Russian Orthodox church in Ekutna AK
Alaska Land Grab Cited in Bishop’s Fight with Church
ORTHODOX: National organisation sold off property, aide claims
The power struggle at the top of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska continued Wednesday with fresh accusations across the sparring leadership. Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska, said he will not step down despite mounting pressure from national church leaders to do so and an assertion from their office that he is no longer the leader. An aide to Soraich accused the national church of coveting diocesan land in Alaska, and said its leaders had long been trying to get rid of the bishop in order to take control of what little assets the Alaska branch has.
Speaking to the media at the church’s downtown Anchorage offices, Soraich, a man whose shock of white hair, long white beard, and black robes give him a striking public presence, accused national church leaders of not following proper church procedures, saying no formal charges have been filed against him so they can’t require that he step down, even temporarily. His second-in-command, Archimandrite Isidore, went further. The New York-based Orthodox Church in America is seizing on minor local problems to kick out a bishop they have long butted heads with, he said.
The land issue is central to the power struggle, Archimandrite Isidore said. Alaska land, owned by the church for more than a century, was slowly being sold off by the national organisation until Soraich took over about seven years ago and stopped it, Archimandrite Isidore said. What’s left is about 1,000 acres in places including Anchorage, Kodiak, Sitka, and Russian Mission. The entire diocese budget is about $400,000 a year, Archimandrite Isidore said. The land generates about $100,000 in income annually. He did not know the total value of the property in the state, or how much it would be worth if sold. Ever since Soraich took over and reclaimed title to the land, the national organisation has been quibbling with him, Archimandrite Isidore said.
The consternation in the normally quiet regular members of a church that has deep roots in Alaska history, especially in the Bush, started last spring with allegations against Archimandrite Isidore of sexually inappropriate, drunken behaviour. Since then, rumours and accusations launched in letters and on Web sites, and internal bickering have marred the 25,000-member church, which has a significant number of Alaska Natives in its congregations. Archimandrite Isidore sought treatment for his alcohol problem, and the accusation of sexual misconduct was subsequently found to be unsubstantiated by the national church. Soraich’s critics accuse him of heavy-handed management of the church and disrespect for Native culture. The national church has asked him to step down while it investigates.
At the news conference, Soriach said the controversy has caused him personal pain. “I haven’t had much sleep”, he said. He said he is working to bridge the internal divisions in his diocese by meeting with priests and members to talk about the problems. “I’m not perfect”, he said. “I appear to be very intimidating, I think, from the standpoint of a lot of people. … And I’m very forceful. I suppose all of those things are looked at as attributes that are not positive sometimes”, he said. He is actually “very loving”, he said. He called the whole dispute with his superiors, “A big mistake. A big mistake”.
In New York, the man chosen to run the Alaska diocese while Soriach is investigated denied the land played any role in the national church’s actions. “We’ve had some church problems and some internal problems that have unfortunately caused some issues, but, no, we’re not necessarily hard-up for cash”, said Alexander Garklavs, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America. “That’s not the motive”. Garklavs said there were enough concerns expressed in phone calls and e-mails from Alaskans that the church did not need formal charges in order to launch an investigation. Garklavs said he plans to arrive in Alaska next week to take over the reins of the church.
13 March 2008
Anchorage Daily News
There one has it. The real reason why Syosset is sending one of its own to be satrap in Alaska is that they wish to get their hands on the diocesan property.
“We’ve had some church problems and some internal problems that have unfortunately caused some issues, but, no, we’re not necessarily hard-up for cash”. What utter bunkum. The central administration is living off the proceeds of a bank loan, donations are in the sewer, and parishes are refusing to pay national assessments. That puts “we’re not necessarily hard-up for cash” in a new light. How long do YOU think that Rev Garklav’s nose grew after telling that whopper?
Who is getting short-changed? Why, the native faithful, of course. Nikolai and Syosset are having a private feud, and the interests of the ordinary native faithful are trampled into the mud. This is unseemly. Nikolai did not help matters by showing disrespect to the native elders and by his callous disregard of the local church traditions that have grown up organically over the past two centuries.
Syosset has to meet the interest payments on its loan, and I believe that the recent posting of Fr John Reeves on the OCA News website that a third of the principal was already paid, and that the central administration was no longer in financial straits was as truthful as Rev Garklav’s statement (To be fair, Fr John was probably pressured to issue such a fable. You can’t blame him; he has a family to support.). Essentially, two dioceses, that of the Midwest and Alaska, are in open revolt, and the diocese of Western Pennsylvania is in effectual revolt (after the results of its diocesan assembly in Mingo Junction). One of the largest parishes in New England (Ansonia CT) has gone on record as withholding its national assessment, and there are even parishes in the Diocese of New York and Washington that are not paying their national dues.
“We’ve had some church problems and some internal problems that have unfortunately caused some issues, but, no, we’re not necessarily hard-up for cash”. That is certainly an opinion, don’t you think? If such were indeed so, then, Syosset would not need to send “one of its own” to Alaska. It could delegate the operations of the diocese to a trusted figure. Rest assured that there would be an honest accounting and an above-board day-to-day running of ordinary affairs. There would be a decent respect shown to the native elders and the time-honoured Alaskan Church traditions. It would also cost FAR less money to implement.
The question that all responsible and decent Orthodox Christians should be asking themselves is, “Why isn’t Syosset doing exactly just that?” Yes… why are they not doing that? A good question…