Lawyer Questions Role
of Metropolitan, Goals of Committee
An exchange of emails between the Metropolitan’s Administrative Assistant, Gregory Sulich and the lawyer for Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), Vladimir Berezansky Jr., obtained by OCANews.org, has triggered questions concerning the overall purpose of the Special Investigative Committee and the role of Metropolitan Herman in that investigation. Berezansky’s email also reveals new information concerning Archbishop Job’s role with the now infamous Moscow tape.
The Moscow Tape
It was Fr. Zacchaeus, rector of the OCA’s Representation Church in Moscow, who in December 2004 videotaped the former Chancellor of the OCA, Robert Kondratick, allegedly attempting to divert some $90,000 in Beslan charity funds and funds raised through the Christmas Stocking appeal for other uses. The tape, a copy of which was given to Archbishop Job, who, in turn, showed it to the Metropolitan in Spring 2005, was later used as evidence in Kondratick’s church trial and subsequent deposition from the priesthood in Summer 2007. Now the Special Investigative Committee, according to Berezansky, wishes to interview Fr. Zacchaeus yet again about the tape for reasons Berezansky questions.
The Metropolitan’s Request
On Monday, June 16th, Sulich, on behalf of the Metropolitan, sent the following email to Fr. Zacchaeus:
“His Beatitude wants you to come to America on Thursday, July 10-Saturday, July 12, 2008 to meet with the Special Investigation Committee. The meeting will take place in Los Angeles , CA. We can get you a flight from Moscow to LA (or if you want to stop in Chicago first, etc), but you need to be in LA on the dates as indicated. We have checked the airfares, and the prices are within reason (approx. $1300) for you to come.
Please let me know that you received this and that you will be coming. We will coordinate more later.”
Fr. Zacchaeus did not reply, but his lawyer, Berezansky, did. Berezansky is an American expatriate lawyer working primarily in the financial regulation industry, who has spent much time in Moscow, but is currently resident in Geneva, Switzerland. Berezansky* is the son of Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, who resigned in protest from the first Special Commission together with Archbishop Job, and a majority of its members.
"Dear Mr. Sulich:
As Archimandrite Zacchaeus’ attorney in this matter, I am in receipt of your request that he consider travelling to Los Angeles this July in order to discuss matters previously considered quite thoroughly and at great length, and which appear on the record. That ‘record’ includes the Proskauer Rose law firm’s compiled but unreleased conclusions, and the working notes of the first, legitimately convened Special Investigative Committee. As communicated to Bishop Benjamin in a prior exchange of e-mails, Father Zacchaeus has been extremely open and cooperative with the attorneys of Proskauer Rose, and in providing information to the spiritual court that resulted in the defrocking of Robert Kondratick. Further, Father Zacchaeus has already travelled to New York in order to appear before the reconstituted, made-to-order Special Investigative Commission (herein, ‘SIC’); but that opportunity was squandered. To what purpose Father Zacchaeus is being invited to travel literally half-way around the world, in light of the OCA’s now dire financial condition, escapes me entirely.
* * *
Instead, I have an alternative proposal: Rather than drag Father Zacchaeus half-way across the globe, I would like to invite Metropolitan Herman to meet with us in a neutral city, Geneva, where I live and work. Specifically, I would like to ask the Metropolitan a few questions about how he has managed to do to the OCA’s prestige the same – or perhaps more – damage than President Bush has done to America’s. I could also take the opportunity to introduce His Beatitude to Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
As you may be aware, Archbishop Michael and his brother bishops on the synod of the former Church in Exile are now recognized for participation in liturgical functions organized by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and SCOBA. Apparently, this is not always the case any longer with regard to the OCA Synod of Bishops and clergy – recent events in Boston come to mind. Indeed, I’d like to thank the Metropolitan for creating the conditions whereby the Romanian Episcopate within the OCA has decided to return to the old world Romanian Patriarchate. Who will be next? The Bulgarians? The Albanians, perhaps? And the Moscow Patriarchate has successfully petitioned to join SCOBA. In case His Beatitude does not understand the significance of this latest achievement, I could explain to him how this implies an at least de facto rejection of the OCA’s Tomos of Autocephaly. There’s more to come, no doubt.
* * *
Contrary to my advice, however, Father Zacchaeus is prepared to indulge the SIC in this charade. I understand that, as a priest in good standing, he must be obedient to his hierarch – just as he has always been – who is Metropolitan Herman. I would note that, per the terms under which this watered down SIC operates, the Metropolitan is NOT to involve himself in any of their activities. For that reason, I find it highly irregular that it is now the Metropolitan, through you, who is summoning Father Zacchaeus to the July meeting in Los Angeles. As noted above, we have communicated Father Zacchaeus’ willingness to speak with the SIC by teleconference. Bishop Benjamin has simply ignored this offer, and he has chosen to resort to soliciting the Metropolitan’s direct involvement in the SIC’s activities. This is a flagrant breach of the SIC’s mandate.
