Authority is Responsibility

“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” –Luke 1:38

For those celebrating Annuncation today: Blessings with the feast!

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I think it is worth remembering Metropolitan Jonah’s statements made in his epochal speech on November 18, 2008, the eve of his selection as primate. I encourage readers to consider the degree to which the metropolitan’s words do or do not reflect our current situation and the events leading up to it.

On conciliarity:

“I would assert first and foremost as Orthodox Christians our leadership, the leadership of the Church, that element that comes from above, is the divine element. But the leadership that is within the Church, the leadership of bishops and the dioceses of the Metropolitan among the Synod–because what it the Metropolitan? He is the chairman of the Synod. The leadership of a parish priest in his parish: If you sit there and you lord it over your parishioners that ‘I am the priest and I can do whatever I want and I can spend the money however I want without accountability and without…’ you are not going to go very far. In fact you are likely to get thrown out because you will get into all sorts of problems. And I think that form of leadership is over. (Applause )”

On obedience:

“Our leadership is leadership within; and underlying this is the essential theological principle that is in every aspect of our theology. It underlies our soteriology, it underlies our Christology, it underlies our ecclesiology–and that’s the principle in the word of St. Paul of ‘synergy’, of cooperation. And it has to be a voluntary cooperation. And obedience, within that context, is not some kind of, some guy, who can lord it over you and make you do what he wants you to and you are going to get in trouble one way or another. Obedience is cooperation out of love and respect. Monasticism is the sacrament of obedience. You see what it is, incarnate, when you experience that communion of a brotherhood, with its spiritual father, in a spirit of love and respect.”

On discord:

“If we can build that community of love and respect, seeing how our passions have distracted us from that living communion with God, have turned us against one another, and have created all sorts of hostility between–well, we just saw it, between the body of the All-American Council and the Synod of the Bishops. … Between the Synod of the Bishops and the Metropolitan Council–talk about a sick dysfunctional situation! Why? Because, our passions have gone awry. Yes, we were betrayed. Yes, we were raped. It’s over. It’s over. Let it be in the past, so that we can heal.”

On authority and responsibility:

“The Holy Synod needs a chance to function normally with a leader who is engaged, who’s not drunk, who’s not preoccupied, with somebody who is engaged, who is engaged in building that synergy and building that communion and working . And it’s not about just that particular Metropolitan or that particular leader, it’s about every about one of us. And you, all of you here, you are the leaders of the Church. Every priest here has probably dozens or hundreds of people who look to you. And your authority is based, it’s founded on that responsibility to convey the Gospel, to convey the message of Christ–95% by your actions and by your attitudes and 5% by your words.

Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability, it is not power. (Applause)

So we look at some of these questions: Was the Holy Synod leaderless?

Yes, for 30 years, 30 years [under] Metropolitan Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius.

We need to give [the Synod] a chance, with the full complete voluntary, willful support of the church. Let them and help them bear their responsibility, so that you can bear your responsibility. Hierarchy is only about responsibility. It’s not all this imperial nonsense.”

“How do we re-establish trust? There’s only one way. It’s to choose to love. It is the only way. There is no other way. There’s no organizational methods, no kinds of business practices we can invoke, no corporate ideologies, none of that. If we are Christians, we have the choice: Do we choose to enter into the love of Jesus Christ for one another — including our hierarchs, including our priests, including those who have betrayed us, including those who have failed us miserably, including those whom we judge and criticize and — all to own damnation?”

You can listen to audio portion of the recorded speech here, or watch:

Or, read the transcript at

1 comment on this post.
  1. Chris Banescu:

    Fr. Basil,

    Thanks for sharing these passages from Metropolitan Jonah’s speech in 2008. There is a great deal of wisdom and proper Christian understanding of how responsible, loving, mature, and conciliar leadership should operate in the Orthodox Church. These excerpts should remind everyone how all individuals in the Church — especially those in positions of authority and influence (clergy, hierarchs, and lay men and women) — must and should conduct themselves as faithful followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    In the business courses I have taught over the years I persistently emphasize the need for leaders, managers, and executives to conduct themselves in the most ethical, objective, and transparent manner possible, especially with regards to crisis situations. They must continually insure that the ethical standards and policies they proclaim and demand of others are also being practiced by them. In other words they must “Walk the Talk.”

    An organization must place a high priority on the values of trust, integrity, honesty, fairness, and openness and be ready to stand behind those values no matter what. Human beings are very astute at spotting hypocrisy, so if the organization and its leaderships are simply going through the motions of preaching values that they themselves do not practice, people will catch on very quickly. That in turn can have devastating consequences on the “ethos” of that institution.

    I would also add that for religious organizations and institutions, especially in the Orthodox Church, the Scriptural lessons, Christian teaching, and sermons preached and written by those in positions of authority and leadership must be in line with their actual conduct and actions across all areas of life, in and outside the Church.

    When indeed situations arise where the Walk doesn’t match the Talk, leaders must admit the mistake(s) or problem(s), speak the truth, take responsibility for any missteps they may be responsible for, and quickly take corrective measures to insure proper order, integrity, and trust are restored. However, in order for leaders to do this, they must possess the strength of character and the necessary moral clarity to see themselves as they really are and be truthful in their own self-assessment. This requires them to have a brutally honest understanding of their actual strengths and weaknesses as leaders, a willingness to admit personal flaws and mistakes, and a determination to make the necessary changes for the better for the benefit of the long-term success of the institution and in nurturing and promoting trust and integrity across the entire organization. Nothing destroys organizational cohesiveness and employee morale faster than egotistical or immature managers with a flawed view of their own abilities, calling, power, and status.