At The Point Of No Return

Author: Subdeacon Mark Harrison
Date Published: 03/04/2008

Over the past few weeks the outcry from Alaska has been swelling, receiving attention not only within the Orthodox Church in America, but also in the secular press. Paul Sidebottom’s termination was but the first, albeit the most dramatic, of a series of actions that have all the characteristics of retaliatory strikes on the part of Bishop Nikolai. There is no credible evidence in the open to support a different interpretation of these acts. I am moved to express my support and admiration of all who have spoken out in recent days. Most especially, I cannot help but take pride in my former students. I find myself in awe of Fr Vasily Fisher’s most recently published letter in particular.

When Fr Chad Hatfield took the office of dean a sense of family began to develop at St Herman Seminary. There was a vision among us of what the seminary could become: an undergraduate seminary with true academic standing. Paul Sidebottom’s formal work at the seminary, aside from teaching and assisting the dean (both full time jobs of their own), was to coordinate efforts to secure accreditation. My own work in the library was one component of that plan. Backing us, we had a strong Board of Trustees, each of whom brought key expertise and was firmly committed to the same vision and confident in the ability of the faculty to make it happen. As a community we were also committed to the vision of all of the great saints who struggled to plant the Orthodox Faith in this land and its culture. I cannot count the number of times that Fr Chad spoke at lunch (our community meal) of the legacy of those great saints and of the opportunities that lay before us.

In my first year, an article appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror about the missionary efforts of a Baptist minister in town, who was travelling to villages, specifically targeting Orthodox. A phrase jumped out at me from his description of Orthodox in that article: “religion and ritual” in the context that the only thing the Orthodox Church provided was (dead) religion and (empty) ritual. I cited that article in my Homiletics class, and emphasised the importance of not making your opponent’s case for him. At present one of the specific complaints is that the services in the Diocese of Alaska, as a result of Bishop Nikolai