2014 Nativity Reflection by Metropolitan Jonah

A 2014 Nativity Reflection by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, ROCOR bishop and former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) from 2008-2012:

In silence let us behold the Incarnate God
as an infant,
Radiant with glory,
Swathed in rough cloth and lain in a manger.
Let us stand struck with awe
At the Presence of the Infinite Eternal One,
Born of the Virgin,
And exalted by the Angels.

We look through the cave of His Tomb
To the cave of the Nativity, overflowing with grace.
Swaddled in grave clothes, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
The same Christ comes forth clothed in glory.
We see the radiance of the Godhead in His face,
As an infant lying in the manger, and as a man hanging on the cross,
Coming forth from the tomb, a man reveals Himself as God,
Coming forth from the manger, God reveals Himself as man.

He became an infant to take on our weakness,
He became a man to identify with us in our suffering.
He showed our flesh to be a vessel of His Divinity,
And that His Divinity might contain our humanity:
God became flesh that we might become Divine,
The fullness of His Divinity indwelling our humanity,
That we might behold with our spiritual sight
The radiance of His Presence in our hearts.

He is baptized into our human life,
And takes on our death;
He is baptized into our death,
And imparts to us His eternal life.
He transforms our death by His life,
And transfigures our life by His death.
He buries us in the waters,
And shares with us His own life, enlightening and sanctifying us.

Look into the Cave,
And behold the Infant God;
Look into the Tomb,
And behold the Resurrected Christ.
Plunge into the depths of the waters,
And partaking of His death, be raised with His life,
That we too may be born
In the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Metropolitan Jonah Released From the OCA to ROCOR

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with a glad heart full of rejoicing that I share with you that earlier today Metropolitan Jonah received a signed letter of official release from Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) releasing him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, has been notified that the OCA Synod has, at long last, made good on their promise to release Metropolitan Jonah. Vladyka Jonah is thus received into ROCOR’s jurisdiction. His status–whether he will be received as a retired or an active Metropolitan– is still to be determined by the ROCOR Synod. The OCA publicly and officially acknowledged its release of Metropolitan Jonah here.

This means that, at long last, Metropolitan Jonah will be free to serve wherever he is blessed to do so by the Synod of the ROCOR and Metropolitan Hilarion. He will be free to serve unhindered at St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral (where he has been serving for most of the past three years) and wherever else he is invited to do so, with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod. He will continue his teaching ministry at St John’s (including regular sermons and lectures which may be found here), continue to speak at conferences and symposia and other academic events, and, above all else, continue to serve weekly Liturgies at the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC. He ultimately plans to begin a monastery, but in the meantime looks forward to living and teaching the Orthodox Faith and serving his spiritual children.

Now that he is no longer in the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah will lose his modest stipend which he has, until now, received from the OCA in his capacity as one of their several retired Metropolitans. ROCOR cannot afford to grant Metropolitan Jonah a stipend, so he will rely on the charitable support of the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation to meet his basic living needs. You may donate to the Holy Archangels Foundation and subscribe to receive e-mails here.

In terms of his recent activities, Metropolitan Jonah met this past weekend with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is visiting for the upcoming Washington, DC Orientale Lumen conference this week. Time allowing, Metropolitan Kallistos will join Metropolitan Jonah in con-celebrating Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Chapel this coming Friday, June 19.

At the end of June, on Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Jonah will present at a conference at the ROCOR Church of the Intercession in Glen Cove, NY, titled “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today” along with Dr. Sister Vassa Larin and Dr. Valerie Karras. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Professor of History at SUNY Albany, will moderate the discussion. Below is the event poster.

June 27 Conference Poster for

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Metropolitan Jonah will then travel to South Carolina to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and Tsarina-Martyr Alexandra and their children, along with the Tsarina’s sister the nun Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companion the nun Varvara. He will serve vigil at the ROCOR Church of St Elizabeth the New Martyr in West Columbia on Friday, July 17, followed by Liturgy the following morning, St Elizabeth’s feat day and the day of her martyrdom. On Sunday, July 19, he will again serve Liturgy, followed by giving a lecture on “Temple Worship and the Liturgy”.

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Glory to God for all things!

Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation since Summer 2013

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I had sincerely hoped that after the agreement reached on May 27 between Metropolitan Jonah, Metropolitan Tikhon and Metropolitan Hilarion, I would never again have a need to write on this subject. It is a topic which, when I do take it up, causes me some discomfort. Yet it has come to my attention that several Orthodox commentators around the world have re-blogged my May 29 piece, in which I sought to communicate the news of the positive resolution at that time regarding Metropolitan Jonah’s situation, which appeared then to be entirely concluded.

