News From Around the OCA
POKROV NOTE: This article was posted as an update on the investigations into misconduct by Bishop Nikolai (Soraich) and Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain). That information can be found by scrolling down to “The Diocese of Alaska.”
• Syosset, New York
Information from the recent meetings of the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops continues to be posted on OCA.org. Most recently the Minutes of the Metropolitan Council meeting were published in record time (Read them here); as were summary minutes of the Synod of Bishops. (Read them here)
The summary minutes of the Synod meeting contain new information concerning the appeal of Robert Kondratick.
One should also note that ‘Syosset’ appears to have become a nomen non gratum even in ‘Syosset’. The summary minutes now refer to the site of the OCA headquarters as “The Westwood Estate, Oyster Bay Cove, New York”, not ‘Syosset’ as they have for the past 50 years.
• Meriden, Connecticut
The Diocese of New England, meeting at SS. Peter and Paul Church, Meriden, CT on October 26th – 27th, defeated a motion to begin withholding funds from the Central Church Administration by the slimmest of margins, 25-24. There was little chance the motion would ever be adopted as it had been decided by the Diocesan Council prior to the meeting that any motion to withhold would have to have a 60% majority to pass. This, coupled with the Bishop’s vocal opposition to the motion, guaranteed its defeat. What is surprising is knowing both, half the delegates still voted for the measure after a lively debate. A second motion, a vote of no confidence in Metropolitan Herman, was ruled out of order by Bishop Nikon, and not allowed to proceed.
The strategy of ruling motions out of order as was done in New England, using ‘confidentiality’ as a cover to stifle debate as is being proposed at the Metropolitan Council, of discussing placing restrictions on internet usage as was discussed at the Synod of Bishops, are all clear evidence that Oyster Bay Cove, aka “Syosset”, continues to seek ways to stop hemorrhaging credibility. Transparent and accountable organizations have no fear of member motions, operate in the sunshine, and do not live in perpetual fear of the next internet posting. Syosset clearly does.
• Bethesda MD
The national on-line petition asking Metropolitan Herman to resign organized by a working group from St. Mark’s parish in Bethesda MD, has now reached over 1,125 names from 39 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. You can read the petition here.
• The Diocese of Alaska
OCA investigator Fr. Alexey Karlgut has made it clear to witnesses that there is no investigation into Bishop Nikolai based on allegations of physical abuse made against the Bishop by his Chancellor and Rector of St. Herman’s Seminary, Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain).
The Archimandrite’s allegations, made in front of witnesses in Kodiak which he has since recanted in a letter posted on the internet, were contained in a letter of Mr. Paul Sidebottom, former Dean of Students at the Seminary, to the Metropolitan (Read that letter here) in which Sidebottom accused Archimandrite Isidore himself of sexual harassment.
There is, however, an ongoing investigation into Archimandrite Isidore’s behavior, and multiple witnesses have been interviewed. Mr. Sidebottom himself was interviewed in September in Wichita, in the presence of lawyers acting on behalf of Mr. Sidebottom, for several hours by Fr. Karlgut and OCA Chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs. Archimandrite Isidore had been previously interviewed by the two priests at the Guest House, outside Rochester MN, where the Archimandrite was undergoing treatment for alcoholism. (He is now reported to be living with his family pending resolution of the investigation.) Fr. Karlgut was also reported to have been seen in Kodiak last month.
The OCA has declined to offer any official word on the investigation, and has not even publicly admitted that an official investigation exists. Those interviewed were not told when, or even if, a decision regarding the investigation would be announced.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, Bishop Nikolai has continued to move against any who have dared to raise questions against his recent actions – such as sending Archimandrite Isidore to rehab, while keeping him as the Chancellor of the diocese despite his being under investigation for alledged sexual harassment, or for terminating the Acting Dean of Students, Paul Sidebottom, shortly after he reported his experience to Metropolitan Herman, etc. The most recent casualty has been a long-time member of the Board of Trustees of St. Herman’s, Mr. Ben Ardinger.
In a letter to OCANews.org Susan Ketz Arida, a former lecturer at the Seminary, explains Ardinger’s position at the Seminary:
“Following the resignation of Fr. Chad Hatfield as Dean of St. Herman’s Seminary and the dismissal of Paul Sidebottom as Associate Dean, Ben Ardinger, Kodiak resident since 1960 and St. Herman’s Board of Trustees member for nearly 20 years, became increasingly concerned for the school and the future of its students. Answers to questions regarding the health and stability of the seminary’s infrastructure were not forthcoming. This led Ben to share his concerns with other trustees by email with a copy to Bishop Nikolai. Bishop Nikolai responded in writing criticizing Ben for circumventing episcopal authority. In a follow-up letter, Ben responded by trying to clarify his actions, correct inaccuracies and express concern for the future of St. Herman’s. The response from Bishop Nikolai was to withdraw Ben’s appointment to the St Herman’s Board of Trustees, effective immediately.
At this time, it appears that other board members were not consulted or informed of this action.
Ben should be applauded for allowing this letter to be posted when it could have remained out of sight in an envelope.
