+Philip Dismisses Priest
For Posting OCANews.org Comment
Following the posting of two comments on OCANews.org last week Fr. Elias Yelovich, of the Antiochian St. James Mission in Westminster, MD, was dismissed from his parish and suspended by Metropolitan Philip.
Fr. Yelovich was summoned to appear before his Dean, Fr. Peter Pier, on Friday, Nov. 5th. Fr. Peter told Yelovich he was meeting with him at the request of Bishop Thomas, the Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Charleston. Fr. Elias was questioned about whether he would publicly repudiate his published comments and also as to whether he intended to post similar comments in the future. (Fr. Yelovich's comments are posted at the end of this article.) Fr. Elias responded that he would not repudiate his comments because he did not think what he had done was wrong. that he did not currently have any more comments planned, but he could not give assurances that he would not write any comments in the future either.
On Monday, Nov. 8th, Fr. Peter telephoned Fr. Elias and read him a letter. (The letter was from Bishop Thomas, on behalf of Metropolitan Philip.) Fr. Peter told Fr. Elias that Bishop Thomas would call him later, personally, but that the Bishop was too upset about the situation to call immediately. The letter was not going to be mailed or emailed, but just read to him over the phone.
In the letter Fr. Elias was informed that due to his publicly "speaking out" against "recent actions" taken by the Metropolitan, he had been removed as the Priest at St. James. He was told to remove all his personal belongings from the rented church space immediately, and turn over his keys and all bank account information to a Parish Council member to be selected by Fr. Peter. The current Parish Council Chair was also removed.
Fr. Elias was then given until 9 AM on Nov. 9th, to publicly repent for his actions. If he complied, he would be attached to the altar of St. Mary’s Parish in Chambersburg, PA. (St. Mary's was Fr. Elias' home parish before his assignment to St. James some 4 years ago.) Fr. Elias was informed he could continue to commune as a Priest at the altar, but not serve, for a period of six months, after which time his situation would be reviewed.
Fr. Elias response to the Metropolitan yesterday was simple and direct. He would offer no defense on his behalf, but could not repudiate that "which was a matter of conscience". He accepted the Metropolitan's authority, and would accept whatever punishment was to be given. Fr. Elias was then informed that he was not to enter any church of the Archdiocese this coming Sunday.
Fr.Elias two comments to OCANews.org:
1st comment: October 27, 2010
*On our Legacy and the Reset Button: the Confessions of a Muddled Mission Priest*
Glory to God!
I am a muddled mission priest. I am the least of the priests, a worker priest, in the least of the mission parishes in the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic in the AOC. The last place in the line of priests was made for me, and in truth, I am overjoyed to take it. I have only a handful of families (maybe 25 or 30), in a county in which there is no other Orthodox presence in a relatively small state. The life of my congregation, however, is dynamic and intense; there is constant movement. People come and go. Catechumens are usually in the process of being taught the faith. And in the midst of it all, I am 'that' priest of 'that' parish in which God has sent a man with the gift of prophecy and healing. I am the priest of 'that' parish about which my brothers either shake their heads, whisper behind closed doors or erupt in anger with wagging tongues and fingers. He, the man with these gifts in my parish, a repentant sinner, prefers silence to talk, and he spends most of his time in the midst of great physical illness and pain directing my spiritual life, which he says is very difficult. This is unquestionably true. I am impossible. But in the time of my priesthood in the small mission parish that I serve, I have cast out demons in the name of Christ, and I have witnessed many healings and miracles of divine intervention. Sometimes I have thought that these events are unique, wondering how and why God would do such astonishing things in our little out-of-the-way place. But I know they are not unique at all. You all do the same things in your own parishes, I daresay without ever realizing the greatness of them. Yet, I have documented so many events of clairvoyance and healing and prophetic utterance at St. James, however, that I wonder how many more pages my encrypted journal can hold. I add pages to it most every week. The intensity of the spiritual life at St. James is both without question, and at least in one sense, it is entirely understandable: Where else would God do such mighty acts other than in the least of the mission parishes served by the least of the priests? This is the way He is.
