The Orthodox Leader

Archive for May, 2011

Levels of Leadership

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“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” -John 21:18

Some personal reflection on recent events as well as parish and mission development have led me to revisit the five levels of leadership (or see here) as posited by John Maxwell, a well-known leadership speaker and motivator. (Individuals love or hate John Maxwell, but the five levels in his scheme are well-supported in my own experience. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while?) I’d like to discuss how these levels play out in an Orthodox situation. The list below summarizes them.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 25th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Development,Synergy

No Going Back

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“Then they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?’” -Exodus 14:11

Memories are often short in this internet age. For this reason, I draw your attention to the reports of the Special Investigative Committee and Special Commission which, in 2007 and 2008, investigated the gross immorality, malfeasance, and theft that plagued the Orthodox Church in America for some two decades. The people who undertook those investigations labored with difficulty against obstructionism, lies, misdirection, character attacks,  malevolent excommunication, and clerical abuse. (As Metropolitan Jonah once put it, “[The] church was looted. It was an expensive lesson, a very expensive lesson.”) The reports themselves are no longer available at, but they are now posted here at Orthodox Leader. To all of those who worked so hard to bring these sins to light: thank you. To the rest: learn well, and remember.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 20th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

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The initial public draft of the OCA’s Strategic (or “Stragetic” if you prefer) Plan is now available.

I’ve not yet given it more than a cursory skim, but this looks like good stuff, if a bit too expansive for now. (Health screening programs? As a national initiative? Hmmm.) Individuals may disagree with the details of a particular plan, but actually having one is critical to the success of a project. Absent a plan, multiple visions compete for resources and attention, leading to division, disorganization, and stagnation.

Plans within institutional Church life, though, come together only slowly, and with great effort. A plan that originates with a single person (even if he’s the priest or a charismatic leader within the parish) is almost certainly doomed to failure, for it is in the collaboration, conversation, prayer, and effort of multiple people that a common vision emerges. This is a big distinction between Church planning and, for example, business planning. The latter is absolutely hierarchical (the boss with the bucks sets direction, for good or ill, based on what he chooses to fund and initiate), while the Church has to exist cooperatively. I’m not suggesting that the Church isn’t hierarchical, but the Church’s understanding of hierarchy is not identical with the world’s understanding of it. We know how well clerical directives given without lay support work out. This is not unexpected. Christ uses no compulsion or worldly might to draw men and women to himself, so we can’t expect his bride, the Church, to use those devices, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 19th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Planning,Synergy

Tagged with , , ,

Down with Delusion

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The excerpt from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov in the preceding article was taken from a longer article in an issue of Orthodox Life from 1980. Holy Trinity Publications has graciously provided a scan of the original, along with permission to publish an electronic text of it here at the Orthodox Leader.

I encourage all visitors to read this full article carefully (i.e., much slower than “web speed”). St. Ignatius makes many helpful points regarding how delusions first appear to the fallen mind, how they then develop, and how they are especially common among “beginners” on the spiritual path.

As he says, “The most dangerous and most incorrect method of prayer is when he who is praying fabricates, on the strength of his imagination, dreams or pictures, borrowing them ostensibly from the Sacred Scriptures, but in actuality from his own sinfulness and self-delusion.”

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 17th, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Delusion-free Decision-making

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“[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” -John 8:44

If there is but one absolutely critical need for Orthodox leaders in turbulent times it is for them to see things as they really are, free of illusion and delusion. This is true when leaders examine themselves as part of the life of repentance, but I’m not speaking solely of confession (although every Christian leader should regularly participate in that Mystery). Rather, an individual in leadership must consider his own state—his motives, his wounds, and his sins—in every decision and in every act.

The danger is to be found in the encounter with the sin of prelest. Prelest has no exact English equivalent, being variously translated as “spiritual delusion” or “spiritual deception.” St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867) gives the following definition: “Spiritual deception [prelest] is the wounding of human nature by falsehood.”

Rather than commenting further, I’ll provide a couple of helpful paragraphs from St. Ignatius and Unseen Warfare. May we all be delivered from the father of lies and may all our words and deliberations be free of prelest.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 13th, 2011 at 8:29 am

Links: 5/10/2011

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Starting today, I’ll post links to other sites from time to time, with minimal commentary.

