before the Spiritual Court of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, St. Nicholas Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA May 26, 1998
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[Fr. John Hardenbrook]

Esteemed members of this spiritual court. I, Fr. John Weldon Hardenbrook, the laicized Archpriest of Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church of Ben Lomond, California humbly present to you the defense for my actions and the actions of my fellow disciplined clergy.

I begin with some most serious questions:

* Why would ten priests and twelve deacons risk their clerical status and ministries?
* Why would approximately 350 parishioners feel so strongly about transferring to another Archdiocese from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese?
* Why would I, the Archpriest of Ss. Peter & Paul, which I founded in August, 1974 with a handful of young couples and university students, be willing to lose everything after twenty-three years of faithful ministry to this flock? I will have no pension. I declined my Social Security to help conserve finances for the parish and I am nearly sixty years of age.
* Why would Fr. David Anderson, graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, well-known teacher and liturgist, be willing to suffer discipline?

Things like this do not occur without a much more meaningful purpose and explanation than what merely appears on the surface.

This situation has found its climax from a deep painful struggle of human conscience rather than a shallow stupid rebellion.

The Thursday night meeting on February 12, 1998 did not “just happen.” And it certainly cannot be explained nor written off as just a “rebellion and disobedience.” There is a story, a long sad story of jealousy and conspiracy, which can only become clear by a review of our recent history. There is no other way to understand our defensive actions on February 12, 1998, without presenting the events and the facts which led up to that sorrowful day.

The Seeds of Destruction:

1. The termination of the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission.
2. Jealousy of Ss. Peter & Paul of Ben Lomond’s influence on other parishes.
3. The focus on a praying community rather than a committee oriented parish.

The Termination of the AEOM and Its Impact on Ss. Peter and Paul of Ben Lomond, CA

The last conference of the AEOM was held at Jackson, Mississippi in October, 1995. I met with the coordinating council during the conference which at that time consisted of Fr. Peter Gillquist, Fr. Jon Braun, Fr. Richard Ballew, Fr. Marc Dunaway, Fr.Nicholas Speier, Fr. Gregory Rogers, and myself. I had served as the Dean for a number of years and had decided that I did not want to have the responsibility of that office any longer for several reasons; (1)I was tired, (2)I had spent half my time and energy on the needs of the AEOM rather than our own parish, and (3)I wanted to make a more serious effort in my spiritual life to find and know God–meaning purity of heart, illumination of the soul and deification. After much discussion, we all agreed that it might be time to bring closure to the history of the AEOM. I presented this issue to His Grace Bishop BASIL He was very surprised but agreed to the decision. Then we presented it to the other AEOM pastors to have their input and amen. Some were very sad, some felt insecure, but all agreed it was time. I immediately wrote a letter to Metropolitan PHILIP. He replied giving his blessing to terminate the AEOM.

The reason I give this part of our history is this. The AEOM leaders had been in an unusual kind of committed relationship for many years. I don’t know how many times we had to make a covenant of commitment to death. Most of the AEOM pastors made a life-long commitment to each other but those on the coordinating council were called on to “commit to death.” Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew seemed to promote this the most and it would take place every few years. I was as much a part of it as they were. It was the vehicle which helped keep us together through our journey to Orthodoxy. However, after we entered the Church, this commitment started to deteriorate and insecurities and mistrust began to set in with some of the leaders. We were no longer able to come to “one mind” on issues concerning the holy tradition of the Church or on personal direction.

Fr. Marc Dunaway, Pastor of St. John Cathedral in Eagle River, Alaska, had written a letter to me on October 12, 1994, a year before our last AEOM conference. He was concerned about Fr. Jon Braun’s vision of “500 new churches by the year 2000” dominating our AEOM agenda. Fr. Marc wrote:

“I was disturbed by Father Jon’s talk primarily because, while
he passionately called for unity among us, a unity I agree we
desperately need, I lay a good deal of the blame for our dis
unity and near disintegration right at his own feet, and yet
he does not see this.”

Disbanding the AEOM was not a small thing taking place. The structure of the AEOM was able to keep some kind of continuation of former commitment and supply a power base to get things done. Now. . . it was gone. I knew from having over 25 years of relationships with some of these men, especially Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew, that you may be the most trusted friend while keeping the vow of commitment to death. . . but you could immediately become an enemy if you wavered or flunked out on the test of loyalty.

As I studied Orthodox spirituality, this kind of test of loyalty eventually appeared to me to be a kind of sickness that was born from some deep insecurities. I wanted to maintain the friendships, but I also wanted the freedom to find my path to salvation. I loved these men deeply, but I wanted the room to differ and yet be accepted. I still respected and loved Fr. Jon Braun so much that not only did our families socialize often but I also went to him for a life-long confession where I truly tried to reveal every dark secret sin–and not so secret sins–I committed during my fifty-five years of life. I am now 58 years old.

Competition and Jealousy

Somewhere I flunked the loyalty test and I began to see symptoms of a move against myself and the Ben Lomond parish. I started to hear rumors, gossip and of things taking place that indicated that someone was out to hurt me. The issue was to curb the influence of the Ben Lomond parish. Admittedly, we had greatly influenced St. Stephen’s in San Jose as their sponsor parish, St. Elias in Placerville as their sponsor parish, and in the beginning years, St. Timothy in Fairfield. I was also working with a small group in Modesto, CA.

In fact, I called Fr. Peter Gillquist and Missions and Evangelism to get involved in raising up a new mission in Modesto. We agreed that Ben Lomond would help sponsor the effort until it got on its feet. Fr. Peter and Fr. John Finley did an evangelistic outreach in Modesto. I was very excited about the results and looked forward to helping establish a mission. To my surprise, Fr. Peter totally cut Ben Lomond out of the picture. We were not invited to help raise up this parish.

The reason this didn’t make sense to me was because Modesto people were all attending Ss. Peter & Paul in Ben Lomond since I had been serving every one of them as their priest. Even they asked why we, Ben Lomond, were not a part of the teaching schedule. I knew this had been done deliberately, but no one was talking. It seems like a small thing, but its implications are big. The tragedy is that it confused the Modesto people and it stopped the progress towards a mission. Most of these people are still driving a two-hour commute to our parish.

But the real seeds of breakdown began with Bp. JOSEPH’s attempt to reduce the size of the Ben Lomond clergy.
The Order to Reduce the Size of the Ben Lomond Clergy

Bishop JOSEPH called me at my home on September 9, 1996 and said that he had a very important matter to discuss with me and wanted me to come to the Chancery ASAP. I asked what the nature of the meeting would be. He replied that he didn’t want to discuss it on the phone. I asked to bring Fr. Terry Somerville with me and he said that would be fine. After some informal chit-chat at the Chancery, Bp. JOSEPH proceeded to tell us the purpose of the meeting. He very frankly said that we had too many clergy in Ben Lomond and that he and Metropolitan PHILIP wanted us to cut the number of clergy in half. Somehow, this news was not that shocking because Bp. ANTOUN had written a letter in May 1993, attempting to send some of the clergy out for training and assignments. This is the letter that each of the priests received, excluding myself:
Dear Fr.
Christ is Risen!
I hope this letter finds you well.
On behalf of His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, I am writing to
you to inform you that you are required to make an appointment
with either Archpriest Thomas Ruffin of the Church of the Redeemer
of Los Altos Hills, or Archpriest Emile Hanna of St. John the
Evangelist Church of Orinda, for the purpose of a series of work
shops on liturgical training in our Antiochian traditions. So
after this is completed, you are required to write the Primate of
our Archdiocese to inform him whether or not you are prepared
to become a pastor or assistant pastor in one of the parishes of our
Archdiocese. In the Orthodox tradition, we do not have priests at
large, but rather clergy who have a specific pastoral and liturgical
role to fulfill. We want to help you fulfill those responsibilities
for which you have been called. Our Antiochian liturgical tradi
tion is an ancient one, older than most traditions within Ortho
doxy. We want all our clergy to reflect that tradition within our
churches.
Let us know when you have made your appointment with either
priest. May the Lord continue to bless you, your loved ones, and
your ministry in His Name.
In the Risen Christ,
Bishop ANTOUN, Auxiliary

The following letter was my response to Bp. ANTOUN’s letter:
Dear Bishop ANTOUN:
Christ is Risen!
I first must confess that I was shocked at the content of your letter of
May 11, 1993. Is it possible that this was written without consultation
with Metropolitan PHILIP? Do you not recall that we were assured, at
the meeting where it was decided that we could be received into the
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, that we could have a
presbytery and a diaconate in our parishes? This was a deep concern
to us all. We were assured that the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox
Mission clergy would not be reassigned without the recommendation
of the AEOM Coordinating Council. Nor would clergy be assigned to
our parishes without the recommendation of the same Council. Your
letter is a significant departure from that assurance.
Further, in regard to the liturgical practice and “workshops on litur
gical training in our Antiochian traditions,”surely you know that our
priests and deacons have faithfully, for the past six and a half years,
every Sunday and Holy Days, served the Liturgy with Fr. Thomas
Ruffin in Los Altos Hills, and many times in his absence. They know
our Antiochian liturgical practice and tradition as a result.
I am wondering if there is another message that is being sent here.
Regarding “priests. . . being prepared to become the pastor, or assistant
pastor in one of our parishes in the Archdiocese.” Is this a reversal of
the firm agreement that the AEOM parishes would have a presbytery
and a diaconate where there was multiple clergy, and that we would
not be forced to have parish councils.
I am astounded that you consider the priests at Ben Lomond as “priests at large.”
They were all assigned by His Eminence to the Ben Lomond
parish. Please clarify what is meant by that statement.
I fear that there are many voices that are attempting to polarize us
with the Bishop by their false accusations. May I hear from you about
these serious matters, Saidna.
Your servant,
Fr. Weldon M. Hardenbrook, Archpriest

There was a major reaction from the AEOM to this directive at the time because it implicated the future of all the AEOM parishes who had multiple clergy; And, because Metropolitan PHILIP had promised us when we entered the Church that he would not force assignments on our clergy or go around its leadership. This was such a major issue that Fr. Jon Braun and I flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to have an emergency meeting with His Grace Bishop BASIL to protest the directive. Bp. BASIL intervened for us and the directive was no longer an issue. We were always painfully aware of the fact that we had too many clergy, but did not know how to resolve it without it becoming an unbearable crisis due to the fact that many of our clergy were not capable of pastoring a parish by themselves and most did not want to leave the community where they had served for over twenty years. We believed time would gradually take care of the problem. Meanwhile, we kept the clergy busy. Never, and I state never did I call His Grace Bishop BASIL to initiate a move to reduce our clergy. I deeply respect His Grace Bishop BASIL, however, his memory of a phone call made five years ago without documentation is not true or accurate. When His Grace Bishop BASIL was our local Bishop, he instructed us to have daily Divine Liturgy and Vespers, which we were able to implement immediately because we had sufficient clergy to serve these extra services. Of course, in addition, we have had many clergy and others ordained as clergy from Ben Lomond taking assignments elsewhere:
Fr. Leo Arrowsmith/OCA Fremont, CA.
Fr. Steve Rhudy/AOCA Mission, Austin, TX
Fr. Don Hock/Omaha, NE.
Fr. Philip Nixon/Twin Falls, ID
Fr. James Steele/AOCA Now ROCOR, Placerville, CA
Fr. Michael Rome/Mission OCA, Chico, CA (to be transferred)
Fr. Matthew Olson/OCA Parish in Illinois
Fr. David Fox/OCA Oregon
Dn. Joseph Kerns/OCA Tacoma, WA
Dn. Mark Baker/AOCA, Salt Lake City, UT
Dn. David Fabula/OCA, Colorado
Dn. Elias Union, OCA, Saratoga, CA (to be transferred)
Sergius Halverson/St. Vladimir’s Seminary graduate
Alan Ramos/St. Vladimir’s Seminary student

