+Jonah Placed on Leave of Absence by Synod
• Archbishop Nathaniel, as senior hierarch, named Temporary Administrator
• Fate of Fr. Garklavs, Chancellor, as yet unconfirmed
According to a report from Geneva on the Greek website Romofea.org late last evening, citing “exclusive information” from unamed sources, Metropolitan Jonah has been removed as the Primate, and Archbishop Nathaniel has been named Temporary Administrator by the OCA Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the day the retired Bishop of Los Angeles, Tikhon posted a short note on the web saying “Metropolitan Jonah…. has been given the “Bishop Nikolai’ treatment——mandatory leave of absence. Archbishop Nathaniel Popp has been named to temporarily fill the spot of First Hierarch.Bishop Melchizedek has been named as Chancellor, replacing the Archpriest, Alexander Garklavs.” Neither story has been confirmed or denied by OCA.org.
OCANews.org has, however, confirmed with mulitple sources that Metropolitan Jonah has indeed been placed on a leave of absence, and that indeed +Nathaniel has been named as a temporary replacement. However, the fate of Fr. Garklavs is as yet unclear. According to sources close to Syosset, Bishop Michael (Dahulich) was to travel to Syosset this morning to discuss the Synod’s decisions with Fr. Garklavs. (Fr. Garklavs returned from Santa Fe yesterday before the Synodal retreat was concluded.) Bishop Melchizedek, named by +Tikhon as Garklav’s replacement, was unavailable for comment as he is currently on a train travelling back to Pittsburgh from Santa Fe.
How Did This Happen?
The decision of the OCA Synod, composed of six diocesan bishops and two diocesan Administrators ( who participate, but do not yet vote), gathered for their annual pre-Lenten retreat, to ask the Primate to step aside, is a shock, but not a surprise. Since his enthronement some 26 months ago Metropolitan Jonah has experienced growing trouble in his own diocese, refused the advice and professional counsel of official Church committees, increasingly refused to cooperate with the governing bodies of the OCA (including the staff in Syosset and the Metropolitan Council), alienated several sister Orthodox Churches, and finally, challenged the Synod itself. Multiple attempts by his staff, the Metropolitan Council and its members, individual bishops, and finally the Synod itself, to intervene with the Metropolitan, personally and corporately over the past 18 months failed to convince him to alter his leadership style, decisions, practices or actions – actions that, in the eyes of many in positions of responsibility in the OCA were causing irreparable harm to the structures and status of the OCA.
The Fight Over – and With – Syosset
Three events in January-February 2011 brought his increasingly problematic leadership to the crisis point. With the advent of the new year the Metropolitan, who had long proclaimed in public that the atmosphere in Syosset had become “toxic”, expressed his desire to replace the Chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, with a person of his own choosing, and then quickly move the administration to Washington DC. (The Metropolitan Council has previously voted unanimously not to fund any move to DC at this time, nor entertain consideration of such until after the Strategic Plan was developed, following the Seattle All-American Council in November, 2011.) The Metropolitan’s long-standing antipathy to Fr. Garklavs (who was frequently charged with telling the Metropolitan that his wishes could not be fulfilled immediately due to financial, statutory or legal considerations) was well known. The Metropolitan had often floated the name of Fr. David Brum (Metropolitan Theodosius’ and Metropolitan Herman’s former Secretary, who the SIC report described as part of Kondratick’s “inner circle”) as a possible replacement, as well as the name of Fr. Joseph Fester (Fr. Kondratick’s former Secretary) whom he recently appointed Dean of the Washington, DC cathedral.
However, the appointment of the officers of the OCA (Chancellor, Secretary, Treasurer) according to the OCA Statute, rests with “…the Synod, upon recommendation by the Metropolitan Council” – not the Metropolitan himself. Members of the Synod, it is reported, attempted to dissuade the Metropolitan from precipitous action at this time, pointing out that the Metropolitan Council would not look kindly on such changes now, especially since the DC move had been discussed at length already. And to remove Fr. Garklavs, especially under a cloud of conflict, would be a potentially crippling blow to the OCA just 7 months from an All-American Council. It was suggested to delay such a decision until after the AAC, when, according to tradition, the Metropolitan nominates new officers for the upcoming triennium, and an orderly transition would be possible.
