Obscure Chronology Reveals Details of +Jonah’s Actions in Moscow Affair
Tucked away in the comments section of a recent article on the Russian language website Credo.ru is a chronology of events that purports to cite official letters and private e-mails from, among others, both Metropolitan Jonah and Fr. Zacchaeus’ lawyer Vladimir Berezansky Esq. concerning the placing of Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood) on a “Leave of Absence” from his position as the OCA representative to the Russian Orthodox Church. The chronology, allegedly posted by a Bishop Daniel (Moguntov), a little-known, recently-consecrated hierarch of the non-canonical “True Orthodox Church”, appears at first glance to be a defense of Fr. Zacchaeus by its suggestions of untoward actions by Bishop Melchisedek, the OCA’s interim chancellor, and by Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA’s chair of the Department of External Relations. More importantly Moguntov’s chronology, if true, provides details of the actions of Metropolitan Jonah and offers a revealing glimpse into the problems Metropolitan Jonah occasions for the Synod (and the other governing bodies of the OCA, as well). The chronology shows the Metropolitan is both dismissive and unwilling to act according to the standards and policies of the OCA when faced with allegations he finds unpleasant. When he finally is forced to act, he attempts to circumvent any investigation by the Synod, committees and OCA legal counsel. Then, when told to recuse himself from the matter, +Jonah nevertheless continues to interfere, causing further legal, canonical and pastoral turmoil. Moguntov’s chronology reveals what has long been discussed in the higher circles of the OCA but never so clearly documented before – the governing bodies of the OCA attempting to work with the Metropolitan who seems only interested in working against them.
Morgutnov’s chronology begins:
“Chronicle of events re: Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood)
1. Thursday, 21 July 2011 Bishop Melchisedek sent a letter to Archimandrite Zacchaeus. (The letter is received in Moscow on Friday, 22 July 2011.) In the letter Archimandrite Zacchaeus is placed on a leave of absence and is given “Mandatory Instructions” which order him to leave Russia and return immediately to the USA. No additional information is given, other than the statement that Fr. Zacchaeus “….is mentioned in documents concerning an investigation of alleged violations of the “Policies, Standards and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America Regarding Sexual Misconduct”…
2. Friday, 22 July 2011 Bishop Melchisedek sends Fr. Zacchaeus an electronic ticket for travel to the USA on Monday, 25 July 2011. In the same email Bishop Melchisedek asks for the mobile telephone of Priest Ioann Kechkin and Sergei Alikov. In his letter Bishop Melchisedek informs Fr. Zacchaeus that he has the right to consult with his spiritual father/confessor and with his attorney.”
(Editor’s note: Frs. Kechkin and Alikov are both Russian clergy assigned to assist Fr. Zacchaeus at St. Catherine’s in Moscow.)
3. Friday, 22 July 2011 Fr. Zacchaeus contacts his attorney Vladimir Berezansky Jr. to discuss the emerging situation.”
(Editor’s note: Mr. Vladimir Berezansky Esq. is the son of Archpriest Vladimir Berzonsky, the well-known author and parish priest in Parma, OH. A long-time resident of Russia, the son changed the family name back to its Russian original.)
4. Friday, 22 July 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus receives a letter from the Deputy Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Nicholas Balashov, in which he is informed that the Chairman of DECR ROC, Metropolitan Hilarion also received a letter from Bishop Melchisedek about the “leave of absence” of Fr. Zacchaeus and the urgent requirement to depart for the USA. (Later it became known that Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky contacted Fr. Nicholas Balashov, and they discussed details of the departure of Fr. Zacchaeus and the need to leave the parish in care of another priest.)
5. Sunday, 24 July 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus is taken to the hospital by emergency service. Doctors determined that his illness began on 21 July 2011.
6. Sunday, 24 July 2011 Fr. Zacchaeus’ attorney Vladimir Berezansky send a letter to Bishop Melchisedek with notice that, among other questions in the situation of Fr. Zacchaeus, “….the present complications in the health of Fr. Zacchaeus do not allow him to travel anywhere in the immediate future.”
7. Monday, 25 July 2011 A staff member of the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) goes to John F. Kennedy Airport to meet Fr. Zacchaeus. Informed sources note that this “staff member” was Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, former Chancellor of the OCA, at present time a “consultant,” and who is not supposed to have access to confidential questions.”
8. Monday, 25 July 2011 Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky telephones Fr. Ioann Kechkin and Sergei Alikov, and informs them that Fr. Zacchaeus did not arrive on his flight from Moscow, and also asks about his present location.
