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FW: Impressions of Bishop Matthias' first year

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
      Impressions of Bishop Matthias’ first year This following is a statement of impressions and commentary based on input from many lay people and clergy of
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 29, 2012

      Impressions of Bishop Matthias’ first year

      This following is a statement of impressions and commentary based on
      input from many lay people and clergy of the Diocese of the Midwest.
      Despite Bishop Matthias’ protestations to the contrary, many clergy
      fear reprisal for criticism, even if this criticism is meant to be
      constructive.  In this regard, episcopal actions have spoken louder
      than words.  This is why these impressions are presented anonymously.
      The bishop has taken punitive
      or dismissive actions against lay people
      as well as clergy.  There is a perception that clergy may even be held
      responsible for what their parishioners say.  In addition, Bishop
      Matthias has himself welcomed and used unidentified complaints to
      substantiate accusations and actions against those he wishes to
      punish.  Perhaps the presentation here of criticism from an
      unidentified source may be a matter of poetic justice.

      This review is not offered with malice, but with sorrow that an
      episcopate begun with joy and unanimity should so quickly become so
      distressful for the Diocese.  It is not intended to attack but to call
      for a correction of course while it is still possible.  To that end,
      it may provide a voice for the growing dissent that will inevitably
      seek expression.  This is all the more important in the absence of an
      open forum for discussion.

      Part one: Severe

      Bishop Matthias can appear on the surface to be calm and congenial in
      public. He speaks of being a shepherd.  However, a number of clergy
      and laypeople have said that they have seen another darker side.
      There are reports of at least seven laypeople and clergy who have met
      with summary judgments or severe disciplinary actions over the past
      year. These actions do not seem to be those of a loving father or a
      good shepherd.  They seem to reflect a more secular model, like that
      of an insecure new CEO who wants to start out by asserting his
      authority and getting rid of vestiges of the previous administration.
      Or they may reflect the model of a worldly ruler looking down from
      his throne and making unquestionable judgments, without an opportunity
      for open discussion or for defense by the accused.  This is in spite
      of the Lord’s warning in Mark 10:42, which we hear every year just
      Holy Week.

      There appear to be several common characteristics in these punitive
      or dismissive actions of Bishop Matthias.  As stated above, they
      sometimes draw on accusations from unidentified sources, that is to
      say sources that remain anonymous to the accused.  Often, the
      accusations seem to be based on  feelings or reactions of Bishop
      Matthias which are basically subjective.  He  seems to have a tendency
      to form snap judgments and to shoot from the hip.  He projects a huge
      self-confidence in his own perceptions and judgments.  There is a
      widespread impression that his personal judgments do not admit of
      questioning or defensive clarification.  Such responses have in some
      instances only evoked outbursts of anger on his part (the ‘short fuse’
      which is becoming famous).  In many of these cases, Bishop Matthias
      has not sought input from legitimate advisors such as
      Deans, Diocesan Council, parish rectors.  The reported results of
      these autocratic encounters have been excommunication, suspension,
      removal from office or position, suspension of faculties, dismissal or
      banning from the Diocese.  Clergy recall one of Bishop Matthias’
      first resolutions which banned Fr. Gregory Jenson, a priest of the OCA
      in good standing, from serving in the Diocese.  This very peculiar and
      unprecedented resolution came from out of the blue without prior
      discussion or explanation.  It penalized a priest who had served with
      some distinction in healing a wounded parish of the Diocese.  This was
      the first of a number of such actions, with varying degrees of
      substantiation or lack thereof.  What is at issue here is not the
      substantiation, but rather the way in which Bishop Matthias carried
      out these dismissals or punitive sentences.  In addition to
      particular severe actions, Bishop Matthias is reported also to have
      made a number of angry phone calls and sent out irritable letters and
      emails.  Incidentally, this kind of email griping is something he has
      forbidden lower clergy and seminarians to do.  He appears to be
      thin-skinned and given to irritable outbursts in meetings or
      conversations when he disapproves of someone’s statement.

      In every case the episcopal judgments mentioned above appear to lack
      any semblance of due process or conciliar consultation.  It is not the
      way things have been done in the Diocese.  It does not fit the culture
      of conciliarity that has been held up for decades as the hallmark of
      the OCA.

      In regard to the Clergy Convocation held in May, a number of frank
      reports have been forthcoming, not counting the highly sanitized and
      vague ‘authorized account’ on the diocesan website.  There were
      presenters at the convocation other than Bishop Matthias.  He began by
      speaking of a Greek metropolitan who had cleaned up the corrupt and
      ailing diocese to which he was appointed.  This was meant as an
      analogy for the OCA, and by extension the Diocese of the Midwest. He
      sees himself as a reformer who comes in to clean things up. He said
      nothing about such a role for himself at any time throughout  the
      episcopal search process leading to his election.  It seems that
      Bishop Matthias held back and was not honest his true thoughts and
      agenda throughout that process.