There’s just one today: “Interview with a Paid Troll” [Warning: posts occasionally have PG-13 language, with comments frequently rated R. Skip the comments.] This article seems oddly apropos right now.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 10th, 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in Links

Electronic Communication: Some Reflections

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The role that email has played in the current kerfuffle in the OCA has prompted me to reflect on a number of aspects of how we (as Church) handle digital information, whether electronic mail, documents, parishioner data, or chats. I’ll confine my thoughts to email for now, with the possibility of an expanded version of this later on.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 9th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

The Christian Understanding of Bearing False Witness

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“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: … A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” –Proverbs 6:16,19

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen! (Lest we forget with the hubbub over the past few days.)

No time for a lengthier article today (or for the next couple of days, in all likelihood). But, since some readers (well, one reader, I guess) have suggested that I have characterized the Truthers unfairly, I’d like to explain that my standard for bearing false witness is that of the Church.

That standard finds its origin in Exodus 20:16, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” a.k.a. the Ninth Commandment. Deuteronomy 19:15-21 goes on further, in establishing that accusations are made only “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses.”  The point of the witnesses is that known individuals (more than one of them, so someone has to agree on something) in the community, with personal reputations to uphold, stand up and make their accusations. Rumor and innuendo are tossed aside in favor of faithful maturity. If there’s any room for doubt or misunderstanding, it’s better for no accusations to be brought than to risk a loss of credibility face.

Beyond that, the prohibition on bearing false witness achieves its fullness in the light of Christ, as explained  its fullness in the Christian profession given by St. Paul:

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. –Romans 13:9-10

Thus, “false witness” cannot be reduced to “did what I say, technically, turn out to be a lie?” as the world would have it, but must be understood in terms of that and more. False witness is also found in attributing evil motives to others, in casting aspersions on our enemies’ character absent any proof, in making unsupported statements about others’ beliefs, and in misrepresenting what our adversaries say.  As I’ve written previously, avoiding false witness is central to those in leadership. We must seek to present others in the most honest and charitable light, not the light in which we want them to stand or the light that makes them look as bad as possible.

With that, I’ll close with something I’ve quoted before (see preceding link) because leaders really need to be able to answer righteously to this particular set of questions for self-examination before confession:

Ninth Commandment – You shall not bear false witness.

Have I told lies, or added to or subtracted from the truth? Have I made careless statements or spoken evil of anyone? Have I told any secrets entrusted to me, or betrayed anyone? Have I gossiped about anyone or harmed their reputation? Have I concealed the truth, assisted in carrying out a lie, or pretended to commit a sin of which I was not guilty? Have I tried to see the good in others rather than their shortcomings?

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 5th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

The Courage to Have a Face

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Insert Face Here

“He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.-Proverbs 10:18

To elaborate briefly on the post immediately preceding this one, it is hard to overstate the role that anonymity played in the damage inflicted by Being anonymous allowed the writers at OCA Truth to receive information without revealing who they were, and to launch attacks with impunity against whomever they chose. The domain name was registered with a proxy, shielding the true registrant-owners of the domain from public visibility, likely requiring a court order to lift the veil of secrecy. Further, disabled comments, even though the site is a blog. Thus, for anyone to counterattack required any critic either a) to have his own site, or b) to post in other venues. Both options forced respondents to stick their heads up out of the foxhole, becoming ready targets for more attacks from The shill names used at sites like enabled them to lure others into revealing their objections.

In short, was a nest of snipers drawing out their prey with a steady stream of half-truths, innuendo, unsupported accusations, taunts (“C’mon Fr. Bieberdorff [sic]“), and invective. Worse, having been flushed out, OCA Truth has withdrawn two damaging posts with the excuse that the information disclosed falls under the seal of the confessional.

What kind of leadership is that? Cowardly leadership (whether misguided or malicious), facilitated by anonymity. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 4th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Lies and Leadership

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A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame.” -Proverbs 13:15

First and foremost, I remind readers of this site that the primary goal here is not to report on details of any particular scandal. Rather, the blog exists to discuss matters of leadership in the Orthodox Church. To that end, the recent conflict within the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America provides much material for reflection on leadership.

The most recent events in the scandal – primarily the release of confidential emails between Archpriest Joseph Fester, Bishop Nikolai (Soraich), Mr. Rod Dreher, and others – have turned everything upside down. I am not surprised at the names of the principals of I had already deduced the identities of two of them solely by their words and actions, prior to the revelations from the ugly emails. What is of greater concern now is that a site devoted to “truth” is, in fact, built upon lies. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 4th, 2011 at 12:08 am

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