Monday, May 08, 2006

Some Thoughts on the Current Troubles in the OCA

I have been somewhat reluctant to address this topic here or elsewhere on the web. But within the Orthodox community here in North America it is what Fr. Joseph Huneycutt once referred to as the elephant in the living room. Over time I have gotten some emails asking for my views on the matter or the latest news (as though I know more than anyone else). For those seeking a discussion of the details of L’ Affair OCA or a blast at one side or another, you will be disappointed. Those seeking such details may refer to the website I do not endorse any views or opinions there, but so far the people running the site seem to have been fairly accurate in their factual reporting.

Part of my reluctance to write on this is that the subject doesn’t really grab me that much. Scandal (what a deliciously eye catching word) is for some people like oxygen. They have a hard time living without it. Now I don’t want to sound holier than thou by saying scandals never interest me. Let’s say instead that I am discerning in what scandals seize my attention and hold onto it. This one started out that way but my interest has waned markedly. Why?

My first turn off is that the discussion of the scandal (yes we will use the word) was more along the lines of a shouted gossip fest. Most of the online forums where the topic came up saw posts that were all over the board. There were wild accusations, some of which may be proven true, and there were heated denials and demands to stop talking about it. The language (invective would be a better term) was so heated that I had to resign from two Orthodox Christian web forums. When you have Christians talking to one another like that and about one another in such a manner, I think that a very different and to my mind more serious scandal is brewing right under our nose. I am of course using the word “scandal” in the classical sense of the term here.

The second reason is because it looks like its being dealt with in the (more or less) right way. This is not to say mistakes have not been made or that I would not have done something differently. But I do feel that after a very bumpy start things are heading in the right direction. Met. +Herman has taken decisive steps to address the problems. And now those steps have been strongly endorsed by the lesser synod. The unfortunate and very public disagreement between Met. +Herman and Bp. +Tikhon of the West has produced a few dropped jaws, but it does not alter the fact that the Church is cleaning up its mess. Some have questioned if +Herman was acting out of a sincere desire to do the right thing or out of self preservation when it had become obvious the scandal was in danger of drawing the attention of outsiders including possibly government agencies. My reply is that I don’t know and I really don’t care. Whatever the motive, the bottom line is that for now things are looking up.

Why am I so positive in my outlook? The lesser synod’s decision to support Met +Herman means that there is unlikely to be a major controversy over the steps he has taken. The hiring of a highly reputable law firm to conduct what is clearly shaping up to be a totally above board and open investigation also speaks volumes for where things are going. We may have some painful revelations waiting for us. But I would rather face painful facts than the consequences of unknown or hidden ones. What we may be witnessing is not so much an admission that our leaders are fallible, which hopefully we all knew anyways. Rather, I see a demonstration of how to deal with the failings of those in positions of responsibility when they become a problem for the Church as a whole. It hasn’t been smooth. There has been pain, and I would wager a lot of money I don’t have that there will be more. But the Church is going to get through this. It’s possible that there may even be an upside to all of this.

Clearly the Church has been in need of reforming some of its administrative practices. This is now underway. Further this combined with the public and open house cleaning will bring increased confidence in a Church administration that has suffered of late from a distinct lack thereof. It may even improve relations with other jurisdictions who long for an American Orthodox Church in North America. There are many in the Antiochian Orthodox Church who have become resigned that the Greeks are not ready to move forward towards a unified church in America. Some are now looking to the OCA.

With the likely (Please God!) forthcoming reconciliation between ROCOR and the Russian Church the situation in North America is going to change. Both the AOC and the OCA are not terribly large by themselves. Combined they would make a formidable Orthodox jurisdiction not far behind the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in size. Such a union might well spur some of the smaller jurisdictions to join in. Especially if it can be shown that the ethnic character of their parishes will be respected. But all of this will be dependent to at least some degree on how the OCA is perceived to handle its internal problems. Will our actions show a clear intent to confront the problems that exist and correct them? Or will we convey the appearance of trying to sweep our dirt under the rug? So far I would say that we are moving pretty openly in dealing with the scandal. No jurisdiction has ever been free of problems and scandals (ask the Greeks). But how it’s handled will tell a tale in itself. The eyes of much of the Orthodox world are on us. And I think it’s a scrutiny we can stand.

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