I have remained silent on the subject since this summer, in vain hope that the situation would resolve, but, unfortunately, no new developments have come to light. In the interests of transparency, and desiring to preempt any possibly incorrect impressions readers of several blogs might glean from reading only my May 29 post, I must report a significant change in Metropolitan Jonah’s situation.

This past summer, without any forewarning, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, informed his predecessor, Metropolitan Jonah, that he would be permitted to serve only at the OCA parish of St Mark’s in Bethesda, Maryland, located immediately outside the District of Columbia. Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter instructed Metropolitan Jonah that he would only be permitted to serve at another Orthodox parish in the event that +Jonah receives +Tikhon’s express written approval. Additionally, Metropolitan Jonah has not been permitted to offer the Sunday sermon at St. Mark’s for some time.

The explanation Metropolitan Jonah received for this sudden, arbitrary change was that it might be seen as unusual or improper for a retired Primate of the OCA to be serving at the DC cathedral of the ROCOR. At the kind invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the very kind First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Jonah had been serving at St John the Baptist Cathedral here in DC for almost one year following his sudden July 2012 resignation as OCA Metropolitan (at the request of the OCA Synod).

All of us here in the DC area were shocked by Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter, which came without any forewarning or expectation. This change in conditions obviously contradicts the assurances Metropolitan Jonah received in May of 2013 when he met and con-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitans Hilarion and Tikhon at St Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. At this Monday, May 27 meeting in the presence of Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Tikhon and members of the OCA Synod of Bishops promised Metropolitan Jonah (among many other things) his full freedom to serve wherever he was invited. Obviously, this includes the ROCOR Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

It is extraordinary to me that the most recently retired Metropolitan of the OCA enjoys such little freedom to serve. St. Mark’s has two attached priests in addition to its very kind pastor, the Rev. Fr. Gregory Safchuk, so there is no pressing pastoral need for Metropolitan Jonah to serve there. I am clueless as to why Metropolitan Tikhon or any of his fellow bishops on the OCA Synod felt it either necessary or appropriate to withdraw their earlier agreed-upon-promises to their former Primate and fellow bishop. The official OCA website has not featured any announcement of the changes in Metropolitan Jonah’s situation, nor have any members of the OCA Synod or Metropolitan Council commented publicly on the matter. 

Given the complete silence from anyone in the OCA headquarters in Syosset, NY on this matter, we can only wonder at the motives or concerns behind the decision to restrict Metropolitan Jonah’s service to this one parish immediately outside Washington, DC. Why would the OCA’s current Primate send a letter deliberately interrupting the ongoing parish ministry of his predecessor at another Orthodox jurisdiction’s DC cathedral? What need was there for this interruption, which caused confusion and concern among many parishioners at St. John the Baptist Cathedral here? Metropolitan Jonah’s ministry at St John’s was very popular, and his Bible studies well attended by parish members, as well as many from St Nicholas, the wonderful OCA primatial cathedral where I was chrismated in December 2011.

Since Metropolitan Jonah’s July 2012 resignation, St Nicholas parish membership has sadly declined, with some of their former parishioners becoming active members at St John’s. As someone who stopped attending services at St. Nicholas in late summer of 2012, returning only several times to the cathedral which I had so deeply come to love, I noticed the decline in attendance there, and the regular presence of many former St. Nicholas parishioners at St. John’s. 

The kind Fr. Gregory and delightful parish community of St Mark’s in Bethesda have warmly welcomed Metropolitan Jonah. He has continued to serve there regularly since the summer. The Metropolitan resumed his Bible study at St. Mark’s prior to his two trips to the United Kingdom over the summer and earlier this fall.

During his summer trip, Metropolitan Jonah was a guest of the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist, at whose summer Triennial International Conference he delivered one of the keynote presentations. During his fall trip, he was a guest of H.E. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. On both visits to the UK, Metropolitan Jonah was delighted to visit the wonderful Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, established in 1958 by the late and venerable Elder Sophrony Sakharov.

Along with so many friends of the Metropolitan across the country, I remain confused and concerned by the inexplicable reassignment of Metropolitan Jonah to St. Mark’s, given that there was no pressing need for his service there, while his ongoing ministry at St John’s was popular, widely beloved, and caused offense to no one. The complete silence from the OCA Synod is deeply troubling, though it is hardly surprising. It astounds me that placing such restrictions on the most recent former Primate of the OCA could be considered Christian in any way, let alone pragmatic. I pray for a resolution, yet what sense would I have to trust men who have so repeatedly broken their promises, even ones made publicly? Still, I must believe this is all in God’s Providence. May His will be done in all things.

 I would encourage any of you who wish to do so to contact the leading clergy in the OCA in hopes of obtaining some answers. They should be able to offer ready explanations as to why Metropolitan Jonah is no longer permitted to serve freely as he was prior to this summer.

