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Allegations and Our Response

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As you may already have heard, from the OCA website, “police in Canada have received a complaint alleging misconduct committed by His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada some 30 years ago. An investigation is now in progress. In response to this, Archbishop Seraphim requested a leave of absence.” Metropolitan Jonah’s response – which can be read in full in the article cited – is to seek the truth, and to pray “to the Great Shepherd and Healer, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that all parties involved in this will be blessed with God’s peace, love and healing.”

Bishop Irenee, who is now the acting administrator of the Archdiocese of Canada during Archbishop Seraphim’s leave of absence, offers a similar response: “I understand and share the pain that all the circumstances are causing the faithful of our Archdiocese, and, of course, to many others. I humbly ask for your prayers and support in leading you through these trying times. I am requesting that regular prayers of intercession will be offered in each parish for Archbishop Seraphim, all the people involved, and all of us in this Archdiocese.”

This is, of course, the essential Christian response to any such horror, whether it be the horror of abuse, the horror of false accusation, or simply the horrific cry of a soul in pain: we seek healing for all – friend or foe – through prayer, from the hand of the Great Physician.

Of course in the midst of such a visceral horror, our passions, as usual, threaten to tear us apart. Our emotional reaction may be to defend someone as beloved as our Vladyka Seraphim – it may be to demand justice for the hurting or for the accused – it may even be to despair at the evil and corruption of the world which surrounds us – a corruption which still affects, all too strongly, we who strive to be “in the world, but not of it”.

Our emotions are, of course, good, created by God, and there is actually some truth to be found in every one of these reactions. The key, as we struggle to “enter into a spiritual manner of living” is not to be controlled by these physical passions, but rather to allow them to be illumined by Him Who is Truth, the only One Who holds our ultimate allegiance and the only One in Whom we put all of our trust.

As we discussed this struggle on Wednesday night and reflected on how to react to this horrible situation, three basic principles emerged which can help to guide our response in a positive, life-giving direction.

1. We need to recognize the limits of our knowledge. The recognition that our individual experience of reality is inherently unreliable is the foundation of both the basic legal principle, “Innocent until proven guilty,” and the much older Scriptural principle, “Let everything be established in the mouths of two or three witnesses.” More than that, it is the reason for the conciliar nature of the Church and our collective guardianship of and witness to the Apostolic Tradition. At this point, very little is known even about the nature of the allegations against Archbishop Seraphim, so it would be highly irresponsible, on the basis of so little information, to prejudge the outcome of the police investigation.

2. If we repent, our sin does not define us, our works of faith do. There is very little, if any, room for repentance in our society; if you mess up and that mess becomes public, forgiveness is rarely forthcoming, and the individual is ever after identified with – and even by – that failure. This is not the Christian Way. We recognize that we are none of us without sin and are defined, ultimately, by our repentance and by the extent to which we embrace God’s love and forgiveness and thus live lives of holiness. Even if (and, knowing Archbishop Seraphim, I cannot bring myself to admit this as anything other than a purely theoretical construct, admitted merely for the sake of argument) – even if the allegations against Archbishop Seraphim are true, this does not negate a whole life poured out in loving, self-sacrificial service to others.

3. Our faith is in Christ, and in the truth of His life and teachings, not in any one individual. Much as I have come to love and appreciate Archbishop Seraphim, it was not because of him that I became an Orthodox Christian. I became – and remain – an Orthodox Christian because I have found Christ and His teachings to be Truth. Indeed, since a key part of the Orthodox Christian tradition points to our own fallenness and self-centredness as the main source of all of the evil and suffering we experience in this life, my faith is not shaken when I encounter brokenness in any individual – any more than it is shaken when I encounter it in myself. Living out the teachings of Christ should – and does – produce holiness, but it is hard work, and a key part of the ongoing struggle to live out those teachings is repentance. (“Lord, have mercy!”)

None of this, to return to the first of the three principles above, is intended to prejudge the question of the guilt or innocence of any of those involved. All of this, to return to the very first point, is intended to inspire prayer for all those concerned, as well as compassion, understanding, a desire for healing and truth, and, ultimately, love for all those concerned. This is the only Christian – the only Christ-like response to the horror, the horror: it is the response of faith that just as God worked even through the horror of the cross to accomplish our salvation, so His Resurrection power is at work even in this.

May God, in His mercy, give us the grace to say in this, as St. John Chrysostom said as he was dying from being force-marched into further exile by fellow-Christians: “Glory to God for all things!”

Love in Christ,

Fr. Justin.