotion to foreign patriarchates and politics was never going to be an issue.
The OCA’s defects however were as numerous and the scandals associated with its first two Metropolitans continued to drag down the OCA into also-ran category. It was very hard to see how The Orthodox Moment which died at Ligonier could be revived anytime soon.
The Spirit of Ligonier Revived
And yet, in November of 2008, the spirit of Ligonier appeared to rise from the ashes. Overnight, the new Metropolitan made it seem possible that the Orthodox Church could and would preach the Gospel to a hungry nation. He certainly understood the failures of American Orthodoxy and stated them openly in his inaugural speech. This was bracing in its clarity and unheard of given the usual “happy talk” that is the usually heard from the various jurisdictions.
In any event, his supposed administrative deficits were not apparent to those eager to hear the Gospel. Jonah’s travel scheduled rivaled the Pope’s. His administrative brief included five dioceses at one time, and the long-awaited creation of the Archdiocese of Washington came to fruition. People came out of the woodwork to hear him speak. Serious inroads were made to the Continuing Anglicans.
Perhaps equally as important, the fact that the OCA had a Metropolitan whose diocesan seat was Washington signaled to the other jurisdictions that sooner or later, they would unite around an authentic American patriarch, one situated in the capital city of the American nation and the center of American power. Whether this would be Jonah or a successor made no difference; all that mattered would be the fact that Americans who chose to embrace Orthodoxy would have a focal point of Orthodox unity.
The collegialist-uber-alles view of government on the other hand does not allow this possibility to exist. As such, it makes it difficult for bishops to break the bonds of foreign control. And as his been long evident, the model of church unification that Constantinople wants to impose on North America is anything but the quasi-patriarchal model. Therefore the confluence between Constantinople’s paradigm and the Frankenstein’s monster that Syosset created bodes ill for the future of American autocephaly.
This co-belligerence between Constantinople and Syosset is interesting. It’s possible that the modernists/ecumenists within the OCA worked hand-in-glove with the Phanar. It’s just as likely that Constantinople could recognize the intrinsic weaknesses of the OCA and that given enough rope, they would eventually hang themselves. Regardless, the triumphalist vision that the OCA continues to propound has fallen on increasingly deaf ears. Moscow for its part is just waiting to see how this all plays out. And make no mistake: with Moscow’s reconciliation with ROCOR, its hands are no longer tied in North America.
The Triumph of the Mediocre
The loss of Orthodox momentum is real. I dare say that short of divine intervention, it cannot be revived. Consider: at one time, the GOA mattered, now it is almost an afterthought. I regularly receive information about brewing scandals in the GOA and every now and then some positive news. I try to publish the positive articles but even when the sordid stuff comes out hardly anybody seems to care. This is true even in the Greek-American press. Horrible scandals like the St. Irene Chrysovolantou child sex-trafficking scandal merit hardly a blip on the American consciousness.
Despite its more massive size, despite its more abundant resources, despite its “leadership” in the Episcopal Assembly, the GOA is passe. This cannot be stressed enough —nobody cares. The empty bromides that come out of the various metropolises quickly dissipate into the ether. The multi-million dollar “Apostolic Journey” undertaken by the Ecumenical Patriarch to America in 2009 was not reported in one media outlet. It fell with a thud. The present plodding, torpid legacy that exists in the GOA was the result of the harm that the Phanar inflicted on it when it helped destroy Ligonier. The GOA stopped engaging the culture and guess what? the culture stopped engaging it.
There can be no doubt that the same fate awaits the OCA. Unfortunately for the OCA, in comparison to the GOA, Syosset’s margin for error is almost non-existent. Because of this lurid affair the one American jurisdiction that could look to the broader American culture and dialogue with it has now been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Unfortunately, like the Bourbons of France, “they forgot nothing, nor learned anything.” The laity every now and then get together for an election, chooses somebody for Metropolitan and then see their choice overturned in favor of the secretly already-agreed upon candidate. The bureaucrats in Syosset continue to gaze upon the idol of Schmemann and imagine his ecclesial model to be superior to anything else that has been tried over the last two thousand years, and the Episcopate takes into its ranks only those men who can be controlled. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
So, is the great scandal involving Jonah and his maltreatment over? Far from it. The issue of the primacy of the Russian Mission on the North American continent is a settled fact, all protestations from the Phanar to the contrary. The OCA, as the successor to the Metropolia is the bearer of that legacy. That does not mean that the actual remnant of the Metropolia that did not align with the OCA in 1970, is not also part of that legacy. Given its dependency upon Moscow, it is the one existing link to that original mission.