 

You may reach His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon at his office at 516-922-0550 or via e-mail at metropolitan@oca.org. You may contact the OCA Chancellor, Fr. John Jillions at his office at 516-922-0550 ext. 130, or via e-mail at chancellor@oca.org. The OCA’s Secretary, Fr. Eric Tosi, may be reached at his office at 516-922-0550 ext. 129, or via e-mail at egtosi@oca.org.

Yours in Christ,

-Ryan

Positive resolution at last

Monday, May 27, at St Tikhon's Monastery: From left: Bishop Michael, Archbishop Benjamin, former OCA Metropolitan Jonah, current OCA Metropolitan Tikhon, ROCOR Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Melchizedek, and Bishop Mark.

Monday, May 27, at St Tikhon’s Monastery: From left: Bishop Michael, Archbishop Benjamin, former OCA Metropolitan Jonah, current OCA Metropolitan Tikhon, ROCOR Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Melchizedek, and Bishop Mark


“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;

As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

-Psalm 133 KJV (132 LXX)

As many of you may have read via oca.org, e-mail, or the OCA Facebook page, Metropolitan Jonah’s ecclesiastical and financial situation with the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has finally been resolved. As reported on the OCA website here, Metropolitan Tikhon invited Metropolitan Jonah to meet with him and members of the OCA Holy Synod this past Monday at St Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania to reach a consensus on his situation.

It appears that all has at last been settled, and that the hierarchs and senior clergy in the OCA have agreed to honor Patriarch Kirill’s admonition in his November 2012 congratulatory letter to Metropolitan Tikhon that “through the efforts of Your Beatitude the American Church will restore full-fledged relations with other Local Orthodox Churches, restore peace and harmony within herself and make comfortable the further life of your predecessor at the Metropolitan See of Washington.” (Emphasis mine). Glory to God that after months of uncertainty, this at last has been accomplished!

Here is the text of the short article posted on Monday on OCA.org:

May 27, 2013

Metropolitan Tikhon, Holy Synod members meet with Metropolitan Jonah

SYOSSET, NY [OCA]

A brief statement with regard to the retirement of His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah was issued by the Office of Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, on Monday, May 27, 2013.

The text of the statement reads as follows.
“At the invitation of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah met with a number of members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA and reached an understanding with the Holy Synod concerning his retirement. Following their meeting, Metropolitans Tikhon and Jonah, together with hierarchs of the Holy Synod and guest hierarchs, including His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy marking the 109th annual Pilgrimage to the monastery.”

On Monday, May 27, Memorial Day, Metropolitans Tikhon, Jonah and Hilarion concelebrate the Divine Liturgy in the belltower of St Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

On Monday, May 27, Memorial Day, Metropolitans Tikhon, Jonah and Hilarion concelebrate the Divine Liturgy in the belltower of St Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

Additionally, from this article on the pilgrimage to St Tikhon’s Monastery posted yesterday, May 28, on the OCA website, one may read the following excerpt:

“. . . In the revival of another custom that had faded in the 1980s, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the monastery bell tower, rather than the pavilion, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.  Concelebrating with Metropolitan Tikhon were Metropolitan Jonah; Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; Archbishop Benjamin; Bishop Melchizedek of Pittsburgh; Bishop Michael; and Bishop Mark.”

In terms of the details of the agreement reached between the hierarchs, Metropolitan Jonah has been awarded a monthly stipend along with insurance coverage to support his continued ministry in the life of the Church, and he will not be expected to absent himself from both Dallas and Washington, D.C. as some senior OCA leaders had previously demanded, but will free to live where he likes. He be listed as the OCA’s most recently retired former Primate and Metropolitan, and he will keep the style of Metropolitan, since he was consecrated to this primatial honor by the grace of the Holy Spirit at his enthronement at St Nicholas Cathedral in November 2008. 

Joyfully, Metropolitan Jonah is also free to serve wherever he likes and will be at liberty to eventually start a monastery in the DC Metropolitan area, as he has wished to do for some time. Plans are currently underway to look into acquiring a rural Maryland site near Washington, D.C. which has a host of beautiful buildings. Evidently, the OCA hierarchs have agreed that they will no longer oppose his transfer to another Orthodox jurisdiction (as some had previously) in the event that another jurisdiction requests his reception.

Metropolitans Jonah and Tikhon exchange the kiss of peace during the Divine Liturgy on Monday, May 27, 2013 at St Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

Metropolitans Jonah and Tikhon exchange the kiss of peace during the Divine Liturgy on Monday, May 27, 2013 at St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

In the meantime, two weeks ago Metropolitan Jonah launched a new seminar at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist in DC, “Orthodoxy 101”. Here are links to the YouTube video recordings of the first and second lectures, respectively. For this seminar series, Vladyka has encouraged us to do additional readings and out-of-class research, in the manner of an engaging university seminar.