9. Wednesday, 27 July 2011 Mr. Vladimir Berezansky sends another letter to Bishop Melchisedek, not having received a reply to his first letter.
10. Wednesday, 27 July 2011 Bishop Melchisedek replies to the second letter of Mr. Berezansky, informing him that he had not received the first letter, which was, nevertheless, sent to the correct address.
11. Wednesday, 27 July 2011 Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, ascertaining the mobile telephone number with (Fr.) Sergei Alikov, contacts (Ms.) Natalia Denisova, the webmaster of the web site of the Church of St. Catherine-the-Great Martyr-in-the-Fields, and informs her that he will send an official notification from the OCA for publication on the site. He insists on sending his notification to her personal electronic address, notwithstanding that she proposed that it be sent to the email address of the representation church. (No notifications were sent.)
12. Thursday, 28 July 2011 The official web site of the Orthodox Church in America posts an announcement that Archimandrite Zacchaeus “…has been recalled to the USA by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah. He is “prohibited from exercising any liturgical or sacramental ministry”.” and this without any written official document signed by Metropolitan Jonah, the announcement states “Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky … will assume the duties as the representative of the OCA to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
13. Thursday, 28 July 2011 The announcement appears on other web sites (ocanews.org), Voices from Russia, with additional commentaries and discussions, in violation of Bishop Melchisedek’s insistence on confidentiality. For example, the web site ocanews.org published the following information: “No reason for the action by Metropolitan Jonah was given by the OCA, but OCANews.org has learned that an allegation of possible misconduct has been levelled against the Archimandrite. OCANews.org also learned that the Archimandrite had been called back to the USA this past weekend, but checked himself into a hospital in Russia instead. He has since been released, but it remains unclear if he is on his way back to the United States at this time.” This information was given by sources in Syosset, New York.
14. Thursday, 28 July 2011 Vladimir Berezansky sends another letter to Bishop Melchisedek, insisting that “Not having received a clear answer to the letters of 24th and 27th July, we consider this matter to be closed. The announcement on the web site of the OCA is useless and creates additional grounds for the defense of Fr. Zacchaeus in court against unjustified damage to his reputation and good name. In addition, the announcement contains a number of factual mistakes. The Russian version of the announcement also contains additional mistakes and can be interpreted only as psychological word game.”
15. Thursday, 28 July 2011 On the ocanews.org web site which is managed by Mark Stokoe, a member of the Metropolitan Council, an article is posted which asserts that the following information is untrue: “ocanews.org has ascertained that Archimandrite Zacchaeus was recalled to the USA at the end of the current week, but instead is in hospital, remaining in Russia. He has been discharged, but it remains unclear whether Fr. Zacchaeus has departed for the United States.
16. Friday, 29 July 2011 It has become known that at “00:45 on North American Eastern time on Friday, 29 July 2011 Zacchaeus Wood is not listed on the official web site of the OCA as a clergyman.” Nevertheless, other clergy who are on “leave” remain on the list of OCA clergy.
17. Friday, 29 July 2011 Bishop Melchisedek sends a letter to Archimandrite Zacchaeus in which he asserts: “In accordance with the directions of Metropolitan Jonah + on Tuesday 28 July 2011 at 13:35 I am sending to you the attached letter at his request and direction. After a telephonic conversation between Metropolitan Jonah and Vladimir Berezansky it became clear that the metropolitan did not sign this letter, but that Bishop Melchisedek used his electronic signature. The metropolitan also noted that he did not see the final version of the letter and did not give his assent to sending this letter. In the letter, supposedly signed by the metropolitan, there is information that Archimandrite Zacchaeus is transferred to the jurisdiction of Bishop Melchisedek and is obligated to acknowledge receipt of the letter within twelve 12 hours.
18. Saturday 30 July 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus confirms receipt of the letter to Metropolitan Jonah and to Bishop Melchisedek by electronic mail, and expresses his readiness to have a telephone conversation on Tuesday, 2 August 2011.
19. Monday, 1 August 2011 Vladimir Berezansky telephones Metropolitan Jonah and confirms that the metropolitan intends to grant to Archimandrite Zacchaeus an official canonical release from the OCA for transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate, but would prefer that this would come in the name of the entire Holy Synod of the OCA. (This is a violation, since the Metropolitan has the exclusive right to grant release to Archimandrite Zacchaeus.) In the same telephone conversation the Metropolitan states that he did not know about the disappearance of Fr Zacchaeus’ name from the list of clergy of the OCA and confirms that “Syosset/Holy Synod has already taken a decision concerning the accusation (accusations) in sexual misdemeanors – before an impartial investigation takes place.
