I originally wrote this column earlier this month, when the news of Fr. Zacchaeus Wood’s removal first broke. These were my first impressions and I stand by them. See more at the end of the column.
Monomakhos and sons have been out of the country for about two weeks. (That’s probably why you didn’t see a lot of personal commentary, I’ve been reading but not with the same attention to detail that I ordinarily use.) I will write more about our wonderful experiences soon enough as they gave me much cause to think about in the areas of culture, nationhood, and religion.
Anyway, getting out of the States allows one to have a fresh outlook and see things from a different perspective. I also suspected that the Sleepless in Syosset would remain entrenched in their Deep Institutional Mediocrity.
Boy was I right.
The news that Fr Zacchaeus Wood had been unceremoniously removed from the OCA’s representation parish in Moscow greeted me upon my arrival back home. I don’t know Fr Zacchaeus and have only a faint knowledge that he and the former Chancellor (Robert Kondratick) didn’t see eye-to-eye about some things. Beyond that I don’t know where he stands on the present issues engulfing the Church. Regardless, many things shocked me about this present affair.
First of all was the graceless way it was perpetrated. Talk about inept. Stalin at least had the courtesy to stage elaborate show-trials before his minions released their verdict. Second, the fact that he was replaced with some has-been is of no great merit.
Lefty Leonid Kishkovsky is definitely Yesterday’s Man. Third was the unnecessary provocation to the the Russian Orthodox Church. Really, we’re talking three strikes here.
If it was done to shore up Kishkovsky’s resume or let him go out with a last hurrah before he retires, then it was incredibly inept, both in conception and execution. It also shows how out-of-touch the Syosset/MC axis really is. In almost all Orthodox circles that matter, he has long been viewed as a helmsman of the OCA’s decline. Is Syosset circling the wagons in anticipation of an impending Sioux attack? Hard to say at this point.
There’s more layers to this onion however. Had this succeeded, it still would have failed. By moving Kishkovsky out of the States, Syosset would lose one of their key players for no gain at all. How can I put this charitably? The Russian patriarchate has little —and I mean very little—regard for him. Had he gone there, the chances for a misstep on his part were too great simply based on the tension that would have ensued between him and Metropolitan +Hilarion, his opposite number in Moscow.
What worries me more is the ham-handed treatment of Fr Zacchaeus. Think of it: in corporate, secular America, people are treated more sympathetically. I’ve seen people clear out their desks and be escorted off the premises, yet when asked what happened, it’s always something like this: “Bob asked for a leave of absence to take care of personal matters,” or “we came to a mutual agreement that ACME Widgets had to consolidate several departments but we intend to work with Bob at some future date.” In the political arena, it’s always something like this: “Senator Cleghorn has decided not to seek re-election in order to spend more time with his family.” But no, the official website of the OCA gave Wood the screaming-headline News of the World treatment. (I was in the UK and got to see this up close and personal.)
Talk about incompetent. If nothing else, it proves to me that Syosset is definitely not ready for the prime time. It also is a complete morale-deflater. What priest in the OCA now feels secure in his position? More importantly, what candidate for the priesthood would now want to be in a Church that acted so egregiously?
No charges were filed, no evidence presented. Instead we were treated to a declaration of immediate suspension. In the secular courts, the authorities at least have the decency to level a charge and issue a warrant describing at least some prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. The accused has his day in court and if found guilty, he is punished. Otherwise he is released and the charges are dropped.
In the recent past I have found myself arguing with people about whether it is proper to sue those in ecclesiastical authority. I’ve invariably lost the argument because Scripture seems to proscribe such actions. But I wonder, aren’t we to assume that those in authority are acting in good faith? Aren’t we also to assume that the Church possesses independent and accountable tribunals for the adjudication of wrongs committed and not hastily-convened kangaroo courts presided over by morally compromised bishops who may have an axe to grind?
That is an argument for another day. For now, it would seem that the Wonder Boys made some needless enemies and continued to raise the laughing-stock status of the OCA.
One more thing: many of my critics have taken me to task as being to “right wing” or “homophobic.” In reality however, I’ve been consistent that regardless of the charges filed or the merits of the accusations, I have always believed in due process. I also believe in mercy and see nothing wrong with finding face-saving ways out for people caught in compromising positions. I don’t know what Wood is accused of doing (and I hope for his own salvation that he’s not guilty of anything), but let us assume that there is indeed some irregularity which he has perpetrated, at that point I still stand by my original contention: his removal violated not only due process but common decency.
I don’t see how anything good can come out of this.
Postscript: I originally wrote this column earlier this month, when the news of Wood’s removal first broke. These were my first impressions and I stand by them. Since then however, it appears that (if I may paraphrase Mark Twain) the professional death of Fr Zacchaeus was greatly exaggerated. Instead, +Jonah appears to have called the bluff of Syosset (good for him: he needs to do this more often). Wood refused to take this treatment lying down and remains at his post. In the meantime, Kishkovsky remains in the States; I guess it looks like his triumphal procession through the streets of Moscow will have to wait for another day. Curiously OCA.org, which “broke” this story in such an ungracious manner has been strangely silent since then. OCANews on the other hand, continues to see mountainous regions where there are merely plateaus.
Life goes on.