Part Two of "Jonah's Leave"
+Jonah Pushes Back
Metropolitan Jonah moved quickly over the weekend of February 25-27 to undo the decision of the Synod taken on the 24th placing him on a 60-day “Leave of Absence”. Rather than seek assistance for the “spiritual/health” issues that had caused the Synod its concern (and then proceeding to Holy Transfiguration monastery in Elwood City, PA for a period of reflection, as had been privately recommended by the Synod) both he and his personal assistant, Monk Gregory (Stevens) (who had been instructed to return to St. John of Shanghai monastery in Manton, CA for the duration) flew to New York instead.
+Jonah In New York
Once in Syosset the Metropolitan challenged the official press release that had been crafted by the Bishops in Santa Fe. The increasingly harried Syosset staff eventually referred him to the Secretary of Synod, Bishop Tikhon ( who by then was back in South Canaan, PA). On the phone with +Tikhon, +Jonah pleaded that he be allowed to “moderate” the tone of the release by inserting “for a time of personal retreat and spiritual renewal” instead of the official term “Leave of Absence” in the opening line of the second paragraph. It was, after all, what the Bishop’s intended, +Jonah argued. +Tikhon gave in. “The Holy Synod Announces Changes” press release, with +Jonah’s amendment, was then posted late Saturday. (Read that statement here).
+Jonah in Washington DC
That small change however, allowed +Jonah the opening he and his followers needed to initiate a series of actions that sought to undo the Synod’s decision. From New York +Jonah flew to DC, and read the following, prepared text on Sunday, February 27th from the amvon of St. Nicholas’ cathedral during the English Divine Liturgy.
“Dearly Beloved in Christ,
I greet you with the feast of the Last Judgment as we prepare ourselves for the Great and Holy Lenten Fast.
It is with sadness today that I address you, not because of the content of what I have to say, but because of the manner in which it needs to be said. As many of you know, in line with the longstanding tradition in the church of an intensified prayer life during Lent, I as a diocesan bishop, requested from my brothers on the Holy Synod to set aside a period of time for myself during the Great Fast to spend in personal reflection and renewal. Due to the complexity of my work and travel schedule since my becoming Metropolitan, this will be the first extended period of rest that I have taken in quite some time. I am extremely grateful to my brothers for granting me this request, and for taking on the burden of added responsibility to their already busy schedules: Bishop Tikhon is now the locum tenens of the Diocese of the Midwest, and Bishop Nikon is now the locum tenens of the Diocese of the South.
I had intended, and still plan on doing so, to rest as much as possible during the Great Fast, spending time with loved ones and celebrating and attending the Divine Services at my Primatial Cathedral of St Nicholas in Washington.
However, due to inaccurate reporting on the Internet stating that I had been deposed, that I had resigned, that I am on a leave of absence, rumors that have spread worldwide and have caused great concern among many. I owe you the faithful of this diocese clarification of the facts.
I am still your Metropolitan. I am still your diocesan bishop. I am still the active primate of the Orthodox Church in America. The reports are not true. I am merely taking a retreat, a time for reflection.
I have requested a time of rest. In line with the Holy Canons, the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, and the good order of the church, no major decisions will be made without my knowledge and consent. His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel will be assisting the officers of the church in day-to-day operations. His Grace, Bishop Melchisadek has been kind enough to offer his support in the role of interim Chancellor of the OCA. In line with the statute of the OCA, I am postponing the official spring meetings of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council until the period of time after Pascha. The members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America have been informed of this postponement.
As the Lord said in the midst of His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you… Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” I love you, I thank you for your continued support and prayers, and look forward to celebrating the Great and Holy Fast with you as we make the journey to the Pascha of Our Lord. Now, let us forget about what lies behind and push forward to lies ahead.”
At the later Slavonic Liturgy, the Metropolitan read the same text (reportedly in Russian) adding the comment: “They tried to put me away, but they failed.”
Like an ancient alchemist, +Jonah had transformed Wednesday’s 60-day “Leave of Absence” for medical/health evaluation followed by a monastic retreat (during which all his primatial duties would devolve onto others), into a “period of personal retreat and spiritual renewal” by Friday, and ultimately, a simple “time of rest, to be spent in DC, during which he remained “...the active primate of the Orthodox Church in America” by Sunday.
