A Time of Crisis and Opportunity
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah
--The following is a portion of the opening address of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah to the OCA Metropolitan Council at their 2009 Spring Meeting, February 18, 2009
The past years have been a huge struggle and a time of cleansing and purgation, a true crisis in the sense of a time of judgment. The Orthodox Church in America has emerged from this crisis, realizing that much has to be changed and much has to be created anew in its internal structures. This is a time of immense opportunity. Not only did the inadequacies and sins of the past regimes create an impasse for the Church, and present it with horrific choices; but, these revealed the deeper structural flaws in the organization of the OCA that permitted and perhaps created the crisis to begin with. These include, but are not limited to, structures of accountability and delineation of responsibilities, which are not dealt with adequately in our current statute. This was complicated by a lack of appropriate leadership. As a result the central administrative organizations of the Church were thrown into disarray.
Most of the superficial problems have been dealt with, and a new administration is in place, new policies have been implemented to create structures of accountability, and there is new leadership. But the underlying issues of the inadequacies of our statute, and the confusion of responsibilities between the organs of our central organizations, constitute what our essential task is to address in the near future. There are also issues left over that are pressing, and we also need to address and resolve them, so that the Orthodox Church in America can move on and assume the responsibility of its mandate: to be the local indigenous autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America.
During our time of troubles, the national and international reputation of the OCA was severely compromised. Movement towards Orthodox unity in America was severely damaged, and the perception of the OCA as being a viable partner in any movement towards unity, or even a player, was compromised. Various other Churches expected our dissolution. But in the words of Mark Twain, "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!"
Coinciding with this slide there has been a descent into deeper and deeper parochialism, and with that, congregationalism. This "hunker down" mentality really constitutes a loss in the catholic breadth of the vision of our Church.
The breadth of vision is the key to our renewal. During the crisis, the leadership of the Church, Episcopal, clerical and lay, became completely consumed with the "next issue" to arise, the next revelation of wrongdoing, the next betrayal or failure of some leader. The vision of the Church was buried in gossip and scandal, people became demoralized and disillusioned, and God and his Providence were forgotten. What is important to remember is that while these things did happen, evil as they were, it is the pastoral effect that must be addressed as well as the issues themselves. It is a tragic thing to see someone in a position of great responsibility fall; it is a worse thing to judge and condemn them, and then fall into resentment towards the institution and community which itself was the victim. It becomes a self-perpetuating vicious circle. What suffered is the Church as Church, as people lost sight of the Church as the Body of Christ, and instead became focused on individual members and their sins and failings. The bishops are not the Church. The Central Administration is not the Church; nor is the MC, the AAC or any other organization.
Rather, we all constitute the Church, together, in Christ by the Spirit. We who are broken and sinful, dishonest and corrupt people. When we lose sight of our own sinfulness, and start blaming and judging others, we have lost our Christianity. If we want vengeance and retribution, we trample on Christ and the Gospel. We cut ourselves off from God and from one another in a great orgy of ego gratification. "Everyone loves a dirty little sex scandal." And scandals over money are not far behind. But does it not occur to us, as incensed as we are with self-righteous indignation, that all this is a distraction and temptation to betray Christ and betray ourselves as Christians? Temptation always presents this question: Will I act as a Christian, or not, in relation to this provocation?
If we have responsibility for the life of the Church, which we as the bishops and the Metropolitan Council as clerical and lay leaders do, we have to know about this stuff (Unfortunately!) in order to correct the problems. But if we allow ourselves to obsess about it, and especially in judgment and condemnation of others, we not only have forgotten our own sins and hypocrisy, but we will be blind to any constructive solution, any solution that is of God. Ultimately, all these problems came and were revealed as God's Providence for us. They revealed weaknesses that needed to be addressed, and an opportunity for us to address them.
We have to return to the vision of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, present now, and coming again, that is at the very core of our life as the Church. To be an Orthodox Christian is to focus our lives on Jesus Christ, and to continue His ministry of love and reconciliation, the call to repentance and forgiveness. We are called to bear one anothers' burdens--the burden of one another--and so fulfill the Law of Christ. The Lord calls us to patience and longsuffering, always going by the way of humility and love. This vision of Christianity must be at the very heart of all our decisions and all our lives, as Christians, and especially as leaders of the Church.
Revisioning the Orthodox Church in America
We have an enormous opportunity, and responsibility, to re-vision the structure and life of the Orthodox Church in America. While the basic elements are outlined in the Tradition, especially the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers, there are other elements that we incorporate as 21st Century Americans. Those essential elements from the Tradition are the Holy Synod presided over by the Metropolitan, a diocesan structure, and the canonical heritage. Other values critical to us, and partly coming from the Russian Council of 1917, are the participation of lay and clerical members in decision making. The Strategic Planning process on which we are embarking is precisely the process we are using to re-vision the Church.
Ultimately, we need to rewrite the Statute. The structures that were put in place and incorporated in the Statute reflected the life of the Metropolia and its early transition to being the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. When the Statute was written, the OCA consisted essentially of a single archdiocese, with three or four sub-dioceses, with bishops who were essentially auxiliaries. It was a fairly homogenous social and ethnic community located mainly in the "Rust Belt" between Chicago and New York, north of the Ohio River. Cultural ideas of egalitarianism, democracy and division of powers, as well as identity as a corporation, shaped the initial document. Transparency, accountability and "best practices" had not even entered the national debate.
