Part Three of "Jonah's Leave"
+Jonah Goes Rogue
With the publication of the Synod’s Minutes, Metropolitan Jonah’s assertion that he had not agreed to a “Leave of Absence” was exposed as a deception. After a busy weekend between New York, DC and again in New York, the Metropolitan headed out to Chicago, this time to greet the Patriarch of Serbia who was visiting that city’s large Serbian community, on his way, it appears to California.
But before he left New York +Jonah offered the Synod an explanation of his actions. +Jonah told the Synod that he could not accept that he was on a “Leave of Absence” because he had never signed any document to that effect. It had only been a verbal assent to the Synod’s request. And as it was voluntarily given, he had now changed his mind.
Thus +Jonah flew to New York, insisting that the staff there modify the forthcoming press release to reflect his new decision, rather than the previous one agreed to with the Synod. He then flew to DC to publicly explain he had not relinquished any of his primatial duties (“I am still the active primate of the Orthodox Church in America...”) despite the Synod’s appointment of a Temporary Administrator and two other Locum Tenens for the two other dioceses he oversaw.
He was, therefore, fully within his canonical rights, he explained, postponing both the upcoming Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings at great cost - and without any explanation. He had changed his mind about his “rest”, as well, postponing it to a later date. And so, he flew back to New York to visit with the Czech primate, and now the Serbian Patriarch, as was his right, even though he had previously agreed not to.
To the eight men to whom he had given his word and obedience in Santa Fe - as witnessed in the official Minutes - +Jonah’s explanation rang hollow. In ministry, any ministry, trust is paramount. +Jonah had broken trust with his brothers. Whether “On Leave” or not; whether on “Rest” or not; +Jonah was going rogue.
In a March 3rd letter to his Diocese of the West, Bishop Benjamin summed up the Synod’s disappointment. He writes:
“....What occurred in Santa Fe was a matter that should have and could have remained within the body of our Holy Synod. It should have remained there to preserve both the dignity of our much-loved Metropolitan and of his brother hierarchs, the Synod of Bishops. It was and remains a matter that touches upon mutual accountability, truth and a most sacred trust that must exist among the hierarchs of the Church of God. It was and remains a matter that touches upon the meaning of obedience to each other out of love in Christ, conciliarity.”
+Benjamin continues: “....The Holy Synod of Bishops, a body whose very nature requires mutual obedience to each other in a spirit of truth, asked Metropolitan Jonah to request a leave of 60 days and to allow us to remove the heavy burden of care for our Church from his shoulders so that he could attend to his own physical, mental and spiritual health. We attempted to do this in a manner that would allow him privacy and to retain the dignity of his office. This is clearly indicated in the minutes. I regret our delay in releasing these minutes has allowed speculation to injure the Body of Christ and for that injury to fester. It has allowed persons outside the body of the Synod to spin and color the facts.”
The Metropolitan Jonah remains the primate of the Orthodox Church in America and, like the rest of us, is accountable to God and to the entire Church for his actions. Our polity that rests upon the critical relationship between the primate and his synod is, I believe, what is being challenged but remains unchanged. I ask your prayers for both the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod and I ask your forgiveness for the disturbance that has occurred in the peace of the Church.
+Benjamin, Bishop of San Francisco and the West” (Read the whole letter here.)
Fr. Fester to the Clergy: Stand Up!
But “the disturbance” was growing, in large part to +Jonah's former Chancellor in the Diocese of the South, Fr. Joseph Fester. In an email on the private OCA- clergy list, Fr. Fester, whom +Jonah just appointed Dean of St Nicholas Cathedral in DC, posted the following passionate appeal on the evening of March 2nd, asking OCA clergy to rise up “to defend” +Jonah, blaming the disturbance not on +Jonah’s deception, but on OCANews.org for first revealing it, and on the Synod for confirming it. Fr. Fester writes:
“Dear Fr. John and Brothers:
I write you tonight to warn you that Mark Stokoe is preparing to post another of his devilishly spun “stories” mixing half truths and inaccurate statements on the backdrop of a timeline of His Beatitude’s movements since the Synod ambushed him in Santa Fe. The ambush was lead by two members of the Synod.