It is my sincere hope, as it is the hope of so many Orthodox Christians who have either remained in their parishes or found their spiritual home in another jurisdiction, that the OCA senior hierarchs will offer a public apology for the deeply offensive letter they released on July 16, 2012 which contains many falsehoods about Metropolitan Jonah. In time, I hope that the OCA hierarchs will realize that this simple step – a public apology for issuing a letter containing so many false allegations about their primate – will do more than any continued silence to bring about a fullness of healing to the faithful within the OCA. This is my hope, but not my expectation.

Still, these are joyous developments, and I am very glad that things have at last been resolved in a dignified and fair way. Glory to God for His providence which brings good out of evil and causes us to rejoice after sorrows.

Joyfully in the Risen Lord,

-Silouan

Metropolitan Jonah: A man of extraordinary kindness

“Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee. . .” – Psalm 30:19 (LXX)
 
It is often the seemingly simplest things in life which give us the greatest joy, from the happiness of an unexpected call or e-mail, to an impromptu dinner surrounded by the warmth and laughter of great friends. Yesterday was filled with both these simple joys for me. I’ve resumed my correspondence with one of my mentors, the world-traveling futurist and educator Gary Marx, and in the evening I attended a fascinating conference planning session and wonderful dinner with a group of Orthodox friends.
 
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Metropolitan Jonah invited a group of Orthodox friends to his house here in Washington. As a university student, I was the youngest person present. It was a great joy to be with so many dear friends (and several new acquaintances, including an Anglican priest and a newly-arrived Orthodox monk) brainstorming about panel and lecture topics, reaching out to would-be sponsors and affiliate organizations, and discussing media outreach strategies. We are in the infancy of planning a series of pan-Christian conferences focused on the overarching themes of secularism and the place of faith in public life.
 
Vladyka is a wonderfully kind host! Following several hours of enthusiastic discussion, and tea served by Vladyka, we moved to the dining room for a delicious Lenten dinner which he had prepared for us. My godmother has told me many times, and I discovered for myself that he is a very gifted cook! It was very touching to gather together in his home enjoying this lovely dinner which he had made for all of us. The main course was a savory vegetable stew with squid (an Athonite recipe, he told us) along with plenty of pasta, bread, fresh tomatoes and cut lemon.
 
For dessert we enjoyed blackberry turnovers and cherry pie with soy ice cream, and I was delighted to see that my godmother (who is not of Jewish heritage) brought hamentaschen! These triangularly folded fruit pastries baked with poppy seeds are a delicious Ashkenazic Jewish tradition. Most often eaten during the Purim festivities, the time when Jews commemorate the Hebrews’ deliverance from destruction through the courage of Queen Esther, they remain popular year-round with Jews and non-Jews alike. It was a delight to eat these Jewish pastries during our Orthodox Lenten dinner, as I recalled my introduction to them during my Long Island childhood.
 
The food was delicious, but it is the warmth of the conversation, the easy and frequent laughter (Vladyka and the visiting Anglican priest are both wonderful storytellers) which I will most remember. It was a great blessing to spend the evening with such wonderful church friends. The dinner was yet another reminder of how profoundly blessed I am to have such a kind and thoughtful man as my spiritual father and bishop.
 
To those of us who are blessed to see him regularly, Metropolitan Jonah is a shining example of Christian love actualized through thoughtful actions, a warm nature and a heart filled with a deep awareness of God’s presence and an abiding love for serving others. Unassuming, down-to-earth, and warm-hearted to the core, he is a blessing to talk with and a joy to learn from in his brilliant Bible study talks and incisive and pastoral sermons. I feel very blessed that I have come to know him over these past several years, and that I have the opportunity to continue learning from him. To all those whose lives he touches, he is a great blessing.

Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 

1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 

“Again, we ask Thee, Lord, to remember all Orthodox bishops who rightly teach the word of Thy truth, all presbyters, all deacons in the service of Christ, and every one in holy orders.”

– from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, inspired from this verse of Holy Scripture.

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Many friends across the U.S. and Canada have asked me to give an update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation. People often ask me how he is doing, or if I have heard anything new. I hope that I am able to answer people’s questions here. 

I am blessed to see him regularly, since he resides here in Washington and has been serving each week at the ROCOR Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a warm and bustling parish. Metropolitan Jonah has been welcomed very kindly by all, including both English-speaking parishioners and Russian and Ukrainian parishioners who usually attend the Slavonic Liturgy. His weekly Friday night Bible studies are always very well attended, and this is a growing ministry at St. John’s which Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov has kindly encouraged with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. Friends from across the country have told me of how much this ministry enriches their faith and spiritual lives, and deepens their understanding of Orthodox teachings and beliefs, Church history, and contemporary moral issues in society. 

