Bishop Nikolai Soraich, head of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska, said at a press conference this morning that he will not step down despite mounting pressure from national church leaders to do so.
An aide blamed the national church of coveting diocesean land in Alaska.
Speaking to the media at the church's downtown Anchorage offices today, Soraich accused national church leaders of not following proper church procedures when no formal allegations against him have been filed.
His second-in-command, chancellor Archimandrite Isidore, went further and said that the New York-based Orthodox Church of America is seizing on the internal strife within the local diocese to kick out a bishop whom they have long butted heads with. One issue is ownership of the diocese's land in Alaska, he said.
The land was slowly being sold off by the national organization until Soraich took over about seven years ago, Isidore said. What's left includes land in Anchorage, Kodiak, Sitka and Russian Mission that generates about $100,000 in income a year, he said.
In New York, the man chosen to run the Alaska diocese while Soraich is investigated denied the land played any role in the national church's actions.
"We've had some church problems and some internal problems that have unfortunately caused some issues, but no, we're not necessarily hard-up for cash," said Alexander Garklavs, chancellor of The Orthodox Church in America.
"That's not the motive."
Garklavs said there were enough concerns expressed in phone calls and e-mails from Alaskans that the church did not need formal allegations to investigate.
Soraich's critics accuse him of heavy-handed management of the church and disrespect for Native culture.
Find reporter Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland.
By MEGAN HOLLAND