St Peter the Aleut, martyred by the Catholics in California. He is a fitting symbol for the suffering native Church in Alaska today. The OCA Holy Synod is treating the contemporary native peoples as contemptuously as St Peter was treated by the Franciscans.
You are what you do instinctively. Excellence, therefore, isn’t an action willed. Rather, it’s the disposition of one’s soul.
Captain Nicholas Alexander
Imperial Russian Navy
Dean of Students, Holy Trinity Seminary (Jordanville NY USA)
Firstly, let’s look at the current reportage from Alaska…
It’s Really All about Money
Bishop Nikolai, his Chancellor Fr Isidore Brittain, and “Anna”, a “humble parishioner”, whose comments were posted on the diocesan website controlled by the Bishop, all offered different reasons yesterday for Nikolai’s troubles… and none of them mentioned the Bishop’s behaviour or actions.
In a posting yesterday morning on the diocesan website, “a humble parishioner”, identified only as “Anna”, suggested that the “dissenting” priests’ motives were largely economic. “Anna” wrote:
Instead of being focused on conducting church services primarily, it seems that their own incomes may have been prime concerns. …. I would venture that most of the priests made a habit, as did the ones that I am most familiar with, of pretty much shutting down their church from the end of May until late August in order to do subsistence. They want no responsibilities except to put up fish, berry picking, and moose hunting for the whole period… I really think the timing of their combined requests to the OCA is in the hope that it can all be resolved to their satisfaction so they can go back to having summer and fall off again to pursue commercial and subsistence activities. (Read the posting here)
At an 11.30 (Anchorage time) press conference yesterday morning at the Russian Orthodox Museum, Fr Isidore Brittain echoed the economic theme, but, said the real issue was a fight over “ownership of the diocese’s lands in Alaska”, lands that “generate about $100,000 in income a year”.
The bishop, meanwhile, reiterated he would not step down. The bishop again blamed the Metropolitan of “innovations” accusing “… national church leaders of not following proper church procedures when no formal allegations against him (Nikolai) have been filed.” Both the Bishop and his Chancellor were quoted in a front-page story in the Anchorage Daily News. (Read that story here)
St Herman Russian Orthodox Church, Fairbanks AK
Rev Garklavs Responds
In an earlier story, also on the front page of yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News, published under the headline Season of Lent Marred by Orthodox Infighting, Fr Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor and newly appointed Administrator of the Alaskan Diocese, revealed that he“expects to arrive in Alaska next week”. (Read that story here)
Fr Alexander offered a slightly different and expanded version of his plans to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. In an interview with Rev Garklavs published today, reporter Ralph Gibbs wrote:
Garklavs said because Bishop Nikolai is refusing to leave Alaska, he’s not sure when he will come up, but hopes by next week. Until then, he had a message for members of the OCA in Alaska. “Remember that the church is larger than the sum of its parts and therefore the church is larger then the Diocese of Alaska”, he said. “We are very concerned about everybody in Alaska, from Bishop Nikolai to the most recently baptised child, and just as soon as possible, we hope to be there and we hope we can maintain their faith and love at this time”. Garklavs said his appointment is just the first step of the healing process. The investigation into the allegations is another, and while he’s here he will be travelling and listening to members. However, he said that couldn’t begin until the bishop leaves Alaska. (Read that story here)
And, finally, in Syosset, Rev Garklavs posted a pastoral letter to the Diocese of Alaska today, a letter that aimed to encourage the faithful in Alaska. It also contained a warning to Bishop Nikolai. Rev Garklavs wrote:
By the decision of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, on March 4, 2008, His Grace, Bishop Nikolai has been placed on an indefinite Leave of Absence. … The decision of the Holy Synod was done with much care and pastoral concern. A Committee is in the process of being formed, from the members of the Holy Synod, which will thoroughly investigate the situation in Alaska. This method is entirely Scriptural and canonical. Neither guilt nor innocence is prejudged, and ascertaining the truth is the only objective. Unfortunately, Bishop Nikolai is openly defying the Holy Synod and thus placing himself into a critical situation that may have serious canonical repercussions.
In the conclusion of his letter, Rev Garklavs announced that he “hopes to be able to convene the clergy of the Diocese of Alaska in the nearest future”. (Read his letter here)
Given the Bishop’s continuing, and increasingly public, intransigence, if Fr Alexander is serious about not visiting Alaska until the Bishop leaves, he may remain in New York, and the clergy of Alaska left waiting, for the near future.
Orthodox Christians for Accountability
Let’s take care of the “silly stuff” first to clear it away. “Anna” obviously knows nothing of Alaska rural life. I don’t, so, I asked a friend who has been there. The priests have to engage in subsistence activities in the short summer so that their families can eat over the long and bitter winter. That is an unpleasant fact, and has been such from time immemorial. There are no supermarkets to go to, and many of the villages are so isolated that you can only reach them by airplane in good weather. This complaint is without foundation, and is obviously raised by a “Lower 48er”.
