Several observations on Metropolitan Tikhon’s enthronement banquet

I was not present at this banquet for many reasons, the simplest being that I had a lot of homework to do this past weekend. Several friends who attended asked if I wanted a ticket, and I genuinely appreciate their kind offers. While I wish Metropolitan Tikhon well and genuinely pray that his primatial ministry brings much-needed healing to the OCA, I could not in good conscience attend an event celebrating his enthronement. 

Despite receiving numerous letters, e-mails, phone calls, and petitions from concerned faithful urging them to action, and despite several scholarly essays written which highlight major flaws in their July 16 statement, the OCA Synod still have not followed Patriarch Kirill’s admonition in his congratulatory letter to Metropolitan Tikhon to “make comfortable the further life of your predecessor at the Metropolitan See of Washington”. The reality is that if I had attended the event, as I was asked, my presence would have served as a silent expression of support for (or indifference to) the circumstances and actions which brought about Metropolitan Jonah’s horrifically unjust treatment by the OCA Synod. 

One of my friends who attended the banquet filled me in on many of the details. I was immediately struck by the oddity of the seating arrangement as she described it: the leading OCA administrators, Chancellor Father John Jillions and Secretary Father Eric Tosi, were seated on the raised dais near Metropolitan Tikhon. Several of the bishops, including Bishop +Michael of New York and New Jersey — the man who received the most votes from the delegates at the Seventeenth All American Council in Parma, Ohio — were seated lower than the priests, at floor level. I’ve always had an eye for any potential symbolism in the seating arrangements at any major events, from state dinners to Church councils, but this strikes me as a rather obvious sign of the indifference of many in the OCA administration to the dignity of the episcopacy. Orthodoxy is at its core a hierarchical faith, but not one which supports any kind of inverted hierarchy, with priests seated above attendant bishops at an enthronement banquet. 

This was no real matter of concern or surprise to me compared to what my friend told me about the addresses of two leading OCA priests closely affiliated with the Syosset-based Chancery and central administration. She told me about the remarks which Chancellor Fr. John Jillions and Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, made to the assembled guests. According to my friend, in his remarks, Fr. Jillions praised +Tikhon as a “true leader” who was “conciliar” in his approach to Church affairs and had a history of working well with the Synod and Chancery staff. This, as my friend took it, implied that Metropolitan Jonah did not.

What I found so strange about Fr. John’s wording is that he seems to measure a Primate’s success (or failure) based on how well he gets along with and secures the approval of those in the Church administration. This strikes me as a very bureaucratized and institutional-minded approach to the Church, seeing and understanding “the Church” in this sense only in an administrative and institutional way, in terms of departments, offices, and chanceries.

On a practical day-to-day level, of course every hierarch needs to work out a kind of modus vivendi to coordinate and execute shared administrative responsibilities with his fellow bishops on the Synod and with Church administrators, but what Fr. John’s words imply is, rather, that the Metropolitan is responsible to living up to the expectations and meeting the standards of the OCA Chancery. This view of the primatial role of the Metropolitan is a marked departure from a traditional Orthodox understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a primate of a local Orthodox Church. Church administrators are not to  measure or judge whether or not a Metropolitan is successful in his role based on their impressions of him, nor is he to be held to their standards; such an approach is to treat him more like a chairman of a board than as the primate of a local Synod of the Church!

My friend told me that Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky praised the bishops and all that they did to keep the OCA going during what he referred to as “the time of troubles”; she took this as a thinly veiled derisive reference to Metropolitan Jonah’s tenure. What I found interesting, and rather amusing, as a student of Russian history, is that the Time of Troubles (Смутное время) was the period of conflict and interregnum in the wake of the succession crisis precipitated among several weak contenders for the throne after the death of Tsar Ivan IV Grosniy, the last of the man Rurikid princes. During this time, the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led by King Sigismund III repeatedly invaded Muscovy and attempted the conversion of the Russians to Roman Catholicism. The irony in all this? Fr. Leonid was born in 1943 in Warsaw!

Another friend who attended the banquet described to me his shock to hear Fr. Leonid praise Metropolitan Tikhon in his introduction with these words, again a thinly veiled attack on Metropolitan Jonah: “This one is no Lone Ranger!” I respect Father Leonid for his many years of engagement with various ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, but I find it difficult to view him as a man of integrity given that he engaged in such derisive remarks about a former Primate of his whom he seems to delight in insulting, regarding as almost an enemy. This just doesn’t seem to me like a Christian way of thinking — or speaking — especially from someone with so many years of active service in the Church.

Metropolitan Tikhon has been enthroned as the new Primate. These events remind me of a line from Shakespeare’s play Richard II : “Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king” (3.2.50-51), or in this case, an anointed Primate of the Church. The OCA begins a new chapter, yet for now, I, like so many of you, continue to pray for Metropolitan Jonah, that the OCA Synod at last see fit to release him to ROCOR, where his growing ministry is deeply appreciated and valued, and that the Synod honor Patriarch Kirill’s warning to give +Jonah a fair and just settlement. Only then may what so many of us hope and pray for happen: he may start a new chapter in his life, and his ministry in the Church.