Stokoe is scared and he should be because His Beatitude has in his possession concrete proof of the efforts of people, including Stokoe to have His Beatitude removed from office. This is a carefully orchestrated plan involving members of the Metropolitan Council, five principles, members of the chancery staff in Syosset, including the former chancellor, Alexander Garklavs, working with Stokoe to discredit His Beatitude, sow seeds of doubt about his mental capacity and using the much familiar buzz words as “Whistle-blower” NY State Law, Best Practices, etc. all designed to scare the Church into a quick take down of His Beatitude.
His Beatitude saw this coming when he realized that when the Bishops categorically rejected the term “rest or retreat” and insisted on “Leave of Absence” for his status, it was the first step in a movement to remove him.
The proof of this will be made public soon and the intrigue behind the scenes to use a report of the MC Sexual Misconduct Committee to tar and feather Jonah and make him look incompetent. The report is not only inaccurate, its members were and are afraid that its contents could expose them to legal action. You won’t hear that from Stokoe.”
(Editor’s note: No, you won’t. That is because Fr. Fester has it wrong and backwards. Wrong, in that Committee he refers to is not, as he describes it “an MC Sexual Misconduct Committee”. The MC does not deal with sexual misconduct. The Sexual Misconduct Committee Advisory Panel is a Synodal Committee, and its members, whom Fester would claims want “tar and feather Jonah and make him look incompetent” were all nominated, selected and appointed by +Jonah himself. Backwards, because the fear being expressed by Stokoe was that exposure of the Committee’s report might involve the OCA in further legal issues - not that exposure of the Committee’s report might involve its members in legal issues. It is the Metropolitan Council that would to have deal with the potential lawsuits that could arise from issues raised in the Report; not the members who wrote it. )
The public website that posted Fr. Fester’s letter continues his text:
“Mark Stokoe is a master manipulator and a liar. He has used this church and all of us too long and now he is trying to manipulate the removal of His Beatitude by ginning up the mob (can you hear Crucify Him, Crucify Him!) If we don’t stand up now and move out, and he is banking that we will be too scared to say anything, we will not only lose His Beatitude, but we will lose the OCA. This is not hyperbole.
Alexander Garklavs was relieved of his duties with his resignation being accepted because His Beatitude gave a rebuttal of the Sexual Misconduct Report. You won’t hear that from Stokoe as he will begin to create the human cry that “we must DEMAND Garklavs return.” The MC will be ginned up to do this and the Synod will cave in. That is his goal.
Alexander Garklavs will not only lose his job, but he may lose his priesthood because of the manipulation of that report. We have the evidence, and it will be produced, not to hurt Fr Alexander, who still has time to repent, but more importantly to stop this rush to judgment.
Understand this, the history of the Leave of Absence in the OCA is a dark and sorrid manueaver. (sic) It was used to “encourage” Bishop Basil Rodizanko to rest, then to push him aside. It was used to keep Metropolitan Ireney on a leave for 4 years, it was used on other bishops in the OCA.
The plan is simple in its execution, discredit Jonah, convince him, “for the good of the Church” and for his own welfare, to go on a Leave and then, never let him off.
One bishop on the Synod revealed this to his aide, “we will put him on a leave, then we will keep extending it until after the AAC, then we will elect a new metropolitan at a special Council or wait until the next AAC.”
That, my brothers is the plan and Stokoe and his website are two steps ahead of us. But what he will soon discover is that he left tracks and those tracks will be exposed. He is not, the great purveyor of truth and transparency. He is working against the good order of the Church. We all know in our gut that there is something wrong with his website and therefore there is something wrong with him. I am not saying that he is beyond repentance and redemption, but we have to help him and those who read his stuff, and warn them, that this is not good for the souls of our spiritual children.
I beg you, and by writing this, I will be set upon, I beg you, to stand up against him. And how? By first writing here, each one of you who knows that this campaign against His Beatitude is wrong and it is unnecessary. We all have faults, we all can do better, but we all called to work together, as brothers, in unity, to help the one who is weak, to build him up.
