I received official notice this afternoon that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America officially accepted the retirement request of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, my diocesan bishop. The heaviness of my heart is made lighter by the fact that His Beatitude Jonah, Metropolitan of the OCA will become Locum Tenens, taking care of the needs of our diocese as we look for a new bishop.
It is hard to express to the non-Orthodox (and even some Orthodox) the relationship between a priest and his bishop. Imagine someone who teaches the faith in all its fullness, holds you accountable to do the same, and is merciful to all as God has taught us to be merciful. This, of course, describes my Archbishop.
But it had long been the hunger of my heart to serve such a Bishop, and a deep pain, forgive me, during my Anglican years, that such was not the case. To be told by your Bishop (Anglican) that the Virgin Birth, “was not a necessary doctrine,” is simply to remain speechless. It’s like your father telling you that faithfulness in marriage is not necessary.
I suppose that to some degree such pain increased my joy in becoming Orthodox, that my conversion was not to leave something but to gain something – I gained everything. The Orthodox Church is not made up of perfect people (they let me be a priest) – but remains the true Church, faithful to Christ who founded her. This is not a triumphalist statement for me, but a confession of what I believe to be true. I also find it to be particularly painful when Orthodox Christians or hierarchs act as though this were less than the truth of our calling. It increases, as well, the intensity of my own confession, for I am truly an unworthy priest.
My joy is that God heard my prayer and gave me a time in my life in which I have known what it is to serve under a man of holiness. I know, as well, that I will serve under another such man in the person of Vladyka Jonah. Part of the mystery of the Church is that it is founded upon “the Apostles and Prophets,” that is, it has always been a matter of the persons to whom Christ entrusted the care of His Church.
I have known a true Bishop. I have served an Apostle. I have been loved and nurtured in the faith. I can ask for little else in this life. Christ is in our midst!