Sins of Past Haunt a Father

Santa Fe Reporter | June 9, 2004
Since 1993, Father Andrew has followed a path of penance at St. Michael’s Skete, a small Orthodox monastery north of Abiquiu, New Mexico where he prays, dips beeswax candles and welcomes retreat visitors to worship.

Yet the 65-year-old monk’s past still haunts him. His conviction for child sex crimes from the 1970s recently resurfaced on a Web site that exposes sexual misconduct by Orthodox priests and monks.

Father Andrew admits he performed oral sex on four boys in Florida when he was a priest in another denomination, but he says he has been chaste since 1992 and would rather die than molest another child.

“I think everything I did was horrible and reprehensible, and I’m repentant,” Father Andrew told SFR last week. “This whole thing has been so terrifying, like the past has just loomed up to get you.” was created by three women in San Francisco. (“Pokrov” refers to both the Virgin Mary and a Russian Orthodox feast day that honors her.) The group has not accused Father Andrew of any new sex crimes. However, the group believes his participation in past youth retreats at St. Michael’s Skete violates the sexual misconduct policy of the Orthodox Church in America (an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church). The policy states no person convicted of child sexual abuse “shall be allowed to work with children or youth in any capacity.”

“I think the church is giving him a free ticket,” says Pokrov co-founder Greta Larson. “It’s the prestige that he has. He’s still called ‘father’. He’s still around children and youth.”

Pokrov protested a three-day Orthodox youth retreat scheduled last December at St. Michael’s Skete. In response, the diocese relocated the retreat to the Holy Trinity Antiochan Orthodox Church in Santa Fe, and Father Andrew did not participate.

Father Andrew says he has spoken to youth during three or four retreats, but the monastery did not sponsor the retreats and there always were parents or guardians present. “I swear to God there is nothing weird going on here. There never has been,” he says. “I, for my own safety, have made sure I’m never ever alone with any child or any young lady.”

Father Andrew, who founded St. Michael’s Skete, told SFR he will not allow any more youth retreats at the monastery because of the lingering concerns about his past. It’s a past in which he was both a victim as well as a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.

Father Andrew says a teenage neighbor began molesting him when he was 4 years old after his father went overseas during World War II. Later, in the 1960s and ’70s, he became an alcoholic and claims some gay friends encouraged him to commit sex acts with boys. “Back then, I thought I was on the cutting edge of the new morality,” he says.

In the late 1970s, Father Andrew still used his birth name of Sterling Rayburn. After being deposed as an Episcopal priest in a theological schism, he founded St. Mary’s Church in Winter Haven, Florida, a parish affiliated with the Anglican Catholic Church of North America. As priest of St. Mary’s Church, he performed oral sex on four boys, ages 11 to 16, after giving several of them alcohol or marijuana. Father Andrew says he was gay, extremely lonely and drinking heavily at the time.

After being convicted of 10 charges, Father Andrew says he spent four years incarcerated in a sex-offender treatment program at a prison hospital in Florida before completing his probation in 1988. He says he has been sober for 25 years.

Father John Bethancourt, the priest at Holy Trinity Antiochan Orthodox Church, told his parishioners about Father Andrew’s past in January after the protest by Pokrov. Bethancourt, who hears Father Andrew’s confessions, is convinced Father Andrew is not a danger to children. “He is sober and chaste, both in thought and action,” Bethancourt says. “You can be sure that Father Andrew prays with tears for the people he has hurt, weeping prostrate on the ground.”

That’s not enough reassurance for Larson, who created Pokrov with her mother and a friend after her sister was molested by a Russian Orthodox parishioner in San Francisco. Larson believes sexual abuse in the Orthodox church is as rampant as the more publicized cases in the Catholic church, but Orthodox church officials “absolutely are covering it up.” “The Orthodox church is probably 20 or more years behind the Catholic church on this issue,” she says. “The victims are still afraid to come forward.”

Bethancourt disputes Larson’s characterization and says the Orthodox church quickly deposes priests who commit sexual misconduct.

Pokrov members believe Father Andrew never should have been allowed to become a monk, a layman’s

position which carries some spiritual authority since monks wear vestments and are called ‘father’. Archbishop Dmitri, Father Andrew’s superior in the Orthodox Church in America, stationed in Dallas, wouldn’t comment to SFR.

Bethancourt says the Orthodox church has a long history of sinners who were prostitutes, murderers or thieves before being transformed into saints by their penance and faith, and that Father Andrew, as a monk, is following that same path to redemption.

“I think he is growing in holiness. I know a man who is well on that road,” Bethancourt says. “Monasticism is the place for people to repent, to take the highest dose of spiritual medicine the church can give.”

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