I am 60 years old; a convert from the Lutheran ministry in which I served for over a decade. I was Chrismated and then made a subdeacon in the OCA, where I served for about another decade or so; then I was made a deacon in the AOC for six years and now a priest for five more. I celebrated the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the Holy Priesthood on the Feast of St. James last week, the patronal feast of my parish. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James is always an experience of great joy, and it has also always been a spiritually intense experience. This year the core congregation was present along with a few visitors from local parishes and about a dozen homeless people who live outside the doors of our church. A couple of them sleep literally on the mat on which the faithful wipe their feet. When I walk into the temple on Sunday morning, I must apologize to them for asking them to move so that I can open the doors; I then put on the hot water for their instant coffee, and I help them get up and get into the single bathroom that we have before even saying Kairon. This past Sunday the same group came to church again, the Sunday of the demoniac. Two of them broke into a fist fight outside the church, and one of my altar servers, a young man in his late twenties, left the subdeacon and me in the Altar to complete Proskomedia as he went out to break up the fight. The police siren in our burglar alarm was jostled as one of the weak homeless people fell against it, and it screamed out the siren as the faithful came to church. After everything calmed down, and we were able to turn our minds and our hearts to prayer, I was able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The homeless people remained. As I preached on the release of the demoniac from the horrific power of legion, one of the homeless people screamed from the back of the temple: "Drive them out of me, Father; please." This I did after the final blessing as I have done before; the congregation gathered together as I prayed for release for the poor soul; the demons always leave; they are fearful of His Name. She begged for a cross to wear after kissing the icon of our father among the saints, John Maximovitch of San Francisco, so dear to all of us. This is who we are at St. James Mission.
I have nothing to teach any of you who will read this. I have the same education as the rest of you, and like you, I accept the faith of the Holy Orthodox Church without reservation or exception. Like you, I love the Lord with all my heart. But I am very, very muddled and upset. The reason I am muddled and upset has to do with my catechumens and with the inconsistency between what they are being taught as catechumens and everything we are now hearing and reading on the 'OCAnews.org' site. Perhaps my words will be added to the other submissions on that site; perhaps not. I will submit them either way, for even the least of the priests in the least of the missions is a part of the Body.
Let me explain. The substance of what I teach my catechumens is summarized in the Creed and in chapters 5 through 7 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. I tell them, as I tell all my people repeatedly, ad infinitum, that we follow the example and the teachings of our Lord, because He is our Lord, period. We do not ask if those teachings work in any worldly sense, or if they will make things better for us or for the world in any practically. We follow them, because He is the Lord, and we are bound to Him. We follow them without question, because He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep. As our patron, St. James taught, we must not be double-minded. We ask and we pray and we praise and we serve in simplicity of faith; single-mindedly. We have no assurance that it will be easy, or that we will even exist as a mission beyond the next collection. We are not permitted to have one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom. We are to be single-minded in our faith, totally of the Kingdom, not double-minded. We are to follow the Lord, because He is the Lord. And we are to follow Him in all things, without looking to the left or to the right; we follow the narrow way, the way of love and sacrifice and absolute obedience to Him and absolute trust in Him. We never look at outcomes, ever. Never, never, never, do we look at outcomes. The only outcome that matters is the Victory of Jesus Christ, nothing else. We do the Will of the Master, Jesus Christ, and we pray that our own will is crucified. Crucified. We do so, because we are His, period. We do so for no other reason. Outcomes in our lives in the world as priests and as bishops and as disciples at any level are in His hands. This I tell my people repeatedly.
So you see, what I explain to my people and to my catechumens about double-mindedness is now being challenged by the actions we are reading about. What can I say? The inconsistency is so clear. Only Bishop MARK (whom I do not know) may be held before my people at the present moment as one who has shown single-minded faith in Christ through this present crisis. He has been vilified, threatened by laity and then threatened within the hierarchy with exile, forced to consider having to apply to another national Orthodox communion. *What great glory for him!* This, you see, my catechumens understand, because they have read the Beatitudes: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for you reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." But why he has been so threatened by those in the Body I cannot explain without hanging my head in shame. How terrible, and what a missed opportunity for the Archdiocese. How the legacy of the Archdiocese and its present leaders would be given the flavor of salt if only they would stand up and defend him, or any who have been or will be so vilified. It is still possible, you know, and it really is *not* something that should be foreign to our understanding. What is the loss of income or approval on the part of those who vilify, if it means the hearing of those most desired of all words from the Gospels, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord?"