When I think of his growing ministry, how so many people are asking me how they can access his YouTube videos (these can be found here at the St John’s Cathedral YouTube page), I am amazed and deeply moved that, despite everything he is going through, he has the focus and presence of mind to continue his teaching ministry. I see this as the Providence of God. By cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Metropolitan Jonah is able to continue to serve as a teacher, his true capacity as a bishop.

The true responsibility of an Orthodox bishop is a profoundly pastoral one: to communicate the transformative wholeness and living beauty of the Faith to people in the language and context of the times in which they live. Above all, a bishop’s writings, sermons, and talks should enable the faithful to better live and integrate the fullness of Orthodox teaching and spirituality into their daily lives. As Metropolitan Jonah often says, “what we do in church on Sundays counts for less than 5% of the week, so how are we spending our time while outside of church?” How are we understanding, and most of all, living, our faith day-to-day, hour by hour?

Thus, in communicating to the people the fullness of the Orthodox faith which is the way to salvation, the inner life and glory of the Church, a bishop’s role is primarily that of a teacher. He is charged with guiding the people, “rightly dividing”, or discerning and communicating, the word of Truth in all its catholicity.

This is how I see Metropolitan Jonah: above all, he is a teacher. From the numerous Bible studies, sermons, conference and retreat talks I have heard him give, it is clear to me that he is an exceptional one. Metropolitan Jonah has the charism of communicating profound spiritual truths, as well as deeply intellectual, and often philosophically worded, Orthodox spiritual concepts (theosis, koinonia, theoria, synergeia, hesychia, prayer of the heart, conciliarity/sobornost, etc) in language that people can understand and apply to their lives. Thus, as a teacher who can articulate Orthodoxy to people today living in a cultural context removed from that of a traditionally Orthodox cultural environment, he is invaluable. He is widely and rightfully recognized as an engaging speaker whose spiritual talks have served as an Orthodox bridge to the Roman Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant communities.

Even now, Metropolitan Jonah’s ministry is inspiring many faithful across the Orthodox jurisdictions on this continent. This is a great joy, and I am reminded of one of my favorite verses from Holy Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:16):

“Rejoice evermore”.

It amazed me to discover that the verse following St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to always rejoice is a verse with which I was already familiar, but whose exact context and placement in his epistles I did not remember until re-reading it: “Pray ceaselessly”. (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How fitting that, inseparably tied to rejoicing in the boundless grace of God, we should also always remember to thank and supplicate Him in prayer, our hopes, praises and deepest yearnings which rise like incense to heaven (Psalm 141:1-2).

There is so much for which I and many others close to Metropolitan Jonah are profoundly grateful. His constant kindness, easygoing warmth and sense of humor always put anyone meeting him for the first time at ease. When one has talked with him often, one comes to appreciate how he has not only a remarkable depth of theological knowledge and spiritual awareness, but a profound humility of spirit.

This humility and real sense of Christian love is at the heart of who Metropolitan Jonah is as a person. Anyone who has heard his spiritual talks or read his book Reflections on a Spiritual Journey  knows that a constant theme is: “Do not resent. Do not react. Keep inner stillness.” It is this profound theological and spiritual principle which he has so often articulated, one which the early Desert Fathers and many of the Church’s foremost theologians taught, which he is trying to live now. 

My wonderful godmother, who is a great blessing in my life, often tells me about the extraordinary life of Bishop Basil Rodzianko, her spiritual father, whom she assisted for many years. From my godmother I have heard many wonderful stories and anecdotes about his life, and in many ways I feel I have come to know this remarkable holy man, especially through prayer.

There are a number of parallels between the life and work of Bishop Basil, and Metropolitan Jonah. Just like Metropolitan Jonah today, Bishop Basil preached the true fullness of the Christian witness of two millennia, offering to all the full message of the Gospel and the Church’s revealed moral teachings.

In retirement, Bishop Basil often served at St. Nicholas Cathedral, and lived out the remaining years of his life in a cozy studio apartment-chapel. He often served liturgies there, and continued his remarkable radio ministry to the faithful living behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. As you can see below, this intimate, holy place remains in use today.

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Metropolitan Jonah celebrating Liturgy on January 23 at Bishop Basil Rodzianko’s studio apartment-chapel in Washington, D.C. Bishop Basil reposed here in September 1999.

Metropolitan Jonah serving Liturgy at the late Bishop Basil's apartment chapel on February 21, 2013.

Metropolitan Jonah serving Liturgy at the late Bishop Basil’s apartment chapel on February 21, 2013.

Besides his acting teaching ministry at St. John’s ROCOR Cathedral here, where he also serves regularly at Liturgy and vigil, Metropolitan Jonah spoke at the February 8-10 DC-Baltimore Orthodox Christian Fellowship district winter retreat at the Mar-Lu-Ridge camp site near Jefferson, Maryland. For many years he has participated in similar conferences and retreats, recently speaking at the 2012 winter OCF College Conference in California.