That’s twelve active clergy and two future clergy sent out from Ben Lomond. This is probably the most clergy sent out within a period of five years from any parish in North America.
In the September 1996 meeting, Bp. JOSEPH, with Metropolitan PHILIP’s agreement, was now asking us to cut our clergy at Ben Lomond in half. We were determined to be obedient to this new Bishop. We willingly had put our trust in him, but, we told him that this was going to be a no-win situation for us. How were we to do this, we asked? My instincts told me that I could only lose on this directive. First, Bp. JOSEPH looked at Fr. Terry and said that he wanted Fr. Terry to give him detailed descriptions of each of the clergy–their strengths and weaknesses–because he didn’t personally know any of them. Fr. Terry showed his dismay at such an assignment so the Bishop turned to me, saying emphatically that he wanted me to do this. Looking back at that moment, I wish I had declined that assignment, but I was intent on obeying and trusting the new Bishop. I talked each week to the Bishop as to the progress regarding the reduction of the clergy. I put together a profile the best I could on each clergyman but told him I obviously could not be the one to make the decision as to their future. He said that he would come up and deal directly with the clergy. Bp. JOSEPH flew up to meet us at the Cupertino Inn hotel in Cupertino, CA. He wanted to go over the individual profiles of each of the clergy. This took place at the hotel with Fr. Terry and myself present. We asked him again, how can you laicize clergy or assign clergy to other places? He said that he wasn’t sure but that God would show him the answer at the meeting with the clergy. The meeting took place with the clergy in the Church sanctuary on November 14, 1996. At that meeting, Bp. JOSEPH laid out the criteria for remaining a clergyman in the Orthodox Church, saying, “It has to be your total vocation.” I wrote a follow up FAX to Bp. JOSEPH which said:
Dear Saidna JOSEPH: Master Bless!
Christ is in our midst!
When Fr. Terry Somerville and I met with you on September 11
at the Chancery in Los Angeles, both of us came away with the
following understanding:
1. There are too many clergy attached to Ss. Peter & Paul
Parish and Metropolitan PHILIP has asked you to do
something about it.
2. All clergy needed to be serving regularly.
3. There is no such thing as a part-time Priest. A Priest
should work outside the Church only in dire situations
until the parish can support him.
4. All Priests remaining attached to Ss. Peter & Paul need
either to be:
a) Employed full-time by the Parish
b) Working in some full-time occupation consistent
with some aspect of their calling, i.e., teacher at
Parish Academy, iconographer, etc.
c) Financially self-supported so he can devote full-time
energies to the Priesthood.
5. Priests not meeting this criteria should be transferred to
another parish or be laicized.
6. Deacons not attached to Ss. Peter & Paul will be trans
ferred to another parish or be laicized.
7. I was to make recommendations to you regarding what
action I thought most appropriate for each clergy
man.
8. I was to meet with you on November 13th to discuss
how to implement your decision.
9. You were to meet with all the Clergy on the evening
of November 14th.

How I followed up on the meeting at the Chancery:
1. I first informed the Presbytery of the meeting at the Chancery.
a) The Presbyters all agreed that this day was inevitable. We
knew we had too many clergy.
b) I followed up with individual meetings with the Presbyters of
2-3 hours each.
c) Criteria for continuing to be a Presbyter (this is what I told
them) may involve; (1)what kind of work one does, i.e.,
[St.Nektarios] lawyer, businessman, (2)what kind of priorities they
have, i.e., Priesthood before family and career, (3)time
availability, and (4)Priesthood as a vocation.
2. I met with the Diaconate and informed them of the meeting
at the Chancery.
a) I met individually with all but one Deacon,
taking 2-3 hours with each one.
b) I went over the priorities and informed them that all
Deacons who would not be serving at Ss. Peter & Paul
would need to move or be laicized.

The following excerpts are from notes taken at the meeting with Bp. JOSEPH and the clergy: Minutes of Meeting of His Grace Bp. JOSEPH with the Clergy of Ss. Peter and Paul Church, Thursday, November 14, 1996

Fr. John concluded his remarks by saying that in the intervening
years everyone has come to realize the continued presence of so
many clergy in Ben Lomond was awkward and increasingly
unhealthy for the parish and that in September of this year Bp.
JOSEPH told him that the time had come to regularize the awk
ward situation caused by the continued presence of so many clergy.
Bishop JOSEPH told the assembled clergy that after they had listened
to him that they had to be bold enough to make a decision. He said
that everyone needed to make his own personal decision in regard
to what was being discussed. He said that the discussion to follow
was of such importance that he was willing to stay all night if that
was what was needed.

Saidna JOSEPH reminded all present that because mistakes are made
in most everything we do, it does no good to blame anyone. He
clearly stated that neither the assembled clergy, nor Fr. Hardenbrook,
nor Metropolitan PHILIP are to be blamed for the current situation in
Ben Lomond.
His Grace said that if any of the men did not know what they were getting into at the time of their ordination, that it may be best for them to leave, to return to the ranks of the laity. He said that if anyone feels unworthy to continue serving in the office to which he, by God’s grace, had been called that he needed to be bold enough and honest enough to say so.

Saidna said that there are difficulties in Ben Lomond, and have been since the beginning, and that they are related to such a large number of clergy. The large number has made it difficult for some of those ordained to fulfill their calling. To have ordained people who do not practice their calling is not part of the Orthodox tradition.

His Grace said that because the Church is to be all consuming that there can be no part-time priests. When the bell rings for the feast day services the clergy must be able to drop everything and come. One belongs to the Church 100% or to something else 100%.

At this point one of the clergy present announced his decision to return to the ranks of the laity. The bishop accepted his decision, telling all present whether they decide tonight or whether they decide tomorrow that the important thing is to decide. He also called on everyone present to treat those who decide to step down with compassion and prayer and not gossip.

As indicated above, at this meeting, one of the deacons, Thomas Woolworth (in tears) volunteered to be laicized, and Bp. JOSEPH said to him at that very moment that the deacon was laicized. This was a unilateral act by Bp. JOSEPH which he would have to deny later because he didn’t have the authority as an auxiliary bishop to laicize. Tom Woolworth writes concerning this episode:

“To Whom it May Concern:
On November 14, 1996 His Grace Bishop JOSEPH met with
all the clergy of Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church. His Grace
told us that each of us had a decision to make. He said that if
any of us did not fully understand the nature and response
bility of our office at the time of our ordination in 1987 that
we should request to return to the ranks of the laity. He said
repeatedly that the clergy situation at Ben Lomond was not
anyone’s fault but that it is not normal or natural. He said
that he would not be faithful to his Episcopal responsibilities
if he did not attempt to correct the situation. He also made
it clear that regardless of whether any of us decided to con
tinue as clergy or not, we were still obliged to remain good
Orthodox Christians. He emphasized that one’s conscience
was more important than the role of the Bishop in deter
mining each man’s course of action. He said that each per
son, if their conscience was clear, should be able to come to
a decision within a matter of days. I didn’t need that long.
I had already given much thought to my situation; there
had always been great doubt in my mind whether I should
have been ordained in 1987. I stood up and told Bishop
JOSEPH, in front of all the assembled clergy, that I didn’t
need any more time to consider what I needed to do. I
requested, on the spot, to be returned to the ranks of the
laity. After determining that my request was a matter of
much consideration and not an impulsive action, His
Grace told me that he approved my request. Since that
time, I have viewed myself as laicized and have con
ducted myself accordingly.” T. Woolworth

Following the clergy meeting, the clergy were stunned, confused, and challenged to try and meet these new expectations. That night besides Dn. Thomas Woolworth, Dn. Richard Reed and Dn. Jack Zweers told Bp. JOSEPH that they wanted to be laicized. Bp. JOSEPH then met with the entire parish the night after the clergy meeting November 15, 1996. The following are from the detailed notes from the journal of Mrs. Jeri Mears. It demonstrates in the last words of my introduction of Bp. JOSEPH, my good faith towards him when I said:
“We have three times the clergy than any other church does.
The Orthodox world (has) kept their focus on (this problem).
Nothing (has) ever happened to remedy this situation. We
didn’t believe that God made any mistakes. Just recently,
Metropolitan PHILIP and Bp. JOSEPH felt it was time to deal
with this situation. It is a time for struggle, but God has given
us a real vision. The Bishop is the unity of the church. We
never had the opportunity to have a “hands on” Bishop. Bp.
JOSEPH is a wonderful listener, calling us to trust God. We
believe the Holy Spirit spoke to us, even through struggle.”

Then His Grace Bishop JOSEPH said:
“To the clergy I was friendly, nice and clear. We can’t have two things
at the same time. Church morality versus daily cares, career. God versus money.
This life, we aren’t perfect. We work for it.
We have some priorities in this life. My Bishop duty comes first.
How come our clergy, who are consecrated, invited to sacrifice their
lives to God, be the best model for all believers; how come at the same
time give priority to something else?
“Priesthood is beyond mentality. It is not a cultural thing.
Priesthood is the same substance everywhere. Only language is different.
Ten years ago, the Orthodox church received our clergy. I am talking to
you as an Orthodox. Forget what happened ten years ago. At that time,
no one had the experience to deal with this conversion. Everyone is
responsible for their own level of direction. Clergy to be faithful to that
or not. Each must make the right choice. Make the right choice.
We are not like the Protestants–we have the true faith and discipline.
What do we mean by discipline? We say to one ‘you may go’ and to
number two ‘you may not.’ Protestants understand different faiths.
Orthodox have the same faith, teaching, dogma, liturgy and doctrine.
Bishops are unity, but he must be a role model. Smoking for example
is showing weakness. You look at me as the perfect one, even though
I am not, but am holding Jesus.
“I translate the faith into action for you. Look at my presence as the icon of Christ to you.
If I say I’m tired, I’m hungry, etc., that where is the perfect one in your midst?
Re-examine your commitment to Christ. Choked by cares–this is exactly what is happening.
We are dying. We don’t know how to deal with our liturgical morality. We try to please spouse,
kids, etc., but what about God?
I never heard in my life about a part-time priesthood.

