An Explanation for Metropolitan Jonah’s Resignation

His Grace, Bishop Matthias has sent out a letter (the OCA Synod Statement on the resignation as adopted by the Synod of Bishops) offering an explanation about the events surrounding the recent resignation of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the OCA.  Bishop Matthias’ letter is also available on the Diocesan Webpage at Archpastoral Letter.

July 16, 2012
Hieromartyr Athenogenes

Archpastoral Letter
No. 149

Beloved Clery, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest:

Christ is in our midst!

We, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, have
hesitated to release further details surrounding the resignation of
Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of our Church, this in a desire to
preserve his dignity and to prevent further harm to an innocent party.
We did this knowing there would be appeals for additional information
regarding our decision. We also harbored some hope that Metropolitan
Jonah would show a willingness to accept responsibility for his
actions and failures to act. However, things said and written by
Metropolitan Jonah since his resignation have demonstrated that he is
not accepting that responsibility.

Why did we ask Metropolitan Jonah to resign?

In slightly less than four years as our leader, Metropolitan Jonah has
repeatedly refused to act with prudence, in concert with his fellow
bishops, in accordance with the Holy Synod’s Policies, Standards and
Procedures on Sexual Misconduct (PSPs), and in compliance with advice
of the Church’s lawyers and professionals in expertise in dealing with
cases of sexual misconduct.

The most disturbing and serious matter, indeed the final matter that
caused us to ask the Metropolitan to resign or take a leave of absence
and enter a treatment program, involves the Metropolitan’s poor
judgment in critical matters of Church governance, lack of adherence
to the PSPs, and the risk of serious harm to at least one other
person. While the names, dates and other details must be held in
confidence to minimize the risk of further harm, we can say the

At some point after his enthronement as our Primate, Metropolitan
Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and to
others to be actively and severely abusing alcohol, which more than
once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women.
One of these episodes involved the brandishing of a knife, and the
other the discharge of a firearm, the former resulting in the man’s
arrest. The man was also incarcerated for three days in yet another
incident, shortly after he was accepted into the OCA by Metropolitan
Jonah. While under Metropolitan Jonah’s omophorion, this priest is
alleged to have committed a rape against a woman in 2010.

Metropolitan Jonah was later told of this allegation in February 2012,
yet he neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops, nor
notified the Church’s lawyers, nor reported the matter to the police,
nor in any other way followed the mandatory, non-discretionary PSPs of
the OCA. The alleged victim, however, did report the rape to the
police. We know, too, that the alleged victim and a relative were
encouraged by certain others not to mention the incident, and were
told by them that their salvation depended on their silence. As
recently as last week Metropolitan Jonah was regularly communicating
with one of those who tried to discourage the reporting of this crime
by the alleged victim and her relative. In addition, the Metropolitan
counseled the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy, without
informing the military recruiter of any of the priest’s problems.
Finally, the Metropolitan attempted to transfer the priest to other
Orthodox jurisdictions, and ultimately did permit him to transfer to
another jurisdiction, in each case telling those jurisdictions there
were no canonical impediments to a transfer.

We have started an investigation into the rape allegation, and cannot
assume whether the allegation is true or not. We only know that
earlier allegations of misconduct by this priest were handled by
Metropolitan Jonah in a manner at a complete variance with the
required standards of our Church.

Moral, canonical and inter-Orthodox relations issues aside, in light
of the recent widely-publicized criminal cases involving sexual abuse
at Penn State and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Kansas City
Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the extent of the risk of
liability to which the Metropolitan has exposed the Church cannot be
overstated. We knew already from past experience with Metropolitan
Jonah that something had to change; we had hoped that change would
come about as the result of Metropolitan Jonah fulfilling his promise
to comply with the recommendation given him by the medical facility to
which he was admitted for evaluation and treatment last November, as
he assured us he would do at our last All-American Council in Seattle.
That promise having gone unfulfilled, when this latest problem came
to our attention at the end of June, we felt that we had no choice but
to ask him to take a leave of absence or to submit his resignation.
The moral, human, canonical and legal stakes were simply too high.

Leading up to this most recent problem, there has existed for several
years now a repeated pattern by Metropolitan Jonah of taking other
unilateral actions that were contrary to the advice of the Holy Synod
and/or the Church’s lawyers, which prolonged or caused litigation
involving the OCA, which substantially increased legal fees, which
created confusion in negotiations, and which exposed the OCA to
otherwise avoidable additional financial and legal liability.

He withheld information from his brother bishops and from the Church’s
lawyers concerning litigation matters, and matters which might have
resulted, and still might result, in litigation.

He has spoken unilaterally with and provided sensitive information to
opposing counsel and opposing parties concerning pending and
threatened litigation, although he had specifically been warned many
times of the perils in doing so.

He gave to unauthorized persons a highly sensitive, painstakingly
detailed internal Synodal report concerning numerous investigations
into sexual misconduct, risking leaks of names of alleged victims and
alleged perpetrators. While those who now possess the report are
wrongfully in possession of OCA property, they have not yet returned
their copies of these highly confidential and sensitive documents,
further exposing our Church to potential legal liabilities.

What we have said here is based on the Metropolitan’s own words, both
during numerous Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, and
established in documentary evidence. We cannot release that publicly,
and the Metropolitan Council members have legal and moral obligations
to maintain in confidence information pertaining to threats to
individuals and alleged crimes. We have however been communicating
with and will continue to communicate with law enforcement

Our request for Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation, or that he take a
leave of absence for treatment, came at the end of a rather long list
of questionable, unilateral decisions and actions, demonstrating the
inability of the Metropolitan to always be truthful and accountable to
his peers. The Metropolitan’s freely-chosen resignation has been
characterized by him and others as the result of politics and internal
discord among the members of the Holy Synod. Quite to the contrary,
the other members of the Holy Synod stand firmly together in our
unanimous astonishment at the Metropolitan’s actions. We cannot
stress enough that while the most recent events are likely the most
dangerous for the Church, these represent only the latest in a long
series of poor choices that have caused harm to our Church. We
understand and agree that an ability to work or not work well with
others, or a challenged administrative skill set, or Metropolitan
Jonah’s refusal to comply with the recommendations of the treatment
facility, while not the reasons for his requested resignation, were
fundamentally related to the consequences of his actions.

