+NIKOLAI, IN MEMO TO SYNOD,
ATTEMPTS TO SMEAR CRITICS &
DENIES LEAVING $900,000 DEBT
In a scathing memo written from "exile" in Australia, addressed to the Synod of the OCA, and copied to the Metropolitan Council as well as "the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska", the former Bishop of Sitka, Nikolai, attempts to smear his critics with hints of former scandals while denying he left the diocese in massive debt. E-mailed yesterday by his suspended, former Chancellor, Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain) (due to the Bishop's "sporadic internet access" in the rural Serbian monastery outside Melbourne where he has taken refuge) the six page memo offers a much fuller insight into the finances of the Alaskan diocese than has ever been revealed before. And it raises a host of questions.
The Memo reads:
To: The Holy Synod of The Orthodox Church in America
From: Bishop NIKOLAI
CC: The Metropolitan Council and Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Alaska
Date: June 26, 2008
Re: Summary of RODA upon my departure May 7, 2008
Your Beatitude, Most Reverend, Right Reverend Hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska,
I greet you all from Australia where I have now been welcomed as a guest in exile for almost two weeks.
These last weeks and especially the last two months since my voluntary leave of absence have been filled with many temptations. Honestly, I have wanted to lash out at those who have unjustly and without cause attacked me in many different ways -- sharing the truth, however, is not lashing out. It is unfortunate to see that the behavior of some bishops and priests is not only unChristian but even lacking in human regard, and therefore very disappointing and disgusting.
I was thinking to write such a summary before I left had I been consulted or even contacted but no such requests were made. No one within the administration of The Orthodox Church in America attempted to even contact me about this information. Now that I have just recently received a copy of a post from Bishop BENJAMIN declaring a $900,000.00 debt in the diocese I have no choice but to get on with this writing. It would do you well to look up the definition of one who lies and one who tells a lie.
false·hood (f˘lsh d) n
. 1. An untrue statement; a lie.
2. The practice of lying.
3. Lack of conformity to truth or fact; inaccuracy.
noun FALSIFIER, storyteller (informal) perjurer, fibber, fabricator, prevaricator
When I arrived in Alaska in 2001, the Diocese had less than $100.00 in the bank. When I left on May 7, 2008, there was $ 20,093.60 in checking and approximately that same amount in the Wachovia Account.
As I move through this summary you’ll see that the diocese was on a solid footing. This fact was also reflected in a conversation in Anchorage between Minadora Jacobs and Bishop Benjamin and admitted to by Bishop Benjamin himself, who, it must be stated, has no real background in finance and who himself has admitted that he has filed bankruptcy in the past.
All of the financial reports are distributed at the annual Diocesan Assembly and were placed on the diocesan web site prior to the lawsuits filed against us several years ago. If you recall those suits were alleging that two senior priests in the diocese had committed sexually inappropriate acts. Both of these men were dead many years prior to my coming to Alaska and we had no insurance to cover any of the court costs, I think the final costs amounted to be around $20,000.00 The Metropolitan wanted me to ‘settle’. I didn’t know what that meant and we pursued the defense of our innocence and in the end the cases were dismissed with prejudice with each side paying their own court costs. Had their attorney been wise he would have named the OCA and they would have gotten a nice settlement. We had no insurance those years. The same will prevail in this latest assault with an EEOC complaint. You’ll see that nothing was done inappropriately in that process on my side—and I reiterate that, nothing was done inappropriately on my side.
The Diocesan budget increased over the years and we were stable making good financial decisions and the best interest of the Church, not in the personal interest of Bishop NIKOLAI as has been both implied and stated outright by several members of the Holy Synod and others involved in church administration.
All the years of St. Herman Seminary prior to my coming, the diocesan bishop received a stipend from the seminary as that was the only institution in the diocese with any kind of real income. The bishop before me received $3100.00 per month from the seminary. When I came I immediately dropped that to $2,000.00 per month. My diocesan salary/ stipend was $900.00 per month.
Later, a little over two years before the then dean of St. Herman’s Seminary Archpriest Chad Hatfeld left, I allocated $1,000.00 from my monthly stipend to him as a means of assisting him.
