Orthodox leader seizes own ‘Obama moment’

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“The black hole of our scandal was sucking the life out of the OCA,” wrote the Rev. Steven Kostoff, a priest at Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, on his personal blog. “The election of an untainted candidate with a good reputation now seems like not only a brilliant and spontaneous response by an alert body, but the work of the Holy Spirit.”

During an elaborate ceremony at St. Nicholas Cathedral in the District on Dec. 28, he will receive a pastoral staff to direct his flock as the archbishop of Washington and New York and metropolitan of all America and Canada. The Washington/New York diocese has 85 to 90 churches; the entire denomination has about 100,000 active members.

In his interview, the new metropolitan said he hopes to expand Orthodox outreach, especially on college campuses.

“The thing I am most concerned about is the despair that grips so many of the young people in our culture,” he said.

“There is so much nihilism and atheism, all a result of the broken families, drugs, social and economic ills that grip our culture. So many of the young are in a state of existential despair.”

Why Orthodoxy?

“It is a very integrated way of life,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle, a way of self-denial as a way to greater fulfillment. It is a way of spiritual discipline to help people to bring themselves under control so they are not possessed by anger, lust and the seven deadly sins.”

He was persuaded to join Orthodoxy through the reading of one book: “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” by Vladimir Lossky.

After attending St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on Long Island, he traveled to Russia in 1993 at the age of 33 for a year to think through his future and decide whether to marry his girlfriend. If an Orthodox candidate for the priesthood wishes to marry, he must do so before ordination. Orthodox monks cannot marry at all.

“I wanted some resolution to my dilemma, but I didn’t want to go according to my own will,” the new metropolitan remembers. “The whole spiritual life is built on obedience, respect and trust in love to your spiritual elder.”

After several months at the Valaam Monastery, on a lake island north of St. Petersburg, he was introduced to a venerable Orthodox elder known as Kyrill.

“So I asked the old man what should I do,” Metropolitan Jonah said. “Should I get married or should I become a monk? He said, ‘I know, I know.’ He blessed me and said, ‘Become a priest-monk.’”

He was sent back to the U.S., where he established several churches and founded a Manton, Calif., monastery. In 1999, the Valaam Monastery contacted him, desperate for funds because of Russia’s collapsing economy. Jonah raised $100,000 for the Russian monastery in six weeks.

“I have major ties to Russia,” he said, adding that he can still speak the language. “I really care about the church in Russia.”

The OCA was part of the Russian Orthodox Church until it became its own self-governing body in 1970.

About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times’ religion editor. She has a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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