LETTER TO ALASKA
from Fr. Nicholas Molodyko-Harris
"… no matter what spiritual sufferings you may have to endure, never despair and never think that the Lord has
abandoned you. No! He will be with you always, strengthening you."
St. Innocent, Enlightener of North America
First Saturday of the Great Fast
St. Theodore of Tyro March 15, 2008
To the Esteemed Reverend Clergy, Beloved Matushki, and all your precious children of the Diocese of Alaska,
Christ is in our midst!
I greet you with love and affection in the name of Our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ!
"I Corinthians 13:1-13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is LOVE. '
For thirty two years, from 1967 to 1999, I stood, knelt, prayed and sometimes cried and laughed with you when I was the founding pastor of St. Innocent Orthodox Cathedral, the Dean of the Anchorage Deanery, and for a period of four years serving as Chancellor of our Alaskan Diocese.
Our Lord blessed me to serve our Alaskan Faithful as the Orthodox Chaplain at the Alaska Native Medical Center, the prisons, rehabilitation/nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions in South Central Alaska. It was at these places and especially at ANMC, where I had the privilege to meet many of you who are now spiritual leaders of our Alaskan people. There, at the Alaska Native Hospital we celebrated Divine Liturgy together; many of you embraced our Lord in Confession; and you were embraced by Him in receiving the Holy Eucharist. Remember the Solarium Chapel on the sixth floor of the old original hospital, where as many as seventy patients in wheelchairs, crutches, walkers etc. would come for Divine Liturgy.
Our Lord was especially kind to me in permitting me to celebrate some three thousand Baptisms and Chrismations, many weddings and when our dear ones fell asleep in the Lord, their funerals in Anchorage and all throughout the State of Alaska. Looking back on those years when I was the only resident priest in our Diocese in Anchorage brings me much great joy. Because of the “Outreach” of St. Innocent’s Cathedral in being benevolent to all of our Alaskan Faithful, it was known as “A Parish for all Alaska”.
I want you to know that Matushka Anastasia and I and our family totally identify ourselves with all of you. We are shakened by the tragic crisis affecting our Holy Church in Alaska. We want you to know that we are with you, and stand by you as brother and sister in Christ because of our love for you. You have given much to us in exemplifying your love and devotion to God, to each other and even your love for strangers and those who have wronged you. You have enhanced for us the meaning of humility, forgiveness and generosity. This is a love that cannot be destroyed!
His Eminence, Archbishop Gregory speaks fondly of his twenty three years of service in Alaska. During his tenure there was unity, joy and a real manifestation of love among our people. During this time the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael that was destroyed by fire was consecrated, St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak was founded, St. Innocent Cathedral was built and many other churches were built and consecrated throughout Alaska. Many gatherings of clergy and lay faithful took place in the far out reaching Deaneries in “key” villages where hundreds of our Orthodox Faithful would assemble in Regional Conferences. These conferences would be held in the late summer and fall, after the harvest of fish and berries. Our people are people of the land and sea which provides them with their basic needs. You, my dear family in Christ, are not wealthy people in the ways of the modern world, but you are rich in the resources that God has provided for you.
Your joy has been to accept God’s gifts with thanksgiving and purpose.
So many of our priests receive little and sometimes no compensation for their spiritual labors. Thanks be to God that you have been educated at St. Herman’s Seminary and other Counseling Programs. You were gifted by God to fish and to perform other labors of the land to provide a home for your families. Your sacrifice to serve Christ and his Holy Church go far beyond the understanding of those who do not know you and almost know nothing about Alaska. It is a sacrifice that few of us in the “lower 48” can comprehend. This sacrifice you have made is deep; it is total and in many ways likened to the widow’s mite of Holy Scripture. These are truths that cannot be destroyed!
One of the most significant events was the Canonization of St. Herman of Alaska on August 9, 1970, at which time many Bishops, Clergy and hundreds of faithful from the Orthodox Church of America as well as abroad took part. In the years to follow were the
Glorification of the Holy Martyrs Hieromonk Juvenaly and Peter the Aleut in Kodiak and the Glorification of St. Yakov, the Enlightener and Baptizer of the Alaskan Native People that was celebrated in Anchorage.