In addition, the prior bishop also received $2,000.00 per month from the Sitka Cathedral. I refused any stipend until we bought the new residence at 7718 Old Harbor. I then received $1,000.00 per month that was used to pay the second mortgage on the property which amounted to $ 998.00 per month. Initially I received the money and paid the mortgage then had the money directly deposited. I am sure this is common in all the dioceses, however, and am not looking for any accolades. The point is that I took nothing for myself.
Russian Alaskan Liturgical Supplies (RALS)
This liturgical goods supply house was created to have a financial base for the diocese. I was duped into thinking this would really happen. In its entire existence RALS only once contributed to the diocese: $5,000.00. The Priest Daniel Andrejuk, however, received a monthly stipend from the operation, $1400.00 for the last couple of years.
Please note that RALS had an outstanding debt with Alexandra International of approximately $60,000.00. We found out about this just recently. We negotiated this debt and paid it off at approximately $47,000.00. It was decided to pay this debt off and use money that I had managed to place in a stock account at Wachovia. At one point just prior to my leaving there was approximately $200,000.00 in the account.
The second on the residence was also paid off.
Most of the money in this account was from the sale of the Bishop’s residence along with some savings over the years when there were extra funds available.
Diocesan property in 2001 was basically the six-plex residence on 24th Street in Anchorage. It was sold for approximately $325,000.00. It was a mess, in a terrible neighborhood and had developed mold in the lower level. It was sold for the appraised price with no inspections.
We bought the 10-plex across from the Cathedral in Anchorage for approximately $400,000.00. Later this property was sold for nearly double that.
And the residence at 740 Hunt was bought. When the property on Old Harbor was bought the property at Hunt was placed in escrow for $350,000.00. This loan would be paid once the purchaser’s credit was at a higher rate. Property in Anchorage like anywhere else in the world fluctuates as you can see from the Ten-plex transaction. The new residence is worth between $400,000.00 and 500,000.00 and is debt free.
Russian Orthodox Museum, Inc. (ROMI) entailed the purchase of the property at 6th and A Street in downtown Anchorage. Just prior to my exile there was approximately $217,000.00 owed. This is the only debt in the name of the Diocese! And the property is worth nearly a million dollars in its location.
ROMI included the Archangel Gift store in Sitka. This shop area was leased to a local businesswoman for $15,000.00 per year. When her lease ran out we took the shop as a diocesan enterprise and the last two years managed to get $80,000 plus in revenue. Some might say the Cathedral in Sitka suffered. Hardly—the Cathedral made more than that in tours during the summer. St. Michael’s had $8,140.75 in checking, 11,407.12 in savings and 26,824.45 in the maintenance account and this before tours began this year. Funds from the Sitka store’s profit were used to pay the mortgage at A Street.
St. Nicholas Skete (Eklutna) was another of those places in the diocese that was underutilized. With a contract from the 1990’s after Archbishop GREGORY and Protopresbyter Joseph Kreta were removed initiated by New York the diocese received a percentage of monies from tours and the local Eklutna Corporation was to maintain the property. The property was not maintained and the percentage was less than $10,000.00 per year - nothing. We took the Eklutna operation over and the last two years approximately $30,000.00 was realized. Monies from this were to be used to build the new Skete monastic quarters. The loan from the bank was approved, volunteer labor to be used and the monks would maintain the property.
Lands in the Diocese were all placed in the name of the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska, OCA Inc. Can you imagine a bishop advertising that he’s got someone “looking into” “my” land account? These lands belong to the Diocese of Sitka and Alaska, an entity of the OCA and to no one else. It took some five years to get the lands in order. Diocesan lands were used to build the diocese. I might note that the ten percent tithe to be given to the central church that was approved at the Diocesan Assembly some years earlier amounted to more than the former one third calculations that from the 1990’s at Archbishop Gregory’s inception. The tithe instituted by our administration was done scripturally and the central administration benefitted.
