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10.14.07 Breaking News

Showdown In Mingo Junction:
W. PA Joins in Saying “No”

to +Herman

• Four of Five Resolutions Pass

- All Challenging +Herman’s Leadership

• +Herman Condemns Midwest and Western PA Actions “As the Devil’s Work”

• Archbishop +Dmitri of Dallas Advocating “Hard Choices”, Declares Tuesday Day of Prayer and Fasting Throughout South

The Western Pennsylvania Diocesan Assembly spoke in a clear voice today, but Metropolitan Herman, stung by a series of criticisms coming from his home diocese (culminating in a vote of “No Confidence” in his leadership), was less focused as he lashed out in a five minute rant against the assembled priests and laity as the new diocesan council members kissed the Gospel and signed their oaths. Declaring that “+Kyrill would be shocked at what was done here today”, the Metropolitan angrily concluded: “Your vote of “No Confidence” means nothing to me. I will not resign.” The Metropolitan rebuked the delegates that “You have wasted the day. You have accomplished nothing for the upbuilding of the Church.” The Metropolitan then condemned the diocese saying “The devil is at work here, and he has joined the diocese of the Midwest with this diocese.” He went on to speak about the Last Judgement, and how those who have spoken and acted in such a manner “will have to answer for their words and actions, but by then, it will be too late.” The Metropolitan then turned, wished everyone a safe trip home, and walked out.

Metropolitan Says: “Move On”

Mingo Junction, Ohio is a small steel town, on the west bank of the Ohio River some 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, best known as the location of the Academy-Award winning film “The Deer Hunter”. On Saturday, October 13th it was host to 65 clergy and delegates from the OCA’s Diocese of Western Pennsylvania, the first diocesan assembly since the death of its long-time hierarch, Archbishop Kyrill (Yonchev). As a result, the diocese is being overseen by Metropolitan Herman, who serves as locum tenens pending the election of a new Bishop. The Assembly, which included seven observers, was the largest in recent memory.

The Metropolitan began the day-long meeting by offering a brief report, speaking of a “suffering Church” in which “ the activities of a minority have made things worse, causing bishop to turn against bishop”. Following a brief review of the recent Kondratick trial, the Metropolitan spoke of “Best Practices”, the ongoing staff reorganization, and a re-constituted Investigative Committee, handpicked by him. He assured the delegates that “it is time for healing” and “moving forward”.

Heated Questioning

The Assembly moved forward, but not in the way the Metropolitan wished. Four resolutions were passed, each more difficult than the next for the Metropolitan. Immediately following the reading of the Report of the Metropolitan Council members (Attorney Gregg Nescott and Archpriest John Reeves, both of whom resigned from the Special Commission in protest over the Metropolitan’s interference), a pointed resolution was introduced praising the two for their “faithful service”. The motion passed unanimously. (The full text of this Report will be posted on OCANews.org on Monday, October 15.)

If the motion was meant as a subtle rebuke of the Metropolitan, the question and answer session that followed the Metropolitan Council report was more direct. The first question was directed at Metropolitan Herman, demanding to know why +Herman had lied and coerced a sick +Kyrill into suspendeding Nescott from the Special Commission. The Metropolitan retorted “That’s a lie!”.  The exchange went downhill from there. The Metropolitan informed the questioner that if he continued, he would be asked to leave. The Metropolitan then ruled that there would “be no further discussion” on questions related to the Metropolitan Council and that the Assembly would “move on”. (Later in the session, however, the topic turned again to the crisis as a whole, with an equally heated discussion lasting about one hour.)

Restore The Special Commission

A motion was made to disavow the Metropolitan’s new Investigative Committee, to ask the Metropolitan Council to establish an independent group, unimpeded and without interference, answering only to the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops. The Resolution read:

"Whereas a Special Commission --- composed of Chairman, Archbishop Job, Bishop Benjamin, V. Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky, V. Rev. John Reeves, Gregory Nescott, and Dr.Faith Skordinski --- was appointed by Metropolitan Herman at a joint meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council in December 2006, and charged with completing the investigation begun by Proskauer Rose; and

Whereas in March 2007, the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod accepted a resolution “that the work of the Special Commission be independent and free of interference from anyone outside the Special Commission”; and