When will we stop this eating our own culture of the OCA end? When will be say, enough is enough. I know I am “made and hell, and I am not going to take it anymore.” What about you my brothers. We know that His Beatitude is a good and decent man. He is a man of prayer. He is a formed monastic. He has battled through the spiritual battles and he is a dispassionate person who loves this Church and desires with all his heart to continue in his role as Metropolitan, a position given to him by the Holy Spirit and confirmed upon him by all of us.
The time is now to say, no to Mark Stokoe and yes to the Church and our Metropolitan. Post your support here, or send me an email letting me know that you support His Beatitude and will not be swayed by the innuendos, half-truths and outright lies that Stokoe will post shortly.
When I left Syosset in 2006 and went to the DOS, I was a man tainted by being labeled part of the “Inner Circle.” I went to the DOS and set out to do the job I was asked to do. I had many detractors, and rightly so. I mean, they didn’t know me. They only knew me through a report and the Stokoe website. There was nothing I could do about that except, do my job. When I recently left the DOS and came to DC (I wonder how long I will be here now) I was humbled to tears when my brothers in the DOS sent me off with love and respect for the job I had done. I didn’t do anything great, I just did what I was asked to do. As I was leaving, one of the senior priests of the DOS came up to me and said, “Father, you will always be in our Inner Circle in the DOS.”
I am putting myself on the line now. I may be moved, suspended, who knows what, but if I let this moment pass without standing up for a man who has done nothing deserving the slime job that Stokoe will now unleash upon him, I could not live with myself.
Brothers, it is now or never. Don’t abide Stokoe one inch. He will take it and spin it into a web that will entrap all of us. I beg you, not for me but for His Beatitude, who we know and love.
Please forgive me and pray for me.
We are at a tipping point and if we don’t stand now, we will all mark this day as one in which we will regret.”
At Least Somebody Responds
The public version of Fr. Fester’s letter was posted on a new blog called OCATruth.com that seeks “to provide an alternative source of information and analysis about the current crisis in the Orthodox Church in America” that is “in support” of Fester’s appeal. (“An alternative”, it explains, “that is, to OCANews.org.”) The blogger repeats Fester’s contention that “...Mark Stokoe ....has been revealed in recent days to have been part of a small group of OCA insiders seemingly plotting to remove Metropolitan Jonah” and therefore “ cannot be counted on to be a fair and accurate source in this time of crisis.”
The unnamed editor of OCATruth.com explains: “All of us here supported Metropolitan Jonah from the beginning, and still do. We were bothered by the absence of a website on the web to counter the OCA News spin on the current crisis — a website, that is, run by laypeople who have experience in the OCA, and sources throughout the Church who have been sharing insights and inside information with us that paints a very different picture of the situation than what readers of OCANews have been seeing. Is this “fighting fire with fire”? Perhaps, but because we don’t want this site to become like OCANews.org, we have disabled comments.”
The Conspiracy Theory
The blogger seeks to refute the Synod’s published Minutes, and OCANews.org’s reporting on the current crisis on the basis of Fr. Fester’s assertions. The repeated theme on OCATruth.com is that there is a grand conspiracy, based on a liberal, homosexual, feminist agenda in the Synod and Metropolitan Council, mainly from people living in the Northeast and California, with the ultimate goal of “overthrowing” +Jonah because he is a social conservative, with the fear expressed that such actions will result in the OCA transforming itself into a something akin to the Episcopal Church. Read it all for yourself here.
The “evidence” for such a conspiracy rests on the blogger’s assertion that an unnamed bishop told an unnamed aide of such a conspiracy; and on an email, first published by the retired +Tikhon of the West, in which the Editor of OCANews.org, Mark Stokoe, (who is a member of the Metropolitan Council) responded to requests for information from two others members following +Jonah’s first attempt to fire Fr. Garklavs on February 11th. In Stokoe’s response the conspiracy theorists attach great weight to his claim there exists a “consensus” among four Bishops , a consensus that “seems to be that +Jonah should be placed on a Leave of Absence immediately”.
A Long Personal Excursis
At this point it is appropriate, if unusual, to break the narrative thread to address this serious charge. As the author of that email, and the editor of this website and a member of the MC, I try very hard to keep my duties separate. Sometimes they overlap - like when fellow members of the MC ask me “What the heck is going on?” because I am the editor of OCANews.org. To some that is an issue; to others it is not. It has been discussed and addressed, and I am sure given this crisis, it will raised again. Right now, there are more pressing issues.
