The Problem with Mark Stokoe and OCANews

A reader who wants to remain anonymous sent me this email and asked me to consider publishing it. I agreed.

At one time, Mark Stokoe had moral authority because he revealed the deep corruption in the OCA under the previous administration. He was one of the first persons in the Orthodox Church of America to see the power of the internet as a tool of reform. His website was arguably the reason that the corruption was not swept under the rug as it had been so many times before and made reform possible.

With the retirement of Met. Herman many people expected Stokoe to lay down his pen. He didn’t. Instead he started reporting on problems in the Antiochian Church, signaling perhaps that he was expanding his site to problems in other jurisdictions. Many readers saw Stokoe as a kind of independent investigative journalist. He reported things that some people, particularly hierarchs, didn’t want reported. He published information from sources who wanted their side of the story heard. His success with the OCA scandal confirmed his credibility. His reporting of the Antiochian storm seemed to seal it.

Eventually the Antiochian tempest settled down and there was not any more news to report, at least the kind would require a look at every few days or so. Meanwhile, Stokoe decided join the Metropolitan Council of the OCA. Stokoe was changing hats again. Instead of reporting on the problems of the jurisdictions, he now assumed a leadership role in directing events.

The Blogosphere is Jolted

Then, suddenly, several weeks ago, the Orthodox blogosphere was jolted with a report that Met. Jonah had retired. It struck everyone by surprise sending forth a flurry of emails and phone calls that lasted days. No one expected this. What possibly could have happened to trigger a resignation?

The source of the story was Stokoe, like he had numerous times before, scooped everyone. He lost no time getting the word out.

And then the questions began.

The First Report

The first report that described the events leading to Met. Jonah’s leave of absence (as Stokoe put it) seemed, on its face, factual, well-written, and complete.

But several discerning readers noted at the time that there was something odd about the release. The first two paragraphs read like any other news story, written for deadline and competently presented. The third paragraph onward (“How Did This Happen”) clearly was written beforehand. Stokoe is a good writer, but he is not good enough to craft the thoughtful reflection he presented without hours of research and rewrite. Anyone who writes for a living sees right through it.

Something was wrong. Why the prepackaged release? What was brewing in the background?

The Leaked Email

The initial suspicions didn’t mean much on their own but then something else happened. An email authored by Stokoe was leaked into the blogosphere. It wasn’t pretty. It revealed that Stokoe was a backroom architect of the events he scooped. His hands were not so clean after all. Did the Apostle of Transparency and Accountability swim in the same pond that he previously declared was poisoned?

And he has yet to explain the email.

The Questioning of Stokoe’s Credibility

Once the email was leaked, Stokoe’s critics took another look at his reports. The initial suspicions that Stokoe’s first release was written before the events transpired proved increasingly credible. A bias became evident. Words such as “defiant” and “rogue” and “reckless” were used to charge Met. Jonah with incompetence and even malfeasance.

The email was troubling. It revealed that the evidence that Stokoe presented to substantiate his charges were the same events he orchestrated behind the scenes.

What do we make of this? With no clarifying explanation from Stokoe about the leaked email, the most obvious answer is the one that makes the most sense: Stokoe wants Met. Jonah gone. And that begs another question: what is it about Met. Jonah that Stokoe finds so disagreeable?

The Diminishing Credibility of the Metropolitan Council

Stokoe has created problems not only for himself, but also for the Metropolitan Council. Stokoe still sets to some measure the narrative for the OCA. His site is still seen as a reliable source of information. But his star will dim as more people comprehend the implications of the leaked email as well as his continued refusal to explain himself.

The Metropolitan Council however, should take notice. The Council appears to endorse Stokoe’s narrative since he serves as a member of the Council. Putting Stokoe on the Council was a grave error. Journalists don’t sit on the boards of the companies or institutions that they cover. The opportunity for self-serving collusion is just too great. (Stokoe may have fallen into this temptation.) The Council must resolve this problem soon or their credibility will suffer.

Where are the Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops also appears compromised. Whether or not they are is anyone’s guess, but with Stokoe leading the charge and the Bishops’ reluctance to make any kind of public statement, the idea that some Bishops were complicit in back-room dealings won’t go away anytime soon. Stokoe’s leaked email saw to that. It is time for them to man up. Stokoe does not speak for the Church. The Bishops and Metropolitan do.

Coming Back to Earth

The OCA is working its way not only out of two years of debilitating scandal, but over four decades of deep institutional mediocrity. An institution is a strong as its leader, and the last two leaders were morally compromised. Now progress is possible, yet there would be no possibility of progress if Met. Jonah had risen up through the institutional ranks.

