Orthodox Church elects new bishop

Author: Ann Rodgers
Date Published: 04/03/2009

Leaders of the Pittsburgh archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America rejoiced yesterday that an Ohio-born monk, who local clergy and laity had overwhelmingly nominated as their bishop, has been elected by other bishops of the church.

“Glory to God! Glory to God!” said an elated Father Patrick Carpenter, press officer for the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.

He had just spoken by phone to Bishop-elect Melchisedek, 66, who lives in a monastery in Greece.

The bishop-elect said in a Facebook posting that he “has finished waiting and has started packing for Pittsburgh.”

Many archdiocesan leaders had worried that the Holy Synod of Bishops would reject November’s unprecedented first ballot nomination and that the Pittsburgh archdiocese might be merged with Philadelphia. The late Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh died in June 2007, as the church was reeling amid a $4 million financial scandal at its national headquarters.

In November, Metropolitan Jonah was elected to the church’s top post as a reformer, and he responded quickly to a letter last month from Pittsburgh’s Archdiocesan Council, which expressed concerns about why the bishops had taken four months to vote on their nominee.

A March 22 meeting between Metropolitan Jonah, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia, who has overseen the Pittsburgh archdiocese, and the Archdiocesan Council ended talk of a merger. The Synod of Bishops elected its new member for Pittsburgh at its regular meeting, which ended yesterday.

Father Carpenter said that, “this means that the church is functioning and the sacred ministry is proceeding as it should, to the glory of God and the salvation of men’s souls.”

The Orthodox Church in America is a self-governing, multi-ethnic daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its membership is disputed, but Metropolitan Jonah has said he believes it has about 100,000 active members, with 10,000 in the Pittsburgh archdiocese.

“This is an incredibly important day for the archdiocese. It’s a new start after two years of waiting,” said the Rev. William Evansky, pastor of the Church of the Holy Ghost, Ambridge, and secretary of the Archdiocesan Council.

“I really do hope he will be able to reinvigorate both the clergy and the laity, to get some sense of unity and a sense of moving forward.”

The bishop-elect was born Thomas Pleska in Canton, Ohio, to Orthodox parents. But the nearest Orthodox church was so far away that he had little exposure to the faith until he was a young adult. He has written that he views himself in many respects as a convert.

A graduate of Miami University of Ohio, he had a career as a broker and real estate appraiser before entering seminary. He was ordained in the Orthodox Church in America in 1986 and served churches in Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut before moving to Greece in 1998.

When he came for interviews prior to his nomination, the bishop-elect had a binder of notes on each parish, which he had gathered from the Internet and from other contacts, Father Carpenter said.

He had a vision for “an expanded diocese with an emphasis on youth ministry, particularly college ministry, and on caring for our elderly, as well as for evangelism,” he said.

He expects the bishop-elect to arrive in the U.S. next week, but probably not in Pittsburgh until the following week, which is Orthodox Holy Week. His consecration will occur at a later date, which has not been set.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.