Voices from Russia

Friday, 11 April 2008

“What is a Bishop?”

Archbishop Vikenty Morar of Yekaterinburg (1953- ), an exemplar for all bishops

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There’s been much debate on the OCA crisis, both the general malaise and the particular problem involving Alaska over the past week. This piece is serious and worthy of consideration. Fr John doesn’t go far enough, but he does give one enough for a “mediation on a theme”. There’s much good spoken here, just disregard the modernist dross.

BMD

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Professor Meyendorff’s Proposal: Is it enough?

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, … without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, … headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3.1-5a

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Bishop St Tikhon Sokolov (Kirillov) of Zadonsk the Wonderworker (1724-83, canonised 1861)

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The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America is perceived by many to be both morally bankrupt as well as functionally inept. Recently, Professor Paul Meyendorff suggested in a letter to the Pre-conciliar Commission that the entire Holy Synod should stand down en masse at the forthcoming All American Council. Diocese by diocese would be charged to vote for its particular bishop, whether or not to re-affirm him in office. He cites historical precedent for this having happened in the past, specifically at the All Russia Sobor in 1917-18. He believes that such an action “may now be the only way to restore integrity and trust”. His is an intriguing suggestion, in theory. Arguably, there’d be statutory and canonical issues attendant upon implementing it. There’d be institutional resistance, of course. However, that such a suggestion would be proffered by one of the OCA’s eminent minds demonstrates the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves as the Orthodox Church in America. Professor Meyendorff believes that such “steps will give us the opportunity to start with a clean slate”. His boldness is a welcome addition to the dialogue.

En masse resignations would give us a powerful opportunity to begin anew. By so doing, the bishops could, indeed, acknowledge in humility “their individual and corporate responsibility and guilt for what has happened on their watch”. It’d be a good place to start to acknowledge individual and corporate responsibility and guilt. However, without purposing repentance, it’d only be a start. Confession requires repentance. Repentance requires a change in behaviour. Without repentance, a confession’s only an admission of guilt. So, with respect, I’d disagree with Professor Meyendorff’s proposal that individual bishops once having stood down from office might be afforded the possibility of “(re)-election”. A majority of reigning bishops served during most, if not all, of the “Kondratick Era” of 1987 to 2005. Most turned their heads, or averted their eyes, or closed their ears, or simply fell asleep, as far as we can tell, until one bishop, Archbishop Job, began to articulate, and, then, to importune, a simple question: Are the allegations true or are they false?

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Archbishop Job Osacky of Chicago (1946- ), “the last honest bishop in the OCA”. 

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One bishop, at times alone, it seems, has been willing to stand against the rest of the Synod, imploring an answer. Still now, two-and-one-half years after the public revelation of the “original” scandal, the Holy Synod still appears reticent to act unless forced by the extent of publicity and/or the threat of litigation. Change for the better can come only when the entire culture of the OCA, including that of the Holy Synod, is changed. That must be the ultimate goal, not merely a clean slate, but a new slate. What purpose would it serve now to re-elect, to re-confirm any bishop who was party to the Holy Synod’s culture of abdication of its collegial duty to rule well over the household of God? It’d negate any possibility of a change for the better. It presumes a degree of willingness to change and an ability to function not warranted by past actions.

Should en masse resignations of the bishops happen, a minimum quorum of three bishops could be retained temporarily to serve as a provisional Synod. They’d have to be those reigning bishops with the shortest tenure and consequently those least implicated in the abdication of their collective duties. They could preside over the reconstitution of the Holy Synod as new bishops were elected. Then, they, too, should retire. Only then might the Church consider electing a new Metropolitan. Suffice it to say, there’s scant prospect for this to happen. Should resignations not prove forthcoming by November, the dioceses will bear responsibility before God, one by one, to seek to elect honourable men to fill episcopal vacancies as they occur. The bishops haven’t been the only ones in the Church to have abdicated responsibility. Local dioceses must accept their share of the blame. There’s plenty to go around. Only with the passage of time, along with the evidence of mortality, might needed cultural change in the Synod be effected, diocese by diocese, bishop by bishop.

