No Longer at “Rest”, +Jonah Comes Out Swinging
• Announces He is Relieving +Melchisedek of His Duties as Interim Chancellor
• Seeks to Resume Position as “Locum Tenens” in South
• Demands Written Report From OCA Secretary, OCA External Affairs Officer
Metropolitan Jonah made it clear on Bright Monday that his no-less-than-sixty days of “Rest” as he styled it, or a “Leave of Absence” as the Synod announced it, was over; but that the pause had done nothing to alter his behavior.
The Metropolitan announced to the Synod yesterday in a series of letters, only one week before the scheduled meeting of the OCA Synod (May 1-3) and the subsequent meeting of the Metropolitan Council (May 4 – 6) in Chicago, that he is relieving Bishop Melchisedek of his duties as the interim OCA Chancellor and that he is resuming his positions as “Locum Tenens” in the Diocese of the South, effective immediately. He also sent letters to Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA External Affairs Officer, and Fr. Eric Tosi, the OCA Secretary,demanding from them, as well as Bishop Melchisedek, “reports” on their activities during his absence, due by Bright Thursday.
It is unlikely, however, the Metropolitan will achieve any of these goals before the Synod meeting next week, if then. According to the most recent Minutes of the Synod, Bishop Melchisedek was appointed as “interim” OCA Chancellor by the Synod – not the Metropolitan. Thus, the Synod would have to agree to the dismissal for it to take effect. The appointment of Bishop Nikon as “locum tenens” for the South was also by Synodal decision: to reverse such a decision unilaterally is not the prerogative of the Metropolitan. Thus, Bishop Melchisedek is scheduled to attend services and work in Syosset today as planned.
The South Gets A Date
The issue, however, is practically moot. It has been over two years since Archbishop Dmitri retired in March, 2009. Thus, on April 15th, Bishop Nikon, the new “locum tenens” of the Diocese wrote to the Deans and Diocesan Council of the South saying enough time had passed. The Bishop wrote:
“It has been a long time since our diocese has had a permanent Shepherd to fill the void left since the retirement of Archbishop Dmitri. Filling his shoes and dedication would most certainly be an awesome and difficult but joyous task for whoever is chosen. For all of this time, in keeping with canonical order, we have not been left without the temporary care of a hierarch, the time has come for us to gather as a diocese to express our desire for a permanent Shepherd and submit his name to the Holy Synod for canonical election.
I know that there has been a search committee, and with this letter, it is time to complete this holy and joyous work and schedule a special assembly specifically for the purpose of expressing to the Holy Synod our desires and choice for a permanent hierarch. It has been related to me that the best location for this would be in Atlanta and I concur with this suggestion, however, where ever you decide is best I will also concur.
In addition, the month of July was suggested to me and although I have no problem with this month, the administrator of the OCA, His Eminence Nathaniel suggested that May or June should also be considered. Although, May would be a tight schedule since the Episcopal Assembly is being held that month. Again I will accommodate whatever date is chosen. If it is July, the only date that I would be unavailable would be the 15-18 as I have a commitment then for the 100th anniversary of one of my parishes.
What joy and excitement for us as we will gather in the synaxis of the Diocese of the South to celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy together as a diocesan family and to once again have our diocese complete. With this letter I urge you to continue your search and complete the awesome responsibility to present a name to the Holy Synod for canonical election.
I understand that this committee had asked for a “list” of vetted candidates for consideration. As of this writing, the candidates vetted are two from the Bulgarian Diocese search committee, (Rev Paul Gassios and Archimandrite Alexander Golitzin) — their assembly is scheduled for July; one for the Alaskan Diocese search committee (Archimandrite Gerasim Eliel) — their assembly is scheduled for August; and our current administrator (Bp Mark of Baltimore). Another pastor that is vetted is V. Rev. David Mahaffey. …”
It is anticipated that the Synod will agree with Bishop Nikon, and the Deans of the Southern Diocese, who in a March 28th teleconference, expressed their desire “..not to stretch this out too long.” The Synod is expected to declare the Diocese of the South officially “vacant” at its upcoming meeting, to ensure that the long-delayed process finally moves forward, no matter who is the “locum tenens”.
More Staff Issues?
Finally, the Metropolitan has sent letters asking for a full report from Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the long-time Director of the OCA’s External Affairs Department. Fr. Kishkovsky’s defense of the OCA’s autocephaly has not endeared him to the Metropolitan who has openly suggested other names for that position – including, in one instance, that of a ROCOR priest. As he is representing the OCA in his official capacities this week, it is not expected that Fr. Kishkovsky will be able to comply until after the Synod meeting. Fr. Tosi also received a letter asking for a full report, as did Bishop Melchisedek. The requests for the additional written reports were considered odd as this is Bright Week, all three are heading to Chicago for the episcopal consecration later this week, and all three are already offering reports to the Synod and/or the Metropolitan Council next week.
The SMCAP Report Redux
At the same time the Metropolitan was informing individual Bishops and clergy of his latest unilateral decisions, the Sexual Misconduct Committee Advisory Panel (SMCAP) was in the process of delivering its revised Report to the Synod. The Panel had originally presented a nine-page Memorandum during the recent meeting of the Synod in Santa Fe, warning that the Metropolitan’s intentional and repeated disregard of the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policies, Best Practices, and professional advice had placed, and was placing, the OCA at risk, legally, pastorally, ethically, and financially. As the Minutes of the Santa Fe meeting make clear, both the Panel’s facts and conclusions were disputed by the Metropolitan:
Metropolitan JONAH presented his response to the February 10, 2011 memorandum of the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee of the Orthodox Church in America.
The Holy Synod will request documentation within the shortest delay from the SMPAC and will review it in conjunction with its review of the above referenced documents from Metropolitan JONAH.”
In short, the Synod requested both the SMCAP and the Metropolitan to document as fully as possible their conflicting assertions, for adjudication by the Synod. The revised SMCAP Report is now reported to be over 500 pages and includes massive footnotes, supporting documentation and a timeline that one reader described as “devastating” to the Metropolitan.
It is not known if the Metropolitan has documented his response to the Synod’s request.
Santa Fe Promises
According to the Minutes of the Synod Meeting in Santa Fe at the end of February the Metropolitan agreed to the following actions:
“Metropolitan JONAH then requested a Leave Of Absence for not less than 60 days during which time he would see a physician and devote himself to his own spiritual and physical health without concern for the burdens of the primatial office. This could include a time of retreat at a monastery…
Metropolitan JONAH inquired about several upcoming events which he had been scheduled to participate in.
The Holy Synod recommended that it would be best for His Beatitude to begin his leave of absence immediately and allow the Administrator, the Interim Chancellor and the members of the Holy Synod to assume the responsibility for those events.
Metropolitan JONAH agreed to this recommendation.”
Rather than in a monastery, the Metropolitan chose to spend his time in Washington DC.
Rather than to begin his Leave immediately, and allow members of the Synod to assume responsibility for scheduled events, he chose when to begin and end his Leave, and to participate in those events as previously planned.
Indeed, rather than a “Leave” he chose to call his absence a “rest period” in which he explicitly and publicly refused to give up “the burdens of the primatial office”.
Most significantly, in Santa Fe the Metropolitan agreed to seek the counsel of a “physician for his spiritual and physical health” during this period, after which he was to offer the Synod a written report.
According to sources close to Syosset, no written report by a physician has been proffered.