Behind the Doors of Repentance

Author: Melanie Jula Sakoda
Date Published: 07/07/2001

The Untold Details of the Journey of the Holy Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church

In an article entitled “The Doors of Repentance,” Hieromonk Jonah (Paffhausen) purported to chronicle the thirty-year trek of former members of the Holy Order of MANS into canonical Orthodox churches. He pleaded that it was “time for the whole Church to rejoice and welcome into its fold these faithful people who diligently sought the true Christ and the authentic Church.” However, before killing the fatted calf, an examination of the facts omitted from Hieromonk Jonah’s history should be considered.

Hieromonk Jonah correctly noted that HOOM began as a new religious movement in the late 1960’s. According to Phillip Charles Lucas, who wrote a book about the Order titled The Odyssey of a New Religion, the original teachings of HOOM “were an eclectic combination of Western esoterism (including Cabalism, Rosicrucianism, and Theosophy), apocalyptic millennialism, Christian monasticism, New Thought philosophy, and Tantrism. Blighton’s central proclamation was that the earth was entering a new age of spiritual illumination and that the Holy Order of MANS had been divinely ordained to prepare humanity for this Golden Dawn of the spirit.”[1] The Order was incorporated as a California non-profit corporation in 1968.[2]

According to Hieromonk Jonah, the 1988 baptisms of 750 members of HOOM by a deposed Orthodox priest affiliated with a vagante jurisdiction were a conversion to “Orthodoxy.” He asserted that this event “marked a complete transition, a fundamental rejection and renunciation of the old Order….” Hieromonk Jonah further alleged that “a new identity, theological as well as communal, emerged: the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood.”

In fact, HOOM never ceased to exist.[3] The Order continued to hold title to real property in the United States,[4] and to enjoy tax exempt status as a religious organization.[5] This surviving corporate entity apparently was unaffected by the supposedly momentous baptisms of 1988. As late as October of 2000, the only alteration to the Order’s decidedly “new age” articles of incorporation was a 1991 amendment changing how any remaining corporate assets were to be distributed in the event of dissolution.[6] Yet most of the post 1988 HOOM leaders had simultaneous roles in CSB.

For example, the HOOM Nonprofit Statement filed on June 16, 1999[7] listed the CEO as Father Stevan Bauman and the Secretary as Mary L. Lee, both with an address of 1516 N Delaware in Indianapolis. The document also listed the CFO as Father Phillip Tolbert, with a California address. Yet the Lucas book indicated that Stevan Bauman was the first chair of the CSB Brotherhood Council,[8] and that Father Phillip Tolbert was among the first priests chosen to administer CSB parishes. In addition, an article that appeared in the SF Weekly in 1999 named Father “Steven” Bauman as the President of CSB.[9] Similarly, in Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen), Mary Lee was listed as the contact for the “outreach center of ancient Eastern Christianity” located at 1516 N Delaware in Indianapolis.[10] And finally, a 1992 article in the SF Chronicle named Father Phillip Tolbert as a national leader in CSB, and the pastor of the CSB church on Duboce Street in San Francisco.[11]

Moreover, although Hieromonk Jonah described Christ the Saviour Brotherhood as the Order’s “new identity,” that entity remained an enigma. An online search for any active business by that name yielded only a yellow page listing in Indianapolis with an address of 1516 N Delaware.[12] But that address was the mailing address for HOOM.[13] As late as November 15, 2000, HOOM held title to that piece of property as well.[14] CSB, on the other hand, appeared to own no real estate.[15] There was also no listing for CSB on the national database of nonprofit organizations, although the Order was listed.[16] In this context, what Hieromonk Jonah meant when he said that CSB was “now redefining itself as an organization” was decidedly unclear.

With the Brotherhood’s acceptance into canonical Orthodoxy this past fall, Hieromonk Jonah also claimed that it was no longer “unto itself, no longer a communal semi-monastic movement. No longer (were) the members of the CSB even in the same jurisdiction.” Yet the following statement consistently appeared on the Brotherhood’s website while it still existed: “Membership in Christ the Saviour Brotherhood is available to all adult baptized Orthodox Christians who wish to dedicate themselves to Christ through the mission and spiritual striving of the Brotherhood.”[17]

To illustrate, the Very Reverend Matthew Tate, who in 1995 was received into the Orthodox Church in America from CSB, acknowledged to a San Francisco reporter in 1999 that he still considered himself to be a member. “‘The Christ the Saviour Brotherhood is not a church,’ he explain(ed). ‘It’s a kind of para-church organization. It is not geared toward any particular jurisdiction.'”[18]

If the foregoing was not troubling enough, as quoted in the Lucas book Vincent (Master Andrew) Rossi, the HOOM leader who engineered the 1988 baptisms, wrote, “The order was a ‘wild olive branch,’ … whose vitality was being grafted onto the ‘proven root stock’ of the church. Although the church was the ‘pillar and ground of the Truth,’ it required the wild branch of the order to help it nourish its flock in the present age.” [19] (Emphasis added.)