20. Monday, 1 August 2011 Vladimir Berezansky writes to Bishop Melchisedek, sending a copy to the Holy Synod of the OCA, in which he places in doubt the letter with the electronic signature of Metropolitan Jonah, which contains several points of misinformation.
21. Monday, 1 August 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus writes a letter to Metropolitan Jonah in which he proposes explanations of the letter to the metropolitan on 29 July 2011.
22. Tuesday, 2 August Metropolitan Jonah replies to the letter of Fr. Zacchaeus. In the e-mail, he writes: “I hope you are recovering. What has happened is exactly the political collapse which we expected. I regret this. I have been removed from influencing the investigation process, but in no measure am I to cease contact with you and do not deprive you of support. It was recommended to me to act precisely in this way, because our conversations are officially permitted. I hope that we can soon talk. I am in San Diego, the time difference being 11 hours. You have shown yourself to be a faithful and obedient clergyman, and I pray for the prompt resolution of the problems that have emerged.”
23. Tuesday, 2 August 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus telephones Bishop Melchisedek from his hospital room. It becomes known that together with Bishop Melchisedek were Archpriest Alexander Garklavs and another priest (name inaudible). Fr. Zacchaeus informs the bishop that he is still in hospital, and that one day earlier he underwent a colonoscopy. Bishop Melchisedek asked about a report from a doctor, in order to “compensate the cost of the ticket to New York which was not used by Fr. Zacchaeus. The bishop repeated several times, “We want to see Fr. Zacchaeus here.” He also said that the Archimandrite could stay in the house of his grandmother in New York. It was decided that the next telephone conversation would take place on Thursday, 4 August 2011.
24. Wednesday, 3 August 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus sends a letter to Metropolitan Jonah in which he thanks him for the support he has offered.
25. Wednesday, 3 August 2011 A legal firm in Chicago states that that during the recent period not a single woman has reported instances of sexual misdemeanors or other similar situations in any law agencies in the USA.
26. Wednesday, 3 August 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus is called from New York by Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Forminsk, and during the conversation is becomes evident that Metropolitan Jonah understands the allegations to have been fabricated in order to remove Fr. Zacchaeus from his assignment to the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr-in-the-Fields, without regard to the truthfulness of the accusations.
27. Wednesday, 3 August 2011 Parishioners of the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr-in-the-Fields addressed a letter-petition to Metropolitan Jonah (copies of the petition were sent to the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA), expressing their support of Fr. Zacchaeus as their rector, spiritual director and faithful servant of the church. In the same letter the metropolitan is requested by all to return the rector to his service in the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr.
28. Thursday, 4 August 2011 Archimandrite Zacchaeus and Vladimir Berezansky telephone Bishop Melchisedek from the hospital room. After Fr. Zacchaeus confirmed that he was still in the hospital, Mr. Berezansky asked the bishop about the violations in the procedures for investigations in case of such allegations. After several statements Bishop Melchisedek notes that he would not like to converse with an attorney in the absence of his own attorney.
29. Thursday, 4 August 2011 Vladimir Berezansky sends a letter electronically to the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA, noting that the Russian information agency “Interfax” has paid attention to the case of Archimandrite Zacchaeus, publishing part of the letter of the parishioners in defense of their rector, including the signature of Fr. Ioann Kechkin, whom Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky illegitimately appointed to the position held by Fr. Zacchaeus in the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr. Fr. Kishkovsky is not authorized to make such decisions in the name of the OCA and the Moscow Patriarchate.
30. Saturday, 6 August 2011 In his letter to the Hoy Synod of Bishops of the OCA Fr. Kishkovsky writes: “I must inform you that the site of the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr in the Fields identifies Fr. Kechkin as the second priest – in other words, Fr. Zacchaeus himself has appointed him. In his conversation with Fr. Nicholas Balashov when the Fr. Zacchaeus crisis began he said that the pastoral and liturgical needs of the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr can be carried temporarily by Fr. Ioann. Please note that our attorneys advise that no reactions should be made to Vladimir Berezansky. It is Fr. Zacchaeus who should appropriately and directly respond to his ecclesiastical authorities, and not through an attorney or any other person.” Which testifies to the fact that Fr. Kishkovsky actively interferes in this case, without authorization either from Metropolitan Jonah or the Holy Synod or the SMPAC committee.
