Given Official Silence, Misinformation and Speculation Abounds
The recall of Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), the former Representative of the OCA to the Patriarchate of Moscow, without official explanation, and his failure to return to the United States as ordered, has led to widespread speculation, and much misinformation, in both the USA and Russia.
According to an Interfax posting on August 2, quoting an unnamed source at Zacchaeus’ St. Catherine’s parish in Moscow, the reason for Wood’s being placed on leave "....may be related to some internal developments in the Orthodox Church in America." Other Russian websites (often citing unnamed American Orthodox websites) have suggested that the recall was “...the result of Fr. Zacchaeus’s being a close friend Fr. Tikhon (Shevkunov) - 'Putin’s confessor,' which means ‘he worked for the Russian secret services." Other theories suggested Fr. Zacchaeus had “....enjoined the sites Pravmir.ru and Pravoslavie.ru to publish compromising materials against the OCA”, and so was recalled.
If the reason for Wood’s recall is the subject of speculation, so too is the reason why he has failed to return to the United States. Interfax, citing the same unnamed source at St. Catherine’s suggests Fr. Zacchaeus is “ ...currently under medical examination in a Moscow clinic. ‘He had his gallbladder removed before and now the decease [sic] exacerbated’ , the source said.” According to another Russian website Fr. Zacchaeus was indeed in a hospital in Moscow “... where he was taken after a heart attack that occurred on July 24. For this reason, Fr. Zacchaeus did not use the airline ticket in the U.S.” According to a letter to Metropolitan Jonah from a group of concerned parishoners at St. Catherine’s, also posted August 2nd “....our dear pastor has been taken to hospital (infectious disease ward) and thereafter transferred to another hospital for therapy – where is now able to receive visitors.”
According to documents obtained by OCANews.org., little of the above is accurate.
In a letter signed by Metropolitan Jonah to Fr. Zacchaeus, dated July 29th, the Metropolitan stated the reason for his being placed on a leave of absence and recalled: “On July 21, 2011, you were sent an email, on my behalf, by the Interim Chancellor, Bishop Melchisedek, wherein you were informed that you were named as as the subject of allegations of misconduct and therefore placed on a leave of absence, effective July 21, 2011. You were also directed to return to the United States, and in an email, on July 22, 2011, given information that the Orthodox Church in American purchased you a ticket on a flight from Moscow to New York on July 25, 2011. Although you acknowledged receiving that information, you did not arrive on July 25, and have not replied to subsequent messages from Church representatives.”
In a July 24th response to the Metropolitan’s earlier email, Fr. Zacchaeus’ Moscow lawyer, Vladimir Berezansky, more fully described the “allegations of misconduct”as a “...vaguely worded allegation (or allegations) of sexual misconduct.” Thus, despite Berezansky’s subsequent complaint that the leave and recall were “unprecedented punishments”, the fact is that OCA policy dictates that any cleric accused of sexual misconduct will be placed on paid leave of absence until an investigation has taken place. The OCA asserts that an investigation cannot begin until Fr. Zacchaeus returns from Moscow
In his July 24th response Berezanky relates that Fr. Zacchaeus is currently “...unable to travel - especially on short notice - for health related reasons. I will be forwarding a medical conclusion from a duly licensed Russian physician confirming that Fr. Zaccheaus’ health related complications prevent him from travelling at least in the near term future. We will advise you of any relevant change to his health, and suitability for lengthy travel of the sort that you suggest he undertake.”
Pressed to disclose the nature of his condition Fr. Zaccheaus has since confirmed to Syosset that the “health-related reasons” involved a colonoscopy. It is unclear when, or even if, he plans to return in the "near term future".
This matter of monastic and canonical obedience has been further complicated by the actions of Metropolitan Jonah. Metropolitan Jonah, according to sources close to Syosset, forwarded the e-mails of the Synod, members of OCA Sexual Misconduct Panel Advisory Committee and the MC’s Legal Affairs Committee discussing this situation -- to Berezansky. The Metropolitan claimed the posting of the confidential email discussion thread was an “accident”.
The Metropolitan then recused himself from the entire matter citing his “... close, confessional relationship” with Fr. Zacchaeus.
However, there are indications, and thus questions, as to whether contact between the two has actually ceased. In his August 1st response to +Melchisedek’s July 29th letter to Zaccheaus directing him to return to the United States, Berezansky claims: “ The Metropolitan did not instruct or authorize you ( +Melchizesek) to send the letter attached to your e-mail message. Indeed, the Metropolitan was only vaguely aware of an early draft of the letter attributed to him. Please ask him yourself.” The question is not whether +Jonah authorized the letter - his signature is clearly visible. The real concern is why would Berezansky even make such a claim and challenge, if he had not been so told that by the Metropolitan? And if he was indeed told such by the Metropolitan, for what purpose would the Metropolitan be working against the OCA’s Synod, policies and his own administration?
- Mark Stokoe