Thursday, April 9. 2009
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To all my Brothers and Sisters in the Diocese of the South and the OCA,
For many years now, I have been an active member of the Orthodox community in North Texas. For practical reasons, I feel it would be unwise to divulge either my name or where I go to church – not because of any fear of repercussions for myself, but for my fellow brothers and sisters who share the following thoughts and opinions with me.
The news today (Wednesday, April 8, 2009) that Metropolitan Jonah has appointed Archpriest Joseph Fester as chancellor has brought a dreaded cloud over the diocesan body, confirming some people’s worst fears and exacerbating an already volatile situation. For months now, the storm clouds have been gathering, but it is this transgressive act that compels me to write in and speak my mind. I have witnessed the casual indifference and crass defamation by Father Joseph of those who have committed their life to God’s service in the North Texas community. And as a layperson watching the astounding work that Archbishop Dmitri has done over so many years being quickly and assuredly unraveled by the likes of our new chancellor, the urge to say something has fomented itself. I feel that I must make this statement for all those who are unwilling or unable. I feel that we in the diocese must reflect on this most startling of matters. I feel that the time for introspection and action has arrived.
What has occurred is tantamount to a usurpation of power by someone who views that said power, not as “…a gift from the Lord”, but as an instrument for his own personal gratification. Father Joseph’s influence and agenda has spread quickly and mercilessly across a diocese accustomed to care and pragmatism; accustomed to leadership by a gracious servant of God who loves his brethren and listens to their words with heed and dedication. Vladyka Dmitri has devoted over 30 years of his life to building this diocese; to fostering its progress often at the expense of his own personal well-being. A greater and more humble servant we will never see. Yet Father Joseph has used him for his own duplicitous schemes, cloaking his caustic ambitions in the robe of service to the elderly bishop. And now he has reached an even greater level, by ingratiating himself as fully and completely as possible into the trust and “service” of Metropolitan Jonah. And it is disgraceful.
It is disgraceful that +Jonah has allowed it to happen, knowing full well that Fr. Joseph was part of the old regime under Metropolitans Theodosius and Herman; under Fr. Bob Kondratic and those responsible for the scandal and upheaval within the OCA. He has allowed Fr. Joseph to once again weasel his way into a position of authority. Those in the know; those who were intimately involved in Syosset know that our new chancellor was never taken to task for his involvement; never held responsible for the actions he committed. He walked away free, allowing Fr. Bob to take the brunt of the blame. And +Jonah, knowing this, has still put his full faith and credit in Fr. Joseph. Is +Jonah blind? Is he unaware? Were there no more willing or able servants to take the mantle of chancellor? What of Father Phillip Reese or Father Marcus Burch? What made Fr. Joseph a more worthy administrator than these great men? Is it perhaps that the last voice +Jonah hears is the one that he trusts the most? Does +Jonah not realize that he will go down just as disgracefully as the others so long as he is associated with our new chancellor?
It is disgraceful that we in the diocese have allowed Fr.. Joseph to progress this far. Whether it is those at the Cathedral or those in the surrounding area, the writing was on the wall and we failed to pay attention. Council meetings at St. Seraphim’s have been turned into a farce, as Fr. Joseph has put a gag order on anyone who disagrees with him. He has sworn at parishioners who have voiced their opposition, and sent temperamental emails to those that have been less than convivial to his decrees. He has, in essence, become a tyrant amongst us in the North Texas community (and now, by extension, the entire Diocese), and we have only ourselves to blame for our stagnation, our blindness, and our apathy.
And it is disgraceful that no one has said anything to stop him. No one has dared open their mouth in opposition for fear of being brandished or blacklisted. No one has had the courage or fortitude to voice their concerns and air their opinions. But why, brothers and sisters, should we cower in fear? Why should we hide our faces and shun our responsibility to speak out and speak often at the transgressions and problems we see around us? Why, in this most focused and intense moment of the Lenten season do we shirk our duties to face the demons head on and confront those who would tear us down? Should we not reinvigorate our desire to see God’s work be done, and speak out against those who are hindering its progress? Why are we not articulating our disdain? Why do we fear to tell what we know is the truth? Why have we remained silent? Not just those in the diocese, but also those at the national level who know, have known, continue to know, and say nothing? Why, in short, do we allow this to go on?
Believe me when I say, I receive neither pleasure nor pride by speaking ill of one of God’s servants, a priest who went to seminary and devoted his life to the Lord’s work. It gives me neither pleasure nor pride to negatively affect the reputation of a man who has preached the living Word of God, who has listened to confessions and offered both his advice and God’s forgiveness. This is not about promoting an agenda, but about preserving a great and noble diocese that has worked hard in its 30+ years to build a reputation of growth, prosperity, and illumination in the South. This is about throwing off the shackles of an old regime that has run the OCA into the ground, and now, in full power of the chancery, threatens to do the same thing here. This is about standing up, speaking out, and voicing the concern I know many of us have with our new chancellor – a position that Father Joseph has neither earned, nor should have been considered for in the first place. ....
If there is justice to be had, if there is reason to obtain, if there is purpose to extract, then let us voice our concern and speak out. Deans of the Diocese – speak out! Priests of the Diocese – speak out! Laypeople of the Diocese – speak out! Those around the country who know this to be a dangerous and detrimental appointment – speak out! I urge you brothers and sisters, do not remain silent. Do not remain passive. Do not allow this beautiful Diocese that our beloved Archbishop Dmitri has grown and cultivated from his own hand go down ....
A Humble and Obedient Servant
#1 Humble and Obedient Servant on 2009-04-09 06:40
I do not understand how you separate Archbishop Dimitri from this obvious debacle, which you have so passionately outlined, unless it is for reasons of mental incompetence or diminished capacity. As I said during the Kondratick firestorm, Archbishop Dimitri bears responsibility for sheltering Kondratick and surrounding himself with his acolytes, and clearly should have retired some time ago. Furthermore, he is an advocate of unencumbered hierarchical power and reputedly was one of those bishops who sought to distance the Synod from Fr. Alexander Schmemann's influence.