On the backside of my iconostasis at St. James, a few weeks ago, the man with the prophetic gifts in my parish, the man who directs my spiritual life, drew a small picture of a button. Beneath it he wrote, "Press here to reset." God has given all of us the reset button of repentance. Bishop MICHAEL at our annual priest’s retreat spoke of this to us at the Village about a month ago; it burned a hole in my heart. He said everything very plainly: God’s mercy to us is shown above all by the Grace of repentance, he said. God owes us nothing; He deigns in the beauty of His sovereign majesty to show us, who do not deserve it, mercy. Push here; reset; repent. How wondrous is our God!
This I pray with all my heart will be the legacy of the AOC in which I, the least of the priests in the least of the missions, serve with gratitude. We can still reset. The survey that came out a few weeks ago should make us very glad indeed. How few we are! With so few of us in church on a Sunday morning! How glorious to be part of the Little Flock that holds the ancient ways and the Holy Tradition of the Fathers and walks the narrow way. Why must we try and make it appear successful or better from a worldly perspective? Why may we not rejoice in the words of our Lord, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom"? Why?
So if and when I will be able to tell everything to my catechumens about the present crisis will depend on whether or not we press that reset button. Push here; repent.
My only question at this point from the least of the priests is: *Where are you, Senior Priests and Bishops, our leaders – Where are you? And why do you not call for the legacy of reset, repentance, now in our beloved Archdiocese?*
Please; let’s push that button.
2nd comment: Posted November 3, 2010
*On Fathers and Beatings*
My father was a gentle man. This once seemed very strange to me, since he had been a drill sergeant in the Army and then became a blasting expert and foreman in a Bethlehem Steel quarry where we lived in Pennsylvania. But still, in spite of his ability to be tough, as he was with me and with my brother, the memory of him that still brings tears to our eyes is that of his gentleness. I loved him very much and still miss him each day, even though he has been gone now for over ten years.
One of the things he taught me was that a father must never beat his children. A father guides, helps, intercedes, pushes and pulls, teaches by example, suffers for, waits in patience, prays for and loves his children; but, a father never beats his children. Never. My father would not even have beaten the stray dog that once came into the yard and bit him. He would have seen that as beneath his humanity.
How distressed I am over this report about the action taken against Fr. David Moretti. I could care less about clerical shirts and cassocks. Why they should matter is a mystery to me. Only Christ and His love matters. Whether we look like Roman Catholics, old country Orthodox priests or Protestants of this or that variety is completely irrelevant to me. We are priests of Jesus Christ, period. We are to bear the wounds of His Precious Body. Has He not put us on? So when I hear that one of my brothers in the priesthood has apparently been beaten for wearing a cassock, or for that matter, for any reason that has to do with misperceived resistance to authority, I am once again horrified. I do not understand. As usual, I am confused beyond words.
*“Does not authority within the Body denote pastoral care?”* (asked rhetorically by our Parish Council Chair today) Does it not denote love, charity, guidance and the qualities of the Father of the Prodigal Son – patience – eternal patience and hope and faith in the Heavenly Father, on which all behavior should be modeled – on His humility, His extreme humility? Surely it does. What an embarrassment for us to read about these things – a beating to one of our brothers, who apparently complied with stated guidelines as told and then was beaten nevertheless.
The members of the Parish Council of my little mission have also read the account here on their own. We have voted to take our voluntary tithe (10 % skimmed of the top of all income to our parish) and offer it for the remaining months of this year to Fr. David to help him get things in order. It’s not much. As a mission parish, we have no legalistic obligation to send it into the Archdiocese. But we do have an obligation of love. And since love flows like water to the lowest point – to that point most needful – we allow it to flow this time to the family of one who has been beaten. May it help his family, and may his suffering bring glory to Christ!
So, brothers in the priesthood. Where are you? Remember that to go against conscience, as we have all heard from past formation, is “neither right nor safe.” To remain silent is to say much about whose will we actually do serve. As my father taught me, so I repeat to you once again in love: *A father never, never beats his children. Never. Should that not be all the more true of a father in Christ?*