5.14.07 Part Two In A Series
The Nescott Dismissal:
The arbitrary dismissal of Gregg Nescott from the Special Investigative Commission and his suspension from the Metropolitan Council by Metropolitan Herman is not an isolated event. In the past 18 months the Metropolitan has not hesitated to silence any opposition by:
• ordering priests, deacons and laity to be silent,
(Read that story here)
• ordering the Special Investigative Commission to be silent, (Read that story here)
• ordering the Metropoltian Council to be silent about its own decisions, (Read that story here)
• asking the OCA, as a whole, to cease discussion about the scandal. (Read that story here)
In addition the Metropolitan has maintained his own silence by refusing to answer legitimate questions about the scandal from:
• Archbishop Job, (Read that story here)
• Attorneys who are OCA members, (Read that story here)
• Seventy Senior OCA Clergy, (Read that story here)
• The Special Commission, (Read that story here)
• As well as countless personal letters from laity, clergy and parishes through the OCA.
As one who had been silenced by Metropolitan Herman,
I asked Protodeacon Eric Wheeler about this pattern. I was not expecting his reply. Said Wheeler:
“Those of us who came of age in the Orthodox Church in America during the granting of autocephaly, held in our hearts, and continue to hold, the vision of a united Orthodox Church in America. The transition from old calendar to new, Slavonic to English, parish council domination to priestly and hierarchical leadership, and a more complete liturgical cycle with frequent confession and communion were all steps taken to realize this vision – a Church in and for America. And, while much has been accomplished on the local parish level to realize the mission of our Orthodox faith in this land, as a community, we have truly lost sight of our mission, we have confused our vision with self service, and we have lost all semblance of leadership as a Church in and for America.”
How did such a thing come to pass? Wheeler answered:
“This failure of institutional leadership is a canonical issue, rooted in our inability to fully understand and implement conciliarity as it was affirmed by the Russian Orthodox Church at the pre-Revolutionary Church Council, and reflected by the Orthodox Church in America in its present by-laws; a conciliarity grounded in the Gospel and realized by the coming together of the Church as hierarchs, clergy and laity to define what is “for the good of the Church”; a conciliarity taught to us and practiced by the very architects of our autocephaly.
Unfortunately, today, we are faced with a total abuse of hierarchical authority, manifest in an elitism that should not, nor can not be tolerated by the hierarchs, clergy and laity. This hierarchical elitism seeks to redefine and even deny the canonical foundation upon which the autocephaly was built; an unlearned hierarchical elitism, which seeks to ignore the writings and teachings of our contemporary theologians; a hierarchical elitism rooted in the authoritarian style of church governance that characterized Imperial Russia – the very authoritarianism that the pre-Revolutionary Church Council sought to correct; a hierarchical elitism that makes it so much easier to follow the rubric and rule by decree, than to comprehend why we perform the ritual, and its role in archpastorally ministering to the faithful, unto their salvation.”
So what does that mean? Wheeler continued:
“I am dismayed that a Church, which professes to be the embodiment of Truth, can tolerate hierarchs who stifle, muzzle and suffocate the truth.
I am troubled that a member of the Holy Synod can sign an archpastoral statement, and return to his diocese only to be manipulated into disavowing that very statement.
I am shocked that a bishop can unilaterally remove a Metropolitan Council member elected at his own diocesan assembly by the clergy and faithful.
I am disturbed that a priest, who squandered the resources of the Church, can thrust aside the very oath of allegiance he signed the day of his ordination and refuse to tell the truth in the presence of the Holy Synod.
Mr. Gregory Nescott is removed from the Commission by a bishop’s signature; Father Kondratick is protected by a bishop’s signature from facing the consequences of his actions. Bishop Nikolai has a shill quoting ancient canons to justify his non-attendance at a meeting of the Holy Synod where he was about to be questioned about his actions in assuming authority over Church lands in Alaska...
We are called to be obedient to our hierarchs because our hierarchs are obedient to Christ. But what is our Christian responsibility when the actions of our hierarchs become self-serving?”
Such as silencing those who seek the truth? Wheeler did not hesitate in his reply:
“Nescott’s reflection, posted on OCANews.org on March 18th, was a supplication to the Metropolitan Council to allow the Special Commission to continue its work without interference and to release its report to the Church-at-large. It spoke to the process of the Special Commission’s work and it revealed nothing confidential. Where was there any breach of confidentiality in Nescott’s text on OCANews.org which necessitated his removal from the Commission? The only bit of new information I could find that was revealed in the reflection was the fact that the report of the Special Commission was 13 pages long. Is this the confidentiality that Mr. Nescott violated? Or was there fear that Mr. Nescott would push the Special Commission to delve too deeply into the intrigues of the hierarchs?