Here is the issue at hand: Despite Fr. Fester’s hue and cry, there was and is no conspiracy against +Jonah, let alone “concrete evidence” of one. If there was one, and I was a part of one, I would certainly not be referring to it openly with Fr. Reeves, who is not a man to brook insubordination in anything, let alone with Faith Skordinski, whose troubled past with many on the MC following her roles in both SIC committees has made her a controversial figure. And yet, there I am openly sharing with both, but because each wrote to me, in the wake of the attempted February 11th firing of the Chancellor, and asked: “What the heck is going on?” (That part of the email exchange was not included by Fr. Fester. So I told them what I thought was going on - with, of course, the important proviso of the opening line that Fr. Fester ignores: “...this is happening in real time, so pardon me if my details at key points are a bit sketchy. News is hard to come by, even for me.”
As to the conspirator’s key point: my remark about a “growing consensus" that Jonah should be put on Leave. My email says “seems to be”. Not “there is”. This clearly indicates this assertion is my opinion, my guesstimate, perhaps even my hope, but clearly I do not assert it as an established fact about which I have confirmed evidence.
As further evidence that it was an opinion, and no more, is the clearly demonstrable fact that I later published on OCANews.org on February 25th (before the email was publicly posted) almost all of the information in that email, minus that specific point. The conspiracy theorist would hold that this is because I didn’t want anybody to know about the conspiracy; despite the fact I was supposedly telling two people not in the conspiracy all about it. (And anybody who thinks Fr. Reeves is a crypto-feminist, secretly pro-gay, closet liberal, has never met him. Or last long if they did espousing such opinions.)
The fact is that I could never source my speculation sufficiently to confirm it. I try to be very careful with my words in public. In private, dealing with colleagues, in the rush of the moment, I allow myself more latitude. My private opinions have now emerged as a issue because it turns out I was indeed partly accurate - even in my speculation. There was a growing consensus among the bishops that +Jonah needed a “Time Out”. The bishops did indeed eventually urge him to go “On Leave” - but not in the manner or duration, or stated purposes on which I had speculated it could be done. Oops.
Nor was my private speculation about the number involved accurate. It was not four - it was them all. Oops.
And anyone who thinks Fr, Moriak and Bishop Mark, both new to the OCA, have suddenly joined such disparate characters as +Michael, +Benjamin, +Tikhon, +Nathaniel, +Melchizedek and +Nikon in a grand conspiracy “against” +Jonah, clearly knows nothing about any of them. Unless, of course, one believes Fr. Fester that Mark Stokoe, that “master manipulator” and “liar”, was able to unite them all by “tricking them”. Right.
Let's see: that would be Mark Stokoe who allowed clerics and laypeople critical of +Nathaniel’s attempts to re-unite with the Romanian Church to voice their opposition on OCANews.org? Mark Stokoe who questioned the process of +Michael’s election? Mark Stokoe who published the SIC report that contained the embarassing appendix about +Nikon’s knowledge of Kondratick’s Moscow tape?
And as for Benjamin’s view of Mark Stokoe, let me just quote from his recent pastoral letter mentioned above: “We have come to a precarious time in our history, a time when it is possible for anyone with an opinion or thought to broadcast it to the world. And, it seems there are those who feel every matter is their business. The result is soul destroying. The demon of gossip runs about freely among us, hardly detected and unexposed to the light of day.” And so on down the line... Mark Stokoe is not the favorite person of anyone on the OCA’s Synod of Bishops.
If I had such abilities as attributed to me by Fr. Fester, and the lone blogger at OCATruth .org, I wouldn’t be wasting my efforts on trying to “overthrow” the head of the smallest autocephalous Orthodox Church in the world. If I was that talented, I’d be going for the gold, and the “Green Patriarch” had better be watching his back. (Just kidding, Your All-Holiness...)
