NEWS FROM AROUND THE OCA
• A national on-line petition of “no confidence” gathered some 500 signatures from scores of parishes across the OCA in its first two days at ipetition.com. (Read that story here). Despite efforts by some to discredit the petition process through multiple postings of names, false signatures, and the like; or the threatening of signers with fake "excommunication" emails, the petition which reads: “We the undersigned, having no confidence in the OCA leadership of Metropolitan Herman, strongly urge him to resign”, continues to gather names. At least two similar “no confidence” motions have been submitted for consideration at the forthcoming Midwest Assembly to be held in Cleveland, October 1-3.
• Signs of discontent are beginning to show up on the OCA website, OCA.org, itself. Consider the following paragraph from a recent reflection "On Keeping the Faith" by noted OCA theologian and ethicist Fr. John Breck which appeared 9.1.07 on OCA.org:
.....Not long ago I had a talk with a friend, an Orthodox Christian, who told me how deeply his faith had been shaken by various natural disasters that have occurred during the past couple of years....
Other friends, including a sizeable number of clerics, have expressed similar thoughts in the wake of the turmoil that has recently shaken the Orthodox Church in America. If the scandal involves not only financial mismanagement but conduct far more serious – on the part of hierarchs as well as prominent priests – how can we talk of “the Holy Orthodox Church”? How can we possibly live and worship in an organization without appropriate leadership or even a sense of accountability at the highest levels? ....
(Read the whole article here)
• In a posting on OCA.org on September 11th, the OCA complained of “numerous factual errors” in the Associated Press article concerning the deposition of former Chancellor Robert Kondratick. These included an “alleged” statement made by Fr. Jarmus and specific conclusions of the Special Commission. The OCA also denied that the factual errors originated with the "OCA Communications Staff”, and that the article was not placed by, authorized or reviewed by “ anyone at the Chancery”. The notice concludes with the statement: The Director of Communications, Fr. Andrew Jarmus, has contacted The Washington Post and requested that a retraction be published. (Read the statement in full here)
As is often the case, Syosset’s protestations raise more questions than they answer:
- If the article contained so many glaring factual errors, why did it take 12 days to ask for a retraction?
- The OCA has said on several occasions (such as here) that the misdeeds were “centered on and around one individual”, and later publicly identified that one individual as Robert Kondratick. Now Fr. Jarmus denies that? If not, why is he asking for a retraction? If so, who else was involved? How is that going to be determined now that the Special Commission has been dissolved?
- If the information did not originate from the “OCA Communication Staff” who did it originate with? Is the OCA claiming the AP fabricated the information? Or would we be wiser to parse the sentence, ala Clinton, and infer that if Fr. Jarmus, as an member of the OCA Communications Staff, did not supply the information, Syosset is not denying that someone else, who is not a member of the Communications staff, did?
- The statement says the AP article was not placed by, authorized by or reviewed prior to publication by anyone at the Chancery. Is it the function of Syosset
“to place” stories? Or that no information should be published that is not “authorized” ? If true, the much vaunted “new age” at Syosset operates rather like the old one.
Finally, assuming the OCA communications staff oversaw the retraction statement, and that it was “reviewed” and “authorized” prior to publication, did no one realize that asking the Washington Post to retract a story provided by the Associated Press, a wire service, would not work? If the outrage were indeed real, the demand for retraction should have gone to the Associated Press. Or was this story just “placed”, for OCA consumption?
THE METROPOLITAN COUNCIL
• Fr. Serge Bouteneff, a voice for reform representing the Albanian Archdiocese on the Metropolitan Council, has resigned. A replacement will be chosen at the forthcoming Archidiocesan Assembly.
• Leaving the Council as well will be Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, clergy delegate from the Midwest, due to term limits. Fr. Vladimir was a former member of the Special Commission. His succesor will be chosen at the Diocesan assembly to be held in Cleveland, October 1-3.
• Signs of financial strain at Syosset, due to the loss of contributions and withholding, are beginning to show. Most recently, the Chancery has cancelled a Department of Religious Education Conference to be held in the Diocese of the West due to lack of funds. A correspondent writes: “A few weeks ago we were asked to cut back the number of department members going, and then we were told that it just couldn’t be approved.”
• There is still no official word about the investigation into allegations of abuse made against Bishop Nikolai by Mitred Archimandrite Isidore reported by Paul Sidebottom, and of sexual harrassment against Fr. Isidore by Paul Sidebottom. A recent request for information by an Alaskan journalist, Mike Rostad, received the following reply from Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor of the OCA:
“His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman has asked me to thank you for your inquiry and to inform you that the policy of the Orthodox Church in America is to not comment on any ongoing internal Church investigations. Any official statements are available on the website of the Orthodox Church in America at www.oca.org.”
• Bishop Nikolai, who should be expected to have no contact with witnesses for fear of possible intimidation and witness tampering, has maintained a full schedule of pastoral visits throughout the Diocese, including multiple trips to Kodiak itself. In this regard it may be worthwhile to note that Fr. Innocent Dresdow, who was present during many of the events described by Paul Sidebottom, has now been appointed by the Bishop to teach fulltime at St. Herman’s. This followed Fr. Innocent’s recent letter to the Bishop, written at the Bishop's request, in which he contradicted Paul Sidebottom’s account of the incident.
