Reflection on our Diocese
To All My Beloved Fellow Members of St. Paul Parish,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I want in this letter to convey to you my thoughts and feelings as your parish priest about the situation with our diocesan bishop. I have already conveyed these ideas to Bishop Matthias and also to some members of the Synod of Bishops. While I will offer my opinion here about how I understand our situation, my prayer is for all of us to be faithful to the Gospel.
The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America after reviewing the report and recommendation of the Response Team appointed to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against our Diocesan Hierarch, the Right Reverend Matthias, have accepted the fact that the allegations are substantiated. The Synod, following the OCA's Policy, Standards and Procedures, rendered a decision regarding a course of action to take with Bishop Matthias who they found guilty of sexual misconduct.
The reaction of many in the Diocese to our bishop's behavior has been dismay, disappointment, and even disgust. Many have questioned how he could ever again serve as bishop since he has destroyed his moral authority and by his own actions revealed a lack of pastoral wisdom or judgment which one would expect from someone who had been ordained for 40 years.
It is not my intention to air our dirty laundry, but all of these facts are quite public, as they should be, and so publicly diocesan clergy and lay members together with the Synod of Bishops- we can discuss our situation in order to do the truth (2 Cor 13:8).
"Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48)
We entrusted the pastoral care of our Diocese to Bishop Matthias, and he publicly disgraced himself and in so doing shamed us all. As is clear in the offending texts and emails he was writing as the Diocesan hierarch not as a private citizen. As Christ teaches, we rightfully require much and demand the more. The high standards and expectations for our bishop should be maintained. Besides there are dire consequences for the unwise words we say.
"I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)
We pray and hope that our bishop will eventually understand the hurt and harm he has done not only to the woman he victimized but to all of us in the Diocese. We hope that like the Prodigal Son he will come to his senses and truly repent. The Synod has assigned him to a therapeutic program in which we hope he will gain the self-awareness to see himself as others see him. Time will tell whether that will happen.
However, It is not only Bishop Matthias who needs healing. Our Diocese has been harmed but what has happened and we all need healing no doubt some of us feel the stress of this situation worse than others. Bishop Matthias was acting in the role of diocesan bishop as is clear in the offending texts he sent. As St. Ignatius of Antioch says, where the bishop is, there is the church. When the bishop engages in misconduct he drags down the diocese as well. Some of us at least have felt the shame, embarrassment and hurt caused by our hierarch.
We too need the chance to heal but, I believe this will be hard to accomplish if we know our hierarch is going to be restored to our Diocese, back to the very position whose trust and stewardship he betrayed. The Church from the earliest times in its own canons realizes how serious it is for a hierarch to scandalize the church, and scandalized many of us are. Our healing will come when we feel safe and know that we won't be dragged down again by such behavior.
Bishop Matthias at this year's clergy convocation spoke to us about the book BEAUTHY FOR ASHES. He spoke about the important need for there to be order restored in a diocese which has suffered scandal. He talked about the importance of re-establishing the dignity and authority of the clergy. Personally I don't see how this can happen as long as he is the bishop. I hope he will live up to what he spoke about and take the necessary steps to restore the dignity and authority of the clergy in our diocese which have been damaged by his own actions. I want him to get the therapy and healing he needs and also hope he allows our diocese to heal by stepping down as bishop.
"For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled
" (Titus 1:7-8)
The problem facing us is not only what he wrote in the offending messages and emails, but also that he blames the victim for his problems and he publicly denied on the Diocesan webpage that he was guilty of the allegations. His claim has been shown to be false. It raises again the issue of how can we trust a man who did not tell the truth. It is hard to see how we can take seriously what he says. He asks for our forgiveness but then hopes we will see the purity of his heart. Repentance does not involve self-justification.
Jesus taught that he who is not faithful in little things, is not trustworthy in big things. On some level what our bishop did is small, but it raises a big question about trust.
To rephrase Jesus in John 3:12, if we cannot trust him about earthly things, how can we trust him about heavenly things?
We all are to ask God to forgive our bishop, as we are taught by Christ to do. On the Cross our Lord prayed for his tormentors "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." In the current situation, our Diocese has been hung on the Cross, and we too are praying from that Cross that God will forgive our bishop. But we as Diocese have been seriously wounded, and are in need of healing. Christ forgave His tormentors but he didn't bless them to continue tormenting others. The healing of our Diocese begins with our bishop getting into therapy and then not only taking a long leave of absence, but resigning from his office to allow the Diocese to heal.
I think it is better for Bishop Matthias and our Diocese that he not be burdened with the pressures and issues which come with being the hierarch. I hope that our Synod of Bishops will also come to the realization that the trust has been betrayed and broken to a point that it is better not to try to restore it, but rather to let both Diocese and bishop heal from these wounds by allowing us to move into the future on different tracks.
The Synod wishes for Bishop Matthias' healing, as do we all. Certainly, he has now the opportunity to repent and to straighten out his life. In the liturgy we pray constantly to spend the remaining time of our life in repentance. That I think is the second chance the bishop is to be offered to get back on the track of repentance, but not to put him into a position whose pressures he didn't handle well.
Those are my thoughts about where we are and what I hope might happen.
May God be merciful on us all.
I personally have been sickened by the situation we are in. For all of you who have joined the church, I offer my regrets for the failures in leadership you have witnessed. Christ says of the Father in John 15:2 : "Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." We will now see whether we are being pruned to bear more fruit or whether we are being judged as having born no fruit at all.