The Inauguration of the Bicentennial of Orthodoxy in the Western Hemisphere began in Anchorage at St. Innocent Cathedral in 1993. There His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II and his entourage joined with His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius and the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America in the Blessing of St. Innocent Orthodox Cathedral. His Holiness also traveled to Sitka and Kodiak to lead our Diocesan Faithful in prayer and Divine Services. Every one of you has sacrificed worldly acquisitions to come with your family and parishioners to worship, pray and sing at these divine services and celebrations. This was not a loosely run Diocese of Priests who shut their churches for personal gain. These are memories that cannot be destroyed!
What other Diocese has had the visitation of Patriarch Aleksy II, 9 Metropolitans, 10 Archbishops, 4 Bishops and our beloved Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory? We have all shared together the joy of countless Divine Services. I know you all have wonderful memories of all of the Hierarchs who have blessed us with their presence during this era.
You are the very same people that generously helped in the building of St. Innocent Cathedral. I will never forget Father Zachary Guest who helped build some 12 to 14 churches; He was known as the “cupola builder”. He built the first cupola for our basement chapel in Anchorage – freehand, just using his sight and ingenuity to construct the dome and a three bar cross.
I was blessed to be with our native priests in health, sickness and when some of them departed from this earth. In remembering them, one was Father Vasily Sifsof, who was so excited that we were endeavoring to build a church in Anchorage. After being invited to serve in his church in Dillingham and the parishes of the Nushagak Deanery, he would send envelopes filled with cash through the mail to help us with our building fund. Sometimes the envelopes would contain as much as $600.
Father Chariton Kaiakokonok invited me to fish with him at Chignik Lagoon for three consecutive summers in order to help us survive and feed our family of eight. We had services for the people of that area whenever we could and wherever we could, be it in someone’s house or at a cannery until we were able to build St. Herman’s Chapel. I remember during one of the fishing seasons, one afternoon baptizing 13 children and adults and having a memorial service for a young boy who was mauled to death by a bear. I know dear Brothers in Christ, that you continually face these same situations day in and day out with adverse weather and difficult forms of transportation.
These priests were an inspiration to me. I consider myself so blessed and fortunate that they truly accepted me as their brother in the Lord. I even have my Yupik name “Apanupuk” which identifies me with all of you.
These are kind and generous deeds that cannot be destroyed!
Now, dear ones , a tragic crisis in our Diocese has come about .You, in many letters have humbly reported to His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman and the Holy Synod of Bishops that many have been treated harshly, verbally humiliated, and unjustly punished by the Diocesan Bishop of Alaska. In response, the Hierarchs have initiated an investigation. You all have recognized that something precious, something that money can’t purchase, something which should be above everything else has been missing in this Episcopal Administration. The Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians stresses that it is Love. Love is the greatest virtue, when love is not manifested, everything else is in vain.
Some of you may remember when Archbishop Gregory was making preparations to retire from Alaska, the Alaska Diocesan Assembly unanimously voted to award him with a small pension of $250 a month. This sum was intended to be given to him for the remaining years of his life. This gift was a gesture of our love for him. This small pension was terminated over two years ago by the present administration. Please keep Vladyka Gregory in your prayers especially during his recent hospitalization!
Our clergy and faithful have always had great respect and love for their Bishop. As we all know when the Bishop would arrive in the villages, multitudes of joyful faithful would meet him at the airfields or docks. They would sing hymns, receive his blessing and escort him in procession to the church.
This spiritual joy radiates on the faces of everyone from the smallest child to the venerable chiefs and elders. The arrival of a Bishop to be with his flock was a manifestation of love, joy and peace. Do not allow your love to be destroyed!
His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman and the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America unanimously in one voice have requested Bishop Nikolai to immediately begin a mandatory leave of absence in order for an investigation to commence. As you all know, His Grace, Bishop Nikolai has refused and even instructed you all to disobey the mandate of our Metropolitan and the Holy Synod of Bishops. As your friend and Brother in Christ, I urge you dear ones to stand together in unity with Christ our Lord, and the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America.
Do not allow your faith to be destroyed!
Do not Fear! Remember that the love of God that He has for each one of you will free you from the hardships you have endured.
In prayer, I humbly ask for the Holy Intercessions of our Blessed St. Herman, St. Innocent, St.Yakov, St. Juvenaly and St. Peter the Aleut to strengthen and encourage all of us during these difficult times. Remember the words of our Lord that your sorrow will be transformed into joy.
I bow before you all! Please forgive me if I have offended you!
May our Lord Bless you all with the fruits of a Great Fast, the fast which will fortify and enlighten you that you may be Blessed with a Holy Pascha!
With Much Love in Jesus Christ,