Nova Scotia priest fired for praying for Israel

Father Vladimir Tobin (Joel Jacobson for The CJN)

HALIFAX – A Christian Orthodox priest in Nova Scotia was forcibly retired for delivering a sermon that honoured Judaism and Israel.

The head priest of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church in Halifax, Father Vladimir Tobin, received a letter from Orthodox Church in America Archbishop Irénée, the archbishop of Ottawa and Canada, on Aug. 12, informing him that he is being forcibly retired due to the alleged “Jewish twist in your ministry.”

The phrase likely alludes to a sermon Father Tobin delivered that mentioned Israel and Judaism in favourable terms, asked for congregants to pray for Israel and reminding the congregation that Jesus was a Jew.

“I’ve always been straightforward, have always spoken my mind,” said Father Tobin from his home in New Germany, about 120 kilometres south of Halifax.

He admits that his sermons over the last several years have tied together Christianity’s roots and the Old Testament’s Jewish background.

The 77-year-old cleric said he travelled to Israel in May for the first time in 30 years. In the late 1960s, he visited for two weeks, and returned in 1985 to earn a doctorate in Egyptology at Hebrew University.

I was happy in Orthodoxy, but felt there was some anti-Jewishness there.
– Father Vladimir Tobin

Born in Halifax, Father Tobin said his grandmother was Jewish, but he was baptized a Christian. When studying the early Christian period at Dalhousie University, he said he realized that early Christians were Jewish and their scripture was the Old Testament.

Ordained as an Anglican priest, with a part-time pulpit while also teaching at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Father Tobin felt something was lacking in that denomination and was urged to go to the Orthodox side.

“I was happy in Orthodoxy, but felt there was some anti-Jewishness there. I wrote a piece for publication, but was told by my superiors that it was ‘too Jewish.’ That increased my determination that Christianity grew from Judaism. My own theology recognized a faith that started with Abraham and grew through the centuries through Christ,” he said.

He was first sent a letter from Archbishop Irénée in April, following a written complaint by the assistant priest, Father Alexander Treiger, who alleged that Father Tobin was, among other things, including prayers for Israel in his services.

“After much thought and consideration, I have decided that effective this date, April 8th, 2019, you are officially retired as Rector of St. Vladimir Orthodox Church, Halifax, NS,” wrote the archbishop.

Father Tobin responded by writing: “It is true that I regularly pray for both Israel and United States, its armies and its president, and for ‘the land of Israel and the armies which protect her.’ What is to prevent us for praying for other countries that need it? The U.S. and Israel are our allies and need our support for peace in the Middle East. There are precedents of praying for other nations within our tradition. My prayers are mainly intended to advance peace in the Middle East .”

The Parish Council, unhappily shocked by the dismissal, wrote a letter urging Father Tobin’s reinstatement, to which Archbishop Irénée agreed, only to renege on last month.

Father Vladimir Tobin (Joel Jacobson for The CJN)

On Aug. 12, the archbishop wrote to Father Tobin: “Now, I place you once more on retirement as of Monday, August 26, 2019. This will permit you to say your farewells to the Faithful of Saint Vladimir Parish and remove your personal possessions from the church premises.”

Father Tobin, while obviously upset, said he has plenty to do in retirement, things he couldn’t do while preaching and teaching.

“I have many CDs to hear and books to read, a dog to walk and a grand piano that wants to be played,” he said with a chuckle in his voice.

“But I don’t feel right deserting the congregation like this. I had planned to retire in a year or so, by my 78th birthday, but obviously wanted to retire on my own terms. I would have been sad. The congregation would have been sad, but everyone would have understood. This way is not the best thing.”