The Orthodox Leader

The Courage to Have a Face

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 Worse, having been flushed out, OCA Truth has withdrawn two damaging posts with the excuse that the information disclosed falls under the seal of the confessional.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.

But it must be observed that, with regard to anonymity, Jesse Cone (“Parishioner” at OCA Truth) held a different position as recently as December [emphasis mine]:

I fail to see how any of us can responsibly say whether or not Fr. Fester is trying to gloss over anything, and I fail to see how Fr. Fester’s assignment to DC has received any credible objections. Suspicions? Sure. But if you’re not in a place to know, you don’t know. And if you do know for sure, what would give just reason to accuse a member of the priesthood? If you cannot even sign your name to such an accusation, is it really responsible to publically denounce a fellow Christian and stir up suspicion and distrust in others?

Rod Dreher (“Muzhik” at OCA Truth) likewise had a different opinion, back in April 2009 [emphasis and notes mine]:

I would also like to add, for the sake of clarification, that the question of Syosset and the old days is a separate issue. My objection stated here is solely about the gross impropriety, cowardice and destructiveness of the [anonymous] “Humble and Obedient” post. If someone had posted a similar anonymous attack on Fr. John, and had called on the cathedral parish to rise up against him, I promise you I would be equally disgusted.

One of the things that so impressed me about the way many priests and laymen of the OCA handled the mess with Met. Herman is how they were bold enough to sign their names to their criticism. When I was a Catholic, and a journalist writing about the sex abuse scandal, I heard from priests and laymen all the time who had truly shocking and terrible things to report. I believed then, and believe now, that they were telling me the truth. But I couldn’t report any of it unless they were willing to put their name to the criticism of particular bishops, priests, et al. Their views and information, however passionately held and grounded in fact, were useless gossip. And for all I know, they had it wrong. That they wouldn’t say what they felt needed saying in public, with their names attached to it, said a lot about the credibility of their accusations. It is perhaps understandable, to an extent, when a priest or layman whose income depends on not crossing church leaders is hesitant to stand up. But that didn’t stop many OCA priests during the Herman mess. What’s stopping this anonymous attacker of Fr. Joseph from identifying himself or herself now, and letting all of us at the cathedral be the judge of his or her credibility?

No one has the right to do this to our parish and its priests. No one. Whoever you are, you either have no idea what you’re doing, or you don’t care.

In spite of these statements, both men found themselves willing to cast, anonymously, all manner of aspersions against a sizable number of clergy and laity in positions of responsibility in the Orthodox Church in America. The veiled ones chose to malign a cast of people (a.k.a. “the cabal”) who served faithfully, at personal cost to their reputations, under difficult circumstances not all that long ago. The gravity of the temptation to hide, lobbing grenades over the wall, instead of standing up to the slurs and accusations is revealed mightily in the attacks from OCA Truth. It doesn’t cost anything, nor does it require any exposure of one’s self, to work in this fashion.

When I started this blog, I wrote briefly about the value of real names. While the particular policy in that post has been relaxed somewhat, I think my point still holds true. Anonymity does not serve Christ’s Church. If what is being said needs to be said, then it should be said forthrightly and by someone we know. The very idea of apostolic succession is established on the twin pillars of apostolic doctrine (i.e., what is taught) and apostolic connection (i.e., who ordained whom). The latter can’t exist in an anonymous world. The bishops, as those preaching the Gospel, must be named and identifiable, so as to establish the continuity of what is taught. If it’s so for them, shouldn’t it be so for those accusing them? Oh wait. It is. Take your time and read this carefully:

I Constantinople Canon 6
There are many who are bent on confusing and overturning the good order of the church and so fabricate, out of hatred and a wish to slander, certain accusations against orthodox bishops in charge of churches. Their intention is none other than to blacken priests’ reputations and to stir up trouble among peace- loving laity. For this reason the sacred synod of bishops assembled at Constantinople has decided not to admit accusers without prior examination, and not to allow everyone to bring accusations against church administrators — but with- out excluding everyone. So if someone brings a private (that is a personal) complaint against the bishop on the grounds that he has been defrauded or in some other way unjustly dealt with by him, in the case of this kind of accusation neither the character nor the religion of the accuser will be subject to examination. It is wholly essential both that the bishop should have a clear conscience and that the one who alleges that he has been wronged, whatever his religion may be, should get justice.

But if the charge brought against the bishop is of an ecclesiastical kind, then the characters of those making it should be examined, in the first place to stop heretics bringing charges against orthodox bishops in matters of an ecclesiastical kind. (We define “heretics” as those who have been previously banned from the church and also those later anathematised by ourselves: and in addition those who claim to confess a faith that is sound, but who have seceded and hold assemblies in rivalry with the bishops who are in communion with us.) In the second place, persons previously condemned and expelled from the church for whatever reason, or those excommunicated either from the clerical or lay rank, are not to be permitted to accuse a bishop until they have first purged their own crime. Similarly, those who are already accused are not permitted to accuse a bishop or other clerics until they have proved their own innocence of the crimes with which they are charged. But if persons who are neither heretics nor excommunicates, nor such as have been previously condemned or accused of some transgression or other, claim that they have some ecclesiastical charge to make against the bishop, the sacred synod commands that such persons should first lay the accusations before all the bishops of the province and prove before them the crimes committed by the bishop in the case. If it emerges that the bishops of the province are not able to correct the crimes laid at the bishop’s door, then a higher synod of the bishops of that diocese, convoked to hear this case, must be approached, and the accusers are not to lay their accusations before it until they have given a written promise to submit to equal penalties should they be found guilty of making false accusations against the accused bishop, when the matter is investigated.

If anyone shows contempt of the prescriptions regarding the above matters and presumes to bother either the ears of the emperor or the courts of the secular authorities, or to dishonour all the diocesan bishops and trouble an ecumenical synod, there is to be no question whatever of allowing such a person to bring accusations forward, because he has made a mockery of the canons and violated the good order of the church.

Keep in mind that those wronged here were the bishops on the Holy Synod accused of wrongdoing along with several priests and leading laity. The OCA Truth crew has attempted to lead without having a face, and, at this point, we see why that’s a very, very bad idea. We are baptized by name. We partake of the Holy Eucharist by name. We receive Holy Absolution by Name. We are married or tonsured by name. We are buried by name. Why, then, wouldn’t we resolve our Christian differences by name? What holy purpose is served by hiding our identities when we express thoughts and opinions we feel need to be heard?

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 4th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

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