Orthodox infighting mars season of Lent

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The holy season of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska is being marred by a standoff.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The head of the diocese is locked in a standoff with national church leaders, who want the bishop to step down while they investigate charges against him.

But in an open letter this week, Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the diocese, said Alaska priests should continue to recognize him in church services as their rightful bishop.

In recent weeks, a number of Alaska priests and parishioners have asked the national church to remove the bishop, accusing him of intimidation, insults and other abuses.

Soraich has asked those unhappy with him to deal with him directly. He scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to answer questions.

Both critics and supporters of the bishop say the conflict is creating hardships for everyone involved, especially since the season of Lent, which is the holiest time of the year, has begun.

Father Michael Oleksa, an archpriest in Anchorage, called the situation tragic.

"It seems to me the direction the bishop is taking is a dead end. It can only provoke (the synod of bishops) ultimately to suspend him from his ministry," Oleksa said. "It's not good to cause this division ... it's unnecessary and painful."

Supporters say it is painful for the bishop to be ordered to leave Alaska after seven years of service and hard work to build up the diocese.

"I'm frustrated with the national church, how they've handled this," said Mina Jacobs, a volunteer assistant for the bishop who also runs the Russian Orthodox museum downtown.

"Why don't they send somebody in here who cares and says, 'Let's find a way to discuss this?' Where is he supposed to go?" Jacobs said.

Garklavs, who said he expects to arrive in Alaska next week, said Tuesday the national church does care about the diocese.

"We would like very much for people to know that it's a difficult time but we hope that things will be resolved and will improve," he said.

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