To believe that any of these men would willingly join me in a conspiracy, or tell me of one of their own - not to mention one joined by the staff in Syosset (after all I have said about “Syosset”) - let alone they could all be my ‘unwilling dupes’, (because I am a “master manipulator” evidenced by my sharing the “plan” with people not in the conspiracy) is patently absurd, insulting, unwarranted and dangerous. It truly is disturbing the peace for no good reason. My email is no evidence of a “grand master plan”, but simply my personal opinions privately shared, based, it turns out, on incomplete evidence. No more, no less.
The question then arises, why would I even speculate as to why there might be “a growing consensus” of opposition to +Jonah? Everyone can read my unedited opinions in that email, so there is no reason to repeat them here. More importanatly, everyone has seen +Jonah’s actions this past week. This is not the first time the Synod or the Council has experienced such behaviour or breach of trust. The Synod, in their explanation for requesting Jonah’s acknowledgement of his own need for a Leave, was more blunt about +Jonah's problems than I have ever been in private or in public:
“The Holy Synod expressed concern for the Metropolitan’s health. Once again they affirmed their love and concern for him and their earnest desire to see him succeed. After further discussion, the Holy Synod determined that a sixty day Leave of Absence for His Beatitude would be beneficial. Metropolitan Jonah accepted to do so. The Synod asked him to request to do so, as it would be better seen that he acknowledged the need for this. Metropolitan JONAH then requested a Leave Of Absence for not less than 60 days during which time he would see a physician and devote himself to his own spiritual and physical health without concern for the burdens of the primatial office. This could include a time of retreat at a monastery. His Grace Bishop Benjamin asked if he was ready to make this decision or if he needed additional time and the Metropolitan said he did not need more time to make the decision.”
The OCAruth.com conspiracy theorist, however, based on Fr. Fester’s letter, however, suggests a major reason of opposition to +Jonah by unnamed bishops, clergy, and MC members led by OCANews.org, is not +Jonah’s health or actions, but his public statements denouncing homosexuality, as evidenced by his signing of the Manhattan Statement.
Balderdash. Pure Balderdash.
The teaching of the Church on this issue is clear, and have never been challenged by in any article written and published by me, signed or anonymously, or any Orthdox bishop, or any Orthodox clergyman on this site. Or any site I know of. Period.
Now, Jonah’s signing of the Manhattan Statement was criticized by some OCA Bishops, and others, privately, including me, not because of the content, but because it was a unilateral decision, taken without discussing or even informing the Synod of his plans. Orthodox Bishops tend to be very conservative - as opposed to being liberal - about public statements. Hence, there are so few. And they certainly don’t want to learn of one by a fellow Bishop, let alone their Primate, by first reading about it on the front page of the New York Times.
Which brings us to the ad hominem attacks on me, as earlier in the Kondratick scandal, and again during it’s denoument under Herman - not uncoincidentally by the epigoni of the very same crowd. The latest are just a repetition of the same, old “shoot the messenger” tactics employed during the Kondratick years. As I said in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and again in 2010 (during which time I was mainly posting articles, comments and reflections on the crisis in the Antiochian Archdiocese) - “Mark Stokoe” is not the issue. Either what I say is true, or not, accurate or not. You can read my record over the past six years - not just the past six days - as to whether what I have said is true, and accurate. Read and decide for yourself.
I do not claim my reportage, which I, unlike others, always sign with my name, is that of a totally disinterested, third party observer. My biaeses are clear and fully stated: transparency, accountability, conciliarity. My commitments are equally clear: I am a proud, if often embarrassed, member of the OCA.
Moreover, I am not willing to just carp about it, but even accepted election to the Metropolitan Council to help correct the problems I complained about. Have those publicly stated biases made me less than credible in my reporting on her scandals in the past three years - or less than credible on the crisis of the moment? You decide. My record is all there for all to read.
Credibility, in my opinion, is earned. It is based on facts - and not by forbidding other people to read other blogs, or by not allowing questions, or by not allowing people opportunity to comment or disagree on their blog. Or by attacking someone you disagree with as a deviant, liar, manipulator, conspirator, and so on. End of excursis.)
The Narrative Resumes
As the allegations on OCATruth.com are all unsigned, the editor unidentified, the blog’s registration blank, and since no comments or questions are allowed, it is not possible for the casual reader to discern who the “all of us here” to which the blogger refers may be. In fact, OCAtruth.org is blogged by a young man, a recent convert, who is a member of Fr. Fester’s former parish, St. Seraphim’s cathedral in Dallas. Quel Surprise.
