Letter to Fr. Garklavs, OCA Chancellor
Bless Father Please,
I am only a humble Starosta in retirement from my years of service to the Holy Orthodox Church in America, serving over 50 years in California and Alaska. I also served in the capacity of President of Church Council, Holy Resurrection Church,Council Secretary at Holy Resurrection Church, Kodiak, Chapter Secretary in the California FROC, West Coast District Recording Secretary at Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles, and Council Member of HolyVirgin Cathedral, Los Angeles, and other duties during my years of service. Both my sons were altar boys, and have also served their country in times of war (VietNam and Iraq). We descend from the original Russians who came to Kodiak to colonize this place. Our dedication to the Orthodox church in Alaska has been unbroken throughout the generations since. This is the first time ever, in our history, have we been divided from the Blessings of the Church. I do not consider myself removed from theÊChurch, but divided.By that I meanI am still Orthodox, but unable to receive Holy Communion, for the past year, so, in effect, I am excommunicated. All by virtue of a befouled confessional.
We do not come to confession willingly and open our hearts to the priest who is the intermediary for God. No. He tells us who we have to forgive. And if we do not obey him, he withholds Absolution, thereby we are refused Holy Communion.
Life in the Alaska Orthodox diocese was benign. When His Grace, Bishop Gregory (Afonsky) was sent to Alaska, life came alive in the Church. He embraced our culture, our habits, participated in our customs, laughed with us when we baptized our babies, cried with us when we buried our family members, as he did when he buried my daughter. It was dark and fearsome when he was sent away, and without even letting us say 'goodbye' or 'farewell'.
Time passed and things and morale slowly slipped. The one positive happening was when Bishop Innocent (Gula) paid off St. Herman's seminary indebtedness. I was working in the seminary office as secretary when he made that decision with the Board of Trustee's blessings. He walked many miles from the Bishops apartment to the office, thinking and weighing the outcome. When finally he decided, he stated "I've just committed spiritual suicide", as he decided to pay the indebtedness before even telling Syosset what he was going to do. And you know the rest of the story.
I was sitting in the office doing my chores when Bishop Nikolai walked in, assuming his duties at the seminary and at Holy Resurrection Church. I gave no thought to the moment, but following when he walked into Holy Resurrection Church, and looked around, made the statement and overheard by the ladies who occupy the back pew, "This place is ugly!". Everyone was very offended. It took years to build the church building up to it's present condition,after been burned to the ground in 1943. It was lovingly re-built with nickles and dimes, hand labor donated; my grandfather a carpenter and boatwright, and others who gave of their labors. The icons weren't museum quality to be sure, but they were ours.But there were some that came over with the missionaries.They iconostas icons have all been replaced (and only God knows where they are now) by catalog-style renditions of (maybe) Byzantine icons. The beloved Pantilemon was replaced; historical lampas removed to be replaced by store bought copies. The cruel injustices were building slowly. Parishioners were now beginning to notice things.
Then the incident of +Nikolai throwing our beloved Dr. Lydia Black out of her seminary apartment hit the 'Aleut telegraph', and even the non-Orthodox were furious. In Alaska one cannot evict a tenant without a 5 month notice, this because of the unpredictable weather. Besides, Dr. Lydia was a senior citizen, an Elder, highly respected and revered. She was a renowned and favored anthropologist, donating her work, time, and life to the seminary and at times, even her own funds, to the wonderful museum she was building up. No one knows where all the artifacts she collected have gone to. Even her personal papers have disappeared.
When I was closing the church after cleaning in preparation for the pilgrims return from Monks Lagoon for the evening Vespers, I met Lydia outside, and she told me of +Nikolai's unspeakable action of evicting her, and she was on trying to find a way to take her pets to the boarding kennels. We got everything taken care of, a small apartment from a friend for her to live in, and I went back to the seminary, took the seminary key off my keychain, put it on my desk, crossed myself before the icon; asked forgiveness, and walked out. I could not work under one who had no regard or respect for another human being..This was Christian behavior? This was Christian charity? Was this Christian love?.
There were those who fell all over +Nikolai, wanting to be in his good graces when he first came, but they did not see him from my perspective. I had friends in the Las Vegas church where +Nikolai had served, who prepared me for what was to come. I worked behind the scenes and saw many things. Much I have folded up and put away in my memory banks. Too heartbreaking to be remembering.Young seminary mothers who brought their feelings to a meeting with Fr. Chad Hatfield, that if they could not bring their children to church, they would not come. +Nikolai would become most upset if any child ever made a sound in church.Somebody would later suffer for it.
And +Nikolai's attitude spread to his associates.The parishioners called for a meeting with the priests to discuss our desire to bring back our traditional music to the services. What was being sung was not what was brought over by the original missionaries and what we still sing today. Alaskans are a very traditional people. It is this what preserved the Orthodox Church when the rest of the world forgot us. It is this what gives the church it's timeless quality. It was all being replaced by something foreign to us....
During services, we could not even move around. As Starosta, I was always moving, Taking care of the candles, putting them up, taking them down, etc., but when +Nikolai was there....nothing was done. I was a nervous wreck...not because I was afraid of him, which I was not and am still not, but because I saw the candle stands becoming overrun with drippings, often times the candlewax dripping to the floor. I took reasonable pride (with help from other generous ladies) in keeping the Lord's House in a condition that should He walk in, He would not be ashamed of us.+Nikolai demanded to be the full star of the show.
We took pride in the cleanliness of our beloved church. I hear it is not so now. The candle stands are dirty..Shame. Many of them were on the 1846 manifest from Valaam, and some even came over with the missionarys. Beautiful oriental rugs donated by generous parishioners are burdened with wax drippings, no one cleaning them. This used to be done every week. Even the enthusiasm is gone. To be sure, there are those attending services, but they are mostly the new converts...the current priest states the elders are being 'culled'...
So many of us are denied Holy Communion, and for such unreasonable charges. The new ones do have not the personal pride of serving God or the Church.This takes years to learn.I do not think they are instructed much as +Nikolai only wants numbers to his credit.We have become the 'enemies' of the church.
.....There is so much more to tell, but I will say this. We have not lived under the terrible tyrannical menace that +Nikolai has imposed on the seminary students or the priests...they have lived under such terrible conditions. Some have even been physically struck. We don't know how they did it. I feel safe in saying that almost to a man, we support the priests in what they say and do, and will back them up in whatever it takes to get this nightmare out of our lives, and restore peace to this land. May God Bless these wonderful people and their families. They are truly worthy to be the standard bearers of Orthodoxy in this Great Land.
May God forgive me and have mercy on me.