The official press releases of the Church made reference to the facts that Charity, 9/11 and Christmas Stocking funds were misappropriated; that a video tape exists which raises serious questions about the distribution of the Beslan Funds; that administrative and financial controls were routinely circumvented; that monies designated to specific charities were diverted and used for other purposes; and, that Church money was used for personal ends. After eighteen months of investigation, these charges were determined to be centered on one person, the Church’s former Chancellor. How then, after hearing the report, could Archbishop Dmitri state that “we are only at the first step in shedding as much light as possible” on the actions of Father Kondratick? I sat in a car with Father Kondratick in September 1999, on a return from St. Tikhons’ Seminary, where he pleaded with me to help him “get out of this mess” because he “did not want to go to jail”. Is this one of the first steps in shedding light on the actions of Father Kondratick that Archbishop Dmiti was searching for?
I am saddened that countless clergy and faithful of The Orthodox Church in America, who dedicate their lives in service to the Church, who seek nothing more than to overcome the darkness of sin and stand for the Truth, all for the upbuilding of the Church in America, can be assaulted, belittled, manipulated, threatened, tarnished and removed from doing good work through the abuse of hierarchical authority in letters which end in “Yours in Christ” just because they offer an opposing opinion.”
"Yours in Christ"
You yourself received such a letter? Wheeler began reading:
"I am myself a recipient of quite a few of these letters:
“September 29, 1999
Dear Protodeacon Wheeler,
…, I place you under obedience to maintain the confidentiality of your formerly held Office. Your salary and compensatory benefits will remain intact during your Leave of Absence provided that you are in obedient compliance with the terms I have set forth….., Communication between yourself and the Chancery Office, Officers, personnel and staff is restricted only to me and Archbishop Herman. The contents of this letter and the terms, conditions and nature of this Leave of Absence are to be kept in strict confidence…., I gently remind you of the Oath of Allegiance you made at the time of your Ordination, the professional code of conduct of a loyal servant of the Church, and the reverential obedience owed by you, as a member of the clergy, to me, your ruling hierarch….,
Yours in Christ the Lord,
October 31, 2005
Protodeacon Eros Wheeler!
…, In fact, you have once again aired (a very good term for the making public of something so miasmic) noisome personal animosity and antipathy towards those who had originally employed you through extreme condescension, after they had released you from a position of trust and generous compensation…, I remain amazed at the Christian hearts of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, so clearly shown in their reluctance to impose on you the sanctions and canonical punishment you have so clearly and richly earned…,
Commending you and all to Christ’s love,
November 2, 2005
Dear Protodeacon Eric,
…, Should you have sought permission to distribute these materials, permission would have been denied as the matter has been previously discussed and resolved by the Holy Synod…., This matter is closed and you are to refrain from pursuing it any further.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
November 17, 2005
Dear Protodeacon Eric,
…, What you are doing through your irresponsible and leading public statements and through the statements of others who seem to speak for you, is clearly not for the Church’s wellbeing, but quite to the contrary, and thus cannot claim to be done out of love and concern…., As a deacon under my omophorion, I am directing you to personally refrain from making or encouraging others to make any further public statements about this and from pursuing it any further in any manner whatsoever…,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
January 27, 2006
Dear Protodeacon Eric,
…, Unfortunately, the concern you introduced to the public forum is now not related primarily to Church financial administration, but has come to challenge proper church order and discipline, as it seems that the very authority of the Holy Synod is now called into question and its decisions have become subject to review and debate…., with sadness I have observed that your actions until now have not reflected a desire for peace and healing within Christ’s Body…,
With love in Christ,
Does this repeated demand for silence call their authority into question?
“Yes. I am calling into question the very moral authority of the Holy Synod if, in fact, it stands by while a man of Mr. Nescott’s stature, who served on the Special Commission and the Metropolitan Council for the upbuilding of this Church and the regaining of the trust of its faithful, is removed because he offers differing opinions.
Yes, I am calling into question the very moral authority of the Holy Synod if it stands by while an elected diocesan representative to the Metropolitan Council is suspended arbitrarily by the Metropolitan.
Yes, I am calling into question the moral authority of the Holy Synod if, while adopting all eight recommendations of the Metropolitan Council, including the release of the Report of the Special Commission, it stands by while the very implementation of these recommendations never take place.
Yes, I am calling into question the moral authority of the Holy Synod if it stands by while Bishop Nikolai takes control and mortgages the lands in Alaska which for over 200 years have been legally under the management of The Orthodox Church in America and its precursors.”
What can we do?
