Time for Reconciliation

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
Time for Reconciliation
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2008]

In November this year, there will be an All-American Council of The Orthodox Church in America, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This Council takes place just over one hundred years after the very first Sobor of our young Church, in eastern Pennsylvania. Those who read “The Orthodox Church” magazine will have been reading important historical articles, which contribute seriously to our preparation for the coming Sobor. I am grateful to God that these articles are being provided to us. Because we are North Americans, we often simply go to such meetings without any sense of the historical context of each meeting. We tend to live only in the present.

As those who have been reading these things will understand, our Orthodox Church in America has been passing through a very difficult period in her history. Those who understand history will also understand that this is not, by any means, the first time our Church has faced what could be called a “life-threatening injury”. In fact, in their own context, certain past events have been much worse. Nevertheless, the Lord, who is the Head of the Church, the Head of the Body of Christ, has been keeping His flock together, and moving in the correct direction. In contrast, we, the sheep, have tended to behave very like sheep under an attack of some sort. We tend to become hysterical. We tend to scatter. We tend to distrust each other, and reject each other. Sometimes, sheep-like, we even butt, or bite each other in our fear.

In this state, it often takes us some time to come back to equilibrium, because it takes us a lot of time to remember to call upon the Lord for help. As I frequently will be saying, we are much like the Apostle Peter, when he was walking towards the Lord upon the water, in the wind (see Matthew 14:28-32). When we look at the mess around, and forget to look intently towards the Lord, we invariably sink in the stormy waters. When we look towards the Lord, we can keep our equilibrium, and have confidence that even though there should be a messy situation, it will be ultimately be resolved according to the Lord’s will.

I often find myself comparing our relatively small crisis with the many crises faced by Saint Patriarch Tikhon, and the Russian Orthodox Church, over the last hundred years. Those who kept their peace in Christ (even if they had to die), nevertheless enabled the Church to make progress in recovering herself, even before the fall of communism. Thus, when we are facing a difficulty, we all have our responsibility within the Church. We must always remember to pray. We must always prayerfully support those who have the responsibility of leadership (this is what the Gospel, and the Apostle, teach us). I know very concretely that I, myself, am able to survive (even if it is marginally) as a bishop, because the faithful people do pray. I make many mistakes. People pray. The Lord makes the best of it. It is really important that we do not neglect intercessory prayer ; but rather, that we constantly bring each other before the Lord with at least the prayer “Lord, have mercy”. In doing so, we ignite His love in each other, and in ourselves. Such prayer brings life.

Our current crisis has had mainly to do with administrative difficulties. Our structure, as an Autocephalous Church, does not yet properly support the way we should be living our ecclesiastical life. As a result, there is vagueness of responsibility, which allowed for big mistakes to be made, and, at the same time, made it difficult for them to be seen until it was far too late. True, the Holy Synod of Bishops is always ultimately responsible for everything — for good, or for bad. At the same time, the Holy Synod of Bishops together with the Metropolitan Council (both of whose specific responsibilities need refinement in the OCA Statute) depend upon the clear presentation of facts, for them to make proper decisions. Both bodies not only had unclear information presented to them (although it appeared to be clear), but they also lost the needed personal connection with each other. When questions latterly began to be asked (or even accusations made), it was difficult for some time to comprehend what needed to be done. One must understand that, at the regular meetings of both the Holy Synod of Bishops, and of the Metropolitan Council, there has been a flood of information being presented through all sorts of reports. When such reports are seen for the first time at the moment when they are presented, and when there is very little time before the next report, I have seen that few persons have the gift of spiritual, mental, and intellectual acuity to catch details that might be a problem or trouble in development. Bishops are human beings, too, and they have their limitations. Ultimately, we have not been able to account for the movement and destination of a rather large amount of money. For some of it, recent investigation seems to reveal a little bit more information.

The results of all these very painful events have been both good, and bad. They have been bad in that there developed a rupturing of trust and of communication between old friends, relatives, and co-workers. There have been many phantastic accusations made by one person or another (and particularly against those in authority) based on shadows of fact. There has been spread about the poison of bitterness. As an extension, some persons began to express doubt that our Orthodox Church in America could survive. On the other hand, the results have been positive in that it became clear (at least to an extent) what had happened. There has been a deep internal examination of our structure, and an extensive repair undertaken in our administration. Repentance has been set in action — a turning about, a righting of wrongs, a correction of direction. Some of our older and experienced parishioners have said something to the effect that it is only money, after all, and we never did have much any way. The implication is that such an exaggerated focus on money itself seems out of place for us Orthodox Christians, given what is written in the Gospel. This is not to diminish the great importance of honesty and integrity.

Still, to some extent, the basic need to turn to Christ first in everything seems to have been forgotten. We have taken many concrete and necessary steps towards the reform and renewal of our administration. Yet seldom does one see or hear reported from various meetings, evidence that we are remembering the Lord, that we are remembering that it is His Church, that He is in charge, that we are exercising our responsibility in harmony with, and in consultation with Him. It appears as though we are determined to repair things ourselves. Sometimes, I even hear that references to the Lord, and to the Gospel, and to the Way are not well accepted these days by participants in some meetings. These can be the “town-hall” meetings, the meetings of administrative bodies, and others. We seem to be in a phase of blaming someone else (perhaps, miserably, anyone else). The worst of it all, from my perspective, has been shown in some dark, verbal attacks against our metropolitan. This is completely against both the Gospel and our Tradition. It can be seen as a sort of spiritual patricide. As a result, we are still in a very dangerous stage of our recovery. Without direct, constant reference to the Lord, and without our deliberately and specifically referring to Him, we are lost. The work of the adversary, the divider, the father-of-lies, is evident amongst us, and it is crucial that we turn away from this, and allow the Lord to heal us.

That is why I am encouraged by the preparatory work being done towards the next All-American Council. The focus is reconciliation and forgiveness. This is absolutely the right way. Even if we were not in this painful situation, it would still be the right way. The Preconciliar Commission, under the leadership of Bishop Nikon of Boston, is working very hard to help us with this needed work. It appears that there will be offered, in preparation for the Sobor, some significant opportunities for improving communication amongst us all, and between the bishops and the faithful. Because I know of the work of this Commission, I also know that it is very much moved by consciousness of the Lord, and of the Gospel. I am encouraged, because if we follow through on this work of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, our restructuring will be blessable by the Lord. If we follow through on this, we will be able more effectively to do what the Lord has given us to do here — to be the Church in, and for, North America. If we follow through on this, we will have hope at last of being the catalyst for the accomplishment of the complete reunification of the Orthodox Church in North America. We will be able to accomplish effectively our missionary work here, and to shine clearly with the light of the love of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if you can possibly attend this All-American Council, then do your best to be there. It cannot be like the more recent councils, because of lack of resources. It can be effective, however, if we fast, pray, and act.