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Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Speaking the Truth in Love": Message of His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman on the Crisis in the Orthodox Church in America

December 13, 2007
Repose of St. Herman of Alaska

"Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every
way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom
the whole body,... when each part is working properly,
makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love."

(Ephesians 4.15-16)

To my brother hierarchs, the clergy, monastics
and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:

Glory to Jesus Christ!

For almost two years, the Orthodox Church in America has been wrestling with extremely difficult and challenging matters. The central issues are related to the finances of our Church, but they have grown into a crisis that has affected all dimensions of our ecclesiastical life, including the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan Council, Dioceses, parishes, clergy and lay people. There are spiritual, canonical, moral, administrative, disciplinary and personnel aspects to this crisis. For some it has become a source of great pain, for others a cause of bitterness, still others are confused and many of our faithful people have questioned the administrative practices of our Church. Many have been angered by what appeared to be reluctance on my part and on the part of the Central Church Administration to share information about the nature of the crisis. With this Pastoral Letter I would like to begin bringing these issues to light.

Attached is a Summary Report which contains the findings of the original Special Investigative Committee and excerpts of the proceedings of the Spiritual Court for the former Chancellor, Robert S. Kondratick. Most of this Report was momentarily released last October. It was not possible to officially release this information until now because of the investigation, the ecclesiastical trial and the appeal. The Summary Report represents the results of a long and complicated story. In the summer of 2005 revelations about financial malfeasance were made by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, a former Treasurer of the Church. These were initially conveyed to the Holy Synod. In November, 2005 he wrote to members of the Metropolitan Council, at which time the allegations were made public. Although it was alleged that Robert Kondratick was largely responsible for the financial malfeasance, he resolutely maintained his innocence, refusing pastoral suggestions and to answer questions about this matter.

I have not been able, until now, to express how difficult this was. Robert Kondratick is a talented man. He was a close friend of mine, as he was to many people. He accomplished a great deal in his service to the Orthodox Church in America. He was the Chancellor of the OCA since 1989 and his early years in that capacity were marked by dynamic expansion in the life of the Church. At that time, the collapse of the Soviet Union made possible a new relationship with our ecclesiastical mother, the Russian Orthodox Church. Robert Kondratick was much involved in developing those new relations. It is true that he was responsible to the Metropolitan, the Holy Synod and to the Metropolitan Council, but as time went on he acquired a position of unusual authority. My predecessor, Metropolitan Theodosius allowed most of the administrative work to be conducted by Robert Kondratick. Members of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council relied on his efficiency, recognizing his energy and managerial skills. On the other hand, his overbearing management style was becoming apparent as was a perceived habit of excessive spending. Some suggested that he should be dismissed. This was a difficult decision but by the spring of 2006, it was apparent that there was no alternative. I dismissed him from his role as Chancellor on March 16, 2006.

The immensity of the financial malfeasance made uncovering it a complicated task. As Primate of the Church, I was advised to retain the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP. They began an internal investigation of the allegations relating to the finances of the Church. We also contacted the accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos, Moulthrop, LLP to conduct an independent audit of all Church financial accounts for the years 2004 and 2005. In December, 2006, during the joint meeting of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, I appointed a Special Committee, headed by Archbishop Job, to look into these financial issues. The Committee's findings are in the Summary Report.

The Special Committee presented its preliminary report to the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council in March, 2007. After hearing and discussing their report the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod of Bishops made several recommendations on how to proceed. The first recommendation was the "immediate suspension of Father Kondratick." In April, 2007 I temporarily suspended Robert Kondratick from priestly duties and selected a Spiritual Court to consider the allegations against him. Details about the Spiritual Court are in the Summary Report. After due deliberation, the Spiritual Court proceeded with the trial, which included over 18 hours of live testimony over two days (June 11, 2007 and July 6, 2007). On July 19, 2007 the Spiritual Court issued their judgment and recommended that Robert Kondratick be permanently deposed from the priesthood. On July 31, 2007 the Holy Synod of Bishops accepted that recommendation and confirmed the final deposition in conformance with the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America. On August 26, 2007 Robert Kondratick petitioned the Holy Synod to appeal its decision. At the Holy Synod meeting of October 16, 2007, Robert Kondratick presented the Holy Synod with a thick packet of documents containing his appeal. The Holy Synod was diligent and gave the appeal considerable and careful attention. Today, December 13, 2007, at its special meeting the Holy Synod came to the conclusion that there was nothing in the appeal which warrants the reversal of the decision to depose Robert Kondratick.

