Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church
V. Rev. Fr. John Weldon Hardenbrook, Pastor
P.O. Box 458
9980 Highway 9
Ben Lomond, CA 95005

Our Holy Mother Tatiana of Rome

February 12, 1998

Most Rev. Metropolitan PHILIP
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
358 Mountain Rd.
Englewood, NJ 07631-3798

Your Eminence:

Master bless.

Because of our love for you and our eternal gratitude for your role in our
reception into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, we address the
following to you with great sorrow. But our love for Christ’s Church, our
commitment to the truth, and our obligation as shepherds to faithfully
shepherd the flock here in Ben Lomond that God, through the laying on of
Your Eminence’s hands, has entrusted to our care compels us to speak. With
a sense of profound sadness we now convey to you a number of events which
have deeply affected our relationship with the Archdiocese.

In September of 1996, Fr. John Hardenbrook and Fr. Terry Somerville met
with His grace Bishop JOSEPH at the Chancery in Los Angeles. Bp. JOSEPH
said that the clergy in Ben Lomond needed to be reduced by half through
transfers and laicization. The same message was personally communicated to
all the clergy of the parish by the Bishop at a subsequent meeting. During
this meeting he said, three different times, that laicization was an option
and when one deacon stood up in the meeting and requested to be returned to
the laity, the Bishop said, “I accept.” We spent the next six months
agonizing and attempting to comply with this directive. This struggle
brought not only much suffering into the lives of individual clergy, but
also brought much confusion to the parish.

The following spring, His Grace subsequently announced to the parish that
he never intended or told any of the clergy that laicization was an option.
The visit was on Holy Friday. After the visit, Fr. Hardenbrook was asked
to leave the church and its ongoing Holy Friday services to accompany the
Bishop to lunch. He respectfully declined, stating that since it was Holy
Friday he was fasting and wished to remain at the parish. The Bishop

Fr. Seraphim Bell was shown a letter by Bishop JOSEPH from a former AEOM
priest and a leader in the old EOC warning His Grace that Fr. Bell, Fr.
Hardenbrook and Fr. David Anderson needed to be removed. Fr. Bell was
shown the letter by Bishop JOSEPH. His Grace informed Fr. Hardenbrook of
its contents which were later confirmed in conversation that Fr.
Hardenbrook had with the author of the letter.

Shortly thereafter, Fr. Seraphim Bell was removed as pastor of St. Stephen
Orthodox Church in San Jose, CA, without ever being informed of the reasons
or given a chance to defend himself in an ecclesiastical court. Without a
livelihood and without a place to live, Fr. Hardenbrook opened his home up
to Fr. & Mrs. Bell and their three children. Fr. Hardenbrook was
repeatedly told by the bishop to remove the Bells from his home.

Fr. Hardenbrook was soon removed as dean of Northern California deanery.
was never told why. In fact, he was never directly told anything. He
learned of his removal from a parishioner, who visiting in Sacramento,
Fr. Richard Ballew announce to his parish that he was the new dean. A
informing Fr. Hardenbrook that he was no longer dean was never forthcoming.
The most he got was a carbon copy of a letter from Bishop JOSEPH to Fr.
Ballew informing Fr. Ballew that he had been appointed dean.

Bishop JOSEPH, at a meeting with Fr. Hardenbrook, Fr. Somerville, and the
new dean, dictated a letter and ordered the letter describing his vision
for the Ben Lomond parish to be printed in the parish newsletter. In the
letter he stated that he would refuse, would fight, and would reject
efforts to be half Russian and half Greek, insisting that “we are

This was followed by our receipt of the Archdiocesan directive announcing
sweeping liturgical changes in the liturgical practices of the former AEOM
parishes. This was received quite negatively by the clergy and much of the
laity in Ben Lomond in light of Your Eminence’s words to us at the occasion
of the consecration of our holy altar in 1991 when you said that you did
not want us, “…to become like any traditional Orthodox parish — whether
it is OCA, Antiochian, Serbian, Bulgarian, etc.”

Our response angered a small, but vocal number of parishioners who began to
make their views known to the Bishop and began to accuse the priests of
disloyalty to the Archdiocese.

We subsequently requested a meeting with Bishop JOSEPH. At that September
1997 meeting, a frank exchange of concerns occurred. The meeting concluded
with a statement affirming our obedience, by God’s grace, to the Bishop,
the Bishop’s confidence in Fr. John Hardenbrook’s leadership of Ss. Peter &
Paul Church, the Bishop’s commitment to preserving the vitality of Ss.
Peter & Paul’s liturgical life and the Bishop’s directive to put a stop to
all rumors and gossip.

The priests of Ss. Peter & Paul left that meeting honoring that agreement.
Since that time, internal opposition and its accompanying gossip and
rumors, despite the directive, has continued to grow. It has been
repeatedly said, by some of our people, that Bp. JOSEPH has approved of
such activity and has allegedly told parishioners, “This is not Fr. David’s
church. I suggest you take your church back.” Bp. JOSEPH has denied
saying this, but people have continued to justify their dissension by
saying it has the Bishop’s blessing.

