Convert is chosen to lead Orthodox Church in America


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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.

Auxiliary Bishop Jonah of Dallas, a 49-year-old convert, was chosen by clergy, laity and his fellow bishops to be Metropolitan Jonah of All America and Canada at the All American Council held at the Hilton Pittsburgh.

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.

"We have to work together with one mind and one heart and one soul, striving with all our might to bear witness to Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. Nothing else matters," the new metropolitan said.

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 multi-ethnic Orthodox Church in America has Russian roots. Its membership is listed at 1 million, although church officials say it's far less. About 2,500 members live in Western Pennsylvania.

Delegates could write the name of any qualified priest on a ballot. If no one gets two-thirds of the vote on the first ballot, a second ballot is taken. The names of the top two vote-getters are then given to the Synod of Bishops for a final selection.

On the first ballot, the two leading candidates were Bishop Jonah, with 233 votes, and Archbishop Job of Chicago, with 212 votes. The elderly Archbishop Job had been a champion of reform and accountability in the church and had the support of many reformers.

During a time of questions Tuesday night, however, the little-known Bishop Jonah gave answers that drew standing ovations.

On the second ballot, Bishop Jonah received 473 votes and Bishop Job 364. Their names were given to the other bishops. When Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, the elderly interim metropolitan, announced their choice, his words were nearly drowned out by the ringing of church bells outside the ballroom.

"Axios!" -- worthy -- came the cries and chants of the crowd.

The new metropolitan was born James Paffhausen in Chicago and baptized an Episcopalian. While attending the University of California at San Diego, he converted to Orthodoxy. He went to seminary and, while working in Russia, became interested in monasticism.

After his 1994 ordination, he was tonsured and took the name Jonah. He served and established many missions in California and founded a monastery in Manton, Calif.

After the death of Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh earlier this year, Abbott Jonah was considered the leading candidate to succeed him. But he was chosen by the Dallas archdiocese before Pittsburgh had a chance to vote, and was consecrated Nov. 1.

On Tuesday night, the Synod of Bishops took questions about the scandal. Bishop Jonah's answers drew attention for their forthright admission of wrongdoing at church headquarters and his explanation of how bishops are supposed to lead.

"Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability. It's not power," he said.

"His speech changed the equation. He spoke intelligently, forthrightly and directly," said Mark Stokoe, a layman from Dayton, Ohio, who had pushed for investigation into allegations of financial malfeasance.

The Rev. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y., said the new metropolitan has a dynamic vision for the future of the church.

"He has my complete confidence for the ministry that lies ahead. It's going to be very difficult for him, but we will be here to support him," he said.


Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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