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7.29.09
Uncertain Times In South Canaan  

Despite legal problems and uncertain  economic times, St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan PA has big plans for the future. Ironically, it is St. Tikhon’s Seminary’s discussions on its future that has led it into uncertain times. 

In a letter posted on the Monastery’s website July 27th, Fr. Sergius, Igumen of St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA, confirmed the Monastery’s full cooperation with the  OCA Investigative Committee recently charged with  ascertaining, in the Igumen’s words: “... what has happened financially here at St. Tikhon’s Monastery over the past decade or so.”  The St. Tikhon’s Investigative Committee (STIC), to which the Igumen refers,  held its first meeting on July 20th. Originally scheduled to present its findings to the joint Synod-Metropolitan Council meeting, now scheduled for mid-September in Syosset, that timetable is not longer considered valid by the Chairman of the Committee, Bishop Nikon of Boston. Writing to the Metropolitan Council, Bishop Nikon affirmed “... that the investigation will take a longer time to complete than the scheduled joint meeting in September since our first meeting will take place early this week. I was asked to chair this committee just prior to the St Vladimir’s institute in June - at which time I responded to Mark’s question. However, .....the responsibilities of the committee was determined by His Beatitude in a letter to the committee on July 2nd.”  That letter has not been made public by the Committee or Syosset.  (You can read more about the STIC here.)

Financial Reforms Planned

In his letter, Fr. Sergius affirmed that the Monastery  is  “continuing to plot a financially honest and accountable course for the future as we stabilize our day to day operations. Our own internal financial assessment and audit will eventually lead up to a professional audit by Parente and Randolph. We are very willing to be open with all of our records and are hoping to reach the following goals as given to us by Fr. Michael Tassos, CPA and former Treasurer of the OCA.” Fr. Sergius identified these as: 

“Immediate Goals:
 
1) Files and document retention 
2) Establish system of internal controls 
3) Retain legal advice 
4) Establish permanent files 
5) Establish basic bookkeeping and financial reporting

Short-term Goals: 

1) A budget 
2) Establish Policies and procedures 
3) Establish within the Monastery a Board of Advisors (accountability)
 4) Facility review 
5) Insurance review 
6) Financial reporting

Long-term Goals: 

1) Fund raising 
2) Awareness and community outreach 
3) Clear and accountable governance 
4) Computer systems.”

Fr. Sergius’s goal is to accomplish these short and long-term goals in the next two years.  

Reading between the lines one can infer that basic bookeeping, files, financial reporting and internal controls have all been lacking in the Monastery’s operations in the past decade. This will, no doubt, complicate the STIC investigation and is an indication of the seriousness of the problems at the Monastery’s bookstore operations in the recent past.

New Business Enterprises

But the Igumen, and his Abbot, Metropolitan Jonah, have even more ambitious financial and capital plans for the future of the oldest Orthodox monastery in America. Fr. Sergius continues: 

“...we hope to begin a new and visionary building project to build a new facility housing an entirely renewed monastery complex (physical and spiritual.) This project will be funded in part by a new beeswax candle operation within the Monastery, (these candles will be available for purchase, God willing, by the end of August) a water bottling facility here at the Monastery (which we are currently working on) and through an attempt to put back into print a large portion of our books.”

New Monastery Buildings Needed Now

These business projects may be able to sustain the Monastery, which was heavily mortgaged  without the knowledge of the Brotherhood by its former Abbot, the now-retired Metropolitan Herman, but they cannot fund the vast new capital improvements proposed by the Metropolitan and the Igumen.  (Read that story here.) Fr. Sergius therefore explains:   “Concurrent with these new products, we will also begin a capital fundraising campaign. As of right now, the Monastery is fundraising for a temporary modular home that will supplement the existing building, a building that has raised serious concerns as to its safety.  ( Editor’s note: The current Monastery has been  reported to be unsafe due to mold contamination.) Hence, at the recommendation and with the blessing of Metropolitan Jonah, we are going forward with this temporary measure to house new novices (of which we have 5.) “

Vast Plans for the Future

The Monastery has  published its architectural drawings for this proposed future expansion. These plans include a wall that will encircle the entire facility,  a new large katholikon, new monastery and guest housing - and more. The costs for such improvements have not been announced, but initial estimates given to OCANews.org place the costs at more than $10 million.

St. Tikhon’s Seminary Will Open in 2009

If St. Tikhon’s Monastery is grappling with its past and future, so too is the adjacent St. Tikhon’s Seminary. Following Metropolitan Jonah’s public and private musings concerning “the closing of the Seminary” in  South Canaan earlier this month, which the Metropolitan now disavows as  “thinking out loud”, supporters of the Seminary have been expressing their private outrage at the thought of the Seminary’s closing, or in the view of some Tikhonites, what would be worse,  being merged with St. Vladimir’s in New York. Rumors of the school’s demise have only been fueled by its attempts to deal with its current financial woes brought about by the Great Recession, as well as uncertainty amid the faculty - and recent formal and informal meetings.

For example: on Thursday, July 9, 2009, “administrators and educators from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary [OCA], Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology [GOA], Holy Trinity Seminary [ROCOR] and Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary [OCA] met at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary.”  “Many issues related to the common vocation of Orthodox theological schools in the US” were discussed “in a spirit of unity” according to a statement released at the time.  Some saw smoke in these meetings, but was there fire? (Read the whole statement here.)

A few days later St. Vladimir’s posted a statement on its website, admitting unspecified  “informal discussions” between the schools had indeed taken place over the past weeks.  (Read it here.)According to the website: “ Fr Chad Hatfield and Fr John Behr have been talking informally with the faculty and  administration of St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary about how to bring the two seminaries into closer alignment and greater cooperation.” St. Vladimir’s then stated: “We need to find ways in which STOTS and SVOTS can cooperate, so that together we will give all seminarians the best that our schools offer. We need a joint vision that embraces the strengths of both institutions - unity and diversity, pastoral and academic.” If no fire had existed, it did now. 

It was during this same period that the news leaked out that  two STS faculty members’  contracts may not be renewed in the coming year. One of them, Fr. Alexander Golubov, has been the Academic Dean for many years.  Add to this the growing fear that the central figure at St. Tikhon’s, STS Dean, Fr. Michael Dahulich, appears to have the inside track to become the next OCA Bishop of New York, making his future with the school problematic as well. (Read that story here.) 

For all the talk at St. Tikhon’s about economic and faculty problems, St. Vladimir’s is not immune either.  Two full-time positions at the school have not been filled, following the retirement in June of former Dean and Professor, Fr. John Erickson, and the resignation of Fr. Harry Pappas. According to sources close to the Seminary, a number of adjunct professors - all full-time parish priests - were also not renewed. The Board of Trustees has invoked a contingency clause in the SVS Statutes that will allow them to dismiss up to two additional full-time, tenured faculty. That decision (whether to dismiss them, and if so, whom) will be made in in the coming month, as they need to give one year’s notice to a tenured member of the faculty.

To  put out the growing fire, and allay concerns about the seminaries, the Synod of the OCA  issued the following statement on Monday, July 20, 2009:  “The Holy Synod assures the faithful that all three schools, Saint Vladimir’s, Saint Tikhon’s, and Saint Herman’s, will open in the fall as usual, and welcome new students. There are no existing plans to close or merge the schools.” 

Stay tuned. 

- Mark Stokoe

 

 

 
 

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