Whereas the Metropolitan Council in June 2007 reconfirmed and unanimously voted that the work of the Special Commission should continue “unimpeded”, with no interference from anyone outside the Special Commission; and

Whereas there have been attempts to interfere with the independent investigation of the Special Commission; and

Whereas this interference, the refusal to permit the Commission to continue its work, and the failure to release to the whole Church the March 2007 Interim Report of the Special Commission led to the resignation from the Commission of Archbishop Job, Fathers Berzonsky and Reeves, and Mr. Nescott last month; and

Whereas, the Metropolitan has now appointed a new “Investigating Committee”, named by him, charged by him, and reporting only to him and the Holy Synod, even though he was a Treasurer of the OCA and Metropolitan of the OCA during critical periods of time under investigation and, a such, has a patent conflict of interest in the outcome of any investigation; and

Whereas there appears little hope of resolving this crisis in the OCA, now nearly two years old, unless an independent Special Commission is permitted to complete the investigation; and

Whereas the questions that must be answered publicly through the report of the Special Commission include these:

What exactly happened?
Why did it happen?
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
What is the proper course of action for the Church to take with those responsible for permitting it to happen?

Therefore, be it resolved that the Metropolitan Council be encouraged by this Diocesan Assembly to appoint an independent Special Commission --- whose work shall not be interfered with or impeded by anyone in the Church, or by anyone who has a conflict of interest in the matters under investigation ---  and that this Special Commission report its findings to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, with a full report thereafter to be made to the whole Church.

A vote on this resolution is to be by secret ballot.”     

The motion passed with 47 ayes, 6 nays, with 2 abstentions.

No Money

A third motion was presented by the Altoona-Johnstown deanery which focused not on withholding, but permanently reducing the monies sent to Syosset. It read:

“Whereas the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America gives to the Metropolitan Council sole budgetary responsibility and financial oversight for the work of the central administration, and to the All-American Councils, the authority to set the rate of assessments to fund the programs of the same:

Be it resolved that we petition the Metropolitan Council to develop and prepare its budgets for the next triennium (2008-2010) at a level which is equal to no more than $50.00 per capita of the 2008 census of the participating dioceses;

And be it further resolved that we petition the Metropolitan Council to present to the next All-American Council a motion to fix the per capita assessment for the participating dioceses at an amount not to exceed $50.00 per capita for the next triennium.”

The Metropolitan immediately spoke out against the motion. In was adopted overwhelmingly by voice vote.

The Unkindest Cut Of All

A fourth motion, also from the Altoona-Johnstown deanery, was a petition to the Synod of Bishops to release Metropolitan Herman as Locum Tenens of the diocese so as “to lighten the demands” of his many administrative responsibilities. The amended petition read:

“With respect, the Archdiocese of West Pennsylvania petitions the Holy Synod that His Eminence, Archbishop Job be named locum tenens of the Archdiocese for local pastoral reasons and to lighten the current demand on the Metropolitan’s other administrative responsibilities, as of November 1, 2008.”

The Metropolitan ruled this motion out of order.

No Confidence

The last resolution presented to the Assembly was a motion of “No Confidence”. It read:

“Whereas the members of the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania have an abiding desire to maintain the unity of the Orthodox Church in America while promoting the integrity and holiness of our Church;

We, the clergy and lay delegates of the Diocesan Assembly, express no confidence in his Beatitude, Herman, Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America. We no longer believe he is acting in the best interests of the OCA.

He has failed to openly and fully resolve the ongoing scandal in the OCA - now nearly two years old - as most recently expressed in his opposition to a free and unhindered Special Commission, and in the failure to release the preliminary report of the Special Commission, all the while failing to acknowledge the obvious conflict of interest he has in attempting to control any investigation.

The good of a suffering Church requires him to step down from his office so that a new Metropolitan can be elected at the forthcoming 2008 All American Council.”

Fr. Paul Ziatyk, the diocesan Chancellor then rose and told the Assembly that if such a resolution passed, the Diocese was “humiliating itself”. A voice from the floor answered: “ No, it is they who have been humiliating us for the last two years”. Fr. Ziatyk then advised the Assembly that if this measure was adopted he would probably resign as Chancellor.

The Metropolitan then ruled the motion out of order.

