New leader of Orthodox Church in America is UC Santa Cruz graduate

Author: J.M. Brown
Date Published: 11/13/2008
Bishop Jonah Paffhausen
Bishop Jonah Paffhausen

SANTA CRUZ – A UC Santa Cruz graduate has been named archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America and Canada.

Bishop Jonah Paffhausen, who graduated from UCSC after founding an Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus, was named Wednesday to the top post at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh. After he is installed by the Holy Synod of Bishops at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington next month, he will oversee an American church membership of at least 500,000.

Longtime friends from Santa Cruz County said the 49-year-old bishop has the ability and humility to serve the entire church, which means ironing out a well-publicized financial scandal involving misuse of church funds and bridging gaps between various sectors of the orthodox faith, including the Greek, Arab and Russian Orthodox churches.

“His election points to a very strong determination to change the way things have been done in the past,” the Rev. Mel Webber, the pastor of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Cruz for 11 years, said in a phone interview from Pittsburgh Thursday. “He’s got the skills to become one of the most enlightened leaders this church has seen in a long time.”

Paffhausen had been serving in a monastery he founded near Redding when, in recent months, he was elevated to bishop and transferred to Texas. He was consecrated as the bishop of Fort Worth and auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of the South on Nov. 1 before being selected


to lead the church.

Dan E. Nicholas, a Santa Cruz insurance and financial adviser who has known Paffhausen for many years, said Paffhausen’s job will be a challenging one, but one he will perform well because of his likability.

“I can’t think of one person who isn’t totally shocked and elated that they picked someone this young, and he is a real go-getter,” Nicholas said. “He loves young people. My kids used to go to him for counseling. He’s very approachable.”

According to the head church’s communications office, Paffhausen, whose was born with the first name of James, came to UCSC as a transfer student from UC San Diego. UCSC was not able to provide information about Paffhausen’s exact graduation date or area of study.

Paffhausen was attending the council meeting in Pittsburgh and did not immediately return an e-mail Thursday.

After growing up in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, the Chicago native was first received into the Russian Orthodox Church in San Diego in 1979. After fully converting to orthodoxy following a talk at UCSC by orthodox icon Seraphim Rose, friends said Paffhausen had long tried to open a monastery in Santa Cruz, but could not find the right location.

Paffhausen eventually founded a monastery at Point Reyes Station that was later moved to Manton, outside Redding. After Paffhausen was sent to Forth Worth, he was replaced by Webber.

Paffhausen, whose official title will be archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, earned two degrees from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York before working on his Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He took a break during those studies to work in Russia, where he later joined Valaam Monastery and became a monk.

The Rev. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook, senior priest at the St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church in Felton, said he developed a close friendship with Paffhausen after the two visited Russia in 1994.

“The most powerful thing about Father Jonah is he is truly a friend and loving to people regardless if he agrees with them or not,” Hardenbrook said. “He has amazingly consistent vision for orthodoxy in America.”

Paffhausen, who visited the Felton church regularly, is known for tackling tough subjects like gender, sexuality and shame. As a monastic who took a vow of celibacy, “the topics he would teach on were very bold,” Hardenbrook said.

In 2006, an investigation by leaders of the Orthodox Church in America confirmed misuse of church funds dating back to 1998. The church is still reeling from the scandal, which was uncovered when a treasurer made claims that two church leaders were corrupt.

Contact J.M. Brown at 429-2410 or