The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Worship

November 28, 2008

SHNS: New bishop finds himself sitting in the hot seat

Scripps Howard News Service

When an Orthodox bishop enters a sanctuary, he is traditionally greeted with the following words chanted in Greek: “Eis polla eti, despota.”

In English this means, “Many years to you, master.” Witty bishops in the Orthodox Church in America have started using this sentiment as the punch line in a joke about the impact the episcopate can have on their egos.

“What happens to a guy?” said Bishop Jonah, during the church’s All American Council in Pittsburgh. “You put him on a stand in the middle of the church, you dress him up like the Byzantine emperor and you tell him to live forever. You know?”

The audience of clergy and lay leaders laughed, but it was nervous laughter. The atmosphere at the recent gathering was so tense, Jonah said later, that some of the bishops were afraid that “everything was about to unravel.”

Only 10 days earlier, the 49-year-old monk had been consecrated as assistant bishop of Dallas. Now, he was facing the clergy and lay leaders of a flock that was reeling after years of bitter scandal — including the disappearance of $4 million — that had forced the church’s last two leaders out of office.

The new and, thus, unstained bishop volunteered to face the assembly and answer hard questions about reform. The bottom line, he said, was that investigators found a “fundamentally sick,” corrupt culture inside the national headquarters that was rooted in fear and intimidation.

“Yes, we were betrayed. Yes, we were raped. It’s over. It’s over,” said Jonah. In fact, whenever church members seek healing, “we have to confront the anger and the bitterness and the hurts and the pain and the resentment that we have born within us as reactions against the people who have hurt us.

“By forgiving, we’re not excusing the actions. ... We’re not justifying anything. What we’re saying is, ‘My reaction is destroying me and I need to stop it. If I value Jesus Christ and the Gospel and communion with God, I need to stop it and move on.’”

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