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Fr. Justin … Martyr?

This is something only Orthodox readers will likely care about, and I will not open up comments for this thread. Still, I wanted to draw your attention to one of the bravest acts by a priest that I’ve ever seen. The Orthodox Church of America’s Diocese of the South looks to be about to have a bishop imposed on it — Bishop Mark (Maymon), who was supposed to become the next DOS bishop, until he showed up at St. Seraphim’s Cathedral in parish and nearly wrecked the place. He left after he admittedly broke into the private e-mail account of the former cathedral dean, read his private e-mails (some of which were from me), and got them into the hands of someone who publicized their contents. I spoke with a lawyer about the matter, and he informed me that I had a strong case for a lawsuit, but that it would cost me — or anybody else considering a lawsuit — a pretty penny to wage that court battle. None of us had any money. We had to let it go.

But Mark Maymon is bad, bad news. Someone I met a couple of weeks ago said (innocently) that he heard the people at St. Seraphim’s Cathedral in Dallas were a hot mess — that they had even run off the bishop who was supposed to take over the Diocese of the South. That could not be further from the truth. If you are under the impression that Mark Maymon was wronged, read this letter that Father Justin Frederick, head of the DOS Dallas deanery, wrote to the Diocesan council about the prospect of Mark becoming the next DOS bishop. I would bet you my next paycheck that if this happens, if that corrupt man becomes bishop of the DOS, two-thirds to three-quarters of the DOS’s keystone diocese will run, not walk, to the nearest ROCOR, Greek, or Antiochian parish. This is not an idle threat. The man nearly killed that parish, in only four short months.

Father Justin, whom I don’t think I’ve ever formally met, has put his priesthood on the line to try to save the Diocese of the South. He’s telling the truth about what happened in that parish last year, and he’s risking nearly everything he has to do it. Everything he has in this world, I mean. Read on:

The Reverend Justin Frederick
Dean, Dallas Deanery, Diocese of the South, OCA
2026 West Oak • Denton, TX 76201
(940) 565-6753 • [email protected]

Martyrs Agathopodes & Theodoulos
5 April 2012

My Dear Brethren of the Diocesan Council,

As the end of Lent draws near, I request your indulgence to hear me on a matter of great importance to the future well-being of our diocese. Believe me, I would rather be silent and let this pass by, I would rather not risk trying your patience and losing your goodwill. But because of the trust the people of my deanery repose in me and the duty I bear before God to work for the good of Christ’s Church in the Diocese of the South, I find I cannot be silent. Persuaded that we all desire a good, pious, capable successor to Archbishop Dmitri who will be able to unite and effectively shepherd our diocese, I proceed as my conscience demands in the hope that you will understand my deep concerns, which, I assure you, are not mine alone.

A year ago, as the newly-appointed dean of the Dallas Deanery, I was subjected to an intensely disturbing explosion at St. Seraphim’s Cathedral during that most somber and poignant week of the Church year —Great and Holy Week. I cannot forget that week and the pall it cast over Pascha. I cannot forget the tears of the faithful who came to me in distress over what was happening to their cathedral. I cannot forget the weeks that followed as I labored with others to pick up the pieces and put them together again.

This body at our February meeting in Charleston voted to put on the ballot the man who was at the heart of that explosion last Holy Week in Dallas. To you who did not live through and know little or nothing about it, the decision to include him on the ballot was easily made. For us who did live through it, that decision strikes us like a slap in the face. We are dismayed that he has been put on the official ballot, from which he may either be elected by a majority of delegates in our diocese, who are ignorant of the facts of last Lent, or from which he may be simply chosen by the Holy Synod of Bishops, regardless of how we may vote.

The reasons urging us, the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the South to this decision of including this man on the ballot were not the particular qualifications of the candidate, not his compatibility for our diocese, not his ability to unite and lead us, and not even his suitability to be a ruling bishop again after leaving his previous flock for reasons that are not fully clear. Rather, his inclusion on the ballot was urged as the logical consequent of fairness, forgiveness, and charity.

How does fairness require us to include this man on the ballot? If we are to cite fairness, where is the fairness to the faithful of the cathedral, who had their Lent and Holy Week disrupted by this man’s mistakes, whose paschal joy was dimmed, and whose deep wounds are only now healing? Where is the fairness to the cathedral priest who was brutally treated by this man for four months, who in his actions went well beyond the authority delegated to him, and made pastoral decisions in sensitive matters that were characterized several times by our Locum Tenens before the deans as ‘stupid’? Where is the fairness to the diocese in rewarding this man with a most unusual ‘guest’ status compensated by a comfortable salary and freedom to travel about the diocese despite his ‘stupid’ mistakes, mistakes one might expect of a newly-ordained priest fresh out of seminary, and not a seasoned clergyman? Where is the fairness in allowing one candidate to live in the diocese, travelling and campaigning at diocesan expense, soliciting invitations to parishes, while the other candidates remain outside? Where is the fairness in not having this candidate undergo the same psychological testing and vetting the other episcopal candidates must undergo? (We ask more of the divorced seeking a second marriage than we have asked of a bishop seeking a second diocese!) Where is the fairness in not closely examining his track record in his former jurisdiction and the reasons leading to his divorce therefrom? And where is the fairness to the priest, our former chancellor, whose private emails were dishonorably accessed and published without authorization to the priest’s hurt and the scandal of many? Fairness would appear to offer no strong support to this man’s candidacy.