Last week Fr. David Anderson received a phone call from Bishop ANTOUN
informing him that he was being moved to Chicago. Fr. David appealed that
this decision by reconsidered because he was not originally released from
the O.C.A. to the Antiochian archdiocese for general assignment to
archdiocesian [sic] parishes, and also because the care of his 86-year old
invalid mother is completely dependent on himself and a network of
parishioners here in Ben Lomond. Bishop ANTOUN’s angry response to this
appeal was that he put the care of his mother above the service of God.
Fr. David then immediately requested release to the Orthodox Church In

These actions, and others like them that we will not, for the sake of
space, go in to, have caused us to lose our trust in the leadership that
operates on your behalf in this Archdiocese. Because obedience is based on
trust on love, the loss of trust makes it all but impossible for us to
continue in obedience to the Antiochian hierarchy.

In addition to the deterioration of trust, there is a second major issue we
must relate to you.

It seems that much of the deterioration of the relationship between the
Archdiocese and many of the clergy and faithful of our parish comes from a
“conflict of vision.” The outward expressions of our church’s life,
whether liturgical, social, musical, or governmental, reflect a vision that
has never attempted to exactly reproduce any one of the prevailing systems
normative in contemporary Orthodoxy in North America. We were encouraged
in 1987 to presume that there was room for this approach within the
Antiochian Archdiocese. We fear that this is no longer the case. Pressure
has been placed on us for some years now to make our liturgical services
conform to the prevailing practice of North American Antiochian Orthodoxy.
We have developed a liturgical life over many years now that is truly the
heart and soul of our parish, and which, despite our own sinful pride and
unworthiness, has encouraged many throughout the country to seek a renewal
of the centrality of worship, and has been the catalyst for many both here
and elsewhere to embrace the Orthodox faith. We believe it to be Orthodox
and good, our hierarchy has never told us it is anything but that, and [we]
do not see why it must be abbreviated or altered, or why the priest who has
done the most to cultivate this life among us must be suddenly and
unjustifiably removed. Similar statements could be made regarding social
or governmental issues: we do not understand why we must be compelled to
participate in extra-parochial organizations or conferences that are simply
not relevant to the way of life which we live, or why the presence of an
elected lay parish council as a decision-making body is essential to our
functioning as a local expression of the Orthodox church. The events of
recent days and months have convinced us that the best solution to this
conflict is a peaceful separation: that those who wish to have an
Antiochian parish should have one, and those who desire to continue on the
path we have followed for many years should form a parish in the Orthodox
Church in America, whose leaders affirm they are open to allow our
community to continue to function as it has to this point.

In light of the lack of trust that regrettably exists between each of us
and the Archdiocese, and because of the incompatibility of the vision of
Church life that we have tried to establish here in Ben Lomond with the
vision being thrust upon us from various sources within the Archdiocese,
something must be done for the sake of all.

After much prayer and agonizing soul searching, we respectfully, but
fervently beseech that Your Eminence grant to us, the Archpriests John
Hardenbrook and Kenneth A. Berven, the Priests Luke Dingman, Methodius
Clausing, Edward Hillhouse, Robert Hinde, Thomas Lindsay, Terry Somerville,
Basil Steiger; and the Archdeacon Anthony Pagano, and the Deacons Lawrence
Hulter, Nathaniel Johnson, Terry Adams, Michael Menard, Joseph Patzke,
Nathaniel Pflueger, Mark Rickert, Michael Russell, Kevin Shelby, Paul Trigg
and Elias Union, your release from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian
Archdiocese of North America that we may be received into the Orthodox
Church In America, pending official notification of their willingness to
receive us. Fr. David Anderson has already submitted his request for

It grieves us immensely to ask for our release from the Holy Church of
Antioch. But we are convinced that our continued presence will do nothing
but be a greater source of disappointment and sorrow to Your Eminence than
our leaving.

Pleading for God to have mercy on our souls and anxiously awaiting your
response, we remain,

Your sons in Christ Jesus,

V. Rev. Fr. John Hardenbrook
V. Rev. Kenneth A. Berven
Rev. Fr. Terry Somerville
Rev. Fr. Robert E. Hinde
Rev. Fr. Thomas R. Lindsay
Rev. Fr. Luke Dingman
Rev. Fr. Basil Steiger
Rev. Fr. Edward Hillhouse
Rev. Fr. Methodius Clausing

Rev. Archdeacon Anthony Pagano
Rev. Deacon Michael Russell
Rev. Deacon Paul Trigg
Rev. Deacon Kevin M. Shelby
Rev. Deacon Michael Menard
Rev. Deacon Nathaniel Pflueger
Rev. Deacon [Lawrence] Hulter
Rev. Deacon Joseph Patzke
Rev. Dn. Mark Seraphim Rickert
Rev. Dn. Elias Union
Rev. Dn. Nathaniel Johnson
Rev. Dn. Terry Adams

cc: His Beatitude Metropolitan THEODOSIUS
His Grace Bishop TIKHON
His Grace Bishop JOSEPH


Most Rev. Metropolitan PHILIP
(address as above)

Your Eminence:

It is with heavy hearts, but with deep conviction that we, the undersigned,
repsectfully implore Your Eminence to grant the request from the priests
and deacons from Ss Peter & Paul who have petitioned you for release to the
Orthodozx Church in America, and to inform Your Eminence of our intent to
place ourselves under the ecclesiastical care of the Orthodox Church in

Signatures of 10 priests (out of 12) and 12 deacons (out of 17)
Signatures of 61.7% of all parishoners. (Not all the parishoners were
present that evening at the meeting.)