The Orthodox Leader

A Response on the Asceticism Talk

I am being taken to task at Monomakhos, both by the site’s editor and by Mr. John Couretas, communications director for Acton, for raising the issue that there was a significant difference between the text of Metropolitan Jonah’s talk “Asceticism and the Consumer Society” and the talk as actually given. It has been suggested that I have a “major axe to grind,” but that’s not true. In fact, what I have provided to the readers of this blog is a service (two services, actually). I hunted down the audio of the main portion of the talk, cleaned it up a bit, and made it available to all. I transcribed, as carefully as I could, the audio to text. Readers are encouraged to listen and read the actual talk and compare it with the posted text and then make up their own minds. If you don’t think my questions are fair, you’re free to disagree, either privately or in the comments. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 14th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Metropolitan Jonah

More on the Asceticism Talk

In reference to the previous post, a couple of commenters and correspondents (here and elsewhere) have inquired whether I think something is deceptive going on, or to suggest this is in the realm of “departure from prepared remarks.” Before saying anything further, I’ll emphasize that I’m not trying to make the proverbial mountain from a molehill. I’m mainly curious as these particular circumstances.

I’ll summarize the points that drive my curiosity thusly:

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 6th, 2011 at 9:59 am

Posted in Metropolitan Jonah

Asceticism and the Replacement Talk

As several of you know from my previous post, I was at Acton University a couple of weeks ago. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America gave the keynote address on Thursday evening, June 16. A couple of days after the end of the conference, Acton announced that “We’ve posted the text of Metropolitan Jonah’s AU talk” and linked to the full talk, titled “Asceticism and the Consumer Society,” elsewhere at

There’s only one problem: that’s not the talk Metropolitan Jonah gave. When I read the posted text, I couldn’t help but think that it sounded rather different from what I remembered that Thursday. I certainly didn’t remember the extensive quotations from Schmemann, and the talk, as I recalled, was at least twice as long as the posted text. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 6th, 2011 at 12:03 am

Posted in Metropolitan Jonah

Leadership and Argument

Among our challenges as Christians, one of the greatest is in navigating the tension that exists in the world of ideas. It has been my privilege to be at the Acton Institute’s Acton University this week. In one of the opening day’s sessions, Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico related his recent experience writing a piece on the ever-polarizing Ayn Rand. Many of the responses to the article have been strident, but they only make Fr. Sirico’s point for him. (I’ll leave it to readers to discover his point for themselves.)

It is not the aim of this article to take up Ayn Rand’s defense, or that of Fr. Sirico, who is a polarizing figure in his own right. Rather, I want to make the point that Christian leaders need to be willing to enter into the world of ideas and to depart what is too often a world of caricatures. I come to Acton not because I agree absolutely with every presenter, but because it affords me the opportunity to hear presentations from those who capably argue their positions and to engage them myself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 17th, 2011 at 8:19 am

Leadership Levels: Humility and Magnanimity

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. -Philippians 2:3

Blessings to all on the feast of our Lord’s Ascension.

Returning to leadership matters, I posted last time about Maxwell’s five levels of leadership. I had some questions at the end, but I’m going to ignore those myself for a bit, in order to develop some more thoughts on this topic. At this point, my thinking may diverge from Maxwell’s. Make of that what you will.

Careful reflection reveals that a leader at a particular level always has the option to lead according to a lower level. As a hypothetical example, a leader at level 4 (who owes his stature to the respect garnered by developing other persons’ abilities) can choose to lead as though he were at level 1, for example, in a fit of pique, ordering rather than requesting a subordinate or teammate or church member to do something, “because I say so,” or “because I am the priest.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 1st, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Levels of Leadership

“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

“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.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 20th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

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 »

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 19th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Planning,Synergy

Tagged with , , ,

Down with Delusion

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.”

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 17th, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Delusion-free Decision-making

“[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

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