These essays come from a reluctant author. In leaving my Protestant heritage for the Orthodox faith, I exchanged a culture of attention-seeking chatter for one of worshipful silence. Liturgical calm kept me out of participation in the noise of the scandal from the previous decade. A student of history, I knew that a financial mess in the OCA was not the nadir of the Church.
I also had mixed impressions of Metropolitan Jonah. When on the parish council in 2010, my second year in office, I observed problems in the parish. I, with my fellow council members, bear some responsibility for those problems. But I believe +Jonah does as well. And because I felt that way even two years ago, I did not join others (such as my wife) in signing a “We support Metropolitan Jonah" petition that circulated after he was put on a leave of absence in February 2011. For most of that Lenten fiasco, I carefully read and weighed the many arguments and documents that surfaced, lest any of it require the parish council to act. I knew that +Jonah, along with our other bishops, were capable of improprieties (as we all are). But I refrained from appropriating blame or honor to participants in what was a closed-door conflict.
That door opened on 6 July 2012 with +Jonah's terse resignation letter. I was dismayed by it, and that dismay festered over the next week and a half. So when the bishops issued their lengthy statement on 16 July, I read it with a measure of relief and sympathy. I was one of those who was prepared to agree with them that +Jonah had acted with impropriety. But as I investigated further, any hesitation I had about him was eclipsed by a far greater concern for the way the Church has been managed.
I did +Jonah no favor in asking my readers to study independent sources about the Fr. Symeon Kharon affair. These documents contain many direct accusations against +Jonah, and raise indirectly other concerns. I am not interested here in defending him from those charges. I am more interested in the source of those charges. The documents available to the public are all either perfunctory (i.e., administrative letters that embarrass no one) or they are hostile to +Jonah. None of the sources give his side of what happened with Fr. Symeon. The only exception is a single letter, from May 2010—an appendix to a flawed report.
The master narrative about +Jonah continues to be controlled by those who oppose him. Ever since the resignation letter of July 6, we, the faithful, have heard nothing from him. We have seen his written request for another episcopal assignment turned by others into a retirement from the episcopacy altogether. And still we have heard nothing from +Jonah. What are we to think? Is his silence an admission that what the bishops say of him is true? Or is he patiently enduring slander for Christ's sake? Was the resignation letter written of his free will (as repeatedly claimed by OCA leadership)? Or was it written under duress, maybe even under conditions of extortion? Has +Jonah withdrawn his letter of resignation? If so, why have the faithful not been told? Has +Jonah tried to speak publicly? Have the bishops extended to him the same generous courtesy they granted Bishop Matthias, to respond to allegations against him? Or has he been denied this right?
My essays are not a defense of +Jonah. They cannot be. I, like the rest of the public, am unable to reflect on his side of the story. We have been denied that privilege. These essays have been, rather, about the other bishops. The parts of their July 16 statement that lend themselves to verification show that the statement—indeed, the previous two official OCA reports as well—cannot be believed.
I tell my children that when they say something misleading or deceptive, they have told a lie. So when they say something bad about someone else, and it conflicts with other claims, I challenge them to address those claims. If they have a good case and they are correct, I help them to clarify the record as quickly as possible, so that the truth they know might lay to rest other falsehoods. If my children are, in fact, wrong, I ask them if they knew the truth before they spoke. If they did not know the truth, I insist that they apologize to everyone they spoke with as soon as possible for saying what they did. And if they knew the truth, I tell them that they have lied. They must not merely apologize, but ask forgiveness, both of the people they told and of the person who was hurt. Throughout this process, if I see my children procrastinate, change the topic, avoid the issue, or shift the blame, I increasingly suspect that they have lied, and that the lie is a cover for deeper sins.
The standard I set for my children is the one set for me by the Gospel. My family expects me to abide by it. The greater the responsibility, the higher the expectation, from us laity all the way up to our bishops. If they have told the truth about +Jonah, and the contradictory sources contain falsehoods, they should clarify the public record as quickly as possible. If they have not told the truth, then they should either correct their mistakes and apologize to the public for the confusion, or they should ask forgiveness for telling lies.