No doubt he has done much to grow the DOS over the years. But it remains to be seen what his true legacy will be.
I do hope that others will have the courage to speak out like you, although it would have been more powerful if you had used your name.
#1.1 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-09 07:27
Shame on us, who are calling ourselves Orthodox Christians. Who do we think we are all of a sudden?
Are we not supposed to listen and obey and submit to our beloved Vladyka Dimitri and then to our beloved Metropolitan Jonah?
Do we think we know God's matters better than they do?
Orthodox Christians, better take up your cross before it's too late.
And as Metropolitan Jonah said, it is all about Christ.
I think we have forgoten all about Christ for a couple of weeks, right in the middle of the Great Lent.....
Let's forgive and love our brethren .... there is no greater blessing than that.
#1.1.1 Liliana Rudder on 2009-04-09 13:19
Experience has shown that it is wrong to accuse and condemn someone without letting him defend himself. As also the sacred Gospel says: "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?" (Jn. 7:51)
If we are not attentive, many sins of condemning others heap up within us, and then repentance is needed. How often a person repents because he spoke! Let us bear in mind the words of Abba Arsenios: "I have often repented for speaking, but I have never repented for keeping silent."
If we are often deceived by the sense of touch, how much more so we are by people's words. Therefore, much attention is needed, for the devil prowls around roaring to devour us. (1 Pet. 5:8). A Christian ought to be like the many-eyed Cherubim, for evil has multiplied greatly, especially the sin of condemnation, which is as common as "bread and cheese." May God cleanse us and sanctify us for His glory.
"Do not let the sun go down on the wrath of your brother." (Eph. 4:26). That is, let no one be angry and enraged against his brother past the setting of the sun.
Have you heard about that brother who was negligent and lazy, who did not go to the all-night vigils and did not do his duties, whom the brethren knew to be a negligent monk? When he fell ill and the hour of his death drew near, the brethren gathered to hear something beneficial, or to comfort him, or in case he wanted to say something to them, but they saw him joyful, cheerful. One brother was scandalized and said, "What is this we see in you, brother?" We see that you are joyful even though you are approaching death. But we have the thought that you were not a violent monk (A "violent" or "forceful" monk or person is one who strives vigorously to "do violence to his nature constantly" (Ladder 1:4), for "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Mt. 11:12)), so how do you have such courage and a cheerful face? How do you justify yourself?" "Yes, brethren," he said, "indeed I was a negligent person and I did not fulfill my duties. But I achieved one good thing, by the grace of God: not to condemn any brother and not to scandalize anyone; and never did I let my heart have something against any brother of the monastery when the sun set. And inasmuch as I did not judge any brother, I believe that God will not judge me either, for He said, 'Judge not, that you be not judged' (Mt. 7:1) and since I did not judge, I will not be judged." The brethren marveled and said, "Brother, you found the way of salvation very easily." And the brother died with much joy.
Do you see how the Fathers struggled and how they found the way of salvation?
Selected from Counsels from the Holy Mountain from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim
What is a disgrace is this very well written diatribe. As a member of the Parish Council at St. Seraphim’s Cathedral, I can say that what is written here is simply not true. My service on the Parish Council predates Fr. Joseph’s coming to the Cathedral. I have watched him closely and with a jaundiced eye. I am no fan of “Fr. Bob” or the old Syosset crowd, and had serious misgivings about Fr. Joseph’s coming to the Cathedral. Fr. Joseph has done nothing since coming to Dallas to engender this kind of response. I have disagreed with him several times and told him so. I have not been “brandished” (interesting choice of word) or “blacklisted.” I have not been dealt with in anyway inappropriate. We have always been able to maintain mutual love and respect.
Neither I, nor any of the Parish Council have been put under a gag order. Our beloved Archbishop though “elderly” as the poster says, has not been “used.” While I certainly cannot speak for His Eminence, I think he would tell you this. I doubt that His Beatitude Jonah is deceived either. Perhaps it is the writer who is deluded?
To those reading this I say: take the anonymous “humble and obedient servant’s” post with some skepticism.
To the “humble and obedient servant” I send this sent to me by a friend at the Cathedral:
One of the Holy Fathers advised his disciples not to discuss those things about which they know nothing, to proceed with caution when it is necessary to discuss something about which they have only partial knowledge, and to feel free to discuss those things they know well when it is edifying to do so.
I hope my response falls into one of the latter two categories.
#1.2 Gregory Conley on 2009-04-09 09:41
There are no facts stated here except truisms about Priest Fester's career, only emotional please. No charges, only accusations based on association.
Was Fester accused by the SIC? No.
Has he been accused of wrong-doing in the DOS? Not here.
We ought not to let this poster go unchallenged as he has brought a charge against a presbyter without the mandated (by St. Paul) two or three witnesses.
This strikes me as bitter and inauthentic.
#1.3 Rdr. John on 2009-04-09 14:35
I am not from the DOS, but know Fr. Fester from other places and other times. I felt it was a mistake and not in Fr. Fester's best interests to go from the "inner circle" of the defrocked and discredited RSK to a position of power and influence in the DOS, and now he has risen even higher. I do not feel it is appropriate for someone from RSK's old inner circle to be in a position of power and authority in our OCA.
Metropolitan Jonah, please forgive me, but I do not understand your decision to choose Fr. Fester to be Chancellor of the DOS. The memory of the scandal, abuse of power and huge loss of money is too recent. Money has not been recouped. Lawsuits still abound. Frs. Fester and Brum worked closest with RSK and still strongly support him. This is fresh in our memories. I am sure there are other worthy candidates to be Chancellor of the DOS. Please make another choice!
Fester's appointment will truly prove to be a serious failure. ....Out of all the good priests and administrators who's idea was it that Fester was the best choice? ...