“To the best of my knowledge, the Orthodox Church is conciliar. The bishops of the Church do not have a monopoly on defining what is “for the good of the Church” – it takes the assembly of the hierarchy, clergy and laity. If we cannot resolve our differences to realize the fullness of Truth which has been revealed to us once and for all time; if we continue to bury information, opinions and ideas which will lead to the healing of The Orthodox Church in America; if we continue to defer to outside pressures, real or imagined, restricting our actions as a Church with centuries-old solutions to correct ethical and moral failings; if we resort to letters and faxes which terminate the opposition while signing our names “With love in Christ”, then all that we do, week after week, is nothing more than playing Church in a club we have turned into a museum relic of the past. We then become spiritually dead as a Church.”
Stop being silent then? Wheeler responded:
“We have a crisis of leadership in our Church today, rooted in the lack of obedience to our Lord, not obedience to our hierarchs. It is time for the Church – its hierarchs, clergy and yes, the laity – to reclaim our vision of becoming a Church in and for America by following Him; not what is just convenient, or easy, or safe from a legal perspective. The Law could not save us before; there is little reason to believe lawyers today have any more power.“
News From Alaska
Wheeler’s unexpected statement is made more poignant by recent news from Alaska. Mark Harrison, the librarian at St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska has been dismissed by Bishop Nikolai. His transgression? Harrison raised the question of why +Nikolai had not attended the last Synod meeting in an pseudonymous posting on OCANews.org.
When Bishop Nikolai discovered Harrison has contributed to the site under the pseudonym “Sine Nomine”, the Bishop demanded Harrison be terminated immediately. Fr. Hatfield, current Dean of St. Herman’s and future Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s, tried to intervene, but the Bishop was adamant. +Nikolai would only agree that Harrison should be allowed “the mercy” to resign, rather than be fired on the spot for being “publicly disloyal to the Diocese”.
Harrison has decided to pursue graduate studies in Seattle. St. Herman’s is still searching for a Dean, and now a Librarian as well. Bishop Nikolai and his staff now profess, in public and private, to have been “surprised” by Harrison’s resignation letter.
Prohibiting the Question
Clearly there are questions, lines of questioning and questions about certain people that are not allowed in the OCA. To ask such questions is to risk consequences. It doesn’t really matter what those questions are: whether they concern money, or as Wheeler stated “the intrigues of Bishops.” What matters is the prohibition of questioning, that membership in the OCA, or, for example, the Diocese of Alaska specifically, requires silence. This is the fundamental problem.
Recent history offers an analogy. In its day, Marxism was trumpeted as the wave of the future because it claimed to answer all questions on the basis of its “scientific” ideology. It could do so, however, only if certain questions were prohibited; questions about the meaning of life, of individual existence and the like. As Marx stated openly: “Socialist man does not ask those questions”. The reason was simple - if one continued to ask those questions one might eventually recognize that the whole impressive structure of Marxism was at its root, an elaborate sleight of hand. Ask too many questions, and one might come to realize that it was an intellectual swindle.
So, too, with the OCA for the past 15 years. Even the “new” Syosset being touted by Metropolitan Herman works only if whole realms of questioning, especially questions about the past, are prohibited. Like Socialist man, OCA man doesn’t ask about ADM, about the Beslan tape, about “Bibles for Russia”, about the missing million dollars in 2002, about Alaskan land sales and mortgages, about the questionable actions of Bishops, etc., etc., etc. In Marxism the refrain was always “forget the past, look to the glorious future, all is well, we have socialism and soon, very soon, we will have communism! In the “new” OCA, the refrain from Syosset is “forget the past, look to the glorious future, we have changes, and soon, very soon, we will have a Church others will wish to emulate!” Different words, same swindle. It all rests on the prohibition of questioning, and demanding silence from those who do. Marx did it through dense, difficult prose; the Metropolitan through Proskauer Rose and his lawyers. And when that doesn’t work Herman and Nikolai can be even more direct. When the questions will not go away, one makes the questioners disappear.
Deacon Wheeler, Frs. Grigoriev, Harrilchak, Kappanadze, the Special Commission, the Metropolitan Council members, Nescott, now Harrison – the list of silenced clergy and laity continues to expand as does the scandal. This only makes one ask the further question: Why? What is so terrible that even to ask questions is cause for destroying people’s careers (as in the case of Wheeler and Harrison)? What is so horrible that even to ask the question is cause for reprimanding clergy – or removing laymen from positions they are uniquely qualified for (as in the case of Nescott)? What is so frightening that Syosset is willing to threaten members of the the Special Investigative Commission and Metropolitan Council with dismissal if they continue to seek the truth?
In Part Three of our Series:
The Nescott Dismissal: Seeking the Truth