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Annual Report January 2009

Diocesan Representative - Lee Kopulos.

Diocesan Delegate Report
St. Luke Church Board
On the occasion of
15th All American Council
Of the
Orthodox Church in America
Nov. 10-13, 2008
Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Grace of the Holy Spirit has Assembled today, having taken up Thy Cross, we cry: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the Highest.

Introduction

Father Andrew and I spent four full days at this event and enjoyed every minute of it. This council of delegates, laity, clergy and bishops is what we call in the Orthodox Church, the conciliar body of Christ. Conciliar meaning we are working together by means of a council guided by the Holy Spirit to think like Christ and do like Christ. It is similar to the Greek word used in the church syndakonia which means: bound, linked or connecting together. In essence, in today’s terms it means: the people of God working together in harmony. Yes, as we were to find out after our arrival, this was going to be an extraordinary council with all parts working together in a conciliar fashion – in harmony. We, of course, found it appropriate to thank the Grace of the Holy Spirit who was with us the whole way!!!

The decisions of this council were profound for it for it has:

(1) ushered in a new era for the OCA churches by washing away the old ideas of church authority and chancellery operation;
(2) Reviewed and approved new controls for accounting and financial transparency coming to grips with the previous financial difficulties: and
(3) Ordered in new leadership with the election of a new Primate, Metropolitan Jonah, a bishop for only 10 previous days, who said even before his election and quite frankly: “The essence of the Gospel is repentance and forgiveness. This forgiveness does not justify the actions of Kondratick or Theodosius or Herman to destroy the church. We must move on.”

The fact that this OCA church body is a self-governing (autocephalous) unit, allowed it to rightly discover the truth of its past problems. While it took much too long to discover, once the issues were brought to fore a corrective process was initiated with speed. Transparency was accomplished to the chagrin of many in previous responsible positions. If we had been under a foreign patriarchate these problems most assuredly would have been swept under “the rug.”

The major problems discovered over the past decade involved the gross misconduct of its top leadership regarding the sins of omission, financial misappropriation of funds, immorality and authoritarian leadership. We thank God for our Archbishop Job who continually, over a 3 year period, pressed the issue for truth and transparency under much duress from members of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Council and/or the Chancellery. He set the stage for the Special Investigative Commission (SIC) to confirm these gross misconducts. Headed by Bishop Benjamin, the SIC Report confirmed these major problems and recommended strong actions including, as a top priority, the immediate retiring of the former Metropolitan Herman. Just as important was the hiring of a new Treasurer with CPA credentials and a new Comptroller who began the difficult process of trying to reconstruct financial statements and setting firm control programs so that this would not happen again.

This All American Council (AAC) was a completely open forum allowing for questioning of the HS by clergy and laity each evening. Bishop Jonah’s brilliant response on Tuesday night’s Q&A and his strong call to put all in the past behind us brought a standing ovation. It was truly one of the Council’s highlights. From this point on, a wonderful a spirit of forgiveness and renewal in the Holy Spirit came upon the body elect. We then moved forward in unison with strength to take on the important business ahead of us.

A Taste of the Day by Day - Highlights of the Council

Monday, Nov. 10. At 1pm a series of workshops in Christian Service and a few national ministries like the OCMC. Vespers at 4:30. At 7:30 the opening Molieben Service and 1st Plenary “Reflecting on the Past” in a Town Hall format moderated by Bp. Nikon. His Grace was quite realistic talking about the failures of the Holy Synod and commenting “we do not have to reestablish trust; we now have to re-earn your trust.” A fitting admission indeed! Compline along with Psalm Reading and Confessions ended the evening.

Tuesday, Nov. 11. (Veterans Remembrance Day) 7Am Divine Liturgy with Bp. Jonah. 9:15 Breakfast for everyone.

10:30 the 2nd. Plenary Session “Reflecting on the Past” Discussion/questions, the now famous SIC Report headed by Bishop Benjamin. The SIC Team reviewed the report and answered most of the difficult questions of our past including the looting of over $4,000,000 over at least a 10 year period. This was a very serious meeting of the SIC Members and the AAC Council delegates. His Grace led the discussion and fielded many serious questions and some where there was no answer. He and the team did a masterful job of answering tough questions.

At 12 noon. Lunch Forums on Special Ministries - Prison Ministry, Christian Ed., Special Needs, Mission Parishes, Pension Plan and Military Chaplains. I reviewed the one on Missions as this is my special interest. This one hour program highlighted successful programs in larger markets where no full English speaking churches exist. We have been successful in opening and growing a few parishes in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina and in South Carolina.

