Voices from Russia

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Alaska Clergy HAVE Spoken


The Arrest of Christ

Ilya Repin



Again, to set the stage, I give a quote from the press.

The Morning After

There was a significant earthquake in Cook Inlet yesterday, halfway between Anchorage and Kodiak. But, it was the entire OCA that shook as the Synod of Bishops reversed its earlier decision to place the controversial Bishop of Alaska on a mandatory “Leave of Absence” while an investigation is conducted. The Synod decided to re-instate Bishop Nikolai Soraich and allow the Bishop to remain in the Diocese while new “inquiries” are made. Therefore, Fr Alexander Garklavs, the Chancellor of the OCA, was removed as the Diocesan Administrator.

In explaining their decision, the Bishops stated they were “aware of the concerns of clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska”, but recognised “the express desire of their diocesan hierarch to address these concerns and to take whatever action is necessary to restore peace”. Two members of the Synod, Archbishop Nathaniel Popp of the Romanian Archdiocese and Bishop Tikhon Mollard of Eastern Pennsylvania, will now “travel to Alaska, to inquire into these concerns” next Monday, and, then, report to the Synod at its next meeting in mid-May. No explanation was offered why the previously-stated need for an investigation into allegations of abuse is now only an ”inquiry into concerns”; nor why the previously-stated concerns of witness tampering and intimidation of witnesses by Bishop Nikolai are now somehow less valid.

Not Allowed to Report

Even more surprising though, was the Synod’s decision not to hear, or even receive the report from Fr Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor, who had spent the last week in Alaska interviewing priests and lay people concerning the allegations against the Bishop. Rev Garklavs confirmed the Synod’s action, in an e-mail message to the priests of Alaska late yesterday. Rev Garklavs wrote the following words.

Dear Alaskan Brothers,

As I said when I was with you, so, I repeat it again, “I’m humbled and honoured to be in your presence”. We’ve not seen nor been told of the deliberations of the Holy Synod earlier today, but their decision is tragic. That I had neither the opportunity to present my report nor to speak to them is unexplainable. The day was a hectic one, and the afternoon was spent on travel to Pennsylvania for Fr Eugene Vansuch’s funeral; after the service, I came back home. So, tonight, I’m overwhelmed with monumental feelings of anger, loss, and betrayal. And if I were to give in to my baser instincts, I’d probably write and say things that I’d later regret. So, I’ll prepare to go to sleep with the thought that, if the sun rises tomorrow, we’ll have another day.

But I did want to say something to you. The events today, unfortunate as they are, are still far from ending the Alaskan situation. As you know, two hierarchs from the Holy Synod will be coming to Alaska next week. I understand that they’ll be doing the same things as I was, listening to you and the terms of the agreement that Bishop Nikolai has given them is that you’ll be able to say to them anything that you said to me. It makes everything so much harder, since we all went through this painful process just a few days ago, but, nevertheless, the bishops will be there to hear you out. In fact, they’ll be travelling to villages that I wasn’t able to visit. So, I encourage you, brothers (and your fathers, and mothers, and sisters, and brothers), to take the opportunities to meet with the hierarchs, when they are nearby, and share with them what you shared with me, with the same dignity, honestly, faith, and piety that you had when we met.

I’m no longer the “Administrator” of the Diocese, and the few, but significant, changes that we did put into place will probably not be acceptable to Bishop Nikolai. But I’ll not abandon your cause nor forget your noble courage. I assure you that almost all of your clergy brothers here in the “lower 48” stand behind you completely. And, if necessary, we’ll come to Alaska on our own resources to stand next to you during your times of trial.

Your brother in Christ,

Alexander Garklavs


The Anchorage Daily News reported on its front page Bishop Nikolai’s reaction to the surprising turn of events:

Bishop Nikolai, who had refused to step down, issued a written statement praising the decision. “The action taken at the meeting reflects the desire of the Synod to approach problems in accordance with the established order of the Church”, the statement said. “(Rev Soraich) is confident that the process of reconciliation for all Orthodox faithful in Alaska will continue in the days and weeks ahead”. He also called on Orthodox people in Alaska to pray, “particularly those with whom they have disagreed over the past several weeks”.

(Read the full ADN story here)

The newspaper didn’t identify where or when the written statement was issued, and no statement has appeared on the Alaskan diocesan website, or the OCA website.



Fr Thomas Andrew, a priest in Alaska


(Bishop Nikolai’s) critics were stunned by the decision. One prominent Alaskan priest called the Synod’s decision, “devastating”. A prominent layman, who like the priest didn’t wish to be identified, was more graphic. He wrote, “The Holy Synod has given the Alaskan faithful the kiss of Judas”. As many Alaskan priests are subsistence gatherers and fishermen, they lack the financial resources to fly into Anchorage once a year, let alone twice in one month, the Synod agreed that the two inquiring bishops will fly to several outlying areas. However, it isn’t clear what these bishops will hear that Rev Garklavs didn’t. The priests are united in their continuing opposition to the Bishop and his alleged abusive behaviour. As one priest wrote to students at St Herman Seminary yesterday evening, “The clergy are going to write letters insisting that BN leave or they will leave the diocese or the priesthood entirely. That is where we stand”.

So What Happened?