Moreover, in the eyes of Constantinople, the MP parishes are more legitimate simply because they are still an eparchy beholden to their Mother Church. The Episcopal Assembly has ratified this view as a matter of fact; after all, Archbishop Justinian of the MP eparchy sits on the Presidium of the Assembly. Given that the OCA has received the cold shoulder (and worse) since the ouster of Jonah, Moscow’s hand has only strengthened in the interim.
All of this is regrettable. First, because the recent fiasco makes a mockery of Christian charity and thus makes Orthodoxy’s Christian witness suspect in the eyes of honest seekers. Second, because it was not inevitable. Jonah, for all his alleged defects was not an evil man, nor immoral, or ignoble. His only sins were that he could not understand the instutionalism that he was up against nor support those supported him.
Wearing the white klobuk, he thought he was the Metropolitan in fact and like more mature Orthodox Churches, he took his duties as Primate seriously. This was inimical to the apparatchiks whose bread and butter was the centralism of Syosset. That being said, if Jonah was in fact as incompetent as the Stokovite narrative proclaimed, then a better and more dignified exit strategy could have been worked out.
Instead, the picture has only gotten worse for the OCA, not better. Beginning almost from the start, back in early July when His Beatitude was unustly removed, the OCA has suffered one scandal after another on a almost daily basis. The pratfalls have been performed exclusively in the vicity of Syosset, not in Washington, where Jonah resides and where he has been obedient to the point of silence.
The Bleak Future of the OCA
So is there a way out? From a purely political standpoint, what Syosset needs now are at least five years of relative calm to put this fiasco behind it. It is likely that Syosset will give to Jonah’s usurper those tools which it denied him in order to strengthen his position and make him look like an administrative success in comparison. This is not a sure thing however. Given its internal contradictions and its conflicting loci of power, it is doubtful that Syosset and the Synod understand anything but back-biting and back-stabbing.
Their behavior reminds one of the mean girls of junior high, not of resolute men who have lived in the world and understand its ways. Even if there is a gentlemen’s agreement to not to consciously sandbag Archbishop Tikhon, events will prevent the way forward from being anything but tranquil. Why do I say this? Because there are always “events.” The Sword of Damocles that hangs over every leader’s head is there whether we see it or not.
And what of Orthodoxy? What of our engagement with the culture? What of Evangelism? Philanthropy? To be blunt, the OCA has squandered all moral authority in favor of retrenching into its institutions. It has made a mockery of its American mission and upheld the worst aspects of its dying immigrant stock.
Like the GOA which threw away Evangelism in favor of Byzantine nostalgia, the OCA stands naked before America betraying itself as a squalid little synagogue more comfortable in its Carpatho-Russian cocoon with all its dysfunctions. Such an enterprise cannot boldly proclaim the Gospel. It is doubtful that it even wants to.
A Wilderness Generation?
Can the Orthodox Church of the North American continent regroup? Can it relight the flame that flickered brightly during the time of Ligonier? I for one will not say “no, not ever.” Instead I will say “not yet.” Or more likely: “it will be a long time from now, perhaps after the present immature generation passes from the scene.”
Like the idolatrous Israelites who were forced to wander another generation in the wilderness, I cannot foresee a positive outcome unless the men who performed this wicked deed publicly repent of their sins and make restitution to His Beatitude.
Alas, we will have to wait for another day. Barring repentance, we can hope and pray that the future leaders of the Orthodox Church of North America will look back on this squalid affair with the proper spiritual maturity and at least heed Hippocrates’ sage advice. Time will tell.