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God of Savaoth

Viktor Vasnetsov

1896

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Thus, the culture of local dioceses must be transformed as well as that of the Holy Synod. Faithfully, and in the fear of God, candidates must be scrutinized as if the salvation of souls in each diocese truly depended on it. Bishops answer before God’s throne for those whom they have offended and scandalised from the Gospel (Hebrews 13.17). Yet, so must the dioceses answer for the men whom they elect as shepherds over them. Certainly, the old culture of pre-selecting individuals for “consideration” by the dioceses will die hard. Old preferences in some quarters for bishops who are “controllable” will linger. Lists of “acceptable” candidates for election will still be circulated in an attempt to have more of the same. “Controllable” by whom and “acceptable” to whom, one wonders. It’ll be incumbent upon local dioceses to refuse to acquiesce to the old system, assuming greater responsibility in the selection process and consequently for a sorely needed cultural shift in the OCA as a whole. The diocese is that locus where the people of God are the sine qua non of the Church Catholic. It isn’t the bishop alone or the faithful alone, but the bishop surrounded by the faithful united in Eucharistic life. This is where there must be the ultimate catalyst for change. This is where there is the greatest likelihood for change to take place.

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Apostle St Paul

St Andrei Rublyov

circa 1410

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Whilst it might seem a novel thought, perhaps, we should turn to the Scriptures themselves for guidance in this matter. One needs look no further than the writings of St Paul. Truly, this should be the authoritative guide for dioceses to begin transforming the culture of the OCA.

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

I Timothy 3.1 ff

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In a single word, a bishop is to be blameless, above reproach in every aspect of his life. He is to be unimpeachable, evidenced by his behaviour in his home, in the Church, and in the public’s estimation of him. St John Chrysostom commented, Every virtue’s implied in this word (blameless); so that if any one be conscious to himself of any sins, he doth not well to desire an office for which his own actions have disqualified him. For such a one ought to be ruled, and not to rule others… (Homily X, On Timothy, emphasis added)

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His Holiness Aleksei Rediger, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias (1929- )

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Some might protest that the Scriptures require too much of a bishop. Yet, these requirements are incumbent upon our presbyters as well (cf Titus 1). Moreover, it’ll require bishops (and presbyters) who’re irreproachable, inculpable, and exemplary to transform the whole culture of the OCA. It won’t come about by maintaining lower standards (we’ve been there and done that). This is something which the Apostle expounds upon, specifically, as follows.

Bishops must be moral sexually:

The specific scriptural reference to good morals is that a bishop is to be the “husband of one wife”. Explicit in the apostles’ practice was that the shepherds of the churches were to be above reproach in terms of sexual morality. They, thereby, would be models to their flocks. Implicit was that the bishops were monogamous heterosexuals. Absent enough monastic communities in America to form many men monastically for the episcopate, it might be wiser for us to select primarily widowers as bishops. This wouldn’t obviate every problem, but it certainly would cut down on some of the more flagrant ones. It isn’t the purpose of this article to argue for restoration of the married episcopate, if only for the impracticability (and improbability) of its restoration in the short run.

Bishops must be temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, and hospitable:

This speaks collectively about a bishop’s emotional and mental well-being. Psychological assessments are available to help in the Church’s process of discernment for all members of the clergy. Psychological evaluations of future seminarians have now been mandated by the Holy Synod. Future candidates for the episcopate need to undergo the same scrutiny.

Bishops must be able to teach:

The chief obligation of Orthodox bishops is to teach and defend the faith. This is without dispute. On the one hand, ability to teach isn’t necessarily dependent upon or even evidenced by degrees earned. Yet, higher clergy must have higher educations, whether possessing terminal degrees or not. Advanced theological training of potential candidates for the episcopate must be required, not merely “recommended”. Our standing in world Orthodoxy is otherwise compromised.

Bishops must not be addicted to alcohol:

Families dealing with alcohol and/or chemical dependency, and the behaviours that may accompany it such as deceit, denial, co-dependency, manipulation, rage, and abuse, to name a few, are dysfunctional families, to lesser and greater degrees. The Church family isn’t, somehow, magically exempt from this effect when spiritual parents are alcoholics or otherwise chemically dependent. “Christian compassion” shouldn’t be misused or misconstrued when selecting individuals to oversee the Church. It shouldn’t cloud judgement about the lack of fitness in Church leadership for those suffering from any type of chemical or alcohol dependency. Addiction, quite bluntly, is an impediment to ordination, both scripturally and practically.

