Bishop Nikolai put on leave

Author: Ralph Gibbs
Date Published: 04/18/2008

A day after memorial services were held in Sitka to honor former Alaska diocese leader Archbishop Gregory Afonsky, Bishop Nikolai Soraich, the current diocese leader, agreed to a leave of absence.

In an official statement posted on the Orthodox Church in America Web site following a special meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops, church leader Metropolitan Herman said Bishop Nikolai agreed to the voluntary leave of absence after hearing testimony from the Right Rev. Tikhon Mollard, bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, and the Most Rev. Nathanial Popp, archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.

During the bishop’s absence, the metropolitan was placed in charge of the diocese administration and the Right Rev. Benjamin Peterson, Bishop of San Francisco and the West, will assist the church leader.

“(Bishop Benjamin) will probably be coming up shortly after (Orthodox) Easter,” said OCA chancellor Archpriest Alexander Garklavs. “The diocese administration issues will be shifting slowly but surely, if not already, from Bishop Nikolai and his immediate staff.

Orthodox Easter is Sunday.

In the official statement, the metropolitan instructed Alaskan clergy to continue to commemorate Bishop Nikolai at Divine Services and to only commemorate Bishop Benjamin if he is present at services and only after Bishop Nikolai.

In March, when Bishop Nikolai was placed on a mandatory leave of absence, the metropolitan ordered clergy not to commemorate the bishop, an order several clergy refused to follow.

Bishop Nikolai defied the order, which was later rescinded.

Reactions around Kodiak have been cautious and subdued.

“We trust the Synod of Bishops in Syosset (N.Y.) not to back down,” Rosabel Baldwin, a member of the church said. “It would be the greatest betrayal to the Alaska faithful and to all the other Orthodox faithful across the land who have to look to them for leadership.”

Church member Kathleen Carlson said with the passing of Bishop Gregory, it has been an emotional week.

“The feeling I have is cautious relief,” Carlson said. “We will be able to have a joyous Holy Week and (Easter). We hope the leave of absence becomes permanent at the synod meeting next month, so the healing and rebuilding of the Alaska Diocese may commence.”

On the Web site ocanews.org, where much of this battle of words between the bishop and his detractors has played out, there was little reaction to the news.

Comments are guarded because many are not sure what the latest development means.

Church analyst Mark Stokoe predicted this is the end of Bishop Nikolai’s service and that the leave of absence is akin to a CEO being forced to resign or being fired.

Fr. Alexander agreed with the analysis.

Bishop Nikolai’s status will be reviewed again at the regular synod meeting May 13-15, and it is expected the leave will become permanent.

Bishop Nikolai could not be reached for comment.

Mirror writer Ralph Gibbs can be reached via e-mail at rgibbs@kodiakdailymirror.com.