Voices from Russia

Monday, 19 October 2009

You Shouldn’t Play With Matches

Filed under: Christian,internet,moral issues,Orthodox life,religious,ROCOR,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00

play with matches

The following was sent to me by a friend. Apparently, it appeared on the Orthodox Forum. It is troubling in the extreme, in its content, in its source, and in its general tenor. Firstly, let’s read what Fr Alexander Lebedeff said, naked and unashamed, without coercion or pressure.


Guess what?

I’ve decided to join the movement for maximum transparency and accountability. From now on, after every confession that I hear, I’ll give an “Evaluation Card” to the person confessing, so that he or she would be able to rate my confession performance and pastoral ability on a scale of one to ten, and add comments and suggestions. That card could then be dropped by the parishioner into a special locked box on the way out of the Church. I’ll do the same after every pastoral counselling session that I give, and after every sermon. The cards wouldn’t be sent to my Ruling Bishop or the Hierarchical Synod (since bishops are all part of an “old-boy network” and can’t be trusted), but, rather, to some unbiased lay organisation, such as the Supreme Council of the “Federation Of Orthodox Laity”… so that these results could be tabulated and published on a website (such as that of Orthodox Christians for Accountability or something similar) in order to achieve maximum visibility.

All Orthodox priests would be required to do the same. The Supreme Council of the Federation of Orthodox Laity (lay people, as opposed to clergy, being known to be infallible in their judgements) would meanwhile be granted the sole authority to confer awards and promotions to the clergy based on the data collected. A perfect solution. Now, if we can just get this accomplished, think how much transparency and accountability we could achieve!

With love in Christ,

Prot. Alexander Lebedeff


I can’t believe that Fr Alexander allowed this to reach the public. I CAN understand him writing something like this up and sending it off to his bishop… it happens all the time, I’m sure… then again, the publicising of such seems… imprudent… does it not? It’s a match thrown into a spreading pool of petrol, and it doesn’t add anything to the discussion involved. There’s much that Fr Alexander can offer as a canonist (one of the very few such in this country, by the way), but, none of that is visible in this… shall we say … “thoughtless”… submission. Indeed, one can get the impression that Fr Alexander is offering a no-holds-barred defence to what he obviously sees as an attack on the clerical caste. Is he, though?

Firstly, Fr Alexander himself had an excellent formation as a priest under Archbishop Averky Taushev… then, he was cell-attendant to Metropolitan Philaret Voznesensky. In short, he was given excellent examples to emulate. I have no doubt that not only Fr Alexander, but, virtually all ROCOR priests would never dream of blabbing anything that they heard in confession or counselling (there are always a few bad apples… but, that does not negate the rule). This is a result of their formation… and priests who are formed at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville are the “gold standard”… as Fr Alexander himself noted in one of his posts on the schismatic dissidents who rebelled against the 2007 reconciliation (again, there are exceptions, but, hey, this is the sinful-ginful human race, not angels!). I fear that he thinks that OCA priests share the same sort of formation. Unfortunately, they do not.

Secondly, Raymond Velencia did not receive this formation; I believe he was formed at SVS. The time of residence at SVS (3 years) is less than that at Holy Trinity (5 years), which means that seminarians are under the watchful eye of the staff for a shorter period… good-sense tells one that there is a greater chance that bad apples shall slip through at SVS in the sheer nature of things. In addition, Holy Trinity is on the grounds of Holy Trinity Monastery and the students take part in the life of the monastery… something denied to students at SVS (which is nothing but a school building, chapel, and residences set in a semi-suburban location in Yonkers near Westchester… there is no monastic life whatsoever there… indeed, many of the ordinary and small Orthodox customs are not followed, either… ask Archbishop Kirill Dmitrieff!). The long and short of it is that he (and many others) received a deficient formation that focused on education only. Sadly, they were formed under the baleful influence of Aleksandr Dmitrievich Schmemann and his associates, whereas Fr Alexander and his classmates came up under the beneficial influence of Archbishop Averky Taushev and his associates. Ergo, Raymond Velencia has the external appearance of an Orthodox priest, but, as for the “interior”, his actions prove that he is “a man without a chest”, in C S Lewis’ memorable phrase. Do not forget that the OCA did not dispute in open court the fact that Raymond Velencia broached pastoral confidentiality (a legal, as well as a moral, category)… it only offered arguments concerning responsibility.