• St. Herman’s Seminary has begun its school year. In a recent article in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, reporter Judy Fulp writes:
“What is the bright hope for the new school year at the seminary?.....“My prayer is for a blessed and glorious year, as we have experienced for many to date. I am also enthusiastic about our plan to form the first student government to help oversee the Seminary campus’s day-to-day activities,” said Bishop Nikolai. “From a practical point this will assist the staff, but it will also be an excellent learning opportunity,” he added.”
Fulp’s article continues:
“Currently, the board of trustees is searching for a seminary dean to replace Fr. Chad Hatfield. The teaching staff for the seminary is: Fr. John Dunlop, also serving as interim seminary director, in conjunction with the bishop, Dr. Bea Dunlop, Fr. Innocent Dresdow, Bishop Nikolai, Fr. Michael Oleksa, Fr. Sergei Active and Irenaios Anderson.”
The loss of all but one faculty member (Fr. Dunlop alone remains) in the past two months, and with no staff able to remain on campus to oversee resident students, the idea of students policing themselves was really the only alternative for the school. Fulp goes on to quote the Bishop: “The local faculty is being supplemented with visiting professors from other parts of the diocese. I did the same thing in 2001 when we only had two students signed up and by the end of the summer we had ten,” said Nikolai.” The Bishop is refering to Fr. Michael Oleksa, and Fr. Sergei Active, who will be flying into Kodiak to hold special seminars during the year. Anderson, the final member of the teaching staff mentioned, is a student in the school. St. Herman's Seminary currently has eleven students.
• Mike Rostad, mentioned earlier, a former instructor at the school, an article on the Orthodox Forum regarding the situation in Kodiak. Rostad wrote:
"It’s Deja Vu all over again in the Alaska Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America
Twelve years ago as the late Fr. Innocent (George) Gula was being championed as Alaska’s new OCA bishop, an assortment of faithful opposing his elevation on numerous grounds, were identified as the “evil ones.”
Those who wrote letters, vocally expressed their concerns or, as a brave St. Herman’s Seminary graduate did, cried “Anaxios” at Gula’s elevation, were treated as spiritual lepers. Those of us who previously had enjoyed close relationships with the seminarians were shunned.
When Bishop Innocent was ousted, we were hopeful that the new leader would help heal deep wounds. Instead, new injuries were inflicted.
Abuses from the top echelon of the clergy continued. Here are a few examples:
A parishioner is upbraided after Sunday liturgy because she was discretely talking while the bishop was addressing the congregation. When she tried to explain that she was simply telling her hearing-impaired brother what the bishop was saying in his message, she was told to get out and that she “didn’t belong there.”
The elderly Dr. Lydia Black, who worked tirelessly at St. Herman’s Seminary as an archivist, grant writer and museum curator in exchange for an apartment, is turned out into the street because she has a disagreement with the bishop.
A non-Orthodox man with Parkinson’s disease who wants to talk with the bishop about joining the church is berated for not giving him the appropriate greeting and is told to “quit shaking.”
The seminary librarian is fired from his job after he pseudonymously expresses thoughts on OCANews.org regarding the qualities of a bishop.
Then there’s the case of Millie Muller, a lady in her 90s who has lived many years in her own home on church land near the seminary. During the administration of Fr. Joseph Kreta, Millie sold her own buildings on the land to the seminary for a minimal price. Consequently she entered a lease agreement in which she could stay in her home as long as she needed at a minimal fee. Recently, however, she was informed that her lease had run out and she must pay $1400 a month rent . Eventually she consulted an attorney in order to be protected from paying that price. She has agreed to vacate the premises by the end of the year.
The Assistant Dean is told, via email, that he no longer has a job at the Seminary. This happens after he has notified Metropolitan Herman alleging he suffered sexual advances and heard suicidal ideation from the diocesan chancellor who had just been appointed rector of the seminary.
One of the most recent offenses of the Bishop Nikolai administration occurred Sunday, Sept. 9, when Holy Resurrection Cathedral’s long time choir director, Marilyn Kreta, was refused communion by the same priest, Fr. Ioasaph, who had listened to her confession the night before. Apparently Ms. Kreta’s unrepented “sin” was that she had not apologized to Bishop Nikolai for “avoiding him.” This hearkens back to the time under Bishop Innocent’s episcopate when Ms. Kreta and another woman in the parish were forbidden from partaking in the Chalice for similar reasons.
When approached about the troubling behavior of the Alaska Diocese’s top leader, Father Innocent Dresdow, rector of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral, said that each person must make sure that he or she is obedient to Christ – unarguably good advice. But he seems to put a spin on the message. He is basically telling people to go along with the bishop no matter how badly the hierarch misbehaves. As if this is a cross that they have to bear.
People are fed up with the abuse and arrogance of the current administration. The church, which should be a sanctuary and refuge in a troubling world, is more like a battle zone in which the leader continues to bully his subjects at will.
May God have mercy on the Alaska diocese -- on the abusers and the abused.”
- Mark Stokoe