31. Saturday, 6 August 2011 In an electronic letter to Vladimir Berezansky sent from his personal address on Hotmail, Metropolitan Jonah writes: “(Fathers) Tosi and Garklavs came yesterday and asked in what way, in my opinion, the situation can be resolved,” despite the fact that the Metropolitan was forced to disassociate himself from this. In responding to them he added: “We must back off as much as possible.” These words were said by Metropolitan Jonah with reference to the first letter of Bishop Melchisedek on 21 July 2011. “The person making the allegations must remain anonymous and must be protected from any acts of revenge, and also receive all pastoral care and protection from the appropriate responsible church persons. To publish such a letter mentioning her name – is morally unacceptable.”
The following passage from the letter of Metropolitan Jonah is also important. “Fr. Zacchaeus must be provided with all the information about the character of the accusations which are made against him, and must be given the time to prepare to defend his interests. And while he is preparing his defense, he is on leave, but is not removed. Removal as well as termination from his duties goes against proper procedure.” His Beatitude states that he will participate to the end in the resolution of the case, and also that “Fr. Zacchaeus remains as a stavropeghial clergyman under my omophorion, also as the Representative of the Metropolitan at the Moscow Patriarchate. He cannot be punished without my special blessing, and also cannot be removed. And no one can be appointed to his position without special blessing and agreement on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, in agreement with the conditions of his service in the performance of his duties.”
32. Sunday, 7 August 2011 Mr. Vladimir Berezansky writes a letter to Bishop Melchisedek summarizing the conversation which took place on Thursday evening and clarifying some points about the illegal procedures undertaken by departments of the Administration of the OCA (managed by Bishop Melchisedek?)
33. Sunday, 7 August 2011 Mr. Vladimir Berezansky sends a letter to the Holy Synod of Bishops to inquire about the role of Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky in the case of the accusations against Archimandrite Zacchaeus.
34. Monday, 8 August 2011 Mr. Vladimir Berezansky replies to Metropolitan Jonah’s electronic letter of 6 August 2011, offering a number of ways to resolve the problem by the most convenient legal method. In a separate attached letter Mr. Berezansky offers the metropolitan a text for publication on the HYPERLINK “http://www.oca.org”www.oca.org site with clarification that in accordance with the blessing of the metropolitan himself Fr Zacchaeus is not dismissed from the performance of his duties.
35. Monday, 8 August 2011 Yet another posting appears on the web site ocanews.org. Private information is disseminated about the health of Fr. Zacchaeus. According to the article, “Being compelled to give information about the status of his health, Fr. Zacchaeus has told a source in Syosset that he underwent a colonoscopy.
36. Saturday, 13 August 2011 Metropolitan Jonah sends an SMS to Archimandrite Zacchaeus from his mobile number (xxxxxxxxxx – deleted by editor). “Father Zacchaeus, if you are feeling well enough, you may go to the Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr to receive holy communion, but without serving yet. For me to protect your position means that I have to deal with these people, including the bishops. So far as I can judge, you are on a paid leave of absence and are not removed from service. All the best, it is best for you to be quiet and cooperative. With love in Christ, Metr. Jonah.
OCANews.org can confirm many of the details given in the chronology are true and accurate. The documents cited by Moguntov were provided to OCANews.org as well, and they are reported accurately. OCANews.org has also confirmed the telephone conversations cited were reported accurately. The details (phone numbers, etc.) given in the document were also correct. What we cannot confirm are the private email and SMS exchanges of the Metropolitan to Fr. Zacchaeus, to which Moguntov seems to have access.
On the other hand, the chronology contains several curious claims, all of which are incorrect. For example, in section 13, it is suggested that the posting of an official announcement of Fr. Zacchaeus’ being placed on leave was a “violation of confidentiality”. It fact, it is routinely reported on OCA.org that priests have been placed on leave. Moreover, after an official announcement appears on an official website, it is absurd to claim as Moguntov does that ”Bishop Melchisedek’s insistence on confidentiality” was violated by others, such as OCANews.org, in reposting that announcement. And while the quote from a story at OCANews.org cited #13 is accurate, nowhere in that story does it say “This information was given by sources in Syosset, New York”. That is pure speculation on the part of the writer, who has no knowledge of OCANews.org’s sources.
Equally curious, misleading and false is the statement that Fr. Garklavs “…is not supposed to have access to confidential questions” in his capacity as a “consultant” to the interim Chancellor. Indeed, as the long-time vice-chair of the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Panel Advisory Committee his knowledge, experience and counsel would be routinely sought in such affairs. Likewise, the chronology’s continued references to Fr. Kishkovsky’s “interference” are stretches. As Chair of the External Affairs Department it is logical he would be appointed to “officially” replace Fr. Zacchaeus temporarily while Fr. Zacchaeus was placed on leave; and in this capacity, it is only reasonable that he ask the second priest, who was resident in Moscow, to manage things.