#2 Anonymous on 2009-04-09 08:01
What a roller coaster we are on! After numerous initial missteps the Metropolitan makes a stirring speech on unity and independence in North America, and then follows it with a terrible appointment in the DOS, and, even more importantly, a fanciful rational for more of the same (Theodosius, Herman, et al) conciliarity.
At first glance, the pretty picture of harmonious collegiality outlined in Metropolitan Jonah's epistle on conciliarity seems attractive. But read the fine print. All authority is delegated from the bishops, and is therefore no real authority at all, since it can revoked at their whim. Sound familiar? You bet! Oh, and the same thing goes for the parish where the rector is to reign supreme.
Now in a perfect world where bishops and rectors are saints, or at least good and competent men, this system can work, because they respect those to whom they have delegated authority and responsibility, and understand what true leadership means. But this in most definitely not most of the Orthodox world, even our little part of it. Unbridled authority usually leads to arrogance and despotism--sorry, but that's the way it is and has been, as we all painfully know.
Compounding the problem is the manner and pool from which we choose the hierarchy. Supposedly monastics and most definitely, in theory, celibates, they are about as detached from the real world as one can be. Living in a totally male milieu one wonders why we are surprised when so many of them turn out to have a homosexual orientation (which may or may not be sublimated). Adding to the fact that most of them, at some level at least, feel superior to the rest of us, it is no wonder wee get the governance that we get.
Back to the drawing boards Metropolitan Jonah!
#3 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-09 08:14
"...they are about as detached from the real world as one can be..."??? What, in the name of objective reality, are you blathering about? More to the point, what do you actually know about monastic life?
What is "the real world" of which you speak? Trying to feed a family, and buy groceries, and pay the mortgage and the property taxes and the insurance premiums...and praying fervently that there are no unexpected medical expenses this month or that the car won't conk out---again? Having no source of income and wondering where one can find income-generating work? Newsflash: that describes the life of a lot of monastics, especially in North America. The monastery is a family; and its members, including the abbot, have to pull together and work hard just to put food on the table.
One convent of my acquaintance, now with seven or eight nuns (one of whom is very old), can only count on a regular cash income of Cdn$900.00 per month, Mother V's pension. So you'd better believe they have to work very hard to pay their bills: growing much of their own food in the short Canadian summer (14-hour days gardening are not uncommon), plus canning and preserving, plus making candles and incense, plus trying to generate a customer-base for their products in an already-crowded market, plus normal housekeeping, plus the full round of daily services (in Great Lent, at least 8 hours a day in chapel, the rest of the year 4-5 hours).
This skete is a bit better off, serving a parish. But our car (which parish ministry and just modern life demand) is a '91 Plymouth Sundance that's starting to eat up way too much money in repair bills...but the salary is such that a newer one is out of reach, even at 0% financing. So if "the real world" is financial headaches, we got 'em.
What is "the real world" of which you speak? Is it facing interpersonal conflicts and having to learn to play well with others? Is it facing and dealing with competitiveness, ambition in one's self or another, elbowing or getting elbowed? Hmmm...so you put a bunch of alpha males together in one house, and you expect what: perpetual sweetness and light, with no disagreements, no arguments, no resentments, no rivalries, no harsh words, and never a need either to apologise or to forgive? Fright's sake! Some of St. Benedict's first monks tried to poison him! And throughout his monastic rule, the saint gives Scripture-based direction on resolving conflicts, not hitting a brother (chapter 70!), and getting along peaceably. Why? Because he knew darned well that those problems would arise.
What is "the real world" of which you speak? Is it the burden and the joy of caring about what happens to family members, fretting over a child or a sibling going wrong, facing a family member's illness or approaching repose? Again, a monastic community is a family; and one cannot but forge bonds of familial affection with one's brothers. If Fr. X is facing cancer, can it be a matter of indifference to his brothers? If Fr. Y falls into the grip of Alzheimer's or reposes in the Lord, will the rest of the house remain unmoved by grief? If a novice (or an elder, for that matter) falls into prelest' or some other spiritual or emotional illness, will everyone else just not care about his peril? If a brother leaves one's monastery to join another, is one not to care one way or another? If a brother leaves monastic life altogether, am I supposed to say, "So what?"? Icy indifference to and remote detachment from the needs and sufferings of others are not found in the example Christ Himself set for us; nor are they found (one hopes) in your family's life; nor should they be found in a monastic family's life.
Where, after all, do you think monastics come from??? The people who enter monastic life do not spring full-blown from the brow of the abbot; we come out of ordinary families and thus have experienced ordinary family life and ordinary life in their school-system and town and college. Many of us had jobs (my resume including janitor work, fixing vacuum cleaners, flipping burgers at Big Boy, trainman on a railroad, desk-clerk, retail sales, and reporter) and student loans to pay off. Some of us dated, maybe even were in a serious relationship (St. Silouan actually got a girl pregnant in his youth). Is that "real" enough?
And we are not plaster saints; we enter with all the same fallenness and brokenness that you suffer, and have to struggle just as hard and just as long in the purgative way as you do. The only difference is that because the monastery can become a pressure-cooker in which there's no place to hide, we must deal with our stuff *now*, if not for the sake of our own souls, then for the sake of avoiding an explosion. How's that for "real"?
If by "the real world" you mean the brokenness and fallenness and suffering and struggle and labour and sacrifice and "doing without" and conflict that most folks have to deal with, we've got it too...and sometimes in a more distilled and potent form. But that's not the real world anyway. All of that stuff is a distortion, a twisting and defacing, of the reality God originally created and which God is already in the process of healing (Rom.8:19-21).
And all of it is already passing away, anyway (Matt. 24:35, 1 John 2:17, etc.). Monastic life (and, indeed, all Christian life) involves dying to self so as to live in the "already" of the Kingdom, in that very real world which is already here and which is the only world that will last beyond time into eternity. It is the person so wrapped up in this life that he does not live in or even care for the life of the world to come, who is "as detached from the real world as one can be."