The OCA has outgrown its previous structures. It has become a huge, diverse community stretching to every corner of the continent. It consists of 13 dioceses, each with its own life. It is largely a convert church, and has no social, ethnic or linguistic homogeneity--and is authentically local and indigenous, rather than an ethnic church. While culturally very North American (in its own diversity), the OCA can no longer be "one of the jurisdictions," but rather has to develop its internal structures to measure up to the challenge of being the Local Autocephalous Church, inclusive of the tremendous diversity of our continent, but also respecting the uniqueness of each community and its needs.
The Statue itself and the organizations it creates have become obsolete. The AAC not only has become huge and unwieldy, and cannot effectively make most decisions; but the real underlying problem is that it compromises the diocesan structure of the Church, treating the whole Church as a single archdiocese with parish representation. The MC was initially the archdiocesan council, advising the one bishop with full authority, the Metropolitan. The central administration performs all the statutory functions of the Metropolitan Council; and then we wonder why there is conflict. The crisis created a power vacuum, which the MC stepped in to fulfill--a power gap previously filled by the Chancellor. But nowhere in the Statute is the MC given any authority as an organ of accountability; BUT neither is anyone one else specifically. Nor does the MC perform the primary role defined in the Statute: as the main fiduciary, to raise the money to support the life and work of the church. Because the leadership was dysfunctional, the Holy Synod abrogated its authority, and retreated into their own dioceses; the central administration grew to immense proportions and power, and both the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council rubber stamped the decisions of the CA, and abrogated their responsibility. Et cetera.
And so, my dears," we have a mess. Not to even bring up any corruption.
So where do we start? First, we have to look at basic Orthodox ecclesiology. The Apostles invested the bishops with the leadership of the Church, through sacramental ordination. This is the principle of authority in the Church: sacramental responsibility. This sacramental responsibility is not only over what is "spiritual," but the entire life of the whole Church, in every aspect, because even how we use our money is spiritual and sacramental. There can be no dualism between the spiritual and the material.
The real underlying question is the issue of leadership--primatial, Episcopal and lay. We need to examine the nature of primacy: how the episcopacy relates to the local church, and the interrelationship of the local churches within their province, and hence, the role of the Metropolitan as Primate. Central to this, however, is the nature of that relationship of obedience: of the presbyters to the bishop, and the bishops to the Metropolitan. Primacy is constituted by accountability and authority, in a relationship of obedience. This is Christian leadership. All of this is, ultimately, defined in the ancient Canons, and rooted in the Scriptures.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebr. 13:17)
I believe that the starting place to understand all this is to understand authority and obedience as responsibility, rather than as "power." Any reduction to "power" is by definition, corruption. Accountability in relation to responsibility is a core element in obedience. Various areas of responsibility are given to the different offices and organs of the Church by the canons. The question is, how are they invested with responsibility and for what, and to whom they are accountable? Accountability is intimately linked with responsibility; the structures of accountability are built as structures of obedience. Then we have to look at the nature of the support of the whole structure: first, financially, with the flow of money and resources; then, the flow of responsibility and accountability in relation to the organs of advice and consensus.
Bishops and the Metropolitan
34. The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account to him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent. But each may do those things only which concerns his own parish [diocese] and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him, who is the first, do anything without the consent of all, for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit. (Apostolic Canon 34)
The basic unit of the Church is the diocese: the bishop surrounded by the presbyters, deacons and faithful. The bishop has responsibility for the whole body, and sacramentally recapitulates it, and all ministries flow from the bishop. This is the literal meaning of "hierarch"--the "source of all priesthood." The presbyters and deacons, in particular, as well as all the faithful, are in a relationship of obedience to the bishop, and accountable to him for their service within the Church. The bishop has a double accountability: to the clergy and laity of his diocese; but also to the Synod which elected him and its head.
The Synod of bishops of a nation is the "Local Church." They bear responsibility for the oversight of all the churches in their care. They have the responsibility to elect and install new bishops where there is a vacancy or need. They are the point of accountability for each other. They elect as president of their Synod the bishop of the metropolis or "mother city," as Metropolitan Archbishop.
The Metropolitan bears the responsibility to maintain unanimity and consensus among the bishops in all matters affecting the life of the Church as a whole, and is the point of accountability for the bishops; while he in turn is accountable to them. This is a relationship of obedience, accountability in mutual love and respect, for the responsibilities given. The Metropolitan has the responsibility to relate his Local Church to the other Local Churches, and maintain unity and communion. This "ecumenical level" is the highest level of accountability, as it is the final court of appeal. The Metropolitan is a diocesan bishop, as are all the others. Thus all the bishops of the Synod bear an equal responsibility, as well as an equal ordination. The one thing that distinguishes the ministry of the Metropolitan is his primacy: his responsibility to be the point of accountability, with the other bishops in a relationship of obedience. There is no "super-bishop" or ordination over that of bishop.