Under the circumstances, Orthodox Christians should question whether these HOOM converts came to the canonical church to save themselves, or, as Lucas also cited Rossi as having written, to “fulfill the Order through Orthodoxy.”[20] But there are other aspects of the Order’s thirty-year trek that should alarm all true believers.

Openly HOOM

Hieromonk Jonah characterized the original HOOM incarnation as quasi-monastic communities with “strict personal discipline, liturgical life, and teaching.” Yet there were indications even then that the Order hid what they did not want the public to know, particularly when there were lapses of “personal discipline.”

An article by the Rev. Lester Kinsolving, published in the San Francisco Examiner in December of 1972, disclosed that HOOM’s founder, Father Paul (Earl Wilbur) Blighton, had been convicted of practicing medicine without a license in Rochester, New York in 1946. Father Paul had also been convicted of non-support of his first wife and their child in 1949. Rev. Lester went on to add that Father Paul was in fact still wanted by the Rochester police for jumping bail in 1951 on another charge of practicing medicine without a license. These revelations were embarrassing to the Order. In October of 1972 Father Paul had told the Examiner that he came to California in 1948, and at the same time he had made no mention of his minor criminal record in the biographical statement he provided.[21] However, by October of 1973 Father Paul had found a positive spin to put on his personal failings, once they were no longer hidden. He told Newsweek’s William Cook that, “Every one of the apostles got thrown into prison, yet the church honored and sainted them.”[22]

Following Father Paul’s death an additional allegation of indiscretion became public. A 1992 article by another San Francisco newsman, Don Lattin, reported that Father Paul was believed by his followers to be the father of the illegitimate child who was born to the abbess of his celibate order for women, the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Mary. According to the man appointed by Father Paul as the abbot of his celibate men’s order, the Brown Brothers of the Holy Light, “We all knew it was him, but he just lied. He tried to tell us it was an immaculate conception, but we just told him to knock it off.”[23] The child’s birth certificate gave the mother’s age as 21.[24] Father Paul was almost 73 at the time,[25] and married to his second wife.

Not withstanding Father Paul’s real and alleged failings, he was widely believed by his followers to be a spiritual adept. Upon his death on Good Friday in 1974, the HOOM membership waited three days before reporting it, convinced that Father Paul would be resurrected on Easter Sunday.[26] This veneration of the worldly founder of the Order appeared to have survived the 1988 conversion to “Orthodoxy.” In 1999 a man who said that he resided at 20 Steiner Street, HOOM headquarters,[27] wrote in a private e-mail that Father Paul’s office there was still preserved as much as possible in its original state.[28]

With Father Paul’s death, the torch of leadership was naturally passed to those the HOOM founder had brought into his inner circle. In his 1992 Ph.D. dissertation, Phillip Charles Lucas quoted one follower’s observation that Father Paul favored those who approached life in the same way that he did. According to this HOOM member, Father Paul told him, “Give me one person that will take a chance, even though it’s wrong, or doesn’t turn out right . . . over ten of these people who just want to be good.”[29] (Emphasis supplied.)

After a four-year power struggle, Vincent Rossi assumed firm control of the Order. However, another event occurred that year that profoundly influenced HOOM’s history. Jim Jones massacred his followers at Jonestown. Following this tragedy, the Order found itself compared unfavorably with the People’s Temple, and on several lists of “cult groups.” Although Hieromonk Jonah ignored the impact of this negative publicity, an HOOM member acknowledged that it spurred the Order to develop a more traditional Christian appearance.[30]

As Rossi then struggled to downplay the early gnostic character of HOOM and some of its more controversial beliefs, such as reincarnation, the rank and file was left with two options, leave or adapt to the new program. Those who elected to stay had, as Lucas wrote in his book, “persuasive reasons to choose this option…. Remaining within the brotherhood, however, often exacted a heavy psychological toll: by consistently sacrificing their own desires and viewpoints, members risked losing all sense of self-determination and individuality and becoming passive, faceless, and obedient servants of the group’s leadership.”[31]

While the elect of the Order appeared to turn its belief system on its head, two elements of the earlier theology clearly remained intact. Those in positions of authority continued to wield tremendous influence over the lives of their followers, and, as even Hieromonk Jonah admitted, the group retained the conviction that HOOM possessed a unique and elite vision of Christianity.

