It’s been a busy weekend and it’s clear that the fallout from the Great Syosset Debacle of 2012 is still not over. The wonderboys who engineered this disastrous and uncanonical turn of events are running scared, as they should be.
Too bad. I tried to warn anybody who would listen that Jonah represented a wave of evangelism that cannot be stopped; that he understood the hunger for the Gospel in America today.
The trouble with the entire execution of this affair is not so much the human cost (to Jonah, his family, or the Church at large, which is huge), but what it portends for the future. Make no mistake, given the governing structure of the OCA, this was probably inevitable; which means that it will probably happen again and again and again, until finally the lights are turned off in Syosset for the last time.
I wrestled as to whether I should write these words. I prayed about it but there is no way I can escape this conclusion. And believe it or not, I offer them in a spirit of correction, not bitterness or anger. I’ve got way too many things on plate than to worry about dysfunctional institutions which cannot right themselves. I very much believe that not even the gates of hell will prevail against the Church, I just don’t think the OCA is “the Church” any more than the GOA, ROCOR, or AOCNA is or Carthage, Laodicaea, or Cappadocia were. The Church will remain but dioceses and jurisdictions? — not so much.
Why do I say this? Let me back up a little bit. As you well know by now, I’ve been in the Diocese of the South for almost ten years. I had a vague idea who the Metropolitan at the time was and had heard of Syosset but both were not on my radar in any way (I’d never heard the words “Proskauer Rose” until about 2007 or so). Under the Venerable Dmitri, we were chugging along just fine. However, I made the mistake of extrapolating from our experience here in the South that this is the way the OCA was run in general. I went from the particular to the general in other words. I had no idea how wrong I was.
The first inkling I got was in 2006, when I resigned from my job at the time to take a managerial position with a regional chain located mainly in the Northeast (I am a pharmacist). They had bought some stores in my hometown and were going to reopen them under their name. Long story short, I was excited and it was going to be more money for me. We had to refurbish one of the stores.
The general contractor for this company was a hail-fellow-well-met-guy named Al. His last name sounded Hungarian to me. We talked on the phone a couple of times and when he heard my name, he asked the inevitable, “Are you Greek?” I said “yeah.” Well, he replied, “I’m Russian.” We struck up an instant liking for each other and then when we finally met a couple of weeks later, our friendship intensified. He was from Connecticut and third-generation American. We swapped Orthodox immigrant war stories, the usual stuff. We laughed, ate lots of Mexican food on the company card and drank copious amounts of beer (is there anything beer can’t do?)
A couple of days later things soured. I told him about our mission parish which was then meeting in a strip shopping center going on three years but we were in the process of building our first temple on 8 acres of land. He was intrigued. We opened in 2003 and were ready to build within three years — warp speed in Orthodox terms. I told him our bishop gave the blessing and we were happy to be in the OCA because we didn’t have to put up with the language issue and all that.
The look on his face went from joviality to shock in 2 seconds flat. He looked at me as if I told him I like nothing better than drinking moonshine from a jug and sleeping with my sister every night. I didn’t understand his change in demeanor. “I’m in ROCOR,” he said. Oblivious to what all this meant, I said, “that’s neat,” or something like that. Smart fellow that he was, he saw that I didn’t get it and wisely decided to drop it.
We met several more times and he was always professional. He softened up a bit and asked questions about our church’s building program, and since he was a contractor, he asked questions. I’d answer, but there was always something left unsaid between us. Only years later did I get the full story, that ROCOR people viewed the OCA as nothing but white trash, especially in the Northeast. I literally had no idea.
All institutions have their own culture. In the secular world we call it “corporate culture”. It’s what makes Texaco different from Chevron, and so on. Churches are no different. The OCA’s major demographic is Carpatho-Russian; good, pious people and all that but like all immigrant groups with a lot of baggage. (To get an idea of what we’re talking about, please go visit another website where these defects are celebrated but make sure to shower afterwards and do forty genuflections.)
