Head Bishop Of The Orthodox Church In America Resigns

Late last week, Metropolitan Jonah, who headed the episcopal synod of the Orthodox Church in America, resigned.  The synod accepted his resignation.  Needless to say, this has caused quite a stir in some sectors of Orthodoxy, especially on the blogosphere, and has made a minor ripple in secular news outlets as well.  In response to some of this, Bishop Matthias, our bishop in the Midwest, has released this open letter, which is to be read following Liturgy this coming Sunday:


The latest secular news outlet that has been brought to my attention has been an article in the Chicago Tribune:


Some readers of this blog have emailed me asking what we are to make of all of this.

First, I would ask us to take Metropolitan Jonah at his word when he admitted he had “neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of primate.”  His complete letter may be read here:


Second, we should also note Mark Stokoe’s remarks in the Chicago Tribune, wherein he stated this resignation was the culmination of a longer process, one that involved Metropolitan Jonah not following OCA policies and guidelines in a manner that would be productive for the governance of the OCA.

It is true that Metropolitan Jonah was a charismatic speaker with conservative religious values and this is something that will be missed by many.  This appreciation of Metropolitan Jonah’s gifts lie behind the comments from Fr. Hans Jacobse in the same article.  Fr. Hans is a good priest who has sought to engage conservative American politics in a manner he hopes will be fruitful.  He is hardly alone, as a quick view of various Orthodox blogs would demonstrate.

Because Metropolitan Jonah was so appreciated by some for his outspokenness, there have been commenters and bloggers online who have tried to color the resignation as a political maneuver by a left-leaning synod.  That is simply a false characterization.  For example, our very own bishop, Bishop Matthias holds to conservative religious values and was present at the last anti-abortion march in D.C. this past January.

Another reason such speculations have been floating is, admittedly, due to a lack of knowledge.  Part of this is the problem of the OCA, which shares the general Orthodox problem of lacking healthy transparency, but in this case, there are some aspects that really needn’t be publicized.  And, sometimes when there is a vacuum, speculation fills the void, especially when the person in question has some clear gifts and has made some positions dear to him publicly and articulately known.

In reality, what happened was simply a long process, as noted by Mark Stokoe, wherein at least three things coalesced:  poor administrative decisions, concerns for following OCA policies, and concerns with personality behaviors/expressions (and here, please remember that the synod was able to compare their own observations with those of Metrpolitan Jonah’s recent psychological evaluation: http://www.ocanews.org/news/16thAACJonahToBeEvaluated11.1.11.html).  All of this led the synod eventually to ask for a resignation that was viewed as best for both parties.  Metropolitan Jonah has agreed.

Metropolitan Jonah should not be demonized.  The Holy Synod should not be demonized.  Our synod has now wisely chosen to give the entire OCA some time before choosing our next metropolitan in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Definitely, some time for all to calm down and catch our breaths would be good.

On Sunday I will read from Bishop Matthias’ letter and it is my intention not to post on this matter again, but I hope this brief explanation is helpful to those who have been inquiring.

9 Responses

  1. Scott

    Fr Oliver, you & I both know enough church history to know that you can’t trust the “official” story. I can’t tell you how many times an abbot or some other figure “retired” for “reasons of health” according to the official explanation (in the case of my research, pre-1917 Russia, but the specifics don’t matter so much). But then you dig into the archives that are now available (ironically thanks to the Soviets who confiscated them from the church and placed them in state archives), and you find out there were all sorts of things going on behind the scenes, and health didn’t have much to do with it. I also find it hard to trust Stokoe’s comments, since he clearly had it out for +Jonah on his website in a manner I frankly found shocking for its disrespect. But the whole idea that he was ousted for a conservative stance on social issues is also implausible.

    The whole episode does raise some interesting theological questions, however: did the Holy Spirit make a mistake in 2008? Or is the Holy Spirit absent from the OCA’s All-American Councils? If +Jonah was the ‘wrong’ person for the post, how else do you explain it? Or what if he wasn’t the ‘wrong’ person? I sure don’t know, and don’t know if we’ll ever really understand what’s going on–for sure not until all of what has transpired becomes public record, which will probably be long after we have all departed this world.

    1. Scott,
      Thank you for this comment. I think you raise several important dynamics.
      1) Yes, we both know that often it is only later, after records can be found, that we learn more about what was really going on behind the scene and yes, the OCA will keep close guard over its archives and records for all of those living right now. I would point out that I noted that a lack of transparency is part of the problem, here. Yet I also do not think everything needs to be made public. Honestly, I don’t think we all need to know Metropolitan Jonah’s psychological diagnosis, for instance. I think leaving it as “personality problems” is fine. I do think the synod could have been much more forward with other areas, though, like sharing with the OCA how it is that Metropolitan Jonah was obstructing healthy administration, not keeping to policies, etc. That could have been shown and probably should have been. In absence of all of that, the “real story” isn’t out there. I agree. That does lead to speculation and in light of the previous problems with Metropolitan Herman and Robert Kondratik, I can appreciate how people are not trusting of the Synod right now.

      2) I can see how one might be reticent regarding Mark Stokoe, but do keep in mind that at the time he was concerned, he was so concerned as a layperson appointed to a governing commission. My understanding is that others on the Metropolitan Council and the staff at Syosset shared the same general perspective as the Holy Synod came to share. So, his perspective, in this case, was not entirely individual (though his way of expressing it and processing it was).

      3) Relatedly, I do agree that sometimes a person can be forced out by a few others on a governing board of any organization, church or otherwise. That can and does happen and I agree that that alone does not make the other members of the board in question correct (either in their positions or in their subsequent actions). In this case, though, based on what I know, the concerns with His Beatitude were not limited to just a few people. I think that has to be a factor, even if not the definitive one.

