Orthodox regional reporting

2008 1112 jonah2 smWhat do you know! One of the newspapers in a region linked to the story of the monk formerly known as Jonah Paffhausen has noticed that he was raised — 12 whole days after being consecrated as an auxiliary bishop in Dallas — to the position of metropolitan (think archbishop) of the scandal-torn Orthodox Church in America.

It’s interesting that you can read about this story in Moscow, because of the OCA’s Russian roots, but not in some local places here in the United States.

No sign of coverage yet in Dallas, Washington, D.C., where he will be enthroned, or Chicago, the original hometown of the former Episcopalian who is now Metropolitan Jonah. But the Mercury News has stepped up to the plate with a story in Santa Cruz, Calif. Here’s the opening of the story from reporter J.M. Brown:

SANTA CRUZ – A UC Santa Cruz graduate has been named archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America and Canada.

Bishop Jonah Paffhausen, who graduated from UCSC after founding an Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus, was named Wednesday to the top post at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh. … Longtime friends from Santa Cruz County said the 49-year-old bishop has the ability and humility to serve the entire church, which means ironing out a well-publicized financial scandal involving misuse of church funds and bridging gaps between various sectors of the orthodox faith, including the Greek, Arab and Russian Orthodox churches.

“His election points to a very strong determination to change the way things have been done in the past,” the Rev. Mel Webber, the pastor of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Cruz for 11 years, said in a phone interview from Pittsburgh Thursday. “He’s got the skills to become one of the most enlightened leaders this church has seen in a long time.”

There’s some strange things in there — like the small “o” on the front of “orthodoxy” in some cases and the proper big “O” in others. I also think that it’s kind of interesting and, frankly, a nice sign of this monk’s ties to wider Orthodoxy that this veteran Greek priest traveled to Pittsburgh for this OCA meeting. Someone must have had a hunch and seen potential in this bright young man (49 is young for a bishop, let alone an archbishop).

There’s one other reference in this piece that Orthodox readers will find interesting and a bit strange, in terms of the wording:

After growing up in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, the Chicago native was first received into the Russian Orthodox Church in San Diego in 1979. After fully converting to orthodoxy following a talk at UCSC by orthodox icon Seraphim Rose, friends said Paffhausen had long tried to open a monastery in Santa Cruz, but could not find the right location. …

Paffhausen, whose official title will be archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, earned two degrees from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York before working on his Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He took a break during those studies to work in Russia, where he later joined Valaam Monastery and became a monk.

Well now. Someone the reporter interviewed probably said that Father Seraphim Rose has become “like an icon” for many Orthodox in America, but he has not been formally canonized.

Still, there’s lots of interesting information in this story. The key is that the story was published in the first place. Someone spotted the regional angle in this remarkable national-level story. Good for them.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    That is fascinating. I wonder how the reporter in Santa Cruz even got word of it. Maybe from Fr. Mel?

  • http://buddhateach.blogspot.com Robert

    Fr. Meletios Webber, formerly of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Cruz, is now abbot of St. John’s Monastery in California– he replaced Metropolitan Jonah when +Jonah moved to Texas to become auxiliary bishop. So while Fr. Webber was a Greek Orthodox priest (he converted to Orthodoxy under the guidance of +Kallistos Ware in England), he is now a priest and monk of the OCA.

  • Matt

    Not being Orthodox, I didn’t catch anything odd about describing Father Rose as an “icon”. The reporter probably meant it in terms of a monumental figure that many people look to. Of course, an Orthodox Christian places a much more specific meaning in the word “icon”. Is that what you’re getting at, tmatt?

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/ Rod Dreher

    In the Dallas Morning News, we still haven’t reported that one of our local bishops was elected to head a national church. For the record, I informed our (very fine) religion reporters of the news about +Jonah’s election minutes after it broke.

    But some bishops we do cover. Gay Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson is coming to town to be the very special guest at a Black Tie dinner; story and interview in today’s paper.

  • http://buddhateach.blogspot.com Robert

    The Albany Times-Union has the best piece I’ve seen yet on the election.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/ Rod Dreher

    To be fair, I should say that like most newspapers, ours is under extraordinary stress in terms of having fewer and fewer people to cover the news. There may be understandable reasons why the +Jonah election hasn’t received local coverage. Still, it’s mystifying, and off-putting to me, as this is my church.