Thirdly, Fr Alexander was formed as (and served as) a priest in an atmosphere where the Holy Synod of Bishops acted whenever the Church was in danger. They did not always choose prudently… they ARE human, after all… but, they ACTED, which is their responsibility before God and man. There is a “taboo” in some quarters about talking about former disputes and troubles in the Church. I believe that we miss many crucial lessons if we do so. For instance, in the late 70s (or, was it the early 80s? I stand under correction in this), there was a scandal involving a faculty member of Holy Trinity Seminary and a student. Well, the bishop involved, Laurus Škurla, acted as he should have done under the circumstances. The guilty party was exiled to Athos… he was removed from the faculty, of course, as a result. There were those who were upset with this decision (and are so to this day)… however, Bishop Laurus acted; he made a decision. Thus, he removed the cause of the problem; he did his best to ensure that this particular little imbroglio would never recur. Such action by the bishops did not occur in the Velencia case. It is clear from the court documents submitted that Raymond Velencia publicised details of confession/counselling. Furthermore, the OCA bishops not only refused to act, they sent Fr Alexei Karlgut to pressure Kristi Koumentakos to sign a confidential settlement so that she would drop her suit.

So, Fr Alexander, we have “apples and oranges”. You were formed and have served in a healthy Orthodox atmosphere. Therefore, it does not surprise me that you find some of things surrounding the Koumentakos case perplexing. However, Raymond Velencia did not serve under Averky Taushev, Philaret Voznesensky, or Laurus Škurla… and imbibe their good influences. Instead he served under Herman Swaiko and Feodosy Lazor… the influence he received was not so good, was it, Fr Alexander (be careful in rebuttal… Feodosy was well-known for certain… particularities… to put it kindly)? This is the end result of the twisting of Orthodox teaching done by ADS… I should say that this conclusion was seconded by Matushka Nina Stroyen (indeed, it has was her insistent and repeated statement, “It all started with Schmemann”, that started my mind working and looking at the evidence)… there are many respectable and decent people who are aghast at this, Fr Alexander. They deserve better from you. This submission is highly disappointing, and highly troubling, for it trivialises an important moral and legal issue. You shouldn’t play with matches… the Law of Unintended Consequence is always behind our shoulders.

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Monday 19 October 2009

Albany NY

Editor’s Postscript:

One of my readers kindly pointed up that Raymond Velencia was formed at Holy Cross. That does not reflect badly on the school… there’s always a filthy cur or two in every lot. It DOES reflect on the OCA episcopate. Raymond Velencia would not have done what he had done if he had been under a GOA or ROCOR bishop… I remember that in Albany, years ago, the AOCANA priest had a fling with one of the local ladies. The GOA bishop misheard the story, thought it was the priest at St Sophia (the GOA parish), and came up with fire in his guts and flashing eyes. It took some doing to convince him that he was gunning for the wrong priest… but, it shows that he knew his duty! The occasion cited in the main body of the text above concerning Bishop Laurus (in his first major crisis, if I am not mistaken…) points up that ROCOR bishops are no less dutiful. As for OCA bishops (with the laudable exception of Job)… I refuse to speak. Let their actions speak for them, I say.

My interlocutor also said to me:

The people I really feel for are those searchers who discover that Orthodoxy has much that grabs them in a profound way, and may actually take the leap to join our tradition, only to find that they may have dove into a hornet’s nest of all-too-human frailties and failings.  When I am speaking to those who have such an interest, I feel I must caution them to form a relationship

1) with the Gospel,

2) with the holy fathers and mothers of the church,

3) and with a priest and congregation that they have heard very positive things about.

Only then should they try to understand the wider hierarchy into which they find themselves being introduced.  Depending on where they have “landed”, they might have to “hold their nose” a bit, while embracing the deep wisdom of the Church in its fundamental bond with Christ. You said we live in perilous times.  There seem to be scandals in every jurisdiction, but, also, saintly individuals in each of them, too.  I just finished reading Kazantsakis’ Christ Recrucified, which makes it plain (sadly), that every era and every generation has to carry that same cross up that same hill.  We are privileged to carry it, but, it is not always, one might say, a stroll in the park.

Something to think on, no? Cheers!



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