“In 1993 in Lebanon, Metropolitan PHILIP, holy synod, Joseph of Damascus, a priest killed by Moslems, now will be canonized. This priest told his wife, after having three kids, ‘they spent their life like a
monk and nun.’ His attitude was of complete dedication. It is unspeakable, he had no other perfection than to be with Christ.
Be good soil–it needs our own personal effort, commitment. If I am
not worthy of the robe, I take it off. Better to take it off than to be a
scandal to other believers. Go into the depth of the liturgical life.
Don’t be marginalized. Let us lay aside all earthly cares.

“If a clergy becomes a layman, pray for them, instead of talking and
gossiping. He may become a good and fruitful one among us. He
decided to become not a clergy. Priesthood is not easy at all.
Temptation is always there—-but we try.”

Bp. JOSEPH told me after the meeting that he wanted me to continue meeting with the clergy until all of them came to their decision. He said that it shouldn’t take very long since they heard the criteria from him at the meeting. I personally met with each clergyman once, many of them twice and even three times as well as group meetings. A final meeting was held in January 1997 where I asked each one to tell me after the meeting as to what he was going to do-continue to serve or be laicized. I wrote this letter to Metropolitan PHILIP in January 1997, marked URGENT NOTICE:
Dear Saidna PHILIP: Bless Master!
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
This letter is to notify you that we are still working with the clergy
at Ss. Peter & Paul in Ben Lomond, CA.
Please do not take any action towards laicization of any of our clergy
until the clergy themselves make a request for such action. I am
sure that this is standard procedure, but I wanted to bring this to
your attention because changes are still occurring.
Thank you for your patience on this matter. I hope to resolve this
difficult situation in the near future.
Truly yours in Christ, V. Rev. John Weldon Hardenbrook

This whole terrible and agonizing process crippled the government of our parish for over one year. Suspicions began to surface that all of this was my idea–the thing I feared most. I told this to Bp. JOSEPH and he said that he would take care of this problem when he came to Ben Lomond. Meanwhile, some of the clergy were getting “second” opinions from His Grace, Bishop BASIL. Bp. BASIL told them what Bp. JOSEPH was doing was not good since all these clergy were assigned to Ss. Peter and Paul of Ben Lomond by Metropolitan PHILIP. This really caused confusion so I called Bp. BASIL and kindly told him that contradicting Bp. JOSEPH was making my task even more difficult. In my heart I believed and trusted Bp. BASIL, but he was not my Bishop–Bp. JOSEPH was.

Bp. JOSEPH came to Ben Lomond on Holy Friday, 1997. We, of course, keep all the Royal Hours on Holy Friday. The Bishop entered the Church filled with the faithful at the beginning of the 6th hour. He then proceeded to speak to the Church at the end of the service. To all of us, it was Holy Friday–our hearts and minds were on the struggle of Christ overcoming death. But the Bishop startled all of us by telling the Church that he never meant for the possibility of any clergy being laicized. One of our parishioners, Mrs. Jeri Mears was keeping notes on the Bishop’s talk. She wrote in her journal, Bp. JOSEPH’s words:
“I hadn’t in mind for anyone to be laicized. To lose clergy is to
pierce Jesus; it’s like falling away from the faith. We need more
[Fr John Hardenbrook] clergy not less. It’s a contradiction to encourage more to join the
clergy and also to laicize.”

We clergy were in shock! What had we been doing the last year? I personally felt totally betrayed and set up for disgrace and suspicion among our parish. The Bishop conveniently removed himself from the entire responsibility of reducing our parish and left the blame for his actions and direction on my shoulders. I was devastated as a Pastor and my trust in Bp. JOSEPH was damaged. How could the Church not help but be put into confusion? How could they not suspect I betrayed the clergy? I completely understand them. I had taught them to trust and obey the Bishop. God have mercy. I knew this could lead to a major problem.

(Note: At the very end of the “Spiritual Court” proceedings, a statement by Bp. JOSEPH regarding this entire subject, i.e., his irresponsible handling of the clergy, was entered into the evidence stating, “He {meaning me} wanted the laicization of some of the clergy. The trauma caused led me to believe it was not the right idea.” I couldn’t believe it, now he had succumbed to putting his false accusations towards me in print. Besides this deception, we had been told that all the documents were to be submitted to the court by May 20th, 1998. Absolutely nothing could be entered after that date. At the very end of the proceedings, the Archdiocese rushed in two more documents. It appeared that Bp. JOSEPH was told by one of the “witnesses” as to what to write, “after the fact” to the Spiritual Court. We were, of course, disappointed in them for using these kinds of tactics.)

At the end of that meeting on Holy Friday, Bp. JOSEPH invited me to go to lunch with him and Fr. Thomas Ruffin in San Jose. Inwardly, I couldn’t believe my ears. A Bishop inviting me to lunch on Holy Friday. Our entire Church takes the day off to attend all the Royal Hours, and they keep a total fast throughout the day. I didn’t say this to the Bishop–I merely said that I felt I should stay with the Church. Bp. JOSEPH said, “No, I insist!” I, out of obedience said, “okay.” We first stopped at the home of one of the women who was to become one of the dissident leaders whom Bp. JOSEPH would listen to. Here she was, a priest’s wife at home on Holy Friday. The year before she spent all of Holy Week and Pascha hiking at the Grand Canyon. This, I would find out later, didn’t matter to Bp. JOSEPH. She would have his attention more than any priest. Dn. Tom O’Day and myself waited in the car for about an hour or more. This woman would later report to Mrs. Jeri Mears that Bp. JOSEPH told her on that day, meaning Holy Friday:
“Things are going to change and you need to be part of that.
Now you have a Bishop. Fr. John and Fr. David are not the
church.”

Can you imagine the serious damaging effect these words had on our parish? Of course, Bp. JOSEPH didn’t tell me any of this when he finished the meeting and came back to the car. He only told me, “Fr. John, you have a very heavy cross.” What he meant by that I didn’t know and he didn’t explain.

We drove to a restaurant in San Jose, and the Bishop paid for the lunch. I listened to the conversation going on; it wasn’t Holy Friday–it was just Friday. Again, my respect and trust that day went to an all time low. I ultimately returned to the Church for the 9th Hour prayers. I was late, but participated in the placing of the shroud from the altar to the middle of the Church. At the end of the service, I went to the vesting room and wept deep tears of grief and sadness. This was the first major step towards a complete breakdown in trust. I had obeyed the Bishop against my God-given conscience and now we were beginning to reap the first fruits of the dismantling of a most beautiful parish which I had founded over twenty years before this fateful event.

The Bishop Working Behind the Back of the Clergy Leadership

At this time I was the Dean of the Northern California Antiochian Deanery consisting of eleven parishes. One of the parishes was St. Stephen in San Jose. Our Ben Lomond parish was the sponsor church working with Fr. Jon Braun in starting a new mission in San Jose which ultimately became the St. Stephen’s parish. We had spent thousands of dollars on salaries for Fr. Philip Nixon and Paul DeMerritt helping Fr. Jon with his efforts. We also had six young couples involved in the weekly meetings as well as sponsoring a city-wide meeting with Frank Schaeffer. A small group was formed which ultimately was absorbed by the 300-member Vineyard Church pastored by Rev. Charles Bell, now Fr. Seraphim Bell. Fr. Bell lost 150 of his Vineyard members when he brought his people into the Orthodox faith, but the new parish immediately began to flourish. They filled their new parish building and had over 20 catechumens when he requested a year sabbatical to study Greek in Thessaloniki, Greece. After eight months in Greece, Fr. Bell was summoned to come home under the guise that he was needed to look at a potential new church building because St. Stephen’s had outgrown their present building. When he came back, Bp. JOSEPH called Fr. Bell and said that he was coming up to meet with him. Fr. Bell was surprised by a meeting with Bp. JOSEPH that included Fr. Patrick (the assistant priest at St. Stephen), and John Sardell (a reader at St. Stephen), at which charges were being made against him. At that time, at that same meeting, a letter written by Fr. Jon Braun was shown to Fr. Seraphim. It was calling for Fr. Seraphim Bell to be removed from the parish which he had raised up and brought into Orthodoxy. Fr. Jon Braun, in this same letter was casting a shadow on Fr. David Anderson and myself. At the meeting of Bp. JOSEPH with Ss. Peter & Paul parishioners on February 17, 1998, Bp. JOSEPH said:
“Fr. John said I have shown him a letter from one of his old friends.
I never showed him a letter because when I got any letter from you
or from his friends, I keep it to myself. I repeat, I said I don’t share it with anyone. Maybe I share the thoughts or the theme; But, I don’t say look at this.”

Immediately after Bp. JOSEPH made this statement, Fr. Jon Braun contradicted Bp. JOSEPH saying:
“Bp. JOSEPH asked Fr. Seraphim Bell and Fr. Patrick Jackson to
read the FAX (the letter at issue) together. They read it. Both
of them read. . .”

Bp. JOSEPH interrupted him saying:
“No, no, no, I’m telling you that I can’t, you know, show someone
any letter I receive, just I take quotes from it and I ask you know. . .”

I inserted these quotes from a tape of the February 17 meeting to show how someone is lying and I don’t think it is Fr. Jon Braun in this case. So, Fr. Braun, picking and choosing certain points and bits of a long FAX finally tips his hand that not only is Fr. Bell a bad person but that I am a bad influence on Fr. Seraphim Bell, when in fact I had not even talked to Fr. Bell for over eight months. It was part of what was to come against us with great fury. . .”we must stop Ben Lomond’s influence.” I have substantial reasons for believing it came from a spirit of jealousy on Fr. Jon Braun’s part.

(Note: Many unfortunate breakdowns take place in human relationships which can never be fully explained or substantiated as really taking place because of lack of proof. The dramatic change in my long time relationship with Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew is one of those situations which may appear confusing or baffling to others but certainly not to me. I can’t prove it by letters, but I know by experience the precise moment when Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew turned against me and put into motion the plot which culminated in the excommunication of myself and the Ben Lomond clergy. The day they heard Fr. Paisius, Abbot of St. Anthony Monastery had become my spiritual father was the beginning of the end for me. One must understand that the original leaders of the AEOM Coordinating Council only took “spiritual direction” from among themselves. It was within this highly committed group where we believed we could “see and hear” from God. Seeking counsel apart from this group created great suspicion among some, but for me, to actually go to an “outsider” spiritual father was to break an unwritten code of loyalty. I went to both Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew for confession. Soon after they were informed of my relationship with the Abbot of St. Anthony’s, Fr. Jon and Fr. Richard “cooled down” towards me and began to subtly shun me. It was at this time that Fr. Jon actually wrote his first words against me to Bishop JOSEPH. One can see how this same spirit could begin to influence even the Hierarchs of the Antiochian Archdiocese. On May 7, 1997, His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, His Graces, Bishop ANTOUN, Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop BASIL, and Bishop DEMETRI, met at the headquarters of the Antiochian Archdiocese in Englewood, New Jersey and adopted the following among other directives:
“….all priests and deacons of the Archdiocese are to
be instructed to refrain from placing themselves
under obedience to or the influence of any spirit
ual father, father confessor, or spiritual director
who himself is not a member of the Archdiocese
of North America.”