      4) Glad to see we’re in agreement that this act by the Holy Synod isn’t a purely “liberal” political maneuver.

      5) Your question concerning the Holy Spirit is one that I think we can process in light of providence. Sometimes, in this fallen world, things are allowed to play out due to free will that are not optimal. That does not mean God is not present. Keep in mind that God is timelessly engaged what we’re enacting in time, but there is real enacting on our part even if our free will may be less than we think due to prior causes, decisions, etc. There could be some important lessons for the entire OCA (and maybe even Orthodoxy at large) to learn here. Time will hopefully tell us what they are. Perhaps one lesson is we shouldn’t elevate someone so quickly just because we’re upset with the previous administration and the new possible candidate wasn’t connected to that administration (and is a much much better rhetorician to boot). Perhaps another is that the Holy Synod needs to do a better job of informing people what is going on (at least in areas where it can–again, I don’t want us blaring psychological evaluations across cyberspace).

  2. Rebecca Wilson

    Dear Fr. Oliver,

    Thank you for your measured and thoughtful comments regarding this sad situation. In 1978, I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic church at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis. My eyes were wide open and my heart was and is full. The OCA, in the light of Orthodox history, is a very young jurisdiction and +Met. Jonah was a very young Primate and Orthodox Christian. I pray that his brother bishops will continue to be charitable.

    By the way, I am a friend of Joy and Owen White. A couple of years ago, I corresponded with you and told you that I would pray for you, Mat. Lori and Micah, Macrina and Anastasia. I do and will continue to do so. Many, many years, Father!

    In Christ,

    1. Thank you, Rebecca. I am glad you found it balanced. None of this is easy and though I think I probably do know more than many about what’s happened, I don’t know all the ins and outs and I think it best to be at least somewhat circumspect in one’s assessment of it all. I do believe the synod has made the right decision, even if this decision could have been reached in a more productive manner. May we all be able to step back and catch our breaths and move forward from here in love.

      Rebecca, your prayers are deeply appreciated. We love Owen and Joy very much. They are good people who went through a lot on behalf of the church themselves.

  3. Scott

    This interview with Fr Kishkovsky is very interesting, for those who read Russian:


    Esp this sentence:
    ? ?????????? ???? ????? ???????? ????????, ??? ??? ????? – ??? ????? ?????? ??????????? ???????????. ?? ??????, ??? ????? ?????????? ?? ???????????, ?? ???? ?????? ?????????????, ? ??????? ? ?????????? ?????????? ??? ?????????? ???????. ? ??? ? ??????, ??????? ? ?????????, ?? ???? ?????????? ?????????”, – ??????? ??????????.

    That +Jonah advocated revoking the autocephaly and going back under the Moscow Patriarch, which was not acceptable to others.

    1. The Russian characters didn’t come through. Regardless, you are correct. That did happen. It was a while ago, though. It happened about a year and a half ago: http://www.ocanews.org/news/JonahRetreats3.18.11.html

      In fairness to Metropolitan Jonah, however, I believe a couple prominent priests backed the idea. The synod, other than +Jonah, however, unanimously rejected the idea.

      I would place this under the category of administrative short-comings. He should have discussed the issue better with the synod rather than just trying to make it happen. Keep in mind, too, that some things can’t be released publicly because they involved liability and confidentiality. None of it’s pretty. Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to research the whole episode better than we can now.

    2. Thank you for emailing me. I tried to post the Russian myself but it didn’t come through once I hit “reply.” Readers, I was going to post a quick translation myself but Scott (whose Russian reading skills are much superior to mine) sent me this a bit ago:

      “Metrpolitan Jonah began to publicly say that our solution was to become part of the Moscow Patriarchate. He considered that it was necessary to give up our autocephaly, that is our complete independence, and [enter] the Moscow Patriarchate as an autonomous church. And this in the Church, beginning with the episcopate, was not positively received.”

  4. Schema-monk Theodore

    Thank you, Father, for your balanced and calm offering on this sad news. You are quite right that while transparency in many matters is a good thing, not everything needs to be aired publicly.

    Just because “enquiring minds WANT to know,” does not mean they have a RIGHT to know. Especially about confidential health reports. That the absence of detailed information leads us (yes, I include myself, as one who knows His Beatitude personally) to speculate and look for people to blame says more about our egos and passions than about the people concerned. I don’t mean that I assume either side to be or not be justified in their stance or actions; merely that knowing who is “at fault” serves no healthy purpose for my salvation. I am at fault. Even though I am not even a member of the OCA at present (I have been in the past, and value my experience), I am a sinner among sinners. My sins contribute to the brokenness of the Church – perhaps more than any of the hierarchs in question.

    Time will, indeed, tell more about the role of the Holy Spirit in all this — qs we know, not every local or imperial council that believed itself Spirit-led was confirmed as such over time. On the other hand, for all we know, perhaps without the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit at the Council in which His Beatitude was elected, and through the intervening years, the situation would be even worse! We will never know. So while we may certainly ask questions and reflect on events, we must not second guess the Holy Spirit, who just might be calling God’s faithful in the American Orthodoxy to greater spiritual depth through disappointment and suffering.

    1. Thank you, father! Most definitely we should not doubt the Spirit’s presence in this and I agree fully that it could have been even worse for all we know. God knows. May we all continue to pray for one another in humility and love. I think this scenario, as you note, is “sad,” and there is no need for us to add to it with some of the chatter out there. Thank you!

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