Sorry, Ken, but this overly-romanticised and "otherworldly" picture you (and all too many other folks) have in your head about monastic life is both utterly inaccurate and a trick of the devil which allows people to discount and dismiss the monastic witness and testimony as "unrealistic" or "impractical" or...worst of all..."pious."
#3.1 Igumen Philip (Speranza) on 2009-04-10 05:40
No one said the monastic life is easy, but it is very different from secular life in a number of important respects. It is normally communal, single sex living under authority, where the priority is giving praise to God in an atmosphere of continual worship. I couldn't agree with you more concerning the realities that entails. You are quite right to disabuse us of romanticized notions--even watching Brother Cadfael episodes makes that clear.
So we are really on the same page concerning the monastic experience. Where we may differ is how important that experience is, how relevant, to episcopal leadership. Certainly, some great bishops have been monastics--as have a lot of terrible ones. But alas, no one has devised the perfect selection system, as far as I know. I am simply advocating making the selection pool for bishops much larger.
Wishing you a blessed Holy Week and Pascha,
#3.1.1 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-10 06:59
What proof do you have (in modern times) that a married episcopacy is qualitatively better than a monastic episcopate?
#188.8.131.52 Anonymous on 2009-04-10 07:24
This impresses me as an articulate, courageous statement, crafted by a prayerful, devoted individual. My prayers are with this writer, and are for God's will to be manifest within the complex situation described.
#4 a reader on 2009-04-09 08:18
Dear Humble and Obedient Servant;
Has it occurred to you that the appointment of Father Fester may have come at the request of Archbishop Dimitri?
#5 Carl on 2009-04-09 08:50
First of all, let me say that I usually do not post anonymously, but if the opposition is so strong in the DOS, than I guess I don’t feel like being persecuted for not opposing the appointment of Fr. Joseph.
I think that many things said on this site are good and grounded in proven facts, but I have not yet seen any specific public accusations against Fr. Joseph besides things like “he worked at Syosset,” “he was a confidant of Kondratick,” “he had knowledge of Kondratick’s wrong-doings” (not real quotes, just summaries). I have never seen anyone say anything like “on this date, Fr. Joseph did this, or heard this, etc.” In fact, the SIC interviewed him and found no wrong doing. If someone has something to report, then it should be brought to Bishop Benjamin’s attention as chairman of the SIC as something that needs continued looking into. If not, then move on and accept the SIC’s decision to not charge him with anything.
The same goes for the specifics of the cathedral. I am also a North Texas parish member, regularly involved with what goes on in the Dallas area, although I do not attend the Cathedral. If something goes on there that you don’t like, take it to Met. Jonah, since now he is the next step up the chain from the Chancellor. Again, making generalizations on a website is not proof of anything to me.
There are some pretty clear reasons that I think Fr. Joseph makes a good choice for the position over other priests mentioned by the first poster here. 1) I have regularly contacted all three of these priests, and Fr. Joseph is the only one that I ever get responses from in a timely manner. That is nothing against the others, but maybe proof that they have other things to worry about than Diocesan issues. 2) Fr. Joseph, as already stated, has basically been doing the job already, and has been serving as dean of a large area, and was once dean of the Chicago area as well. 3) Like it or not, the chancery office is in Dallas right now, along with everything needed to run the Diocese. 4) Fr. Basil, the other priest working at the chancery office, has had health issues recently.
Please feel free to disagree and point out to me things that I have missed, but I have dealt with Fr. Joseph personally on many occasions since his arrival to Dallas, and I see nothing more than a good priest trying to do his job. Again, I’m not at the cathedral all of the time, so I may miss things, but if there are odd things going on, they should be told to the bishop, not a discussion board.
Another North Texan
#6 Another North Texan on 2009-04-09 09:18
Could we ask Kenneth R. Tobin to limit himself to one post per thread, at the most? Too many contributions from one person stifle a real understanding of the reaction of the readership.
(Editor's note: That has not been the custom of the site, since it is the content of the posting, not who or when they send it, that matters most.)
#7 Not that important on 2009-04-09 11:47
I shall, generously, assume that Mr. Tobin is wholly unacquainted with Vladika Dmitri, apart from the misrepresentations he has imbibed. Such unbridled ugliness, insult of a hierarch, and disrespect for the original poster surprises even my experience with the Internet. ...
#8 Antonia Colias on 2009-04-09 12:08
Your generosity is misplaced, since I obviously know all too much about some of "Vladika" Dimitri's actions with regard to the Kondratick affair. Most of my comments have been limited to those specific facts--my conclusions are my own. By the way, I would rather be guilty of "insulting a hierarch," than of sycophantic and idolatrous adulation that brooks no criticism or opposition. Why is it that some members of the DOS act like they belong to some guru's cult?
#8.1 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-09 16:56
You confuse me. You edit some remarks and some you don't. You allow him to slam unjustly our beloved Dimitri, not as some guru, but as a child loves his father, but when we go to defend him you bring out the scissors. You edit some of our saucy replies, especially when they are directed at people who for the most part side with you. But when really nasty replies are directed at people whom you don't think very highly of, you allow them to pass unedited. The first post on this thread is a perfect case in point. You must have had a hard time with that one because in the same post they praised Vladko Dimitri and berated Fr. Joseph, two men you have shown no little antipathy towards. However, you made up for it when Antonia pulled off the gloves in reply to Kenneth's first reply. What gives? Why the double standard?
Kenneth, all you know of Vladiko Dimtri is what you have read here. He is a far better man than you or I will every be. It must urk you to no end knowing that there are litteraly hundreds and thousands of people who love, respect and revere Vladiko Dimitri. However you might feel about him, you can't change the fact that his children love him with all their hearts. He IS a model pastor and father and has shown us his unconditional love. That is why we love him.