Moreover, he was going to make it difficult for anyone to challenge his version of events. Early Sunday, February 27th the Metropolitan sent a letter to all the Bishops informing them that he was postponing both the forthcoming Metropolitan Council meeting, and the Spring Synod meeting, scheduled for March 14-16th, and March 16-18th respectively. Without waiting for even an acknowledgement from his fellow Bishops, he announced both decisions to the world during his sermon in DC, quoted above.
Jonah’s closest aides sprang into action in support of his deception. Brother Gregory (Stevens) quickly posted the St. Nicholas statement on Facebook, and videos of it were sent to Vimeo and YouTube. Fr. Joseph Fester, the recently-appointed Dean of the DC Cathedral had already sent emails decrying any who challenged the Metropolitan’s version of events. Contradicting the DC Diocesean Chancellor, Fr. Gregory Safchuk’s instructions to local clergy concerning commemorations, Fester wrote :
“Subject: Re: Hierarchal Commemorations
As per His Beatitude, since His Beatitude is not on a Leave of Absence, he and he alone is to be commemorated. Archbishop Nathaniel is not to be commemorated.
Archpriest Joseph Fester,
Dean St Nicholas Cathedral”
To his old friends in Dallas on St. Seraphim’s Cathedral email list Fester was even more blunt: he warned his former parishioners to avoid reading OCANews.org as it was an “ungodly” site, full of deception.
Even the infamous +Tikhon of the West, who first posted the information about Jonah’s Leave ( albeit in disgust at a perceived “...cabal (that) can effect with apparent impunity the placing of a diocesan bishop willy-nilly on leave of absence and his expulsion from his diocese, especially if the cabal controls the most forceful voices in a Holy Synod....” ) joined in the denial. The
ever-problematic former Bishop wrote:
“Indeed, I wrongfully reported that Metropolitan Jonah had been forced to take a leave of absence. Although I was wrong, I quoted no one, nor did I distort any notice of action by anyone.....”
From Russia, with Love
+Jonah also appealed to powerful friends in the Russian Church to support his cause. As a result the Patriarchate did not publish the OCA’s initial press release on its website: it did, however, publish Jonah’s DC Sermon. And according to Moscow sources, the one site (Pravmir.ru) which carried both the OCA and OCANews.org stories, came under heavy pressure from the Church’s Department of External Affairs to take them down. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev), Chairman of the Patriarchate’s Department of External Affairs even offered to fly to New York to speak with the Synod. His generous offer was declined. Instead the Bishops fielded several calls from +Hilarion, and later sent a letter explaining their growing concerns about Jonah’s behaviour over the past two years, and sharing how the Synod came to place him on Leave. According to Greek sources, the OCA covered its bases with Constantinople as well, sending them the same letter.
Jonah's actions had caught the Synod flat-footed. Still discussing the press release fiasco of Friday, confronted with Jonah’s ukaze on Sunday postponing the meeting, the Synod was now facing calls from Russia, from concerned Metropolitan Council members, clergy and simple parishioners from both the United States and Canada, all asking the same question: “What is going on?” +Bishop Benjamin wrote a terse letter to the Metropolitan asking him to reflect on what his actions were doing to the OCA, and what those actions were teaching the Church about obedience. The Metropolitan offered no reply.
+Jonah Back in New York
As for +Jonah himself, Sunday’s announced “time of rest” lasted not sixty days, nor sixty hours. It didn’t even last six hours. Sunday afternoon following Liturgy, the Metropolitan flew back to New York from DC, so as to meet with Metropolitan Christopher of Prague, who was in the United States to receive an honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir’s Seminary. As Fr. Zacchaeus (Woods), the OCA’s representative in Moscow, (who had actually flown to New York to be with +Jonah in his 'time of difficulty', prior to travelling to Chicago for his 40th birthday celebration) reported on his parish's website :
“Shortly after the entrance of Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER to (the Patriarchal St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York) His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH of All America and Canada also arrived, by invitation of Archbishop JUSTINIAN and with the blessing of His Holiness, Patriarch KIRILL of Moscow and All Russia, to participate in the visit of the Primate of the Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia.” ...Later that evening, Their Beatitudes, Metropolitans CHRISTOPHER and JONAH traveled to the Cathedral of ‘Our Lady of the Sign’ and the Synodal Residence of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia where they were met by that Church’s First Hierarch, His Eminence, Metropolitan HILARION of Eastern America and New York. There, the guests were also given a tour and a short history of the cathedral and its spiritual treasures preserved therein.
