The history of the conflict as described in letters of the Holy Trinity Parish Council to Metropolitan Agafangel and members of the Synod

The history of the conflict as described in letters of the Holy Trinity Parish Council to Metropolitan Agafangel and members of the Synod

September, 2015 – August, 2016

In order to provide an overview of attempts by the Parish Council of the Holy Trinity parish in Astoria, NY, to discuss with Metropolitan Agafangel his assignment of Fr. Vladimir Petrenko as the parish rector, it is necessary to describe the events that preceded the conflict.

The rector of the Holy Trinity parish, Mitered Archpriest Vsevolod Dutikow, reposed in the Lord on September 3, 2015. In his last will and testament, Fr. Vsevolod asked the parish council to name Fr. Vladimir Petrenko to the position of parish rector, and if he is unable to assume that position, to assign Fr. Dmitriy Dobronravov, who was a deacon at that time.

At a meeting on September 11, 2015, the council unanimously decided to ask the ruling bishop, Abp. Andronik, to ordain Fr. Dmitriy a priest and assign him to minister to the parish. The decision of the council was based on the grounds that although Fr. Vladimir is an experienced and trained priest, the parish was not in the position to support him and his family. The salary of a priest is quite modest in fact, and in the case of Fr. Vsevolod, it only supplemented the government pension received by him and Matushka Irene. The salary the parish would pay to Fr. Dmitriy and Matushka Alexandra Dobronravov would also be just a supplement, as both have regular jobs.

Fr. Vladimir’s situation was made more difficult by the fact that he did not have a specific job skill, and as a citizen of Brazil, did not have a right to work in the USA. If the council had agreed to support him and his family completely, it would have emptied the parish account after 2-3 years and the parish would have been threatened by bankruptcy as a result.

That was the primary reason, but not the only one. In 2008, after the union of Met. Laurus’ Synod and the MP, Fr. Victor Dobroff came to the parish from the Synod cathedral and was named Fr. Vsevolod’s assistant. Very soon after, a group of female parishioners became attached to him, thereby creating a parish within the parish. Fr. Victor’s group led a separate life, which only caused constant friction within the parish. The situation came to a boil in the summer of 2015, when Fr. Victor, having accused Fr. Vsevolod that he was pushing him out, left the parish with his followers. Fr. Victor refused an offer from the council for financial help to start his own parish, and having received a release gramota from the ruling bishop, he joined the jurisdiction of the Greek Old Calendar Church, where he remains to this day.

Having endured this torturous conflict, which lasted several years, the council was did not want to accept a second priest into the parish, whose presence could potentially divide the parishioners again.

Then the widowed Matushka Irene took up the cause of getting Fr. Vladimir assigned to the parish. The families of the Dutikows and Petrenkos were united by a friendship of many years and Matushka Irene calculated that Fr. Vladimir would allow her to stay in the priest’s house along with his family. No one tried to hide this fact. The council learned from M. Irene herself that Fr. Vladimir wanted to move from Brazil to the U.S. for the good of his children.

After the funeral of Fr. Vsevolod, Met. Agafangel told Fr. Dmitriy in the presence of Fr. Vladimir and Abp. Andronik that after his ordination, Fr. Vladimir would provide instruction to him for six months and would be considered the parish rector during that time. Fr. Vladimir would come to New York City from Brazil every couple of months to conduct this course of instruction.

On September 16, 2015, Abp. Andronik, the ruling bishop, signed two decrees; the temporary assignment of Fr. Vladimir as the rector of the Holy Trinity parish and Fr. Dmitriy as the second priest. (1), (2)

Immediately after the ordination of Fr. Dmitriy, the rumor surfaced (it is difficult now to determine the source of this rumor) that the period of instruction would last for a year. In response, the council on September 23 voted to send a letter to Abp. Andronik requesting that the period of instruction be limited to one year. At a session of the ROCA Synod of Bishops on October 27-29, 2015, in Odessa, the request from Astoria was ignored, Fr. Vladimir Petrenko was named the permanent rector of the Holy Trinity parish and the parish was transferred from the diocese of Abp. Andronik to the diocese of the Synod Chairman.(3)

The parish learned of the Synod’s Decision only when the minutes of the session were published on the Internet-Sobor website and this became the break point of the conflict, which led eventually to the need of convening the VI All-Diaspora Council.

Personal letters of two parishioners to the Metropolitan

On November 6 and 16, 2015, two of the senior parishioners and members of the parish council – Yelena Bogolubova and Elizabeth Zharkova – sent personal letters to Met. Agafangel. They asked that Fr. Dmitriy be made the rector and reminded him of the tradition of the parish hiring a priest as the rector, after which he is approved by the ruling bishop.

The Council’s first letter

On November 18, 2015, the parish council sent a letter to the Metropolitan asking that Fr. Dmitriy be made the rector. The letter explained the council’s opinion in great detail.(4) No answer was received, but it became known from M. Irene that the Metropolitan planned to attend a general parish meeting to resolve the situation on the spot. The meeting was to be held on March 27, 2016.