Grafted onto this baggage were reformist ideas imposed on them by the Parisian school as exemplified by Fr Alexander Schmemann when he headed St Vladimir’s Seminar. A fine scholar to be sure, he was also an astute observer of human nature and when he looked at the clerical underbelly of the Metropolia (as the OCA was then known), he was not impressed.
He was definitively a towering figure and one of the leading lights in Orthodoxy with immense moral authority, moreso than the bishops at the time. When he spoke, people listened and he brought a certain cache to the Metropolia that they had never had. Nor was it the case of him simply being a mesa surrounded by desert valleys, he was the real deal.
Ramrod straight, his physical bearing was one of a real man, so much different than many other clergymen, before or since. Thus, when he helped the Russian patriarchate engineer the tomos of autocephaly for the Metropolia in 1970, he decided to put some backstops in it, to prevent the native hierarchy from screwing things up too badly. That’s how the wierd hybrid of lay overlordship as exemplified in the “Metropolitan Council” (MC) was created. To be sure, it had antecedents in the Petrine reforms that Russia in the seventeenth century which made the Russian church a department of state, but it was not the norm in Orthodoxy.
Unfortunately, he put sinews and flesh on the old archdiocesan model, essentially strengthening it. Thus the “Metropolitan’s Council,” a group of laymen and priests who assisted the Metropolitan-Archbishop of the Russian eparchy became the “Metropolitan Council.” Over the years this council has aggrandized much power. No longer an advisory body, it has actual budgetary authority as stated in the Statutes of the OCA. The synod of bishops of course can veto its decisions but as a rule, they have been quite compliant. There’s a reason for that: “He who controls the purse, rules.”
It is in this light that we must understand the ultiimate powerlessness of the bishops and their willingness to foolishly cede even more of their canonical authority to married archpriests and laymen, which is why the OCA will have two officers dedicated to “sexual misconduct” in the clergy. This is also why in their quest to find something to pin on the Metropolitan, they dredged up a sexual case involving a priest who happened to be living in Washington (but curiously enough was never in the OCA). As they teach in Journalism 1010, “sex sells.”
Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, we now see that this bureaucratic model had disastrous results in Russia. The difference between the Romanov-dominated Russian Orthodox Church and the OCA is that whereas it took the better part of three centuries for the Russian church to lose its moral authority, it has taken the OCA less than fifty. Is it because the Carpatho-Russian demographic was not up to the task? I’d say not. It’s because the Schmemann model took on a life of its own. It became a self-sustaining cult centered in the holy city of Syosset, attended by its own priesthood which alone could interpret the sacred texts. In its munificence, it allowed the formal episcopate to function for appearance’s sake.
So that’s basically where we are. In any event, the quaint immigrant culture that sustained the OCA in the past and somewhat justified a strong Metropolitan Council, does not point the way to the future. It can’t. If nothing else, the other patriarchates will not allow it to exist should they choose to recognize an autocephalous American Orthodox Church. This is so blazingly obvious thanks to the grand, blazing gotterdamerung that Syosset engineered last week in blazing, glorious Technicolor®. That the very immigrant culture itself is dying (as can be gleaned from the OCA’s ever-dwindling stewardship numbers) is merely icing on the cake.
The self-immolation of American Orthodoxy fills me with profound sadness. The eparchial model based on immigrant nostalgia that the OCA could not (or would not) put aside is now ascendent (to the extent which a decrepit paradigm can be “ascendant”). A small burst of immigration from an economically prostrate Greece and a terrorized Christian exodus from Syria will temporarily pad the numbers of the GOA and the Antiochian archdiocese but in reality only ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchal archdiocese can continue along this model for the time being, not so much because of similar immigration from Russia but because the modernist rot that has seeped into the OCA doesn’t stand a chance in these eparchies.
And make no mistake, it’s all over but the shouting for the OCA.
COUGHED OUT BY THE WHALE: THE TALE OF JONAH
Into this slough of despond walked Bishop Jonah, an American convert who received monastic training in Russia. Elected in 2008 in Pittsburgh at the AAC on a wave of euphoria (and disgust at the previous kakostocracy), he portended change for the better. Instantly, he became the rock star of Orthodoxy, not only in America but throughout the world. People took an instant liking to him. A man without guile, it looked as if the world was his oyster.