The income from the real estate owned by the Church goes directly into the bishop’s coffers. The native priests and faithful not only have no say in the disposition of the earnings, it is apparent from reports that little, if any, of the money is used for the local needs of rural Alaska parishes. The same reports speak of Nikolai’s fancy new vestments… hmm… is Fr Isidore afraid that the money shall go for its proper purpose? Another non-starter, I say.
Nikolai’s contention that proper church procedures are not being followed is ludicrous. In both recent cases of an episcopal investigation in the MP, the bishop involved was asked to step down whilst the investigation was underway. Apparently, Nikolai knows of canons unknown at the MDA or SPDA. He should quote them so that proper canonists (of which, I am not one) can determine his cause.
Has Syosset taken leave of its senses? It appears as though Syosset/SVS is not interested in finding the truth. Unfortunately, some of Fr Alexander’s recent statements are condescending in the extreme and they are not going to help solve the problem, indeed, he may have thrown petrol on the fire with them. Remember that the church is larger than the sum of its parts and, therefore, the church is larger then the Diocese of Alaska… We are very concerned about everybody in Alaska, from Bishop Nikolai to the most recently baptised child, and just as soon as possible, we hope to be there, and we hope we can maintain their faith and love at this time…
Two of our lovely Orthodox girls from Alaska
This is nothing more than the Great White Father telling the Little Brown Brothers that he, and not they, knows the actual import of the situation, and that they should be “patient” whilst their betters take care of the situation.
This is utter rot. What kind of weed was Rev Garklavs smoking? My friend from Alaska said that it would not play well, especially not with the Tlingit people (of whom she has some knowledge), who, apparently, have a warrior culture (I stand under correction in this). The native elders are being addressed as children, which is a grave error. Fr Alexander should have said, “I don’t know the situation in Alaska. I am going immediately, and I hope that the local Alaskans shall help me to understand what to do”. That is what I would say, for I know next to nil of the local mores and culture, and I would require much help to comprehend it all.
The arrogance and hubris of Rev Garklavs is breathtaking. It is time for all from the “Lower 48” to step back and allow the locals to take care of things. Let a diocesan assembly be called, with the sole purpose of giving advice to the metropolitan on who is a suitable candidate for ordinary of the Alaska diocese. Nikolai has lost all standing, and he must leave, for no one has any trust in him, and no amount of psychobabble from Syosset can change it.
To restore trust, the same sort of commission must be empanelled in Alaska as was convened in England in 2006. In England, the panel consisted of Vladyki Innokenty (the administrator of the diocese), two DECR archpriests, and Archbishop Mark Arndt of Berlin of the ROCOR (an impartial auditor, a very good idea, indeed!). All meetings of the commission were in public venues, they received ample and wide publicity, and all the faithful were welcome to speak and give their version of events. Oh, yes… the results of the investigation were published on the internet (both on official and commercial websites), some 100 days after the crisis erupted.
Ice Sculpture at St Herman Russian Orthodox Church, Fairbanks AK
Believe me; the faithful in Alaska would come forward. They would give their evidence, the information would be collated, and a report would be issued in short order. The boil would be lanced, the infection would be released, and the diocese would heal. I shall be brutally frank. The chances of this happening are nil. Not “next to nil”, NIL.
That is because Syosset has a juridical and legalistic mindset. It sees things in a “legal” sense. In fact, the so-called “Brum Doctrine” is an open adoption of papist ecclesiology on the part of Syosset. On the other hand, the problems in England and Yekaterinburg were handled in a “churchly” (I am thinking of the Russian word tserkovnost here) way. They illustrated sobornost in action. The hierarchs, clergy, and faithful all played their proper and traditional parts, and I must say that the lawyers played NO role in the proceedings.
It is well for us to notice that because a traditional path was taken, there is no longer any problem in either diocese. Yekaterinburg now has one of the most respected hierarchs in the Church, Archbishop Vikenty Morar, as its leader. It is one of the most vibrant dioceses in the MP, and Vladyki Vikenty is considered one of the most favoured candidates to succeed Aleksei Mikhailovich as patriarch. In England, the schismatic Osborne was only able to take some 9 clerics and 300 faithful into schism with him. Because the hierarchy attended to the infection of Osborne’s rebellion and schism promptly and openly, the diocese is healing. That is what happens when the hierarchy treats the faithful honestly and uses above-board procedures.
This crisis hit the OCA in October 2005, which means that it has been lingering for some 29 months. Such behaviour is an indication that the OCA Holy Synod is laggardly, dawdling, and shirking its duty. Its bishops are not only slowcoaches, they are slackers. The MP solved an analogous crisis in 100 days… the OCA has not reached a resolution in nearly three years… which do YOU say is the good tree?
Thursday 13 March 2008