Hope has been reborn too. But hope has to be tempered by the possible, rather than be lifted to a height that matches the depth of the former despair. Met. Jonah has things to learn as all leaders do. Leaders are not born, they are made. The only difference between men is that some can learn leadership and others can’t. Met. Jonah is a man who can learn.

Meanwhile, we have to ask if Stokoe is compromised with the same affliction that dogged the two previous Metropolitans. Being praised as the savior of the Church is heady stuff, but the leaked email shows this savior has clay feet. He is a denizen of the institutional mediocrity after all.

The rest of us have to learn how to read with more sobriety.


  1. Lola J. Lee Beno says

    What I’d like to know is . . . how did Mark Stokoe get onto the Metropolitan Council? What are the criteria for becoming a member of the group? It’s not like I can go knock on the door, fill out an application and take my seat there (not that I’d want to do so . . . I have so many other things to do that are much, much more satisfying to me).

  2. Heracleides says

    I believe Mark said in one of his “Editor’s Note” comments in the past few months that +Job had a hand in his being on the MC.

  3. “Deep institutional mediocrity.” I wish I’d have thought of that.

  4. Antonio Arganda - rymlianin says

    Our bishops “man up”? Yeah, that’ll happen.

  5. Carl Kraeff says

    Whoever wrote this analysis is very clever and a good writer to boot. However, he is first and foremost a good spin-master. I wonder if he ever worked for the former President Clinton?

    Spin Number 1: “Then, suddenly, several weeks ago, the Orthodox blogosphere was jolted with a report that Met. Jonah had retired…The source of the story was”

    The reality: When Stokoe reported this, it was already in the public domain. Here is the truth as reported perfectly well by OCA News: “According to a report from Geneva on the Greek website late last evening, citing “exclusive information” from unamed sources, Metropolitan Jonah has been removed as the Primate, and Archbishop Nathaniel has been named Temporary Administrator by the OCA Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the day the retired Bishop of Los Angeles, Tikhon posted a short note on the web saying “Metropolitan Jonah…. has been given the “Bishop Nikolai’ treatment——mandatory leave of absence. Archbishop Nathaniel Popp has been named to temporarily fill the spot of First Hierarch.Bishop Melchizedek has been named as Chancellor, replacing the Archpriest, Alexander Garklavs.” Neither story has been confirmed or denied by”

    Spin Number 2: “The Synod of Bishops also appears compromised. ..the idea that some Bishops were complicit in back-room dealings won’t go away anytime soon. Stokoe’s leaked email saw to that.”

    The reality: This charge, as well as the overall charge that Stokoe is compromised, rests on a peculiar interpretation of the leaked email. In other words, there is not one iota of evidence that proves that the Holy Synod, the Chancellor, and members of the Metropolitan Council, to include Mark Stokoe, have been plotting against +Jonah. This is merely the opinion of the owner of the blog, Father Joseph Fester, and the anonymous cowards, Muzhik and Parishioner, at the OCA Truth.

    I must add one more thing. It is a common rhetorical device to attack the messenger if one’s case is weak. The more Stokoe is attacked for anything other than the details of his reporting, the more he is vindicated. The corresponding effect on Stokoe’s detractors must necessarily be the obverse and end up damaging their own reputations and that of +Jonah whose cause they think the are supporting.

    • Heracleides says

      Speaking of attacking the messenger… you have evidence that Fr. Fester “owns” the OCATruth website? If so – let’s see it – otherwise, why don’t you “shut up” (quoting you of course).

      • Fr. Yousuf Rassam says

        Perhaps if I may soothe Heracleides a bit: divide Carl’s statement in its most logical sense:

        “This is merely the opinion of the owner of the blog,
        Father Joseph Fester,
        and the anonymous cowards, Muzhik and Parishioner, at the OCA Truth. ”

        Which is to say, “The owner of the blog” means the blog we all are reading now, our own George M.

        Fr Joseph Fester, as witnessed in his email. (I do not have the time or inclination to look up Fr. Fester’s email, but if it or no other evidence suggests that Fr. Joseph F. has explicitly made that claim, then Carl should, of course, retract. I have more confidence in his ability of self correction than in some others.

        And the “anonymous cowards” who are the only people Carl specifically associated with OCATruth.

        I don’t think that there is the slightest doubt that OCATruth and Monomakhos, both make the claim attributed to them by Carl, and make it early and often. Maybe someone will speak to the substance of Carl’s post. or not.

        • Carl Kraeff says

          Yes, I was indeed referring to Father Joseph’s email to the clergy list that was leaked. I have no solid evidence to say that he is behind OCA Truth But, I could conjecture as well as any of the +Jonah supporters and say that circumstantial evidence links the good Father to the anonymous folks at OCA Truth. I have not done so (and I will not in the future) because to do so would be to descend to their level.

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