But it did not end there. The Assembly rose up. The Metropolitan reversed his ruling, stating that “ You can send your letter. Do what you want. There won’t be any action taken by the Synod on it.”. A vote was then taken, and the motion passed with 27 ayes, 19 nays, 10 abstentions.

In the aftermath of the vote, the Metropolitan offered the comments that began this article, and hurriedly left the Assembly.

Interestingly, the Assembly did not vote on a specific motion to withhold its assessments, although a motion to do so had been discussed by some before the Assembly. Given the circumstances, such a motion was not able to be put forward. (Two parishes in the diocese are already withholding on their own.)

+Dmitri Calls For “Hard Choices”

In related news, in a posting on the Diocese of the South’s website yesterday morning, October 13th, 2007 of an Archpastoral letter to be read in all parishes of the South on Sunday, October 14th, Archbishop Dmitri stated:

“To the Venerable Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

As many of you know, the fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America will take place on October 16th through October 18.

Never in the history of our Church, either as the Russian Metropolia or as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, has she been beset by so many internal difficulties as she is now. As the central administration of our Church has grown, the problems have increased, and we have reached a point in which that organ is in real turmoil. This will be the principal concern of the sessions of the Holy Synod and hard choices need to be considered.

When our Lord Jesus Christ was being crucified, the soldiers who were carrying out the governor’s orders divided His clothes among them, except for one thing: His tunic, described by the Evangelist as woven from the top throughout, a seamless garment. For the holy Fathers, this garment symbolizes the oneness or unity of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The unity which is essential is that of faith and love, not simply organizational unity. But, the devil has been at work from the very time of the Lord’s death and resurrection to rend that garment. Divisions, schisms, heretical groups have been the product of his work. The Orthodox Church, in her faith, has preserved the garment intact; on the other hand, she has faced crises of organization, enmity among the brethren. We of the Orthodox Church in America now face such a crisis. The number of proposed solutions to our problems is matched by the number of accusations and recriminations.

As we hierarchs meet to face these difficulties, and face them we must, we must do so in the prayerful hope of finding a solution to them, we not only remind our fellow-hierarchs but also all our people, that the Lord Himself has given us the formula for resolving the aberrations contrived by the devil. We must ask as once did the disciples, “Why could we not cast him out?” The Lord’s answer to us must be the same: “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:19-20).

I am, therefore, asking the clergy, monastics, and faithful of the Diocese of the South to join in a day of prayer and fasting (on Tuesday, October 16th), so that the devil, whom we have permitted by our sinful weakness to produce the current turmoil we now face, may be cast out. As hierarchs, and for all those who will gather this coming week in Syosset, we must face up to the hard choices that must be made for the good of our beloved Orthodox Church in America.

I ask that you pray for me and for all those who will gather this week. Pray that we will have the courage to face our own weakness and sinfulness so that we may be guided only by the Holy Spirit. Pray that none of us may be led to confusion. Pray that the seamless garment of faith and love that is the Church, can be restored and that trust and integrity can be rekindled. Pray that none of us view our position of responsibility in the Church as a “right” but as a sacred privilege, and if that sacred privilege has been abused by anyone that (sic) we repent and forgive so that a new start for the Orthodox Church in America can begin.

There is too much work for us, in bringing the fullness of the Gospel to the people in the southland and the entire Orthodox Church in America, for us to fail to “redeem the time, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:6).

With love in Christ,

The Archbishop does not spell out what “ hard choices” he is referring to. Few Orthodox bishops are as direct as Archbishop Job was last week in Cleveland, but sources close to the Archbishop indicate that Archbishop Dmitri was sending a similar message to Metropolitan Herman: resign. Others are less confident that the second most senior prelate in the OCA is calling for the Metropolitan’s resignation. Noting that the appeal of Robert Kondratick will be heard next Tuesday morning, they suggest the penultimate sentence could equally apply to Kondratick, for whom the Archbishop has always expressed sympathy. The sentence reads: “Pray that none of us view our position of responsibility in the Church as a “right” but as a sacred privilege, and if that sacred privilege has been abused by anyone, that (sic) we repent and forgive so that a new start for the Orthodox Church in America can begin.”

Whatever “hard choices” the Archbishop is speaking of, the meetings of the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council will certainly face many. On that everyone can agree.

- Mark Stokoe






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