Bishop of Alaska, Chancellor Decry Internet, “Enemies”

Author: Mark Stokoe
Date Published: 11/17/2007

In separate addresses to the Alaskan Diocesan Assembly, held November 13-15 in Anchorage, Bishop Nikolai and his Chancellor, Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain), spoke more of themselves than of events in the Diocese. Railing against all those who have raised questions about their decisions or actions as “malefactors” and “enemies” who are “anti-Church”, both men offered explanations for the events of the last six months in what they complain is becoming an “anti-religious soap opera”. The Bishop cited his authority for his decisions – the Archimandrite blamed his alcoholism.

The Bishop Speaks

Bishop Nikolai began his speech by “acknowledging before you that the darkest days of my life were experienced this last summer.” The Bishop blamed “unfounded accusations made against me and my Chancellor and, indeed, the entire Diocese, distracted from the work that we are called to accomplish on behalf of God’s people in this corner of His Vineyard.”

In fact, the accusations were hardly “unfounded”. Paul Sidebottom’s allegations against the Chancellor have been corroborated by multiple witnesses. The allegations made against the Bishop, on the other hand, were made by the Chancellor himself. Fr. Isidore, in fact, has never stated he did not make the allegations reported by Paul Sidebottom, only that, having been drunk, he was not responsible for making them. To claim as the Bishop does that the allegations were “unfounded”, therefore, is simply incorrect in regards to the Chancellor, and misleading concerning those made against himself.

The Bishop continued: “Much of this unfortunate situation was played out on the internet. Unfortunately, the internet, which can be used to accomplish so much good in our working for the Kingdom, has become a forum for all types of personal attacks and anti-Church propaganda, and has attempted to make the Church’s life and struggles into some type of anti-religious soap opera.”

Once again, the Bishop misleads. The accurate reporting of serious allegations made against the Chancellor and the Bishop in multiple official letters, by various authors, and the posting of those full, unedited documents is hardly a “personal attack”. Nor did Paul Sidebottom, Fr. John Dunlop, or Ben Ardinger personally attack the Bishop, or Archimandrite Isidore in either of their letters. Finally, the reporting of an official Church investigation into the Chancellor’s activities can hardly be “anti-church propaganda” – unless of course one presupposes that any investigation into alleged misbehavior on the part of clergy is “anti-Church”.

The Bishop continued:

“There were certainly many persons, maybe even some of you, who read the harmful and hurtful things being said about me or Archimandrite Isidore or the God-loving clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska.”

Here, too, the Bishops misleads. In no instance in any of the above stories were “hurtful” or “harmful” things said about the “God-loving clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska”. The allegations were reported against two men only – the Bishop and his Chancellor. Technically, one could point out that both are clergy in the Diocese. But it is the Bishop himself who distinguishes Archimandrite Isidore and himself from the rest of the clergy in the sentence. So to suggest, that the “clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska” as a whole were in any way under question, is misleading. To identify himself as the Diocese, to conflate himself with all the clergy and faithful of Alaska is an old rhetorical trick.

He then makes an even more startling conflation: “Maybe some of you even chose to accept what you read as the truth. And the True Word of God was forgotten in the process”.

Dark Forces

If this is the case, it is no wonder, therefore, that he liken those who question him as followers of Satan. Or, in his own words:

“Fortunately the darkness of those days has passed and the light has again shown. Those very difficult days have passed but the workings of the evil one and those who choose to follow him still continue; the dark forces of pride, envy and injury are still at work in the world. What can we do in the face of such dark powers? We must be willing to gird ourselves in this battle and while we do so we must acknowledge that temptations will always be placed before us. The evil one will always be at work to destroy. And there are those who will choose for evil and there are those for whom sin is a conscious choice and way of life. But God’s mercy is greater than the power of evil and the doors of repentance are open to all.”

Having conflated unquestioned obedience to Bishop Nikolai with the “True Word of God”, and questioning of any of his actions (or his subordinates in this case) with “the work of dark powers”, any dissent becomes a sinful “conscious choice” for “evil”. In this context the Bishop’s oft-reported demands for written letters of apology expressing “repentance” from those with whom he has become angry becomes clearer. It is a visible sign that they are no longer chosing “sin”.

The Bishop continued:

“Our Orthodox Church in America is plagued with this, too, and Alaska continues to be the target of those malefactors wanting to destroy the good work which the Lord has blessed us to accomplish here instead of continuing to build for God’s glory.”

Few escape the Bishop’s charge of sinful actions. Apparently, all those who have criticized the OCA or its hierarchs during the scandal these past two years are “malefactors”. Even more surprising is the claim that the OCA scandal is really all about Alaska.

The Bishop makes this clearer as he continued:

“The Church in this land was established through the sacrifice and suffering and commitment of those who have gone before us and has even been sealed by the blood of martyrs through their martyric deaths. Today we are called to do the same. We are called to sacrifice, making holy what God has given us. We are also called to die to ourselves and to root out our pride, envy and self righteousness. I ask forgiveness and apologize that you have become victims in this battle against me and my very episcopate.”

In a few sentences the Bishop has distilled the scandal that “plagues” the OCA of which Alaska is a part, into a battle against Alaska, its clergy and faithful alone; and then redistilling it , yet again, as a “battle against me and my very episcopate.” Alaska may be the largest state in the Union – but the world is clearly getting smaller for Bishop Nikolai. It is “us” versus “them”; and “us” narrows daily. In the end, there is not even an “us”, it seems. There is only the Bishop. It is a very unique ecclesiology, and even more unique psychology.

Here I Stand

That being said, the Bishop apologizes for nothing he has done. He stands firm as he has in the past, confident in all his actions in the past two years: seizing the OCA’s Alaskan Lands, seizing the late Lydia Black’s archives for his own museum, publicly criticizing Metropolitan Herman for terminating the former Chancellor Robert Kondratick, firing Mark Harrison for writing on the internet, firing Paul Sidebottom after he made charges of sexual harassment against +Nikolai’s Chancellor, dismissing Ben Ardinger for questioning the Sidebottom dismissal, refusing, along among the Bishops, to sign Best Practices…. The list goes on.

So the Bishop continued:

“But I also ask you to understand that I will not change my direction in keeping this land Orthodox and in maintaining our Orthodox Faith, Life, and Traditions as we have received them from those who have gone before us. Neither will I compromise in dealing with those who are working against us in preserving our heritage and maintaining this vision. It was Almighty God, speaking through His Church who placed me here as your Spiritual Father and Archpastor. I take this very seriously and will until my last breath.

While to some I may be a symbol of controversy, to most I am the symbol of our faith as it stands true to how we are called to live it and make it more present, more visible to the world. Believe me when I say that I am very clear about Who is in charge of this church