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00 Ilya Repin. St Nicholas Prevents the Falsely-Accused from Being Executed. 1889

St Nicholas Prevents the Falsely-Accused from being Executed

Ilya Repin

1889

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Bishops must not be prone to anger:

St Paul says specifically that “no striker” should be considered for the episcopate, that bishops not be prone to anger. Obviously, alcohol dependency and violent outbursts, even physical violence, can go hand in hand. But violent excessive anger can stand alone. Overall restraint and emotional stability is required for anyone who would lead another to Christ, much less lead the Church. This complements temperance and good mental health noted above.

Bishops must not be lovers of money:

“Lifestyle issues” don’t revolve merely around sexual appetites. As the Apostle warned St Timothy, the love of money is the root of all evil (not sex). (I Timothy 6.10) So, flamboyance among any of the clergy is reason for great sadness. Modest behaviour and modest lifestyles must be expected of the ordained. Fondness for banqueting and being feted, for personal possessions, or for rank and prestige are but indicators of hirelings. True shepherds live in the fields with their flocks. They know that they depend upon their sheep as much as their sheep depend upon them.

Bishops must manage well:

Equally important to St Paul was the bishop’s ability to manage his personal affairs in his own household. In short, how was his family “turning out?” If he couldn’t make Christians at home, he shouldn’t be expected to make them any where else. No one should deny that administrative ability is requisite for those who head dioceses, the bishop’s household writ large. Numerous canons about the administrative responsibilities of bishops underscore the need to select those who “manage well”. To do otherwise is to opt for more mismanagement by default, at the very least.

Bishops must not be novices:

St Paul speaks of a prohibition of “novices” though he doesn’t mean “youth” per se. He prohibits the selection of “neophytes”, the choice of the unbaptised St Ambrose later on not withstanding. The point is this… bishops must have proved themselves previously as capable presbyters, ministering well over local communities. Such wisdom, and consequent humility, takes time, usually much time, to acquire.

Bishops must have a good testimony outside the Church:

In short, we, too, need to select bishops whom those in the world know to be moral, to be upstanding, in a word, men who are known by the outside world to be “Christians”. Chrysostom noted that the Apostles and the martyrs gave no cause for public scandal or arrest because of personal conduct. The content of their preaching got them arrested, not their deeds. Proclaiming the Gospel got them notoriety, not vice; and even the heathen knew it. (Chrysostom, Op cit.; Cf. Martyrdom of Polycarp) Our needs are no less great.

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Metropolitan Laurus Škurla of New York and Jordanville (1928-2008)

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One is hard pressed to argue that any one of the above qualifications is dispensable. These, indeed, are minimums, bare minimums, but they are God’s minimums. We must settle for nothing less. We ignore them to our own peril. We observe for ourselves the result when we do. Finally, St Paul warned St Timothy of the danger of having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3.5a). Can we not say that we find ourselves in such a situation at present? Having had a form of godliness as the autocephalous OCA, we certainly have denied that power. We have sought form over substance and appearance over content. We have wanted acceptance before man rather than blamelessness before God. In the long run, we’ve demonstrated our inability, our failure to govern ourselves. We find ourselves bankrupt spiritually. Having had a reputation that we’re alive, we’re about to die. Will we repent? (cf Revelation of St John 3.1-3)

For the OCA to become whatever it is that God intends for it to be, our bishops must be reflective of a new mind, of a new vision, of a new and upright Spirit in the Church in America. In a word, they all must be blameless. They all must be holy. Whether by mass resignations or by attrition, our work is cut for us. Our culture must be changed. However, it’ll only be changed at the top once we have begun those changes from the bottom up. Demanding holiness of ourselves first, let our work begin in earnest.

These are perilous times, indeed.