Nevertheless, in mid-January, the Metropolitan publicly called for a “Special Synodal Committee “to meet on February 3rd in DC, which in the words of the OCA press release was to discuss “….a variety of issues associated with a possible move of the Orthodox Church in America’s Chancery to Washington, DC”. Privately, the Metropolitan, Bishop Benjamin (a member of the Special Synodal Committee”) and Fr. Garklavs actually met with a candidate suggested by +Jonah as a replacement for Fr. Garklavs.
The meetings did not go very well for the Metropolitan. After the meeting another OCA press release was issued stating :“A report (on the feasibility of moving to DC) will be prepared after a complete and thorough study,” which will then “….be presented to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council for review and guidance. No deadline has been established for issuing the report.” Moreover, the replacement candidate, another priest with close ties to Kondratick, withdrew his name from consideration.
The Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee Report
The second event was even more potentially serious. Since its establishment in 2009 as part of the settlement with Reader Paul Sidebottom in the wake of the EEOC ruling regarding events in Alaska (Read that story here) the OCA Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC) has labored to create a new policy and establish better practices throughout the OCA regarding the handling of sexual misconduct issues. Its members, all appointed by Metropolitan Jonah, include its Chairman, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Fr. Eric Tosi – OCA Secretary; Frs.Theodore Bobosh (Metropolitan Council) and Michael Matsko (a licensed forsenic sexual misconduct investigator) ; Protodeacon Peter Danilchick (Metropolitan Council) ; Dr. Nikita Eike (a clinical pyschiatrist) ; and Mr. James Spencer, Esq, the lawyer who represented Mr. Sidebottom.
According to sources close to the Committee, the Committee has discussed mass resignation in protest at least twice in the past year due to the actions – and inaction – of Metropolitan Jonah regarding these issues. In both instances, Fr. Garklavs has been outspoken in dissuading the Committee from such a course, citing the “harm” it would do to the Church. Rather than resign, the Committee has spent the last weeks writing a confidential report on Jonah’s actions, and inactions, addressing their concerns to the Synod.
This multi-page report, signed by all the Committee members (including Fr. Garklavs and Tosi)was emailed to the Synod on February 10, 2011. Among the topics covered were issues relating to the allegations against Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa; issues surrounding Fr. Symeon Kharon, a monastic who, together with and a group of nuns from Greece, was brought by the Metropolitan to start a monastery in the DC area; issues surrounding Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain); the Committee’s concern with the Metropolitan’s unilateral appointment of an investigator for clergy sexual misconduct they felt was unqualified; and other, related concerns. The highly critical report suggested no specific action by the Synod, but warned the OCA was courting pastoral, legal and professional troubles if the Metropolitan’s actions – and inaction – were allowed to continue unchecked.
Confrontation in Syosset
The Metropolitan received the report while he was in Dallas with Russian Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev) for a performance of Alfayev’s Oratorio. Upon reading the SMPAC Report, an angry Jonah abandoned +Hilarion, and flew back to New York on a “red eye” to confront Fr. Garklavs, who he felt was “behind” this Committee’s criticisms, and was “disloyal” because he did not share the Committee’s confidential report with him privately before it was sent to whole Synod. In the middle of the night +Jonah ordered Fr. Garklav’s access to his computers at Syosset shut down as well as his email account. The following afternoon, Friday, February 11th, taking Bishop Michael (Dahulich) as a witness, +Jonah went to Syosset and attempted to fire Fr. Garklavs, sacking him for “insubordination”. Fr. Garklavs refused to accept the dismissal – citing the provisions of the Statute – and appealed to the whole Synod. Garklav’s was then told by the Synod that he would be allowed to attend the episcopal meeting in Santa Fe in 10 days to explain his actions – as would +Jonah. Stymied, +Jonah restored Garklav’s computer access.
