SYNOD TO MEET AGAIN
ON ALASKA CRISIS
• +Job Calls For Synod Meeting: +Herman Agrees
• St. Vladimir's Alumni Launch On-Line Petition
• Metropolitan's Account of Oleksa Incident
In a letter to the Metropolitan today, Archbishop Job requested that the Synod of Bishops meet again before Pascha to deal with the Alaskan crisis. Within hours, the Metropolitan agreed, tentatively scheduling yet another extraordinary meeting of the Synod, this time during the last week of Great Lent (April 14th-18th).
The Archbishop's Letter
Citing the unanimous "Statement of the Metropolitan Council" published yesterday, as well as Bishop Nikolai's actions upon his return to Alaska - including dismissing Fr. Oleksa and Mother Capitolina from the Metropolitan Council, demanding that Fr. Garklavs be fired for writing his letter to the Alaskan clergy, even while publicly comparing himself to Christ suffering on the cross - the Archbishop wrote the Synod cannot allow the situation in the OCA to deteriorate further. The Archbishop writes:
"With a heavy heart I write to Your Beatitude concerning the state of our beloved Orthodox Church in America, which continues to deteriorate largely due to the recent inappropriate and reckless decisions of the Holy Synod - a Holy Synod now described by many as being 'out of touch.' Forgive me for my audacity, but it is long past the time for gracious rhetoric and lofty elocution. I have already communicated to the Synod my unfavorable evaluation of last week's meeting.
Yesterday I received from Your Beatitude's office the plea to the hierarchs of the Synod from the Metropolitan Council concerning the catastrophe in the Diocese of Alaska. The brief but poignant statement speaks most succinctly of anxieties, fears, pain, concern. crisis, paralyzing dysfunction, and disappointment. (emphasis in original) Dear Vladyka, I laud the wisdom of the members of the Metropolitan Council and I fully agree with their request.
The Holy Synod has 'bent over backwards' in giving Bishop Nikolai the 'benefit of a doubt.' Since his return to Alaska, he has humiliated the church by his atrocious comparison of himself to the suffering King of Glory and his shameful vilification of his brother bishops. He immediately launched a persecution of Archpriest Alexander Garklavs and Archpriest Michael Oleksa, disregarding the will and convictions of the Alaskan clergy regarding their chosen representative to the Metropolitan Council. Immediately following the special meeting of the Synod, there is no indication of good will, of humility, of repentance, of desire for reconciliation. As one of our brothers recently wrote to His Grace, "Your brothers allowed you to return to Alaska, although we were very reluctant. You returned, and the situation of the whole Church deteriorates. Please think seriously about this."*
Your Beatitude, I beg you to take immediate action. There is time to convene another meeting of the Synod before Holy Week or to formulate another means of achieving consensus in the Synod regarding the honorable request of the Metropolitan Council. Also I ask that the report of the two hierarchs presently in Alaska be shared with all members of the Synod as soon as possible, and that the report of Father Alexander Garklavs and that prepared by Father Alexander Rentel and Attorney Jim Perry, which we were not permitted to see, be immediately forwarded to us.
Dear Vladyka HERMAN, please lead us! We cannot wait until our regular session in May! Time is our enemy! We cannot delay! Souls are at stake as is the future of our beloved Church! If we do not take positive action now, I submit that we will once again have let our people down. They need to know that something positive is being done by us. If we fail to do this, I do not see how I as a bishop I can, with a clean conscience, lead the liturgical celebrations of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
Asking Your Beatitude's forgiveness for my insolence,
I remain With love in Christ,
Your unworthy brother and concelebrant
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest "
The Archbishop's request, which was emailed to Synod members, was soon echoed by other Bishops, and the Metropolitan quickly agreed to the meeting. This was quite unexpected since at the Metropolitan Council meeting Monday night, during the discussion on Alaska, a Council member had asked if the Synod couldn't meet before May. At that time the Metropolitan stated that the Bishops were 'all very busy at this time of year', and any meeting would 'have to wait until May'.