Continuing to suppress what has been happening in Kodiak, Alaska, at St. Herman’s Seminary and at Holy Resurrection Cathedral is not acceptable.
Pretending that what has been happening there are appropriate consequences of ‘disobedience’ to hierarchical authority is no longer tolerable.
People in Kodiak have learned that missing weekday services, seeking answers to spiritual questions or trying to take responsibility for the life of the church in one’s community can lead to the denial of the Eucharist ( even after attending Vigil and going to confession the night before), to dismissal from a council or board after years of faithful service, to feeling forced to write letters of apology, and to being pushed to recant statements made in private and confidential correspondence. On top of all this, there are serious allegations of cover-ups, abuse and financial mismanagement, which remain unanswered.
For many years, Ben was a Kodiak fisherman, fishing in the Northwest Pacific in some of the most dangerous waters in the world. He survived when his nets were empty because he had faith, worked hard, was resourceful and never put his talents under a bushel. Certainly he was not alone in supporting the work of both the seminary and the parish in Kodiak, but it cannot be denied that together with his wife Hazel, his generosity has over the years helped St. Herman’s Seminary and Holy Resurrection Cathedral keep their doors open.”
The bishop’s letter dismissing Ardinger reads as follows:
Thank you for your letter dated September 11, 2007. I would like to take the time to address a few points you covered.
No one questions the previous work you have done for the Seminary. That was one of the reasons I personally asked you to step forward along with Roy Madsen to serve as trustees when I first came. However, as we both know, the Seminary was in terrible physical state when I arrived. Through the generous contribution of some of my longtime friends and benefactors, and the volunteers who responded to my appeals, renovations of all those buildings and the completion of the chapel were accomplished. These people gave of their time, materials and financial support. We are all witnesses to that dramatic transformation which has occurred on St. Herman Seminary campus. Glory be to God!
Scripturally, we are called to give our time and talents. We do this out of love and gratitude for our Holy Church and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ made on our behalf. This effort must be ongoing throughout our lifetime as we will surely be held accountable for what we have done and what we are doing in the present.
Recent events, which I enumerated in my previous letter and subsequent concerns, have forced me to reevaluate the complexion of and my needs in the Board of Trustees. I require Board members who are first and foremost faithful to the Church, through regular attendance and live the live of the Church in Her abundance. Secondly I need Trustees who support my vision of the Seminary and contribute their time and gifts to that goal. It troubled me that you did not attend the service at the Seminary last week on its feast day – a remarkable day commemorating All Saint of Alaska.
Of all the Trustees, you have advantage of living in Kodiak and being able to represent the board. This sign of commitment by a Board member strengthens the seminarians and faculty, particularly during these days of transition. Earlier in the year I understand that you walked out of the Cathedral over some dissatisfaction. This is not the way we resolve differences in our Church. We are required to work through our disagreements in a conciliatory manners and through the Church hierarchy, not according to our own desires.
Ben, I do appreciate what you have contributed to the Seminary, but feel we have reached appoint where it is no longer productive for you to serve on St. Herman Seminary Board of Trustees. You were a Diocesan representative, appointed by me and it is my prerogative to fill that position with someone who can be more supportive of the Church in Kodiak, of me as ruling bishop and the Seminary as an institution, regardless of any transtition, fluctutation in staff or finances. With regret, I am withdrawing your appointment, effective immediately.
Pray that Almighty God will have mercy on us as we struggle to submit ourselves to His Wlll and to His Glory, and not our own.
Love and Blessings,
In his letter the Bishop makes two accusations against Ardinger, which witnesses contest. The Bishop writes:
“Earlier in the year I understand that you walked out of the Cathedral over some dissatisfaction.This is not the way we resolve differences in our Church. We are required to work through our disagreements in a conciliatory manner and through the Church hierarchy, not according to our own desires.”
According to a witness who contacted OCANews.org on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the Bishop, the situation the Bishop refers to transpired as follows:
“1) I believe Bishop Nikolai is most likely referring to a parish council meeting held at a classroom at St. Herman’s Seminary. Clearly it was not “in the cathedral.” This meeting was this summer…. Fr. Innocent started out wanting to do away with our local charge accounts at the hardware/building supply stores in favor an a corporate credit card. Ben Ardinger questioned him re the interest rate, etc. and it became clear that he (Fr. Innocent) wanted to be able to charge with less accountability. It was a bad deal and it was nixed right off the bat. Ben immediately took the $1900 rectory remodeling bill and said he would pay it himself.
Then Fr. Innocent went on to say how wonderful the parish is doing, etc. Ben pointed out that the church looks full because Fr. Paisius and many of the students of the St. Innocent Academy (Bulgarian Patriarchate in America) are out of town, so their parishioners are attending Holy Resurrection Cathedral for services. Without St. Innocent’s people and St. Herman’s students and families, there are only between 4 and 18 parishioners attending on a regular basis. This contrasts with standing room only in the 1980’s.
Fr. Innocent finally admitted that “The old guard is drifting away, but they are being replaced.”
