Embattled bishop refuses to step down

Author: Angela Blanchard
Date Published: 03/12/2008
Publication: KTUU (Anchorage AK)
Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska (Rich Jordan/KTUU-TV)
Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska (Rich Jordan/KTUU-TV)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, says he will not follow orders from national church leaders to step down.

He is also accusing national leaders of disregarding scripture and church law.

The order came down last Friday and specifically instructed the bishop to take a mandatory leave of absence — and leave the state — while an official investigation was conducted.

Hundreds of letters had been written to leaders of the Orthodox Church of America accusing Bishop Nikolai of abusing his power. Letters from parishioners and priests also claimed the bishop intimidated others and was disrespectful of Alaska Native culture.

But in a press conference Wednesday the bishop said, simply, that he is going nowhere.

He also said “he has not slept well” since hearing the allegations against him, which he learned of just three weeks ago, he says.

“It’s very difficult to have such criticisms made of you when you feel that you have given your life to the best of your abilities to do what God has called you to do,” he said.

Now the bishop faces a different calling: step down. Other bishops representing the Orthodox Church’s American following voted unanimously that he take a mandatory leave of absence from his post.

However, Bishop Nikolai cites the church’s orthodoxy in his refusal to leave. He claims that according to church law, no one can make him leave without first filing formal charges against him.

“I’m not perfect and I’m willing to make any kind of changes that are necessary for the faithful, but I can’t compromise who I am as a bishop and I can’t compromise the oath that I took in following the rules of the church,” he said.

The national church says the Holy Synod reserves the right to remove him from power — and they have, temporarily.

“He technically has no authority over any of the clergy or parishes of the diocese as of now,” said the Rev. Alexander Garklavs, chancellor of Orthodox Church in America.

Holy Synod leaders claim to have received letters from across the Alaska Diocese complaining the bishop was too harsh in disciplining clergy and laity in the church.

Parishioner James Nick of Kwethluk says he’s not surprised that people finally reacted to how the bishop handled the church.

“There was really a big rule for kids not being quiet, or scolding the parents for crying too much or running around to much, so stuff like that gave us a feeling of insecurity or fear to people’s minds,” he said.

The bishop acknowledges at times he can be harsh.

“I brought order and implemented rules on services on when they should serve, and how they should serve,” Nikolai said.

But he says he enforced the rules then and he’ll do it now, by remaining in Alaska, he says, “for the good of the church.”

The Rev. Alexander Garklavs has been appointed administrator of the Alaska Diocese. He says he plans to arrive in Alaska next week.

Meanwhile, Garklavs says a committee will be investigating the complaints against Nikolai.

Apparently Nikolai’s actions were already affecting the faith of many. The parish of Napaskiak had already resolved not to allow the bishop back in the church before he was ordered to step down.

However, the Holy Synod is asking people to continue going to church and to pray as usual.

Contact Angela Blanchard at ablanchard@ktuu.com