And spare me the "coward/sign your name speech". Just go to sleep knowing that generation hereafter will sing the praises you have won here at ocanews.org with naught but the power and bravery of your arm. Your bravery is what legends are made of.
(Editor's note: I try not to edit comments, but sometimes I feel they are over the top, other times I let it pass. I make mistakes in judgement, just like everyone. I think the body of editing speaks for itself, given that more than 22,000 comment have been posted here over the past three + years, many by regulars, but most by new people constantly discovering the site. I think that is evidence enough that I am doing a decent job at least.
As for +Dmitri, no other Bishop in the OCA elicits such effusive praise from his admirers, such that any who question it often do describe it as a "guru" like admiration. Ken is not alone in that perception. One only has to go back in the comments and see that any mention of his name elicits scores of comments, with a vehemence that is surprising. I was even criticized for calling the 86 year old "elderly". Go figure. To those who praise him, do so; to those who dislike him; feel free. In this case, as in most, history will make its judgement on the totality of his life and accomplishments. I certainly make none at this time. )
#8.1.1 Anonymous on 2009-04-09 19:52
You seem to be dumbfounded by such a "surprising" outpouring of support for Vladyko. Why do you think that is? Why didn't +Nicolai recieve such overwhelming support? Why didn't Met. Herman, or Met. Theodosius? Or even +Tikhon (Fitzgerald). Is it so hard to believe that there is such a healthy and strong relationship between a shepherd and his flock? One that is based on mutual love and respect? No, all you see is RSK.
(Editor's note: This is exactly evidence of the phenomena I was trying to report. 'nuff said.)
#184.108.40.206 Anonymous on 2009-04-10 08:12
The lead post pushes my buttons and therefore it makes me cautious. It pushes my buttons because I too am both grateful and if it is permissible to say proud of Archbishop Demitri's work inthe Diocese of the South. To me it has seemed a safe haven, a bright light when other parts of the OCA were in dire straits because of their leadership. So the propect of that labor being endangered alarms me.
The fact that my alarm button is being pushed at the end of Lent in the middle of another storm brewing in American Orthodoxy which involves our newly appointed Metropolitian in some respects (the whole EP spat, problems in Antioch thing) makes me suspicious of my alarm button.
Since many if not most of us regard Metropolitan Jonah's election as the clear voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us I am inclined to trust his Beatitude's vision and judgement, even in the appointment of Fr. Fester.
The initial post and some resonponses make it clear there are some who believe they have reason to fear or distrust Fr. Fester's influence. I can't speak to that since I've only ever spoken to him a couple of times and know nothing of his pastoral/administrative manner. I am aware that we have an enemy who hate the Lord's work and will try to find agents to serve those ends wittingly or not. I am also aware we have an enemy who thrives on confusion and has no problem working someone up to defame a good man and think they are serving God and the Church in the process. I think both angles as well as others can be worked by our enemy at the same time to serve his own destructive ends.
So I would only hope, known the past potential entanglements of Fr. Fester with respect to our former financial/leadership crisis, that he simply keep his eyes and ears open...be vigilent. That way he can discern if his appointment of Fr. Fester might need revisiting, or if Fr. Fester is doing well and these things are either misunderstandings or inflated molehills meant by the enemy to defame a good priest and undermine his adminstrative authority.
Since I'm out of the loop with North Texas people and events, until there is something more substantial to go on, I'm inclined to trust Metropolitian Jonah, and I must trust that the priests of the DOS who love Archbishop Demitri, love the Diocese of the South, and who love and respect our new Metropolitan will be quick to defend the work from destructive influences and will have the ear of Metropolitan Jonah as our Locum Tenens.
The concerns about Fr. Joseph Fester are things certainly that need to be brought to Metropolitan Jonah...perhaps even discussed with fellow DOS priests if there is a real problem, but it strikes me as seriously premature to post those concerns in public at this time.
I think it safe to say that given the love and respect the members of the Diocese of the South have for Archbishop Demitri and his work, that any attempt by anyone however well intentioned they may be to undermine, or in any way weaken the fruit of that labor will quickly enough find themselves wishing they had a nice cool cabin in Barrow's Alaska to retire to. It will simply not be tolerated by the clergy and laity of this God protected diocese.
So unless Fr. Joseph is seriously doing something wrong that his fellow priests are not catching, that the members of St. Seraphim's are not aware, and of which Metropolitan Jonah is as yet oblivious to given his other concerns, perhaps the wiser course is for those in authority to make any relevant concerns known to the Metropolitan, and for the rest pray for Fr. Joseph and for our Locum Tenens, and for our Metropolitan. We need of course to be vigilant, not just of who is entrusted with the administration of the DOS...but with ourselves lest we be stirred up to sin against an innocent man trying to do his duty, simply because recent OCA and AOCA together with emerging conflicts in world Orthdoxy have engaged our sympathies and perhaps made us a little sensitive to allegations of mismanagement and clerical/hierarchical improprieties.
And for what it is worth...Archbishop Dimiti might be old, and retired, but he is not dead and not senile, and not likely ignorant of anything major going on in the DOS. If Fr. Joseph is in any way trampling his vinyard I have no doubt Archbishop Dimitri will have a kindly word with him, and if that does not restore the situation, I'm equally sure Metropolitan Jonah will take anything he has to share about the DOS, its best interests and its administration very seriously.
#9 Robert Hegwood on 2009-04-09 13:07
Shut this site down until after Pascha. You have the wisdom to edit our postings discerning that they would be less than profitable. This discussion, at this very moment, is not very profitable and in no way prepares us for Pascha. I'm not saying shut down the site completely, just until after Pascha. We, as it is glaringly obvious, are addicted to judging and condemning each other in the most flamboyant ways. Why not remove the temptation?
