OCA Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos Monastery (Weaverville, NC)

The Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos Monastery was founded in 1982. At the time, it was called the Monastery of the Exultation of the Most Holy Cross, it was affiliated with the Eastern Catholic Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic in New Jersey, and it was located in Miami, Florida.

In 1985, the monastery began a school, Holy Cross Academy. Among the students at the academy were novice monks, teenagers from the Ukraine who had all been brought to Miami by the monastic brotherhood.

In March of 2001 one of the novice monks, Mykhaylo Kofel, murdered a nun, Michelle Lewis. This young man from the Ukraine confessed to the brutal murder shortly after his arrest.

However, Kofel also claimed that he had been subjected to sexual abuse by the monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Gregory Wendt, and by the abbot’s right hand man, Fr. Damian Gibault. Both monks have denied these allegations, and no charges have ever been filed against them. Moreover, the other novices testified that they were not abused, and that they did not observe Kofel being abused.

On October 27, 2003, with the criminal case against Kofel still unresolved, the monastery was accepted into the Orthodox Church in America by Metropolitan Herman Swaiko. The group also adopted a new name, the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos Monastery.

In response, the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami sent out a bulletin telling their faithful that liturgy at the monastery was no longer considered to be participating in a Catholic mass. Although the monastery solicited among the Orthodox in the area for new students, the academy was forced to close in 2004.

Kofel’s guilty plea was accepted by the state of Florida in February of 2005, and he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. After his release, he will be deported to the Ukraine.

The unusually light sentence was the product of months of negotiations between prosecutors and Kofel’s defense attorney. According to newspaper accounts at the time, while the state wanted to adequately punish the novice for his crime, it also believed that Kofel had been abused, and that this abuse was a mitigating circumstance.

Following sentencing, Kofel gave a statement to law enforcement concerning his alleged abuse. This statement is a matter of public record and is linked below.

Also after Kofel’s sentencing, the monastery relocated to Weaverville, North Carolina.

According to the OCA’s pastoral changes for February, 2012, the monastery and the 3 clergymen attached to it were released to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, effective October 25, 2011.