Regional Council of Antioch: 9. The presiding Bishop in a metropolis must be recognized by the Bishops belonging to each province (or eparchy), and undertake the cure of the entire province, because of the fact that all who have any kind of business to attend to are wont to come from all quarters to the metropolis. Hence it has seemed best to let him have precedence in respect of honor, and to let the rest of the Bishops do nothing extraordinary without him, in accordance with the ancient Canon of the Fathers which has been prevailing, or only those things which are imposed upon the parish of each one of them and upon the territories under it. For each Bishop shall have authority over his own parish, to govern in accordance with the reverence imposed upon each, and to make provision regarding all the territory belonging to his city, as also to ordain Presbyters and Deacons, and to dispose of details with judgment, but to attempt nothing further without the concurrence of the Bishop of the Metropolis; nor shall he himself, without the consent and approval of the rest. (p.228)
There is a fundamental difference in primacy between a diocese and a synod. In a diocese there is a distinct difference in responsibility and structure of accountability because the levels of ordained responsibility are unequal. In a diocese, the bishop presides by virtue of his ordination, and all the clergy and people are accountable to him for their stewardship; as well as he to them for his leadership. In the Synod, it is a community of equals, all bishops, though the Metropolitan has primacy.
The Metropolitan's ministry is to hold the bishops to accountability in a structure of obedience that is by its very nature love and respect, unanimity and synergy. The Metropolitan's leadership arises through building consensus, rather than authority over the other bishops. Decisions are communal, by consensus; and the Metropolitan cannot act alone. As a bishop sacramentally recapitulates his diocese, so also does the Metropolitan recapitulates the Synod, personifying it and speaking for it. The Metropolitan cannot intervene in the affairs of another diocese, unless there is a canonical issue; then that intervention is his responsibility on behalf of the Synod. A diocesan bishop is accountable to the Synod for his stewardship of the diocese, because he is given that responsibility by them in election and ordination in a relationship of obedience. That structure of accountability is personified in the relationship of obedience to the Metropolitan.
A bishop's authority comes from his responsibility for his own diocese; the metropolitan's authority is within the Synod. The parishes relate to their own bishop, as their point of accountability in obedience. The bishops relate to one another in the Synod as the structure of accountability in obedience to the Metropolitan. But, the Metropolitan, as metropolitan, has no relationship to either the parishes or the clergy directly, other than those in his own diocese. This is very important, especially in regards to the flow of resources.
The Metropolitan's responsibilities, as primate, are in maintaining unity among the bishops of his Synod, and resolving whatever decisions need to be made on a Synodal level, and whatever issues directly affect the whole Church. The primacy also demands that the Metropolitan relate his Synod to the other Local Churches, maintaining recognition, contact, and communion. This would include, in our contemporary situation, relations with other jurisdictions in America, as well as with the other Autocephalous Churches. Thus, all matters related to the transfer of clergy between Churches, jurisdictional disputes, and so forth, are the purview of the Metropolitan. It is also within his purview to convene the Synod, councils and church-wide conferences; oversee church-wide ministries such as theological education; and oversee economic matters such as tax status, legal matters and insurance which affect the whole Church. The Metropolitan oversees matters dealing with bishops, including election, placement, accusations, investigations, transfers, and canonical actions.
The bishop is entrusted with responsibility for every aspect of the life of the Church, including full authority over the material goods and finances of the Church.
Apostolic Canon 41. We ordain that the bishop have authority over the goods of the Church, for if he is to be entrusted with the precious souls of men, much more are temporal possessions to be entrusted to him. He is therefore to administer them all of his own authority, and supply those who need, through the presbyters and deacons, in the fear of God, and with all reverence. He may also, if need be, take what is required for his own necessary wants, and for the brethren to whom he has to show hospitality, so that he may not be in any want. For the law of God has ordained, that they who wait at the altar should be maintained at the altar's expense. Neither does any soldier bear arms against an enemy at his own cost.
As this reflects the practice of the 4th Century and before, the later canons bring up the practice of a steward or economos, essentially chancellor or treasurer, to assist in the management of the affairs of the diocese. This is the beginning of diocesan administration other than through cathedral deacons and presbyters.
Chalcedon:26. Since in some churches, as we have been informed, the Bishops are administering the ecclesiastical affairs with the services of a Steward, it has seemed most reasonable and right that each and every church that has a Bishop should also have a Steward selected from its own Clergy to manage the ecclesiastical affairs of that particular church in accordance with the views and ideas of its own Bishop, so as to provide against the administration of the church being unwitnessed, so as to prevent the property of the same church from being wasted as a result of such stewardless administration and to prevent any obloquy from attaching itself to holy orders. (p.84)
In the Orthodox Church, according to the Canons, all responsibility rests ultimately on the bishops: spiritual as well as financial and organizational. They may and should designate people to handle such affairs, both for the sake of ability to administer and to guard the reputation and integrity of the bishop. This is where we can begin to see the foundation of the central and diocesan administrations, as well as the Metropolitan Council.
Vision for Today and the Future
The OCA is the heir of this ancient tradition, and structures its life accordingly. However, over the past decades, this system broke down to some extent because of personalities involved, and to a great extent because it went out of balance. The dioceses, to a great extent, did not take on the full responsibility for their own lives, and the Metropolitan and his staff took on the role of an archdiocese--or rather, continued it according to the existing statute. In the meantime the life of the Church grew and developed, dioceses were formed that assumed responsibility over their own lives--"sovereignty."