Jonah’s Anger Continues
+Jonah, however, was not finished. He also moved against Bishop Benjamin, who he felt was behind growing criticism of him on the Synod. Jonah instructed Fr. Jensen, the new Sexual Misconduct investigator for the OCA (the one whom the SMPAC had expressed reservations) to immediately launch an investigation of Bishop Benjamin, on the basis of allegations contained in letters attributed to the disgraced Bishop Nikolai of Sitka – letters that had heretofore been laregely ignored since there were first posted on the internet months ago.*
Meanwhile, the SMPAC members , learning of +Jonah’s retaliatory action against Fr. Garklavs, began discussing filing Ethics charges against +Jonah under the Best Practices Whistleblower provisions, standards which +Jonah himself had signed. Several members of the MC began similar preparations to be offered at their meeting in two weeks.
+ Jonah’s Report From Russia
These events – +Jonah’s attempted move to Washington, the SMPAC report, the attempted firing of Garklavs, the investigation of +Benjamin – were not the only things roiling the waters for the OCA Synod. For many in the OCA governing circles, Jonah’s own report of his actions during a January 2011 trip to Moscow, offered in an early February report to the Synod, were as troubling as his inactions discussed in the SMPAC.
+Jonah originally billed this trip as an “official visit”, meaning he claimed he was invited by the Russian Church. When challenged as to whether the Russians would invite him for the third time in 18 months, +Jonah revised his statement saying that it was “semi-official” insofar as he planned to meet with Metropolitan Hilarion and the Patriarch. He later admitted that it was not at the latter’s invitation, but at his own request. Moscow, in its press release, described the visit as “private”.
The Synod expressed its concern at yet another “private” meeting between the three, especially in light of the Metropolitan recent statements that the OCA should consider “redefining” autocephaly in favor of rejoining the Russian Church with “maximal autonomy”. The Synod then ordered Bishop Melchizedek of Pittsburgh to accompany the Metropolitan to Russia, as the “eyes and ears” of an skeptical Synod to make sure +Jonah, as they say, did not “give away the store”.
He did not – but in his report to the Synod about the trip +Jonah did tell how he envisioned his store – the OCA – to look in the future.
• The Metropolitan stated that he told Patriarch Kyrill that the “biggest challenges” the OCA faces “…are ecclesiological: the challenge from within, of an ecclesiology understood through the lens of the 1917 Council and academic theology, a democratic interpretation of Conciliarity combined with a strong anti-episcopal Congregationalist mentality.”
• The Metropolitan claimed to have garnered the Patriarch’s approval that there should be “only one agenda” in the OCA – “the Metropolitan’s” – and that it was “the duty” of the Synod to support him.
• The Metropolitan then described his hopes for a monastery in the Washington DC area the “goal and purpose” of which would be “the preparation of bishops and other leaders of the church” through cooperation with the Patriarchal Department of External Affairs and the Graduate Program (Aspirantura) in Moscow. It would be, in Jonah’s words, “a tremendous opportunity for co-operation with Moscow”.
• The Metropolitan concluded his report by stating that, given the above, it was his “right” to chose his own senior staff, so as to be able “to be surrounded by loyal young men.”
Clearly, +Jonah’s report raised more questions than it answered.
• What was the real purpose of +Jonah’s proposed new monastery in DC? Did creating a Washington monastery in conjunction with the Russian Church’s Department of External Relations mean that young Russian monastics would be trained for leadership service in the OCA? Did that mean that the preparation of bishops and other leaders of the OCA would now also occur in Moscow as well? What, then, if any, is the role of the three OCA seminaries in training our future leaders? Or are future leadership opportunities to be simply for monastics in the OCA +Jonah envisioned?
• Is it true to say there should be only “one agenda”, that of the Metropolitan, in the OCA, and that it is the “duty” of the Bishops to support it?
