OCA head, bishops to meet over torn Alaska diocese

Author: Ralph Gibbs
Date Published: 03/03/2008

Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, said Friday OCA leader Metropolitan Herman will meet with his bishops early this week to discuss the current situation with the Alaska diocese, run by Archbishop Nikolai Soraich. The church is headquartered in Syosset, N.Y.

“We’re concerned and take seriously the communication that we’ve received and a response will be forthcoming from the church,” Garklavs said. “Like in any organization or institution, there’s certain protocols and procedures that are followed. That’s what will be done.”

The metropolitan and his bishops will meet to discuss a flood of e-mails sent by clergy throughout Alaska to Herman complaining about Bishop Nikolai.

“We are unhappy about all that has been brought to light, the controversies of last year and the unrest of the Church in Alaska,” stated one e-mail signed by seven Yup’ik clergy of the Kuskokwim Deanery in Southwest Alaska and posted on the Web site ocanews.org. “To serve in fear, rather than to serve in faith and love is not Orthodox.”

The Rev. Victor Nick of Mountain Village wrote that village Elders are afraid of Bishop Nikolai and that wherever he goes they scatter.

“The clergy and their wives and children are trembling in fear,” he wrote.

On Feb. 23, church leaders issued a statement concerning the torrent of letters and e-mails they are receiving.

“There are indications that serious issues exist that may need to be addressed,” the statement reads. “His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman is aware of the situation and has been in touch with His Grace Bishop Nikolai and members of the Holy Synod.”

Bishop Nikolai said he has not been asked to step down.

Bishop Nikolai also said that he has never mentally or physically abused any of his clergy as alleged by some.

“There’s never been any abuse in that regard,” Bishop Nikolai said. “Yes, I’m tough. There’s no question I’m strict. No question about that. There’s an order in the church that needs to be followed and I do impose those rules how the church is set up and the clergy are compelled to follow those things.”

He said none of the letters and e-mails come explicitly state there has been abuse.

“If there was they would have written it in there; they would have said something,” Bishop Nikolai said.

Asked why there has seemingly been a church insurrection led by a host of clergy, he compared them to rebellious teenagers.

“I liken this to a family where there’s an adolescent acting out,” Bishop Nikolai said. “I think when you were an adolescent, like I was, we at one point decided our parents are stupid, they didn’t know anything, we knew much more and we could do it better. And there’s a rebellious part of that too, I suppose.”

Bishop Nikolai denied a charge that said he told Alaskan Natives to only speak English.

“English is not my native language either,” he said. “I’ve encouraged (them to speak their Native languages) in the services.”

To help address some of the concerns, Bishop Nikolai said that he has called a meeting of the OCA clergy in Anchorage.

“I called the meeting so they could come to Anchorage and discuss their concerns and air their differences with neutral parties present,” he said. “It’s an open discussion. I think it can be a real healing process.”

Mirror writer Ralph Gibbs can be reached by e-mail at rgibbs@kodiakdailymirror.com.