  • Julia

    Is the Orthodox Church of America recognized as an autonomous group by other Orthodox Churches – Russian, Antiochan, Greek, Constantinople, etc?

    Sorry if this has already been addressed at GR.

    Also – the article said:

    various sectors of the orthodox faith, including the Greek, Arab and Russian Orthodox churches.

    Is there an Arab Orthodox Church or is the writer referring to Assyrians and folks in that area who I didn’t think were Arabs?

  • http://buddhateach.blogspot.com Robert


    The OCA‘s autocephaly is recognized by six of the fourteen autocephalous Churches.

    It is, however, in full communion with even those Churches (such as Constantinople) who do not recognize its autocephaly.

    The Church of Antioch is sometimes called an “Arab” Church because the majority of its faithful are ethnically Arabic. This article is probably referring to Antiochians by race rather than by see.

  • FW Ken

    …the Chicago native was first received into the Russian Orthodox Church in San Diego in 1979. After fully converting to orthodoxy following a talk at UCSC by orthodox icon Seraphim Rose…

    This phrasing still seems odd to me: it sounds like the new metropolitan went through some sort of two stage process. is there some sort of “full” conversion following being receiving into the Orthodox Church?

  • Julia

    Thanks Robert.

  • BJohnD

    The Albany report was pretty good for non-specialized coverage of the event. Two quibbles, however:

    1. Metropolitan +Jonah’s election did not occur “the same day” as the former Metropolitan’s retirement. Metropolitan +Herman was retired by the Holy Synod at the beginning of September, the day after the release of the results of a damning internal investigation into the OCA’s financial scandal.

    2. The article states, without attribution, that the OCA has “fewer than 30,000 members.” What is the basis for this estimate? No one thinks the semi-official figure of 1,000,000 is reliable, of course, but the 30,000 figure seems very, very low.

  • Darren

    I liked the Albany report too. But a question: I thought the Antiochian Church was the most welcoming to Westerners, due to its acceptance of the Western Rite. Am I wrong?

  • http://buddhagadraftsh.blogspot.com Robert

    FW Ken,

    That’s a mystifying quotation. It’s not a two-stage process– being received into the Church is full conversion. My speculation is that the reporter interpreted a comment about a change of heart or a radical commitment to Christ following Fr. Rose’s talk as some kind of official “conversion.”


    Depends on your definition of the word “most.”

    The OCA is the only autocephalous Church that exists primarily in a Western cultural context.

    The primary mission of the Church of Antioch is in Syria and Lebanon.

    However, the American Archdiocese of the Antiochian Church is, like the OCA, very friendly to the American context. Which one is “most” friendly is perhaps like asking which variety of apple is most apple.

    It should be noted that Western Rite does not necessarily equal Westerner-friendly. Most Westerners are either low-church or no-church, and find the high masses of Anglicanism and Catholicism to be utterly foreign and strange. To such folks, the Byzantine Rite of Orthodoxy presents no hurdles that the Western Rite doesn’t.

  • Michele Hagerman


    There simply aren’t that many Western Rite Antiochian parishes. From online conversations, it seems that the WR parishes seem to mostly attract disaffected Episcopalians. I have heard some arguing in favor of the WR say that it contains the “cultural memory” of Western Christians – the classic Book of Common Prayer (Anglican) or the Pre-Vatican II Mass (Roman Catholic). There are two “usages” in the WR – with services “corrected” for Orthodox context – that originate in the Anglican or Latin Rite Catholic bodies.

    However, you have to consider that the folks who experienced Masses in Latin or the classic (1928, not the bastardized 1979 American Book of Common Prayer) aren’t exactly spring chickens. Their children have either had the bland Mass (in many places – I experienced this growing up Catholic, although I’m now Orthodox) or the politically correct 1979 BCP.

    Why not go all the way and become really Orthodox. I should mention that the WR is not looked upon favorably by some Orthodox jurisdictions.

    This is the link to the Antiochian WR parish directory.

    The OCA and the Antiochians both have a majority of parishes with services entirely in English, with lots of converts and convert clergy. Pretty much the only parishes where you will find services at least partially not in English is due to the presence of immigrants.