By Nicholas Chancey
After doing this research, some things have become clear. There is a movement within the Orthodox Church in America to mainstream homosexuality. There are priests, bishops, and academics that are sympathetic to this movement. Some are providing quiet assistance.
Note: All links open in new window.
The reasons for the deliberate attacks on Metropolitan Jonah have been analyzed online on such sites as OCA Truth and others with varying conclusions. Some observers see it as a fight between the “old guard” wanting to hang onto power and the “new guard” wanting to change things around. Other writers have painted it in terms of personality conflicts. But one of the most interesting ideas put forward has been that the fight against Metropolitan Jonah is itself a manifestation of the so-called, “Culture Wars.”
This is how Muzhik, one of the contributors to OCA Truth, characterized the situation:
What is it about Jonah’s vision that they find so objectionable that they want to throw HB out? People I’ve talked to who are in much better position to read the OCA insider tea leaves than I am hold the opinion that Stokoe and his crowd cannot stand the public stances HB has taken on “culture war” issues. They hate that he has spoken out publicly against gay marriage and related subjects. They resent his pro-life activism. In short, they want the OCA to be Episcopalian, even if it means continuing to follow a path to irrelevancy and decline.
But is that really possible? It is true that the online base of support for those opposing Metropolitan Jonah is OCA News. It is also true that the site is run by Mark Stokoe, a partnered homosexual. But, coming from the Diocese of the South, it just seemed too far-fetched to me that Metropolitan Jonah’s stridency on same-sex marriage could have been a major factor in bringing on this crisis. After all, could Metropolitan Jonah’s conventional Orthodox moral position on such a subject really provoke such animosity among Orthodox Christians?
I assumed that this was clearly impossible, and that there had to be other, more important factors at work. I held that opinion until the day I crossed paths with Inga Leonova on Facebook.
Bishop Savas of the Greek Archdiocese had posted an article on his wall by a Catholic writer on the topic of same-sex marriage. Inga and I got into a heated debate over the subject. Given the nature of her answers, I asked if she and another individual with whom I was debating were Orthodox Christians. This is how the conversation developed from that point:
Inga: Yes, we are both Orthodox, and I may shock you even further by admitting to holding a position within the Church governance structure. Sexuality is an inherent part of a person’s biological makeup same as race. The early Church did not know that, and moreover, the early Church has dealt with matters of behavior, not identity. Much work needs to be done to actually learn the context of Pauline pronouncements, for example, or St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis on them – which most people who are happily quoting them are unwilling to do, much to the detriment of our Tradition and theology.
Nicholas: The official teaching of the Orthodox Church is that any sexual expression other than heterosexual marriage is inherently disordered and sinful. You can try to apply exegesis to this if you choose, but that will never change. Exegesis is only going so far in Orthodoxy. There is also the marriage ceremony itself. It is clearly written for male and female. Who will re-write it? Who has the authority to?
Inga: Your first paragraph, translated into plain English, states that the Holy Spirit has ceased to act in the Church and we are now but a museum of the venerable, dust-covered collection of “stuff”. Scary! This is simply inaccurate, too, from the canonical perspective. The Church has the authority to change most things except the key Trinitarian and Christological doctrine if it is pleasing to the Spirit. The Liturgy has been revised many times over the centuries; the canons of the Church are getting revised; things change! I refuse to acknowledge that we are dead because then we are worshipping Christ in the Tomb, not the resurrected Christ, and I do not worship a dead and buried God, nor do I worship the Law.
I did not for a second hope to change your deeply-held homophobic convictions, just pointing out the glaring parallels with the racist rhetoric, more to the benefit of the other readers of this thread than yours.
My curiosity was piqued by such an exchange in which a professed Orthodox Christian called me a “homophobe” for articulating the clear teaching of the Church. So I went in search of who Inga Leonova was. Where that led made me think I had fallen down a rabbit hole into an alternative reality.
Inga Leonova attends church at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston. She is, from all appearances, a very active member. Several of her articles are on the parish website. This is a link to one of her articles. Inga has served in various “official” capacities in the past. She has also contributed to OCA News, which indicates a link to Mark Stokoe going back several years at least. Here is a link to one of her articles about the Metropolitan Herman-era scandals.
Inga Leonova, during our exchange, invited me to visit her Facebook Group called Listening: Breaking the Silence on Sexuality within the Orthodox Church. I visited the group and started reading the posts and the documents. While the group bills itself as a discussion forum on topics of sexuality in the Orthodox Church, it is quite clear from extensive reading that only those with opinions affirming same-sex relationships are permitted to hang around.