It was not to be however. The curious institutions that governed the OCA were still hamstrung by an ecclesiology that did not comport with true autocephaly. Like the Metropolitan Council, the central administration in Syosset was a hold-over from the old days when the Metropolia was an archdiocese of Moscow, not unlike what obtains in Englewood for the Antiochians or Manhattan for the Greeks (both of which are still under foreign patriarchates). Though they receive no monies from Syosset, the diocesan bishops still received guidance and often correction from the chancery. The chancellor and other luminaries there are married priests, some of whom have a dim view of the episcopate. They have a lot of power and they are always on the lookout for even more authority over the bishops (hence the “Sex Czar”). Moreover, the Metropolitan Council actually has statutory authority to set the budget (as mentioned earlier), something the Synod itself cannot do. Hence my assertion that the former is superior to the latter. Regardless, the whole set-up is caterwampus.
Jonah had his own vision, one that was more in line with traditional Orthodox eccesiology. A true monk, he tried to revive that tradition within the OCA. And no, he didn’t imagine himself to be a mini-pope. Let us dispense with that canard once and for all. In his own writings and actions, he declared that the decentralized, diocesan model was the only correct one for the Church. This raised red flags at Syosset, which sustains itself with massive remittances from eight of the 11 territorial dioceses (and hardly anything at all from the ethnic ones, interestingly enough). If Jonah’s vision was realized, then Syosset’s days were numbered.
As if this wasn’t enough, Jonah openly questioned the OCA’s autocephaly, choosing to “reimagine” it in favor of a truly united American church, one which united all Orthodox regardless of ethnicity around the person of the Archbishop of Washington, DC. To better realize this, he actually moved to the capital itself — in other words, he not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. He took very seriously his title as Archbishop of Washington. And it paid dividends; DC is where the action was and he soon became a fixture at significant events and venues.
So why Washington? Being a former Anglican, one who came of age as the American branch of the Anglican Communion (ECUSA) began it’s three-decade-long march into the embrace of apostasy, he knew what the spirit of the age was. Personally a convivial, non-judgmental man who loves everybody, he was also not hesitant to speak the truth. This made him many friends in the other denominations but enemies in his own. In a previous essay, I showed with very little effort that homophilic cabals exist within the OCA and that they are primarily concentrated in the Northeast. It wasn’t that hard to do, priests have been telling me this for years now.
After a couple of google searches (and look at some of the emails sent me from sympathizers) and I had it in black and white. They exist in the other jurisdictions as well and many of their luminaries are uncomfortable with things like The Annual March for Life. As they incessantly say, they would prefer to “work behind the scenes.” Let’s be honest, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops had to be brought kicking and screaming into supporting the Catholic bishops in their crusade against the notorious Health and Human Services mandate which forced religious bodies to pay for abortions and contraception. Jonah’s was a prophetic voice that was not scared to speak truth to the culture.
I realize that this isn’t going to satisfy the Inspector Clouseaus out there who refuse to believe their own eyes and engage in mental gymnastics to not confront the obvious, but I’m not writing for them. They’re ideologues and have their minds made up — you know, Traditionalists are basically rubes who should stick to hunting moose with Sarah Palin. Instead, I’m writing for the reasonable person. And I’m telling that person that there are Lavender Mafias and that they do exist. Now please understand, I don’t think that there’s a Gay Comintern which is issuing directives to agents-in-place. But there is a secularist, post-Christian mindset which has latched onto the concept of “sexual minorities” and invested them with a sanctity that was formerly ascribed to African-Americans during the bad old days of Jim Crow. This is as tendentious as it is evil and it is real.
