Bishop Tikhon On The Tape
(Editor's Note: In this concluding article of a three part series reviewing recent postings of Bishop Tikhon of the West, OCANews examines the Bishop's claims regarding the existence of a "secret" videotape.)
To many it was just a rhetorical question in the midst of a long post on politics, the growing scandal and his own past. On February 5th Bishop Tikhon asked:
"With the new Patriot Act, by the way, is the involuntary taping of private conversations now legally viable testimony?" To a small group within the OCA, however, it was a red flag. Secrets were dangerously close to being revealed.
One month later, after Fr. Kondratick had been dismissed, the Bishop stopped being coy. On March 24th, 2006 in a letter to Metropolitan Herman +Tikhon openly warned: "Your Beatitude, I am deeply, deeply concerned .... about the electronic surveillance tape in an office of OUR Church which both American and Russian government and Church VIPs may visit, unawares! I can assure Your Beatitude, that the empty expostulations of Wheeler, Stokoe, and others under Archbishop Job's omophorion and the unfortunate Kappanadze, Simerick, T. Hopko and Berezansky, etc., could find confirmation in a way unforeseen by any of those far-seeing and wise men."
Tikhon's sarcasm set the Orthodox internet abuzz: Russia? Surveillance tape? Confirmation? Rumors were long, but facts were in short supply concerning a "secret" tape made in Moscow.
Bishop Tikhon has now offered details about that tape, including who is on the tape, how it was made, and supposedly, what it contains. In a posting on May 29 +Tikhon wrote:
"Here's another rich nugget for readers of such material as ocanews.org, National Enquirer, Star, etc. When I requested further information (at the secret meeting whose minutes are secreted away
somewhere, never to be shown to such untrustworthy sorts as the Holy Synod) relative to surreptitious surveillance and video-filming by the Rector of our Saint Catherine's Church in Moscow, resulting in
attempts to blackmail the former disgraced Chancellor who was secretly taped, I was told by the Secretary of the Holy Synod in that session that the only surveillance device was 'one of those littlethings that fits into the mouthpiece of a telephone.' NOW, I've learned that the video tape does nothing but exculpate the Chancellor, that it has been viewed by other Hierarchs back in December of 2004, and, even more sensational, the person from whom the former, disgraced Chancellor received a threat, an email which said, 'If you touch (X) (the Rector, apparently) then I'm going to see to it that those tapes are shown to the FBI!' now claims that he never sent such an email and he can't imagine who did send it from his email address!
Now, this past week we all learned that the secret cameras for surreptitious audio-visual taping of any visitors to that Rector's office are just 'left there' as SECURITY equipment by the Grabar Institute who occupied the building during the old days, and that there are such cameras around the buildings outside as well! When I asked if propriety or American law did not require the prior notification of being video-taped of visitors to that office, Archbishop Nathaniel jumped in to state that in some states there's no requirement to make such notifications and even telephone calls can be recorded without notifying the caller. He named Michigan as a state that did not require it. I ask List members if they feel that fact, if true, releases the Rector of the Saint Catherine's Church in Moscow from notifying visitors of that secret surveillance. Does not, for example, the American Ambassador or any Russian Government figure need to be informed? I should think that the evidence of 'anonymous' (?) blackmail attempts (Touch 'X' and the tapes go to the FBI) should cause whoever's in charge to re-examine the lack of a requirement to so notify visitors or, even, to rip out the cameras from that inner office!"
The Bishop continues:
"I've never heard a report from whoever is on the receiving end of the Christmas Stocking Project that indicates they did not receive anything which was allegedly sent to them. Anyone? Are they supposed
to send receipts? Does anyone out there know the difference between the USA and Russia relative to banking practices and rake-offs etc., on ALL money from abroad as soon as any evidence of that, in the form of a bank draft, or a RECEIPT appears? Please, don't imagine that you can substantially help ANYONE in Russia without the government, a bank, or an outright crook in government, getting his 'cut!' That's why so much charity is carried there in CASH, in increments of $9,999. Anything under $10,000 in cash need not be reported to customs (as well as withdrawal by the Bank, which is not relevant in this)."
OCANews has sought confirmation of Bishop Tikhon's assertions regarding the tape. We can confirm the following: As the Bishop writes, there is a videotape with audio soundtrack. As the Bishop states, it was made in the offices of St. Catherine's, the OCA's Representation Church in Moscow, in late 2004. As the Bishop infers, it was made by the Rector of St. Catherine's, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood). And as the Bishop writes, it records a private conversation between Fr. Zacchaeus and Fr. Kondratick.
The Bishop only hints at what might be on the tape: references to the Christmas Stocking program, cash transfers, possible blackmail threats, etc. He clearly asserts, however, two points: first that as the tape was "illegally" made it is thus inadmissible as evidence in a criminal court. Secondly, that the tape 'does nothing but exculpate the Chancellor'.
OCANews has confirmed that neither of these points is fully accurate.
The Beslan Relief Fund
On September 1, 2004 armed Chechen terrorists took hundreds of school children and adults hostage in the Russian town of Beslan in North Ossetia. After three days of negotiations, shooting broke out between the hostage-takers and Russian forces. According to the authorities 344 civilians were killed, among them 186 children. Hundreds more were wounded.
In response, the OCA sent out the following appeal: "Therefore, we kindly request that collections for the suffering people of Beslan be taken in all parishes on Sunday, September 12 and Sunday, September 19. Donations in any amount, which certainly will be appreciated deeply by those most affected by this tragedy, may be sent to the 'Beslan Relief Fund', Orthodox Church in America, P.O. Box 675, Syosset, NY 11791. All donations will be channeled to the needy in Beslan through well-respected and reliable means."
