Contested church leader speaks out

Author: Angela Blanchard
Date Published: 03/08/2008
Publication: KTUU (Anchorage AK)
Bishop Nikolai Soraich (Jason Kohler/KTUU-TV)
Bishop Nikolai Soraich (Jason Kohler/KTUU-TV)
The Rt. Rev. doesn't completely contest the complaints of intimidation and abuse. (Jason Kohler/KTUU-TV)
The Rt. Rev. doesn't completely contest the complaints of intimidation and abuse. (Jason Kohler/KTUU-TV)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Once unanimously elected to lead the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, Bishop Nikolai Soraich has now been placed on a mandatory leave of absence by his superiors.

Rev. Michael Oleksa says the bishop has abused his power for years through what he calls verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse.

The Right Rev. claims this all came to his attention just two weeks ago and says it’s both surprising and hurtful.

The controversy has turned what’s supposed to be a community based on love and spirituality upside down.

“This is one of those times that we’re airing our own dirty laundry for the public and think that’s said,” The Right Rev. said.

On March 4 the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of America asked Bishop Nikolai to voluntarily and temporarily step down. Moreover, he was asked to leave Alaska after the Synod received letters of what they call “serious complaints” from “reputable priests and laity” in the church.

The Rt. Rev. doesn’t completely contest the complaints of intimidation and abuse.

“Yes, I think at times. More times at not I’m very intimidating just because of my position,” he said.

Rev. Oleksa, who was fired from teaching a class at the seminary in Kodiak shortly after speaking out against the Bishop, compares problems in the church to a marriage turned sour.

“Through emotional and spiritual and verbal abuse, one of the spouses has finally said this is not working, as one bishops told me it’s as if the wife finally picked up a frying pan and said I’ve had enough,” Oleksa said.

He says the order for the Rt. Rev. to step down is tragic, though a relief.

“I think the main gain is a sense of liberation, that people can express their points of view on any issue without feeling afraid,” Oleksa said.

The Rt. Rev. says he’s not going anywhere.

“This was my life, this is going to be the rest of my life,” he said.

But Bishop Nikolai says he will apologize.

“It doesn’t matter if I think I was harsh or not,” he said. “It matters if they think I was harsh, I need to apologize for that.”

The Rt. Rev. maintains there is no law requiring him to step down and so, he says, he is not technically disobeying his superiors.

Oleksa says the Bishop is no longer in power so the clergy could just stop taking orders from him.

Problems have peppered the church’s recent past.

The bishop before Nikolai was also suspended and then removed.

Nikolai also counted 19 incidents of alcohol and substance abuse within the clergy in the past six years.

As recently as July, there were allegations of sexual misconduct against the second-highest ranking church official, Father Isidore.

Nikolai says Isidore has been cleared of any wrongdoing. But Rev. Oleksa says many eye-witnesses were never interviewed during that investigation.

Contact Angela Blanchard at ablanchard@ktuu.com