New Orthodox leader has local ties

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Date Published: 11/15/2008
His Grace, Bishop Jonah Paffhausen of Fort Worth, leads a prayer service after his election as Metropolitan of All America and Canada on Wednesday.
His Grace, Bishop Jonah Paffhausen of Fort Worth, leads a prayer service after his election as Metropolitan of All America and Canada on Wednesday.

EUREKA — In a dramatic turn of events, the Rev. Jonah Paffhausen, spiritual adviser to St. Innocent Orthodox Church of Eureka, was elected Wednesday as the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and metropolitan of the entire Orthodox Church in America.

“Fr. Jonah was in town only a few months ago,” said the Rev. Laurence Cleenewerck, pastor of St. Innocent Orthodox Church, “noticed by many for wearing his black monastic robes in the coffee shops and engaging in conversation with anyone interested in spirituality.”

Paffhausen, the abbot of St. John’s Monastery in Manton (near Redding), was also a frequent lecturer in Eastern Christian monasticism and spirituality at Humboldt State University.

St. Innocent Church parishioners were overjoyed at the announcement, since the new archbishop was instrumental in leading the local congregation into the fold of the historic Orthodox Church in 1997.

Fr. Jonah, as the parishioners fondly called him, was only ordained as a bishop 11 days ago, then unexpectedly elected this week by the national church assembly gathered in Pittsburgh, Pa., to head the Orthodox Church in America, a position which carries the title of “metropolitan.”

This event, Cleenewerck said, is the historic continuation of Christianity’s journey to California, “using the Eastern route.”

He explained that “it took about 1,700 years for Christianity to reach Fort Ross on the California coast while maintaining ecclesial communion with the historic Jerusalem Church, from the Holy Land to Constantinople, Moscow and Alaska, and then down the coast during the 1700s and 1800s.”

This is the first time that a convert to the Orthodox faith has been appointed to the highest office in the Church, a reflection of the attraction of many spiritual seekers to the most ancient and traditional forms of Christianity, Cleenewerck said.

According to the Orthodox Church in America Web site, Metropolitan Jonah was born James Paffhausen in Chicago, Ill., and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. While still a child, his family moved to La Jolla. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church in San Diego, while he was a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he worked to establish an Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

After completing studies at UCSC, he attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y., graduating with a master of divinity degree in 1985 and a master of theology in dogmatics in 1988.

While working on his doctorate at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, he interrupted his studies to spend a year in Russia. While in Moscow, working at the publishing department of the Moscow Patriarchate, he was introduced to life in the Russian church and, in particular, to monastic life. Later that year he joined Valaam Monastery.

After he returned to California, he served a number of missions and was given obedience to established a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Initially located in Point Reyes Station, the monastery recently moved to Manton, near Redding.

Besides St. Innocent Church in Eureka, Metropolitan Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Redding, Susanville and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, Hawaii.

Metropolitan Jonah will be installed by the Orthodox Church in America’s Holy Synod of Bishops at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 28.