Metropolitan Council meeting opens at OCA Chancery

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, opened the meeting of the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America here on Tuesday, June 12, 2007.

Following an opening Service of Intercession, Metropolitan Herman delivered his address to the council, the complete text of which appears below.

“Venerable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

“As we gather as the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America for this special session, we have the awesome opportunity to embrace the Holy Spirit that desires to unite us and abide in us as an essential leadership body of the Church. At the same time, we have the opportunity to acknowledge that God alone can heal our personal and corporate infirmities as we learn from the past, make an attempt to give back to God the fruits of our labors, tempering each decision with care and discernment. The question that must be foremost in our minds is very fundamental, ‘What is God’s will for us at this time in the history of our young, modest, yet autocephalous Orthodox Church in America?’

“I would like to begin by reflecting on a number of events that took place in the recent past.

“When we gathered for the fall meeting of our Metropolitan Council in 2005, I recommended that an accounting firm be engaged to conduct an independent audit of our OCA financial records for years 2004 and 2005. The accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos, and Moulthrop LLP was selected and engaged to do this work beginning in January 2006.

“At the same meeting, it was recommended that a Best Practices document be developed containing essential guiding principles for the management and in particular, the orderly management of financial matters of our central Church administration. I trustingly accepted the recommendation, though I must admit that at the time, Best Practices was only a concept for me. Within a few months, a Best Practices Task Force was established. Its work resulted in a draft document, circulated to all of you to give you ample opportunity for your review and deliberation at a subsequent meeting. Systematically, each section of the document was presented and approved subject to review by legal experts who are specialists in such matters. This was accomplished. At our March 13-14, 2007 meeting, the matter was tabled. I urge you to act on this important matter at this special session. Without such a document, we are daring to function without necessary safeguards in place to properly move forward according to the management vision for the present and future as proposed by the Reorganization Task Force. I urge you to resolve any issues related to the document at this meeting without delay.

“Public statements have been made even by members of the Church who are fully aware of the efforts of you and others like you who are part of the solution and are addressing our ills suggesting that we are functioning with a ‘business as usual’ attitude. This is absolutely false!

“A plan of action, as directed by the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, began to evolve early in 2006.

“1. The accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos and Moulthrop, LLP was engaged in January 2006 to undertake an independent audit of the financial records of the Church for 2004 and 2005. Later, it was engaged to undertake an independent audit of all annual and special appeals for the years 2001 through 2005. In some instances, a review of documents related to prior years was relevant to its task. This work has been completed.

“One of its findings is that independent audits were not conducted from 1998 through 2005. During those years, the annual financial reports were prepared by the chancery staff and presented to the accounting firm of Konsen and Hostelley LLP for compilation. It has been ascertained that these were not conducted in a timely way. For example, the 2002 audit, which is controversial in a number of ways, is dated February 2004. It was ascertained that during that same period, the members of the Audit Committee, elected triennially at All-American Councils, were invited very infrequently to the chancery to examine the financial reports and other related documents for those years.

“2. In March 2006, as Primate of the Church, and therefore, on behalf of the entire Orthodox Church in America (and not myself as some have alleged), I engaged the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate the allegations of financial mismanagement of Church funds.

“The investigation by Proskauer Rose into these and other allegations of financial mismanagement of Orthodox Church in America funds has been completed.

“3. As a result of the findings of the investigators from Proskauer Rose LLP and of the independent audit work of the accountants from Lambrides, Lamos and Moulthrop LLP, it was deemed appropriate that our former chancellor, Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, be summoned to a Church Court.

“The first day of the Church Court was held yesterday, June 11, 2007. Essentially, the formal charges leveled against Father Kondratick were heard. Substantive documentation was reviewed. Witnesses were invited and questioned.

“Later this month, the second phase of the Church Court will take place. At that time, the panel will receive Father Kondratick’s response and then determine if any further action is appropriate.

“4. The $1,700,000.00 loan procured from The Honesdale National Bank was properly distributed in accordance with the specifics of the loan application and acceptance documents.

“5. The Reorganization Task Force/Search Committee has done a splendid job in reviewing the organizational chart developed under the direction of our former chancellor in 1991. Essentially, the 1991 chart indicates that all members of the chancery staff including the secretary and treasurer of the Church were subordinates accountable to the chancellor, who in turn, reported to or did not report to the Office of Metropolitan concerning all issues. In contrast, the 2007 organizational chart developed under the auspices of the Reorganization Task Force/Search Committee was presented and accepted by both the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council. The new organizational chart presents the three officers of the Church as well as the newly established director of Communications and Ministries as a “management team,” all of whom are accountable to the Office of Metropolitan. I intend to meet regularly with the entire team to address issues common to all, and meet with each individually as is appropriate. The Reorganization Task Force/Search Committee invited other competent and qualified members of the Church to assist in the search for qualified candidates for each leadership position.

“6. With my approval and under its direction, many personnel changes have been made and continue to be made regarding the chancery staff.

“7. As I mentioned earlier, all the work on the Best Practices document has been completed and, pending your approval, will be implemented.

“8. The evaluation of our information service needs, which includes equipment, software and training, has been completed. Implementation is now taking place. Within the next few months, we anticipate that all aspects of this project will be fully operational, and effectively used by the chancery staff to fulfill its assigned tasks.

“For some people, the investigation, the work of the accountants, and other aspects of this tedious process did not move fast enough. That there was a restriction on information that could be made public while the investigation was in process tempted other individuals to become impatient, overly critical and judgmental. This complex spiritual trauma is something that I deeply regret has occurred, but over which I do not have control.

“Conjectures by some who have limited access to facts have used the Internet as their medium of choice in their ‘quest for the truth.’ What began as their attempt to share factual information has degenerated over time into a forum for more conjecture, theorizing, hypothesizing, vicious personal attacks, half-truths, exaggerations, distortions, and even totally false information as ‘the truth.’ At this point, I question the motives and methods of such individuals.

“The criticism of the Metropolitan Council, of the Holy Synod, and particularly of me as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America has been relentless. While all of this is painful and hurtful to many who are weak, for others it has been an opportunity for deep reflection, righteous suffering and spiritual growth.

“I am grateful that many of you have come forward and have volunteered to share your time and talents so that the vision for our Church that came when we accepted autocephaly in 1970 could once again be the guiding light for our work and mission in North America. Though we are consistent in our support of all endeavors that offer opportunity for the entire Orthodox Christian community living in North America to be united, we have an opportunity to contribute in a special way to the growth and development of Orthodox Christianity in North America because of our unbroken chain of history from 1794 to the present.

“As we especially remember and honor all the Saints of North America on this third week after Pentecost, may we renew our efforts to accept into our hearts and minds the same wholesome, healthy, sacrificial spirit that has shown forth through them. Our struggles are insignificant compared with theirs. They have received their crowns of glory and victory because they were single-minded; they kept their eyes on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfector of their faith. May we with all humility strive to do likewise.”

The meeting will conclude on Wednesday, June 13.

A photograph gallery of the opening session is available.