The Morning After
There was a significant earthquake in the Cook Inlet yesterday, halfway between Anchorage and Kodiak. But it was the entire OCA that shook as the Synod of Bishops reversed its earlier decision to place the controversial Bishop of Alaska on a mandatory “Leave of Absence” while an investigation is conducted. The Synod decided to re-instate Bishop Nikolai and allow the Bishop to remain in the Diocese while new “inquiries” are made. Fr. Alexander Garklavs, the Chancellor of the OCA, was therefore removed as the Diocesan Administrator.
In explaining their decision, the Bishops stated they were “aware of the concerns of clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska”, but recognized “the express desire of their diocesan hierarch to address these concerns, and to take whatever action is necessary to restore peace”. Two members of the Synod, Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Archdiocese and Bishop Tikhon of Eastern Pennsylvania, will now
“ travel to Alaska, to inquire into these concerns” next Monday, and then report to the Synod at its next meeting in mid-May. No explanation was offered why the previously-stated need for an investigation into allegations of abuse is now only an ”inquiry into concerns”; nor why the previously-stated concerns of witness tampering and intimidation of witnesses by Bishop Nikolai are now somehow less valid.
Not Allowed to Report
Even more surprising though, was the Synod’s decision not to hear, or even receive the report from Fr. Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor, who had spent the last week in Alaska interviewing priests and lay people concerning the allegations against the Bishop. Fr. Garklavs confirmed the Synod’s action, in an email message to the priests of Alaska late yesterday. Fr. Garklavs writes:
“Dear Alaskan Brothers,
As I said when I was with you, so I repeat it again, “I am humbled and honored to be in your presence.”
We have not seen nor been told of the deliberations of the Holy Synod earlier today, but their decision is tragic. That I had neither the opportunity to present my report nor to speak to them is unexplainable. The day was a hectic one, and the afternoon was spent on travel to Pennsylvania for Fr. Eugene Vansuch’s funeral; after the service I came back home.
So tonight, I am overwhelmed with monumental feelings of anger, loss and betrayal. And if I were to give in to my baser instincts, I would probably write and say things that I would later regret. So, I will prepare to go to sleep with the thought that, if the sun rises tomorrow, we will have another day.
But I did want to say something to you: The events today, unfortunate as they are, are still far from ending the Alaskan situation. As you know, two hierarchs from the Holy Synod will be coming to Alaska next week. I understand that they will be doing the same things as I was: listening to you and the terms of the agreement that Bishop Nikolai has given them is that you will be able to say to them anything that you said to me. It makes everything so much harder, since we all went through this painful process just a few days ago, but nevertheless, the bishops will be there to hear you out. In fact, they will be traveling to villages that I was not able to visit. So, I encourage you brothers (and your fathers, and mothers, and sisters, and brothers), to take the opportunities to meet with the hierarchs, when they are nearby, and share with them what you shared with me, with the same dignity, honestly, faith and piety that you had when we met.
I am no longer the “Administrator” of the Diocese, and the few but significant changes that we did put into place will probably not be acceptable to Bishop Nikolai. But I will not abandon your cause nor forget your noble courage. I assure you that almost all of your clergy brothers here in the “lower 48” stand behind you completely. And, if necessary, we will come to Alaska on our own resources to stand next to you during your times of trial.
Your brother in Christ,
The Anchorage Daily News reported on its front page Bishop Nikolai’s reaction to the surprising turn of events:
“Bishop Nikolai, who had refused to step down, issued a written statement praising the decision.
‘The action taken at the meeting reflects the desire of the Synod to approach problems in accordance with the established order of the Church,’ the statement said. ‘(Soraich) is confident that the process of reconciliation for all Orthodox faithful in Alaska will continue in the days and weeks ahead.’ He also called on Orthodox people in Alaska to pray, ‘particularly those with whom they have disagreed over the past several weeks.’“
(Read the full ADN story here)
The paper did not identify where or when the written statement was issued, and no statement has appeared on the Alaskan diocesan website, or the OCA website.
The Bishop’s critics were stunned by the decision.
One prominent Alaskan priest called the Synod’s decision “devastating”. A prominent layman, who like the priest did not wish to be identified, was more graphic: “The Holy Synod” he wrote, “ has given the Alaskan faithful the kiss of Judas.” As many Alaskan priests are subsistence gatherers and fishermen, and therefore lack financial resources to fly into Anchorage once a year, let alone twice in one month, the Synod agreed that the two inquiring Bishops will fly to several outlying areas. It is not clear however, what these Bishops will hear that Fr. Garklavs did not. The priests are united in their continuing opposition to the Bishop and his alleged abusive behaviors. As one priest wrote to students at St. Herman’s Seminary yesterday evening: “The clergy are going to write letters insisting that BN leave or they will leave the diocese or the priesthood entirely. That is where we stand.”
So What Happened?
Initial reports from the Synod meeting indicate that Bishop Nikolai made good on his public threats to challenge the “canonicity” of the process against him; as well as his intention to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate should the Synod proceed in its efforts. In short, +Nikolai gained on technical grounds, while the Metropolitan failed to keep a consensus for his previous strategy. Archbishops Nathaniel and Dmitri favored +Nikolai’s assertions that only “Bishops should investigate Bishops”, despite objections from Archbishop Job and Bishop Benjamin. In the absence of the facts from Fr. Garklavs’ report -- for unexplained reasons the Metropolitan had decided before the meeting not to allow the report to be presented -- no one had the energy or vision to address the growing leadership vacuum. A compromise favoring +Nikolai subsequently emerged.
In the end the decision resolved nothing besides guaranteeing the OCA yet another Pascha - the third in a row - in turmoil.
In related OCA news, the Special Investigative Committee's (SIC) proposed interviews with Metropolitans Herman and Theodosius, as well as Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Moscow), previously scheduled for today and tommorrow, in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania have been postponed due to services for the late Fr. Eugene Vansuch. The former Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards Director passed away unexpectedly earlier this week.