A JOYFUL EPISTLE
to the venerable Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest
vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
My Beloved in the Lord,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The weeks preceding the All American Council were stressful, yet, happily, diocesan life went on nicely, with several parochial celebrations. It is no secret that I approached Pittsburgh with anxiety and apprehension, even more correctly, with dread and trepidation. I was told that my countenance betrayed my feelings during the first two days of the Council. The unexpected death of our Archpriest Stephen Karaffa – may his memory be eternal – added sorrow and dismay. His ‘singing away’ began at the Council and the prayers of hundreds from parishes across the continent brought comfort and hope.
I had approached Pittsburgh trusting in God’s mercy and determined that I would be obedient to His will no matter what. I had never desired for myself the office of Metropolitan. Because of my sinfulness, faults and failings I considered, and still consider myself to be entirely unworthy and inadequate. Yet, if on the first ballot the votes for my unworthiness achieved the 2/3 majority, I was prepared to accept this as an indication of God’s will for me, expressed through the People of God, and acquiesce to God’s providence.
On Tuesday evening I intently listened to the beautiful words of our newest and youngest bishop, His Grace, Bishop JONAH. I had met him in Boston when he was a seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and then taking courses at Holy Cross School of Theology. I found him to be intelligent, personable, committed. Although our encounters were few, I enjoyed conversing with him and had wanted to get to know him better. Then we lost contact, although I had observed from afar and admired his zeal for monasticism and missionary outreach, often under unfavorable conditions. Now as a bishop he still demonstrates his personable and humble demeanor, but added to those qualities were eloquence and spiritual insight, articulated in a way that held his audience spellbound. Before Vladyka JONAH had finished addressing the crisis of the Orthodox Church in America by preaching the Gospel of Christ, I began thanking God for raising up a true and worthy Shepherd to lead His Church sojourning in North America. Everything had changed and I rejoiced. The balloting on the next day only served to confirm my perceptions. Here was a hierarch, the only hierarch that was completely unscathed by the scandal, without “baggage” so to speak. We now had the opportunity for a clear break with the deficiencies of the past. I was humbled and grateful to be nominated as one of the two candidates presented to the Holy Synod for the canonical election, but I had no doubt as to whom must be elected. The People of God were showing us the way! I remain firmly convinced that God’s will was accomplished. Glory to God for all things! And to His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH, AXIOS!
My brothers and sisters, it has been a long and tedious three years – years of dismay, anxiety, bewilderment, frustration and despair. From its onset I have always prayed that my motives in doing what I was moved to do would remain pure. In the words of the Psalmist, echoed by the Holy Apostle Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians:
We also believe and therefore speak…”
(II Corinthians 4:13)
Please do not think that I am implying that the crisis is over; it is not over. But I believe that we are now out of the dark tunnel, having been led by the Lord into the light where we may more clearly identify and deal with the sins and betrayals in order fully to restore honesty, righteousness, integrity and trust.
My friends, in one of his messages, his Beatitude stated (and I paraphrase) that by this scandal we, the Orthodox Church in America, have been broken into little pieces, and it is now our job to put these pieces back together again, the result of which will be even more beautiful than before. In once again setting aright the brokenness, we may also restore our Orthodox theology and the ecclesiology that it inspires to guide the Church now and in the future.
In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory:
I am please to quote a friend of mine from New England, David Barrett, who in a recent reflection wrote:
“If we are Christians we have the choice: Do we enter into the love of Jesus Christ for one another – including our hierarchs, including our priest, including those who have failed us miserably, including those whom we judge and criticize, all to our own damnation?
“We have to choose to love, we have to choose to forgive; and this is the only way, if we are Christians.”
With much love in Christ, I remain
Your unworthy hierarch and friend,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest