NEWS FROM AROUND THE OCA
• South River, New Jersey
The Diocese of Washington and New York at its Diocesan Assembly held here earlier this week elected two new representatives to the Metropolitan Council. Replacing Robert Kornafel as the lay delegate is John Kozey, the former chairman of the OCA Audit Committee. It was Kozey's actions nine years ago, raising the alarm about financial misconduct, that began the public phase of the OCA scandal. Kozey was elected by acclamation.
In a contested election for the clergy delegate's position, Fr. Alexis Vinogradov was chosen to replace Fr. George Hasenecz.
The assembly voted to ask the Synod to restore the Diocese to its pre-Herman status; that is, separate the former Diocese of New York-New Jersey and make it independent once again from the Metropolitan See of Washington. Fr. Paul Shafran, a retired priest from Trenton, castigated the gathering for its 'unchristian' unwillingness to forgive and presented a resolution thanking the former Metropolitan Herman for his years of service. The resolution was soundly defeated.
• Syosset, New York
The Preconciliar Commission (PCC) has yet to conclude an agenda for the 15th All-American Council, to be held in Pittsburgh, November 10-13th. Agendas proposed earlier have been rejected by the Synod and, most recently, the Metropolitan Council. The need to elect a new Metropolitan has also altered the program. The PCC will meet again this week by telephone to make another attempt at an agenda.
• Melbourne, Australia
A long article has appeared in the oldest and largest newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, The Age, concerning the former OCA Bishop of Alaska, Nikolai (Soraich). In the story +Nikolai makes a startling claim regarding his status, stating: "In the Orthodox Church a bishop cannot be forcibly retired. He can retire voluntarily or be removed by a church court, and neither has happened."
The story follows:
"Controversial Serbian bishop's woes follow him from US
by Barney Zwartz
September 18, 2008 - 12:01AM
A SERBIAN bishop who was forcibly retired in the US after a revolt by his clergy is working in Victoria, where his presence has divided the Serbian Orthodox community.
Bishop Nikolai Soraich was removed as bishop of Alaska by the Orthodox Church in America this year after two investigations upheld a litany of complaints, including that he appointed to the clergy in Alaska a man jailed for sexual abuse of minors.
The bishop was forced to cancel his visit to St Stephan of Dechani church at Carrum Downs 10 days ago after members of the congregation protested before the service. And police were called on Sunday after a confrontation between the congregation and members of other Serbian churches who travelled from Greensborough and Keysborough.
Official church investigations in Alaska into Bishop Nikolai found that he repeatedly abused and intimidated clergy and laypeople, violated the church's rules on sexual misconduct and fostered an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. He was also sued by a missionary he sacked after the missionary complained he was sexually harassed by Bishop Nikolai's chancellor, Father Isidore.
Father Isidore, who often referred to himself at Mrs Soraich, complained when drunk that Bishop Nikolai beat him, but retracted the complaint when sober, according to reports from Alaska. There is no suggestion of sexual relations between Bishop Nikolai and Father Isidore, whom the bishop repeatedly and rapidly promoted, but allegations of psychological abuse are cited in the official church report.
Nevertheless, Serbian community sources say Father Isidore is planning to join the bishop in Australia.
Archpriest Michael Oleksa, who is now administering the Alaskan diocese, told The Age that "the last five years under (Bishop Nikolai's) management were some of the most difficult we have endured in our 210-year history". "He was racist, he attempted to redirect our church so as to significantly change its identity, and he was personally unkind to the point of cruelty. Each of these charges could have several pages of testimony. All were upheld by the investigating committee that came from New York after dozens, if not hundreds, of complaints."
Bishop Nikolai was investigated twice, first by the chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, then by two bishops. Both investigations upheld the complaints. Rather than be suspended, Bishop Nikolai agreed to take permanent leave of absence.
Father Oleksa said Bishop Nikolai was extremely charming and intelligent, and he was not surprised the bishop had found sanctuary in Australia. Now Bishop Nikolai is based at the St Sava monastery at Elaine, near Ballarat, and is leading church services and visiting parishioners.
Asked by The Age about the strife in Alaska, he said:
"I wouldn't comment on such ludicrous statements. Once you comment on something that's foolish you have to comment on everything that's foolish."
But he said he had not been forcibly retired. "In the Orthodox Church a bishop cannot be forcibly retired. He can retire voluntarily or be removed by a church court, and neither has happened."
He said he would love to stay in Australia, "the people have been absolutely wonderful". Bishop Nikolai is in Australia 'under the hospitality' of the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Australia, Bishop Irinej, who has been overseas. The diocesan office did not return calls.
'Under hospitality' means Bishop Nikolai has no canonical status in Australia and operates as guest of Bishop Irinej. The pair were reportedly friends in the US, and Bishop Irinej notified all Australian parishes that Bishop Nikolai should be welcomed.
The Serbian Orthodox community in Australia is small, but tensions are high after a merger between two branches 15 years ago. Some churches are in dispute with Bishop Irinej and have declared independence.
ÊThe parish secretary at Carrum Downs, who did not want to be named, confirmed that Bishop Nikolai's visit had been cancelled after parishioners read about his problems in the US on the internet."
Fr. Michael Oleksa, who is described as the 'administrator' of Alaska, offered a hasty clarification to OCANews.org:
"(The Age's) article on him appears in the September 18th morning edition, quoting me as 'administering the diocese' here. The reporter did call and interview me, but when asked my status I explicitly told him that I was the 'senior active priest.' I did not call myself at any time the 'administrator' so the term was the journalist's turn of phrase. To Orthodox readers, it may seem that I was usurping Bishop Benjamin's role. I would not be so foolish or presumptuous to speak in such a careless way. I have no such ambitions!
....I am sure the reporter meant me no harm. When asked what I would suggest Australians do, I replied 'Pray that Bishop Nikolai will realize the harm he did in Alaska and repent.' I wish him no harm, but only his spiritual renewal and salvation."
• Pittsburgh, PA
+ Herman, the former OCA Metropolitan, is recuperating after spinal surgery on Tuesday, September 16, 2008. No complications were encountered during the operation, and the former Metropolitan will return home to South Canaan after leaving the hospital.