Garklavs Named Administrator For Alaska
Fr. Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor, was announced as Administrator of the Alaskan Diocese this afternoon by Metropolitan Herman. In the letter of appointment dated Saturday, March 8th, the Metropolitan “released” Fr. Eugene Vansuch from the position he had appointed him the day before, and named Fr. Garklavs in his place. Fr. Garklavs was “authorized on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America to negotiate and execute all normal matters in the day to day administration of the Diocese.” He is also “charged with the duty of convoking and presiding at all meetings of the `Diocesan Administration’ and Diocesan convocations.”
No mention was made of how Fr. Alexander would assume his new duties, given his responsibilities in New York; or when, or if, he would be travelling to Alaska.
Not To Be Commemorated
In addition, the Metropolitan’s letter reiterated that Bishop Nikolai has been placed on a mandatory leave of absence and is to leave the diocese. This letter spells out that the Bishop is “released” from all responsibilities of diocesan administration, as well as St. Herman’s Seminary. The Metropolitan ordered that Bishop Nikolai is no longer to be commemorated during services, but that only the name of the Primate, that is, Metropolitan Herman, is to be “elevated”.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, Bishop Nikolai did not serve at the Eklutna chapel yesterday, as he had told the Anchorage media he would. He served and preached in the Anchorage cathedral instead. According to witnesses, the Bishop made no public reference to being instructed to leave the diocese by the Synod of Bishops; or of being placed on a mandatory Leave of Absence while being investigated.
A controversial insert in the parish bulletin of Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak, ostensibly regarding “..the current conflicting directives being issues by the Holy Synod of Bishop of the Orthodox Church and America and His Grace, Bishop Nikolai….” but mainly setting forth +Nikolai’s perspective on matters, was widely disseminated throughout the Diocese yesterday by both supporters and critics of the embattled Bishop. The insert prompted an immediate rebuttal in the form of an essay by Fr. Michael Oleksa, which was published on the Orthodox Forum earlier today.
The controversial insert restates the points made in +Nikolai’s open letter and timeline, and his subsequent letter of refusal to the Metropolitan, published last Friday by the OCA. The insert reads:
“ANNOUNCEMENT CONCERNING THE DIOCESE OF ALASKA
Concerning the current conflicting directives being issued by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America and His Grace Bishop NIKOLAI, the following is offered to help us understand the current conflict and our response to it. Throughout history the Church has dealt with such conflicts which, through prayer and fasting, can help to purify us.
First: and foremost we must PRAY. As the local Body of Christ we pray that the Holy Spirit would be present and direct the decisions made by those in authority over is. I Timothy 2:1-4
Second: we must study the HOLY SCRIPTURES to help us through the current crisis:
I Corinthians 14:40~on things being ‘done decently and in proper order’
Matthew 18:15-17~on how to address a grievance with another
I Timothy 5:19-22~on how to address a grievance with an elder
Galatians 5:22-6:1~on the proper way to restore one fallen in sin
Matthew 5:3-12; 18:21-22~on forgiveness and not retaliating towards those who persecute us
Third: We need to be aware of some of the CANONS of our Holy Church that apply to this situation and have been cited by our Hierarchs:
Canon 74: which cites the requirement that a bishop be summoned 3 times to his synod to answer charges against him
Canon 34: which describes the authority of a Metropolitan with his synod
Canon 6: which forbids a committee of lower clergy to investigate a bishop
Canon 2: which forbids diocesan bishops from intruding, liturgically serving without a blessing or meddling in the affairs of another diocese
(Open Letter from His Grace & Timeline)
(Orthodox Church in America )
(Anchorage TV interview)”
It is important to state that no charges have been brought against Bishop Nikolai. Archbishop Seraphim in his letter simply notes that serious allegations have been made which must be, and presumably will be, looked into.
