Firstly, two articles just off the wires…
Bishop Responds to Church Leadership
Alaska’s Russian Orthodox bishop says the church’s followings are at risk and questions whether it will become a church body that follows a corporate model. The Right Rev Nikolai wrote an open letter that was posted on the Russian Orthodox website Tuesday. Last week, national church leaders ordered the bishop step down while an investigation is underway about his leadership. There have been numerous complaints, including that the bishop is “intimidating” and “overly strict” in adhering to church doctrine. However, in the letter to his clergy and church members, the bishop says he is still their bishop since the proper procedures weren’t followed. He says a mandatory leave of absence is foreign to Orthodox canon law.
11 March 2008
KTUU-2 NBC News website
Season of Lent marred by Orthodox infighting
Standoff: Bishop under investigation refuses to step aside
The head of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska and national church leaders, who want him to step down while they investigate charges against him, are locked in a standoff that is intruding on the church’s holy season. To serve in the bishop’s place, the church’s top national official, Metropolitan Herman, has appointed Rev Alexander Garklavs, chancellor of the New York-based Orthodox Church in America, to serve as interim administrator for Alaska. A Pennsylvania priest named last week asked to be released from the duty, citing a need to remain in his parish, according to Rev Garklavs.
But, in an open letter on Monday, Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the diocese, said Alaska priests should continue to recognise him in church services as their rightful bishop and confront him “directly and personally with your view of my shortcomings and offenses”. In recent weeks, a number of Alaska priests and parishioners have asked the national church to remove Bishop Nikolai, accusing him of intimidation, insults, and other abuses. The bishop said Orthodox priests and laity in Alaska should reject the national church’s order unseating him: It doesn’t comply with historical church canons or the Bible, he said.
Both critics and supporters of the bishop say the conflict is creating hardships for everyone involved, especially since the season of Lent, the holiest time of the year, has just begun. Fr Michael Oleksa, an archpriest in Anchorage, called the situation tragic. “It seems to me the direction the bishop is taking is a dead end. It can only provoke (the synod of bishops) ultimately to suspend him from his ministry”, Rev Oleksa said. “It’s not good to cause this division … it’s unnecessary and painful”.
But, what’s also painful is for the bishop to be ordered to leave Alaska after seven years of service and much hard work to build up the diocese, his supporters say. “I’m frustrated with the national church, how they’ve handled this”, said Mina Jacobs, a volunteer assistant for the bishop who also runs the Russian Orthodox museum downtown. “Why don’t they send somebody in here who cares and says, ‘Let’s find a way to discuss this?’ Where is he supposed to go?” Ms Jacobs said.
Rev Garklavs says the national church does care about the diocese. “We would like very much for people to know that it’s a difficult time but we hope that things will be resolved and will improve”, he said Tuesday. Rev Garklavs expects to arrive in Alaska next week but does not know how local church leadership will respond to the bishop’s refusal to leave, he said. His job is to address pastoral concerns, whereas discussions about the bishop’s status will be between the Metropolitan and the other bishops, he said. “Disagreements occur within families. … We’re in the midst of something like that as a church”, Rev Garklavs said. He said national church leaders disagree with Bishop Nikolai that the leave of absence is a punishment. “Nothing is prejudged… An investigation (cannot) take place while Bishop Nikolai remains in the diocese”, he said.
12 March 2008
Anchorage Daily News
This is a distinctly odd way of handling a crisis. Rev Garklavs has his plate full with the current OCA crisis in Syosset, and he has just recently taken over the post of chancellor, in addition. Now, he is dropping everything and flying out to Alaska NEXT WEEK. Next week… Syosset is certainly not moving rapidly at all. It is telegraphing to the native priests and faithful that they do not matter overly much to the nabobs of the OCA in Long Island, and that they do not matter much at all in the overall scheme of things.
Furthermore, since he has not been on the ground, Rev Garklavs shall have to make a “cold” inquiry into affairs, and the chances of being fooled are high. In short, why was the position of administrator not given to a senior Alaska-based archpriest with contacts and experience in the unique church culture of the state? Methinks that the Syosset/SVS Mafia does not trust the native clergy. That is manifestly clear by this action.
The OCA Synod of Bishops has the legal right to force Nikolai out of church housing, and it has the right to bar him from its property. In short, Nikolai can choose to stay in Alaska, but, not on the OCA’s nickel. Neither of these actions has been taken. Nikolai is cocking a snook at Syosset, and he is being openly disobedient and rebellious. I can assure you that Patriarch Aleksei would not tolerate such for an instant. If the OCA Synod cannot force Nikolai off its own property, they have no power, no authority, and above all, no gravitas, to use the Latin.
If this had been a script for a comic opera set in a make-believe Ruritanian statelet, it would be rejected for being wildly improbable. Unfortunately, it is all too real. I believe that the native elders have truly had enough. They shall act, and Syosset shall be surprised when they do. If Syosset loses the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska, a not improbable occurrence, it shall mean the end for the Long Island-based central administration and the useless eaters it employs.
As for Nikolai’s contention that a Synod of Bishops cannot order a bishop to take a mandatory leave of absence, that is derisive. It is what is done before the investigation of any office-holder in any well-run organisation.
Why… if this were not so serious, it would be a very bad comedy… unfortunately, Syosset is playing dice with people’s souls. That is unconscionable.
I thank cyber-friends who helped me with the typing and formatting.