Fr. Herbel Returned to OCA;
Fargo AOCNA Parish Disbands
On July 21, 2009, just prior to the AOCNA General Convention in Palm Desert, Fr. Oliver Herbel, a mission priest serving a small AOCNA parish in Fargo, North Dakota, posed a series of questions to Metropolitan Philip during a closed clergy meeting. According to Herbel, his goal was to use the question and answer period to open a discussion of recent troubling events in the Archdiocese. To others, Herbel was a troublemaker irritating the Archbishop - one who had to be shouted down because he refused to yield the floor. Others at the meeting defended Herbel asking “May we not hear what this man has to say?”
In the end, Herbel did sit down, his questions unanswered. He said no more in public after this meeting (despite bearing support from his parish council to make a motion in the General Convention itself); although others spoke much of him. As has been reported earlier, Bishop Antoun, for example, upon meeting Fr. Herbel in the hallway announced to those present that he was “the devil.” (You can read more about this story here.)
On the Forefeast of the Dormition (August 14th), some two weeks after the General Convention, Herbel received a letter from Metropolitan +Philip forbidding him to serve “in any Antiochian parish”. Technically an OCA priest under the omophorion of Archbishop Job of Chicago “on loan” to Bishop Mark for service in the Archdiocese’s Fargo parish, +Philip personally “revoked” the loan, attempting thereby to “return” Herbel by fiat. +Philip explained this action stating that although he was willing to overlook Fr. Herbel’s “disobedience” at the Convention, he could not accept that Fr. Oliver continued “to attack and criticize myself and the hierarchy of this Archdiocese” by posting “critical things on the internet.” (Read the full letter here). It is unclear what writings the Metropolitan refers, since Fr. Herbel denies any such writings, nor does a search reveal any critical postings by Herbel since the Convention. A recent PHD. in History, Herbel has posted several articles on the internet, but these are academic in nature. (such as here.) The only exception has been one note on his godson's blog that is entirely complimentary of AOCNA clergy. (Read that here.)
Fr. Herbel responded to the Metropolitan’s claims and decisions with his own letter. (You may read that letter here.) He then contacted Bishop Mark requesting an official return to Archbishop Job since further service in the Archdiocese was pointless. The Bishop honored the request “with sadness”, specifically thanking Fr. Herbel’s wife for her sacrifices in supporting the family as he served the mission.
And what of Fargo’s AOCNA mission? In the wake of events, the thirty adult members of the community finding they and their families without a pastor, with no provision made for a replacement or even servicing of the mission, voted to dissolve the AOCNA mission of St. Nicholas.
At the Assembly of the OCA Archdiocese of the Midwest, held in Kansas City KS, earlier this week, Archbishop Job announced that a group of Orthodox Christians in Fargo ND had petitioned the OCA to establish a mission in that city. Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission Church, as it is to be known, is now to be served by the only Orthodox priest in town - Fr. Oliver Herbel.
(Editor’s note: The Orthodox community of Fargo, struggling to make ends meet prior to these events, has now also lost its mission grant from the AOCNA. You can find information about the new mission church at http://www.holyresurrectionfargo.org, including ways to assist or donate to the the mission so that it may continue its witness. Those wishing to donate directly to the mission may do so at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, 1845 16th St S, Fargo, ND 58103.