Metropolitan Jonah's Russian Interview Reveals OCA Details
In an interview with the Russian religious information agency “Blagovest-Info” conducted last week in Moscow, Metropolitan Jonah revealed that he has a candidate for the vacant Alaskan See, that the investigation into the finances of St. Tikhon’s is still ongoing, and that he will continue to be “direct” in his pronouncements concerning Orthodox unity. The full interview, conducted by journalist Dmitry Vlasov, transcribed from the Russian, follows:
“Metropolitan Jonah of America and Canada:
It Is Time To Be Direct
His Beatitude, the Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada - this is his complete title. But in personal intercourse, the 49-year-old Bishop Jonah is surprisingly free of ostentation - there are no shadows nor any outward grandeur; he responds to questions - including sharp ones - directly, concretely and honestly. During his first foreign visit as Primate of the OCA Metropolitan Jonah, who was elected to the American cathedra less than six months ago, met in the OCA’s Moscow representation with a correspondent of “Blagovest Info”.
Vlasov: Your Eminence, this visit to the Moscow Patriarchate -- is this your first visit to a local sister church? What are the main goals of this trip? What is the larger issue: giving respect to the Mother Church, or a desire to discuss the specific challenges faced by today’s Orthodoxy in America, as well as in Russia and around the world?
+Jonah: Of course, first and foremost, I wish too express my respect for our Mother Church and personally to Patriarch Kyrill. He renders very great support to the Orthodox Church in America; we have identical views on many things, not only America, but the Orthodox world in general.
One of my main goals - was not only to serve together with the Patriarch, but to become acquainted with him personally, to establish a working relationship with him and with Archbishop Hilarion, the head of the Department for External Church Relations. We knew each other earlier but had not yet had the opportunity to discuss many specific issues.
The autocephaly of the OCA is still not recognized by all of world Orthodoxy. Could you remind us which Local Churches recognize it, and which do not? How do you see the prospect of dealing with this sensitive issue? Do you plan to visit the Patriarch of Constantinople?
Yes, I plan to visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But my position remains unchanged: they (the hierarchs of the Church of Constantinople) can not make decisions concerning the OCA, without our participation.
It is the Ecumenical Patriarchate which remains the main opponent of our autocephaly. Local Churches under the direct influence of Constantinople - Alexandria, Jerusalem, Greece, Cyprus - also do not recognize our status.
Our autocephaly is fully recognized by the Russian, Bulgarian, Polish and Czech Churches. We have very good relations with the Antiochian, Serbian Patriarchates, which do not officially recognize the autocephaly of the OCA.
The issue of recognizing the OCA’s autocephaly is part of a broader issue: how to create a unified Orthodox Church in North America. I do not think that this problem could be solved by uniting the various national jurisdictions which exist in America to the OCA. But the OCA may serve as an example for solving this problem in North America. There is need for a Synod of Bishops to represent the various ethnic groups, a synod which would consider the Church’s mission first as a local church, acting on “its territory”, accepting all Orthodox - regardless of their ethnic roots.
What is the current number of believers in various Orthodox communities in America? How many believers in the OCA, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and in ROCOR?
As far as I know, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has more believers than the OCA; the number of believers is about 25% to 50% . But we have more churches - 650. With respect to our flock - I am referring to active members of the community - they number about 100,000 people. If one were to count the “nominally Orthodox”, this number will be much greater, but I refer only to the practicing of members of the Church. I wouldn’t talk about “millions of Orthodox” in North America, although perhaps the total number of people baptized in the Orthodox Church, reaches such indicators.
Regarding ROCOR, the size of its flock is much smaller than ours. They have about 100 parishes and about 10,000 believers.
Almost two years have passed since the signing of the act of canonical unity of the Russian Orthodox Church and ROCOR. I heard that in the past the OCA had very strained relations with the “zarubezhniki” (exiles). If yes, then which ones specifically?