Following the time spent in the cathedral, the Primates of the Churches of the Czech lands and Slovakia, and America were invited to Metropolitan HILARION’ s residence for some refreshments. It was during this time that His Beatitude, Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER formally invited His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH to visit the Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia in an official capacity in the near future in order to witness to the unity that exists between the two Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.”
With the prospect of yet another foreign trip “in the near future” being offered, it seems +Jonah forgot to mention to +Christopher that the Synod had placed him "On Leave". Or that he had been relieved of his primatial duties - like meeting visiting heads of other local Churches, and senior hierarchs from other jurisdictions...
ROCOR knew better, however. In their posting ROCOR was very careful to say that the invitation to the OCA hierarch to visit had not come from them:
“On Sunday, February 27, 2011, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, at the request of His Beatitude Metropolitan Christopher of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, received His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, at his residence in New York. ...”
The Metropolitan’s peripitetic “rest” continued on Monday, February 28th. He attended the formal ceremony and celebrations at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, at which time +Christopher was actually awarded his honorary doctorate. +Jonah had been told not to participate in the event by the Synod; and yet there he was. Bishop Melchizedek, and Bishop Nikon were also present. Not to spoil the event, the three did not speak about the issue.
And according to multiple sources, Jonah did one other thing upon his return to New York: he began going through Fr. Garklav’s confidential emails for the past three years.
The Garklavs “Resignation”
As the Minutes reveal, the Synod, acting on Jonah’s request, decided to “accept the resignation” of Fr. Garklavs, the OCA’s long-suffering Chancellor for the last three eventful years. +Jonah was back in Syosset on Friday the 25th even as Bishop Michael came down from Bronxville to officially inform Fr. Garklavs that his resignation had been accepted by the Synod. As Archbishop Nathaniel, in a letter to his clergy on Monday, February 28th explained:
“Father Chancellor Alexander Garklavs had been asked by the Metropolitan to resign from the Chancellorship. He appealed to the Holy Synod stating he would abide by the decision. The Holy Synod listened to him in audience; after deliberations, the Holy Synod accepted his resignation.”
The Minutes described it this way:
“Archpriest Alexander Garklavs was invited into the meeting.
Metropolitan JONAH asked Archpriest Alexander Garklavs to offer a 30 minute presentation of his appeal.
Archpriest Alexander Garklavs presented his position on the request of Metropolitan JONAH that he resign as Chancellor of the OCA.
Discussion followed with questions asked by the members of the Holy Synod.
The Holy Synod thanked Archpriest Alexander Garklavs for his presentation.
Archpriest Alexander Garklavs left the meeting.
A decision was deferred until later in the meeting to allow for further discussion.”
And then the following day:
“1. The Holy Synod accepted Archpriest Alexander Garklavs’ resignation as Chancellor effective immediately.”
Not even a thank you for your service?
As reported earlier by OCANews.org, Metropolitan Jonah sought to terminate Fr. Garklavs himself on February 11th, ostensibly for “disloyalty”. At that time Garklavs refused, saying, as +Jonah reported it, that Garklavs “...appealed to the Synod, and that if Synod then asked for his resignation, he would.” As +Nathaniel’s explanation makes clear, the Bishops choose to interpret that statement as “he would abide by their decision” - even though the Synod, according to the Minutes, never actually asked Garklavs to resign. Moreover, they never stated any reasons why his "resignation" should even be on the agenda, let alone considered.
The February 25th meeting between Garklavs and Bishop Michael, who was tasked by the Synod to deliver the news, was awkward. It certainly began awkwardly for +Michael as +Jonah, minutes before the meeting between the two, handed him a non-disclosure form for Garklavs to sign, a form back-dated to February 9th - two days before +Jonah initially attempted to terminate Garklavs. +Michael recognized the deception, and refused to offer Garklavs the form. +Michael later grew frustrated at Garklavs as well, for the terminated Chancellor refused to agree that he had resigned, because he hadn’t.
