Leaders of the Orthodox Church in America have backed off on a demand that embattled Alaska Bishop Nikolai Soraich take leave while they investigate accusations against him by clergy and laity.
The Holy Synod of Bishops, meeting in New York on Thursday, said Soraich may remain in his post as long as he cooperates with the investigation. Leaders want "to take whatever action is necessary to restore peace," their statement said.
The announcement reverses a move earlier this month, when the bishops insisted he take a leave of absence in response to complaints from Alaska priests about heavy-handed management, intimidation and disregard for Native culture.
The synod's statement Thursday said that two church leaders, Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Tikhon, will come to Alaska next week to "inquire into these concerns." They will report at the next regular meeting of the synod in May.
"The Holy Synod of Bishops, accepting the assurances of His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of full cooperation with the bishops being sent, withdraws the leave of absence previously imposed," said the statement posted on the church Web site.
The scope of the investigation isn't clear. Calls out of state to those involved were not immediately returned.
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."
Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591. Reporter Lisa Demer contributed to this story.