With these caveats, however, many claims in Moguntov’s chronology are disturbing. For example:
• In #17 Moguntov writes: “After a telephonic conversation between Metropolitan Jonah and Vladimir Berezansky it became clear that the metropolitan did not sign this letter, but that Bishop Melchisedek used his electronic signature. The metropolitan also noted that he did not see the final version of the letter and did not give his assent to sending this letter…”
These are extraordinary assertions: first that +Jonah was in private contact with Fr. Zacchaeus’s lawyer, Berezansky, without the participation of the OCA lawyers, especially after Berezansky had already threatened legal action, in writing, against the OCA ( see #14). (By way of contrast, compare the response of Bishop Melchisedek in #28, who would not even speak with Berezanky without the OCA’s lawyer being present. ) If this claim is true the Metropolitan has clearly acted unprofessionally, irresponsibly, and unwisely, repeatedly dealing directly with opposing counsel without the knowledge of his own. Secondly, Moguntov claims +Jonah told Berezansky that +Melchisedek sent the letter recalling Fr. Zacchaeus without +Jonah’s permission. If true, either +Jonah lied, defaming +Melchisedek; or alternatively, +Melchisedek overstepped his authority. The issue is clearly resolvable by +Melchisedek – assuming he can produce his instructions in the matter.
• In #19 Moguntov claims +Jonah was in direct contact with opposing counsel – sans his own – once again, this time arranging Fr. Zacchaeus’ release to the Moscow Patriarchate. In so doing +Jonah was clearly attempting to circumvent the possibility of the Synod conducting an investigation as required by OCA policies and standards. This is eerily reminiscent of +Jonah’s sudden “release” of Fr. Joseph Fester to the Carpatho-Russian Diocese just a few months ago to forestall the Synod’s expressed desire to investigate that priest’s actions.
• In #22 Moguntov suggests that +Jonah had by then been removed from the investigation into the allegations against Fr. Zacchaeus. Sources close to Syosset have confirmed to OCANews.org that the Synod, upon learning that +Jonah was in continuing private contact with opposing counsel, and was seeking to unilaterally release Fr. Zacchaeus, was indeed “removed from influencing the investigation process”. However, in the email cited by Moguntov it is clear that having agreed to recuse himself entirely from the process, +Jonah did not. Privately, he continued to assure Fr. Zacchaeus that he would not “..cease contact with you”, nor “ deprive you of (my) support.”
• In #26 Moguntov makes clear what +Jonah’s continuing “support” entailed. According to Moguntov +Jonah discussed the matter with Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk, telling him that the “..allegations to have been fabricated”. This is extraordinary. Before an investigation is even undertaken +Jonah has convinced himself, and is attempting to convince others, that the allegations are not only false, but “fabricated”.
Nor does it stop there.
• In #31, “His Beatitude states that he will participate to the end in the resolution of the case”, thereby renouncing his earlier recusement. +Jonah eventually privately restored Fr. Zacchaeus, allowing him to serve Liturgy in Moscow on August 21st. What is perhaps most disturbing though, is the rationale +Jonah gave for these actions. It was, in fact, the rationale first given by Berzansky in his letter to +Melchisedek on July 28th, cited by Moguntov in #14. It was Berezansky who first put forth the notion, which +Jonah quotes almost word for word, that “ ….no one can be appointed to his (Fr. Zacchaeus’) position without special blessing and agreement on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, in agreement with the conditions of his service in the performance of his duties.”
+Jonah’s actions in the last two weeks of July as stated by the Moguntov chronology, clearly evidence why the governing bodies of the OCA are continually and increasingly thrown into aporia concerning +Jonah. How does one go forward with a Primate who, having interfered with an investigation by attempting to circumvent it, recuses himself, then publicly denies the allegations as “fabrications” even before the investigation is held? How does one go forward with a Metropolitan, who, having held repeated private conversations with opposing counsel against the advice of his own, reinserts himself in the process after recusing himself, and then orders things according to the wishes of the opposing counsel? Ultimately he restores the accused clergyman to sacramental ministry, with no regard for even a cursory investigation or concern for the alleged “victims”. In short, the Metropolitan of the OCA, instead of defending the policies, standards and best practices of the OCA, is opposing all those who would.