At 2pm. 3rd Plenary Session “The Needs of Today” The SIC Recommendations were reviewed and moderated by Bishop Benjamin who headed this investigation and writing of the report. Again, His Grace did an exemplary job of leading this discussion covering the action recommendations for correcting the problems of financial transparency, leadership and authority in the church. Probably the most troubling responses from the clergy and laity were with regard to the former Metropolitan Herman’s retirement. Many felt, including this writer, a far stiffer penalty should have been given him. According to His Grace, this forced retirement in Episcopal circles is deemed more than a “slap in the face” penalty, it is disgraceful.

Vespers at 5pm with an excellent homily by Fr. Meletios Webber the new Abbot at the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Redding, Ca. Dinner on your own after 5:30pm.

At 7:30. 4th Plenary: “The Needs of Today” This was a discussion by the newly organized Chancellery staff headed by Fr. Alexander Garglavs. This is now a minimal staff of about six including the new Treasurer and the new Comptroller who reported quite capably at the 6th Plenary below on Wednesday after the election of the new Metropolitan.

Bp. Jonah responded to written questions for the HS from the clergy/laity given the day before. This was an outstanding presentation in which he did not use a Q&A format but explained the proper relationship between bishop, clergy and laity (BCL) as a synergy of conciliarity. The complete audio of this presentation on Tuesday night is available on internet radio at ancientfaithradio.com. I strongly recommend you listen to it.

¨ Hierarchical authority must not be confused with the imperial aristocracy. Any form of dictatorial leadership of the past has proven to not work.
¨ Leadership is from within, a voluntary cooperation and synergy of the BCL in Council. In the words of St. Paul, synergy is a voluntary cooperation and obedience out of respect and love for one another. Monasticism is that very thing. For example, if a Priest is looked at as the answer man for all and he lord’s it over everyone, it will not be long until the parish loses its effectiveness. This doesn’t work in a monastery either.

Here are some more of the highlights of this presentation by then Bishop Jonah:

¨ If jealousy, anger or revenge enters into any problem it will break down the relationships and cause failure. It is all about obedience to Christ and the Gospel. This is the canon that we measure ourselves by as Christians.
¨ A culture of intimidation and fear is never appropriate. I saw plenty of it at a young age and vowed I would not let it happen because power corrupts.
¨ We need to speak our minds in a somber way. Keep a watch over our words and thoughts. If we anger we sin and this is hypocrisy.
¨ As my mentor in the Valaam Monastery has said, “You must mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within yourself.” Then the Gospel of Christ will shine thru us.
¨ The SIC Report says the last two Metropolitans were corrupt. It is a wonder that the HS operated like it did - a sick culture that has been removed, thank God!
¨ At the Chancellery, the church was looted; an expensive lesson. The next elected Metropolitan will not let us down if we live in an atmosphere of love, respect and hope. Yes, we were betrayed! Yes we were raped! It is over; let it be in the past. The essence of the Gospel is repentance and forgiveness. This forgiveness does not justify Kondratick’s or Theodosius’ actions to destroy the church…We must move on.
¨ You are all leaders. You must all convey the Gospel 95% by your actions and only 5% by your words. Authority is accountability!
¨ The church was leaderless for 30 years! Thank God we are the only non-state Orthodox Church with no foreign responsibility.
¨ Even a housewife has incredible responsibility to her husband, children and her church. We need to come together in love and respect. Put aside all anger and bitterness.
¨ The Bishops and the clergy will stand before God for your personal and general judgment. We establish trust by love – no other way. No corporate ideology; It is done no other way.
¨ We have nice rituals, who cares…. It is not about religion but our souls. If we choose Jesus Christ everything will be clear. So, I think I have I have addressed most of the questions here. Please forgive me!

A standing ovation!!!

Wednesday, Nov. 12. 7Am. Hierarchical Liturgy. Continental Breakfast.
Scripture Reading and Reflection
Election of the Metropolitan begins at 10:30 am.

All the doors are locked; no one can leave until the election is completed. “The Grace of the Holy Spirit” is sung and the calling of the Holy Spirit with “O Heavenly King…” Then a number of Troparion are sung to the American Saints ending with a hymn to the Theotokos for help entitled “Steadfast Protectress,”

The election process begins with a count of all the delegates – bishops, clergy & laity a total of 793 present. According to the OCA Statute, election requires 2/3 majority to be elected on anyone of the first two ballots or, in this case, 523 votes. If no one receives 523 votes then the bishops elect the Metropolitan behind the Altar in a private vote.

First Ballot: Jonah – 233; Job 212; Benjamin 75. Many others. No decision.

Second Ballot (vote only two) – Jonah 473; Job 364; Benjamin 140. No decision.

Bishop vote – Jonah!!!

This election took about 3 hours to complete. In between votes, we heard letters of encouragement from various Self-Governing (Autocephalous) Churches world wide: Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Albania, Poland, Czech Lands and Finland.