Some $90,000 was subsequently collected and forwarded to St. Catherine's to "be channeled to the needy in Beslan".
Unfortunately for Fr. Zacchaeus, he did just that. Thus, when he received a call from Fr. Kondratick that he was on his way over to collect the money, Zacchaeus chose to tape the ensuing conversation.
What +Tikhon Does Not Say
According to a witness who has viewed the tape, but spoke to OCAnews on condition of anonymity, the tape records more than an hour-long conversation between Fr. Kondratick and Fr. Zacchaeus. Our source states that among other things, the conversation includes Fr. Kondratick explaining to the young Archimandrite how OCA funds have been manipulated for years, including the 2004 Christmas Stocking Fund. Fr. Kondratick then instructs Fr. Zacchaeus to hand over half the Beslan fund, $45,000, to him. Fr. Zacchaeus informs Fr. Kondratick that all the monies have been distributed. Fr. Kondratick becomes angry. Claiming he needs the money to pay for the entourage he has brought to Moscow, an upset Fr. Kondratick leaves, promising to speak more about the money the following day. The tape ends.
According to this same witness, Fr. Kondratick and Fr. Zacchaeus did speak the following morning shortly before Liturgy. However, instead of receiving the $45,000 as he expected, Fr. Kondratick was confronted with a snippet of the secretly recorded tape, played on the Archimandrite's cell phone.
According to the witness, a copy of the tape was kept in Moscow, and other copies were sent to the USA for safekeeping.
More From Bishop Tikhon
Bishop Tikhon infers twice that 'someone' attempted to 'blackmail' Fr. Kondratick by threatening to send the tape to the FBI. This seems a strange threat indeed, if the tape, as Bishop Tikhon asserts "does nothing but exculpate the Chancellor." Moreover, what are we to make of the Bishop's paraphrase of Fr. Kondratick's email: '"If you touch (X) (the Rector, apparently) then I'm going to see to it that those tapes are shown to the FBI!"? The Bishop's citation suggests someone had reason to believe Fr. Kondratick was threatening Fr. Zacchaeus, rather than the other way around.
The full exchange between Frs. Kondratick and Zacchaeus, in context, will not be known until it is released by those who possess copies of the tape, or a transcript is released, say in the forthcoming Proskauer Rose report. One can only hope that the Metropolitan Council, as representatives of the clergy and laity of the Church, will demand to view the tape, or read a full transcript to ascertain if this is, indeed, the
"confirmation" +Tikhon himself once suggested it might be.
Bishop Tikhon does not tell us whether he has seen the tape or not. He does tell us that Metropolitan Herman first viewed the tape in December 2004. OCANews can only confirm that by early 2005 the Metropolitan had indeed viewed the tape. At that time, the Kondratick administration held that as the tape was recorded "illegally", it could not be used, and thus should not be viewed by others. As rumors of the tape spread slowly among OCA clergy in late 2005 and early 2006, priests and Bishops defending Fr. Kondratick (such as +Tikhon) continued to make both claims, privately and publicly.
Questions That Need To Be Asked
The entire issue of the tape raises serious questions. For Bishop Tikhon, the existence of the tape is an outrage. To others in the OCA, what is on the tape is the cause for alarm. If the tape records an attempt by Fr. Kondratick to divert Beslan monies, as witnesses say it does, how was it possible for those who had seen it to allow Fr. Kondratick to remain as Chancellor of the OCA for another 18 months? Rather than worrying about legal 'admissibility', should not the Bishops of the OCA be more worried about stealing from orphans, widows and victims of terrorism? How can Bishop Tikhon, or others, still defend such legal acuity and moral blindness?
In fact, +Tikhon's legal argument is not fully accurate either. Surveillance taping in a public or quasi-public setting, including in a business office (such as the administrative offices of a Representation Church) is completely legal under US law. One standard by which such issues are measured is the 'reasonable expectation' of privacy. US courts have consistently upheld the principle that people in public or quasi-public environments, such as business offices, have no right to a 'reasonable expectation' of privacy. Such a tape can be used in federal courts, and is used on a regular basis. Russian law -- to the extent that it even defines such issues -- has even fewer privacy expectations. The Patriot Act has nothing to do with it at all. So should there ever be a governmental investigation into these matters, the tape will undoubtedly appear. Let us hope Church authorities do not let this issue fester until an answer is revealed in open court.
Finally, despite the Bishop's protestation that it "is not relevant in this", his concluding sentence may reveal yet other possibly criminal acts by the former Administration. The Bishop writes: "That's why so much charity is carried there in CASH, in increments of $9,999. Anything under $10,000 in cash need not be reported to customs (as well as withdrawal by the Bank, which is not relevant in this)." Federal statutes make it clear that making cash withdrawals of just less than $10,000, or transporting such amounts out of the U.S., in an attempt to avoid the reporting requirements imposed by law, is in itself a crime called "structuring", regardless of the intended purpose.
Bishop Tikhon and the Internet
Bishop Tikhon has publicly chided his fellow hierarchs for being "Luddites" when it comes to information technology. And it is true that Syosset has been silent regarding the scandal, except to ask others to stop speaking about it. In this regard the "nuggets" Bishop Tikhon regularly drops – in his postings, in his letters to his clergy and diocese, etc.– have been often helpful in establishing the scope, pattern and depth of the scandal.
Yet, in dealing with Bishop Tikhon's online revelations, whether about the fund, the note or the tape, it is best to keep in mind the Scripture: "Jesus said: 'Go call your husband, and come here.' The woman answered: 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her: 'You are right in saying 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you said truly.'" ( John 16:1-18). Like the Samaritan woman, Bishop Tikhon speaks truly, but not the whole truth. To the careful reader, however, Bishop Tikhon often reveals more than he says.