Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ecclesiastic Trust

"The days of leadership by intimidation are over!" These words were the heart of the speech that Bishop Jonah gave to the OCA leadership on November 11, 2008, which were met to choose a new patriarch.

The Church had undergone 30 years of corrupt leadership and Bishop Jonah fearlessly described the situation: "Christian leadership is based in love", he said. "Obedience to leadership is cooperation out of love and respect. Authority is responsibility AND accountability. It's not power." [View his speech here.]

Because of how he manifested these principles to those gathered, Bishop Jonah was chosen the next day to become the new metropolitan virtually by acclamation after only two weeks in office as bishop. Before that he lived a monastic life in California.

As the song says, "God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." In this new beginning may the ecclesiastical order reflect and justify the trust that our young Metropolitan Jonah has won. God bless him and us!


On November 30, 2008, I was Chrismated a member of the Orthodox Church in America as Arseny Pavel Kovalenko by Father John Hennies of St. Dimitri of Rostov Mission Parish in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It felt like a full circle generational coming together of my father's baptism in the Russian Orthodox Church as an infant in Melitopol, Ukraine in 1903.

I chose the name "Arseny Pavel" in remembrance of two Russian Orthodox priests of the Soviet era whose exemplary lives and writings impacted me most. Father Arseny, priest and prisoner, is the single most convincing example of a Christ-like life that I have ever read. Most transformative of all was his mode of confession: he had that rare gift of seeing into the soul and spirit of people and loving them unconditionally, whatever their station or flaws, as did Jesus. His life is reflected by a cloud of witnesses whose lives were permanently changed.

Father Pavel Florensky exemplified an integrity, intellect and courage that also reflected the life of Jesus. And he paid for it with his own life when he was executed by the KGB in 1937. His final work Iconostasis, written in 1922, is a must read for any serious scientific mind. I would not be surprised that Fr. Pavel played a key role in the transformation of Soviet leadership that evolved the concepts of glasnost and perestroika and which led to the near bloodless transformation of the USSR.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Before Chrismation

A week or so before my scheduled Chrismation, I asked Fr. John to discuss the service text, word by word, so that I could enter the Church community wholeheartedly, without reservation. He agreed.

The review took more time than expected, which was interrupted by typical demands on Fr. John's priestly ministry. When we finally completed the review, he paused to look at me and then softly exclaimed, "Why, you have been Orthodox since your conception!"

At that statement I experienced a surprising "rush" of recognition, which was followed immediately by the lifting of a burden that I had felt and carried since birth. Conception predates birth. My Orthodox conception preceded my Mormon birth. It was as if my father's spirit had come into our midst to ratify the Orthodox path I was now on.

This brought to mind the last of six "Dialogues with Joseph Smith", which I'd finished writing two years earlier in November 2006. At the end of the sixth dialogue, the spirit of my dad came into my consciousness to encounter the protesting earth-bound spirit of Joseph Smith, which was still attached to mine. Then Dad gently, but firmly escorted the still protesting Joseph into the LIGHT.

The following month I received the Ancient Echoes musical files, which launched this Orthodox Odyssey.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Orthodox Patriarchal Blessing

A few days after The Decision I drove to Father John's to discuss it. He was waiting on his porch as I drove carefully into his driveway, got out of the car and staggered up the stairs into his house to the chair he had prepared. Angus, his black Scottie "guard dog", lay down on my feet and went to sleep.

Then Fr. John took a deep breath and exclaimed “You will forever be a pimple on the behind of Orthodoxy!” We both laughed when I replied I hoped they would not have to lance me as did the Mormons. He then became serious and declared: “Now I am going to pronounce an ORTHODOX Patriarchal blessing upon you!”

This caught me by surprise as he began to speak with great enthusiasm and confidence what he perceived and felt. As he finished I was left speechless and weeping. He could not have spoken more insightful, penetrating and meaningful words to me. I was completely undone, chastened and rejoicing. "Thou art Joseph!" he announced at the blessing's beginning. "And I don't mean Joseph Smith. Rather, thou art like Joseph of old, who was betrayed by family members and sold into Egypt", he continued, tying in the parallels to a descent into slavery and, because of his skill with dreams, was subsequently raised to levels of influence in the courts of Pharaoh.

Earlier that same morning I had come out of a dream, having jolted myself awake by “slamming on the brakes” of a car at a crossroads without traffic signs. My car is heading east and I wait for another vehicle coming at high speed from the left (north), which obviously does not see me. It whooshes through the intersection on its way south and I feel relief to have avoided a collision. I return to sleep.

After awakening a little later, I feel dizzy and have to use the dresser and walls to keep upright before climbing the stairs unsteadily to my computer room to inspect the morning email. There were three messages: 1. just in from Ukraine from the aforementioned Mormon patriarch to Eastern Europe; 2. from a Rabbi friend in Idaho; and 3. from the local Mormon stake president. The latter two were sent the previous evening. Messages 1 & 2 were analytical responses to my play The Defense of Cain. Message 3 was a dismissive response to an early draft of a Sunstone Symposium paper sent two months earlier. These three messages together felt like cross traffic.

I shared that dream with Fr. John during our discussion and he suggested I could turn in whatever new direction I chose, if I felt uncertain at the crossroads. I told him that I'd only stopped to allow cross traffic to pass. I was not changing course in heading east.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Decision

I had just finished unloading students at Barancca Elementary School at the last part of my morning school bus run on September 19, 2008, when I felt the decision. It was not rational, but it was clear. When I got home Birgitta greeted me at our back door and before I could say anything, she said she knew what had happened. I had decided to apply to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) for membership--IF they would have me just as I am.

If I were pressed to explain, I would refer to two tipping events. The first was a personal letter from Russia by a Mormon patriarch to Eastern Europe; the second was my awareness of a 30-year scandal in the OCA that had just become public, which had brought down their highest ecclesiastical leader.

In the first case, I had renewed a correspondence with an old Mormon friend, a retired professor of Russian whom I had met at a conference in Salt Lake City the previous month. The last time we had interacted before then was when we had worked on a project together at BYU in early 1979. His letter convinced me that further communication with Mormon leaders would be fruitless.

In the second case, I recalled an old dream (November 1966), where I am with friends telling them that I am at odds with the Church and that
"...the administrative structure needs complete overhaul, beginning with the old men at the top...It's not that one or two might not be retained in an advisory capacity because of their experience. And their removal isn't because they aren't 'good' men..."

Well before becoming aware of the OCA scandal I had generally thought of "The Church" only in Mormon terms. Now I was able to see it in broader, traditional and inclusive Christian terms.