      Part Two: Clergy Convocation

      Bishop Matthias began the Clergy Convocation by saying that the
      Diocese would not look to models or programs from the secular or
      business world. (This apparently includes the Parish Health Program
      facilitated by Joe Kormos, which Bishop Matthias has slated for
      termination at the end of this
      year.)  Instead, he said, our only
      program will be to follow Christ.  If the next two days been spent in
      a discussion of the clergy’s response to the Gospel and their
      proclamation of it, or on personal spirituality, this could have been
      well received.  But the bishop proceeded instead to spend the next two
      days going through his own checklist of rubrical issues and matters of
      liturgical custom or clergy apparel that he found problematic.  He
      said once again that he had spent a year visiting diocesan parishes.
      He said he now ‘knew’ the Diocese and was ready to implement his
      vision for it.  It seems that this vision has less to do with the
      Gospel than with external practice.  His vision seems to be a program
      of rules and regulations, a kind of hair-splitting program of
      ecclesiastical nit-picking.

      The checklist of Bishop Matthias’ yearlong impressions appears to be
      entirely negative.  Clergy and laypeople have the feeling that
      his pastoral visits have been and will be like visits of the Inspector
      General,  finding fault with the most unexpected or trivial matter,
      adding it to his mental checklist for future complaint or
      proscription.  The issues he critiqued included: Vesperal Liturgy
      (begrudgingly permitted for the time being); Baptism within the
      Liturgy (forbidden as of next January);  women holding the Communion
      cloth (which he somehow thinks that ordinary lay people never touch or
      grasp and which will be forbidden as of September 1).  It ranged from
      serious issues to the ridiculous, like the directive that clergy can
      have a mixed drink or glass of wine at a parish event but not beer
      (?).  Bishop Matthias revealed that he had already been  “scandalized”
      by the fact that clergy were informally dressed at the Clergy
      Convocation which he
      attended as a candidate to be interviewed two
      years ago.  Apparently, he withheld his horror regarding this until he
      would have power to forbid it.  If he had been more self-revealing at
      the time, there might have been a different appraisal of his
      candidacy.  In general, his review of practices within the Diocese was
      negative.  Even those things that will be allowed were granted with a
      condescending distaste, like the saying of the prayers of the anaphora
      aloud.  Many clergy and laypeople have been dismayed that Bishop
      Matthias spoke disparagingly of Father Alexander Schmemann and Father
      John Meyendorff.  He claimed that they wanted to take away the mystery
      of the services by opening them up to lay perception.  He was made
      light of the fact that many of the practices with which he finds fault
      were established or allowed by his predecessors going back over thirty
      years.  Many
      of us have grown up with these practices, which we are
      now to see as wrong.  Our children are now to be told that we have
      been wrong in the liturgical practices to which they have been
      accustomed. Reports say that many clergy left the Convocation
      dismayed, discouraged, and fearing for the future of the Diocese.

      Bishop Matthias would have been wiser to have really gotten to know
      the Diocese before sitting in judgment on so many elements of diocesan
      life. One or two-day visits to fifty or sixty communities over a year
      may be a strenuous activity.  However, it does not provide a deep
      knowledge. He would have been wiser to acquaint himself with the life
      of the Diocese during recent decades.  The question is being raised as
      to who is holding counsel with him on matters of diocesan policy.  It
      does not seem to be the Bishop’s Council, Diocesan Council, or perhaps
      even the Chancellor.  The
      bishop should be consulting with clergy and
      lay leaders and not just treating them like flunkies to carry out his
      autocratic decisions.  The bishop would be well-advised to approach
      change with humility rather than with a stubborn self-assurance that
      comes across as arrogance.  He would be well-advised to practice a
      little anger management and to speak slowly and carefully.  And,
      finally, he needs to allow for repentance and correction by those who
      err, instead of meeting perceived errors with a hard and terse
      discipline.  He should use patient and kind admonition rather than the
      knout.  We also should be prepared to welcome a change of heart on his
      part and look for of a new, more positive beginning.

      -    Samizdat

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    • Judith Stuck
      The tone of so many reports regarding the hierarchs seem judgmental.  More than a strict bishop, the judgmental criticisms that continue in our Church
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 29, 2012
        The tone of so many "reports" regarding the hierarchs seem judgmental.  More than a strict bishop, the judgmental criticisms that continue in our Church often cause me to wonder if I made the right decision to convert.  The only way I stay is by trying to close my mind to others and try to focus on my own sins.  In that process, I am thankful for Bishop Matthias.

        -- Sent from my Palm Pixi

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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