Each bishop of the Orthodox Church in America has a duty to Jesus
Christ to shepherd his respective diocesan flock, and to be a good
steward and trustee of the temporal properties of the Church entrusted
to his care. After the developments of the past few weeks, we knew,
individually and together acting in one accord as the Synod, that we
could no longer exercise our duties as shepherds or as trustees and
stewards without asking for the Metropolitan’s resignation.

There are some who are seeking to promote a variety of rumors or other
reasons for the Metropolitan’s resignation, in their conversations or
on the Internet. Some argue that the resignation had to do with moral
or political views publicly expressed by Metropolitan Jonah that
conflicted with the views of others in the Church, the so-called
“culture wars.” Such views have never been a point of contention in
Holy Synod or Metropolitan Council meetings. These issues were
discussed, and statements and actions of the Holy Synod have
demonstrated their unchanging position on traditional Orthodox views
of morality. This speculation as to other motives behind the
resignation is simply not true; the reasons for the resignation are
detailed in this message.

We continue to pray for Metropolitan Jonah’s spiritual needs even as
his brother bishops have provided for his immediate material needs.
He has no Church assignment obligations, allowing him to focus on
himself and his family. Meanwhile, he is drawing full salary and
benefits until at least October, when the Holy Synod next meets.

We ask your prayers for the Church, for Her clergy and faithful and
for Her mission in the world.

Your shepherd in Christ,
Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest


See also my blog The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

Praying (V)

This is the 17th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (IV).

And the Lord Jesus taught:  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:5-6)

Interestingly, fairly early on in the Orthodox tradition, the interpretation of Matthew 6:5-6 which unfolded in the monastic tradition moved away from a literal reading of this text, and began to see the text as speaking about going spiritually inward – into our hearts – rather than as to referring to physically  closing ourselves into some private room or a closet.  This is the interpretation that became common among the men and women who devoted their lives to prayer as monks and nuns.  Those who spent the most time in prayer came to think Jesus was talking about entering into our hearts and then closing the doors of the heart to all sins and distractions.

“Before all things we ought most carefully to observe the gospel precept, which tells us to enter into our chamber and shut the door and pray to our Father.  This may be fulfilled by us as follows:  We pray within our chamber when, removing our hearts inwardly from the din of all thoughts and anxieties, our prayers are disclosed in secret, in the closest intercourse to the Lord.

We pray with closed doors when with closed lips and complete silence we pray to him who searches not words but hearts.  We pray in secret when with heart and fervent mind we disclose our petitions to God alone, so that no hostile powers are even able to discover the character of our petitions.”  (Abba Isaac – 7th Cent – in  Orthodox Prayer Life, p 200)

Of course the monastic tradition (monos – alone, one) emphasizes the individuals spiritual warfare through prayer and fasting.  But the notion of going into our hearts rather than into some private room to pray, means that we can pray anywhere at any time if we have that ability to concentrate and withdraw from the din and allurement of the world around us.

Praying in one’s heart though also caused other questions to be asked about whether we even need the liturgical services.  If I can pray anywhere, do I need a church, the liturgy, other Christians?

“…Theophylact (d. 1108AD):  ‘Should I not then pray in church?  Indeed I should, but with a right mind and not for show.  For it is not the place which harms prayer, but the manner and intent with which we pray. For many who pray in secret do so to impress others.”   (Dale Allison, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p112)

Theophylact takes the command to pray in private to the logical extreme and rhetorically asks – then should I not pray in church if I’m to pray alone in my closet?  He then returns to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:5-6 to warn against praying for show and to impress others.  Theophylact then takes that notion of praying for show a step further:  it is even possible to pray in secret in order to impress others!  One can announce one’s intention and make sure that everyone knows how much time one spends in prayer. The spiritual reality of praying or talking about prayer in order to draw attention to yourself is you have lost the focus of prayer.  Prayer is to bring us in communion with God.  When we pray to impress others, we don’t stand in the presence of God but ignore God in the effort to get others to notice us.  Theophylact notes the wisdom: it is not the place where you pray which harms prayer.  You can pray in church or in your private prayer closet in a godly fashion, or you can pray in either place with wrong intent.  Jesus wasn’t sanctifying a space – your private prayer closet.  Rather he was speaking against praying for show, or praying to attract attention to yourself, or praying to impress others with how holy you are.  Interpreting Jesus requires wisdom, not just a literal reading of the text.  One can turn one’s prayer corner into a shrine to impress others rather than into that place where you humble yourself before the Lord.

“Whether you pray with brethren or alone, try to pray not simply as a routine, but with conscious awareness of your prayer. ‘Conscious awareness of prayer is concentration accompanied by reverence, compunction and distress of soul as it confesses its sin with inward sorrow.’” (Evagrius the Solitary – d. 399AD, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 3431-34)

Evagrius also points out that it is not your location which determines the power of the prayer, nor whether you pray alone or with others.  It is the inner chamber of the heart which matters.  It matters what is in our hearts and whether we daily spend time in repentance, fulfilling the first teaching of Christ – Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand and believe in the Gospel  (Mark 1:15).  When in prayer we realize the presence of our Lord, the natural reaction is to repent!

Next:  Praying (VI)