(Editor's note: As is customary, this site will close on Lazarus Saturday until Bright Week. The goal of the comments is to judge or condemn in flamboyant ways, but to discuss so as to discern more fully. This is a skill that takes some time to learn it seems. But not doing it, not practicing it, only means it will never be learned - and we will be the poorer for it. Consider it like listening to your child's scales on the piano. Necessary, but not always pretty. The rewards of learning how to speak with each other come later.)
#10 Anonymous on 2009-04-09 13:38
In response to those who are wanton for details and minutiae, I think you all are failing to recognize the rationale for posting anonymously in the first place. As much as I would love to divulge more information and speak more openly about what I know, I simply believe that, at this time, it would unwise to do so, for the very reasons I stated in my initial posting. Let me say that my post was as much an avenue for me to speak my mind as it was to call those to attention that are in the know and can speak openly. That Fr. Joseph was never “officially” implicated in any of the wrongdoings is not to say that he did not do anything wrong. Many people are aware of the way he obstructed details pertaining to OCA matters and refused to cooperate with the investigation when it was going on. That I personally cannot reference or reveal said information is, again, for the safety and reason of those around me who also know a great deal.
It was and continues to be my hope that my initial post would call to arms, as it were, those who do know and will have forthrightness and courage to step forward and speak the truth. And perhaps to reopen an investigation into Fr. Joseph that will expose all the things that transpired, and all the dealings that he may or may not have partaken of.
And in response to those who have been negative or skeptic towards my initial post: this is meant to be a sobering reflection upon the future of our beloved Diocese, and the man who now controls, with unbridled authority, the future developments of our church body. Do we here in the South believe he is the best man for the job? If so, continue to support him. If not, let us elect our own chancellor at the next Assembly. But until a new bishop is put in place, we will be forced to abide by Fr. Joseph’s whims and decrees. And if nothing else, dear brothers and sisters, that should give us pause to think, reflect, pray and hope for something much, much better…
#11 A Humble and Obedient Servant on 2009-04-09 14:14
As a relatively new member of the Orthodox Church, I view most of this thread with dismay.
First, “Humble and obedient” believes that both Archbishop Dimitri and Metropolitan Jonah have absolutely no discernment in making the decisions they have made with respect to either bringing Fr. Joseph to the diocese or placing him in this administrative position. Seems pretty humble to me.
Second, we are commanded to forgive, and we as a church are faced with putting the entire Herman mess behind us and picking up the pieces. Since “humble and obedient” talks about “those in the know” know that Father Joseph is guilty of something, I assume that “H & O” was present at the investigations, and/or has additional information. The last time I looked, we are not hip deep in clergy and capable administrators, and these type of accusations have both taken the tone of a witch trial and have tarred a number of good men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So “H & O” is obediently putting this event behind her and forgiving those involved. Not.
As a catechumen, I was taught that the sin of murder included character assassination. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to look at this thread and decide in if that is in fact what is occurring.
We as a diocese are in a delicate transition. We are all, all of us (including our clergy,) imperfect men and women who are praying for God’s mercy and working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Judging and condemning anyone on the basis of half truths and hearsay causes damage that is not easily repaired. I would submit that this behavior of gossip and spreading of untruths will do much more damage to our diocese than any administrator would be able to manage, even if that was his objective.
Surely Vladika deserves a peaceful retirement and those who move forward to carry on his work deserve our support as they find their way forward. This wholesale smear and condemnation of someone who has had the position for all of 24 hours is unseemly at best. As we approach Holy Week, maybe a little contemplation of motes and logs is in order.
#12 why fast and then devour your brother? on 2009-04-09 14:51
News from the OCA does NOT include news about Bishop Nikolai Soraich who has come back and was meeting the holy synod last week. When will we know the outcome of that? Has he cancelled the legal action he threatened and where is he serving now? We have a RIGHT to kno wthe standing of a bishop or a priest in the church! For that matter where is Isidore rumour has it that he too is back home....
(Editor's note: Bishop Nikolai received two summoneses to meet with the Bishops. It was not meeting with the Synod last week: he was to meet with the Lesser Synod. Before he was allowed to do that he was asked to sign a paper dismissing his lawsuits against the OCA. He refused. So they refused to meet him as a body. He left. He is now in Las Vegas again.
And yes, one has to ask why the Synod has not made such information available.
#13 Peter on 2009-04-09 15:24
Humble and Obedient writes:
It was and continues to be my hope that my initial post would call to arms, as it were, those who do know and will have forthrightness and courage to step forward and speak the truth
Give me a break. I find this posting to be utterly cowardly, and utterly contemptible. If things are as bad as he/she says, then he/she has a duty to make those accusations without hiding behind a veil of anonymity. That she feels at liberty to assault the character of one of her priests, and not only that, but to incite the parish and indeed the diocese to rise up against this priest based on accusations she doesn't have the courage to put her name to, tells us something.
It is galling that this purple-prosed person would pretend to be acting like this out of fidelity to Vladika Dmitri, and claims that she only wishes to remain anonymous to protect people who feel like she does. What malicious absurdity. Our cathedral parish has suffered greatly in recent weeks from a vicious whispering campaign that has caused many of us in the parish who haven't busied ourselves puzzling over ecclesiastical politics to wonder what in the world was going on behind the scenes, and absent open and verifiable information, worry for the future of our parish. It was a relief to many of us to have His Beatitude settle matters when he was here recently. And now, here on the very eve of Holy Week, we have one of the gossips launching a scandalous assault on Fr. Fester, trying to turn the parish and the diocese against him -- and without even having the courage, the fairness, or the basic Christian decency to identify herself or himself.
As some parishioners know, I came to Orthodoxy out of a situation in the Catholic church that left me spiritually broken. I vowed to myself that I would not get caught up in intra-church arguments as an Orthodox Christian. I don't believe by any means that we should be silent if we see injustice or corruption -- far from it! But if we are unwilling to speak what we believe to be the truth in sobriety and with transparency, then we ought to reflect on what our own motives may truly be. It doesn't please me at all to get involved in this, but I'm sick and tired of this gossip and whispering campaign in the parish, and I find this attempt at bullying from the shadows to be disgusting.