In recent years, relations between our two Churches have been considerably strengthened and improved. I have an excellent relationship with Metropolitan Hilarion. But a number of unresolved issues remain: in ROCOR there are still congregations that refuse to be reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate. But I hope this issue will be resolved over time. For its part, our Synod has declared an “amnesty” to all the priests who had been subject to canonical sanctions because, at one time, they left for ROCOR.
Have you already served together with Metropolitan Hilarion?
Not yet. But a ROCOR hierarch - Bishop Jerome of Manhattan - concelebrated at my enthronement. On this day OCA and ROCOR hierarchs served together for the first time in 63 years.
The so--called “third wave of emigration” from the former Soviet Union led to the founding of a large number of parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in many Western countries. However, in the United States and Canada, because of the 1970 agreements between the ROC and the OCA, the number of Patriarchal parishes remained unchanged - if I recall correctly, about 40 in each country. It would be logical to assume that Orthodox believers, who recently arrived from Russia in the New World would attend a parish of “their own” jurisdiction. Are there problems in this regard and how they are resolved?
One of the main problems is that the Patriarchal parishes in the United States and Canada have long begun to live their own lives, being removed from Russian roots. I myself was brought into the Church in one of those parishes. At that time there remained only three Russian “babushki”, but neither the priest nor the majority of believers any longer knew the Russian language. Today nobody in this parish speaks Russian. On the contrary, the OCA has entirely Russian-speaking communities. We have churches, where most of the parishioners are people recently arrived from Russia. In terms of my diocese, in New York alone there are 4 or 5 of these parishes; then there are a few Russian parishes in New Jersey, and in the capital, Washington DC.
And who takes care of these communities? And in which of the local churches were these priests ordained?
These are Russian priests. Some of them were ordained in the ROC, and then transferred to our jurisdiction - others completed our seminaries and became priests in the OCA.
There is much talk about what the Russian Church gave to the American Church. I would like to pose the question differently: can the American Church today - the daughter of the Russian church - share something with her mother? Perhaps -- experience of working with people who have nothing to do with Orthodoxy? Or missions to young people?
I think our church could help in all these areas, and I would like to discuss with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, how we can cooperate.
In the 1990s the OCA provided substantial financial assistance to the Moscow Patriarchate. I personally took part in raising funds for the restoration of the Valaam Monastery during the collapse of the Russian economy.
I think that in the future, many meaningful ways of collaboration are open: for example, between theological academies, between youth organizations, cooperation in missionary work, in the area of inter-Orthodox contacts, which is true ecumenism.
Recently, one prominent cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church said that the Church’s mission may well be carried out within the youth subculture: in particular, by opening Orthodox nightclubs. Does the OCA have such experience?
One of the most active ministries of our Church, one in which I myself participated, is the Orthodox Campus Fellowship. Members of this organization - are young people who gather together, often under the guidance of a priest. Vespers, liturgies are served. Sometimes they participate in educational programs, sometimes they just have fun. Annual retreats are held.
I very much hope that in the future we will be able to open dormitories on student campuses -- associated with the OCA, with a chapel and a priest attached. This project is only beginning to be implemented. The country already has several such centers, but so far only a few.
When there is talk of contacts among local Churches, we, the residents of Moscow, first of all are reminded of Representation Churches. How would you rate the work of the OCA Representation in Moscow?
I think that the Representation’s work is of utmost importance. It provides direct contact with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, transmits necessary information, organizes meetings. Moreover, the American Representation gives Muscovites an opportunity to get a feel for Orthodoxy in America: on the one hand, it is a typical Russian church, but on the other - English is heard here.
The parish community is composed of Americans and other English-speaking foreigners living in Moscow.
The Representation’s existence enables us to help Orthodox Americans in Russia, when they are faced with some of life’s difficulties.
