Alaska Reps Resign
From Metropolitan Council,
As Clergy Protest Grows
In a letter to OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain) and Ms. Mina Jacobs have resigned from the Metropolitan Council. More Alaskan native clergy published letters asking the Synod of Bishops for assistance, including Fr. Phillip Alexie, of the Presentation of the Theotokos parish in Nunapichuk, a village in the Kuskokwim River region of western Alaska.
Fr. Alexie's Letter
Following the usual opening, Fr. Alexie writes:
"To begin this letter I want to introduce myself, I am Archpriest Phillip Alexie, I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence Archbishop Gregory (Afonsky) on August 1977. I am also given the task of Dean for the Bethel Deanery on the Kuskokwim river which consists of six Priests. This month we Orthodox Christians all over the country received the Issue 'The Orthodox Church', I want to thank and commend Father Vladimir Berzonsky for his article: "Attributes of Priesthood". He writes: 'The attributes are: courage, power, love and sound mind; St. Paul reminds us everyday as he did his spiritual son Timothy, reminding him of 'who he is by Ordination and the gifts imparted to him when he had been set apart for the ministry of Christ.'
When I was a child, I remember very much how the whole village greeted the Bishop throwing flowers on his path to the church singing church hymns. I remember the whole village in church all of them singing, most of them by heart. My mother would take my hands showing me the proper way to receive a blessing from the Bishop. "Jesus is blessing you", she would whisper in my ear.
I remember in my days in seminary wondering and confused what my calling is. My mother instructed me to always listen and obey the leaders of the church, Bishops and Priests not questioning them, She would say, "God speaks to us through his leaders in church, trust them to lead us to the Kingdom of God" so being taught this way it was very hard to begin this letter.
When his Grace Bishop Nikolai first came to Alaska we were joyous and it seemed we were united but it is not so now, as it is getting worse. I am always grateful for the good things he has helped us with. And I always thank from my heart the teachers personally who came from the lower 48 to teach at the Seminary which is very very important to all of us.
During the past year there have been many Orthodox Faithful who have come forward with their concerns for our church in Alaska. And it will get worse if we just sit and watch. The Priests and Faithful are discouraged and hurt of how Bishop Nikolai treats the people, the leaders of the church, the elders and the children. Many of our faithful have computers. Just recently, I was told, which is very saddening to hear, that people of other faiths and even our own people talk about what they read on Internet. Like a soap opera exciting to hear, what will develop tomorrow.
In November at our Annual Diocesan Assembly we were discouraged to hear the reports of both Bishop Nikolai and Archimandrite Isidore/Chancellor, of the situations that happened this past summer. Many of us knew that they both did not tell the truth.
As we enter the season of Preparation to Great Lent, the church in its Great Wisdom calls each one of us to ask ourselves where we are in life. Teaching us how we will enter the Kingdom of God, when we hear the Gospel for the Sunday of the Last Judgement. We just heard the story of the Publican and Pharisee, where we are taught the difference between the two people, Humility and Arrogance. But aren't we also taught to learn also what they had in common?
Finally, I write this letter not in hatred but with Love. Hoping you understand my poor English, but I do not want it as an excuse.
I come before you humbly, unworthy as I am, and ask for your Forgiveness. You who are called to be Shepherds and Guardians of the 'One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church'. Asking for your Holy Prayers and Archpastoral blessings, I remain,
Your humble Servant,
Archpriest Phillip Alexie
Interestingly, it was Fr. Alexie who was cited by name by Ms. Jacobs in her letter to the Metropolitan Council earlier this week (read that letter here) as praising the Bishop; a point which Fr. Alexie disputes. In a letter to the Metropolitan Council sent in response to Ms. Jacob's claims, Fr. Alexie clarifies his comments:
"You have received a recent letter from Mina Jacobs supporting Bishop Nikolai. She quoted me in her letter of which I did not know she did. I want to make it very clear of what I spoke at the Board of Trustees meeting in June. As usual I always take a moment to say 'Thank you to the teachers and Supporters of the seminary' and this is what I did. Thanks to all those who support the seminary."