Ben then suggested Fr. Innocent get out in the community more. Fr. Innocent has no presence here in town. He (Fr. Innocent) was getting defensive and finally yelled at Ben, “Are you telling me I’m not doing my job?” To which Ben quietly said “Well, yes.” He immediately stood up and said “The meeting is over.” Ben calmly said, “Father, sit down and let’s discuss this in a reasonable manner” or words to that effect. Things then got very heated as some of the ladies present became upset because they had veered off “Father’s agenda.”One scolded and ridiculed Ben for daring to question Father. Finally, Ben said words such that he obviously was causing Fr. Innocent a lot of grief, so he would spare him any further grief, and he resigned from the Council. At that point he left the meeting.
I know of no time that Ben ‘walked out of the Cathedral’. Come to think of it, the Starosta walked straight out of the cathedral after Matushka Marilyn Kreta was refused Communion, but apparently that doesn’t concern Bishop Nikolai…”
The Bishop wrote:
“I require Board members who are first and foremost faithful to the Church, through regular attendance and live the life of the church in Her Abundance.”
The witness writes:
“He is stating that Ben does not attend church. However, 1) Ben lives on the island and at times cannot physically come to church and 2) now goes to church at St. Innocent’s Academy where a number of Holy Resurrection Cathedral refugees attend.
Holy Resurrection Cathedral is really now an arm of the seminary. Vigil has been changed from 6:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.,, which is really hard on families, but supposedly better for seminarians. The choir has only two parishioners now. All the rest are from the seminary. The choir director, Matushka Marilyn Kreta, was replaced by the seminary choir director and after he left, she stepped back in, but has since been barred again by Bishop Nikolai.”
In his dismissal letter Bishop Nikolai writes:
“…..it is my prerogative to fill that position with someone who can be more supportive of the Church in Kodiak, of me as ruling bishop and the Seminary as an institution, regardless of any transition, flucutation in staff or finances. ” As the above evidences, no one has been more supportive of the Church in Kodiak, or of the seminary over the past thirty years than Ben Ardinger. But that is no longer sufficient in Alaska. The sole, new criterion is unquestioning obedience to Bishop Nikolai, regardless of any “transitions, fluctuations, or financial questions”.
In an recent open letter to the Board of Trustees of St. Herman’s, Mike Rostad, a former instructor at the seminary and free-lance reporter deals with this very question.
“A simple question. For what reason was Ben Ardinger ‘dismissed’ from the St. Herman’s Seminary board of trustees?
He has served on that board longer than any of you, his former colleagues. When others made their entrances or exits, he was still there. He and his wife, Hazel, have supported the seminary in innumerable ways through finances, labor and encouragement.
You couldn’t find more vigorous advocates for the seminary in this community. I can’t tell you how many times Ben approached me about writing a story regarding positive developments at the seminary. He wanted Kodiak to know what a jewel we had here.
The Ardingers have looked out for the welfare of the students and professors. Year after year Ben employed seminarians in his business. He and Hazel invited them into their home. The Ardingers provided exquisite Christmas gifts to the seminary staff and students.
Hazel, along with Linda Madsen, prepared the bishop’s apartment, and the Ardingers arranged to get him a new dishwasher and proper desk.
You don’t even have to be Orthodox in this town to know that the Ardingers have been committed to the mission of St. Herman’s Seminary and Holy Resurrection Cathedral as well. In the late 1970’s Ben initiated the costly, time-consuming project of procuring bells for the Cathedral’s bell tower. He provided the new flooring for Holy Resurrection and installed it as well. He was a key player in constructing the seminary chapel. Not only did he help financially and administratively, but through countless hours of labor.
Now he gets ‘dismissed.’ Why? I have not talked to Ben since his dismissal. I didn’t even hear about the dismissal through him. But I feel compelled to speak up.
I suspect that Ben’s only ‘offense’ was protesting the manner in which Paul Sidebottom’s position was eliminated. He was contacted about his job status via email, pursuant to a vote by a very small executive committee of which Fr. Isidore was a member. It seems strange that Fr. Isidore would be involved since he is the subject of an incident alleging abuse and negligence occurring only a few weeks before Paul’s notification.
Ben seems to be getting the same treatment as Paul, Mark Harrison* and others who have dared speak up or question administrative actions.
A good bishop and administration would normally seek out people like Ben, Mark and Paul as examples of courage. Or is that not considered a virtue anymore?
I see more of a Chrysostom or an Athanasius in these men than those who go along with the status quo.
What kind of lesson is taught to the seminary students with the ‘dismissal’ and firing of those who dared to speak truth? I’m afraid we’re honoring ‘yes men’ who don’t question. Who wants a ‘yes man’ for a priest? Aren’t priests supposed to be lion-hearted spiritual leaders who defend and nourish their flocks as they travel that difficult path to the Kingdom of Heaven, seeking Truth, no matter what the consequences? Have yesterday’s virtues become today’s vices? I’m soberly reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah who declared: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
May God have mercy on us all.
The turmoil in Kodiak following Sidebottom’s departure clearly continues.
• Harrison was forced to resign as librarian of St. Herman’s Seminary this past Spring for having posted pseudonymous comments on ecclesiology on OCANews.org.