This, of course, is jurisdictionalism at it’s worse! At a Parish Life Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in May 1997, I personally heard Bp. ANTOUN at a clergy meeting refer to Elder Ephraim of Mt. Athos as a “nut”, “crazy man”, “who thinks he’s holy”, “a heretic”, etc., This attack against Elder Ephraim made me feel ill but even worse, my old friends Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew were heartedly laughing and nodding their heads in approval with Bp. ANTOUN. One can easily see why the Antiochians have never raised up a monastery over the last 100 years in North America.

I had Fr. Bell listen to the tape and this was his response:
19 May 1998 To whom it may Concern:
Earlier today I listened to a tape recording of a congregational
meeting at Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Ben Lomond,
conducted by Bishop JOSEPH. Specifically, I listened to that portion
of the meeting having to do with Fr. Jon Braun’s letter to Bp.
JOSEPH about myself. I want to attest to the fact that certain
statements by both the bishop and Fr. Braun were false and
misleading.
At the meeting, Fr. Braun purports to be reading a portion of the
letter containing statements about Fr. Hardenbrook. He states that
he cannot read the entire letter because it did not pertain to the evening events.
The truth is, he did not dare read the entire letter because of the criminally libelous and slanderous comments against me and especially
because of the very hateful and spiteful tone of the letter. In other words, the letter would have been too revealing
about himself. What in fact he did do was to reword a few of his written comments to make it sound as if he had actually
complimented Fr. Hardenbrook.
He purposely left out his statement that he did not think that Fr.
Hardenbrook needed to be “removed” now. This statement was
clearly made in order to plant that seed in the bishop’s mind so
that he would remove Fr. Hardenbrook. If he had read the entire
letter, without changing any of the sentences, it would have been
clear to one and all that Fr. Braun was not only trying by way of
lies and innuendoes to have me removed from my parish, but
that he quite clearly wanted Fr. Hardenbrook and Fr. David Ander
son removed and disciplined as well, and used the same tactics
against them.
At the public meeting at Ss. Peter & Paul, Fr. Braun stated that he
told Bp. JOSEPH that he could show the letter to me and that the
bishop did just that. At that point, Bp. JOSEPH interrupted Fr.,
Braun and stated, “No, no, no,” that he had never shown me the
letter and would never show a letter to anyone else. He empha
tically denied having done so.
In this, as in many other instances that are easily documented,
Bishop JOSEPH lied. He did indeed show me the letter in question and a second, nearly identical letter from Fr. Braun to the bishop. At a meeting during the last days of March or the first days of
April 1997, in his room at a hotel in Cupertino, CA, he handed
me the letters and with Fr. Patrick Jackson seated next to me,
instructed me to read them out loud. Moreover, he had high
lighted many of Fr. Braun’s false accusations against me with a
green marker and then asked for my response to them.
I would have been shocked to have heard the bishop lying to a
large group of parishioners, except for the fact that he had
already admitted to his clergy on more than one occasion that he
often tells lies to the churches, but he “doesn’t consider it lying,” he
says, “if it’s for their good.” (The first such admission of
his habit of lying that I was aware of was that which he made to
the clergy of my former parish of St. Stephen.)
Fr. Hardenbrook has my permission to use this letter in any way
he deems necessary. I challenge Bp. JOSEPH to produce the
original letters, with his highlights, which I read in his presence.
Fr. Seraphim Bell, OCA, Walla Walla, WA.

(Note: A copy of an unsigned letter of Braun’s was submitted to me to read in the Court. It was making the “older” Antiochian priests in the Bay Area to be disobedient to the Bishops and they in turn influenced me and I in turn influenced Fr. Seraphim Bell. However, it definitely was not the original letter sent to Bp. JOSEPH. And it must be noted that Fr. Seraphim Bell read two similar letters from Braun. One which Bp. JOSEPH underlined with a green marker. Some of the copy I read at the “Court” from the Braun letter said, “Complicating all this is the complexity of life in our churches in the Bay Area. There is scandal abounding about the priests in those. Unfortunately, the other priests know that much of what is said about those priests is true. They have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, some of it extremely serious. This has not bred a healthy respect for our Archdiocese. Further, as I expressed last Saturday, (Note: Braun had already been talking against the Bay Area priests before writing his letters. He seems already determined to speak ill will against us. This was, I believe, the first seeds of conspiracy against us.) all of us new priests learned quickly that obedience to the Metropolitan and Bishop ANTOUN was often quite selective even on the part of the old-country priests. There were just too many priests and too few bishops. Many priests, especially the older ones, simply did what was right in their own eyes, regardless of instructions from Englewood. And there were no repercussions. In the Bay Area this has been magnified. I believe it was there that the idea of not obeying the bishops first crept into the group with whom I came, i.e., a very few clergy of the Evangelical Orthodox Church. (Note: What you just read from Braun’s letter up to this point was purposely left out by him when he read a certain portion to our parish. In fact, he is recorded on tape saying, “I will not read the entire FAX because it has nothing to do with Fr. Weldon or Fr. David.” So, he begins reading the FAX at the following point in his letter. “Though I like Fr. Weldon a great deal, he can (be) very much committed to his own way, e.g., his continuing their practice regarding the Little Entrance in spite of often being instructed not to do so. And I must tell you in fairness that much of the reasoning, both for the entrance and for being able to not obey the bishops in such matters, came from Fr. David Anderson.”

Isn’t it interesting how Fr. Jon Braun casts all the Antiochian Priests of the Bay Area in California as “disobedient” and blames them for influencing myself and Fr. David Anderson for our “supposed” disobedience. Fr. Jon Braun proceeds to name only one instance of our supposed disobedience — and it was in regard to the Little Entrance. The truth is this; all of our former E.O.C. churches started the Little Entrance in the middle of the church. Others, such as Fr. Marc Dunaway, Pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, Eagle River, Alaska was still, at this time, continuing the practice. I guess my old friend, Fr. Jon Braun, did not know that we had an AEOM Liturgical Commission meeting at St. John of Kronstadt House near Ben Lomond with His Grace Bishop BASIL in 1994. Those in attendance were His Grace Bishop BASIL, Fr. John Finley, Fr. Terry Somerville, Fr. Marc Dunaway, Fr. David Anderson and myself. The issue of the Little Entrance came up at that meeting. Bishop BASIL first reacted against us doing it that way although he noted that it made the best sense and that he too was a graduate of St. Vladimir’s and understood it historically. But, he very adamantly said we shouldn’t continue doing it. Then, the next morning Bishop BASIL told us to go ahead and continue doing it but to not do so while he was present. We asked the Bishop, “What made you change your mind?” He responded, “I pray too, you know.” Before God our witness, we were not disobedient. We believe in obedience to the Bishop. The question is, what motivated Fr. Jon Braun to stir up trouble in the Bay Area since he lived 500 miles away in San Diego, California?

Given the history of the AEOM and Fr. Jon Braun’s campaign to remove Fr. Bell, I knew instinctively that Fr. David and I were slowly being drawn into becoming targets of Fr. Braun.

At that time, when Fr. Seraphim Bell was first accused, he believed that Bp. JOSEPH settled the problem with Fr. Patrick and John Sardell but felt that he should return home from Greece and be with his parish. But, Bp. JOSEPH told him to go back to Greece, finish his studies, and that he (Bp. JOSEPH) would protect his parish and his pastorate. He told Fr. Bell, “Don’t worry.” Fr. Bell called me and asked me if he could trust the Bishop’s words because he felt very nervous about going back to Greece with unrest in his parish. As the Dean, I told him he had to trust the Bishop because there is no other choice. Fr. Bell went back to Greece. Shortly after he returned I received some shocking mail. Since I was the Dean, I received a copy of a letter from the Archdiocese, sent not to Fr. Bell in Thessaloniki like all the other mail he had received from them, but rather sent to St. Stephen Church in San Jose saying:
The Rev. M. Seraphim Bell May 27, 1997
c/o St. Stephen’s Church
7811 Orion Lane, Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Father Seraphim: CHRIST IS RISEN!
This letter is to inform you that I have placed you on an
indefinite leave of absence. The new pastor of St. Stephen’s
Church in Cupertino, CA is Father Patrick Jackson.

We wish you well and pray that you will continue to have
a blessed Pascha season.
Sincerely in the Risen Lord, Metropolitan PHILIP

I also received a copy of a second letter:
The Rev. Patrick Jackson May 27, 1997
68 Foss Ave, San Jose, CA 95116

Dear Father Patrick:
CHRIST IS RISEN! I hope this letter finds you, Maria and
the family well.
I am happy to inform you that I have appointed you to the
pastorate of St. Stephen Church in Cupertino, California,
effective immediately. I know that with your experience
and pastoral concerns, you will do well there and bring
many people to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.
Please confirm in writing that you will accept this appointment.
May the Lord continue to bless you and your parishioners.
Sincerely in the Risen Christ,
Metropolitan PHILIP

My instincts said that Fr. Bell did not get his letter so I Emailed the text of both letters to him. Because of Bp. JOSEPH’s words of assurance and protection, Fr. Bell did not believe what I sent him. He thought I was playing a sick joke on him. His return Email is as follows:
Very Funny, Fr. John:
I had no idea you could be so cruel and sadistic to a
suffering brother in Christ. Oh well, this year has
been full of surprises.
Look forward to hearing from you soon. I’m on-line
for another week or so. Get back to me soon. And no
more jokes please. Fr. Seraphim

So I called Fr. Bell to let him know that they really, in fact, took his church from him. To this day, Fr. Bell has never received the letter nor has he received a call from any Antiochian Bishop. No matter what the problem was between Fr. Bell and members of his parish, I felt strongly as the Dean that this matter was dealt with in a very tragic and unjust manner.

I was very upset so I called Metropolitan PHILIP because I wanted to talk to him privately to try and resolve these matters which were beginning to overwhelm me. Kathy Meyer confirmed a meeting with Saidna PHILIP and me to occur during the Task Force Conference in Los Angeles. I immediately wrote a letter on May 30, 1997, which reflected my deep anguish to let Saidna know what I wanted to talk about and urgently get his attention. Dear Saidna PHILIP: Greetings to you in the name of the Lord
Jesus Christ at this Paschal Season!
Thank you for being willing to meet with me at the West Coast
Chancery next week. I thought it would be best for us to let you know
by letter what is honestly on my mind.
Many indicators have convinced me that I and our parish will have an increasing struggle in the Archdiocese–in many areas of church life
such as:
1. The recent confused attempt to reduce the number of our clergy.
2. The increasing desire to force our liturgical life, which is
the deepest expression of the soul of our church in
Ben Lomond, to conform to one narrow expression
of practice.
3. And the most immediate situation regarding the removal
of Fr. Seraphim Bell from his flock, which he raised up,
without any explanation. Bp. JOSEPH had assured him
that he would protect Fr. Seraphim and his parish until
he returned. Bp. JOSEPH instructed Fr. Seraphim to
return to Greece and complete his goal.
At this point these differences seem to be insurmountable. I really don’t care to live the rest of my life with these particular tensions.
Would it not be best for the Archdiocese and for us for you to allow
us to find a home in another Archdiocese? This could be a peaceful solution. Please be assured that none of us have made any kind of contact with any other jurisdiction behind your back. All we want to do is continue our life in peace—-but a true peace.
Respectfully submitted,
V. Rev. John Weldon Hardenbrook

Like a spouse who feels some serious tension and problems beginning to appear in a marriage and wanting to talk about those problems with their spouse; I wanted to have a personal talk with my father, Saidna PHILIP.