What we need now is for the dioceses to develop fully, and each to take on responsibility for itself. Each diocese needs to develop its own programs, funding, and missionary outreach. At the same time, the Metropolitan's Office must focus on the things that are in its purview, and leave the dioceses to handle their own business. Clergy matters, internal OCA transfers, local ministries, youth programs, development of missions, charitable and evangelistic outreach are all the responsibilities of each diocese and its bishop.
The Metropolitan's Office has the responsibility to take care of the administrative tasks that affect the whole church. The Office of the Metropolitan, perhaps a better name than "central administration," is called focus on coordinating diocesan programs for ministries, as well as the intra- and inter-Orthodox relations that are necessary, and develop programs that benefit the whole Church. This requires a staff, as prescribed by the Statute. How large a staff is a different question. Clearly the 37 people on staff, more employees than all the dioceses put together, and a bigger budget than all the dioceses put together, was excessive. How large that staff should be also depends on how much the dioceses are ready to assume their responsibilities. This is not possible until the dioceses are adequately funded.
Another element is the place of the All American Council. The All American Council, as a legislative body per the 1971 Statute, does not work. The AAC does not reflect the diocesan structure of the Church. It treats the whole OCA as a single archdiocese, with one bishop. This is simply not the reality. While the value of lay participation in decision making is almost universally accepted, the scope of the council is too large to allow for meaningful discussion, especially as it effects the life of each particular diocese. The council allows for no contact or discussion, much less constant interaction, of the bishop with the delegates from his diocese. But especially problematic is the fact that the Council treats each parish as belonging to the greater OCA, rather than its own diocese. As a result of this unwieldiness, the Metropolitan Council has taken on the legislative function of the AAC.
The Metropolitan Council is structured like a board of trustees, according to the laws of New York State, where the OCA is incorporated. There are two issues here: the administration in the Metropolitan's Office performs most of the statutory responsibilities of the MC, while others are done by both. Many of these functions, book- and record keeping and coordination, can only be done by a standing administration. The main fiduciary responsibility is in fact given to the Metropolitan Council by the Statute, both for budget as well as for raising funds and supporting the work of the whole Church. Even this was taken over by the Central Administration of old, by a Development Office. The Metropolitan Council needs to turn its attention and considerable talent to the challenge of raising financial support for the Church. There are two elements in this: a development function for donations, trusts, bequests and so forth; and a church-wide rethinking of support, based on the principles of percentage giving or tithing. More later on this.
The second structural issue, however, is more problematic. The laws for religious corporations pertain primarily to parishes, and not to the structure of a synodal Church. On the parish and diocesan levels, the rector and the bishop have full responsibility and accountability for use of resources, and the bishop in particular canonically. In a parish, the Parish Council, led by the priest, has the responsibility to manage the financial and material resources of the parish; in a diocese, the Diocesan Council, led by the bishop. As long as the presiding clergyman is the president of the Council, there is no problem: the Council has the responsibility to assist the priest or bishop in the administration of the material resources as trustees.
The Synod, however, and the Office of the Metropolitan as the organizational recapitulation of the Synod, is different. While the MC started out as an archdiocesan council, with the above function, as the Church has grown into a fully functioning Synodal structure, the structure of the MC has to change. It is the bishops who bear the primary fiduciary responsibility for the Church according to the Canons. The MC shares that responsibility, but on a different level. The Metropolitan and Synod have to approve or can veto decisions of the MC; the Metropolitan cannot veto decisions of the Synod.
This can be resolved in that it must be made clear in the new Statute that the bishops, collectively as the Synod, bear the main responsibility and accountability for the material resources, as well as the spiritual life, of the Church. The MC executes their decisions, and administers the resources of the Church, providing for its maintenance and ministries; but it does not have the same level of accountability as the Synod itself, nor can it make decisions independently of the Synod and/or Metropolitan--which is already clear in the existing statute.
The Conciliar Structures of the Orthodox Church in America
A Time of Crisis and Opportunity: Part II
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah
The Mission of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, as the local Body of Christ (for/on) the North American Continent, is to be faithful in preaching the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom to all peoples of North America in fulfillment of the great commission of Jesus Christ to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded": so that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, that all may become communicants of the Orthodox Church, that Christ's way of sanctification, theosis and eternal life may be revealed to all. --His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest
The Calling of the Orthodox Church in America: Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.
* Mission/Identity: We are the presence of the fullness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, incarnate as the Local, Indigenous Territorial Orthodox Church in North America, embracing all Orthodox Christians regardless of any ethnic, linguistic or cultural distinctions. We are essentially a missionary Church, striving to bring the full integrity of the Gospel of Christ to all the people of North America, so that they may come to the unity of the Orthodox Faith and communion of the Holy Spirit, in the One Body of Christ.
