The Orthodox Leader

Lies and Leadership

A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame.” -Proverbs 13:15

First and foremost, I remind readers of this site that the primary goal here is not to report on details of any particular scandal. Rather, the blog exists to discuss matters of leadership in the Orthodox Church. To that end, the recent conflict within the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America provides much material for reflection on leadership.

The most recent events in the scandal – primarily the release of confidential emails between Archpriest Joseph Fester, Bishop Nikolai (Soraich), Mr. Rod Dreher, and others – have turned everything upside down. I am not surprised at the names of the principals of I had already deduced the identities of two of them solely by their words and actions, prior to the revelations from the ugly emails. What is of greater concern now is that a site devoted to “truth” is, in fact, built upon lies.

Up until this past weekend, OCA Truth has absolutely dominated the narrative about what was going on in the OCA since the site’s inception in early March. OCA Truth provided the “facts” that shaped the discussion of the entire matter. Consider that the following points first appeared at OCA Truth:

  • That attempts were being made to depose Metropolitan Jonah,
  • That Metropolitan Jonah did not agree to a leave of absence (and that the minutes of the Santa Fe meeting were, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, manipulated),
  • That Mark Stokoe’s email was positive proof of a growing coup (with no possibility of being descriptive rather than prescriptive),
  • That Metropolitan Jonah was being opposed by a “liberal” cabal of bishops and Metropolitan Council members on the basis of his conservatism,
  • That the Metropolitan was being sent to a substance abuse rehab center,
  • That the Soviet method of declaring enemies of the state to be “insane” was in play,
  • That the Metropolitan was the only real monk on the Holy Synod, and many more.

(If this list is wrong, please send proof using the contact form, and I’ll note corrections here.) Not only were these points promulgated by OCA Truth, OCA Truth was the only source of that information in most cases. It is possible that some of these points are true, but no serious evidence was ever adduced in support of them. Rather, the charges were repeated, and distributed to proxies on other blogs, and, after a while, accepted as axiomatic by many even when the basis was still questionable.

Yet, in the end, we now see that OCA Truth was built on lies:

  • The writers lied to protect their anonymity. This is perhaps excusable absent the other lies. On the other hand, OCA Truth would likely have had a different reception had Fr. Fester’s involvement been known. Further, it was anonymity that enabled Mr. Dreher to indulge his journalistic Id, against all academic preparation and professional discipline.
  • The writers then lied in order to misrepresent their identities, enabling them to act as shills, as in the case of Mr. Dreher writing pseudonymously (as Muzhik) in order to quote himself under his real name as a reputable authority.  This is fraud. If you do it on eBay, they suspend you. Doing so on a credit card application can earn you a visit to jail.
    • UPDATED 5/4/2011 8:15am: The principals did similar things by posting under real names like “Rod Dreher” and “Jesse Cone” or pseudonyms like “Southern Comfort” in other fora, including, giving the appearance of different individuals supporting the writers at
    • UPDATED 5/4/2011 8:39am: One reader writes to suggest that Mr. Dreher never posted “Dreher” material under the “Muzhik” identity, instead leaving “Parishioner” and “Tovarishch” to do that. I am researching this now, for the sake of accuracy, although I don’t think it changes the basic charge.
    • UPDATE 5/4/2011 8:39am: Further, Mr. Dreher appeared in other fora (notably and claimed he knew the people running, but that he was not one of them.
  • The writers lied in order to characterize their opponents and other hierarchs as liberals—pro-gay, pro-abortion, feminist, etc.—even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. References to the Episcopal wing of the OCA (or “Piscies”—i.e., Episcopalians—elsewhere) were not made to suggest that their opponents had good taste and lots of money, but rather that they supported an Episcopalian-style liberal agenda. A fawning article about the Metropolitan in the Washington Post was shaped by this narrative of conservative-metropolitan-against-liberal-establishment and then employed as a club with which to bludgeon the “liberals.”
  • Worst of all, the writers lied in order to bear false witness. This was done when OCA Truth denied having possession of the confidential SMPAC report in order to attribute that possession, falsely, to Mark Stokoe, when exactly the reverse was true. It was done in the case of deliberately misrepresenting an email sent from Faith Skordinski to (attorney) Alexandra Makosky as being instead sent to Archpriest Alexander Garklavs in order to impugn both Skordinski’s and Garklavs’s motives.

I am not interested in waving Mark Stokoe’s banner, one way or the other. (I’ve certainly disagreed with his editorial decisions by private email on several occasions, as he can attest. We have never met in person.) What I am interested in is seeing is the return of leadership that is built on truth, trust, and accountability. If we define leadership as influence, OCA Truth has been a leader without peer over the last two months. Sadly, that leadership was built on lies, and those were built on anonymity and a total lack of accountability. (I wrote previously that OCA Truth’s heated rhetoric was only making the possibility of a reconciliation within the Holy Synod even more remote.) Detractors might respond with, “But Stokoe did it, too!” but he didn’t. At a very minimum, his name was on what he wrote, so that people could evaluate the source and his history in the same way I read or don’t read several columnists in the paper based on my perception of their credibility. I know several members of the alleged cabal, and, despite any disagreements I might have with them, I know them to be honest, upright, and Christian.

In the end, OCA Truth has provided a negative example of leadership, by demonstrating how lies and, really, anonymity ultimately come to ruin. For now, it is time for us to return to prayer for our real leaders, to ask that they be guided by the Holy Spirit and that the divisions of the recent couple of years and the acrimony of the past two months can be healed. We need the concerns of the first cohesive Holy Synod seen in decades to be addressed for the sake of God’s people.

“Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight.-Proverbs 12:22

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 4th, 2011 at 12:08 am

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