I attended the conference. I was finally told my meeting with Metropolitan PHILIP was to be held on Monday at St. Nicholas Cathedral following the Task Force conference. When I arrived, I purposely left Fr. Simeon Berven in the car, because I thought the meeting would be just Metropolitan PHILIP and myself. I can’t tell you the shock when I entered the room and found myself surrounded by six men rather than one. Metropolitan PHILIP, Bishop JOSEPH, Fr. Peter Gillquist, Fr. Michel Najim, Fr. John Finley, and Fr. Jon Braun were there. I asked Metropolitan PHILIP, “Do you really want me to share my heart in front of all these men knowing that it will disgrace some of them?” He said, “Yes.” At that meeting, Metropolitan PHILIP began by reading aloud my letter so clearly marked PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL. Once again I felt terribly betrayed. Betrayed by who was at the meeting and betrayed by my letter intended for Metropolitan PHILIP alone being read to everyone. Some of these men went home and told the contents of my letter to others. Soon it was everywhere. Something began to die deep within my heart. I realized by this meeting that I had no Bishop Father to go to in a time of great need and intimate confidence. I asked for a six-month sabbatical.

It was at that same meeting when Bp. JOSEPH asked me to stand with him and with the action taken against Fr. Seraphim Bell. I felt tricked, abused and now I was being asked to do something in violation of my conscience once again. Bp. JOSEPH had a meeting with the St. Stephen’s parishioners. As the Dean, I did not want to oppose the Bishop so, I didn’t attend the meeting. How could I attend since I was so sick at heart as to how the Fr. Bell event took place. All the parishioners who spoke up at this particular meeting wanted to know what the charges were. Bp. JOSEPH emphatically stated, “There are no charges against Fr. Bell.” When I heard this—I couldn’t believe it. It was a painful sight to see the people pouring out of this once vibrant, growing parish. My own daughter-in-law helped lead the choir at St. Stephen a bit after all this took place. She reported to us how much of the life of the parish worship was killed and how many people were stumbled. In my heart of hearts I knew we were going to be the next target.
Why did I believe this?

First of all, because, as the Dean, I didn’t support Bp. JOSEPH and the action of the Archdiocese against Fr. Seraphim Bell. I heard by rumor, soon after the meeting, that Fr. Richard Ballew announced to his parish at St. Athanasius in Sacramento that he was the new Dean to replace me. I never was told I was replaced until over a month later on July 9, 1997 when I was sent a copy of a letter written from the Archdiocese to Fr. Richard Ballew stating the fact.

I never heard anything from Bp. JOSEPH for some time, so I called him to set up a meeting with Fr. Terry Somerville and myself at the Chancery. When we arrived at the Chancery on August 8th, we were surprised to see Fr. Richard Ballew waiting for us with Bp. JOSEPH. We had a cordial meeting where we expressed our desire to be at peace with everyone. They both responded well to our request and then Bp. JOSEPH told us what his vision for Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Ben Lomond was. He told Fr. Terry Somerville to get a pen and write his vision for us on a paper because he wanted us to put it in our church newsletter, The Grapevine. In fact, he said that he wanted the whole Orthodox world to see this. This is what he said on August 8, 1997 at the chancery meeting:
“Ben Lomond is for me a very important parish, one of the most
important parishes in the Archdiocese. I believe Ben Lomond can
influence other parishes in its spirituality and morality. By that
I mean obedience, and tradition, the Antiochian tradition.
“My expectation is that for Ben Lomond to have success it should
not be isolated from the Antiochian Holy Body.
“By obedience I mean to obey our roots, our church tradition
and our church leadership. We should be proud of this tradition.
“We refuse, we fight and we reject efforts to be half Russian and half
Greek; We are Antiochian. When the Antiochian Church accepted
you, you were aware of the tradition and you all promised to pledge to
be obedient to the Antiochian Church of Christ forever. This means to
be obedient spiritually, liturgically and to the leadership.
“We auxiliary Bishops are very united and cohesive with our primate
Metropolitan PHILIP. We meet two times a year. All decisions are
made after discussion, prayer and meditation.
“I believe that Fr. John Weldon and all of his associate priests are my
dear brothers in Christ, working in absolute harmony for the Holy
Church and for our Lord’s glory.
“My expectation is to have more influence and I am sure we can have
more influence on other parishes and throughout the Archdiocese.
“At the national convention Bp. BASIL read, and you will shortly
hear from me that within two years from now all the former AEOM
parishes will conform to Antiochian liturgical language and music.
We have to be Antiochian in form and in substance.
“Let’s work all together with this vision.” Bishop JOSEPH

Fr. Terry and I were both startled at the content of Bp. JOSEPH’s vision for us. But we came to the Chancery to make peace, so we kept our peace and went home and obediently placed his vision in our newsletter which, unfortunately, goes all over the world. The backlash to his letter from our parishioners and from people everywhere was staggering. We received phone calls, Emails and letters from many people. The fact that it mentioned being “Antiochian” rather than “Orthodox” eight times and that it stated, “we refuse, we fight, and we reject efforts to be half Russian and half Greek; we are Antiochian” is what shook people to the core. We had always used both Byzantine and Russian melodies and hymnology, but now we were being accused by people from the outside of “Phyletism,” rejecting both Greek and Russian to be Antiochian instead of using whatever is Orthodox from everywhere. So I wrote an article which said:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.” Apostle Paul

As persons, we cannot avoid membership in the society in which we live. I can remember when I first began to interact as a child with those outside my family, I became aware of my membership in a certain “family” group. I was a Hardenbrook and our religious loyalties were committed to the American Protestant sect called the “Church of Christ.” We knew who we were and we knew when we were relating to the increasing demands of society around us. We knew what we were and we knew what we were not– in fact, I knew as a young boy that we were not Baptists, Presbyterians, or Lutherans. And, the miracle was that Christ Himself started our church in 33 AD. We all sang the same songs and had the same shape or form to our services. Of course, we didn’t admit that our origins really started in America in the 19th century.

Now I’m an Orthodox Christian. And I belong to a 2000-year-old Christian tradition that encircles the globe, called the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And, in that Church, you have Patriarchs in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria; as well as Archbishops over Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, Czechia and Slovakia, the Church of Sinai, the Church of Finland, the Church of Japan, the Russian Church in Exile, etc., and, nearly all of these “bodies” have immigrants who have come with their influence (music, traditions, etc.) to North America.
IS THIS GOOD OR BAD FOR NORTH AMERICAN
CONVERTS TO ORTHODOXY?
It could be both.

It can be bad if North Americans are called to embrace the sole ethnicity of any of these particular representatives of worldwide Orthodoxy. To do so or to be compelled to do so–can lead to a heresy which is called PHYLETISM. PHYLETISM is from a Greek word for tribe. And Phyletism, or “tribalism,” was condemned as a heresy by a local council held at Constantinople in 1870.

The reason for this council to condemn Phyletism in that year was due to a Bulgarian Heretic who claimed authority over Bulgarians in Turkey because of ethnic or national affiliation. In the book, Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, the authors write that the council’s decision on this matter, “. . .has since been accepted by all local Orthodox Churches as the correct response to nationalism as it applies to church government… the situation in the Orthodox Church today all too often fails in practice: Phyletism, in fact, if not in law is quite alive.”

Jurisdictionalism in North America is the “bad fruit” of Phyletism. Instead of the preservation of the unity and diversity of the Church, we see tendencies toward division and intolerance.

The good side of Orthodox diversity provides us with a great banquet of Orthodox traditions which have emerged from the life of the Holy Spirit for 2000 years in the Church. That is our joy. Your servant, Fr. John Weldon

When Bp. JOSEPH saw this, he thought I was writing against him. So, I wrote an apology letter to him and copied it to Metropolitan PHILIP.
Dear Saidna JOSEPH: Master Bless!
I am writing to you in reference to my August 29th Grapevine
article relating to phyletism, about which I have already spoken
to you on the phone last week.
I want to reiterate that I was not trying to provoke any argument
with you or accuse you of being a phyletist. I was simply respond
ing to numerous calls, both from within and from outside our
parish, from people who interpreted your vision for Ben Lomond
being one centered on ethnicity.
It seemed to me that their concerns would be put to rest by assuring
them of the Church’s teaching. Thus the point of my article was to
simply state that view. In contrast to numerous calls expressing
fear of an encroaching ethnicism, a few people felt that my article
was a rebuttal to your statements. This, of course is not true. But
I admit that the timing was poor and could have been understood
as having that intent. As I already did on the phone, I now ask you
again, please forgive me, Saidna, for any misunderstanding my
words may have caused.
Please understand that I first gained my understanding of phyletism
from our beloved Metropolitan PHILIP, who long ago said:
“A fragmented Orthodoxy in America can no longer be tolerated
and can no longer survive. Our young people are tormented by
our division and ghetto mentality. We must realize once and
for all that, as members of the Body of Christ, we are not citizens
of any country except the heavenly Jerusalem where ‘there
cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scithian, slave, freeman, but Christ is all and in all.’
(Colossians 3:11)”
We still are clinging to this vision as I am sure you are also. I
hope this letter helps set the record straight and diffuses any tension.
Truly yours in Christ,
Fr. John Weldon Hardenbrook

I was frustrated, and my desire was to talk to Metropolitan PHILIP directly but Bp. JOSEPH let me know that I needed to deal with himself as Bishop and he would be the one to stay in touch with Saidna PHILIP. In fact, I did write a letter to Metropolitan PHILIP on August 19, 1997 saying:

“. . . we need your guidance as to where we should seek authoritative answers. Does Bp. JOSEPH speak for you regarding these issues or is there someone else to whom we should go?”

Metropolitan PHILIP responded on August 25, 1997:

“Yes, Bp. JOSEPH and the rest of our auxiliary bishops speak for me and for all of us.”

I mention this exchange of letters for two reasons:
1. When Fr. Terry Somerville and I met with Metropolitan PHILIP
on May 20th, 1998, he asked us why we didn’t call him about these
many problems with Bp. JOSEPH.
2. The answer was and is, we believed Bp. JOSEPH was representing
Metropolitan PHILIP and we had to deal with him alone. When Bp.
JOSEPH received a copy of the Metropolitan’s reply of August 25, 1997,
he sternly said to me, “See I told you–you go to me.”
But on May 20, 1998, Metropolitan PHILIP said that only he could laicize and
not Bp. JOSEPH so we should have been talking to him.