How does forgiveness compel us to make this man an official candidate? By all means, we urge the battered wife to forgive her battering husband, but does that forgiveness require her to move in again with him before she has seen clear evidence of his repentance? Yet this is precisely what is being asked of us in the Dallas Deanery: we are to forgive and accept a man who for ten months offered no apology to the priest in Dallas nor to the faithful of the cathedral for the scandal he caused; we are to forgive and accept a man whom you all heard say recently in Charleston that he found it difficult to ask forgiveness because he sees himself as the victim, not as one who as offended. Before you rush to believe his account of being set up and victimized, please do due diligence and speak with those who suffered because of his actions. It is not enough to tell the people in Dallas just to ‘get over it’ when you do not really know what this ‘it’ is. How is the apology this man wrote to the cathedral (after being prompted) at the start of the Great Fast, which did not apologize for any specific sins or errors, constitute an apology, repentance, or the basis for forgiveness? Such an apology that apologizes for nothing specific is worse than no apology —and it went over in Dallas, I can tell you, like another slap in the face. Yes, we must and do offer forgiveness to this man and pray for him, whether he is able to name his sins and ask forgiveness or not, but that does not require us to put him on our ballot. Indeed, his refusal or inability to admit to any specific mistakes provides a strong reason for excluding him from it.

How does Christian charity demand that we make this man an official candidate for the episcopacy of our diocese? Our OCA received this man as a refugee from his former jurisdiction. Because of the traumatic nature of his departure from it, he was urged to rest and recuperate at a monastery and there learn our ways. He insisted he was ready to work at once. He was immediately handed the DOS on a silver platter, introduced to us by our Metropolitan as a most likely candidate to succeed Archbishop Dmitri. Upon this recommendation, we and the cathedral welcomed him gladly, expecting only the best. Yet within four months, the promising relationship was in utter shambles, irretrievably broken primarily due to his poor pastoral decisions and poor presentation of himself to the faithful. Despite the explosion he ignited, instead of being asked to leave to diocese and go to his proper see of Baltimore, he was allowed to retreat to Miami as a salaried guest of the diocese and to continue serving in some undefined, untitled capacity, despite repeated objections to this strange arrangement. In all this he has been shown an abundance of charity far beyond the Gospel requirement to turn the other cheek or to go the second mile.

Yet if we will speak of charity, how do we show charity to our traumatized brethren in Dallas? What does charity towards our brother, the brutalized priest of the cathedral, ask of us? Does not charity at least require us to hear what they have to say? And does not charity also call us to speak the truth in love to our uninvited guest that he may honorably take responsibility for his actions and not continue portraying himself as the innocent victim and blaming others for his own mistakes?

Members of the Diocesan Council, I urge you to reconsider the decision we made in Charleston on the shaky basis of fairness, forgiveness, and charity. That foundation does not support the candidacy of this man.

I know that some of you see this man as a victim, ‘set-up’ and schemed against by our former chancellor, innocently caught up in the currents of Church politics, ambushed by rebellious and contentious people in Dallas who could not accept someone who did not meet the impossible standard set by Archbishop Dmitri. Perhaps he has portrayed himself to you in this light as he has travelled about our diocese. I tell you, there is another side to the story, and that whatever the currents of Church politics, whatever the alleged machinations of the former chancellor, whatever the sins and shortcomings of the faithful of the cathedral– there were many actions that this man carried out which were fully in his power and by his choice and judgment, that, were they accurately known and considered, would cause anyone concerned for the future of our diocese to oppose his candidacy. Will you not consider the witness of your own brethren of our diocese, with whom you have long lived and served? Will you not do due diligence in investigating their first-hand experience with him? Or will you reject their testimony, preferring to credit the word of a newcomer in our midst who has a personal stake in the matter? Fairness, forgiveness, and charity all require you to hear out your brethren, which to my knowledge, few if any of you have done.

The fact is that inclusion of this man on the ballot puts those who experienced Great Lent (during which the problems were already building) Holy Week and Pascha in Dallas last year in a most uncomfortable position. Love covers a multitude of sins, and this we have endeavored to do—to cover this man’s sin, so long as he was removed from us so he could hurt us no more. But with this man on the ballot as an official candidate for the office of bishop of our diocese, we will find ourselves morally bound to speak up publicly, loath though we be to do it, about the facts of what happened last year, facts which, becoming public, will do no one any good—not the OCA, not the Holy Synod, not our diocese, not the Diocesan Council, not the ones who must speak up, and especially not the man himself. But the facts of our experience are fully relevant if the delegates of the parishes of our diocese are to make a fully informed decision at the special assembly this July in Miami to elect a bishop, and so we shall be compelled to submit them.

Rather than supporting this man’s candidacy, the facts of the matter would lead us to remove him from the ballot if we care about true fairness, forgiveness, and charity, if we desire the peace, well-being, and unity of our diocese, and hope to present our delegates with viable candidates whom we all have reasonable confidence will be able to unite and effectively shepherd and develop our diocese. What is more, if we do not remove him from the ballot, even if his chance of direct election is slim, we invite the Holy Synod to make the decision for us and install him despite our wishes. Remember Archbishop Dmitri and Metropolitan Theodosius!

Redress of the issue lies in our hands. We may summon our courage and decide that, just as we voted him onto the ballot, we may, upon further consideration of the facts, remove him from the ballot and from further consideration for the position of ruling bishop of our diocese. Failing this remedy, we invite contention and division to our diocese that will not aid us in building up the Church here in the South and throughout North America, and the ballot we offer to our delegates will not serve fairness, forgiveness, or charity for anyone.

In Christ,

Priest Justin Frederick
Dean, South Central (Dallas) Deanery

Again, I am not opening comments on this thread. If you wish to comment on this matter, I urge you to go to this entry on the Monomakhos blog, where folks are discussing it. I just wanted to say of Father Justin, “Axios!” 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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