The Uprising Explained
This uprising of the Alaskan clergy is not confined to the Yupik regions of the Yukon and Kuskokwim. According to Fr. Michael Oleksa of Anchorage, in an email sent to OCANews.org: "The clergy of our diocese seem to have reached their breaking point. They recognize that the bishop's policies, and not just his difficult and overbearing personality, are harming, even destroying the Church we love. They are writing appeals to the Holy Synod. By my count 18 have committed either to write their own letter or have strongly agreed with my statement."
(Read Fr. Oleksa's statement here)
In self-defense, I am certain that if the Holy Synod does not intervene, some priests will leave the priesthood, others will be suspended or deposed, and laity will leave the Church. We will witness a schism here between those who accept blind obedience to the hierarch as the norm, and those who reject it as unacceptable."
Fr. Oleksa continued: "Alaska has no significant funds to withhold. We are certainly the poorest as well as oldest diocese.... We are virtually helpless. But this can also be our strength. As the Grandmother, so to speak, can the rest of the Church stand by and watch Alaska be beaten and abused? If our Faithful believers have been quiet or indifferent to the financial scandals, will they remain apathetic to Alaska's plight as well?"
Support From Clergy in the Lower 48
Priests across the lower 48, however, have begun speaking out for Alaska. One open letter, from a family of priests, sums up the current frustration:
"Glory to Jesus Christ!
In the Church 'if one member suffers all suffer together' (1 Cor. 12:26) whether the afflicted one is the perpetrator or the victim because in the Church we are family. We are brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in Christ. We are God's family, His gathering, His royal priesthood even though we are unworthy -
we are one in Christ.
To hear our Alaskan brethren cry out in such agony suddenly brings focus to our common life. We are jarred into sobriety, called to attention, as we are shaken with near disbelief that our Northern brothers and sisters could possibly be victimized in such cruel ways.
Can such assertions be real? Can a bishop disrupt the hearts, mind, and souls of his flock in such a manner as the Alaskan priests describe - for the 'good of the Church?' Alas, family life is not always a sane life and we do suffer when one or more of us crosses over into the dark side of life. When the father of the family becomes an abuser the whole family becomes unstable and suffering is legion.
It is said that God allows us to suffer so He can crown us with His glory. Like St. Anthony, the Lord stands by and watches our struggles as we learn to carry our cross, but He is there and He cares for us, and His will is done.
A few decades ago, we witnessed another diocese shepherded by an out-of-control bishop who arbitrarily transferred priests from parish to parish. He even transferred lay husbands and wives to separate parishes 'for the good of the Church'. We still have a copy of a letter transferring a priest's dog to a parish and then the priest was retransferred again, but not the dog. The dog died. Capricious, myopic, weird, peculiar, wacky, strange, odd, and bizarre, without "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control"(Gal. 5:22).
That bishop had his supporters. A hand full of women who spent weekends in his monastery for married females idolized him and some business men who printed the diocesan newspaper on the same printing press that allegedly produced commercial pornography catering to the unique tastes of the gay S&M crowd came to his defense when the Holy Synod finally fulfilled their duty and stepped in, freeing that diocese from its turmoil. Everyone needs friends, but "bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor. 15:33).
We were once told by Someone holier than any of us to "...shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (1 Pt. 5).
It seems to us that our Alaskan brothers are truly humble and truly suffering. We don't know the rest of the story with all of its detail, but we know family life and we are called to weep and to pray with and for our Northern family. And we know that in this fallen world, 'offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!' (Mat. 18:7)
"Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
"...Thy will be done."
Archpriest Thaddeus Wojcik,
Holy Assumption Church, Lublin, WI
Priest Christopher Wojcik,
Holy Trinity Church, Clayton, WI
Priest Bartholomew Wojcik,
St. Nicholas Church, Pella, IA
Syosset has not, as yet, offered any public comment.
- Mark Stokoe