St. Herman Seminary (SHS) was left in deplorable condition. It had not had any maintenance or upkeep for many years. All of the buildings were renovated as well as the chapel completed. Most of the funds for materials were contributed by personal friends who believed in the mission of Alaska and my work and integrity. Nearly all the work was done by volunteers and 99% of them were from outside the Diocese. There was little or no help in renovating those buildings from members of the church, particularly the Kodiak parish, unfortunately. These same people who did nothing to help made up the bulk of the nay-sayers in Kodiak who never did a thing except to offer lip service and criticism. In fact you can check the receipts and see that one businessman in particular was paid for most of what he provided. Sure, one could say it was a good deal -- but it is a better deal when the merchandise can’t be sold and you give to another for a ‘cut’ rate and then take it as a tax credit. To deal with the church in that way shows absolutely no integrity.
I want to make note that the previous dean’s salary package was over $100,000.00. It is my fault paying someone such a grandiose sum but I was also duped into believing he was an honorable man and didn’t know of his family vices until after it was too late. The seminary had $86,930.91 when I left. Our appeals were not affected by the negative press because there were those, again mostly personal friends who believed in the mission of Alaska and my work and integrity, who were willing to pick up the slack at such a time. Remember also that no student paid anything for seminary training from the time I arrived. This was much different from years past when appeals were generous, federal student loans ran freely and audits were not done. Are you are aware that the fifteen years prior to my arrival appeals amounted to a total of $4,700,000.00? That figure does not even include student loans or bequests! And no year’s budget was ever over $200,000.00 except when Archpriest Michael Oleksa was skimming the cream for himself.
Needless to say all of what I am writing could be twisted as has everything else I have done to the Glory of God. I pray that Almighty God has mercy on those detractors, liars and malcontents. My conscious (sic) is clear but my heart is heavy. What I have written here is not delusion. It is not opinion or perception. It is fact and can be seen in the diocesan accounting. I doubt, however, that Bishop BENJAMIN will make that public as it would now expose the falsehood he has passed to the public as truth.
Mortgages in the diocese that I am aware are:
Sitka Cathedral for renovation of the residence $250,000.00
Their income from tourism more than covers this as reflected in the above totals.
St. Innocent Cathedral has approximately
$100,000.00 for renovations.
New Stuyahok with the local tribal council,
St. Tikhon Parish is (sic) Anchorage
I am prepared to reveal more details as is necessary so that the continued lack of respect for the episcopate and the dishonor of the Church ends and ends soon.
Asking your prayers and assuring you of mine, I remain,
With Love in Christ,
Bishop of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska"
Questions and No Answers
If the Bishop's letter was intended to stop Bishop Benjamin for publicly discussing a $900,000 debt of the Alaska diocese, it failed. Last night Bishop Benjamin spoke again of the debt at the San Francisco Town Hall. The Bishop of San Francisco also told the 40-odd participants of that meeting that the former Bishop of Sitka had taken the files of the Alaskan diocese with him - except those he shredded.
So the first question that needs to be answered is: What is the current financial status of the Alaskan diocese? The Metropolitan Council is charged to oversee the finances of the territorial church; but the faithful of Alaska have the right - and duty - to know the real status of their diocesan treasury.
Secondly, if St. Herman's seminary collected, as the former Bishop claims, some $330,000 a year over the past 15 years in donations, but the annual budget was never more than $200,000, where did the balance, if such existed, go?
How was it possible for the Bishop to start a business in and for the Diocese, rack up a $60,000 debt, and then claim he "only found out about this just recently"?
Who, if anyone, authorized, the purchase and sale of so many church properties in such a short time, such that the diocese looks to be "flipping" properties?
The former Bishop's memo makes it clear that if the Diocese and seminary are going to continue to ask for and receive donations from the faithful, more transparent financial controls and accountability are sorely needed in the OCA's oldest diocese.
It is interesting to note that the former Bishop of Sitka spares none of his critics, lay and clergy, alike; but, with the exception of an old swipe about Bishop Benjamin's former financial problems, says nothing about his fellow Bishops - the ones who actually retired him. Disparaging laymen, clergy and even whole parishes (in the case of Kodiak), however, is apparently acceptable to the retired Bishop, as long as one
does not evidence "lack of respect for the episcopate."
The former Bishop of Sitka (rather than the "Bishop of Sitka and Alaska" as he signed this memo) ends with a clear warning: "I am prepared to reveal more details as is necessary so that the continued lack of respect for the episcopate and the dishonor of the Church ends and ends soon." As with Robert Kondratick, we can only hope that he will do so.
- Mark Stokoe