Initial reports from the Synod meeting indicate that Bishop Nikolai made good on his public threats to challenge the “canonicity” of the process against him; as well as his intention to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate should the Synod proceed in its efforts. In short, Nikolai gained on technical grounds, while the Metropolitan failed to keep a consensus for his previous strategy. Archbishops Nathaniel Popp and Dmitri Royster favoured Nikolai’s assertions that only “Bishops should investigate Bishops”, despite objections from Archbishop Job Osacky and Bishop Benjamin Peterson. In the absence of the facts from Rev Garklavs’ report (for unexplained reasons, the Metropolitan decided before the meeting not to allow the report to be presented) no one had the energy or vision to address the growing leadership vacuum. A compromise favouring Nikolai subsequently emerged. In the end, the decision resolved nothing besides guaranteeing the OCA yet another Pascha, the third in a row, in turmoil.

Meeting Cancelled

In related OCA news, the Special Investigative Committee’s (SIC) proposed interviews with Metropolitans Herman Swaiko and Feodosy Lazor, as well as Archimandrite Zacchaeus Wood in Moscow, previously scheduled for today and tomorrow, in Ellwood City PA have been postponed due to services for the late Fr Eugene Vansuch. The former Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards Director passed away unexpectedly earlier this week.

Mark Stokoe

Orthodox Christians for Accountability

28 March 2008



Why would two bishops travel to Alaska when a report has already been prepared by Rev Garklavs? The clergy in Alaska spoke openly and clearly to this cleric, and the situation has not changed one whit. The added expense alone for no added result is imprudent, at best, and, at worst, a shocking disregard for the scanty resources available to the OCA at present. “Only bishops can investigate bishops”. Well, let’s look for analogous recent cases. Ah, yes… the Sourozh imbroglio in England in 2006, which was successfully resolved by the MP. The investigative board consisted of four individuals, two bishops and two archpriests. Therefore, this assertion falls; it’s not backed by recent precedent. Note well that Nathaniel and Dmitri didn’t back up their claim with examples or canonical citations. The Alaska clergy are adamant. If Nikolai isn’t removed, and the elevation of Terenty Dushkin to minor orders is, indeed, against not only canonical legislation, but, also the ancient tradition and practise of our Church, they’ll “leave the diocese or the priesthood entirely”. I’d say the following to those who insist that the OCA is a viable body (a VERY open question at this juncture). If the Alaska priests threaten to leave the diocese if Nikolai isn’t removed, this means that they’ve already discussed and agreed upon a plan of action amongst themselves and the native elders. That’s the way of it in native Alaskan cultures. In other words, they know where they’ll go if they leave the OCA. If the Alaska clergy and parishes defect, it’s some 28 percent of the non-Romanian OCA.

You see, there are three separate bodies in the OCA. To make sense of what I’m about to say, we must look at what statistics are available. The Romanian diocese overlaps all other territorial dioceses in the OCA. It has some 72 parishes in the US (plus 28 in Canada), and Professor Krindatch estimated that this body has some 27,000 faithful in the US, which gives it parishes that are larger than the OCA average (375 faithful per parish, which is 243 percent of the “average” OCA parish in the “lower 48”). It’s estimated that there are 25,000 faithful and 93 parishes in the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska (268 faithful per parish, which is 174 percent of the OCA average). There are 408 parishes and some 63,000 faithful in the remainder of the OCA in the US (154 faithful per parish) (plus 85 parishes in Canada, 9 in Mexico, and 3 in Australia (!)). Note well that the non-Romanian/Alaskan OCA average is below the minimum required to support and compensate a priest properly.

I’m sorry to state that more complete figures aren’t available because the OCA has never issued accurate stats ever since its founding. Indeed, to inflate the number of parishes in its reports to the NCC, the OCA adds the foreign parishes to those in the US, when it should only be reporting the former. That’s to say, it reports 670 parishes when it should be reporting 573… something to think about. One can see from these figures that the defection of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska would doom the Syosset central administration. The diocese in Canada uses a legal loophole that ensures that funds collected in Canada stay in that country, so, Syosset cannot tap that source for funds. Therefore, the continual slaps at the Alaska native clergy are puzzling in the extreme. If this situation is mishandled, it dooms the body. Why is the OCA Holy Synod acting in such a dysfunctional manner, a manner that’ll destroy their organisation if they persist in it?


The Farewell to America of Patriarch St Tikhon

Filipp Moskvitin



The people and clergy of Alaska have spoken… Syosset had best listen, or find itself with a VERY nasty surprise. To see the Lent profaned in such a manner… it makes me weep in sadness and frustration. Pray for the clergy, faithful, and elders of Alaska. They need that, at the least. Keep that as a Lenten discipline… these people are walking the Way of the Cross and need our support.

Vara Drezhlo

Friday 28 March 2008


Video. Requiescat in Pace, Vladyki Laurus. Music by Lienas (Boston Camerata)



Images of the funeral of Metropolitan Laurus Škurla are matched with theLamentatio of Don Juan de Lienas (17th century Spanish). There are those who oppose such a juxtaposition or the use of Latin by Orthodox Christians… I say, this is an artistic work in honour of Vladyki, it is not meant to be used in Church, so, I have freedom to create, so long as I stay within the bounds of good taste. I stood in the presence of sanctity last Friday. I’ve never experienced the like before, nor shall I again, I believe. May I keep this memory fresh to the end of my days.


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