What is the current situation in the OCA like? Here in Russia we monitored the financial abuse-related scandals that erupted several years ago with great alarm. Is it possible to say that this period is completely over? On ascending the Metropolitan’s throne, you expressed support for introducing modern financial controls in the Church. Have they been introduced, and if so, what are these?
In general, the situation has been corrected. Virtually all employees of the central administration had been removed - except for a pair of secretaries and a housekeeper (laughs). Very good, transparent systems of control are being realized; they are quite complex, but do provide control. We can say that in general the financial scandal lies in the past. Now is the time to heal. Unfortunately, the investigation at the St. Tikhon’s Monastery, where Metropolitan Herman (OCA’s formerPrimate) lived at one time and which he led, have not been completed. There are many problems there...
According to the OCA’s official website, of the 13 dioceses in your Church, 4 are vacant. Are there any plans in the foreseeable future to fill these sees?
We just elected two bishops - one to head the Pittsburgh diocese, the other will be a vicar in Canada. I have a candidate for Alaska.
A special situation exists in the Diocese of Dallas and the South. The recently retired Archbishop Dmitri headed it for 30 years. He served as a bishop for 40 years. And 55 years - as a priest! When I was elected as a bishop, I was supposed to be his vicar, but I was soon elected Metropolitan ...
Archbishop Dmitri left a complex legacy. It isn’t only that he was really loved and continues to be loved by the diocese - he was personally involved in the management of 90% of his parishes: he was personally responsible for the formation of priests; he baptized, married and buried. It is very difficult to find a replacement for such a pastor.
Recently your Church’s Synod again received Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist) into the ranks of the episcopate of the OCA. This hierarch is well known by many in Moscow - in recent years he participated in a number of conferences and other events. Where will he be serving now?
We accepted Bishop Seraphim into the ranks of our episcopate following his own request. I hope that he will exercise his talents by helping me out in New York.
What of the fate of New Skete? Having come into the OCA from the Catholic Church in the seventies, this monastic community in many respects differs from what we have been accustomed to see in Orthodox communities - if only in their veneration of St. Francis of Assisi.
New Skete is a unique place. They live according to their own life and it is not becoming to interfere in it. I profoundly respect them as a community - a mature community. The relationships among the monastics are excellent. They introduced certain particularities in the Divine Services but carried this out with great love and devotion - even though these do not always resemble the Russian or the Greek Typikon. In my opinion they are criticized very hastily.
If the beginnings of Orthodoxy in North America are tied to Saint Herman of Alaska, its growth to St. Innocent of Moscow; the acquisition of a canonical status to St. Tikhon of Moscow, then the OCA’s later history is usually associated with a man such as Fr. Alexander Schmemann. What is the attitude towards the patrimony of Fr. Alexander in the OCA today? How personally do you feel about his “Diary”?
Fr. Alexander Schmemann is genuinely loved in our church. Many people honor his memory. He not only played a key role in the our Church acquiring autocephaly, but he also revived the practice of frequent communion; he showed genuine concern about how to perform the liturgy, recalling that this is a common action of the whole Church.
His legacy has tremendous value.
I really like Fr. Alexander’s “Diary”; one of the main themes of the book is the difference which exists between faith and religion. This is very important.
A large part of the OCA’s flock and the majority of the episcopate came to Orthodoxy from other denominations or from atheism. You yourself were born into an Episcopal (Anglican) family. Do heterodox roots help or hinder in dialog with representatives of other faiths? What is the OCA’s general attitude towards ecumenism?
Because America is a very pluralistic country, we have to have contacts with representatives of other faiths. The OCA takes part in the National Council of Churches of the USA and the World Council of Churches. We participate in discussions conducted within the framework of the ecumenical organizations, although we rarely approve of what they do. But they do many good things; especially, in providing an opportunity for the Orthodox to meet with one another.
Now about the theological dialog with the heterodox. If the matter concerns the Episcopal Church/USA, then this dialog has stopped. But we engage in dialog with Episcopalian traditionalists many of whom embrace the Orthodox faith. And I personally, and our entire Synod gives great attention to bringing these people into the fold of the Orthodox Church in America.
