Russian Orthodox bishop’s leave reversed by church

Author: Angela Blanchard
Date Published: 03/27/2008
Publication: KTUU (Anchorage AK)
Bishop Nikolai (KTUU-TV)
Bishop Nikolai (KTUU-TV)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Bishop Nikolai has been restored to his perch as head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska three weeks after national church leadership ordered him to vacate the post.

Now, those who initially spoke out against Bishop Nikolai say they are afraid of retaliation.

Nikolai had already refused an order from the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of America that he vacate his position as bishop and leave the state during an official investigation.

Thursday, the bishop described it as “excellent news … absolutely the best possible news.”

The bishop’s leave of absence was lifted after he met with church officials in New York.

“I suffered for the last three weeks terribly in this process,” Nikolai said. “And I’m sure a lot of those other people have, too, but we can’t look for an ounce of flesh, we have to look for the love of Christ.”

Meanwhile, national church leaders say they’ll continue their probe into the allegations of abuse against Bishop Nikolai.

Troubles in the church surfaced during the Lenten period and continue during this holiest time in the Russian Orthodox calendar.

The Holy Synod reportedly received more than 100 letters alleging the bishop abuses his clergy and laity.

The Russian church’s second highest-ranking official, Father Isidore, had himself reportedly spoke out against Bishop Nikolai last summer.

Isidore now dismisses those remarks, claiming he was battling alcoholism at the time.

“I don’t think he’s a very vindictive man,” Isidore said. “The truth that people express drunk is much different than what’s real. You know, I may have expressed some dissatisfaction with a work situation that I’ve found often very difficult, not because the bishop puts a lot of pressure on me, but because there’s a lot more work in this diocese than the two of us have been able to do.”

But others who lodged complaints against the bishop say they fear repercussions — specifically being suspended or even defrocked for speaking out.

Father Daniel, Parish Priest of the Saint Tikhon of Moscow Mission in Anchorage, says many clergymen now feel they’ve been betrayed by the national leadership.

“I think that, yes, as a clergy are, were afraid, are afraid, and they will be afraid to be honest, to be truthful,” Father Daniel said. “A lot of the clergy have even expressed the idea that they’re not even sure what is the point of existence of the Holy Synod?”

The question remains whether Bishop Nikolai will be welcomed back as a loving leader or church tyrant.

Ultimately, clergy and parishioners may have to ask God for that answer, according to Father Daniel.

The Holy Synod said it is sending two bishops to Alaska next week to continue the investigation.

They will report back to the Synod at the next meeting in May.

Contact Angela Blanchard at ablanchard@ktuu.com