Not only did the Metropolitan change his mind, but the Metropolitan attached all the missing documentation from the last meeting the Archbishop requested: the Report of Fr. Garklavs based on his recent tour of Alaska and the Canonical Report from Fr. Alexander Rentel and Mr. James Perry. The Metropolitan also agreed that the Bishops will be provided with the Report of Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Tikhon upon their return from Alaska next week.
St. Vladimir's Faculty Statement Draws Support
The Metropolitan's actions came amid a chorus of voices from throughout the OCA demanding action.
In a letter to the Alumni of St. Vladimir's, Fr. David Barr, President of the Alumni Association, wrote:
"Dear Alumni of St Vladimir's:
The faculty of St Vladimir's Seminary has recently released a statement concerning the situation in the Orthodox Church in America. It is posted on their website, available here.
The faculty of our seminary reminds us all of our accountability to each other in Christ and of the high calling of the episcopacy in our Church.
I would like to offer the alumni of St Vladimir's Seminary the opportunity to join in supporting the faculty of our alma mater as they speak out on this growing crisis in the Orthodox Church in North America. You may show your support by signing on this page along with other alumni of St Vladimir's Seminary.
Please keep our Church in North America in your prayers during this holy season of Great Lent.
Yours in Christ,
Fr David Barr
President, SVS Alumni Board"
The I-petition may be found here, and already includes prominent names, including Trustee Protodeacon Peter Danilchik.
Metropolitan's Account Challenged
Finally, on the Orthodox Forum, Metropolitan Council member Gregg Nescott recounted how it came to be that Fr. Michael Oleksa, the appointed clergy delegate from Alaska, who had been present at Syosset earlier in the day, did not attend the meeting. Nescott writes:
"... Metropolitan Council members were prepared to welcome and seat Fr. Oleksa as a member under Article V, Section 1 of the OCA Statute, which states that 'vacancies occurring among diocesan representatives are filled by the respective dioceses.' Vacancies have existed in the two Alaska seats since the resignations of Fr. Isidore and Mina Jacobs earlier this year.
Under emergency circumstances such as we have here, it seems clear that the unanimous election of Father Oleksa and Mother Capitolina by 41 members of the Alaskan clergy at a meeting called and convened by the appointed Administrator of the Diocese, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, would fit the requirements of the Statute, no? And there is no provision in the Statute that provides for the removal of elected diocesan representatives at will by a hierarch.
When Monday evening's Metropolitan Council meeting opened, members asked about the absence of Fr. Oleksa, who had earlier written that he would be at the meeting. Metropolitan Herman advised the Council that upon reinstatement, Bishop Nikolai had removed Fr. Oleksa and Mother Capitolina as the diocese's Council representatives. The Metropolitan added that Fr. Garklavs had not been granted permission by the Metropolitan to call the clergy meeting that elected the temporary Council representatives.
A Metropolitan Council member then stated that the Council should invite Fr. Oleksa to attend the meeting and speak, since he had been seen by Council members at Syosset earlier Monday, and was known to be staying in the New York area at least until Tuesday. It was also suggested that if his flight back to Alaska had to be delayed, to facilitate his appearance, Council should be willing to cover the expense of any flight change.
Metropolitan Herman responded that he had spoken with Fr. Oleksa at Syosset, and "Father Oleksa said that he would have nothing to say to the Council."
The next question to the Metropolitan was: "Did you tell Fr. Oleksa to leave and not attend the Metropolitan Council meeting?"
The Metropolitan denied saying that.
At least two Council members spoke with Fr. Oleksa earlier Monday at Syosset. They have since related that Fr. Oleksa said he was told by the Metropolitan not to attend the meeting.
Somewhere in all this lies the truth."
And slowly, painfully, it seems to be emerging. Courage, Courage, O People of God!
- Mark Stokoe
* The quote is from a letter from Archbishop Seraphim to Bishop Nikolai, sent earlier in the week.