Trying to Make Things Better:
Would you first explain what is the function of the Chancellor and what are your responsibilities?
The responsibilities include: making sure that the Office of the Archbishop works in a very efficient manner, that order is kept in regards to the documents stored at the Chancery in Bronxville, and that the parishes are in compliance with all of the Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America.
Since the death of Fr. Alexander Warnecke, the previous Chancellor, and with the illness of Archbishop Peter there have been a number of administrative changes within our Diocese. Would you explain some of those changes?
First, we have had to find new deans for the New York State Deanery and the New York City Deanery (Fr. Christopher Calin has now been elected), for which I previously was Dean. In Bronxville, we have Fr. Joseph Hoffman serving as the new Secretary and the office hours are Monday – Thursday (10:00 – 4:00). A housekeeper/nurse has been hired to maintain the residence and to care for Archbishop Peter.
What can you tell us about the Archbishop’s health?
After being in the hospital for three months last year he is still physically weak, but is nevertheless intellectually quite sharp and active. As he likes to say, "he administers with his brain, not his legs." In fact, he has written a response for the Patriarch of Antioch to the Pope concerning some issues related to Orthodox/Catholic relations. He offers a class in canon law at the Chancery for some students from St. Vladimir’s Seminary.
Thanks to the care provided by Barbara his nurse, his diabetes is under control and he is gaining strength and energy. He has recently able to attend fully the Spring Session of the Holy Synod which was held at Syosset and he has attended services at the Holy Protection Cathedral in New York City.
In addition to administrative changes you have sought to repair the condition of the Diocesan Center. Tell us what kinds of things have been required.
The roof has been replaced and we are putting in new windows, which is a complicated process because the windows are of different sizes and need to be custom-made. We are altering the front walk-way so that it will be both easily to utilize and to maintain. We have upgraded the electricity in the house and have installed sensor lights in the front which will go on when someone drives in. The rugs have been all cleaned. We anticipate painting the inside, replacing the carpets and drapes.
Do you envision the Center being used more as truly a center for our Diocese?
Absolutely, we anticipate more meetings taking place there. Archbishop Peter would like people to come over frequently as well, because now with a housekeeper present everything is more orderly and presentable.
One of the past criticisms has concerned the activity of the Diocesan Council and the infrequency of its meetings. Can you envision the work of the Council becoming more responsive and proactive in regards to the life of our Diocese?
Yes, after the last year’s Diocesan Assembly in November, the Diocesan Council met in December, and in February – so meetings of the Council are set for every 2 months. Meetings with the Deans take place at least every month. Although conversations with the Deans take place regularly to understand what is going on – so we have a free flow of communication and we want all of our priests to know what is going on.
What would you say are some of the strengths and frustrations of our Diocesan life?
One of the most frustrating things that I can see not only within the Diocese, but in the whole life of the Church is that we don't seem to do enough for our people. We are a worshipping Church – which is absolutely wonderful - and we build beautiful churches, but somehow the Orthodox Church has never gone out into doing other things for people. Our elderly people need, for example, skilled nursing facilities. I think that it’s a shame that once the elderly, who have serviced the Church all their lives, get ill, they often end up at facilities which are a distance from their church. Perhaps they are visited maybe once a month – if that – by a priest. But there is often no connection with the Church.
On the other spectrum, the Orthodox Church has never played a big role in establishing academic institutions for our young people to attend – no colleges or universities. Many other denominations have facilities to educate their young in their faith and in academics. We don’t do that.
Remember what Professor Jaroslav Pelikan said at the last All-American Council that we will never become a reckoning force in America until we have these academic institutions to speak for us. This is something which I think is unconscionable.
Do you think we have the kind of funding to support those kind of organizations?
The money is out there. Over the 40 years of my priesthood I have found that if you’re doing a worthwhile project, money will come. Our people are not poor – money is available. In addition, there is funding available from other means to do these things. You need to become aggressive and do things - then you’ll see that money will come in. Money is never a problem when a certain mindset can be changed.
What about our strengths as a Diocese?
We have a wealthy Diocese, with many beautiful churches. We have many strengths – in particular, a number of educated people who are willing to help us. In fact, I would like to establish a "yellow pages" of professional people who we would call in for consultation. For example when Archbishop Peter was ill, it would have be helpful to have had the advice of qualified members of our Diocese. I believe such a directory of our "human resources" would be valuable.
Over the years some within our Diocese have been frustrated with what might be called issues of trust and accountability in regards to Diocesan affairs and records. Is there anything that you would like to say to assure our people and to encourage their confidence in the Diocese concerning the changes that are going on?
We are trying to be open about everything that we do. You can see what we have done so far. We have a new Secretary and there are new people working in the office. We are trying to make sure that the office is very efficiently run. You can certainly be assured that we will do everything we can to make it flow in a very progressive manner.
Finally, although you have perhaps mentioned some of it already during this interview, would you, as a summary, share with us your vision for our life as a Diocese? What would you wish for our Diocese if all things were possible?
If all things were possible, I would like to have a skilled nursing facility. I would like to have a college for our young people. Our parishes would grow because we would have something more to offer them.
In addition, we seem to be isolated from one another. We are very parochial and it would be more beneficial to have our parishes more inter-woven with each other and to create a different mindset.
As soon as this would happen our people would begin to think in a bigger perspective, a bigger picture, they would see our Church moving in a positive direction rather than just looking at the past.
It seems to me that we Orthodox rarely have a mission plan. We are not futuristic people, we tend to talk only about the past. But among our concerns should also be the questions: Where we are going to go, and what is going to be our legacy?
The work is not easy, but I’m trying.
[Fr. Yaroslav Sudick also serves as the pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Yonkers, New York.]