After my article on phyletism and this exchange, I never received a phone call from the Bishop. We were busily trying to regroup our clergy so that we could have a functioning Presbytery again. The months and months of clergy confusion had taken its toll on the parish. They couldn’t know why we were so paralyzed in leadership without disgracing the Bishop. Rumors were beginning to rapidly surface that Bp. JOSEPH was working behind our back with three disgruntled women; women who had a history of complaining. They were claiming that the Bishop was “on their side” and that “they needed to take over their church from the leadership.”

Mrs. Zondra Rapazzini wrote Metropolitan PHILIP in regards to one of the women, Mrs. (name) saying:
“I was invited over to dinner with others for a going away party
for one of our members, Susan Kamkoff. This was on January
29, 1998. Bp. JOSEPH called while we were eating. (Name) left
the room to take the call. Upon returning, behind the glass
window, I could see her being so happy. Then she ‘high fived’ her
husband (name)’s hand and said, ‘It’s going to happen!’ (Name)
went to the phone and (name) returned to the table. (Name) left
to go to bed and the other ladies left a little later. (Name) asked
me to stay and visit as she knew my husband was out of town.
Her revelation to me was:
1. She wanted to get Fr. John. He had ignored her letter
six months ago and she was insulted. She, with her money,
(name) name and deep Arab ties, was going to get him ex
communicated. She told me that no one knew how strong
(husband’s name) and she were, and with Bp. JOSEPH they
were going to remove Fr. David {Anderson} and Fr. John.
2. She cried and told me we could not be friends because
she knew I could not speak ill of my husband’s old
friend, Fr. John Weldon.
3. She told me that Fr. David was going to leave the parish way before anyone else.
she told me all this and more. I cried and have prayed for months over this.
She asked me not to forget her but she had to do this. Her
last question before I went out the door was, ‘Are you Orthodox or Antiochian Orthodox?'”

We could feel the high energy and confidence of this small group of dissidents because they had the Bishop’s ear. It didn’t matter that one of these women Mrs. (Name) had been married four times and had a history of making trouble–she had his ear it seemed and we obviously didn’t.

Mr. Peter Chesson quoted Mr. & Mrs. (Name) in regard to me:
“He’s got to go. He’s not a Holy man, he just wants to run other
peoples’ lives when he can’t run his own.”
And one of them reported to Mr. Chesson that:
“They were in regular contact with Bp. JOSEPH.”

I hoped Bp. JOSEPH would tell us what was going on behind our backs but as usual, I never heard from Bp. JOSEPH unless I called him. When I called him, I apologized again about the article, but he responded to me saying, “Fr. John I don’t know how much more time you and Fr. David have.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I don’t know how much more time you and Fr. David have.” I said, “I think I need to bring the entire Presbytery down to the chancery to try to work things out so that we can restore peace with you and in our parish.” All the priests went to the Chancery for a meeting on September 10, 1997. At that meeting, I specifically asked the Bishop if he was in contact with (Name) of the dissident group. He admitted he had talked to her on the phone but had not given her any direction to have secret meetings. We told Bp. JOSEPH what we thought about him going behind the back of the leadership of the parish and knew it was causing big problems in the parish. He said that he would never do that and pointed to Fr. Andrew Beck and said, “Fr. Andrew, what would that be if I did such a thing? Fr. Andrew replied, “It would be evil.” Bp. JOSEPH said, “You’re right, it would be evil.”

When I confronted the Bishop for threatening the future of Fr. David Anderson and myself on the phone by saying, “I don’t know how much more time you and Fr. David have,” Bp. JOSEPH denied it saying:
“What! I don’t recall that–you haven’t been yourself, Fr. John,
I have the authority to say it if I did want to, but I didn’t.”

As I stated, this meeting was on September 10, 1997. I had previously written a letter on September 5, 1997 concerning our parish being the host of the Western Regional Parish Life Conference during our time of struggle. I wrote in that letter:
“Sorrowfully, Ben Lomond is now widely viewed with great
suspicion in numerous parishes throughout the Archdiocese.
You have personally told me that my days and those of
another one of our priests may be numbered.”

I point this out because I felt set up and lied about once again. This kind of abuse kept chipping away at my credibility as Pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul and deteriorated my trust in Bp. JOSEPH.

Once again, I swallowed all of this knowing full well that it had to be confusing to the Presbytery. However, we had traveled to the Chancery for peace and reconciliation and we were very encouraged with the statement representing all of us which follows:
September 12, 1997 The Hiermartyr Automus
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
On Tuesday afternoon of this week, I, along with Fr. David, Fr.f
Andrew, Fr. Luke, Fr. Ed, Fr. Thomas, Fr. Terry, Fr. Basil, Fr. George
Jim Buchfuehrer, and Dan Beck, drove to Los Angeles. The next day
we all spent six hours in very frank discussions with Bishop JOSEPH
and others in an effort to express our concerns and questions about
recent controversies, and to separate those concerns and questions
from the false rumors and hurtful gossip that have reached the
Bishop’s ears, both from outside of this parish and from within it.

We are pleased to report that all who attended this most important
meeting came to it with good intention of establishing peace and
understanding. And we all left thanking God, that, by His grace,
those intentions were fulfilled. The following statement was issued
from that meeting:

STATEMENT

On September 10, 1997, Bishop JOSEPH met with nine priests of Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles. Also attending were Fr. Paul Doyle, Fr. Michel Najim, Fr. Michael Lewis, Dn. George Ajalat, Mr. Dan Beck and Mr. Jim Buchfuehrer.

The purpose of the meeting was to address various questions and concerns which had recently arisen.

The Bishop led a wide-ranging discussion of all questions which resulted in unanimous agreement on the following points:

1. We are all, by the Grace of God, united with and in obedience to the Metropolitan and the auxiliary bishops of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

2. We are in the middle of spiritual warfare in which sus picion and false rumors carry the potential of destroying our unity. We are united with Bishop JOSEPH’s directive to put a stop to all rumors and gossip.

3. The Bishop and clergy expressed their confidence in Fr. John Hardenbrook’s leadership of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in unity with the Bishop.

4. The Bishop stated that during the two-year period for implementation of recent Archdiocesan directives there will be an opportunity for dialogue and communication and the Bishop is committed to preserving the vitality of Ss. Peter & Paul’s liturgical life.

5. We express our joy over the meeting, the opportunity for clear and positive communication, and our oneness in Christ.

On behalf of Bishop JOSEPH and the presbytery I call upon each of you to reject all rumors and gossip and divisive opinions, whether from outside this parish or from within it, that would do harm to the peace now established between the bishop and the leadership of the parish. Our meeting with Bishop JOSEPH marks a new beginning. We have much work to do on the building up of the kingdom of God in Ben Lomond. Let us put our energies into the growth of our personal spiritual lives and in the fulfillment of the many ministries and projects underway in our parish. As we say near the end of the Divine Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.”

On behalf of the presbytery, I remain, Your servant in Christ, Fr. John Weldon Hardenbrook

We were very encouraged by this statement and felt we were working together with the Bishop to solve problems and restore peace and unity in the parish. The Presbyters and I were all committed to healing the wounds. But, we had a problem inside the Presbytery. After it had finally settled on who was going to be laicized or take a leave of absence, the Presbytery needed desperately to get back to business. We had to make progress with the church business after being sidetracked for over one year. And, now we found ourselves functionally paralyzed due to one of our presbyters who seemed unable to work with a conciliar spirit. This had nothing to do with our current problems—we had struggled with him for years, but now we didn’t have the luxury to tolerate the meetings dominated by him. We needed to move on, so the entire Presbytery asked Fr. George Washburn to not attend the Presbytery meetings and we wrote and signed the following letter last July 27, 1997. It stated this:
Your Eminence: Greetings in the Name of the Lord
We, the priests of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Ben Lomond find
it necessary to bring to your attention a situation regarding one
of our own, Fr. George (Kent) Washburn.
We think the source of the problem arises from the incongru
ities that flow from his being a priest while also being an attorney
(a conflict mentioned by Bp. JOSEPH at least three times during
his November meeting with us).
We have battled Fr. George’s adversarial spirit and his inability
to work in a conciliatory fashion for many years. These problems
have created division between himself and the rest of the
presbytery and have sometimes been a source of scandal to
parishioners. We cannot conduct presbytery meetings in peace
when Fr. George is present.
We have attempted to deal with these issues previously, without
success. It would be our unanimous consensus that he should not
be a priest; but that is for you to decide, not us.
As we confront him yet again at our July 28th presbytery meeting,
we felt it expedient to inform you in advance.
Sincerely in Christ Jesus.
V. Rev. John Weldon Hardenbrook Rev. Fr. David Anderson
Rev. Fr. Andrew Beck Rev. Fr. Luke Dingman
Rev. Fr. Edward Hillhouse Rev. Fr. Robert Hinde
Rev. Fr. Thomas Lindsay Rev. Fr. Terry Somerville
Rev. Fr. Basil Steiger

It is my personal observation and humble opinion that Fr. George Washburn became bitter after his removal from the Presbytery and helped orchestrate, and continues to orchestrate a revengeful campaign against us. Even though I tried to stay in contact through regular meetings with him, he began to write numerous long letters to me. I ultimately realized that he was possibly leaving his “lawyer trail” of letters to use against me. We knew Fr. George’s dismissal from the Presbytery would cost us greatly since he would most likely turn against us with his professional lawyer skills. We also believed that he would still be with us if we hadn’t removed him from the Presbytery, but we wouldn’t have done otherwise. Fr. George requested to participate at the Chancery meeting on September 10, 1997 and I allowed him to do so.

We shared the Chancery Statement with the entire church and most of the people were encouraged. Not the dissidents. Their heels were dug in and they continued, to our total dismay, to relate to Bp. JOSEPH behind our backs. Once again, we tried to assume the best in our hierarch, but we were only kidding ourselves. One of the deacons who was under Bp. JOSEPH’s discipline and not serving, would return from meetings with the Dean, Fr. Richard Ballew, saying, “We need to get rid of Fr. John and Fr. David.”

Fr. Andrew Fox of St. Elias was in monthly meetings with Fr. Richard and says this:
“Fr. John Weldon has been a man of highest integrity. Unfortu
nately he has been under attack from others that have seen him
as standing in the way of ‘restoring the Church at Ben Lomond
to those that would be obedient to the Antiochian Hierarchs,’
inferring that Fr. John Weldon was in disobedience. It was often
said that Fr. John Weldon was trying to turn Ss. Peter & Paul
church into a monastery and that he, along with Fr. David
Anderson, needed to ‘get out of the way and quit leading people
astray.'”

We heard of secret meetings. Fr. David, myself and the Presbytery were being slandered. People were at the homes of the dissident leaders when Bp. JOSEPH would call them and talk at length. “It’s your church,” he was reported to say, “Take it over.”