In the meantime, +Jonah was buzzing around the Chancery attempting to change the Synod’s press release. By the afternoon +Michael had come to realize exactly what the Chancery staff, and Garklavs, had been forced to deal with in working the Metropolitan these past two and half years. He departed - having delivered the Synod’s decision as instructed, but leaving the final determination of any possible future for Garklavs at the Chancery to be resolved by +Melchizedek, who, as the official “interim Chancellor” was scheduled to fly into New York on Monday.
Panning For Gold
Before +Melchisedek arrived on Monday, Metropolitan Jonah began accessing Fr. Garklav’s office computer, the one that contained his correspondence he had received as Chancellor for the past three years. Why? One possible explanation may be found in the Minutes:
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.”
The confidential files of the SMPAC were largely emails and electonic documents kept by Fr Garklavs on his computer.
No matter what +Jonah was searching for, or why, such an invasion of privacy by one officer of the Church of another officer’s confidential files, including files relating to sexual misconduct issues, is at least ethically inappropriate - especially by an officer placed “On Leave”. At worst, it is a flagrant abuse of authority.
That Sound You Hear is Silence
And where was the Synod while all this was transpiring?
Ironically, the “Temporary Administrator”, Archbishop Nathaniel was really on a “rest”, at his sister’s home, in Arizona. In public the oldest member of the Synod, and newly-named “Temporary Administrator” did not seem overly concerned. In a note to his Romanian clergy on Monday, February 28th he wrote: “Metropolitan Jonah was and is metropolitan; he will complete his spiritual/health time and return to his duties as planned.”
What “spiritual/health time”? Within five days the man was in Santa Fe, New York, DC and back to New York. What “return to duties “? Clearly +Jonah had never ceased anything. What was “the plan”, and when was it going to start?
Other bishops, however were far less sanguine. Yet, they seemed frozen in their inability to communicate with each other in a timely or disciplined fashion. Sunday passed in silence.
And as Tuesday dragged on, without resolution, it seemed to many that the conciliar Church ruled by laws, guided by trust, and built on cooperation, that so many in the OCA had labored to build throughout the last century, was in danger of being overwhelmed by the more recent culture of fear, half truths and deception once again. The firing of a whistleblower, the ignoring of the Synod, the dismissing of the Metropolitan Council, the rejection of ethical and governing standards, the changing of press releases and manipulating the news hide to the truth, the abuse of authority, the potential interference with investigations, and the decrying of any who challenged their version of events as “ungodly” and “deceivers”, only lacked Metropolitan Herman’s “Let’s move on” to make it seem the OCA was right back in that horrible Spring of 2008. Hearing +Jonah exhort the faithful in Washington on Sunday to “ ....forget about what lies behind and push forward to what lies ahead” just made the dismal picture complete.
The Truth is the Best Defense
+Jonah was right about one thing: it was now all about lies.
Only he was in for a surprise. The Synod would not excuse, nor lie, nor cover-up for a wayward Bishop this time. They offered no commentary, no threats, no appeals to the future, no pious phrases by way of explanation. The offered no blame, condemnation or accusations either, for that matter. According to multiple sources, it was Archbishop Nathaniel who first proposed the way forward: post the Minutes. Not the whole truth ( for these are, after all, “public” Minutes’ with the actual discussions redacted for pastoral and privacy concerns), but true nevertheless. The oldest OCA Bishop suggested that the Minutes of their meeting be published for everyone in the world to see, as was the Synod's usual, traditional practice following a meeting. And the truth would take care of the rest.
It did. Armed with the truth, the Bishop's silence spoke more eloquently than anything they could have said.
Is that Light At the End of the Tunnel?
In agreeing amongst itself to tell the world the truth, and nothing but the truth, from the beginning, it would seem the Synod of the OCA has finally begun to discover for itself the virtues of conciliarity, transparency and accountability.
And that, friends, no matter the turmoil +Jonah may cause, may just signal the beginning of the end of our Time of Troubles. And if not, its a start.
- Mark Stokoe
Tomorrow in Part III:
A Tale of Two Coasts:
+Jonah in San Diego, +Melchizedek in Syosset.