Contact with St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood

While searching for a new direction for the Order, Vincent Rossi came across the writings of Father Seraphim Rose and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, and ultimately decided that Orthodoxy would work well with HOOM’s need for a more traditional Christian appearance. With this in mind, Rossi arranged to meet the Brotherhood’s surviving founder, Father Herman (Gleb) Podmoshensky in late 1983. According to the Lucas book, despite Rossi’s personal willingness to embrace Orthodoxy immediately, he was advised by Father Herman to retain his position in HOOM while the Order underwent conversion.[32]

In an unforeseen blow to Rossi’s plans for HOOM, Father Herman was suspended from the priesthood by an ecclesiastical court of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia shortly after their meeting in 1983. Hieromonk Jonah attributed this suspension to Father Herman’s lack of direction after the death of his partner, Father Seraphim. He neglected to mention that it also followed in the wake of charges of moral impropriety. A priest close to the Platina brotherhood claimed that these allegations first arose before Father Seraphim’s repose and were known to him. He speculated that the charges explained in part the breach he observed in the relationship between the two founders of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood shortly before Father Seraphim’s death.[33]

Although the ecclesiastical court never made any findings with regard to the moral charges, Father Herman was deposed in 1984* for disobedience. Despite his suspension, Father Herman had continued to serve the sacraments and had refused to cooperate with ROCOR’s investigation of the alleged indiscretions. Even Hieromonk Jonah acknowledged that most of the monks left the brotherhood at this point, rather than join Father Herman in his disobedience.

Rossi was then in an awkward position. He had found a new spiritual guide and a new direction for HOOM, but Father Herman was no longer considered a priest in Orthodox circles. At the same time, in his discussions with the canonical jurisdictions, Rossi had discovered that while individual members of the Order were welcome to renounce their heretical past and join existing parishes, no bishop was willing to accept HOOM as an independent brotherhood.[34]

Rossi ultimately decided to throw his lot in with Father Herman and eschew the canonical Church. Father Herman needed to acquire new followers, and, as Hieromonk Jonah noted, Father Herman’s view that his decimated monastery was “a faithful remnant preserving the full integrity of the ancient Tradition in a hostile world” complemented the Order’s belief that they were ordained to lead humanity in the new millennium. In addition, by remaining outside of the Church, Rossi was able to maintain control of HOOM and its considerable assets.

Conversion to “Orthodoxy”

In early 1986 Father Herman was accepted under the omophorion of Bishop Benedict (Samuel A. Greene). The bishop was the founder of Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, Texas, and his diocese was part of the Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis. With Bishop Benedict’s support, Father Herman met with Metropolitan Pangratios Vrionis to discuss HOOM’s acceptance into his Archdiocese, although, as Hieromonk Jonah acknowledged, no Orthodox Church recognized the Metropolitan as a bishop. Ultimately, Rossi reached an agreement with Metropolitan Pangratios. The Metropolitan would become the Order’s bishop, but Rossi would remain the leader of HOOM. Father Herman, Bishop Benedict and Metropolitan Pangratios then began to train HOOM candidates for ordination.[35]

The Order was warned that joining Vasiloupolis would alienate it from the greater Orthodox community.[36] However, HOOM proceeded with its conversion to “Orthodoxy” in 1988. During its twelve years under Metropolitan Pangratios, the Order vigorously and arrogantly defended its “independent” status. The CSB website proclaimed, “Administrative and organizational structures may serve Christ’s Church, but do not alone comprise her. Especially this is true of the Orthodox Church in the New World, which suffers presently from the canonical irregularity of multi-jurisdictionalism and from the strong attack of anti-Christian forces.”[37]

But Vasiloupolis suffered not only from administrative irregularities, but also from the tarnished reputations of its leaders. As discussed above, Father Herman was deposed by ROCOR and left that jurisdiction with serious moral charges hanging over his head. Another canonical church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, had also deposed Metropolitan Pangratios.