* Core Values:
o The Gospel of Jesus Christ
o Diverse & inclusive
There were a number of issues raised in response to the previous Address to the Metropolitan Council of February, 2009. These include:
1. Fear of exclusion of lay and clergy from decision making, conciliarity
2. This is a "power grab" by the hierarchy
3. What happens when the Metropolitan abrogates his responsibility?
4. The future and role of the Metropolitan Council
5. The future and role of the All American Council.
6. How do we know that anything has really changed? With the OCA in general, and the Holy Synod?
It is clear that we need to change the culture of the OCA. We need not only to change how things are done and attitudes and values. Rather, we need to change the culture and structure of the organization so that the established flow of relationships and information grows and expands. I believe that we need to do this so that we can further develop the life of the whole Church, and facilitate participation by more and more members of the Church in the process of real conciliarity.
There is a very damaging false notion that the lay people are separate from the clergy, and that the clergy are different from the laity. This is not the case! The clergy are simply those laity invested with a particular scope of responsibility by the whole Church, in a structure of accountability. In particular, the presbyters and deacons are accountable to the bishop for their stewardship of the life of the parishes. However, all members share responsibility for the Body, but have differing levels of accountability. The priests and bishops are accountable for each member of the Body by their ordination. Each member is important. Each member has a voice, and must be heard.
There are two related attitudes that constitute baggage from the past, temptations which have afflicted the Church and distorted its life and indeed, its conciliarity. Both stem from an abrogation of responsibility. Clericalism comes from an abrogation of responsibility by the laity for the affairs of the church, with the clergy taking over all functions; even the loss of the traditional ministerial role of the diaconate and pastoral role of the episcopate, with the concentration of all "ministry" in the presbyters, is a kind of clericalism . Trusteeism comes from a refusal of the clergy to accept their responsibility for the more mundane aspects of the life of the Church, which was then seized upon by lay leaders. This resulted in the priests being responsible for what happens in the altar; the parish council for everything else in the church. Both result from a breakdown of conciliarity, in which the integrity of each area of responsibility in a structure of accountability is critical. Conciliarity can be partially defined as shared responsibility with distinct levels of accountability. In both reductions, authority becomes identified with power; there is tremendous resentment and mistrust of the others by the persons disenfranchised. Both the clergy and laity need to recognize their areas of responsibility, and support one another in the exercise of that authority. The rector of a parish, or the bishop of a diocese, has complete responsibility for every aspect of the life of the community under his care, liturgical, spiritually, financial, legal, and administrative. But he cannot do it alone; it has to be done in cooperation with the laity, who are empowered with responsibility for certain areas by delegation.
The image used by St Paul of the body is very valuable in approaching this: the eye is not the foot, which is not the hand; there are parts more or less presentable, more or less private. Yet it takes all the parts working together, doing what they are supposed to be doing, and all have to be united to the Head, to Jesus Christ, the real Leader of the Church.
Conciliarity does not mean democracy. Its Russian root concept, Sobornost, refers to both conciliar structure (councils) and catholicity--wholeness or integrity. That can only happen when each element of the conciliar structure has integrity of its own life and ministry, and each is working in the proper order to build up the whole. Each area of responsibility has to be functioning for it to participate in the whole. Thus the bishops have to take full responsibility and be accountable to one another and to the Metropolitan, as well as to the Body, for their stewardship of their diocese or area of responsibility. The Metropolitan has to accept full responsibility to maintain the unity of the whole, both of his Synod and of the Synod with the other Churches. The Metropolitan has to be accountable to the Synod for his stewardship of the office. Each order or function of the Church, the diocesan councils, Metropolitan Council, and the periodic All American Council, must be accountable to the structures above it in responsibility: the Diocesan Council to their Diocesan Bishop; the Metropolitan Council and Synod to the Metropolitan, and Metropolitan to them.
For some people, "obedience" is a scary word, because it has been much abused. But the word "obedience" is integral to the life of the Church, and to the Gospel. Jesus was exalted above all others because of his obedience (Phil 2:5-11): "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself,... humbled himself... and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." The same passage is read for many feasts of the Theotokos, extol her for her obedience. "Be it unto me according to your word" is the ultimate expression of free, voluntary obedience in love. Obedience is not about power and control; it is about communion, synergy, and a voluntary assent to cooperation. If it is about power, coercion and the like, it is distorted. Jesus is the ultimate example of obedience; wives are called to be obedient to their husbands; and we are all called to submit to one another and be obedient in love to those who have to give account for us (Hebr 13). In a diocese, the priests are in a relationship of obedience to the bishop, similar to the monks to the abbot in a monastery. The bishops are in a relationship of obedience, though slightly different, to the Metropolitan. This relationship is the primacy of leadership.
In the Orthodox Church, the bishops were entrusted by the Apostles, by virtue of their ordination, with the greatest degree of responsibility for the whole Church. An individual bishop is accountable for the people and their lives in his diocese. It is a holistic responsibility for every aspect of the life of his communities and for the lives of the members of his diocese. This does not mean power and control, but rather accountability, and the maintenance of a unity of mind and vision throughout the Church. It means that a bishop must know his priests and people, and actively build and maintain consensus with them. This pertains not only to doctrine and practice of the Faith, but the unity of a community gathered in love.