What can be fully ascertained, however, from the site, is that Fester’s call to “support Metropolitan Jonah” has gained little traction so far. His “Support +Jonah” tabs list less than 20 clergy signers ( all but one from the Diocese of the South and Fester’s St. Nicholas Cathedral in DC) and some 50 laity, again, overwhelmingly from the Diocese of the South. It's a hue, but hardly a cry.
I encourage everyone who feels compelled to “rise up” because the OCA is in mortal danger from crypto-feminists, pro-gay, liberals from both coasts to do so here.
The Synod Declines To Dance
Jonah’s reneging on his agreement to go “On Leave” left the Synod with few good options to deal with his betrayal. They have chosen, on the basis of advice of canonists and lawyers, not to place him on involuntary leave at this time (which would be an option but would probably “ disturb the peace of the Church” more than his going rogue has already done). Instead, according to sources close to Syosset, they are going to adhere to their original goal: to try to get help for him.
According to the Synod, +Jonah remains the Archbishop of Washington - but in fact, his diocese is composed of only 11 parishes. The Midwest is installing its own bishop at the end of next month. The South is clearly ready to be declared “vacant” and a new reigning bishop chosen within the year.
As Primate he arbitrarily and unilaterally, without explanation, announced that both the upcoming Synod and MC meetings are postponed. The Synod has agreed to the deferment at this time, in the knowledge he may postpone them until after Pascha, but he cannot stop them all together. Both have to meet, because the 2010 (still!) and 2011 budgets must be approved, and cannot be, until they do. They should be interesting meetings
There is also the matter of an upcoming All-American Council, deadlines of which may not now be met, raising costs, since neither body will be meeting for 60 days.
And the Synod still has the Sexual Misconduct Committee Advisory Panel’s report (SCMAP) to act upon. And of course. the Ethics complaints that may be filed with the Council against +Jonah for the retaliatory termination of Fr. Garklavs.
Let me rephrase an earlier statement: They should be most interesting meetings.
None of the problems facing the Synod and Metropolitan Council have gone away in the past week; but perhaps one of their major problems these past two years has finally been revealed; this time Jonah went rogue in public.
Fr. Fester may be trying to raise a hue and cry to “defend the OCA” from disobedient Bishops, but the only disobedience on display is +Jonah’s. Fr. Fester may be trying to assert that the “Staff” is “out to sandbag” +Jonah, but there was never any need: as the events of the past week show, +Jonah is fully capable of doing that to himself. His decisions and their explanations, change by the day.
And Fr. Fester may continue to blame the messenger, but OCANews.org was here before Stokoe’s membership on the Council, and it will continue when his term is over. He was elected by the Midwest to the Council not because he needed sources of information, but because he had already shared them accurately.
In the Eye of the Storm: +Melchizedek in Syosset
There remains the question of Fr. Garklavs, the dismissed Chancellor, and the resignation he did not give, but was accepted anyway by the Synod at the insistence of Metropolitan Jonah. Fr. Fester hysterically claims that he (Fester) stands in danger of losing his position, but Fr. Garklavs, who has remained stoically silent, actually lost his. According to sources in Syosset, Fr. Garklavs has obediently begun to clean out his office, his computer files having been already accessed by Metropolitan Jonah in a fit of retaliation for his participation in the SMCAP report. Bishop Melchisedek has assumed Fr. Garklav's office temporarily, because, once again, the Metropolitan may be able to cause havoc in the short term, but in the long term, any new Chancellor must be approved by both the Synod and the Council. That should prove most interesting a process as well.
The rest of the staff, for the good of the Church, are remaining in place, despite the Metropolitan’s public disdain for them.
The Lord's Question
And what is there to be learned from this unnecessary public upheaval, where a bishop agreed to something for the good of the Church and then did not do it; while his priest never agreed to anything, but ended up doing it for the good of the Church ? It is a question asked by Jesus himself in Matthew 21:28 -32: “Which of these two did the Will of his Father?” Which indeed....
- Mark Stokoe