After the Bishops voted, they paraded out of the Altar with the last one the newly elected Metropolitan. We then proceed to sing the “Service of Thanksgiving” led by the Senior Hierarch, Archbishop Dmitri and the Archdeacon.

This was a very exciting time for all of us. Metropolitan Jonah’s first words, as I recall, were very humble yet he gave us all a sense he was up to the task. He began by saying that leadership by intimidation is over. Christian leadership is based upon love and obedience. Everyone must cooperate out of love and respect. Authority is responsibility. It is accountability. It is not power.

We must look forward to doing the Lord’s work. Hard to believe but we Orthodox don’t even have a hospital in America. We must provide healthcare. We must support and help expand OCF-campus ministry for our future leaders. We must tithe from the churches to the diocese and then to the national church. Cut out the head tax. We will keep the national administration small and develop the diocese to be strong.

3pm. The 6th Plenary: Financing the Future. The New Treasurer is Fr. Michael Tassos and comptroller is Fr. Dennis Swencki. Both of these Priests made fine presentations and answered questions very succinctly. Both are top quality and very experienced in financial accounting.

¨ Fr. Tassos assured everyone that the OCA will be totally transparent from now on. He can be called at any time.
¨ They feel strongly about ditching the head tax for proportional giving. The head tax is self-defeating.
¨ The only requests for money that will be made from the chancellery in 2009 will be for: New Church Planting; and Funds for Seminaries.
¨ Prior to 2007 the OCA was grossly behind in paying its bills. It had: (1) an untrained staff; (2) lack of controls; (3) greedy and dishonest individuals; (4) it robbed charities to pay expenses. All of these items were reasons for its major problems.
¨ Current action was to fire all personnel and the CPA Firm. Then we hired a treasurer, comptroller and new CPA Firm with no prior experience with the OCA.
¨ The last two months we have operated with excess funds. The current All American Council expenses are ½ the cost of the last AAC in Toronto.
¨ It is a whole new day on how everyone and every department work together.
¨ We have been in contact with the IRS and FBI on a number of issues. We have no idea how a series of $9,500 checks that were cashed over the years can be tracked or traced. Who is wrong? The boss or the employee who footed down to the bank?
¨ The discussion on the 2009 budget and funding was moved to Thursday.

Pension Plan. Archpriest Michael Westerberg presented the Pensions current conditions as below:

¨ 62% of the participants are clergy and their wives.
¨ Current value is $27,000,000+.
¨ The plan can pay all its benefits without hurting principal.
¨ Assets are NOT the assets of the OCA but the plan participants and are not vulnerable to any lawsuits or such under the OCA
¨ Fr. Westerberg is retiring from the Board and new members will be elected here at the AAC.

5:30pm. Vespers. 7:30pm. Dinner in the Grand Ballroom with Guest Speaker, Mr. Michael Chakos from the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).

Thursday, November 13, 2008 7Am. Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with New Metropolitan.
9:30Am. Breakfast for everyone.
10:30 Am. Financing the Future (continued)

¨ The council agreed after much discussion and a vote to continue the current head tax of $105 until we can implement the new proportionate giving program.
¨ A new budget was approved but Father and I were off to Chicago and did not get the final number.

There were a number of Resolutions agreed upon for changes in the OCA Statute and Funding. Fr. John Erickson was the chairman but I saw no final edits. They may be posted on the OCA Website now... I have the binder with all the Reports if anyone would like to read further on all these subjects.

Conclusions

All in all this was an exiting, informative and serious All American Council. Going in, we all wondered what would happen here. Certainly much was accomplished, thank God! Our National Church is now back-on-track to accomplish its evangelism mission in America. We have now been transformed and renewed as a Christian body to accomplish this vision of our Savior in North America. Everyone let their hair-down so to speak.

Everyone was courteous yet firm in their quest for the truth. Yet, the end result was RENEWAL IN THE SPIRIT with the repentance of the bishops,

The election of a new Metropolitan who is engaged and ready to go was the highlight. He charged us not to look back. The reorganized Chancellery has very competent men watching our finances with proper controls and transparency. We all look forward to the years ahead and thank God for the men who wouldn’t stop until the truth was revealed, keeping our church together – Archbishop Job, Bishop Benjamin, Mark Stokoe, John Kozey and Deacon Wheeler were all important men in this victory for Christ’s Church. They persevered with patience and respect and we are all thankful. So, too, has our jewel of autocephaly has been enhanced and preserved for the future of a unified American Orthodox Church.

As St. James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete and lacking in nothing.” Jas. 1: 2-4.

With deep love in Christ,

Lee Kopulos
Diocesan Delegate
St. Luke Orthodox Church
Palos Hills, IL.
stlukeorthodox.com
November 24, 2008