at the Spiritual Court of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America at
St. Nicholas Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA.
May 26, 1998
In the midst of all this, I found out that I had other things to deal with. I had a brain tumor and malignant cancer. If this Court were to meet another year or two from now, I probably would not be with you. I have no positioning to do. Life is short, and I want to speak nothing but the truth, as I see it, from my heart.

I do not think that I am above the bishops. I do not think that any of these men here think that they are above the bishops. We have never taken, from our perspective, issue with the authority of the bishops. This matter has been the way in which that authority has been exercised in matters that relate to us during the last three years.

I do not like standing before you and saying that Bishop JOSEPH has lied to us. Bishop JOSEPH has lied to us. I have witnessed it firsthand. And I cannot stand here, and because His Grace is His grace, pretend that it didn’t happen, because it did.

As we originally started to talk about advocacy for the men here — and we talked about Fr. Joseph being the advocate for Father John and me, for these other 18 men who are here — you know I’ve known all of these men at least 15 years, some of them 25. And they’re good husbands, they’re loving fathers, they’re faithful priests and deacons.

Are they perfect? No, not by a long shot. Some of their faults are very obvious. Some of them are pretty undetected. But I really do not believe that they have done anything deserving of the discipline with which they are now being threatened, of being excommunicated, of being cut off from the Holy Mission. To stand before you here and advocate with these remarks in their behalf I consider to be a very great honor.

I stand before you as their advocate . I’ve been asked by them to be their advocate really because I’m one of them too. I, too, was suspended from the holy priesthood on February the 14th, 1998. I, too, was suspended in such, quite honestly, a deplorable fashion that the notice of my suspension along with these other men came over a facsimile copy into the church office on February the 14th addressed to the faithful.

We were spoken about nine times but only in the third person. To this day, none of the men has ever received a personal notice of the discipline taken against him. They all received personal notice of the summons to appear before this Court. They all received a copy of the documents that would be used against them presented by the Archdiocese today, but to this day none of them have ever even received personal notice that you are suspended, Father, you are suspended Father Deacon. That’s not being dealt with rightly. Unlike them, I said I stand before you because I’m one of them. And I was in that document that was faxed to the office on February the 14th. The discipline that was taken for me, as with them, was taken with the other 18 men because Metropolitan Philip said because we had expressed solidarity with father John Hardenbrook and Father David Anderson.

Unlike these other men, my suspension has been lifted. Not because I did not stand with them. Indeed, I’m a ring-leader. Not because I’ve changed my position or my conscience or my beliefs. I haven’t changed one iota.

The only difference between Father Berven and Father Clausing and Father Dingman and Father Hillhouse and Father Hinde and Father Lindsey and Father Steiger, Archdeacon Pagano, Deacon Adams, Deacon Hulter, Deacon Johnson, Deacon Menard , Deacon Patzke, Deacon Pflueger, Deacon Rickert, Deacon Russell, Deacon Shelby and Deacon Trigg and myself is that I got cancer.

And while I appreciate — and I’ve told His Eminence that both in letter and in person — being unsuspended, there seems to me something dreadfully wrong when health becomes a larger factor than how you were dealt with in truth.

Like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel, these men came — let’s even say, for the sake of argument — foolishly and asked their father for their inheritance. But unlike in the Gospel, the father has not sadly given them their inheritance, nor did he say, ” My sons, what are you doing? Let’s sit down and talk.”

What really happened is they got locked in a closet. And their inheritance is now being threatened to be given to their older brother.

What have these men really done? What grave sin have they committed for which they’re unwilling to repent? And we have the letters and you’ve seen the letters asking for forgiveness for any things that were said to be hurtful or wrong. The one thing they haven’t repented for is the asking to be released, because we see no sin in so asking.

What grave sin have they committed that is now for which the Archdiocesan advocate must feel that he must ask of this court to depose them from their clerical rank and excommunicate them from the church? Are they heretics? I don’t think so. Are they unrepentant homosexuals? I don’t think so. Are they child molesters? No.

What is the great wrong which they have done for which you’re now asked to be considering the extreme form of Church discipline, of Church excommunication? The sin which I think these men have committed is that, after a complete breakdown of trust, which we have tried to explain here today, with the resident hierarchy and the intended imposition of a vision of parish life that was a radical departure from the one that Saidna Philip gave to us 11 years ago, after clandestine attempts by dissident laity against the clergy of the parish, in which the local bishop gave ear to them, while not communicating but bypassing the local pastor and priests, they became convinced, through actions, despite any words to the contrary, that they were really no longer wanted in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
And that even if they were, they could no longer in good conscience continue to serve as priests and deacons in the Archdiocese, and thus they committed the unpardonable sin of asking to be released.

Their great sin for which you’re now being asked to consider recommending to Metropolitan Philip that these 18 men be barred from receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ is that they asked to be released to another canonical Orthodox jurisdiction.

We did not, as Father Peter Gillquist said, walk out. We asked to be released, and we have sat here for the last three months and received the discipline that has been meted out for having asked that.

The sin lies not in the fact that they asked to be released, but in the fact that the Orthodox Church here in America is still carved up into jurisdictions. You talked about all the jurisdictions that exist throughout the world, but not all these multiple jurisdictions exist in the same locality. We know that that is unorthodox, we know that that is unusual, and nobody has spoken more out against that over the years than Metropolitan Philip.

A priest or a deacon here, because of jurisdictionalism, really has no neighboring bishops to appeal to. Because the presiding hierarchs themselves, victims of the evil of jurisdictionalism, have to guard their turf. If you let one parish go, others will want to follow. Then you will lose control, you will look weak, and how will you hold on to your turf? Such a mentality is descriptive of inner city gang leaders, but should not be descriptive of Orthodox hierarchs.

I, too, hope you realize that the recommendations that you make to Metropolitan Philip concerning the fate of seven priests and eleven deacons have implications that reach further, much further than the Antiochian Archdiocese. The makeup of this Spiritual Court, the rules governing it, have already tempted some in the larger Orthodox world to want replace, the adjective “spiritual” with other adjectives not as flattering.

I call upon you to prove those skeptics wrong, to have the courage to tell Metropolitan Philip that Father Berven and Father Clausing and Father Dingman and Father Hillhouse and Father Hinde and Father Lindsey and Father Steiger, Archdeacon Pagano, Deacon Adams, Deacon Hulter, Deacon Johnson, Deacon Menard , Deacon Patzke, Deacon Pflueger, Deacon Rickert, Deacon Russell, Deacon Shelby and Deacon Trigg have done nothing worthy of excommunication and to recommend to him that it is in everyone’s best interest, his best interest, the Archdiocese’s best interest, the best interest of the people of Ben Lomond at Ss. Peter & Paul Church and the Orthodox Church that they be released to another canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, to allow them to say — to do, as we say in the liturgy, go forth in peace, that they may continue to minister in the ministries God has called them to on behalf of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Forgive me. May God have mercy on us all.