OCANews: The Wheeler Interview
THE WHEELER INTERVIEW
On Saturday, November 4th, 2006 Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, former
Secretary to Metropolitan Theodosius and former Treasurer of the
Orthodox Church in America, answered questions from the editor and
readers of OCANews.org. The following is his interview in full.
Mark Stokoe, Editor of OCANews.org: "Let's go back to October 2005.
What made you finally go public six years after you were dismissed
Protodeacon Eric Wheeler: "Although the hurt I felt after being
removed from my position at the chancery subsided fairly quickly
once I secured a new job and got on with my life, what never left me
was a nagging sense that God would never have exposed me to all that
I witnessed and not expect me to act somehow. I just never knew how,
when or through what medium I was to respond."
--So how did it come about?
Wheeler: In the spring and early summer of 2005, as the Church
prepared for the All-American Council, the Orthodox internet lists
began to focus their activity on financial matters. Syosset was
preparing to present the 'Fair Share' resolution in support of the
work of the central Chuch. Through a friend I posted one, then two,
finally three anonymous responses on the internet lists, addressing
the financial mismanagement of the Central Church Administration.
With one of the main focuses of the 2005 Council being finances, the
Midwest Diocese requested that a full presentation of the operating
budget of the Church be presented at the AAC. Father Kondratick
refused this request. The negative response given Archbishop Job and
the subsequent correspondence was the actual impetus for my memo " A
Call to Accountability".
(Read that document here)
Recognizing that he would probably be put on the hot- seat during
the private sessions of the Holy Synod for asking that the operating
budget be presented, I took it upon myself to provide Archbishop Job
with a little support. The earliest version of this memo was sent to
him at the Toronto Sheraton during the week of the Council. The
issue, however, was never raised during the meetings of the Synod.
--So what did you do?
Wheeler: In my discussions with Archbishop Job after the Council,
and after prayerful consideration, I decided to address my concerns
in a letter and memo directly to members of the Holy Synod. I
delivered the packet of information to their hotel rooms prior to
the 2005 Fall Session, primarily so that members of their staff
would not become aware of its contents. It was my initial desire
that the problems with regard to the finances of the Orthodox Church
in America would be handled in a confidential manner.
--But that didn't work?
Wheeler: With no response from the Holy Synod, I emailed a cover
letter and the packet I had sent to the bishops to members of the
Metropolitan Council prior to their 2005 Fall meeting. Fourteen
hours after I sent the information to the Metropolitan Council,
Peter Zwick posted the information on the Orthodox Forum. And, for
the record, I am not Peter Zwick, nor do I know who he is.
--Some have suggested that this is all about lost jobs, or it is
personal; that the issues are really less important than the
personal animosities and settling old scores.
Wheeler: I did have close personal relationships with Metropolitan
Theodosius, Father Kondratick and many other people involved in the
administrative work of the Orthodox Church in America - after all,
we worked together for over ten years, often seven days a week. I
deeply regret the loss of many of these close friendships due to the
circumstances of this scandal. However, my actions have never been
driven by the loss of these personal relationships, or for that
matter, the loss of my position in the Church.
I recall a conversation I had with Father Kondratick at the 1999 All-
American Council as we sat together on the dais during one of the
plenary sessions. He asked me if I was prepared to single-handedly
bring down Metropolitan Theodosius over the issue of the
discretionary accounts and the financial mismanagement of the church
I responded that I was, and pointed to the 1,000+ people sitting
before us, stating that: "These people deserve a much better church
administration than the one they are currently have."
My actions were based on the premise that the faithful were being
short changed by the Central Church Administration as they
continued to foot the bill for its existence. I never had a personal
agenda with regard to the steps I took to correct the financial
improprieties perpetrated by members of the administration.
--You made specific allegations in your letter of October 2005 to
the Synod. You said:
Metropolitan Theodosius and Father Kondratick maintained
discretionary accounts "disproportionate" to
the annual operating budget of the Church.
An unqualified audit could not be produced for the OCA for the
periods ending December 31, 1997 and
1998 because these funds were not included in the financial reports
of the Church.
On a regular basis, petty cash checks were cut from these accounts
in the amounts of $10,000 with the
cash being given to Father Kondratick.
A review of the financial records of the church during this period
will show a deficit in the Charity Appeal
Fund of close to $275,000.
--In the past year Syosset has admitted publicly that all these
allegations are true. Vindication?
