Chicago native quits as leader of American Orthodox Church
The Chicago native elected to the helm of the Orthodox Church in America resigned over the weekend, saying in a letter that he has ”neither the personality nor the temperament” to lead the church.
Metropolitan Jonah submitted his resignation during a conference call Saturday with other bishops of the church. In his letter of resignation, he said he was leaving the post in response to the unanimous request of the bishops.
”I had come to the realization long ago that I have neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of primate, a position I never sought nor desired,” he wrote in the letter.
The letter was written Friday in his Washington home and witnessed by the Orthodox Church in America’s chancellor, according to a statement from the church. On Monday, the church announced that Detroit Archbishop Nathaniel would serve as the interim replacement.
Elected in late 2008 to lead one of several branches of Orthodox Christianity in the United States, Metropolitan Jonah had been a bishop for 12 days when he became primate. Parishioners looked to him for reforms after his predecessor retired amid allegations that millions of church dollars were used to cover personal expenses.
”People were looking for that new wind of leadership that he seemed to embody,” said the Rev. John Adamcio, rector at Holy Trinity Cathedral, the seat of the Chicago Diocese. ”He was under an awful lot of pressure to right the ship and keep the church on course.”
Metropolitan Jonah didn’t just try to correct the course. He also tried to shift the direction of the Orthodox Church in America, part of a constellation of churches separate from the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century.
He insisted on amplifying the church’s voice in the public square, moving the church’s headquarters from Syosset, N.Y., to Washington and speaking up against abortion rights. In 2009 he led a handful of Orthodox clergy to sign the Manhattan Declaration, a pledge to disobey laws that could force religious institutions to participate in abortions or bless same-sex couples.
The Rev. Mark Arey, director of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said Metropolitan Jonah’s approach was not typical of Orthodox Christianity. ”Orthodoxy is not in favor of abortion, but we don’t campaign in the same way you see evangelical groups,” Arey said.
But the Rev. Johannes Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute, agreed with the primate’s foray into politics.
”He saw what needed to be said, and he wasn’t afraid to say it,” said Jacobse, an Antiochian Orthodox priest. ”That kind of independence is threatening to a church that has operated by the same rules and assumptions for a long time. Part of this, too, was he represented a cultural shift inside the church that some thought should not have taken place.”
When Russia became a communist and atheist nation in the early 20th century, Russian Orthodox faithful in the U.S. organized a self-governing church in communion with and independent of the patriarch of Constantinople. That church was renamed the Orthodox Church in America in 1970.
”What we are witnessing now in my opinion is the result of the disconnectedness of the Orthodox Church in America from the rest of the Orthodox world,” Arey said. ”Its internal politics have almost become cannibalistic in my opinion.”
Mark Stokoe, former editor of the website for Orthodox Christians for Accountability and a former member of the church’s Metropolitan Council, said tension has been brewing for four years because of Metropolitan Jonah’s failure to follow procedures.
Born James Paffhausen, Metropolitan Jonah was baptized at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago.
He discovered the Orthodox strand of Christianity during college at the University of California at San Diego. A book about mystical theology affirmed his concerns about the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in 1978 and led him to convert that same year.
”A church should be stable. There shouldn’t be that kind of turmoil,” Metropolitan Jonah said during an interview with the Tribune in July 2009. ”Intuitively, I had to become Orthodox.”
While working in Russia as a doctoral candidate, he fell in love with the monastic tradition.
In his letter to bishops over the weekend, Metropolitan Jonah ”begged forgiveness for however I have offended you, and for whatever difficulties have arisen from my own inadequacies and mistakes in judgment.”