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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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