If a national local church (whatever you would call the ecclesiastical province that has autocephaly or autonomy) is a federation of dioceses, each diocese has to be an equal partner in the community. The primate is elected by the other bishops as its leader and particularly as the one who is accountable for the whole, and for its unity. The Metropolitan is accountable to the bishops, and the bishops to the Metropolitan. He is first among equals; but he bears a unique responsibility and accountability to maintain the unity and obedience with his Synod; as well as unity with the rest of the Churches world wide.
In the Orthodox Church in America, the current Statute envisions the Church as a single Archdiocese, with the Metropolitan as the single fully empowered bishop, and the other bishops as glorified auxiliaries. It does not adequately develop its vision of the dioceses. In other words, the existing Statute envisions complete centralization. I and the other bishops believe we need to decentralize, by emphasizing that the real life of the Church is on the diocesan level. The diocesan foundation of the life of the Church is not policy or philosophy: it is the structure that is at the heart of the canons and the apostolic teaching. The greater the decentralization and upbuilding of the life of the various dioceses, the greater will be the opportunity for authentic participation by more laity in the direction and decision-making, as well as ministries, of the Church.
In other words, we are talking about a major shift in the culture of the OCA: from centralized and dependent on "Syosset" for all leadership, to decentralized and looking to the local bishop to empower ministries to serve the particular needs of each region.
The Metropolitan and Metropolitan's Office
This decentralization does not mean weakening the Metropolitan's Office by strengthening the dioceses. Rather, for authentic accountability, we need a strong Metropolitan; but we also need strong dioceses. Does that mean a massive staff and development of all programs in New York? Not at all. Rather, what needs to be strengthened, and what has failed almost completely in the last decades, is that the Metropolitan needs to be the point of accountability for the Diocesan bishops. The Metropolitan is the one leader of the Church, elected both as president of the Synod by the Synod, but also by the whole Church in Council. While not above other bishops, he is elected to be accountable to the rest of the Church for the other bishops as Synod and the life of the whole. He is to represent it internationally and ecumenically, with an overarching ministry of unity. What is the ministry of unity, but to facilitate conciliarity on the various levels of the life of the Church. More on this below.
The dual election of the Metropolitan gives him a unique capacity among the bishops, as he is chosen as the Primate. Primacy means leadership, but also the responsibility of accountability. Primacy, leadership as first among equals, bears the responsibility to maintain canonical order within the Synod, and accountability of the bishops for their stewardship of their office. If a bishop loses the ability to lead through age or illness, or abuses his authority, or is credibly accused or falls into a state of immorality demanding canonical action, or is derelict in his duties, it is the Metropolitan's responsibility to investigate the situation on behalf of the Synod, and to call that bishop to accountability. If the bishop in question is the metropolitan himself, then the next senior bishop of the Synod bears that responsibility. The canons are clear: bishops alone judge bishops. These structures of accountability are essential if the Church is to maintain its integrity. The bishops, in turn, are responsible to maintain canonical order and integrity among their diocesan clergy.
There are certain ministries that can only be effectively accomplished on the level of the Metropolitan's Office: the calling of councils, Synods and church-wide meetings; the oversight and administration of theological education and training for ministries; administrative matters relating to churches and clergy, such as health care, tax status and pension; the facilitation of relations with other churches, both jurisdictional and inter-church ecumenical; and the communications that facilitate the multiple levels of relationship. These ministries require competent professionals to do the work needed to facilitate, empower and coordinate the various ministries within the dioceses. And it is this office that maintains the Orthodox Church in America in relationship with the other Orthodox Churches, the ministry of unity.
There are common ministries that must exist within each diocese: missions and evangelism, charitable outreach, youth work, religious education, and so forth. The Metropolitan and his office are given the task of encouraging the bishops to develop these active ministries within their dioceses, and to function as the coordinator and resource center for those ministries. However, those ministries have to be done on a local, diocesan level, not from a central office.
In other words, how is some ecclesiastical bureaucrat in Syosset supposed to know how to evangelize and establish a mission in Louisiana or Oregon? Or work with a native village in Alaska? Or renew a dead parish in the Monongahela Valley? Or establish a homeless shelter in Kansas City? Or how to serve a whole native people that converted in Mexico, who don't even speak Spanish, let alone English? These concrete ministries can only be done on a diocesan level: locally. Each diocese needs to develop the kind of outreach ministries necessary to fulfill the particular local needs that it encounters.
This is another aspect of a major culture shift: rather than simply being focused on developing parishes, according to a particular model, we must look at the diocese, to a large extent, as a collection of particular and diverse ministries. The greatest proportion of these will indeed be parishes; but there are a multitude of ways for a parish to exist and minister to its congregations. We have to embrace diversity of ministries and needs, and move beyond the idea of homogeneity of practice and form. Homogeneity is a characteristic of American denominationalism; we don't need it. For example, a parish might focus on Georgian, Mexican or Romanian immigrants, with specific language needs and cultural particularities. Or the ministry might not be a parish at all: a homeless shelter, an OCF chapter, a monastery, a battered women's center or a cohousing community for widows. The bishop is, by virtue of his office, the one who blesses all these ministries, and without his blessing, they cannot call themselves Orthodox. These can only be done on a local level, on a diocesan level. There can be sharing of information and experience between dioceses; but the ministries are going to be particular to their place. Some places will have a succession of different ministries, as one community dies out or moves along, and another moves into its place. Only on the local level can the Church be responsive to the particular needs of its communities.