Wheeler: If all of this was based on a personal agenda, I could
very easily say that I have been vindicated. The actions of a few,
and the lack of response from many, for countless years, have made
this a serious problem for the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the
Orthodox Church in America. My feeling is that vindication can only
come from the faithful once trust in the administration of the
church is fully re-established.
--Syosset has kept silent about other allegations you made:
inappropriate personal, behavior, blackmail, side-businesses being
run from Syosset. Can you elaborate?
Wheeler: I first discussed these issues with Metropolitan Herman
and Jonathan Russin in 1999. (Editor's note: Jonathan Russin is the
OCA's legal counsel.) There is one page of my 'Call to
Accountability' that was not made public, nor will I make it public.
Within this past year I have discussed these issues with both
Proskauer Rose and the FBI. I will leave it to the Metropolitan
Council to determine what should appear in an official report
presented to the Church. I will only add however, as I said before,
that the secretive approach to the finances of the church was rooted
in these problems.
--Are you saying the FBI is now involved?
Wheeler: I have been asked not to speak at length about it, but
yes, it is not a very well kept secret that there has been an
ongoing investigation. While I recognize that there are many legal
ramifications for our church as we sort through the intricacies of
this scandal, including putting our tax exempt status in jeopardy, I
personally think that the report from Proskauer Rose will go a long
way in removing any impression that this scandal is personal. It
will also begin the healing process for our Church and begin the
process of closure.
--Can you tell us more about your allegations of "Off the books sale
of merchandise brought back from Russia. Large caches of liturgical
items offered for sale. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in
Wheeler: 'Hundreds of thousands' of dollars may be an exaggeration -
but just about everyone traveling to Russia and exposed to the
church liturgical factory in Sophrino during the late 80's and early
90's got into the 'resale' business. One of our seminary bookstores
was at the top of the list with pre-Memorial Day visits to Russia. I
was even paid a commission of $500 once by Father Kondratick for my
involvement in a sale.
--And this was wrong, because....
Wheeler: The issue was not the resale business per se, but the fact
that these revenues and expenses were never audited or even
accounted for. In this instance cash was taken into Russia from the
church coffers; yet no record of the distribution of funds in Russia
was ever provided, even though mandated by the external auditors.
Worse, the revenue from the sale of these liturgical items was never
accounted for in the operating budget.
--Where did those monies go?
Wheeler: No one knows where these money went 'cause no one can find
--In the past year several new aspects of the scandal have been
raised, of which you were not a part. Could you comment on these:
-The Kondratick Promissory note?
Wheeler: I do not think we have seen that last of the Kondratick
lawsuit. My guess is that the next volley will be another lawsuit
without Father Bob's name attached. Since I may be deposed with
regard to this matter, I will withold any comment.
-The Kondratick Tape?
Wheeler: I have never seen it - but I was made aware of its
contents first hand in the early spring of 2005. It was another one
of the reasons for pushing me to finally act. Since it is currently
in the hands of the FBI, I would rather not comment further.
--Have you spoken with Proskauer Rose?
Wheeler: I met with representatives from Proskauer Rose in March of
this year for approximately five hours. I believe I was one of the
first individuals they interviewed. I think there is a message in
the fact that after all these years the only people that have asked
me to present my story have been either lawyers or law enforcement
--Any thoughts on the investigation you wish to share?
Wheeler: I personally believe that the Proskauer Rose investigation
was actually completed some time ago. So when we hear information
from the Central Church Administration that the investigation is
still ongoing, the reference is to the FBI investigation and not the
investigation initially undertaken by Proskauer Rose.
--So what do you think will happen now? What would you like to see
Wheeler: If you review my initial letters to the Holy Synod and the
Metropolitan Council you will see that I only asked for one thing to
be accomplished -the re-institution of an independent audit. I
understand that in our post-Enron society, the independent audit
provides for good governance of all administrative aspects of an
organization. If we look at the steps the current administration has
taken in isolation of our financial scandal - re-instituting an
independent audit, institution of Best Practices, establishment of a
Donor's Bill of Rights, implementing job descriptions, following
organizational flow charts, etc., we could become the envy of the
majority of non-profits in this country.
However, no organization serving the needs of others exists in
isolation. Trust must be at its foundation. Our Central
Administration has lost our trust.
--So how do we deal with that lack of trust?
Wheeler: There have been numerous recommendations put forth by the
faithful of our Church and posted on the internet boards during the
past year, all suggesting how this scandal can be brought to an end.