11 April 2008

Archpriest John M Reeves

State College PA

Rector of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church

Former member of the Special Commission

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Orthodox bishops united in Moscow (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal Region) RF

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Editor’s Note:

There are several caveats I’d add to the above piece. Firstly, the OCA has a very small probability of surviving as an independent entity. Therefore, in the case of the OCA facing reality and reuniting itself with the Mother Church, the comment concerning the lack of monasticism may become moot. The OCA was never anything other than a part of an actual larger whole in any case (the “Russian Orthodox Church in the Americas”, for lack of a better title), it never was a discrete cultural-sociological entity, rather, it was a splinter of such. Secondly, psychologists should be kept out of the selection process. They aren’t objective professionals. I asked an MD of my acquaintance why psychologists and therapists weren’t objective, and his words were direct and frank. “They are all dealing with their own problems”. I’d add that the MD in question was a former research fellow at the Mayo Clinic, a division head at a regional medical centre, and a professor at a medical school. No lightweight, I’d say. We should be listening to our wise elders (both monastic and lay), not jumped-up frauds with a PhD! We should heed the wise saying, “Education, sociology, and psychology are the slums of academe”. Should we allow such dodgy sorts a voice in the selection of our clergy? I think not!

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Patriarch St Tikhon

Natalia Kurguzova-Miroshnik

1997

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Thirdly, I agree with Fr John’s disagreement with Professor Meyendorff’s thesis, but he doesn’t give the airy-fairy academic the drubbing he deserves. Professor Meyendorff is famous for misquoting St Tikhon of Moscow, in a false attempt to portray him as a precursor of SVS modernism. Indeed, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov wrote an internet article exposing some of these distorted misquotes (without naming Mr Meyendorff as the culprit, though, in an attempt to get the professor to mend his ways, no doubt). After all, Mr Meyendorff is notorious for his hatred of and rants against “liturgical fundamentalists”. I kid you not! He actually DOES use such adolescent and silly terminology. That’s SO obtuse that it is impossible to invent it! These caveats notwithstanding, the above piece is worth your time and study. 

The remark concerning psychologists shows us one of the areas the Church must labour in to restore an Orthodox mindset in our people and clergy. American positivism has infiltrated the church, although not to the extent that it infects Protestant evangelicals, modernist Anglicans, and Vatican II American Catholics. Positivism is the reigning religion in America today, and because of its prevalence, we must assume that all converts coming to us are actual adherents to it, no matter what Christian sect they claim to be members of. Fr John appears to have a case of positivism, but, since SVS is one of the leading voices for positivism within Orthodoxy, it isn’t surprising. In any case, it may not be his actual opinion; it may be his “pinch of incense” on the SVS altar so that his piece gains greater circulation. Because positivism is so pervasive in American church circles, we may find it wise to lengthen the time we take to “enchurch” converts. Certainly, no convert should be allowed to even think of seminary for at least five years after entry into the Church. There’ve been cases of those who were allowed to enter seminary after only a year in the Church. The priests who recommended such were irresponsible and we should discipline them. A person with one year in the Church is still an infant in the Faith, and hasn’t lost their heterodox baggage. Such people are harmed by an overly-early entrance into Orthodox academe.

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The Assembled Elders Bless a Bride in the Town of Murom

Ivan Kulikov

1909

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Unfortunately, many converts read too much and live too little. What should they be doing for at least five years? They should go to liturgy, confess, be absolved, receive the Eucharist, do good deeds, and let the liturgy sink into their being. Is that all? Yes… it is ENOUGH. One must grow organically in the Faith and this process cannot be rushed. Instead of reading the Fathers, they should emulate the “living icons” about them. When I think of what to do in a given situation, I do NOT read a book! I bring to mind what good Christians of my acquaintance did. I learned more from them than from all the books I have ever read in my life. To properly implement some of the suggestions above, we need to stop reading and start praying, living, and loving. The Faith isn’t found in a book (although books aren’t bad things in themselves); it isn’t a dry and sterile repetition of canons and patristic citations taken out of context. It’s an incarnational encounter with the very ground of Being. That is why converts must stop reading the Fathers and start to prepare themselves to meet their Heavenly Father.

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Friday 11 April 2008

Albany NY

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