Having this kind of support from the Bishop, the leadership of the dissidents expanded and became aggressive, while the Presbytery remained quiet, obedient to the September 10th Statement that we had all agreed on with Bp. JOSEPH at the Chancery. There were secret meetings, people being told that we the Presbytery were not obedient to the Bishops; but they were obedient to him. They began recruiting with great zeal telling people that Bp. JOSEPH was with them and against us. We still remained silent. I did not empty my heart to the Presbytery or to the Diaconate as well as the Church. I couldn’t because I knew who was behind this movement–Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew–and the greatest tragedy was that Bp. JOSEPH was ignoring us; having no contact with us since our meeting with the Presbytery and him at the Chancery. I became so depressed, so discouraged–feeling so helpless because everything was out of control. The word on the street was that Fr. David Anderson and I would soon be removed from the Church. The majority of the Church that were not a part of this underground movement were suffering and sad. Many asked why we weren’t doing something about these people who were stumbling others–even new people coming into the parish. We could not respond to them honestly without implicating a deep conspiracy against us which included a hierarch.

Becoming brokenhearted and hopeless, I went to a very well-known and respected Church leader and asked what I should do. I knew that our back was against the wall and there was no way to explain to the parish the things which were really happening behind the scenes without grave consequences. It wasn’t fair–the dissidents and trouble makers were having a field day with their slander and gossip and we had to remain quiet.

The spiritual leader told me, not to do anything. He said, “Let it happen to you in time before you respond. You will know when it is time.” I was waiting to see who was going to be hit first–myself or Fr. David Anderson. Well, the day came!

Fr. David’s sequence of events:

On February 4, 1998, Fr. David was informed by Father Robert Kondratick, the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America that Bishop ANTOUN had called on February 2 and asked if the OCA would receive Fr. David Anderson if he were released by the Antiochian Archdiocese. On February 5, Bishop ANTOUN called Fr. David and informed him that he was being transferred to a small parish in Chicago. Fr. David told Bp. ANTOUN that he was aware of the conversation between Bp. ANTOUN and Fr. Kon dratick. Fr. David protested that he had been initially released from the OCA to the Antiochian Archdiocese for the specific ministry of assisting the parishes of the former AEOM and further more stated that he was unable to move, because he was the pri mary caregiver for his 86-year-old mother, who receives 24-hour care from him and a network of parishioners in Ben Lomond. At no time was the slightest understanding shown to Fr. David by the Antiochian Bishops. He was accused of being more concerned with the care of his mother than his priestly ministry. A letter arrived on February 10th transferring Fr. David to Chicago. Upon receipt of the letter, Fr. David immediately requested release to the OCA. No response has ever been given to his request. At the parish meeting on February 12th, Fr. David described to the parishioners what had happened . On February 14th, he was accused of rebellion and disobedience and “laicized,” with no opportunity to defend himself and without communication to him from Metropolitan PHILIP, before, during, or after the action taken against him.

One of the dissident leaders on hearing of Fr. David’s being removed from the Ss. Peter & Paul parish said, “One down and one to go.” She should have said, “Two down and one to go,” because the original targets from the beginning were Fr. Seraphim Bell, Fr. David Anderson, and myself. I knew I would be next in line.

The order to remove Fr. David Anderson from our midst once again confirmed our belief and suspicions of a conspiracy against the parish. I believe this move began to be orchestrated originally by Fr. Jon Braun, who then, I believe, influenced Bp. JOSEPH to become negative towards the leadership in Ben Lomond. I believe with all my heart, God being my judge, that it was not enough for Fr. Jon Braun to set out to overthrow the leadership of Ss. Peter & Paul in Ben Lomond. He, I believe, as the spiritual father of my beloved nephew and family, turned them against our parish and our family. This is a very, very deep wound which I will not try to explain.

Just before Fr. Seraphim Bell went to study in Greece, Fr. Jon Braun was asked by Fr. Peter Gillquist, “What do you really want to do with your life?” Fr. Jon replied, “I would really like to build a really big church in San Jose with Fr. David Barr.” The implications were, “I would like to outdo Fr. Seraphim Bell in San Jose and Fr. John Weldon in Ben Lomond.” He said that Fr. David Barr could more than compete with Fr. David Anderson. Isn’t it interesting that Fr. David Barr is now being transferred to be the new Pastor of the “Antiochians” in Ben Lomond, CA. By now, Fr. Richard Ballew, Fr. Jon Braun and Bp. JOSEPH had all demonstrated their desire to remove me from the parish that I raised up twenty-three years ago.

The removal of Fr. David Anderson already speaks for itself. However, what most people outside of our parish cannot comprehend is this. Fr. David is a part of the soul of our parish. He is much more than a gifted teacher. He is our ecclesiarch for the daily services of the parish; daily Matins, Divine Liturgy, and Vespers. He is the leader of a team of seven Cantors who serve daily in the sanctuary. He also teaches Latin in our Parish High School. He is a celibate priest who never travels anywhere but rather lives at home or in the Church. His mother, Elizabeth is 86 years old and has had multiple strokes and is severely bedridden. She can only be taken care of by Fr. David and the good will of our beloved parishioners. Fr. David was transferred to our parish to guide and teach liturgics because of our numerous clergy. It was obvious we didn’t need any more clergy. We needed help and that was why he came to us with Metropolitan PHILIP’s blessing.

Therefore, any reasonable person can easily understand how reckless and cruel an act it was to suddenly announce without any contact with me (the Pastor of the parish) that Fr. David was to immediately leave our parish during this long winter season in California.

The obvious aspect of the letter to Fr. David was its denial of why he really was being removed from our parish. To remove Fr. David during this most insecure and confusing time scandalized our parish. The majority of our clergy, parish, choir, and cantors needed desperately an answer as to what was really going on behind the scenes. I called Bp. JOSEPH to inquire about the direction to remove Fr. David Anderson. Bp. JOSEPH, even up to this stage of our problems, still had never made one pastoral call to us. His response to my question concerning Fr. David’s transfer was that he didn’t know anything about it. I responded saying,

“I wasn’t told anything either, but you are the Bishop of the west and you didn’t know anything about something this significant.” He answered, “No.” Once again, I couldn’t believe it!

I couldn’t keep the clergy in ignorance any longer. The life of our parish was at stake. I met first with the Presbytery including Fr. George Washburn who was taking notes on February 10, 1998. I knew this was the opportunity for him to get revenge, but it didn’t matter by then. The truth was the truth. I then met with all the deacons on February 11, 1998. Then I met with the entire parish on February 12, 1998. The meeting with the parish was not organized as a rebellion, as has been characterized by the dissidents or those ignorant of our history. That meeting was being held as a matter of survival, conscience, integrity and truth and our defense towards an ungodly conspiracy against us. I was told that the dissident leaders were coming to the meeting “loaded for bear,” but that I needed to let them all talk. I underestimated the chaos this would result in because of their passions.

On February 12, at the last minute, I received a FAX from Metropolitan PHILIP telling me that he was sending the Dean, Fr. Richard Ballew and Fr. Peter Gillquist to our meeting on behalf of himself. And, that he wanted Fr. Richard to chair the meeting. There was no way or time to explain to him that these men could not represent the Metropolitan in fairness or objectivity–since they were already set against us. Remember, I had already failed their (old EOC) loyalty test, I had already written a letter to Metropolitan PHILIP concerning this on July 3, 1997 which said:

I received a call from Fr. Peter Gillquist (a week after our meeting at St. Nicholas) which still remains a mystery and insult to me. I thought we had worked through these problems and misunder standings at the St. Nicholas meeting. But, Fr. Peter called to persistently ask me if I was going to “obey” His Grace Bp. JOSEPH or not? He said Bp. JOSEPH instructed him to call certain ones to get a clear response, “yes” or “no” without any conditions. I felt just like my wife would have felt had I spoken to her like that. To say the least, it is very “tacky” — even cultic. In the old EOC days our leaders were always being asked by Fr. Jon Braun and Fr. Richard Ballew if we were going to be “obedient” or “committed,” even to the point of death. Frankly, I finally got sick of this manipulation where loyalty was a test at the expense of truth. Of course I want to be obedient to the Bishops with my God-given conscience. So, I simply asked Fr. Peter, “Where am I not obey ing?” He couldn’t identify any particular thing, he just wanted me to say I would obey unconditionally with no qualifications. I knew this interrogation did not come from you. In fact, I don’t believe it originated from Bp. JOSEPH either, but it was a very disturbing event for me.

After receiving the FAX about Ballew and Gillquist coming to the February 12th meeting, I immediately returned a FAX to Metropolitan PHILIP stating:

“Your Eminence:
We received your FAX concerning the presence of Dean Fr. Richard Ballew and Fr. Peter Gillquist at our parish meeting this evening. Although we are willing to receive them and allow them to participate, we cannot permit them to chair the meeting. Total chaos will result. May God guide us all in His will. Your son in Christ Jesus,
Fr. John Weldon Hardenbrook, Archpriest”

(Note: After the meeting, I wrote a letter to Metropolitan PHILIP carefully explaining why I could not allow Fr. Richard Ballew to chair the meeting because he and Fr. Peter Gillquist were already plotting against us. How could they possibly “represent” Metropolitan PHILIP and bring objectivity to the meeting? This is a critical point because the Spiritual Court seems bent on trying to make this the focus of my disobedience to discipline me. Can this one act characterize eleven faithful years of obedience? I think not.)

Following is a part of a letter which I wrote to Metropolitan PHILIP on April 10, 1998, in response to a FAX received from him regarding my actions on February 12:

Dear Saidna PHILIP:
…You wrote, “At first, you physically barred them from entering the sanctuary.” This is not true. One of our clergy asked Fr. Richard Ballew and Fr. Peter Gillquist to first meet with him in one of the Academy classrooms. No one physically did any kind of “barring.” They were simply told that they could not “take over” this meeting because it would have caused even greater chaos, as I had previously said to you in my FAX.

Secondly, you wrote, “You later relented a little and allowed them to sit silently in the meeting under the threat of ejection by force if they attempted to speak.” This too is not true. After Fr. Richard and Fr. Peter’s phone call to His Grace Bishop Antoun, they proposed not “chairing” the meeting but to come into the church and only answer the questions specifically directed to them. The fact is, no one during the meeting ever asked Fr. Richard or Fr. Peter a question. We all know the meeting was taped and transcribed, so this point is substantiated. Fr. Richard or Fr. Peter could not chair the meeting that night because they had already sadly proved their ill will previous to this meeting by unfairly positioning themselves against us. Therefore, they would not have represented you or had any sense of objective fairness. How could we have possibly explained our position having already been forced into a corner by Bishop JOSEPH grossly undermining our leadership as well as the “surprise” direction to remove Fr. David Anderson. Unfortunately, we had no choice. It was time for us to tell the church what was behind all these rumors and actions that were ripping our parish apart while the leadership was obeying Bp. JOSEPH’s direction to not talk or gossip about these matters. We had a written statement from our clergy meeting with Bp. JOSEPH calling for an end to gossip and to back my leadership. He also promised to not go around us in meetings and conversations with the parishioners without letting me know what problem needed attention. He promised in front of all of us, not to do that again. Our trust was shattered to find out that he had consistently broken this promise while the leadership was being obedient to it. . .

