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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

Authority is Responsibility

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“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

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

March 25th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Suspicious Minds

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“Why can’t you see what you’re doing to me when you don’t believe a word I say?” –”Suspicious Minds,” sung by Elvis Presley, written by Mark James

In the last post, I made reference to the suspicious minds behind the uncharitable motives credited to everyone viewed as enemies of Metropolitan Jonah. Just a couple of hours ago (around 3 p.m. Eastern), the following post was published at It was pulled down within the hour. (It may still be available in Google’s feed reader cache.)  [UPDATE: 7:30 pm Eastern: The post is back up, in slightly modified form, here, with new and improved references to "Machiavellians."]

Outflanking +Jonah
via OCA Truth by Muzhik on 3/24/11

The following e-mail went out to priests of the Southwest Deanery of the Diocese of the South:

To: SW Deanery List
Sent: Thu, Mar 24, 2011 10:18 am
Subject: [Swdeanery] Nominations for Bishop

Brother Concelebrants of the Southwest Deanery,

The nomination committee of the Diocese of the South is being strongly urged by two bishops on the Holy Synod to move ahead on nominating candidates to fill the vacant post of bishop for the DOS.

The committee, which is the Diocesan Council, will have a conference call this coming Monday to discuss the matter.

I trust that we all have been praying for God’s provision of a faithful bishop to shepherd His flock in the DOS.

If any of you wish to discuss this matter with one another on this list, put forward names for consideration by the committee, and so for, now is the time.

May God grant us his wisdom to discern the man He has called for this ministry.

Love in Christ,

Priest Justin Frederick, Dean

This is interesting. While the DOS really needs a bishop, it is striking to me that two bishops on the Synod have a strange new interest in the urgency of filling that post. Wonder why? There has been some wishful speculation lately among the faithful of the DOS that His Beatitude might be willing to leave the primatial role and return to Dallas, where he is loved, to serve as the DOS bishop. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard nothing from my sources indicating that this might even be a possibility. It’s just the thinking of laity who love His Beatitude and want him to live and to work where he is loved and valued.

I told someone just last night that the Synod would never let that happen, because they would see +Jonah in the South as a threat to them. Call me cynical, but I interpret the renewed interest in these two unnamed bishops in getting someone named to the DOS episcopate, especially while HB is sidelined on his retreat, as an attempt to close off the possibility that +Jonah might establish a Southern stronghold. These two bishops — who do you think they are? — are trying hard to outflank +Jonah. Under these suspicious conditions, the episcopate of the South could be a poisoned chalice.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s because the Diocese of the South has been vacant since early in 2009? I can almost imagine the Church Lady writing that last paragraph.

It’s likely superfluous to note this, but when one’s entire worldview is (apparently) predicated on the notion that the entire OCA administration,the entire Holy Synod, and (at a minimum) a solid majority of the Metropolitan Council is out to “get” Your Guy, maybe it’s time to step back, take a deep breath, say “Lord, Have Mercy” a dozen times with prostrations, and reflect on the significance of the word “paranoia.”

Here’s some mood music to help (unfortunately, Sony might insist you watch it on YouTube):

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

March 24th, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Charity or Suspicion?

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“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” –1 Peter 4:8

Like many others, I have watched the tumult within the Orthodox Church in America’s Holy Synod unfold over the course of the past month. Also like many others, I have no secret information, or access to the deliberations of the Holy Synod or Metropolitan Council.(*) What has come to concern me most in this affair is the remarkable lack of simple charity.

The sequence of events is well-documented elsewhere, so I won’t rehash them. What I will say is that the following all represent the least amount of charity:

  • Interpreting the decisions by the Holy Synod in Santa Fe as giving Metropolitan Jonah the “’Bishop Nikolai’ treatment,” as retired Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) of the West put it.
  • Interpreting the alleged “smoking gun” email from Mark Stokoe as evidence of a coup, rather than as a heated and hasty response to a “What is going ON?!” email from another Metropolitan Council member. (And what is the source of the information that “four of the recipients of this e-mail were bishops”? +Tikhon (Fitzgerald) certainly didn’t mention that.)
  • Regarding the minutes of the Holy Synod’s Santa Fe meeting as deceptive.
  • Understanding the motives of the bishops on the Holy Synod as other than what they claim to be, absent other evidence.

If those are least charitable interpretations, it’s downright malicious to suggest, repeatedly, that the Holy Synod desires to depose—as in “to remove from clerical rank”—Metropolitan Jonah. It’s malicious because it gives cause for alarm without any support whatsoever. The only place this suggestion has appeared, that I can find, is (see this, for example). I suspect that if we know which of the anonymous cowards first introduced this term into the discussion, we will know who is really behind the tumult.

Worse still are the accusations of active homosexuality by Mark Stokoe and of tolerance of (or support for) it by his priest, Fr. Ted Bobosh. If there’s clear evidence of the former, please send it to Bishop Tikhon (Mollard) of South Canaan, PA, the locum tenens of Mark Stokoe’s diocese. (Charity, not to mention Matthew 18:15, would have you contacting Mark directly about it first.) “Clear evidence” does not include an obituary and an address, nor does it include an accusation seen on another website. Repetition adds nothing to the truth.

This is a leadership blog, not a news blog, nor a “defend someone’s side” blog, which is why I’m not slogging through every point like a lawyer. Other people are doing that. However, a dear friend, early on in this particular scandal, gave me pastoral advice to avoid having a “suspicious mind” (which makes me think of Elvis, but I digress). The suspicious minds at this point are those attributing evil motives to the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Council, and all those who are rightly concerned about Metropolitan Jonah’s actions since his enthronement as primate. The suspicious minds are the ones suggesting actions (e.g., deposition, or forced retirement) that no one is talking about. The suspicious minds are the ones framing this as a “culture war” between liberal/pro-gay/pro-abortion Orthodox from the Northeast and Midwest and conservative/anti-gay/pro-life Orthodox from the South and West.

We would all benefit from recognizing that the bishops on the Holy Synod today, in 2011, have almost nothing in common with the Holy Synod of even three years ago. Each of them received (and, it is hoped, continues to receive) the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the cheirotonia of his office, in no less fashion than Metropolitan Jonah. Contrary to some commentators, His Beatitude is not the only “real” monk among them.

The Holy Synod is clearly concerned about more than leadership style. I can’t believe they care about whether he prefers the telephone to email, or top-down versus bottom-up management. I do think they are concerned about specific acts and failures to act that have only increased scandal, legal exposure, financial liability, and doubts about the future of the OCA. A little bit of charity in understanding their motives and situation and a lot less malice in presenting them would go a long way toward seeing us through our current plight.

(*) In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that I work closely with Archpriest John Reeves, a member of the Metropolitan Council, as I am his assistant rector. However, he never breaches confidentiality.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

March 24th, 2011 at 12:20 am

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