As the local Church, as the diocese develops its life and programs, the greater the need presents itself for dialog and conciliarity on the diocesan level. As the various ministries grow and develop, then it would be appropriate for them to be represented, somehow, on the Diocesan Councils--which are the most important organs of conciliarity on the diocesan level. As the dioceses become more and more diverse, the task of conciliar dialog and consensus building will be greater and greater. This will demand more of the bishops; but in turn, it will involve more clergy and laity on an ever increasing scale. This already exists in the South, the West, and Canada; as well as to a great degree with the Midwest and the Romanian Episcopate.
Another major culture shift is to open the Synod itself to bishops sent from other Churches, and actualize itself as the basis of unity in North America. Thus, the vision is to "open up" the Synod to representatives of foreign churches who send bishops to North America to care for their nationals and immigrants, and yet, have them sit on the same Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. We already have three non-territorial dioceses; what needs to happen is to provide greater integration and cooperation, both on the local level between individual bishops, and on the Synodal level as a whole. In turn, the foreign bishops can represent the OCA to their mother churches, and their Synods to the OCA. This then becomes a model for Orthodox unity in North America, with a single Synod of Bishops that respects and preserves the diversity in unity of the whole.
To summarize: The major culture shifts needed in the OCA are decentralization and strengthening of local leadership, Episcopal and lay, and hence the upbuilding of the dioceses; a change in the institutional expressions of the conciliarity, the All American and Metropolitan Councils to reflect the Church as a federation of local churches (dioceses), united under one Synod with one Metropolitan. This is simply rooted in basic Orthodox ecclesiology. We must build an accountability structure within the Synod, which has not existed; but also build in an institutional process should that accountability structure fail. We must transcend the sense of homogeneity that has dominated the OCA, and embrace multiple diverse expressions of Orthodoxy within it. Our unity is not in uniformity; our unity is in the One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Bread and Cup, respecting the legitimate diversity of expressions.
The Bishops and the People
Part of the dynamic currently is that the Synod is coming together as a community as never before. This is due to the personalities in the past, which prevented a sense of community. Now that has changed. And within that, there is a new sense of mutual accountability and co-responsibility for the whole Church. It is simply the Orthodox Faith and Tradition that the bishops bear the ultimate responsibility for the life of the Church. But they cannot and do not bear it alone.
There is no such thing as a bishop (or priest) without a flock. Without his flock, a bishop has no authority, because he has no responsibility. Bishops who are auxiliaries, retired or are without a flock are respected, and can serve as bishops; but they have no power to act on their own, but only with the specific request of the diocesan bishop. Only in relation to his own flock, and synod, does the episcopacy of a bishop have meaning. While the ordination of a bishop comes from the grace of the Spirit, it is always in relation to his particular community. A bishop can do nothing in another diocese without permission from the local bishop.
The point of all this is that if the diocese is the primary unit of the Church, the whole life of the Church depends on the relationship of the people of each diocese to their own bishop. St Paul envisions this as a unity of mind and heart, with common service together to those in need, celebrating a common Eucharist, an authentic community gathered in love. This unity of life has a mystical reality: the bishop is the sacramental recapitulation of the community. But, this in turn has to have a basis in experience: the unity of the community comes from the bishop's active ministry, and involvement in the lives of his people, their consensus, and following of the bishop's leadership. In other words, the community is gathered in love around their bishop, who in turn loves them and cares for them. The two movements are both critical: the love of the flock for the bishop--and hence, obedience and cooperation; and the love of the bishop for the flock--seeking to fulfill their needs by empowering ministries within the Body. The two must be absolutely complementary, a synergy.
The bishop's leadership is crucial. It is what holds a diocese together, unifies it into one body, and fulfills it as the Church the Body of Christ. Otherwise, you may have an efficient organization, but it is not the Church. Ultimately, it is the bishop's ministry, and the grace which flows from it, that transforms a community into the Church. The bishop is the criterion of ecclesiality.
There is no leadership if people don't follow. And there is no leadership if there is only domination and subjection of others. Christian leadership is always about building synergy, communion in love. Obedience is an expression of that synergy, communion in love. It flows from responsibility and accountability, and a sense of mutuality.
Hierarchy is primarily about a distribution of responsibility, and is a structure of accountability. The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical church par excellence! It has nothing to do with dominance and subjection; but rather, with shared responsibility in a structure of accountability. The bishop is within the Church, not over it. Hierarchy is about the facilitation of conciliarity. Hierarchy provides the context for people on every level of responsibility for the life of the Church to exercise their ministries together, communally. It brings forth and employs the "diversity of gifts" coming from the one Spirit.
The organs of conciliar leadership that have evolved in the Orthodox Church in America are: parish councils, diocesan councils, the All American Councils, the Metropolitan Council. The ultimate model of conciliarity and conciliar leadership is the synod of bishops. This synodal/conciliar model is reflected up and down, as it were, in the levels of Church organization. Because the diocese is the basic unit of the Church, indeed is the Local Church, Diocesan Councils have an essential role. The Synod of Bishops is the sacramental type of all councils, the recapitulation of all the dioceses in the Synod. All other councils within the Church have to reflect this essential diocesan structure of the Church, and the conciliar structure that constitutes it.