On May 20, 1998, Fr. Terry Somerville and I met with His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP at the Antiochian Archdiocese Headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey. At that meeting, Metropolitan PHILIP said to us, “When I sent Fr. Richard and Fr. Peter to the meeting, I thought you were all good friends or I wouldn’t have done that.”

Ten faithful priests and twelve faithful deacons chose that night (February 12, 1998) to put their precious God-given office on the line for the sake of conscience and for the preservation of every good thing God had given our community over many years.

It was a tragic night wherein the passions of many of the dissidents were out of control. Another confirmation to us regarding the conspiracy going on behind the back of Ben Lomond parish leaders was again made manifest that very night. (Name) admitted that evening, on tape, that not only was he himself a troublemaker from the beginning, but announced to all that Bp. JOSEPH and he had already planned a meeting in his home the following Tuesday.

We couldn’t believe our ears! No, unfortunately we could believe them. Our hierarch, who failed to communicate to us or pastor us for many months, was meeting once again with the dissidents behind the backs of our clergy.

We were sure of one thing, we were not wanted in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese by some of the people we would have to live with in close proximity–meaning the structure.

Mr. Peter Chesson quotes what he heard Fr. Richard Ballew say:

“Philip is our spiritual Father and anyone who has a different one isn’t welcome (referring to the Abbot at St. Anthony’s Monastery). We’re going to get that church back (for the Antiochians in the summer of 1997). Fr. John Weldon doesn’t have long.”

We felt threatened, abused, lied to, ridiculed, slandered and the brunt of vicious and slanderous gossip. The Dean of the Northern California Deanery never once contacted us to help us or to discuss these matters in a friendly way. Rather, he energized our problem by lending credibility to our dissidents. For us, we had only one choice–that was to plead for a release from the Antiochian Archdiocese so that we could seek refuge in the Orthodox Church of America–the OCA.

How did it come to this? We were told by the hundreds of visitors each year, how much our parish inspired them. Metropolitan PHILIP himself encouraged all the priests at the Antiochian Priests’ Symposium just three years ago to visit and experience, at least once, the worship at Ss. Peter & Paul in Ben Lomond.

On June 18, 1997, Metropolitan PHILIP wrote me saying:

“Once again, I would like to state unequivocally that Ss. Peter & Paul Parish of Ben Lomond, California, is one of the most dynamic and leading parishes in the entire Archdiocese. This is due to your sincere faithful and very able leadership throughout the years.”

On January 10th, 1997, Fr. Peter Gillquist voluntarily wrote in our own newsletter, The Grapevine, regarding the receiving of Fr. Joseph Corrigan and the new San Dimas parish, these words:

“. . . but my point is, Ss. Peter and Paul parishioners, you have a stake in this. When Pastor Dennis Corrigan (now Fr. Joseph) and his cohorts made several visits to Ben Lomond, you all opened your arms, your hearth sides and your homes to them. They loved the worship and your singing. Their experiences in your midst was a milestone, a major milestone, on their journey to the Orthodox Church.

Next we go to Arlington, WA in early February to receive the 100 people in David Hovik’s parish. He has visited Ben Lomond and has been especially encouraged by many of your clergy. Fr. James Bernstein and the faithful of St. Paul Antiochian Church in Seattle are their sponsors.

You have been Orthodox ten years now. You’ve settled in, you feel at home, your life in Christ in the safe harbor of Faith has taken on stability and regularity. Things are predictable: you know what to expect. But for those hundreds of visitors who come through your doors each year, what you have absolutely stuns them with awe and wonder. The beauty there overwhelms them. It is life- changing. Many, if not most, will never be satisfied with anything else ever again except Orthodoxy.

By your faithfulness, your enthusiasm, your determination to put the pursuit of the Kingdom of God ahead of everything else in life, you’ve become the Orthodox Visitors Center, a place on a spiritual ‘National Register’ so to speak, for seekers to stop and tour. In doing so, you’ve also made my job in Missions and Evangelism far easier, and I thank God for every remembrance of you.”
Fr. Peter Gillquist

I am sure all the flattery over the years has tempted us to have pride in our hearts from which we all need to repent. This is our shame. But why were people so motivated to harm this parish to the point where we had no choice but to openly defend ourselves and seek protection in another Archdiocese.

On Valentines Day, February 14, 1998, two priests were uncanonically laicized, Fr. David Anderson and myself, and eight priests were suspended along with twelve deacons. Our only crime was that we told the truth and we asked to be released from the Archdiocese. Our punishment was dished out equal to adulterers, homosexuals, and child molesting priests rather than for what we really represented.

A very well known theologian and Orthodox leader said,

“Ben Lomond was a beautiful flower that grew up and bloomed in the diseased soil of American jurisdictionalism so it had to die.”

I believe this is true in the sense there was no neighboring “Bishop” to run to as the canons instruct. Every parish the size of ours has a few dissidents. Even the Holy Scriptures admonish these kinds of people in the churches. When Bp. BASIL was our Bishop, he handled our dissidents or “trouble makers” at that time. They usually left the parish or came to peace.

But this time, a Dean, a jealous friend and a Hierarch teamed up with our dissidents and inflated their cause to tragic proportions. What was our real crime? Our real crime was the fact that our parish was centered on prayer and the evil one hated us for it. We were warned by spiritual people at different times that the devil would come and war against our parish because of what it was. At the height of our accusers’ slander against us—our parish was graffitied on all the walls with “666,” “God sucks,” and profanity, and icons of Christ were sprayed with paint. I knew at that time that the demons were raging against us. We continued to pray.

This is something you read about happening to other people. We couldn’t believe it was happening to us; it was like a nightmare which didn’t go away. Yet, we knew it was for our purification.

Some of our own people and some of the Antiochians outside our parish believed that we prayed too much and Americans would not be interested, but the church was always filled for Great Vespers and Sunday Matins and Divine Liturgy. I was not good at organizing committees of all sorts. Our goal was on purity of heart, illumination of the soul and deification—the eternal purpose of mankind. Some accused us of turning our parish into a Monastery–while all we were attempting to do was to practice the ancient rhythm of prayer designed for normal parish life so that it could be available to those who could enter in as they were able, and no more.

When Jesus went into the Temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the Temple,

“. . . and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, He said to them, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.'”

Being a “house of prayer,” this is what we really are guilty of. Interestingly enough, I never saw this kind of demonic opposition until I personally began to focus on the prayer of the heart about four years ago. I began a serious and conscious use of the Jesus Prayer which never seemed to be encouraged by the Antiochian Archdiocese.

When the E.O.C. leadership came into the Orthodox Church, all we could talk about is how dead it was and how we were going to change it by our influence and numbers. All we needed was 500 new parishes and we could take over Orthodoxy in North America. Well, I no longer believed this or had this purpose in mind. I saw how much I needed the Orthodox Church to change me.

My accusers are right, I am not a holy man, but I want with all my heart to be so since our Lord says, “be holy as I am holy.” And, our parish is full of young and old folks who have this same desire. Ethnically, we are not Russian, or Greek, or Antiochian. In our heart of hearts, we are just trying to be Orthodox Christians.

I made three choices which I believe helped lead us to the place we are today:

1. I failed the loyalty test with my dearly beloved old EOC brothers which brought about their wrath on me. Murder is in the heart of jealousy and revenge.
2. I couldn’t look away from the deceit, neglect and irresponsibility of His Grace Bishop JOSEPH. Pastors, how would you like this to happen to you?
3. I couldn’t allow a committee oriented model of parish life to take the place of the House of Prayer. This provoked the evil one to eliminate us.

What is going to happen now? It is not an accident that the Orthodox world is watching this whole situation. Here are some very unworthy servants who are not going to compromise their faith and the Holy Tradition of the Church. We believe that there is something terribly wrong with the jurisdictional sickness of American Orthodoxy that seems, in some cases, to be bent on becoming a kind of Protestant/Eastern Rite movement which persecutes those who want to be faithful to the faith of the Apostles.

Please, for the sake of hundreds of pious Orthodox parents and children, allow us to find a room in Orthodoxy where we can peacefully exist while the Orthodox Hierarchs in North America work out this jurisdictional mess which is victimizing all of us.

I stated something like this in my letter of repentance to His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, and I now make it my deepest request of you, the Spiritual Court. I beg, plea, to you to recommend release of this clergy. Knowing many of these people for 23 years, I believe peace, unity and reconciliation will only be achieved by starting another Antiochian parish for those who desire it while allowing our people to find their place somewhere else in the Orthodox Church. I see no other peaceful solution. Otherwise, many dear people could stumble. Believe me, they are not going to return to the Antiochian Archdiocese. If you could find a place in your humble hearts to help us, I am willing to take responsibility and blame for all the grief.

We appeal to you esteemed members of this spiritual court to understand our history, our predicament, and our hearts. Many believe that you can only rule against us because of your avowed loyalties to the Antiochian Archdio- cese. Some feel, at the worst, this may be a Kangaroo Court or at best like a Military Court Martial. We pray that you will truly be a “spiritual” court and grant us undeserved mercy and recommend to Metropolitan PHILIP that we be released to another jurisdiction. We are not going to give up. Love never gives up.

We are like the paralytic who remained at the pool without leaving. We too are not leaving the Church but are waiting for a father and pastor to deliver us from the hatred of our accusers. We can no longer live where people rage against one another with shameful words and disgraceful deeds. We are through with being unprotected by our hierarchs from open warfare and false letters, through which people have fallen into the depths of evil.

We pray to be free from strife against one another and to live in peace and harmony for the rest of our lives. We pray that God, through your help, will release us from the chains of discipline, so that we can serve once again at God’s Holy Altar and find ourselves submissive and doing good works towards God’s appointed authority in His Church.

The disciplined clergy have never questioned the authority possessed by the Metropolitan, his auxiliary Bishops or any Bishop of the Orthodox Church. We have taken issue not with the authority of the office but with the way in which that authority has been exercised in relationship to our local parish community. With the authority of episcopal office comes an obligation to communicate and listen to the local clergy and to work in synergy with them. The breakdown of the communication from the Antiochian hierarchy to the presbyters and the failure to work with them in local pastoral matters caused great harm to the parish. The result of this improper application of legitimate episcopal authority has been a breakdown in trust. This has made it impossible for us to give the obedience we have given over the last eleven years and would have liked to continue to give. Attempts to coerce obedience through initiation of lawsuits in secular courts, reactionary imposition of ecclesiastical discipline, and threats of excommunication instead of genuine dialogue have only increased the sense of estrangement. It may be possible to force compliance, but the Gospel, the Fathers, and Church history show that obedience is genuine only when it is freely given.

This is our struggle for which we have suffered and are willing to continue to suffer if need be. I plead for your mercy to recommend a release for all our clergy to another jurisdiction whereby we can experience, in time, a full reconciliation with all our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church everywhere.

With all due respect I ask your forgiveness.
[Fr. John with Fr. Terry]

Fr. John Weldon M. Hardenbrook, Uncanonically laicized Archpriest of
Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, Ben Lomond, California

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