National leaders of the Russian Orthodox church were meeting this week in New York, wrestling with chaos in their Alaska diocese as the man in the middle of the turmoil defended his leadership.
Among the grumblings about Alaska Bishop Nikolai Soraich is that he fired a popular priest from a teaching post after the priest criticized him in a newspaper story published Friday.
Priests and parishioners from around the state petitioned church leaders to remove Bishop Nikolai in a series of letters and e-mails over the past several weeks. They accuse the bishop, who has served in Alaska for seven years, of abuse, intimidation and disrespect for Native culture.
The Lesser Synod of the Orthodox Church in America met on Tuesday on Long Island in New York to consider the complaints but has not announced any planned action.
Last week, Alaska's best-known Orthodox pastor, the Rev. Michael Oleksa of Anchorage, spoke to the Daily News about the clerical revolt against the bishop, saying the clergy "and probably a large percentage of the laity" in the church are at a point where they can no longer serve under him.
Oleksa, archpriest at St. Alexis in Anchorage, confirmed this week that the day the Daily News article ran, Bishop Nikolai dismissed him from his temporary teaching post at the Saint Herman Theological Seminary in Kodiak.
Bishop Nikolai could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
He has posted an open letter, dated Tuesday, along with a chronology of events, defending his leadership on the Alaska diocese Web site.
In the posting, the bishop does not respond to allegations of abuse, intimidation or disrespect toward Natives, but he does go into depth about how the Alaska diocese handled the recent scandal involving Archimandrite Isidore, the bishop's second in command.
Bishop Nikolai said in his letter that his "infrequent and brief" responses to diocesan unrest were in keeping with admonitions in the New Testament, although he admitted he hadn't followed them perfectly.
Last year, Paul Sidebottom, a former acting dean and Orthodox missionary who taught at Saint Herman's, accused Isidore of drunkeness and sexual misconduct.
The bishop's chronology recounts the diocese handling of Isidore's alcohol abuse and the investigation led by the national church that followed.
"I have not always responded quickly enough when members of this diocese have engaged in gossip, indirect and unsubstantiated accusations, and slander," he wrote in the letter.
Last week, the bishop said he doesn't know why priests are speaking out against him. He said he tried to restore order in a diocese where things had been loosely run in the past.
The Alaska diocese runs nearly 100 parishes, missions and other organizations in the state.
It has an estimated 25,000 members and 43 priests.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.