If our bishops delay, if they blame others, if they change the topic, if they avoid substantive discussion, if they claim that a public affair is really a private one, if they state that it is not appropriate for other parts of the Church to give their opinion, or if they claim, without retracting their July 16 statement, that they are conducting their own investigation, then we are right to be more suspicious than ever. Let no one be gullible. Let us learn from our children.
Most of us are ordinary parishioners, who have no direct say in how the Church conducts its business. But in grave crises our voices matter a lot. If you, fellow layperson, are persuaded by my arguments, tell your parish council, your parish president, your priest, your dean, and your bishop. Consider joining a request for an independent investigation of Church affairs. Hundreds already have, in the OCA Investigation Petition. Get involved with others who are committed to making those who govern the Church accountable. And if you are not persuaded, explain and share your rationale, so we can all benefit from your insights, and grow together. I intend to be a champion of my best critics.
Some of you are more than just ordinary parishioners, but are clergymen or delegates who, on Tuesday, November 13, will convene for the Seventeeth All-American Council (AAC) in Parma, Ohio (ironically in the parish under Fr. Alexander Garklavs, one of authors of the SIC report and the SMPAC memorandum). You have an awesome responsibility to the Church. You are its “highest legislative and administrative authority" (Statute, Art. III, Sec. 1). You have the authority to determine where and when to conduct the next AAC (III.2). You have the authority to entertain any resolution. You may determine your own agenda (of course within the limits of power provided by the Statute). You are the only body that can elect and proclaim a Metropolitan.
In 2008, the Fifteenth AAC proclaimed “Axios! Worthy!" to Bishop Jonah as our new Metropolitan. The bishops told you in 2012 that he is anaxios, unworthy. But you have seen in these essays that the Church has not been told the full truth. Either the public record is greatly mistaken or the July 16 statement is (or both). How could any responsible delegate to the next AAC choose a new metropolitan, when he or she does not understand where the truth is? It is credible, not inflammatory, to ask, “Did the OCA bishops lie about Metropolitan Jonah?" Until that question can be answered, until we can understand who spread what falsehoods when and to whom, how could anyone, let alone our bishops, be considered for our next Metropolitan? The Church deserves clarity and truth before she tells the world that +Jonah is not worthy and someone else is.
The bishops have asked for this next AAC to be penitential. But penitence comes only after confession and repentance. Confession and repentance come only after self-examination and compunction. The OCA has not examined itself, and there is no sign of compunction. So the next AAC cannot be penitential.
If we desire a truly penitential election there may be several ways to follow an appropriate sequence. Here is one path forward. Resolve to suspend the vote for a new Metropolitan. Move to receive the OCA Investigation Petition. Enable an investigative body independent of anyone associated with the July 16 statement, the SMPAC memorandum, or the SIC report to conduct its work. This investigative body might draw from bishops who publicly withdraw their signature from the July 16 statement, or from members of the Metropolitan Council. Consider including members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America who have no conflict of interest. Establish a time for the Eighteenth AAC, where the chief business will be to vote formally on accepting the findings of the investigative report (circulated in advance to all the faithful). Should the report be received, let the election for a new Metropolitan commence immediately. Should it not, reform the investigation committee.
This course of action would make the upcoming Seventeenth AAC a constructive start for self-examination, the first step to repentance. It would blame no one. It would promote truth and transparency. It would tell the faithful, indeed the world, that we conduct our affairs with compassion and accountability. It would show everyone that our autocephaly is well deserved, because we can clean our own house. Delegates' money will not have been spent in vain. And we would sow the seeds of reconciliation among brothers and sisters who needlessly harbor sharp differences of opinion that are in danger of getting worse.
May God raise up on Tuesday a Solomon for wisdom, an Elijah and his 7,000 for courage, and a Josiah for public repentance at the hearing of the Word of God. Only then may we repair the house of the Lord.