Bishop may step down permanently, official says

Author: Alex DeMarban
Date Published: 04/25/2008

A Russian Orthodox official said on Monday, April 21, that Bishop Nikolai Soraich, the embattled head of the Alaska diocese, will likely step down.

”I think, ultimately, he’ll probably be leaving,” said Diocese Chancellor Archimandrite Isidore, the second-highest ranking official in Alaska. ”It’s not set in stone yet.”

National church leaders recently held hearings in Alaska to investigate claims from priests and parishioners that Soraich is overbearing, disrespectful of Alaska Native culture and bad for the church.

The Orthodox Church in America announced on Thursday, April 17, that Soraich would take a temporary and voluntary leave of absence. The announcement followed a meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops, which had gathered to discuss the allegations at church headquarters in Syosset, N.Y.

The synod, the church’s governing body, plans to revisit the issue at its May meeting.

The bishop is weighing whether he should stay in Alaska or leave and work in another diocese, because priests made painful allegations during the hearings, Isidore said.

”It’s a difficult situation when people that you believe loved you very much and who you felt you loved very much turn on you in such a way that is irreparable,” Isidore said.

Asked why he thought the bishop would step down, Isidore responded, ”I would have a lot of trouble in his position being able to reconcile the hurt. Really horrid things have been said to him. Slanderous things.”

The bishop will announce his decision after Russian Orthodox Easter on Sunday, April 27.

Soraich has not returned calls requesting an interview. Isidore said he’s not giving them.

Isidore, who followed Nikolai to Alaska in 2001, did not participate in the hearings. But Soraich and others have told him about some of the accusations, Isidore said.

”People are saying they thought the bishop had come to Alaska to take all the money and be reassigned somewhere else, which is of course a lie,” Isidore said. ”The diocese will be left in a better state than it was seven years ago.”

Alex DeMarban can be reached at (907) 348-2444 or (800) 770-9830, ext. 444.