This decision on the appeal of the former Chancellor does not yet bring everything to an end. Several members of the original Special Investigation Committee regrettably resigned. I have asked Bishop Benjamin to chair and oversee the formation of a new, independent Special Committee. They have begun their work, which is proceeding unimpeded and unconstrained. We await a report on their findings early in 2008.

Important recommendations that have been proposed have been implemented and others are continuing to be pursued. At its July, 2007 special session, the Holy Synod of Bishops rescinded the July 30, 1999 resolution that stated that discretionary accounts cannot be subject to external audit. The Holy Synod has had several joint meetings with the Metropolitan Council during which a good deal of discussion has been devoted to resolution of the crisis. Major revisions have occurred in the entire financial sector of the Orthodox Church in America. Our new Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, who is also a Certified Public Accountant, has begun to overhaul our former system and bring it into conformance with professionally accepted accounting standards. Audits and financial statements which before were only partially complete will soon be available for the entire membership of the Church to review.

At present the Central Church Administration has gone through significant restructuring. Three key administrative positions have been filled. The OCA Chancery is presently staffed by only a handful of full time employees, all of whom are conscientious and hard-working. The Metropolitan Council has also taken a greater role in its fiduciary responsibilities. The upcoming All American Council, to be held in Pittsburgh next November 10 - 13, will bring us together to reflect on and reassess our vision as the Orthodox Church in America.

This crisis has had profound tragic consequences in the life of our Church. Clergy and faithful have expressed outrage, with passionate demands and calls for retribution. People who were long-time friends find themselves at odds with each other. Frustration has led individuals, parishes and dioceses to actions, withholdings and boycotts that were never dreamed of. All sections of the Central Church Administration are seen as lacking integrity and competence. The members of the Holy Synod have been subjected to condemnation. In particular, my own role as Primate of the Church came to be criticized and questioned. A good deal of this frustration was due to the perception that there was deliberate stonewalling by myself and the Central Church Administration. Actually legal counsel advised against the revelation of pertinent material and this made it impossible to answer questions in a timely manner. It may take some time for us to regain the trust of some people but at this time I would like to offer some personal reflections.

Most of my adult life has been spent in active service to the Orthodox Church in America. I thank God daily that I have been permitted to serve in the Church, as priest, hieromonk and bishop for over forty years. During that time there has never been a moment when I did not have only the most sincere desire to honor and defend the Church. In the Biblical spirit of Noah's sons I was taught that the right thing is to not expose the shame of elders, by which I understand my brother bishops and the other clergy. As a priest and later as bishop, I endeavored to preserve the stability and unity of the Church to the best of my abilities, even when doing so may have upset some individuals.

I have, on occasion, as a Christian and an Orthodox cleric, made errors in judgment. At times I trusted those that I should not have trusted. There were times I did not act when I should have acted, or when I did not speak when I should have spoken, and I have said things that I should not have said. To the measure that my sins and faults have caused harm to our Church, to my fellow hierarchs, to members of the Church Administration, to the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, I ask God's mercy and your forgiveness.

When God blessed us with the reality of the Orthodox Church in America, we boldly embraced the challenge of discerning what it means to be both genuine Orthodox Christians and members of a modern, democratic society. It seemed then that with prayer and good will we would find a way to integrate Orthodox Church Tradition into the prevailing North American culture. That process of integration is still far from complete. There is much to be done as we grapple with fundamental principles of Church order in the context of our times. We see now that the course we must follow is truly the "narrow way which is hard," but it is the way that "leads to life" (Mt. 14.23).

The unfortunate events which we have recounted here constitute a very tragic chapter in the history of our Church. Yet we learn from mistakes and we have learned much from the experience of the past several years. It is time now to "strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3.15). There is work to be done: to build parishes, to train priests and workers for the Lord's service, to bring the lost and searching to the knowledge of God's truth, to contribute good things to our suffering world. Thus we remain confident in our common vocation. We have been called and placed here and now to worship and serve Our God, glorified in the Holy Trinity, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know that God will not abandon us, as long as we keep our faith in Him, gratefully thanking Him for the abundance and opportunities that we have and preserving love and respect for each other.

As we come closer to celebrate the Feast of Our Lord's Nativity, I pray that the Prince of Peace, Our Lord Jesus Christ will bless our Orthodox Church in America with the spirit of peace, forgiveness and mutual understanding. I also hope that during this holy season God will bless you all with His grace, joy and love.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Signature of Metropolitan Herman

+ HERMAN
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

The Summary Report may be read here.

2 comments:

Alice C. Linsley said...

May our gracious Lord Jesus grant peace indeed and may there be healing within the Church.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Oh, that's very sad. Lord, have mercy.