My comments would only add to or duplicate much of what has already
been expressed. I do agree that we need an All-American Council
sooner rather than later, as part of an evolution to an entirely new
Central Church Administration. What I do know is that until we begin
to offer repentance and ask for forgiveness, individually and
collectively, we will not see the beginning of an end to this crisis.
--By 'new Central Church Administration' do you mean systems,
structures or changes in personnel?
Wheeler: While we can clearly point to a small group of individuals
who abused their positions of leadership and placed our church in a
most difficult financial position, we must also look at all the
other administrative bodies that have been asleep at the wheel - the
Holy Synod, the Metropolitan Council, the administration of the
Central Church, the internal auditors, too many representatives at
the All-American Councils - for many, many years.
Not for nothin', but all the information that I placed in my letter
to the Metropolitan Council, including what I flagged then was a
$1.8 million debt, was gleaned from public financial documents.
Wasn't anyone else reading those reports?
--Apparently not. Are there still things we are missing?
Wheeler: There is a great deal in there that has been overshadowed,
especially the questions I raise about the investment funds. Re-read
(Read the November letter here.)
--So what needs to be done?
Wheeler: What has been lacking in all of this throughout the entire
year is an expression of humility and real repentance. From a very
early age, all of us have been taught that repentance and
forgiveness are essential to our salvation. I would therefore like
to publicly confess and ask for forgiveness that due to my pride
the feeling that I could fix the problems of the Central Church
Administration on my own - I did not take my concerns to anyone
prior to the spring of 1999, and attempted to address the problems
myself. I ask for forgiveness of all the people who have been
scandalized by what I have done and of those driven away from the
church due to the public disclosure of this scandal. I ask
forgiveness of Bishop Tikhon, Father Dresko and Monk James Silver
for disparaging them on the internet. I ask the forgiveness of my
family for drawing them into this entire mess. I express this with
sincerity and hope this can begin the process of healing.
--The Church has lawyered up; the Kondraticks have a lawyer, even
the Metropolitan Council has legal advisers now. Have you got a
Wheeler: My wife has always told me that being naive was one of my
more attractive qualities - a quality that has gotten me into
difficult situations on more than one occasion.So no, I do not have,
nor have I ever retained a lawyer.
--You were officially told to be silent in 2005. Has that been
Wheeler: In the past year I have received four letters from
Metropolitan Herman strongly suggesting that I refrain from posting
on the internet for the good of the church. The receipt of each
letter was followed by a phone call from me to Metropolitan Herman
where I made my views known. I did make it clear that I would
continue to post on the internet in a constructive manner when it
came to commenting on the Church's financial reports, postings and
I would say, though, that the letters, which sounded as if they were
written by someone else, did not match the more pastoral approach to
the scandal expressed by Metropolitan Herman in our phone
There were pictures of you serving with the Metropolitan at your
parish feastday this past Spring. You two have known and worked with
each other for close to 30 years.
Actually my relationship with Metropolitan Herman goes back about 40
years. In the spirit of full disclosure, and as long as I am
confessing past sins: Vladyka Herman, I was the kid who placed the
bull frog in your tent during one of the summers I spent at St.
Tikhon's Summer Camp.
--Do you still speak with the Metropolitan?
Wheeler: Yes, Metropolitan Herman and I still speak. I have always
admired the fact that whenever he is in residence, he picks up his
--How do you handle the attacks on you, your ministry, your
intentions, your family?
Wheeler: I have never viewed this scandal as personal, so I can
honestly say that I have been able to harden myself against any
My wife and children were never aware of what was transpiring during
the 1990's at the chancery until early 1999, when it became clear
that my days were numbered. They have been my pillar of support
throughout this entire mess. And although they do not have a great
love for the leadership of the Orthodox Church in America, their
faith has never wavered.
--What do you do now?
Wheeler: I am currently the Finance Manager at a Museum and
Botanical Garden on Long Island.
--Would you ever go back to work for the Church?
Wheeler: I recently read the press release by Deacon Stephen Vernak
of the OISM encounter in Kodiak, Alaska which was posted on the OCA
website. It brought to mind the purity, naivety and innocence with
which I entered seminary some thirty-five years ago. Seeing all that
is good and blessed by God and having that goodness consume all
that which is negative and destructive that is the spirit in which
each person begins seminary. Despite the hard knocks of life's
experiences we strive never to lose this spirit. My heart is still
in the Church even though at present my service in the church has
waned. One never knows what the future may hold.
--Thanks for speaking to OCANews.org.
Wheeler: This was hard.
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