Second, as a preliminary step to the proposed investigation, the Alaskan Bishop is ordered to take a leave of absence and be gone from his diocese while said investigation is taking place. The relevant authority referred to here is the OCA Statute — the 34th canon cited by the Bishop earlier and the insert later, is what gives the OCA statute its ‘teeth’ by requiring a bishop to acknowledge the authority of his senior.
The 74th Canon is relevant, at this stage, only as the catalyst which requires the Holy Synod to act by conducting an investigation into the allegations. A Leave of Absence is not a punishment; it is a preliminary step. Thus the Bishop’s detailed discussion of the 74th Apostolic Canon is, at this point, irrelevant. It assumes that the nature of the allegations and the character of the witnesses have been established, and there are definite charges which he must answer. This has not been done yet, so his discussion is moot. It will be made relevant if it is found that formal charges must be made to which +Nikolai must answer…
The letter of Archbishop Seraphim says that “an administrator will be appointed” and that, “A committee will be appointed to investigate the complaints and accusations.” Nowhere does it state or imply the composition of the Committee. So, where does the Bishop get the information that ” …a committee including a layperson as well as lower clergy as members…” will be appointed? Not, from the published documents of the OCA. Obviously the Bishop either has other information than the published letter, or he is attempting to construct a ‘straw man’ — which is strongly implied by his attempt to take refuge with the 6th canon of the Second Ecumenical Council.
The Bishop’s explanation of Canon 6 is factually false. Specifically, the 6th canon does not forbid a committee of non-bishops from investigating a Bishop on personal charges as the Bishop suggests. But it bears repeating that no one has even suggested a committee of non-Bishops will be investigating….
It would be only after the report of the as-yet-unnamed Committee that the Synod would be able to proceed. Depending on the Committee findings, it could either dismiss the matter, or summon the Bishop to a canonical trial to answer charges.
In the meantime the OCA Statutes cited give the Synod complete authority to impose a leave of absence.
Written “in response to the irrelevant biblical and canonical texts published in the Kodiak parish bulletin”, Fr. Michael Oleksa expressed in an accompaning email the hope that his “remarks help clarify rather than confuse the issues.” He takes a much wider view of the issue. Fr. Michael writes:
“One way to defend ones self in time of conflict is to change the subject. That has been the pattern in the recent controversy over the conduct and discipline of His Grace Bishop NIKOLAI.
The series of Scriptural quotations and canonical references published, for example, in the Kodiak parish bulletin on March 9, do not relate to the actual situation in Alaska, and provide no authentic defense for His Grace.
The Biblical verses mandate that two Christians should meet privately to discuss any problems between them, then invite others to help ,arbitrate the dispute and finally to bring the issues before the Church. This assumes that the relationship between the two Christians is equal, that they can speak ‘man to man’ and that neither has the power to harm the other for daring to disagree or oppose the other. Everyone who has disagreed with Bishop NIKOLAI over the years knows that expressing his opinion invited ridicule, sarcasm and/or a verbal reprimand, even threat of punishment.
The present controversy erupted because a deacon informed His Grace that his wife was a free woman, not subject to the bishop’s ‘obedience’. The deacon was suspended.
Another priest was suspended for a month for reminding the bishop that the world does not revolve around him. No one has dared to directly disagree with or present any personal grievance to His Grace without great risk.
The issues are, for the most part, not personal at all. They are matters of principle. How does the Bishop relate to his Diocese, to his people? In what direction is the bishop guiding the Church? How are decisions made? Whose opinion or ideas matter? Is the conciliar nature of the Church, as embodied in the constitutional framework of the Orthodox Church in America still in force in Alaska? These are not questions of the same sort as why did you sell me a lame horse, or why do you allow your sheep to graze in my pasture the sort of questions that the Biblical texts address. The clergy and laity who have appealed to the Holy Synod to intervene in Alaska did so because they had no confidence they could bring these issues to the bishop, privately or publicly. They understood they risked retaliation even for raising them individually, and did so with great anxiety and even fear. They displayed real courage for speaking out at all.