I believe Fr. Fester, who has been a good priest to me and my family, is being slandered by these remarks posted here, and I can't stand silently by and watch this happen, and more discord sown in our cathedral parish, without calling out the coward who's doing it. I don't know who you are, but if the charges you make are substantive, then you owe it to all of us to make them publicly, with your name attached to them, instead of through gutless Internet samizdat. You don't have the moral right to trash a man's character, and Met. Jonah's, and incite rebellion against his leadership behind the cloak of anonymity. Having made these particular charges and issued this particular call, you have surrendered your right to anonymity.
If you wish to be taken seriously, come forward and let the community be the judge of your credibility. Any fool can say anything anonymously on the Internet. I don't believe you can back up what you say here, but I'm willing to be proved wrong, because I may well be in the dark. However, if you don't come forward, nothing you say deserves the slightest consideration, except as a sad example of inflamed neurosis, moral vanity and unchecked hysteria. Your method reveals your motives.
I've flat-out had it with this garbage. If the author of this weaselly epistle wishes to have a word with me about this matter, he or she know where to find me and how to get in touch with me (rdreher (at) dallasnews.com). I put my name on what I write, because I'm not afraid to defend it, and I am willing to be accountable for it.
#14 Rod Dreher on 2009-04-09 18:28
"That Fr. Joseph was never “officially” implicated in any of the wrongdoings is not to say that he did not do anything wrong. "
Whomever you are, there are many, many more who were never "officially" implicated but have knowledge of what was happening (our esteemed editor is one such person, as well as his priest and both opted to turn a cold shoulder to it).
"Many people are aware of the way he obstructed details pertaining to OCA matters and refused to cooperate with the investigation when it was going on. That I personally cannot reference or reveal said information is, again, for the safety and reason of those around me who also know a great deal."
This is a total cop out. I would assume that you're one who sides with the editor on transparency within the OCA. Don't ask for it at the top level if you're not willing to do it at the bottom. Since you're so afraid to reveal yourself, please email me your information and allow me to make the determination that you have leveled against Fr Fester.
I, like Mr Dreher, put my name down because I will defend my views. You, on the other hand, use some useless excuse while feeling that the OCA should be open and honest with you. Seriously, why should Syosset be open and honest when folks like you don't have the nerve to put your name down and be held accountable.
(editor's note: I will only respond to the charges leveled against me, and Fr. Ted (Bobosh). To insinusate I knew of misdeeds in Syosset and did nothing is to overlook my public actions in 1999 when I first learned of misdeeds, and the entiriety of my actions in the last three and half years on this website. Or to ignore Fr. Ted's outspoken efforts towards accountability and transaparency as a MC member in the 1980's, and more recently as a critic in this decade, and now again as an MC member elected by the AAC itself. The charge that either of us "turned a cold shoulder" is patently and totally absurd.)
#15 Michael Livosky on 2009-04-10 08:17
As a member of St. Seraphim's Cathedral who is constantly involved with Fr. Joseph and everyday parish activities, I find all accusations and concerned voiced on this threat to be spurious, harmful, and false. Do you people know how such rumors can affect a poor, overworked, deeply caring priest? What about the poor parishioners who hear their beloved priest viciously attacked by vague and dreadful speculations?
I am conflicted about adding to this mayhem, but I would like to add another vote of confidence for Fr. Joseph Fester, Vladyka Dmitri, and Met. Jonah. They all know the score, they know what needs to be done, and they all deeply strive to empty themselves for the good of the kingdom.
I have never seen Fr. Fester slander, berate, intimidate, or send inappropriate emails to anyone. I have seen him handle conflict and tough situations well, and I love working alongside him. Most importantly I see him several times a week lay down his own life, desires, and wants for his sheep. He is a real pastor: that's what Archbp. Dmitri and Met. Jonah understand.
If there's anything Fr. Fester wants, it is not power, but sleep and more hours in the day to get stuff done. I bet his face fell when he was named Chancellor, because his plate is full already.
It's good to see others I know from North Texas come on here in defense of this beautiful priest: please respect their opinion. St. Seraphim's Cathedral - which is full of pious and God-fearing parishioners - is working hard to be an icon of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the slander I hear on this forum is the the thing that is most actively "trampling down the vineyard."
Some of you are fearful because of Old Syosset. I understand that.
We will speak out if it is needed. You can stop.
#16 Jesse Cone on 2009-04-10 09:42
I would also like to add, for the sake of clarification, that the question of Syosset and the old days is a separate issue. My objection stated here is solely about the gross impropriety, cowardice and destructiveness of the "Humble and Obedient" post. If someone had posted a similar anonymous attack on Fr. John, and had called on the cathedral parish to rise up against him, I promise you I would be equally disgusted.
One of the things that so impressed me about the way many priests and laymen of the OCA handled the mess with Met. Herman is how they were bold enough to sign their names to their criticism. When I was a Catholic, and a journalist writing about the sex abuse scandal, I heard from priests and laymen all the time who had truly shocking and terrible things to report. I believed then, and believe now, that they were telling me the truth. But I couldn't report any of it unless they were willing to put their name to the criticism of particular bishops, priests, et al. Their views and information, however passionately held and grounded in fact, were useless gossip. And for all I know, they had it wrong. That they wouldn't say what they felt needed saying in public, with their names attached to it, said a lot about the credibility of their accusations. It is perhaps understandable, to an extent, when a priest or layman whose income depends on not crossing church leaders is hesitant to stand up. But that didn't stop many OCA priests during the Herman mess. What's stopping this anonymous attacker of Fr. Joseph from identifying himself or herself now, and letting all of us at the cathedral be the judge of his or her credibility?
No one has the right to do this to our parish and its priests. No one. Whoever you are, you either have no idea what you're doing, or you don't care.