It was a joy to host him as a speaker, along with the exceptionally kind author and lecturer Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green and Dr Joel Kalvesmaki, Editor in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

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Metropolitan Jonah and Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green with students at DC-Baltimore OCF winter retreat, February 8-10, 2013.

The Holy Archangels Foundation, originally set up in 1986 to support Bishop Basil’s continued radio and teaching ministry, has been receiving hundreds of envelopes with checks and cash to go toward supporting Metropolitan Jonah’s continued teaching ministry here in Washington. Every day the Foundation receives many e-mails and letters from people across Orthodox jurisdictions, asking what they can do to support this kind hierarch whom so many of us love and support.

If you or anyone you know would like to help support Metropolitan Jonah’s continued ministry, please write any letters or send checks to this address:

Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation

3027 Foxhall Road NW

Washington DC, 20016

Wherever you are, if you love and support Metropolitan Jonah as do so many people, please continue to pray for him. He deeply appreciates everyone’s prayers. Many of us here in Washington have begun praying the Akathist to St. John Maximovitch (the Wonder-worker) in the hope that this blessed saint will intercede with the Lord to bring about a clear resolution.

May God bless you and keep you, and give you joy in all things.

Several observations on Metropolitan Tikhon’s enthronement banquet

I was not present at this banquet for many reasons, the simplest being that I had a lot of homework to do this past weekend. Several friends who attended asked if I wanted a ticket, and I genuinely appreciate their kind offers. While I wish Metropolitan Tikhon well and genuinely pray that his primatial ministry brings much-needed healing to the OCA, I could not in good conscience attend an event celebrating his enthronement. 

Despite receiving numerous letters, e-mails, phone calls, and petitions from concerned faithful urging them to action, and despite several scholarly essays written which highlight major flaws in their July 16 statement, the OCA Synod still have not followed Patriarch Kirill’s admonition in his congratulatory letter to Metropolitan Tikhon to “make comfortable the further life of your predecessor at the Metropolitan See of Washington”. The reality is that if I had attended the event, as I was asked, my presence would have served as a silent expression of support for (or indifference to) the circumstances and actions which brought about Metropolitan Jonah’s horrifically unjust treatment by the OCA Synod. 

One of my friends who attended the banquet filled me in on many of the details. I was immediately struck by the oddity of the seating arrangement as she described it: the leading OCA administrators, Chancellor Father John Jillions and Secretary Father Eric Tosi, were seated on the raised dais near Metropolitan Tikhon. Several of the bishops, including Bishop +Michael of New York and New Jersey — the man who received the most votes from the delegates at the Seventeenth All American Council in Parma, Ohio — were seated lower than the priests, at floor level. I’ve always had an eye for any potential symbolism in the seating arrangements at any major events, from state dinners to Church councils, but this strikes me as a rather obvious sign of the indifference of many in the OCA administration to the dignity of the episcopacy. Orthodoxy is at its core a hierarchical faith, but not one which supports any kind of inverted hierarchy, with priests seated above attendant bishops at an enthronement banquet. 

This was no real matter of concern or surprise to me compared to what my friend told me about the addresses of two leading OCA priests closely affiliated with the Syosset-based Chancery and central administration. She told me about the remarks which Chancellor Fr. John Jillions and Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, made to the assembled guests. According to my friend, in his remarks, Fr. Jillions praised +Tikhon as a “true leader” who was “conciliar” in his approach to Church affairs and had a history of working well with the Synod and Chancery staff. This, as my friend took it, implied that Metropolitan Jonah did not.

What I found so strange about Fr. John’s wording is that he seems to measure a Primate’s success (or failure) based on how well he gets along with and secures the approval of those in the Church administration. This strikes me as a very bureaucratized and institutional-minded approach to the Church, seeing and understanding “the Church” in this sense only in an administrative and institutional way, in terms of departments, offices, and chanceries.

On a practical day-to-day level, of course every hierarch needs to work out a kind of modus vivendi to coordinate and execute shared administrative responsibilities with his fellow bishops on the Synod and with Church administrators, but what Fr. John’s words imply is, rather, that the Metropolitan is responsible to living up to the expectations and meeting the standards of the OCA Chancery. This view of the primatial role of the Metropolitan is a marked departure from a traditional Orthodox understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a primate of a local Orthodox Church. Church administrators are not to  measure or judge whether or not a Metropolitan is successful in his role based on their impressions of him, nor is he to be held to their standards; such an approach is to treat him more like a chairman of a board than as the primate of a local Synod of the Church!

