There was a stunning, amazing news story yesterday in the struggling, scandal-rocked Orthodox Church in America and the man at the center of it used be known as James Paffhausen.
Now, you need to know that Paffhausen was born in Chicago and grew up as an Episcopalian. He converted to Orthodox Christianity while attending the University of California at San Diego and then, while working in Russia, he became interested in monasticism. In 1994 — note how soon this was after the fall of the Soviet Union — he was tonsured, ordained and given the name Jonah. Eventually he came back to California, where he started several mission parishes and then a monastery.
For the past 12 day — he was consecrated a bishop that recently — he has served as the OCA’s auxiliary bishop of Dallas.
Yesterday, the 49-year-old monk was elected as metropolitan, the leader of the entire Orthodox Church in America, which is the main branch of Orthodoxy in America that traces its roots to Russia and one of the driving forces toward the creation of a united Orthodox flock in this land.
If you want to read about this stunning development, there are some journalists covering the story.
But don’t look in the obvious places, in view of his life story.
However, since the election took place in Pittsburgh and that is the home of one of the nation’s top religion writers — one Ann Rodgers — you can read all about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, under the headline, “Convert is chosen to lead Orthodox Church in America.” Here’s the top of the story:
Auxiliary Bishop Jonah of Dallas, left, who was a monk until 12 days ago, was elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada by the clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America at its meeting at the Hilton Pittsburgh yesterday.
Hundreds of clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America wept for joy yesterday as a monk who had become an auxiliary bishop just 12 days earlier was elected to lead their scandal-plagued church into the future. His predecessor retired suddenly in September as the church released an internal report detailing the disappearance of more than $4 million in church funds under two successive administrations.
Now, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher is actually a friend of this man and is blogging on what this all means (note the link to the bishop’s blunt speech on reform and the future of the OCA, delivered shortly before the election). You also should check out the report from the Orthodox Christians for Accountability website.
But, once again, you need to look to Pittsburgh for the mainstream coverage.
Among those weeping and embracing friends was the Rev. John Reeves, pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College and an outspoken advocate of reform.
“This is a miraculous occurrence. We hear of stories like this in the lives of the saints,” he said of the selection of the least known, junior bishop.
The key is that this bishop has no ties to the scandal that has rocked this church in recent years. He is young, young, young and that would seem to set up an independent-minded hierarchy for some time to come. Like I said, it’s an amazing story — especially if you happen to live in Chicago, southern California or Dallas. I hope this draws some coverage, pronto.