Head of Orthodox Church in America has resigned; he became top leader in 2008

Metropolitan Jonah resigned Friday as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA.) Photo credit: Antiochian.org

The head of the Orthodox Church in America has resigned after serving for four years.  In a letter dated Friday, July 6, Metropolitan Jonah said the position of Primate was “a position I never sought nor desired.”  He asks that the Church’s bishops give “due consideration…for my financial situation…I am the main financial support for both my parents and my sister, beyond my own needs.”  In his letter to the bishops, Jonah also says: “I…beg forgiveness for however I have offended you, and for whatever difficulties have arisen from my own inadequacies and mistakes in judgment.”

Originally an Episcopalian, Metropolitan Jonah converted to Orthodox Christianity after stumbling upon a book on Orthodox beliefs in a “hippie bookstore” in California, he told me in an interview at Detroit Metro Airport in 2009.  Jonah became Primate of the Orthodox Church in America at a time of what critics said was financial mismanagement and corruption among some leaders.  After he took over, the office was “radically restructured,” he said in the 2009 interview. “Everybody is new except for a couple of secretaries.” He also stressed unity across ethnic lines.

2009 story on Metropolitan Jonah is below:

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August 15, 2009 – Detroit Free Press

Orthodox Church leader hopes factions can unify here

By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Orthodox Christians must reach out across ethnic and social lines in order for their churches to survive, the new head of the Orthodox Church in America said Friday after arriving in Michigan for a three-day visit.

Metropolitan Jonah, 49, is to meet with local parishes on his first trip to Michigan since being elected in November as head of the church, one of the three main Orthodox churches in the U.S. Metro detroit has about 40 Orthodox churches, some of them part of the group Jonah heads. On Sunday, he’ll help lead a service at St. George Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield.

Jonah is a convert from the Episcopal Church who came to the Orthodox faith after coming across an Orthodox book in a “hippie bookstore” in California, he told the Free Press. That started him on a spiritual journey that led him to become a monk and visit Russia. He became a bishop in 2008 and was elected as head of the church less than two weeks later.

Jonah hopes to bring unity among Orthodox factions in the United States and one day bring them under one leadership. He also is trying to clean up a leadership that has been criticized for financial mismanagement and some corruption. He said the administration of the church has been “radically restructured.” “Everybody is new except for a couple of secretaries,” he said. “There is a lot of old baggage.”

The Orthodox Church in America has its roots in Russian monks who came to Alaska more than 200 years ago. Today, many Native Americans in Alaska are members of the Orthodox Church, he said. Jonah arrived at Detroit Metro Airport from Alaska, where he had met with the Orthodox community.

Orthodox churches are often associated with particular ethnicities, such as Greek, Russian, or Lebanese-Syrian, among others. But Jonah said the community must transcend ethnic boundaries to flourish. Otherwise, “it will die out,” he said. Jonah said he wants a “church that embraces all people.”

In many of the immigrant Orthodox communities, “the second and third generation of youth are almost entirely lost.” … “How do we retain the youth?” The key, he said, is making people aware of what the Orthodox Church can offer. “What people are looking for is a spiritual path, a way that leads them into the depths of communion with God,” he said.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter.com/nwarikoo

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