My friend told me that Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky praised the bishops and all that they did to keep the OCA going during what he referred to as “the time of troubles”; she took this as a thinly veiled derisive reference to Metropolitan Jonah’s tenure. What I found interesting, and rather amusing, as a student of Russian history, is that the Time of Troubles (Смутное время) was the period of conflict and interregnum in the wake of the succession crisis precipitated among several weak contenders for the throne after the death of Tsar Ivan IV Grosniy, the last of the man Rurikid princes. During this time, the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led by King Sigismund III repeatedly invaded Muscovy and attempted the conversion of the Russians to Roman Catholicism. The irony in all this? Fr. Leonid was born in 1943 in Warsaw!

Another friend who attended the banquet described to me his shock to hear Fr. Leonid praise Metropolitan Tikhon in his introduction with these words, again a thinly veiled attack on Metropolitan Jonah: “This one is no Lone Ranger!” I respect Father Leonid for his many years of engagement with various ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, but I find it difficult to view him as a man of integrity given that he engaged in such derisive remarks about a former Primate of his whom he seems to delight in insulting, regarding as almost an enemy. This just doesn’t seem to me like a Christian way of thinking — or speaking — especially from someone with so many years of active service in the Church.

Metropolitan Tikhon has been enthroned as the new Primate. These events remind me of a line from Shakespeare’s play Richard II : “Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king” (3.2.50-51), or in this case, an anointed Primate of the Church. The OCA begins a new chapter, yet for now, I, like so many of you, continue to pray for Metropolitan Jonah, that the OCA Synod at last see fit to release him to ROCOR, where his growing ministry is deeply appreciated and valued, and that the Synod honor Patriarch Kirill’s warning to give +Jonah a fair and just settlement. Only then may what so many of us hope and pray for happen: he may start a new chapter in his life, and his ministry in the Church.

Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation

Since this past summer, Metropolitan Jonah has often been serving at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist here in Washington at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov. For some time Metropolitan Jonah has been serving weekly at St John’s, a warm and very active parish. Metropolitan Jonah has been welcomed very kindly by all, including both English parishioners and Russian and Ukrainian parishioners attending the Slavonic Liturgy.

His weekly Bible studies are always very well attended, and these talks are available here via the St John’s Cathedral YouTube channel. His ministry is well-loved and growing under the care of this wonderful parish and the kindness of those in the Russian Church Abroad who have been very welcoming. The OCA enthrones Metropolitan Tikhon this coming Sunday, January 27 at St. Nicholas Cathedral. It is crucial for Metropolitan Jonah that the OCA soon release him to ROCOR so that he may continue his ministry uninhibited by those in the OCA who sought his removal as primate.

The following information comes from George Evanisko, an active Orthodox Christian in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. I highly encourage you to share this information with all your friends. Since the OCA is no longer paying Metropolitan Jonah, if you or any of your friends are in a position to financially support his continued ministry, I can vouch for the integrity of the Holy Archangels Foundation.

Dear Fellow Orthodox Christian,
 
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) requested Metropolitan Jonah be released to ROCOR from the OCA more than a month ago.
The OCA Synod has yet to release +Jonah, even after the Synod’s letter accused +Jonah of being unfit for the OCA.  In addition, the OCA has stopped providing a salary to +Jonah.
 
I am asking you to do two things today to assist +Jonah, as the OCA Synod meets in seven days.
 
1.  Write a letter to the OCA Synod and Metropolitan Tikhon kindly asking that the OCA Synod release Metropolitan Jonah to ROCOR.
The address is: Metropolitan Tikhon and the OCA Synod, c/o St. Nicholas Cathedral, 3500 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20007.

 
2.  Write a letter to Archbishop Justinian of the Moscow Patriarchate asking that
a.  He speaks to the OCA Synod and asks them to release +Jonah to ROCOR, and 
b.  if the OCA does not release +Jonah, that +Justinian asks Patriarch Kirill to mercifully accept +Jonah into the Moscow Patriarchate.
The address is: Archbishop Justinian, c/o St. Nicholas Cathedral, 15 East 97th St, New York, NY 10029.
 
Finally, if you are interested in supporting Metropolitan Jonah’s ministries, a charitable organization has been established.
You can send a check to: Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation, 3027 Foxhall Rd NW, Washington DC, 20016
If you have any questions about the foundation, you can email mpswezey@comcast.net to find out more information.
 
Let us never forget what was unjustly done to Metropolitan Jonah and let us all work to come to a Christian resolution to this sad chapter in the OCA.
 
In Christ,
George Evanisko 

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2011 Archpastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America

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Dearly beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Born!

I greet you with the love, joy and hope that is so graciously granted to us with the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, we celebrate the “Winter Pascha,” proclaiming that God is indeed with us! Today, the only-begotten Son of God takes on our human nature, enabling us to become partakers of His divine nature. Today, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled as, in the “fullness of time,” the long-awaited Messiah ushers in that peace which is beyond all understanding!

