Open Letter to Metropolitan Herman and the Synod of Bishops
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces,
Most Blessed Master, bless!
I am writing to confirm my full support of and solidarity with the Alaska clergy and laity who, as a last resort, are publicly protesting the abuses of Bishop Nikolai and appealing for relief.
The current revolt is not the work of a handful of dissidents and troublemakers. It is a popular groundswell that has been building for a long time. It is the painful boil that finally burst.
It is fair to say that most if not all of us offered Bishop Nikolai our full cooperation and support at first. I read the epistle in Tlingit at his consecration in Sitka. He helped our parish find church insurance when our former company cancelled us because of the age of our historical building. But as we witnessed his abuse of others, and experienced it ourselves, we grew more critical, and sooner or later we lost faith in him and his management style.
I wonít go into much detail in this letter. My negative encounters with Bishop Nikolai began when I as a board member of St. Herman Seminary, in response to emails and phone calls from all over the country, asked him for his side of the story of the confrontation with, and firing and eviction of Dr. Lydia Black during the Pilgrimage.
Nor is this my first letter to Your Beatitude and the Holy Synod of Bishops. In March 2005 I was joined by other parishioners in appealing for mercy on behalf of our priest, Fr. John Robert Polson, one of Bishop Nikolaiís other early victims, whom we feel was unjustly tried and deposed by a spiritual court headed by former Chancellor Kondratick. In a memorable email response, Bishop Tikhon of the West compared the laity to vermin, saying that our concerns were the rustlings of mice, to be ignored.
Full details of these and other encounters with Bishop Nikolai are contained in my letter posted on the OCANEWS.org site, November 22, 2006, as part of the feature, "Two Letters from Alaska". Also included there are my secular and church credentials. There is no need to repeat any of that here. In brief: I have been a reader for 30 years, have held parish and diocesan offices, was lay delegate to the Metropolitan Council, and served on the St. Herman Seminary board. In my secular life I am a university professor and am a former poet laureate of Alaska.
I can personally attest to the damage that Bishop Nikolai has done. Some of our most supportive parishioners have sought refuge in the Catholic and Episcopal Churches; other parishioners have just dropped out. One recent letter describing abuse concludes with the question: who would go to such a church? If this is really Orthodoxy, many of us want no part of it. We see this as a perversion of Orthodoxy, and the Church no longer a safe place to be. In Anchorage, people can go to the Greek or Antiochian parishes. Most Alaskan Orthodox do not have this option.
Needless to say, this situation makes mission and outreach difficult if not impossible. The last thing I want to tell any seeker is "Come and see." Because then I would have to make excuses and say, "Well, this isn't really how it is." But that is how it is. The creative energy of our clergy is restricted. Their hands are tied. One priest told me, "We're supposed to be fishers of men. I am the keeper of the aquarium." On his live journal, one Orthodox bishop recently identified "the need that faith be deepened into that which unifies life and experience, not just another set of demands on our fragmented time."
Recent clergy letters have described meaningless and joyless services. I agree. Bishop Nikolaiís insistence on late 19th century Russian rubrics is a spiritual and pastoral dead end. His are the rubrics and episcopal lifestyle that helped spawn the Russian Revolution with its violent backlash against the Church, the rubrics the young seminarian Stalin experienced.
In short: this revolution is widespread and deeply felt. It has been building for a long time, as abuse piled on abuse. I am proud of our clergy for their courage and leadership, for their standing up to protect the faithful, in the words of the troparion to St. Herman, as intercessors and defenders of the oppressed. I join in their appeal to Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces to intercede and to defend the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska by removing Bishop Nikolai.
Asking Your Beatitudeís archpastoral blessing and prayers,
John Richard Dauenhauer