A friend of mine joined the group in order to defend traditional Orthodox teaching on the subject of sexuality. He was banned by Inga in less than 20 minutes, although she did kindly refrain from deleting his posts. So, to be fair, there is some room for open discussion — but not for very long.
Quite obviously, the Facebook Group is dedicated to spreading a message that same-sex relationships are compatible with Orthodox Christianity. One rhetorical method used by the posters in the group is to denigrate those who disagree with them. One of their favorite targets is Metropolitan Jonah.
In fact, one of the group’s co-founders, Juli Lundell Tarsney, stated the following when discussing the subject of homosexuals in the military and the impact on Orthodox Chaplains, “One impetus for us to start this group was the letter Met Jonah wrote on this subject, which gained some notoriety after being published on the internet.” The letter Juli was referring to was Metropolitan Jonah’s letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board (.pdf) concerning the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy which appeared in May, 2010. It struck me as interesting that Metropolitan Jonah’s restatement of conventional Orthodox morality would be so offensive to Juli and Inga that they would go out and found a Facebook Group to combat it.
This is an excerpt of a document written by Inga and published on the Facebook Group which is less than complimentary to Metropolitan Jonah:
Moreover, in the course of this political thrust His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah has been very consistent in employing the rhetoric which is divisive, derisive, and threatening to a large body of individuals – not just the homosexuals in the Church and in the rest of the world, but also those who happen to espouse views more compassionate than those articulated by him. It is more than disappointing – it is endangering the message of the Church to the world. It is worth noting that His Beatitude is not alone in the Orthodox world in his quest, but is perhaps most closely allied with the similar momentum in the Russian Orthodox Church. In the context of this aspect there is a bigger issue of the Church’s engagement of its contemporary culture, especially of the diverging matters in that culture and its contemporary multi-confessional plurality.
This criticism of Metropolitan Jonah was posted February 4th, 2011 not long before the Synod took action against him.
It seems that criticism of Metropolitan Jonah is almost a daily occurrence on this Facebook Group. One poster added a link to an article from the Greek Archdiocese titled Pan-Orthodox Consensus on Same-Sex Unions — Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Inga had this to say in response, “It is extremely unfortunate that various jurisdictions are playing the media game and trying to jump on this train wreck instead of keeping restraint and dealing with the many question that have arisen in the last years internally and pastorally. . .Unfortunately, we can expect to see +MJ’s letter shortly as well.” (emphasis added).
These are just some examples. Clearly Inga, Juli, and the other members who post on this Facebook Group have serious issues with Metropolitan Jonah and his “homophobic” language.
After reading the site extensively, I then turned my attention to the membership of Inga’s Facebook Group. You can find the list here.
One member immediately caught my attention – Bishop Nikon of Boston. He is Inga’s bishop. Seeing his name on the membership role answered a burning question in my mind as to whether or not he knew what Inga was up to. Clearly he does, as he not only belongs to the group, but according to several posters he reads the Facebook Group’s pages regularly.
Bishop Nikon has been an opponent of Metropolitan Jonah and an ally of Mark Stokoe. I had known that before I saw that he was a member of a Facebook Group dedicated to mainstreaming same-sex relationships within Orthodoxy. But putting these two facts together made me curious to know more.
Digging deeper, I discovered that Bishop Nikon is very close to Bishop Mark, his predecessor in Boston who is currently retired in Miami. Bishop Mark lives with a man named Archdeacon Gregory Burke who was suspended in 2007 after he left Miami to go to California to marry a man. Archdeacon Burke and Bishop Mark built the home they share together in 2003. Bishop Mark apparently bought his housemate out in 2007 when the Archdeacon made his matrimonial journey to California. The deacon has been living with Bishop Mark since his return to Florida. He has spent most of that time on suspension from his liturgical duties, but is currently back serving at the altar. Bishop Nikon is said to stay with Bishop Mark in his home when he goes on vacation to Florida. That fact indicates that Bishop Nikon must be fully aware of the unusual domestic situation.
All of this is rather odd for an Orthodox Bishop, and may indicate a clear motivation for getting rid of a traditionalist Metropolitan who is clearly opposed to same-sex relationships.
Another notable member of Inga’s group is Father John Behr, the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. I plan to look into him more in the future, but at the time I decided to look into Inga’s priest – Father Robert Arida of Holy Trinity in Boston. Father Robert Arida was a teacher at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Seminary. Father Robert Arida is a relatively well-known individual within Orthodoxy, even giving the commencement address at St. Herman’s in 2010.
Not surprisingly, he has also contributed to Orthodox News. When we debated online, Inga was really enthusiastic about Father Robert. In our dialog, she recommended listening to Father Robert’s sermon for the commemoration of the Saints of North America. You can listen to it here:
In the sermon, Father Robert, essentially, counsels the Orthodox Church to stay out of the public sphere. His sermon didn’t really surprise me, since it is not at all unusual, or even undesirable, for a pastor to not want to see the Church abused as a prop in various political contests.