Previous SIC interviewees have been questioned in the presence of their attorneys or spouses and/or other acquaintances, as requested. I therefore expect that the SIC will assume the expenses for my round-trip travel to Los Angeles together with those of my client. (Again, a teleconference discussion of these matters between the SIC and Father Zacchaeus would be far more reasonable, both financially and logistically.) And as it was Archbishop Job who first gave his blessing for the videotape to be made, he will also need to participate in this SIC function.
Since Father Zacchaeus is being invited to travel to Los Angeles instead of New York City this time, perhaps Bishop Benjamin will actually take the time to meet with him. I understand that Bishop Benjamin needs to create a side-show investigation – KGB spies in Moscow! Videotapes! Read all about it! – in order to deflect attention from what should be the SIC’s legitimate (but out of bounds) mandate. Bread and circuses – but without any bread. No doubt the remaining several hundred members in good standing of the OCA will be thoroughly amused.
* * *
Back when I was still living in the US, there was an advertising campaign for Oldsmobile automobiles. At the time, their advertising slogan was ‘This is not your father’s car.’ Well, the OCA is not my father’s church – not anymore. My father’s church was brought to the United States by the flower of the Russian émigré intelligentsia. And my father’s church was recently taken out and shot by the Metropolitan and his buddies – for purposes of simplicity, let’s call them Joey, Franky and Bobby.
Joey, Franky, and Bobby hail from the Carpathian Hills of eastern Pennsylvania. Joey, Franky and Bobby don’t go in for books like ‘For the Life of the World.’ Boring reading. Foreign words and expressions. Too many footnotes. But Joey, Franky and Bobby certainly know a good thing when they see it, and they got themselves situated nicely in Syosset for quite some time. Once word got out about what fun they were having at the church’s expense, it came time for them to take drastic countermeasures. There’s no honor among thieves, of course, so Joey, Franky and Bobby began pointing their fingers at each other and at anyone else they could think of.
At last count, Franky and Bobby have been chased out; but Joey has decided to make Syosset his own personal Alamo. Everyone knows this, but nothing seems to change except for the names of the victims of the collateral damage as this sad spectacle continues apparently without end. The only shreds of integrity left in the OCA are represented by the Archbishop of Chicago and a layman who runs an unofficial web site in Dayton, Ohio. That’s it. Finita la commedia.
* * *
My wife is a Siberian, from the city of Omsk. The city of Omsk is known for its role as the temporary capital of the White Russian Resistance during the Civil War that followed the Bolshevik Revolution. For nearly two years – from 1918 to 1920 – Admiral Kolchak commanded the White Russian armed forces in a heroic but ultimately futile attempt to reverse the tide of Communism. And just like the OCA almost a century later, Admiral Kolchak was taken out and shot.
As far as the OCA is concerned, Omsk is located somewhere between Chicago and Dayton. Syosset and Los Angeles have already fallen to the enemy. Personally, I see no reason why my client should appear before the Metropolitan’s Kangaroo Court. But I’d certainly welcome His Beatitude here in Geneva.
Vladimir Berezansky, Jr.
Charges and Revelations
Berezansky’s email makes some serious allegations and reveals at least one detail of the scandal previously unknown.
First, he is correct in pointing out the Metropolitan, by his own charge, was not to involve himself in the SIC’s investigation; and yet here is the Metropolitan, through his assistant, requiring someone to appear. Has the Metropolitan written a letter requiring Robert Kondratick to appear? Although Kondratick is no longer an OCA cleric, he, too, is still an employee of an OCA parish. Has he written a letter to John Mindala, former Syosset employee, and current employee of the Greek Archdiocese, asking him to appear? Or, is Berezansky correct in suggesting this request is both singular and out of place?
Berezansky’s technical point, however, is less important than his questioning of the whole purpose of the interview, given that Fr. Zacchaeus has already testified twice. “I understand that Bishop Benjamin needs to create a side-show investigation,“ Berezansky writes “KGB spies in Moscow! Videotapes! – in order to deflect attention from what should be the SIC’s legitimate ... mandate.“ In other words, Berezansky is claiming that the focus of the investigation has shifted from the major players - Metropolitans Theodosius & Herman, the officers and staff of Syosset for the past twenty years - who he claims are “out of bounds”, to more minor players, so as to give the public “Bread and circuses - but without the bread.” Berezansky writes the major figures have “started pointing their fingers at each other and at anyone else they could think of” as a “drastic countermeasure” to create “collateral damage” to the point the Committee will be able to cast blame on everyone possible, such that no one is to be held personally responsible or accountable for the scandal.
Berezansky’s email makes one additional assertion that adds a most interesting piece to the puzzle that is the OCA scandal: “And as it was Archbishop Job who first gave his blessing for the videotape to be made, he will also need to participate in this SIC function.”
With this allegation will the new SIC now begin investigating members of the old? The story gets more convoluted with every twist; and the lack of resolution ever more disheartening.
- Mark Stokoe
* Berezansky had his family name legally changed back to its original spelling after he began working in Moscow in the 1990s.