Alaska diocese struggle draws to a close as Bishop Nikolai steps down

Author: Ralph Gibbs
Date Published: 05/05/2008

When this week comes to a close, so too will another chapter in the history of the Orthodox Church in America Alaska diocese.

In a May 1 interview with KTUU television in Anchorage last week, Bishop Nikolai Soraich said he would step down as diocese leader by the end of this week.

“I’m going to be leaving Alaska and taking some time to visit family and friends whom I’ve neglected for the last seven years since I’ve been in Alaska,” the bishop said.

The statement confirmed what many said after an April 17 meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops in which Bishop Nikolai opted for a voluntary leave of absence.

Church leader Metropolitan Herman said Bishop Nikolai agreed to a voluntary leave of absence after hearing testimony from the Right Rev. Tikhon Mollard, bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, and the Most Rev. Nathaniel Popp, archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.

Many, including Mark Stokoe, who runs Web site where much of this battle was revealed, speculated Bishop Nikolai was given a choice, either accept a voluntary leave of absence or be suspended.

OCA chancellor Archpriest Alexander Garklavs agreed with the analysis.

“I would say that is an accurate statement,” Fr. Alexander said.

From savior

Bishop Nikolai wasn’t always controversial.

The North Star, an official publication of the Alaska diocese, said when Bishop Nikolai arrived in Anchorage in 2001, he did so “amidst great fanfare.”

It was hoped by clergy and parishioners that he would turn the diocese around from the mismanagement of the previous diocese leader, Bishop Innocent.

Bishop Nikolai wrote about that mismanagement in the summer of 2006 addition of The North Star.

“Five years ago, the diocese was in a troubled state,” he said. “There was disorganization, factionalism and low morale. The seeds of dissension were everywhere. I saw men who had grown up together, gone to seminary and even married into one another’s families, estranged.”

Bishop Nikolai said he also discovered that Bishop Innocent had petitioned the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia to receive him into their jurisdiction.

“The suspended bishop had promised that half the parishes would join immediately and within a year the remainder would follow,” Bishop Nikolai said.

When Bishop Nikolai first arrived, he did so as an interim leader. He formed his opinion on the state of Alaska during his tour and shared that view in the same issue of the The North Star.

“I had been in Alaska for nearly four months