You are not afraid of accusations of proselytizing?
This is not proselytizing - it “aggressive proclamation” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy - is preaching of Christ in all its fullness.
And what are your relations with the Roman Catholics?
In general, we have friendly relations with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholics to a significant degree consider us to be an Apostolic Catholic Church; many of them would like to restore greater contact (obshchenije) between the two churches. Today, there are a number of areas where we can work with Roman Catholics. This applies especially to the Pro-Life movement - in anti-abortion matters, as well as euthanasia.
During the six months you have occupied the chair of the Archbishop of Washington, you had to prove himself a leader unafraid of expressing your stance, even if, to some, it may seem not to be politically correct. Suffice it to recall your recent speech in Dallas. To what extent, in your opinion, should directness and diplomacy be combined among hierarchs?
I think it is time to be direct. We can be politically correct, but we will be buried. Can we afford to play Byzantine political games, in which they simply do not take us into account? And I want my voice to be heard in the upcoming discussions concerning the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora. I do not want to offend anyone - especially the Ecumenical Patriarch, - but I want my Church’s position to be heard and acknowledged. It is essential that we participate in decisions regarding our fate."
OCANews.org has confirmed that the candidate for Alaska mentioned by Metropolitan Jonah is Archimandrite Gerasim (Eliel). Fr. Gerasim is currently the abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in Platina CA. (Platina is located 40 miles west of Redding, in northern California.) The monastery, which has 15 members, was founded in 1963 and is well known both for its St. Herman Monastery Press, as well as for being the resting place of the late Fr. Seraphim Rose. Originally a ROCOR monastery, it is currently a part of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Fr. Gerasim has been a monk of the Brotherhood for some 25 years. According to some reports, he was ordained secretly while on a trip to Russia by the controversial former Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, Ioann Snychev.
Fr. Gerasim, who recently visited Dallas, was previously mentioned as a possible successor to Archbishop Dmitri. According to sources within the Diocese, the elderly Archbishop declined to endorse his candidacy, despite the recommendations of both Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Benjamin. Among the reasons given was the Archimandrite’s lack of a formal theological education.
It now appears that +Jonah and +Benjamin will once again put forward Fr. Gerasim’s name, this time for the Alaska diocese, at a special meeting of the Synod, scheduled for next week in Dallas. Once again it seems an OCA Diocese will not be allowed to search and nominate its own candidate but will be provided with a Vicar Bishop until such time as the Synod decides he is ready to be the diocesan bishop. As has been the case in most recent elections, the Vicar then becomes the only real candidate in the subsequent “election” by the Diocese, fulfilling the letter, if not the spirit of the Statute.
The second episcopal candidate mentioned in the interview was the retired Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist). As reported earlier by OCAnews.org, Bishop Seraphim will most likely be asked to assist Metropolitan Jonah as a vicar in the New York-Washington Diocese.
New Missionary Endeavor Mentioned
In another Russian interview, given on Saturday, May 2, at the “St. Innocent Conference” (a seminar organized jointly by the Orthodox Church in America and the Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow) Metropolitan Jonah made his first public reference to a large group of Mayan peoples in Central America, who are exploring Orthodoxy and affiliation with the Orthodox Church in America.
“During the Q &A,” this report states, “ Vladyka explained that the Orthodox faith is practiced by a large number of indigenous residents of Alaska - Eskimos and Aleuts. In Nicaragua and El Salvador there is a group of Mayan Indians, who also want to join the Orthodox Church. “I am not talking about individuals; I’m talking about hundreds, even thousands of people,” stressed the Primate. “We need missionaries. The Mayan language is as easy for an American as it is for a Russian -- that is, it is very difficult”.
You can read the full Russian text of the Blagovest-Info interview here.
You can read the full Russian text of the the St. Innocent Conference interview here.
- Mark Stokoe