News From Around The OCA
• Syosset NY
In a wide-ranging interview with Nicole Neroulias of the Religion News Service posted on ReligionNews.com this past week, Metropolitan Jonah revealed he will be making official visits to Constantinople, Romania and Russia during the coming year, including participating in enthronement celebrations for the new Patriarch of Russia, scheduled for February 1, 2009, in Moscow.
The Metropolitan confirmed that the Strategic Planning Process, will begin on December 29 during a meeting of the Synod. Several persons have been invited to speak to the Bishops about the process.
Of interest as well is the Metropolitan's answer to Ms. Neroulias concerning 'forgiveness' of' illegal actions'. The Metropolitan stated: "Forgiveness does not mean to justify a crime. Forgiveness demands that a person recognize that they have committed a crime or a sin, but forgiveness and civil punishment are two completely different things. Somebody could be forgiven and still sent to jail. With a crime in the church, the church leader's responsibility is that such a priest would be immediately removed from his role, and his case would be turned over to the civil authorities." You can read the full interview (here).
Finally, sources confirm that papers were served this past week in the $25 million defamation lawsuit against the OCA by former Chancellor, Robert Kondratick. Named in the suit are the OCA, Fr. Andrew Jarmus as OCA Director of Communications and Dr. Faith Skordinski, member of the Metropolitan Council who served as the official 'Accuser' at Kondratick's Church trial in May 2008.
• Diocese of Alaska
The Diocesan website recently posted the full text of Bishop Benjamin's October 20th address to the Annual Assembly of the Diocese. In it the Bishop speaks directly of the Alaskan Church lands and offers a way forward on this long-standing problem:
"Time and time again, the issue of the lands the Church holds in Alaska comes up. If you will look carefully at the budget, you will see how shallow the myths are about hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing into the diocesan treasury. The fact is less than $100k comes in each year. It is not even enough to pay salaries and meet the needs of the diocese. I can assure you, the Holy Synod and Central Administration have no desire to take these funds for their use. They do, however, consider the Alaskan Lands to be part of the heritage of the whole Church in America. It is a heritage which is intended to help support the Alaskan diocese. The management of this heritage should be local. It should also not be in the hands of one person. And so, I have asked the Diocesan Council to establish a Lands Committee to advise it and to help manage the sale and rental of properties."
The Bishop also discussed the massive debt left by the former hierarch, +Nikolai:
"When I arrived in the diocese there was a debt of some $906k. This debt included several mortgages and bank loans. This debt consisted of mortgage on a house on Hunt Circle in Anchorage which was the former home of the previous hierarch, mortgages on the St. Innocent Cathedral, the Sitka Cathedral and the 'A' Street museum property here in Anchorage. Given our resources and very limited income, we simply cannot carry this kind of indebtedness. Together with the members of the Diocesan Council, I have taken some steps to reduce the debt. The house on Hunt Circle was sold taking some $360k off the books. A piece of property in Homer that was of no real use to us was also sold and the proceeds used against the debt. The Sitka Cathedral is quite capable retiring the debt there. But there remain the mortgages against this Cathedral (St. Innocent's in Anchorage) and the 'A' Street Museum."
• Diocese of the South
Sources report that despite Metropolitan Jonah's election (which deprived the Diocese of a Vicar Bishop), Archbishop Dmitri will retire as previously planned in the Spring of 2009.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop maintains a full schedule. The Diocesan website reports that, prior to his departure on January 13 for the installation of Bishop Alejo as Ruling Bishop of the Exarchate of Mexico, the Archbishop, Metropolitan Jonah and Fr. Joseph Fester will meet with the Administrative Task Force at Southern Methodist University to discuss the Orthodox Studies Program at of SMU. Course offerings are scheduled to begin in the fall of 2009. The program, when fully implemented, will grant a Master of Divinity degree from the Perkins School of Theology at SMU with a concentration in Orthodox Studies.
• Diocese of Washington and New York
Sources confirm that the name of Fr. Basil Summer has been raised by Metropolitan Jonah to become his vicar Bishop for the diocese. Fr. Summer, who is in his 80's, served many years as the pastor of St. Mark's parish in Bethesda, MD. In 1990 he succeeded Fr. Sergei Glagolev as the Director of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards (FOS), a position he held for four years before retiring in 1994. Since then Fr. Summer has represented the OCA at various functions both here and abroad, including the 9/11 prayer services with Metropolitan Theodosius, and in Havana with Robert Kondratick. It is expected that at its December 28th-29th meeting in Washing DC, the Synod will discuss the proposed nomination, and also interview Archimandrite Melchizedek (Pleska), who was nominated by the Diocesan Assembly of Western Pennsylvania to be the new Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Priests and laity in the Diocese of Washington and New York are increasingly vocal in objecting to the following letter from the Diocesan Chancellor, requesting a $200 donation from every parish for a gift of a new panagia, reportedly costing $13,000, for the new Metropolitan. The letter, on Diocesan stationery reads:
"Dear Father and Parish Council:
With the election of Metropolitan JONAH at the 15th All-American Council a new era has begun for the Orthodox Church in America. Those who witnessed the Council will long remember this event as a miraculous new beginning for the church in America, and especially for the Diocese of Washington and New York.
He, who just a month ago served as head of a monastery and on the day of his election as Metropolitan had only received the episcopacy
eleven days prior, is now awaiting his enthronement on December 28, 2008 at his Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Washington. D. C.
On the occasion of His enthronement the Diocese of Washington and New York will present to His Beatitude the gift of a Panagia. The Panagia, one of a three-piece set, is the insignia of Office of Metropolitan. Each will hold the relics of saints dear to the Orthodox Church in America, and they will always be near his heart. This treasury will become a permanent possession of the Orthodox Church in America and worn by subsequent Metropolitans.
A donation of $200 from each parish is being requested. Please forward your donation made payable to: the Diocese of Washington and New York.
Archpriest Joseph Lickwar"
Several priests have suggested that given the times, if the diocese wants to make a gift to the new Metropolitan it should collect funds to be donated to a charity, or food bank. As one priest wrote to OCANews.org: "When will this 'business as usual' stop? $200 per parish for 'bling'?!? My goodness ... when will we ever learn?"
• Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
As is customary, OCANews.org will be taking the rest of the year off for the holidays. We will return at the beginning of the new year. To all our readers, a Merry Christmas and a most Happy New Year!
- Mark Stokoe