The canonical texts do not apply in this case either. First, we should define ‘canon’ and ‘canonical’ in an Orthodox context. A canon is a ‘norm’, like the official measure of an inch, meter, or kilogram. Some authority establishes the standard and everyone else then uses it and refers to it, so that different items or quantities can be measured and compared. A canon is a statement of what is normal, what is expected, what should be uniformly observed.
But unlike Roman Catholic ‘canon law’ Orthodox canons are not hypothetical. The Church never created ‘laws’ but issued decisions when the ‘norm’ was not clear. In other words, in Orthodox history, the Councils and Holy Fathers did not write legislation, they issued decisions in particular cases, and these decisions have set precedents for future cases. The Church has not asked Herself ‘What if such and such happens’ and decided hypothetical cases. Rather, she has chosen to act like a Court and issued decisions that then became normative for future, similar situations. That is why the canons often seem repetitive or in places contradictory. To understand each ruling, one needs to review the actual case, just as to understand each Supreme Court decision, one needs to read the legal briefs and arguments, the transcript of the trial, to fully understand the issues at stake.
Not all possible issues have been decided. There are not canons covering every foreseeable problem. The ‘canon’ is what is ‘normal’, what has been understood by the Church as its usual, everyday practice, which often has not been ‘legislated’, until a particular problem arose. And the Holy Synod of each self-governing Church is responsible for defining what is ‘normal’ within its territory.
In the current situation, a group of clergy and laity have appealed to the Holy Synod to intervene in the Diocese of Alaska because so many of them feel ill-treated and abused by their ruling bishop. They are not accusing him of heresy or immorality. There are canons governing such misconduct and the procedures are published now, but the bishop and his supporters to provide a basis for his defying the decisions of the Holy Synod. He is challenging their decision because they have not followed the canonical decrees governing these types of cases.
The Holy Synod is taking a wider view. The norm, they are implying, is that a bishop loves his Diocese and his people, and is ‘married’ to them, as a husband to a wife. It is assumed that the ‘norm’ is a mutually supportive and loving relationship. This should be, more or less, assumed between a pastor and his flock, as well as between a bishop and his diocese. As in the wedding epistle, the husband should love the wife ‘as his own body’ and be ready to sacrifice himself for Her. This is the normal and expected bond between them. This is the ‘canon’.
When, in a marriage, the relationship becomes abusive, the Church allows the partners to separate rather than suffer. In fact, in certain pastoral situations, the priest sometimes suggests such a separation for the benefit of both parties. This need not be required only when one partner resorts to violence or criminal misconduct. To claim that no crime has been committed and therefore the relationship is ‘normal’ would be a distortion of the facts. Citing the canons that refer to this sort of behavior only confuses the issues. The Diocese is pleading for intervention and redress because of the years she has suffered verbal, emotional and spiritual harm, widespread abuse, from a ‘spouse’, who she believes, has not supported, embraced, or loved her, but has tried to re-form and re-direct her, to force her to become something she has never been and cannot be.
If we understand the Holy Synod’s intervention in Alaska in this way, the Synod has acted totally appropriately, for the salvation of all parties. The Synod is enforcing a ‘norm’ a canon of appropriate behavior and the expected and universal relationship which the Church views as ‘normal’. That is what the ‘canons’ are meant to define and established, and that is what the Holy Synod is doing. Their action is not ‘uncanonical’ by virtue of ignoring certain procedures, which in this case do not, in fact apply. That is only a way of deflecting attention and confusing the issue. Just as the published ‘Timeline’ addresses only the allegations against Father Isidore and not the issues at hand, so also the biblical texts and the canonical references have nothing to do what the reasons supporting the intervention of the Holy Synod in the affairs if the Diocese of Alaska. The Holy Synod is not only following the spirit of the canonical tradition, but defining and enforcing it, as the ‘normal way’ a Church and a Diocese, a bishop or pastor and their flocks, should relate to one another, in Truth and in Love.”