So I found myself wondering where Father Robert Arida stood on these issues. He wasn’t a member of the Facebook Group, unlike Bishop Nikon. Was he on board with all this? In an online article recently published on Inga’s Facebook Group, Father Robert Arida removed all doubt of where his sympathies lie.
Father Arida’s article was entitled, “Response to Myself.” In this response, Father Robert Arida seems to re-iterate the point he made in his sermon, mentioned earlier, that the Orthodox Church should steer clear of political debates like those concerning same-sex marriage. He then goes on to meditate on what he considers the confused nature of marriage within Orthodox Tradition.
His essential point is summarized in the first sentence of the quotation below (emphasis added):
Given our Church’s biblical, patristic, liturgical and canonical sources one eventually detects that there is no universally consistent and accepted teaching on marriage as to its origin, purpose and goal. Is it prelapsarian or postlapsarian? Is it eternal or temporal? Is it dissoluble or indissoluble? Is it a legal contract between free persons? Is it an accommodation to human passion – a form of legalized fornication – and therefore subordinate to monastic puritanism or is it a sacrament of the Kingdom which leads to the salvation of spouses? Each question has been answered in two ways, yes and no.
If the Church is going to respond to the legalization of same-sex marriage/union it seems that it should begin by considering how to minister to those same-sex couples who being legally married come with their children and knock on the doors of our parishes seeking Christ. Do we ignore them? Do we, prima facie, turn them away? Do we, under the rubric of repentance, encourage them to divorce and dismantle their family? Or, do we offer them, as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care, love and a spiritual home?
Indeed, the Church has never sailed these uncharted waters. But our history teaches us that what is new need not compromise Christ who is the “same yesterday, today and forever.”
This sentence, “Or, do we offer them, as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care, love and a spiritual home?” seems to sum up the thinking of Father Robert Arida on this topic. When “married” homosexuals come knocking on the door of the Orthodox Church, the correct pastoral response according to Father Arida, is one of acceptance of their same-sex relationships. Does that acceptance also extend to creating a form of “same-sex” marriage within Orthodoxy? I think from the tone of Father Robert’s letter that this possibility is definitely open in his mind.
What is even more interesting is that a few days after this article appeared on Inga’s Facebook Group, it suddenly made its appearance on Mark Stokoe’s Orthodox News site under the title, “A Pastor’s Thoughts On Same-sex Marriage.” This fact tends to reinforce the impression that there is a good level of cooperation occurring among like-minded people.
I also noticed some other academics who were members of Inga’s Facebook Group. Some of them are non-OCA, like Valerie Karras. Valerie teaches at SMU and is on the editorial board for the “Orthodox” Website the St. Nina Quarterly. While she uses that site to lay the theoretical groundwork for women priests, she appears to confine her favorable comments concerning same-sex marriage to Inga’s Facebook Group.
After doing this research, some things have become clear. There is a movement within the Orthodox Church in America to mainstream homosexuality. There are priests, bishops, and academics that are sympathetic to this movement. Some are providing quiet assistance. Some, such as Father Robert Arida, are publicly promoting a change in Orthodox teaching concerning same-sex marriage.
Quite a few of the members of this same-sex lobby within the OCA have ties to St. Vladimir’s Seminary, two of whose current faculty members (Al Rossi PhD and Fr John Behr) are members of the pro-homosexual rights Facebook Group run by Inga Leonova. Many of the people who are publicly working to change Orthodox Tradition concerning homosexuality have collaborated in the past with Mark Stokoe, who is the online voice of the anti-Metropolitan Jonah wing of the OCA.
I have looked at the official “charges” leveled at Metropolitan Jonah, and they appear to be much ado about nothing. There is no way these overblown allegations could account for such as storm as we are currently enduring. For a long time, I have suspected that the real crux of the problem is a difference in vision for what the OCA should be. After having researched Inga Leonova and her links to others such as Bishop Nikon, I have now come to the conclusion that this is really the case.
As a young, traditional, and energetic Metropolitan, His Beatitude Jonah represents a direct threat to the desire of one faction within the OCA to turn the Orthodox Church into an institution which accepts homosexual relations as godly. What these people are trying to do must be widely exposed and then rejected. Members of the OCA must back our Metropolitan, and support him as he tries to restore order to a church that is dangerously adrift.
Nicholas Chancy is a member of the OCA in the Diocese of the South. He has been an Orthodox Christian for over 10 years, and has served the Orthodox Church in a variety of roles.