And today, we celebrate that for which we have prepared during the Nativity Fast. Our fasting, intensified prayer, and almsgiving find their meaning and fulfillment in the Mystery of the Incarnation: All that we have is a gift from God, given to us as faithful stewards, that we might proclaim God’s very presence in our midst. Our calling is to “incarnate” the Incarnate Word into our lives, our actions, our very being, at all times, and in everything we do. This, to be sure, is not easy. The world will challenge those who embrace “The Way” at every turn. Yet, it is the world that, in its self-proclaimed emptiness, precisely reveals its thirst for “something more,” a “sign” or “reality” that gives meaning to life beyond the superficial trappings of the “holiday season.”

In rendering thanks to God for His manifest love for His People, and in strengthening ourselves to proclaim the Incarnation in our lives, it is crucial for every member of the Church to discern his or her gifts and to employ them for the building up of the Body of Christ. How? One of the Nativity hymns gives us a clue.

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song. The heavens, their star. The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer Thee a Virgin Mother!

It is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who is the very model of stewardship, of discernment, of embracing all that the heavenly Father called her to do. Where the first Eve said “no” to God, she responded positively. And in so doing, she embraced all that her Son accomplished by His birth in time and space, becoming an example for us.

As we continue our celebration, let not our faith be “shelved” with our ornaments and seasonal decorations. Let not the flame of our commitment wax cold. Let not our devotion to serving the Incarnate Word, even as His Mother served Him. May the grace and peace from above, so abundantly given by our all-merciful Savior, remain with us throughout this most glorious feast, and be strengthened within us in the days, weeks and months beyond!

Let us glorify Him!
Faithfully yours in Christ,

SIGNATURE
+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

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Sourcehttp://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/metropolitan-jonah/nativity-of-christ-2011

Archbishop Lazar on the significance of the Orthodox crowning ceremony

Video

This is the first part of a two-part video recording from a truly holy and erudite man (retired Archbishop Lazar, founding abbot of All Saints Monastery in British Columbia) on the deep theological and liturgical significance of the crowning ceremony to marriage and salvation in Orthodox Christianity.

At the height of the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom are crowned and communed together as equal partners in a mystical union joining them forever in shared devotion and loving self-sacrifice to each other. The husband is an icon or type of Christ, the eternal Bridegroom who cherishes and honors the Church more than Himself (Ephesians 5:25), and the wife is an icon or type of the holy Church, the eternal, loving Bride of Christ.

Vladyka Lazar explains that the Western Christian tradition of the father of the bride walking his daughter down the aisle to meet her waiting groom is historically absent from Orthodoxy. The handing over of the bride by her father to her new husband recalls the ancient pre-Christian Roman and Greek patriarchal practice whereby fathers symbolically transferred their power and authority (potestas and auctoritas) as paterfamilias over their daughters to the husband, who then automatically assumed her into his authority and family, effectively erasing her independent legal existence.

Orthodox couple waiting for priest to arrive

A Russian Orthodox couple waiting for the priest to arrive.

Since in Orthodoxy, by contrast, bride and groom come to the altar as equal partners, they walk there together after first making their vows and exchanging rings at the entrance to the temple. Then, with the priest or bishop presiding, they are mystically joined together by the grace and power of God during the Liturgy, a mystical transformation which recognizes the close bond of love they already share.

Unlike in Western Christian ceremonies when the couple is considered married from the moment when the presiding clergyman pronounces them as such following the exchange of vows, there is no set moment in the Orthodox crowning ceremony when the couple is considered automatically joined in marriage.

Their crowning three times by the celebrant, who exchanges the crowns between their heads, symbolizes their mystical union and their equality in partnership before God as king and queen of a new ‘little church’, a new family. The traditional Byzantine bridal crowns, called stefania, explain the etymology of the name Stephen.

Orthodox wedding crowning

The priest crowns the couple, moving the crowns over their heads three times while intoning the doxology, before setting them on their heads. From this point, the husband, an icon of Christ, is mystically transformed as king over the family, and the wife, an icon of the Church, as queen over the family.

The couple can be considered married by the time they first commune together of the holy Mystery of the Eucharist as husband and wife and walk around the altar, on which rests the chalice, patens, and the Holy Gospel, to the solemn hymn of witnesses. This walk symbolizes both a religious procession of pious faith by the married couple, now a holy unit, and is the moment from which they take their first steps together in their new union.

After their crowning, the husband and wife take their first steps in a procession three times around the altar, reverencing the holy Cross and the Gospel book.

After their crowning, the husband and wife take their first steps in a procession three times around the altar, reverencing the holy Cross and the Gospel book.

From the moment they approach the altar, they are already considered bound to each other in sight of man, and once they commune and walk together after their crowning, this mystically binds them in the eyes of God.

Please click on this helpful link for more information.