The parish in Ben Lomond, CA was then the largest parish of the Antiochian Evangelical Mission. In 1997, it was a parish of about 1500. Saturday Vespers had about 200 attendees. The entire congregation sang as the choir. It has a K-12 school, a world class choir, a hospitality house (for visitors), programs for teens, and a publishing house, Conciliar Press, which the evangelicals brought with them. The parrish allowed a highly respected spiritual father from Mount Athos to visit them and to hear confessions and give guidance. People began to fast and pray more. The hierarchy of the Antiochian Archdiocese then forbade any Antiochian clergy or faithful to go for a confession to a non-Antiochian priest. Their practice of having a complete round of daily services, with Matins, Liturgy, Vespers, and everything else, all well attended, was considered bizarre and no longer normal. Moreover, they had some unusual liturgical customs and Russian customs in their services. Certain Arab ladies in the parish got the ear of the local Bishop and started demanding that the thing was getting out of control; a new leadership had to be installed at Ben Lomond. The hierarchy instructed them that no Russian music was to be used; all music had to be from the simplified Antiochian music packets. Eventually, there was a huge parish meeting and the parish petitioned Metropolitan Philip to release them to the OCA (Orthodox Church in America). In response, the main priest who had years before started the parish from scratch and all clergy who were felt to support him, got a sudden fax from Met. Philip saying they were all defrocked immediately. They appealed to the decision to an Antiochian trial council. Then they were all excommunicated, some for a minimum of five, some for a minimum of three, years. The majority of them were treated as lepers. The building, all property, the school, all the bank accounts, were seized by the Archdiocese. The original parishioners became scattered, confused, and priestless. The court decisions came in in favor of the Archdiocese. However, the remaining small congregation hadn’t been the primary financial backing, and couldn’t support the church as it was. It abandoned the school entirely and gutted or abandoned other things, and began selling property. The OCA eventually received a large number of the faithful, on condition they keep quiet, likewise forbidding OCA clergy from discussing it. The Jerusalem Patriarchate received the rest. The Antiochian Archdiocese considered suspending relations with both. To this day, there is an atmosphere of watchfulness over parishes becoming too much like Ben Lomond had been. The clergy remained persona non grata for years, even after the imposed period of excommunication, and some died as such. Recently, the rest were received back into the AOA or elsewhere. The remainder of the parish is still there, but it’s not what it was. Nothing in the AOA has been like it since.”

This is a slight revision of a text written originally in 1998.

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