April 9, 2006
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Saint Mary of Egypt
Esteemed Brother Hierarchs, Devoted Clergy and Monastics, and Beloved Faithful:
Our holy Orthodox Tradition presents Great Lent as the sacred season for us to live more fully the call of the Christian “way of life” in imitation of our Savior—to be more Christ-like, to come closer to God Himself. It is a time for us to pray more fervently, to fast more strictly, to give alms more generously, and to repent, confess our sins and forgive one another in order that we may be forgiven by our Heavenly Father. In doing these things in the name of the Lord, we will be made worthy to attain unto and worship the holy Resurrection.
This year’s Lenten journey to Holy Pascha in our Orthodox Church in America has been marred by serious questions regarding the financial accountability of the Central Church Administration. The quest for truth and accountability, the necessity of maintaining honesty and integrity in church administration, and the restoration of trust at all levels are good and noble and virtuous. But these questions have escalated into criticisms, allegations and discord that have ripped the very fibers of our Holy Church, tearing asunder the peace and love and unity among her pious children. They have become the source of divisions and scandal, to the detriment of the Church’s prestige and good name—in public venues, from the internet in individual homes to the front pages of major newspapers across the country.
It is time for this turmoil in our parishes, in our dioceses and throughout the Church to cease and desist, especially as we approach Holy Week. We must lay aside these earthly cares and re-focus our spiritual lives on the “one thing that is needed ... that good part, which will not be taken away” (Luke 10:42). We must concentrate our efforts on prayer and fasting, almsgiving, and repentance, confession and mutual forgiveness. We must heed the call of the Holy Apostle: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
Beyond our own spiritual lives, the glorious work of Christ’s Church must continue. The tasks of illumining and baptizing catechumens, renewing parish life and growth, theologically educating and spiritually forming future clergy in our seminaries, and planting missions in places where there are no churches must continue until Christ comes again. Our faith must be strong enough to overcome every challenge, trusting totally in His promise: “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The work of resolving this controversy has begun on behalf of our whole Church. A law firm has been retained to undertake an internal investigation of all allegations regarding the finances of the Church that have been brought to my attention. An independent audit of all accounts for the past two years, an examination of the disposition of all monies collected through appeals for the past five years, and an evaluation of chancery personnel and operations have all been initiated and will be ongoing. As Primate of the Church, I pledge to you that my office, the Holy Synod of Bishops, the Metropolitan Council and the Chancery staff will cooperate fully with the auditors and investigators until these issues are resolved. As the independent audits for 2004 and for the special appeals are completed, they will be made available on our OCA website in a manner similar to those of other government-regulated not-for-profit religious organizations. Additional audit reports as well as the results of the internal investigation will also become part of our public records when deemed appropriate to do so by the investigators. The Holy Synod of Bishops, the Metropolitan Council, and then all of you will be made aware of the findings in a timely fashion and with good order.
I have further initiated “Best Practices” procedures in financial accountability and other administrative practices established for not-for-profit religious institutions, in order to insure that mistakes will not be made in the future. I realize that for some, these measures were taken too late; for others, they are too severe. I know that whatever decisions I make, I cannot please everyone.
I wish to state unequivocally that I take full responsibility for what may have happened during my service as Primate of the Church. The Holy Apostle commands me as first hierarch of the Church “that you should set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5). If I have failed in any way to do that, I ask for your forgiveness and God’s guidance to enable me to undertake whatever corrective measures may still be necessary. To all those who have been scandalized and pained by the weaknesses of the human aspect of the Church, and to all those whose faith has been challenged because of it, I apologize with my whole heart. I beseech the Lord, the divine Head of the Church, to heal and strengthen these members of His Body through His mercy and compassion and love for mankind.
Again, I ask for your understanding and forgiveness, and for your prayers for myself, for the hierarchs of our Holy Synod, for our clergy and for all our faithful. The time has come for us to unite our efforts to restore peace and harmony in our Church. If we are to become the co-workers with Christ that we are called to be, we must place our focus on our Savior, His saving mission and our shared participation in that saving mission. We must direct our energies to the work to which each of us has been called: our own salvation and the salvation of those around us.
If a loved one in your family were suffering in pain or ravaged by some disease, each of you would come to their aid with every possible human and spiritual resource. Our Holy Mother, the Church, has been ravaged by an illness that has taken a serious toll. I implore you, as her children, to do all that you can to help restore her to wellness and strength, beauty and dignity, purity and holiness. She is the Bride of Christ whom He loves, for whom He gave His life ”...that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). Now is the time for us to restore our Holy Mother to wholeness with our love.
Shortly before His saving Passion and Death on the Cross, Christ prayed to His Heavenly Father for His Church: ”... that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21). His prayer was not only for those twelve Apostles present around the table of the Mystical Supper; it is for all the members of our Orthodox Church in America today. Orthodoxy is living proof that the power of a unified witness can save the world with which it comes into contact. More importantly, it can save our part of the world right around us. As we relive the events of our salvation this coming Holy Week, let us lay aside what has divided our Church and ourselves, and let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God and to the work of saving souls to which we have been called. May He help us and strengthen us and bless our every good effort.
Asking for your prayers and wishing you a spiritually rewarding Passion Week and a joyous celebration of Holy Pascha, I bestow my archpastoral blessings and with paternal love, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada