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  The Syosset Scandal Continues
Unexpected Christmas “Truce” Requested

With calls for an audit mounting on the internet, fueled by priests from the Midwest, Archbishop Job of Chicago has asked his clergy to refrain from further public comment on the financial irregularities in Syosset until a meeting of the Lesser Synod in mid-January. According to a December 20 email from his Chancellor, Archpriest John Zdinak, +Job’s request is in response to a recent letter from Metropolitan Herman asking +Job personally to make no further comment on the issue until the meeting, where +Herman promises, the financial scandal will be addressed. “This is not a GAG ORDER (emphasis in original)”, writes Zdinak referring to earlier attempts of Syosset to curb discussion, “but a request from the Archbishop so as to give the Bishops an atmosphere conducive to dealing with the situation responsibly.” As word of the request spread from the Deans to clergy, the sudden outbreak of “quiet” led some to liken this situation to the unexpected Christmas truce of 1914, where Allied and German soldiers ceased fighting for the day across theWestern Front.

Fighting in the Midwest

Increasingly sharp exchanges between supporters and critics of Syosset have been the rule of the day since the scandal erupted anew in early November with the publication of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler’s insider allegations. Archbishop +Job has been at the forefront in the new battle over financial chicanery alleged to have taken place during the later years of Metropolitan Theodosius (1992-2002) and the attendent cover-up that has continued into +Herman’s tenure (2002-present). Job’s call for action began with letters before the July All American Council in Toronto, and more recently with a series of meetings with clergy in five of his six deaneries that began in mid-November. At these meetings, which are clearly confessional in tone, the Archbishop begins by “apologizing on behalf of the Church for letting down those who are in the trenches.” According to minutes of the one deanery meeting, +Job discusses in detail Wheeler’s allegations of misdirection of funds, inappropriate expenditures and secret “discretionary” accounts. The Archbishop recounts to the assembled priests his own journey from denial when first confronted with evidence in 1999, through growing questioing based on his own personal experiences prior to the 2005 All American Council, to his current anger at being “misled” by those responsible. The meetings, which participants attest have often lasted four hours or more, have included intense questioning by the often stunned clergy.

As a result more and more Midwest clerics have taken to clergy-only and open internet forums arguing for a full audit and investigation of Syosset. The posted comments of Archpriest Michael Simerick, former military chaplain and current Dean of All Saints Cathedral in Detroit Michigan, for example, have become a lightning rod for those for and against investigating the allegations. Simerick approach, adopted bymore and more bloggers, is to focus more on the moral questions raised by the allegations, than the legal or financial questions. For Simerick, the meaning of the allegations lay not so much in what they say about those who allegedly committed them, than about those who have heard them and chose to do nothing about it.

Job’s Letter Hits a Nerve

This message has been most forcefully repeated by +Job. If the Archbishop’s “repentance” has inspired many of his priests, the support of his Deans and priests encouraged the Archbishop to write a dramatic letter to +Herman and the entire Holy Synod on November 28th in which he stated: “I feel compelled at this time and bound by conscience to offer a clear and concise account of my position on the crisis that now plagues our Orthodox Church in America, especially since references to me have appeared in the public forum.  Contrary to that which has been stated, this matter is not closed---far from it!”

Turning to the central issue +Job writes: “In my mind, whether the accuser or the accused are saints or sinners, reputable or disreputable, magnanimous or malicious---is immaterial.  What truly matters is the nature of the allegations.  What continues to perplex me is that the simple and most appropriate question was not asked---not by the Holy Synod, not by the Metropolitan Council, nor by others commenting on the situation:

Are any of the allegations true, or are they false?  If this question is not asked---let alone answered---how can there be resolution to the problem? Obviously, there must be investigation.”

  Like a clarion, +Job repeats his central question:“ Are any of the allegations true, or are they false?

He continues: “The answer to this question is of utmost importance.  If the allegations are false, financial records will prove them to be false.  If they are true, then much work must be done -- not only regarding facts, figures, and finances, but the restoration of credibility, honesty, truth, righteousness, integrity, and honor.”

While apologizing for the difficulties these questions may give rise to in the Church and to +Herman personally, Job explains that it is hierarchal duty to ask difficult questions on behalf of his flock. “ It is my pastoral duty,” +Job writes, “to lead the faithful flock entrusted to my spiritual care and, when necessary, to protect it.  I can do neither adequately unless this crisis is resolved and answers are provided.  I realize that my reticence to accept the “status-quo” puts me in an extremely vulnerable position, but I cannot violate my conscience or my responsibility.”
+Job ends his letter with a quote and a haunting question: “It is indeed a time for increased love, a time for courage.  A saying by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems most appropriate:  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Vladyka, these things that disturb the Church matter ---we cannot afford to be silent.  Otherwise, we will be confronted with the ultimate question: Do we really expect God to bless any of our endeavors? “

Support from Washington

+Job’s letter was not the only one written to +Herman by a prominent cleric. In a letter dated November 28th, the same day Archpriest Dmitry Grigorieff, (at age 86, one of the oldest priests in the OCA, and as former Dean of the OCA’s National Cathedral, one of the most respected} wrote to +Herman: “It would be highly advisable to conduct an audit from the time Fr. Eric Wheeler was Treasurer of the Church and not just for the last years. If the allegations of Protodeacon Wheeler are true then the perpetrators of these wrongdoings have to be punished and removed from their positions. Attempts to cover them up for whatever reason will have a very harmful on you and on all of us priests and laymen loyal to our Church. “

Syosset Responds

Having declared the matter “ closed” in 2000, and again more recently in October 2005 , +Job’s surprise announcement that the “crisis that plagues our Church” is once again before the Synod of Bishops was welcomed by many. Not everyone welcomes the “truce”, however. ‘They have stonewalled, denied, misled and attacked anyone who challenged them for the last six years.” said one skeptical former Metropolitan Council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Syosset may just be buying time,” he warned. “What they are buying with it is the question.”

- Mark Stokoe 12/21/05



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