So here we are. Make no mistake: Jonah was not a Johnny One-note regarding homosexuality. Indeed, he overlooked the presence of sin in his own cathedral, choosing mercy over discipline —oikonomia instead of akrivia, so to speak. He really loved his enemies and prayed for them. I’m sure he still does, even as he surveys the wreckage to his own family. But that doesn’t neutralize the essential truth of the matter: the modernists won, and they won big. His former cathedral in Washington will become the epicenter of a homophilic movement within the OCA and there’s nothing that the bishops of the OCA can do do stop it. The bishops abrogated their moral authority, not because of any sexual skeletons in their closets but because of their false witness against their brother.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
It’s clear now that for Jonah this was an uphill battle from the start. The deep institutional mediocrity endemic to the OCA was simply too entrenched. My brothers in ROCOR assure me that these issues are not even on the radar in their jurisdiction. That ship is run so tight that it squeaks. Good for them and may God protect them. The OCA elite however, is so invested in its self-idolatry as the only “real” Orthodox church on this continent that it has absolutely no compunction about spitting in the faces of the other patriarchs. That being the case, there is no way that it can be righted short of repentance and public apology. Instead, it tries to avoid confronting the zeitgeist by waving the red flag of “sexual misconduct” in the clergy. On this, they tell us, hang all the Law and the Prophets.
And if no one really believes them, it still might mollify the peasants and make them see the necessity of throwing more money towards Syosset. When all else fails, when people leave the Church in droves, when priests are woefully underpaid, then call in the Sex Czar and his trusty sidekick, Clergy Cop. That’ll wow ‘em.
Now, I’ve beaten this concept to death, exposing its essential ridiculousness for all to see. I’ll write the last installment of “Sex Czar” in the near future. For now, focus on this: the only approach that Syosset knows to keep priests in line and the money flowing is punitive. The fact that it by-passes the diocesan structures is immaterial, all the Best and the Brightest know is what’s good for Syosset, is good for the OCA. End of story.
So where are we? As far as I’m concerned, back to the bad old days of entrenched mediocrity and eventual extinction. Even Fr Thomas Hopko predicted as much in 2006, before the “mentally troubled” Jonah was elected as Metropolitan.
I titled this essay “You Can’t Fix Stupid.” I wasn’t trying to be hurtful, just truthful. Unlike the wily truth-telling Arab who has one foot in the saddle ready to ride off in a moment’s notice, I ain’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean that I can’t see the forest for the trees and call our leaders to account.
So here goes:
The OCA actually had some things going for it, before this debacle blew up in our faces. Two fine seminaries, a fine intellectual legacy as exemplified by Frs. Schmemann, Meyendorff, and Florovsky, numerous churches, and an attachment to the North American continent. Its roots were deep, or at least deeper than the other jurisdictions. Moreover, the OCA was not a nostalgia cult and the language issue which has been tearing apart most of the other jurisdictions had been resolved long ago. It had a native hierarchy.
Those are a lot of cards to bring to the table in the quest for a united, local American Orthodox Church. It also had the ultimate wild card: autocephaly. And under the visionary leadership of Metropolitan Jonah — a primate who was ready to work for real unity with the other primates — it had much moral authority. His ministry was even blessed by the Ecumenical Patriach as can be gleaned by significant developments over the past year. (Scurrilous stories put out by Leonid Kishkovsky and others to the contrary are simply false.)
The OCA had a good hand to play. Unfortunately Syosset threw the cards out the window with Jonah’s firing and chose to run down the street like a madman with its hair on fire with its latest broadside. Make no mistake, there is no way that any other American Orthodox jurisdiction is going to look at us and say “put me down for some of that.” Our bishops have so delegitimized the OCA that we now have nothing to offer a future American Orthodox Church. Nothing. If there is to be another Episcopal Assembly, and if we are allowed to attend, we will sit there as Banquo’s Ghost. Those sitting nearby will feel a shudder, the rest will mercifully ignore us.
Moreover, no Orthodox patriarchate is going to countenance such behavior even if the allegations against Jonah were true. There are ways of “retiring” a primate and the OCA chose the most inflammatory, inept, divisive, and humiliating way possible. If there is to be a Great and Holy Council in 2013, the OCA’s hide is going to be nailed the wall. With these egregious actions, we have lost our only patron in the Orthodox world, which coincidentally enough is the most powerful Orthodox church in the world.
How stupid is that?