#17 Rod Dreher on 2009-04-10 11:14
I think you made a very bad editorial decision when you lumped the appointment with Father Fester with three other also quite important news: "Minutes, Materials from the Metropolitan Council Released," "Strategic Planning Details Published," and "New Paper by +Jonah on Future Posted." However, nobody is paying attention to the latter three.
I think that all three orphaned articles show the great progress made by the OCA leadership. The new paper by Metropolitan Jonah, for instance, is a much prayed and hoped for sequel to his re-visioning address in that he lays to rest our fears that he was abandoning the lower clergy and the laity. Granted the paper does not address how the accountability of the leadership will be operationalized; however, I think that those issues will be addressed in the future. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and even days in a week.
Regarding the Fester appointment, I feel compelled to say something. The first poster who made those very serious allegations cannot expect to be taken seriously because he posted anonymously. For all we know he may be the re-incarnated but reformed ALL CAPS guy! Seriously though, it is one thing to opine anonymously, it is another to make very serious charges...
Have a blessed Holy Week and Pascha, Carl
(editor's note: Was it a story worthy of its own article? No. Was it worthy of notice? Yes. Just look at the vehemence, pro and con, the appointment has generated. As the appointment concerned the OCA it was appropriate to place it in "News of the OCA", and given the importance of the three earlier peices, it was placed where I thought it appropriate - last. Feel free to disagree though. I do hope people will read the three papers, but as you say, there are only 24 hours in the day. And yes, I agree with you that anonymous postings must be taken with a grain of salt, at least. Sometimes a shaker. You decide. )
#18 Carl on 2009-04-10 11:49
To those who have berated me for not attaching my real name, and by extension, taking responsibility for the words in my posts, I will say here and now that I have no intention of revealing my name at this time. You may feel free to continue to call me out and attack my character, but I assure you that, if you were in my position, you would be doing the exact same thing.
Furthermore, there appears to be a feverish certainty that my initial post was done in a moment of passion and haste that all at once ignored the solemnity of the current season while taking a perverse pleasure in tearing down one of God’s servants. Neither is the case. I wrote my initial post after both careful thought and vigilant prayer. One does not (and should not) write such a thing without caution or trepidation. And yet, when all was said and done, I felt it necessary to bring to light the possible misgivings and problems that an appointment like Fr. Fester would bring to the diocese as a whole. You have used my name “Humble and Obedient Servant” as a sarcastic label to my presumed lack of both humility and obedience to God. I don’t care if you attack me personally, but do not presume that my postings have been made lightly or without thought to the consequences. Or, that they have been made without thought to the answers and revelations I’ll be forced to give at my final judgment.
Some of the above commentators see and deal with Fr. Joseph on both a regular basis and in strictly ecclesiastical ways. I have done both in the past, but perhaps not as much as the above individuals. That’s fine, for as a preacher of the Word and a shepherd to his flock, I will not condemn his merits. I would, however, question his motivations. All those who are attacking the veracity of my statements, I suspect that none of you have dealt with Fr. Joseph on an administrative level. You have not dealt with him when positions of power and authority are in his grasp. To all of us there is a dichotomy, and one must understand that Fr. Joseph revels in the ability to appear humble and dedicated, whilst also ruminating in his love for being in charge...
Some will roll their eyes and continue to attack. That is your prerogative. The purpose of this site, I believe, it to have an active conversation on the goings on around the OCA, and to exchange ideas and beliefs in the hope that we can have the best possible leadership. But to ignore the debate and blindly follow is, at times, counterproductive. As many have mentioned above, when the names of Dmitri and/or Jonah are mentioned, people are willing to defend anything and everything they say and do without pause or hesitation. But mistakes have been made and shortsightedness has occurred. And this, in my opinion, and the opinion of many, many others, includes the appointment of Father Joseph Fester as chancellor.
Tomorrow begins the most rigorous and spiritually exhaustive time of the year, when we are called to “lay aside all earthly cares” and celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. I will continue to pray that what I’ve started here was in the best interests of the Diocese. In this season of reflection and contemplation, I will be thinking and reflecting just as hard as anyone, and praying that the future of our beloved Diocese is placed in the hands of those who can best guide it and lead it on the straight and level path. But in my opinion, and in the opinion of others, this does not include Father Joseph as our chancellor. And the sooner people realize this, the better for all of us.
#19 A Humble and Obedient Servant on 2009-04-10 14:02
Dear "Humble and Obedient Servant",
Are you sure that questioning Fr. Fester's motivation is a responsible, necessary, and constructive act? I don't see how it is, or could be. Does "raising awareness" about someone in administrative power having bad motivations have much of an upside, especially in this situation? Say you convince us that Fr. Fester should not be trusted: what then? What good does that do? Hamstring a healthy parish, and impair a diocese?
And what if you are wrong, and your suspicions are misguided?
But perhaps I am making a fool of myself, because when I read you saying, "one must understand that Fr. Joseph revels in the ability to appear humble and dedicated, whilst also ruminating in his love for being in charge..." I cannot take you seriously.
I don't mean to insult you (especially if there is some real hurt in your past here), but this just sounds ridiculous and far-fetched - especially because I know Fr. Fester.
Again: I've been in meetings with him, I've seen him handle conflict, and I've been with him as he does the unseen dirty work, and I've watched him be an example of obedience to both Archb. Dmitri and Met. Jonah.
He is a "humble and obedient servant".
#20 Jesse Cone on 2009-04-10 22:30
I read through most of this thread and was disappointed in the content. For the most part, I agree with Carl and really would have liked a thread discussing the Metropolitan's sequel, if you will.
The discussion of the Fr. Fester appointment is certainly more contentious stuff, but the vision laid out for the OCA is really not petty either. The letter is long and a tough read even for a serious person, but the content is good.
It'd be good to have some discussion, especially because I believe the Metropolitan is paying attention to ideas people offer, so I'll beg for another thread instead of starting off on a neglected foot.
#21 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-04-12 19:48
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