In 1968 Pangratios Vrionis was a GOA priest serving a parish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. According to San Francisco reporter Don Lattin, the GOA Chancellor acknowledged that in 1970 Father Pangratios was defrocked for disobedience for leaving his parish and refusing to return. Although persistent rumors of moral indiscretions had followed the priest’s departure, the Chancellor claimed that there was nothing in the file to indicate why Father Pangratios had left his parish.[38]

Although HOOM was well aware of these problems when they aligned themselves with Vasiloupolis,[39] because both priests had been deposed for disobedience it was able to ignore the allegations of impropriety.[40]

However, in 1999 this clever defense began to unravel. First on the Indiana Orthodox list,[41] and then on a new website, Protection of the Theotokos,[42] Metropolitan Pangratios’ criminal record was placed before the public. He had pled guilty to two counts of sodomy and one count of corrupting the morals of minors in May of 1970, several months after his consecration. The Metropolitan had plied two fourteen years old boys with alcohol and then sodomized them in November of 1968, apparently fleeing the jurisdiction when a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1969.[43]

Also in 1999, Father (formerly Bishop) Benedict Greene was indicted on charges of child abuse. Benedict had left the Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis just as the first Order converts were ready to be baptized and the HOOM priests to be ordained. He was received into ROCOR in 1991 as a priest. Benedict was ultimately found guilty, the former bishop pleading guilty to the charges against him. Father Benedict was deposed by ROCOR for disobedience as well,* for refusing to cooperate with the investigation of the situation at COTH. [44]

Interestingly, with his 1988 departure from Vasiloupolis, Benedict impugned the Order’s motives for joining the vagante jurisdiction. According to Lucas, the former bishop was concerned because Father Herman and Rossi downplayed the role of the episcopacy in Orthodoxy, and because HOOM’s attitude was that they were on a mission from God to save the Orthodox. As a Vasiloupolis bishop, Benedict urged that certain changes to the agreement with the Metropolitan were necessary under the circumstances. He advocated placing the Order centers under the oversight of the diocesan bishops, which would bring the western HOOM groups under his control. When Metropolitan Pangratios sided with Father Herman and Rossi, refusing to adopt these proposals, Benedict withdrew from the Archdiocese.[45]

Under the circumstances, the Order should hardly have been shocked that their works were compromised, that their baptisms, chrismations and ordinations were considered invalid, and that they were not considered to be Orthodox. What was surprising was that until Metropolitan Pangratios’ felony convictions were publicized, some Orthodox accepted the HOOM membership as fellow believers.

Hieromonk Jonah was himself among these. In the winter of 1993 he left his position as editor of The Orthodox West, a publication of the OCA’s Diocese of the West, to go to Russia to participate in a publishing project under the auspices of CSB, Russky Palomnik Orthodox Mission.[46] According to the endeavor’s literature, “The mission team will live a brotherhood common life….”[47] Upon his return Hieromonk Jonah went back to the OCA.

However, after the revelations of 1999, this charade became unfeasible. Once again, the Order needed to reinvent itself, this time, as Hieromonk Jonah described them, as a group of “faithful people who had diligently sought the true Christ and the authentic Church” for thirty years. But, while distancing itself from Metropolitan Pangratios, HOOM rehabilitated Father Herman. Again, as set forth by Hieromonk Jonah, Father Herman nobly stepped aside from his leadership roles when he realized that he was standing in the way of the Order’s culmination of their long journey. Despite this representation, Father Herman remains the president of the Valaam Society, CSB’s publishing arm.[48]

Canonical Yes. Welcome?

The history of HOOM revealed a group with a strong grasp of the benefits of a good public image. However, like consummate spin-doctors, they did not hesitate to hide or to sacrifice the truth when it suited their purposes. The pattern began in the Order, Father Paul’s rocky relationship with the media being a prime example. Later when the aftermath of Jonestown dictated that a change was necessary, HOOM reinvented itself and supposedly became CSB.

However, this momentous change was predominantly cosmetic. The clothing, prayers and rituals were different. But HOOM still existed, and CSB apparently never assumed any definitive form. Moreover, some of the characteristics that had caused the Order to be considered a cult were unchanged. The group’s elitism remained, as did the emphasis on obedience and the reverence for discredited leaders with tarnished images. Perhaps, like the preservation of Father Paul’s room, other patterns survived beneath the surface.

When this new incarnation became untenable as well, HOOM sought to reinvent itself again. With the assistance of a handful of bishops, last year the Order finally succeeded in gaining a legitimate claim to Orthodoxy. According to Hieromonk Jonah, twenty-five men who spent as many as thirty years following leaders with dubious morals have already been ordained, and more will follow. Non-priests trained these men in “Orthodoxy”, and the most influential of these, Father Herman, was accused of having questionable theology. The same people who consciously rejected the authentic Church in the late eighties and who consistently demanded an obedient, subservient laity have been uncritically accepted as Orthodox leaders.