The Metropolitan arrived earlier and participated in a council meeting on March 23. He once again refused to accept the arguments of the council, while the council refused to concede to him. The meeting ended with the Metropolitan proposing to raise the issue of the selection of the rector at the general parish meeting, even though this violated the parish’s (corporate) by laws.(5)

At the general parish meeting, the Metropolitan declared that the council is only interested in commercial enterprise and is even prepared to throw M. Irene into the street to wrest the rector’s house from her. An attempt was made at this same meeting to vote in followers of the Metropolitan onto the council and remove those who the Metropolitan personally named as his primary opponents – Larisa Young and Vadim Yarmolinets. Before the meeting, M. Irene told parishioners close to her to cross out their names from the list of council members up for re-election.

The Metropolitan’s plan failed. The parishioners re-elected the existing group of council members and voted in new members that shared the opinions of the council.

The Council’s second letter

On April 10, 2016, the council, including the new members, once again wrote to Met. Agafangel asking to name Fr. Dmitriy as the parish rector, and listed all the previous reasons for the council’s decision.(6)

No answer was received. Then Fr. Vladimir, knowing how the council felt, recommended asking the entire Synod to address the issue. The Holy Trinity parish council along with the St. Sergius of Radonezh parish then decided to send Fr. Oleg Mironov to the May session of the Synod, where he was to read a letter from the council to all the members of the Synod.

Fr. Oleg’s report of the session is now known to all. It reveals that the Metropolitan believes the American parishes are rife with KGB agents, who are prepared to steal them away for the MP, and if the parishioners wish they can leave, but leave the property behind for the Synod.(7)

At the same Synod session in May, it was stated, that they “warn the members of the Parish Council, especially Vadim Yarmolinets and Larisa Young, that their actions pose a great danger to the spiritual life of the parishioners and do not benefit the Church.” (Journal #7)

There was no explanation provided as to how exactly their actions posed a threat and just what actions they had in mind.

The Council’s third letter – the first reaction

On June 1, 2016, after the council became familiar with Fr. Oleg Mironov’s report, a letter was sent to the Metropolitan asking him to explain his offensive remarks regarding the council, which in his estimation had taken control of the parish, and Fr. Dmitriy, who the Metropolitan described as “a follower of the madman Ignatiy Lapkin,” and someone who was going to have the parish join the MP in six months.(8)

In response to this letter, the Metropolitan announced on June 13, 2016, that Vadim Yarmolinets and Larisa Young could no longer receive communion, and he posted on the website Internet-Sobor that the reason for this was that Vadim Yarmolinets threatened Fr. Vladimir with his life, if he were to appear at the Astoria parish, while Larisa Young was accused of obstructing Fr. Vladimir’s visit to the parish and of spreading questionable letters on the Internet. Exactly what letters, the Metropolitan did not say.(9)

The letter that did receive a response

On June 5, 2016, the parish council and the council of trustees of the Holy Trinity parish appealed to their former ruling bishop, Abp. Andronik, and asked that he accept the parish back into his diocese and save it from ruin. The letter began with the words, “Dear in the Lord Bishop, bless! We ask for your help, as there is no one else to turn to and our situation is dire…” (10)

After receiving this letter, Abp. Andronik sent several letters to Met. Agafangel; one discussing the dramatic state of affairs in the North American parishes brought on by the misguided decisions of the Synod (11), one stating his resignation from the ranks of the Synod (12), and one informing Met. Agafangel of plans to convene the VI All-Diaspora Council and describing the response of the Synod; forcing Abp. Andronik and Abp. Sophroniy, who supported him, into retirement and removing them from their sees. (13)

The Council’s fourth letter

On June 26, 2016, the parish council and the council of trustees of the Holy Trinity parish sent Met. Agafangel a joint letter declaring that he had slandered members of the parish council and denied them communion without the necessary hearing and investigation required for such severe punishments. The letter also listed other actions of the Metropolitan, which needed to be examined. The council asked that the letter be considered a summons to court. No response was received. (14)

On June 30, 2016, B. Gregory posted a letter on Internet-Sobor to the clergy and brothers and sisters of the Holy Trinity parish asking them to make peace. (15)

The Council’s fifth letter

On July 8, 2016, the parish council sent B. Gregory an open letter asking him and the other members of the Synod to protect them from libel and slander. (16) No response was received.

The Council’s sixth letter

On July 18, 2016, the council wrote to the Synod Secretary B. Georgiy with the complaint that the Metropolitan was ignoring their letters. (17) No response was received.

The Council’s seventh letter

On August 3, in response to a decree of the Synod on July 21, 2106, declaring the retirement and appropriation of the sees of Abp. Andronik and Abp. Sophroniy, the council informed Met. Agafangel that it considers Abp. Andronik solely as its ruling bishop and sees no reason to hold yet another general meeting, which the Synod had decided to hold in the Holy Trinity parish without coordinating with the parish council. The council also refused to allow the Metropolitan to visit the parish, whenever he might be in New York.(18)

No response was received

The resolution from the diocesan conference on August 26, 2016, which declared that the dioceses of Abp. Andronik and Abp. Sophroniy would adopt self-rule put an end to the conflict in which Met. Agafangel and his Synod displayed a pathological indifference to the appeals of laypeople and clergy and the inability to lead the Church without resorting to dictator-like methods and the propensity to speak falsely and slander anyone with a different opinion in order to remove them from their path. (19)