The More Things Change

Author: Mark Stokoe
Date Published: 01/25/2011

After a hiatus for the holidays completes, with this posting, its fifth year of publication, and enters a sixth.

Many positive changes took place in the OCA in 2010. But, as the French say: “Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.”

• Plus ça change…

In 2010 a serious investigation into the questionable financial and real estate practices of St. Tikhon’s monastery and bookstore during the +Herman regime was undertaken. The STIC report answered many outstanding questions. As a result of the aforementioned investigation, a new St. Tikhon’s Orphanage Board was reconstituted to help sort out the property mess in a legal, organized, responsible and representative manner. c’est la même chose:

Alas, the STIC report was “a report made public”, as opposed to a “public report”. In fact, the Synod later ordered it removed from the OCA website. Despite the report’s clear findings, no one has been held responsible for the unilateral, unsanctioned mortgages, unsafe monastic living conditions (black mold), or financial and inventory losses at the bookstore that took place during the 30 years of the +Herman regime. Metropolitan Herman continues to live in a home donated to the Church (but still controlled by him) and presided at the annual Memorial Day celebrations — at the personal invitation of Metropolitan Jonah.

• Plus ça change…

In 2010 the Koumentakos case was finally settled. After years of +Herman denying there was any problem – and if there was a problem, the OCA had nothing to do with it – Fr. Karlgut was removed as the OCA’s chief investigator of clerical misconduct, Metropolitan Jonah officially apologized to Ms. Koumentakos and Fr. Valencia was put on a leave of absence. c’est la même chose:

Alas, no one will ever publicly admit if any money exchanged hands, but after years of public outcry, all the parties fell silent the day the settlement was agreed to. Feel free to speculate.

Worse, as the replacement for Fr. Karlgut (whom the Synod and Metropolitan Council complained had no academic or professional qualifications for that position) the Metropolitan has reportedly appointed a priest without any formal academic or professional qualifications in dealing with sexual misconduct. And the Metropolitan used the opportunity of shuffling priests to bring Kondratick’s former right hand man back as the Dean of the his DC cathedral, specifically praising his “fund-raising” abilities.

• Plus ça change…

In 2010 the Diocese of  Chicago the Midwest elected its first freely chosen Bishop after a six month process that saw three candidates nominated in a transparent and accountable process.

…plus c’est la même chose:

Alas, the Diocese of Alaska gets an “arranged marriage” to an old friend of the Metropolitan’s.

• Plus ça change…

In 2010 the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America met in May and breathlessly annnounced “a new day” in Orthodox unity on this continent by disbanding an “ineffective” SCOBA.

…plus c’est la même chose.

Alas, eight months later the ACOBNCA committees are still in formation; the Antiochians and Russians are increasingly unhappy with the whole Chambesy process; the OCA remains the only Church excluded from the ACOBNCA Executive Committee; and funding is still by private sources.  Breathe.

• Plus ça change…

In 2010, Bishop Mark of Toledo was welcomed into the OCA after an 18 month struggle over the status of the diocesan bishops in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and the lack of financial accountability. c’est la même chose:

Alas, after removing Bishop Mark, Metropolitan Philip went on to remove several priests in the Midwest as well. They too have sought refuge in the OCA, ending up in the South, Midwest and Romanian Archdioceses.

• Plus ça change…

In 2010 the OCA initiated a Strategic Planning Process that was interactive, transparent and accountable. It has produced a document that outlined an conciliar vision for our Church.

…plus c’est la même chose:

Alas, there have been three chairmen of the Committee in the past year as one after the other resigned. Metropolitan Jonah has indicated on multiple ocassions that he wanted fewer conciliar structures (e.g. no parish representation at future AAC’s, a reduced Metropolitan Council that focuses mainly on fund-raising, and changes in the Statute that would insure his control over staffing, finances, and legal affairs.) The Synod finally intervened and stated no Statute changes would be introduced at this time.

• Plus ça change…

In late 2010 Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa was charged with criminal sexual misconduct on the basis of allegations first raised 25 years ago. Earlier, in July 2010, Metropolitan Jonah wrote to “Although no formal accusations have been made by the alleged victims in this matter, we are pursuing an investigation as per the OCA’s established guidelines.”

…plus c’est la meme chose:

Alas, not only untrue, but not even close.

+Seraphim was allowed by the Metropolitan to take a leave of absence three months later, at a time of his choosing – rather than be immediately suspended as following the “established guidelines” would have required. Only after +Seraphim was formally charged a month later, was he suspended. And only a month after that did the Metropolitan announce yet another “Synodal Commission” would pursue an “investigation” into the matter for the OCA, some 5 months after he said one was already occurring.

One could go on, but the pattern is clear. Coupled with three trips to Moscow in the past 18 months, the refusal to live in Church headquarters in Syosset, and the countless calls to “forgive all and move on”, Metropolitan Jonah is proving to be more concerned with the maintenance of secrecy and the avoidance of scandal than the truth.

Plus ça change, plus cest la meme chose.

Of course, that is unfair to Metropolitan Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius. They, at least, did not question the continued autocephaly of the OCA, as does +Jonah.

Once again the future threatens to be little more than a long senescence, with a Metropolitan content on rehearsing past mistakes even as he is busy creating new ones. In the renewed burden of these days, one can only hope that the depths of character, integrity, faith and wisdom that many bishops, clergy and laity have shown through the turbulence of the past five years, can endure for a sixth.

As Shakespeare said: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” We must continue to fight for accountability, transparency and our future as an autocephalous Church in America, witnessing Christ with some integrity, lest we too be forced, as the quote from Henry V continues, “to close the wall” – not with the dead, but with a dead OCA.