A Joyful Epistle

December 3, 2008
Prophet Zephaniah

to the venerable Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest

“Continue earnestly in prayer, being
vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)

My Beloved in the Lord,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

It is the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, and after a joyful and peaceful Divine Liturgy my thoughts, in a stress-free, joyous sense of calm, run to pondering on the drama of the last few weeks emanating from an extraordinary 15th All American Council. In what I have termed “a joyful epistle,” in contrast to others of a sorrowful nature that I have written, I will attempt to share with you my newly-found “joyous sense of calm,” as well as my own experience and observations of that remarkable week in Pittsburgh.

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:

“I believed; therefore I spoke.
We also believe and therefore speak…”
(II Corinthians 4:13)

Those words were always before me. In my letter of 28 November 2005, when I first asked the now infamous question, I also stated, “I do not claim to be a good man, but I like to think that I am an honest man.” Since then, through the crisis I have been described by people in various ways, some favorable, some derisive. I will always be grateful for the prayerful and moral support that you and so many others outside our Diocesan Church have provided for me.

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:

“Theology is no longer the conscience and consciousness of the Church, her reflection on herself and on her problems. It has ceased to be pastoral in the sense of providing the Church with essential and saving norms; and it has also ceased
to be mystical in the sense of communicating to the people of God the knowledge of God which is the very content of life eternal. A theology alienated from the Church, and a Church alienated from theology; such is the first dimension of today’s crisis.”

I am please to quote a friend of mine from New England, David Barrett, who in a recent reflection wrote:

“This newest (consecrated ten days earlier!) and youngest (age forty-nine) of bishops moved the hearts of the assembled representatives, clergy and lay, of the Body of Christ. Furthermore, by acknowledging the truth of the matter while simultaneously referring all to the Scriptures and the dogmas of our Faith, he brought together again the Church and her theology; he mended that brokenness and alienation of theology and Church! In short, he spoke with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). He brought a new atmosphere and a new perspective to our life in the Church. More accurately, he restored the authentic perspective of our Holy Tradition”

My sisters and brothers, may it remain so! It has been said and written that ultimately I was the happiest person in Pittsburgh following the election – well, if not the happiest, at least one of the happiest, not so much because I was deferred from an awesome responsibility, but because I was convinced that the right man was chosen for the right position and I was blessed to remain in the right place for now as bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest. In my estimation our Diocese has already contributed much to the well being of the church, but there is still much to be done, especially in terms of the restoration of trust and confidence in leadership. There is much work to be done in our own Diocesan Church: bolstering our declining parishes; assisting our missions and furthering our missionary outreach; encouraging and sustaining our diocesan seminarians, who thankfully grow in number with every passing year; nurturing our youth and youth-related programs; promoting education on every level; and responsibly taking care ourselves of every local, diocesan need and concern, confident that there is once again a proper understanding of and respect for diocesan integrity, a vital expression of our ecclesiology. And this is much more easily accomplished working with a sympathetic and helpful Central Church Administration.

Yes, there is much to do as we restore trust and confidence. We must “continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” Our new Primate has articulated for us his vision as to how this is to be accomplished – that which has always been the way of the Church:

“How do we establish trust? There’s only one way. It’s to choose to love. It is the only way. There are 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 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.”

My beloved in the Lord, each of us has much work to do, God’s work – love and forgiveness. Once again I express my love for all of you, and once again I beg your forgiveness as one who has often failed you miserably.

I conclude with these words of St. Paul:

“Therefore do not lose heart… for our light affliction, which is for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:17,18)

With much love in Christ, I remain
Your unworthy hierarch and friend,

Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest

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