Regents of the Old Men's Almshouse, by Frans Hals 1664
These days, questions about effective leadership are at the top of everyone's head.
The Presidential Campaign -- despite its being called, gigglingly and quite rightly, the "Seinfeld Campaign" -- will make you think about leadership, or its absence in all directions.
Thank heaven, we're not going to wander, cognitively, in the miasma of secular political leadership. We will leave that swamp for another wetland.
Id est, ecclesial leadership.
Some of us are thinking about episcopal leadership in particular, and quite poignantly at that.
But our thoughts about ecclesial leadership should not be confined to the episcopacy. It has become laboriously clear that the leadership of a diocese is not limited to a bishop, nor is the leadership of a parish limited to a priest (if it ever was).
We've always suspected this, since the backwoods of my youth, when we wondered out loud how congruent theformal board meeting was with the real board meeting that convened, out on the parking lot, as soon as the the Amen was licked and stamped onto the end of the minutes-meeting in the musty basement.
Thinking about the qualities (and the ethics) of ecclesial leadership -- i.e., decision-making authority for the Church -- cannot be limited to the bishop. I have done my share of stacking up the moral, theological and corporate demands expected of a hierarch, and made it quite impossible-sounding in the process.
(As an aside, if I were an episcopal candidate, I would never read my own stuff about job descriptions. That is, of course, a meta-ironical remark, much as we like to play at the pomo game.)
No. Instead of heaping up expectations on our bishops or bishop-candidates, and thusly scaring the hell out of them and giving them the inexorable impression that we would be their underground/cyber/facebook bosses/reviewers (read "hieratic gossip" here), let us widen the focus.
Let us distribute the burden of expectation. If one is willing to engage in prophetic critique against those who labor under the apostolic burden -- for burden it most definitely is -- then one, too, must bare the cross-hairs target and thus bear the Cross.
So, let's just say that the critique of effective leadership should fall not only on the bishop, but on all decision-makers in a diocese: the Consistories, the Commissions, the Committees, the Apostolates, the Vicariates (if those things still exist in the Orthodox world), the Directors/Coordinators/Deans/Presidents of various associations/organizations/para-church administrations.
You know you're in one of these clubs, or breathing the rarefied air at these dizzy levels, if you ever receive minutes, long phone calls, longer email missives, and especially if you've had to take some vow of secrecy, formal or informal. "For everyone's sake, of course, sub rosa pro prudentia."
So now that you know you've got red buttons to push and all sorts of speed dial numbers ... and now that you've come to understand that it's not just the bishop, or that it's not just about electing a bishop ... now you know that it's all about the leadership culture of the Church.
So, what kind of family is this? Is it a nice house? Are people polite there? Does one feel safe there? Can a kid play there without looking over his shoulder? Are there any elephants sitting in the living room (and rhyming with "sitting"), with no one mentioning them?
I used to read family systems theory from the likes of Jay Haley and Salvador Minuchin et al. There is nothing wrong with clear authority and strong leadership. There is everything right about organization and boundaries and effective structures. It is right to be concerned about "functionality" if you mean by this just the ability of people to live together, to solve problems together, to love and to grow.
For us as a Church, that can be translated traditionally -- after St. Gregory of Nyssa -- as growing along the infinite lines of theosis, where "God being the infinite, creatures embrace it [i.e., the infinite] in an endless sequence of finite instances" (Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p194).
So, priests who stand close to the bishop, whether they are "kingmakers" or "policy-makers" or "movers and shakers," are responsible for diocesan conditions that facilitate theosis.
Let that sentence hang there in the daylight for a while. I wrote it in as modern an idiom as I could stand.
The "facilitation of" -- or, rather, cooperation with -- theosis for a person must involve, necessarily, ascetical obedience. It involves, necessarily, the violent deliberate attack against the soul-destroying and intellect-distorting passions. It involves, necessarily, the constant refutation of evil logismoi. It involves, necessarily, the recognition of the logoi of creation, the residency of the Logos in the heart and the recognition of His Image in the eschaton.
That said, the facilitation of theosis for a group involves the same. It involves a social application of the fight against the passions. It involves the recognition of demons (who are much more demotic than their maudlin appearances on screen), and fighting against the demons' persistent attempts to subvert conversations into denunciations. It involves the conscious disavowal of the familiar and luxurious comforts of pessimism and despair, and the manly search for logoi, and the avowal of hope.
Practically, this involves, necessarily, the shelving of grudges. It involves, necessarily, the doubting of all negative impressions and characterizations, the agnostic review of all patterns of distrust. It involves, necessarily, the taking of risks, the shearing off of old habits of anger. It involves glasnost, and probably requires perestroika. It involves the recognition of the icon of Jesus in each of the brethren, and the careful veneration of this image.
It involves the acceptance that no one is a "good judge of character" -- nay, not even you.
It involves, necessarily, the renunciation of denunciation.
It involves, as the old song says, the guarding of each man's dignity, and the saving of each man's pride.
Then, when the world sees the Orthodox priesthood turn into a band of brothers, then, and only then, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
We do not need a revival of bishops.
We need a revival, even more, of the men around them.