8.19.11 From the Russian Internet
A SECOND ATTEMPT TO SCARE THE HEDGEHOG
Independent American Orthodox journalist Mark Stokoe humbly accepted his dismissal, but did not shut-down his website popular with all the Orthodox
by Svetlana Vais
The news that Bishop Matthias of Chicago (Orthodox Church in America - OCA), excercising his power, dismissed Mark Stokoe from the Metropolitan and Diocesan Councils seemed to spread across Orthodox America faster than the Internet would allow. For, in recent times, every concerned Orthodox citizen, not only one who resides in America but even one who understands English, reads the online website OCANews.org at least once a week; the acronym stands for “Orthodox Christians for Accountability”. This informational resource reported every turn in the “case of Metropolitan Jonah”, as well as other problems in the OCA frankly and promptly.
To Russian speakers, that literary expression and the meaning of the website’s name present difficulty. Open accountability of church governance structures for ordinary parishioners - What is one to think of that?! It is difficult to imagine how these things may apply to the Russian Orthodox Church, -- and probably would be unadvisable for the Orthodox community as a whole.
The Orthodox Church in America, which continues to jealously guard the autocephaly it was given by the Mother Church 40 years ago, treats transparency of its financial activities with a proper understanding by publishing quarterly reports on its website. This isn’t because honesty is a distinctive feature of Orthodox Americans, but because the country in which we live, “organized by Protestant democracy”, is so organized. Taxing bodies treat American religious organizations in as business-like a way as any others.
Despite this, violations of financial and other order in the OCA occur. Moreover, regularly. Recently, the frequency of such events has become alarming. Everything that happens, as it were, is reflected on the official website of the OCA. But even the website’s new version is slow and unmaneuverable, providing for little feedback. And although the news section contains absolutely truthful information -- heartfelt thanks to the site’s editors -- the excessive brevity of the reports elicits a desire to find another source of information. Or to get an interpretation, an analysis.
Plunging into this virtual world with its blogosphere, an unprepared person, will spend the first three days praying for the salvation of his soul with particular zeal.
Of course, later he will understand that the most objective information about Orthodox America, not counting the OCA’s official website, is contained on OCAnews.org, whose editor is Mark Stokoe. The fact that Stokoe is on the Diocesan Council of the Mid-West Diocese and is a member of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council, increases the value of his information dozens of times. Actually, it is enough just to read the materials and evaluate them, to understand that the site is quite respectable and will not publish unverified information. In our mighty Russian language this is called “bazaar-filtered”, and this is that very case when popular idiom has an exclusively positive meaning.
The site was opened in 2006 in the wake of earlier scandals that shook the OCA. Not everyone was pleased with this new source of information. By this time Mark Stokoe had already been elected (in 1998) to the Metropolitan Council and fired from it (in 2000) by Metropolitan Theodosius. Then, at the insistence of Archbishop Job, he was again elected to the council in 2008. Stokoe’s present dismissal is his second.
Three days ago [August 9] Bishop Matthias of Chicago sent Mark Stokoe a “pink slip” via e-mail. Despite its polite style, the message contained allegations that the Editor promotes the spread of rumors and pushes Orthodox people to disrespect the clergy and disdain the Church. The bishop gives as a example, the publication on the site of an anonymous article about homosexual relationships in the Orthodox Church. The bishop emphasizes that he removes the blessing given to the site at one time and hopes that it will be closed.
Even were this to happen, the turmoil in the OCA, arising out of simple human life, would not fade, and the concerned lay people would not be indifferent to the causes and consequences of the disorder. It is unpleasant when journalists “dig”. “Knowledge increases sadness ...”. But retaining constant joy in ignorance is not a way out, and ignorance is not a virtue. Dismissals and the closing down of sites are not options.
Mark Stokoe reacted in what was for him a natural way - humbly, accepting his dismissal and promising the entire Orthodox world he not to close the site. He posted his reply to Bishop on his website, clearly realizing how many visitors it would attract. . Even those who know only “Dictionary English” reposted this letter on their personal sites and blogs, thus actively joining in discussing the problems of Orthodox Christianity in America. The result was either “the exact opposite” of what was intended -- or, perhaps what was really intended.
Where can one find a truthful interpretation? In the same place -- OCANews.org .
Svetlana Vais covers American Orthodox matters for the Russian website Portal-credo.ru. Her original article, in Russian, may be found at http://www.portal-credo.ru.