Historically, the presbyters constituted a council around the bishop, a parish or diocesan council. Contemporary Diocesan Councils, with Diocesan Assemblies, are the means whereby the presbyters and lay leaders make the needs within the community known, and where the bishop works to build consensus and empower lay leaders to serve those needs. While the means is partly financial administration, the diocesan councils are the real organ of conciliarity within each local church. The bishop leads and proposes, the Council discusses and comes to consensus, and then cooperates to fulfill the needs of the church. When it works, there is wonderful synergy, and the Church's needs are fulfilled; when it doesn't, the whole diocese grinds to a halt. It takes as much work from the bishop as from everyone else to come together, discern God's will, and implement it through consensus and cooperation.
This diocesan structure is particularly important in the OCA because of the tremendous diversity within each diocese, not to mention the whole Church. The diversity of communities and ministries has the bishop as its point of unity, and works out its daily life in the community represented by the diocesan council. The acceptance and fostering of diversity in the ministries and communities of the Church is essential for its growth.
The All American Council and Metropolitan Council
While it is true that the Canons do not envision councils of clergy and lay representatives meeting with bishops, the experience of the OCA has shown that councils reflecting the whole community of the Church are essential to its life in the contemporary world. The historical foundations of the AAC and MC lie in the Russian theologians who designed the Great Council of 1917. These decisions, while shelved in Russia due to the Communist period, were applied by the Orthodox Church in America in its canonical structure. They resonate with the culture of the Church in America. Indeed, as 21st Century Christians in the West, it is difficult to comprehend the life of the Church without participation by the laity and the clergy in decision making on most levels of the Church's organization.
One of the most glaring problems of the current Statute is how the All American Council is currently constituted: it currently actualizes the Statute's vision of the whole OCA as a single Archdiocese. Similarly, the Metropolitan Council is envisioned as continuing the work of the AAC between sessions, but also reflects the vision of the Church as a single archdiocese. The AAC, in particular, regards each parish as if the Metropolitan were its bishop, and the dioceses are not reflected at all. The MC, as the old Archdiocesan Council of the Metropolia, includes members elected at large at the AAC in addition to specifically diocesan representation, and now generally excludes the hierarchs. Neither body reflects the diocesan character of the Church.
One way to slightly modify the AAC to give it a more diocesan character, and to make it more effective, would be to change the representation from parochial to diocesan. Either a diocese would elect a given number of representatives to the Council; or the diocesan council, with the deans, would be designated as the representatives to the All American Council. Reducing the AAC from 900+ to less than two hundred people would make it much more effective in dealing with administrative issues, and enable representatives to work together to support and share ministries and other resources throughout the Church. It would also focus the work of the All American Council on the business of the Church, and it could be accommodated at far more modest expense. The expenses of the delegates would be paid by their respective dioceses. This type of council would meet every three years. While there would be a social component to it, the main social/educational/fellowship events would be conferences and conventions that do not focus on business.
What would give the new AAC its diocesan character is that it would not only be composed of diocesan representatives, but it could be structured with a double voting structure, so that each diocese would have one vote, as well as each delegate. This would force the discussions to be focused within each diocesan representation, led by their bishop; and thus build the community of the diocese while also building the greater community of the Church. Similarly, this would force a greater sense of accountability of the bishop to his diocese, and of the diocesan representatives to their bishop, in the task of building consensus and community.
A second type of All American Council, a Great Council, would be convoked to elect a new Metropolitan. This would include much broader representation, from each parish, though it would retain the same diocesan structure of the regular AAC. The Russian equivalent, to elect a Patriarch, takes candidates nominated by the Holy Synod, and then it is the Council that elects; the OCA version is just the opposite.
Pastors' Conferences and Clergy-Laity Conventions: Crosscutting Relationships
It is very important, however, that the Church gather together to discuss issues and for the people to get to know one another across diocesan boundaries. This could be done with annual gatherings, alternating pastors' conferences and Clergy-laity conventions, which would be open to all members of the Church, and would focus on education and fellowship, youth events and the sharing of information about ministries. While these Clergy-Laity Conventions would not have a business component, they could also be designed to pay for themselves, and be events that people would look forward to. The Pastors' Conferences in particular could be used for continuing education, and the building up of the relationships of the clergy across diocesan lines. Both types of meetings are valuable to build and maintain a common vision across the whole Orthodox Church in America.
The Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan's Office
The Metropolitan Council, as an advisory board to the Metropolitan, and a Board of Trustees for the corporation of the Orthodox Church in America, is an important element in the life of the Church. Perhaps the main difference that I would suggest is that representatives be strictly diocesan, rather than having a number of delegates at large elected at the AAC. The MC continues the work of the AAC between sessions; but also is the chief administrative support body to the office of the Metropolitan.
The officers of the Church are ex officio members of the MC, but are also extensions of the MC to assist the Metropolitan as the full time administrative staff. The MC are fiduciaries, who accept responsibility for the life and work of the Church, and who themselves work to support the Church in its various tasks. But, given the diocesan focus, the MC would need to keep in mind not only issues affecting the whole Church, but the common ministries and activities between dioceses.