• Is it wise for any leader, let alone an Orthodox Primate, to demand as a “right” to be surrounded by “loyal young men”, who offer “unquestioning support”? What would such “unquestioning support” have meant for his 2009 plan to merge St. Tikhon’s Seminary with St. Vladimir’s Seminary? Or for his 2010 notion that the autocephaly of the OCA is “relative,” and that the OCA should “redefine“ it as “maximal autonomy” with the Moscow Patriarchate instead? Or for his 2011 attempt to replace the staff and move the OCA Chancery to Washington, DC without even seeking consensus?
• Does +Jonah really think that the All American Councils represents “congregationalism”, or that our diocesan councils, or our parishes council, are rampant with“anti-episcopal” feeling? Was he really that out of touch with OCA history, traditions and policies?
• What happened to the man who boldly stated in 2008 that the Church “had been raped” by its two previous Metropolitans, and that “Authority is responsibility”, thereby promising a new day?
It turns out he holds, in private, exactly the same autocratic views as his predecessors – without their commitment to an independent OCA.
Showdown in Santa Fe?
Taken together – for both reports appeared in early February – as well as Jonah’s attempted firing of Garklavs and investigation of Bishop Benjamin – the Synod was forced to finally deal with the “issue” of Metropolitan Jonah – rather than deal with a planned agenda, which included +Jonah’s idea to restructure all the dioceses.
Not that this was the first time +Jonah was the major topic of conversation, though. Over the past two years the Metropolitan Council has had two (as one colorful MC member described them) “Come to Jesus” meetings with the Metropolitan concerning his actions/inaction. The Synod, according to sources close to the Synod, had already had more than that number.
And now , yet another. The question that faced the Synod, this time, was not just +Jonah’s poor decisions, for which he offered constant denials, and when confronted, the constant excuse of “lack of training” and “lack of experience”, but rather, his constant refusal to perceive any concerns, or even any restrictions on his actions, apart from his own desires.
For example: in Lent 2009 the Metropolitan made controversial comments concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Dallas during a Sunday of Orthodoxy service. The comments attracted world-wide attention via YouTube, and severely damaged OCA-Constantinople relations, to the point the new Metropolitan’s planned trip to Istanbul was cancelled, OCA participation in the then-upcoming Episcopal Assembly was curtailed, and the OCA forced to apologize for the remarks.
When asked to explain why he did such a thing the Metropolitan denied he said anything untoward, and when challenged, stated he was misunderstood and that what was heard was not what he intended. And yet, in fact, it was what was exactly what he intended. It only later emerged that the Metropolitan had been repeatedly warned by senior advisors in the OCA not to make those specific remarks for fear of precisely what did, in fact, happen. He had his agenda and would not be deterred.
And so, too, with his refusal to even visit Syosset during much of 2009 -2010, his plans for moving to DC, his plans for the DC monastery, the unilateral signing of the Manhattan declaration, etc., etc.,etc.
The growing fear among the governing bodies of the OCA was that +Jonah would not change – but that he could not change. And that was not sustainable.
The Synod Decides
Thus the Synod gathered in Santa Fe on Monday, February 21st, at a luxury spa resort hotel chosen by the Metropolitan (La Fonda, overlooking the Plaza) to decide Garklav’s fate, and that of +Jonah, and beyond them, the fate of the OCA. +Jonah was well aware his Metropolitanate was in serious trouble as he flew to Santa Fe. Last week at the Diocese of the South’s Pastoral Conference in Mississippi the Metropolitan spoke openly to the assembled clergy and laity that “a small group” was seeking to “replace” him.*
That “small group” turned out to be the Synod of the OCA.
• OCA News.org has never published these letters as their authenticity could not be verified, as Bishop Nikolai has never claimed them as his own. Moreover, if the retired Bishop really had serious canonical allegations against Bishop Benjamin he knew how and where to file charges with the appropriate Church authorities. He has never done so.
* At that same meeting Jonah also warned that DOS gathering against visiting “pornographic” websites “like OCANews.org.” In fact, he repeated the word “pornographic”, for added emphasis. As they say, “Plus ca change….