At the same time, the purposes behind the continued existence of the corporate entity called HOOM were unquestioned. The ties of the sometime jurisdiction sometime transjurisdictional brotherhood of CSB to HOOM were ignored. The spiritual pretensions of both HOOM and CSB and the implications of this elitism for Orthodoxy were unexplored.

At this juncture, Hieromonk Jonah implored the Orthodox to joyfully welcome the Order into the life and communion of the Church. Echoing HOOM’s belief in its own superiority, he emphasized that the Church had a lot to learn from its membership. Of course, with this complete acceptance, those troubling questions as to whether the Order had its own agenda for becoming Orthodox would hopefully be laid to rest once and for all.

Orthodox Christians in the past prayerfully followed their own consciences, even when that meant they were at odds with their bishops. Considering the undisclosed, but important, details that were omitted in “The Doors of Repentance” and overlooked by those who received CSB, perhaps that power needed to be exercised again. Hieromonk Jonah’s article urged believers to reject this option, to shut their eyes to any lingering questions and to simply open their arms to HOOM.

However, God’s people were exhorted to be “wise as serpents.” So far, the Order has only demonstrated that it is an expert in the manipulation of public opinion. Much more should be required before the fatted calf is killed.

Corrections:

*Father Herman was suspended in 1984: he was defrocked in 1988.

**According to sources in ROCOR, Father Benedict was suspended by ROCOR, but he was never formally deposed.

———————————————————————–

Editor’s Note: Melanie Jula Sakoda graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in 1975 and Stanford Law School in 1979. In 1979 she was admitted to the State Bar of California, of which she is currently an inactive member. Ms. Sakoda’s interest in The Holy Order of MANS began in 1991, when she discovered that a convert to Orthodoxy from The Holy Order of MANS had molested children in her parish. In 1999 she was one of the three founders of Protection of the Theotokos website. The views expressed in this article are her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Orthodox News.

Footnotes

1. Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995)
2. http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/corpdata/ShowAllList?QueryCorpNumber=C0549870
3. Ibid.
4. http://www.knowx.com/
5. http://www.guidestar.org/; Certified California Secretary of State Records, 10/17/2000.
6. Certified California Secretary of State Records, 10/17/2000.
7. Ibid.
8. Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion, 228, 230.
9. http://www.sfweekly.com/issues/1999-12-22/feature2.html/page3.html
10. Christensen, Christ the Eternal Tao (Platina CA: Valaam Books, 1999) 550.
11. Lattin, Don, “Suddenly Orthodox,” San Francisco Chronicle This World, May 31, 1992, 7,10 & 11.
12. http://www.knowx.com/
13. http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/corpdata/ShowAllList?QueryCorpNumber=C0549870
14. http://www.knowx.com/
15. Ibid.
16. http://www.guidestar.org/
17. http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/holymans.html
18. http://www.sfweekly.com/issues/1999-12-22/feature2.html/page3.html
19. Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion, 221.
20. Ibid.
21. Kinsolving, “Trials of Founder of Order of Mans,” San Francisco Examiner, December 24, 1972, I-4.
22. “Coed Monastery,” Newsweek, October 1, 1973, 71.
23. Lattin, “Suddenly Orthodox,” 10.
24. State Birth Certificate Number 104-73-011438.
25. http://userdb.rootsweb.com/ca/death/search.cgi
26. http://www.sfweekly.com/issues/1999-12-22/feature2.html/page2.html
27. Certified California Secretary of State Records, 10/17/2000.
28. Private e-mail, January 8, 1999.
29. Lucas, From New Age milennium to Orthodox restoration, UC Santa Barbara, 1992, 119-120.
30. Lattin, “Suddenly Orthodox,” 10.
31. Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion, 255.
32. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 199.
33. http://www.roca.org/oa/126-127/126p.htm
34. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 213.
35. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 214-215, 221.
36. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 218-219, 223.
37. http://www.sfweekly.com/issues/1999-12-22/feature2.html/page3.html
38. Lattin, “Suddenly Orthodox,” 10.
39. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 218-219, 223.
40. Lattin, “Suddenly Orthodox,” 10-11.
41. http://listserv.indiana.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9904C&L=orthodox&P=R1843
42. https://www.pokrov.org/
43. Commonwealth v. Vrionis, Dauphin County Pennsylvania, Case Numbers 1378 and 1377 (1970).
44. http://208.238.180.42/pgreene.html
45. Lucas, Odyssey of a New Religion, 222.
46. Paffhausen, “Missions Philosophy,” The Orthodox West, Fall 1992/Winter 1993, 2.
47. Pamphlet, “American Orthodox Mission to Russia.”
48. http://www.guidestar.org/