From an Antiochian Orthodox priest:
I do agree this matter requires a great deal of prayer by all of us, out of love
and compassion for all those struck by recent events.
Lord, have mercy!
From the various documents I have read:
- The OCA Holy Synod established a practice regarding sex offenders and their
status within the jurisdiction. There is a common opinion (a ‘local canon’ if
you dare) that registered/convicted sex offenders are not to be tonsured to
minor offices or ordained to Holy Orders.
- Bishop Nikolai tonsured a sex offender as Reader against the policies of the
- When he refused to take action, Metropolitan Herman suspended the Reader
- Bishop Nikolai publicly served Theophany with the Reader and posted photos
on his website to confirm the event (c.f. http://www.dioceseofalaska.org/images/theophany08/IMG_0103.gif
- The bishops of the Holy Synod were contacted regarding accusations and
complaints from long-serving clergy at the request of Bishop Nikolai (c.f. 4
March 2008 letter from the Holy Synod).
- They *unanimously* agreed that Bishop Nikolai take a voluntary Leave-of-
absence in keeping with the Statutes of the OCA (c.f. ibid.).
- Bishop Nikolai then violated his consecration oath by refusing to obey his
Synod (c.f. Third Consecration Oath of a Bishop versus his 5 March 2008
Therefore, even if the actions were not in keeping with the letter of the
canons, Bishop Nikolai’s obstinate behavior is highly problematic from a
canonical perspective. He should have obeyed and appealed the action
through the normal channels rather than refusing a rightful instruction of the
His Grace, Bishop Tikhon, knows full well that two wrongs do not make a right,
and that returning evil with evil is not godly to say the least. The Holy Synod
has hardly slipped into heresy or done some such thing that would require
such drastic actions as Bishop Nikolai has taken in disobeying the Holy Synod
over a procedural problem. Despite what Bishop Nikolai said in his press
conference, the Holy Synod is not slipping into heresy. Many Synods practice
far wilder matters of hierarchical discipline: Moscow and Constantinople, to
whom he has appealed, normally shuffle bishops without concern. Why does
he think that they would handle this matter any different?
Perhaps His Grace has forgotten that, should such behavior as Bishop Nikolai
be held us as a model, then presbyters could then disobey their bishop should
they, on their own, determine that the bishop is behaving in an uncanonical
manner. Instead, we clergy obey and hope for God’s vindication through the
normal canonical process, even when strict adherence to the canons is not
what is shown to us.
Bishop Nikolai stated that the clergy should have come to him first. I then
think of his own words:
“I liken this to a family where there’s an adolescent acting out,” Bishop Nikolai
said. “I think when you were an adolescent, like I was, we at one point
decided our parents are stupid, they didn’t know anything, we knew much
more and we could do it better. And there’s a rebellious part of that too, I
"I beg you, confront me with my sin and I will repent. But confront me
with 'bad press' or an abrasive 'leadership style,' and the most I can do is
become a slick politician or politically correct bureaucrat ... and that I refuse
to do," the bishop wrote. (http://www.adn.com/life/religion/story/338612.html
Bishop Nikolai's statements here indicate he is not open to discussion
regarding his behavior. He has contempt for those to criticize his harshness,
which is what brought the groundswell against him. However, the popular
opinion against him is only one part of this complicated matter.
Obedience is one’s disposition towards admonishment prior to receiving the
instructions. Should Bishop Nikolai pick and choose when he will follow
instruction and when he will not, then he is hardly being obedient. He
certainly would not tolerate such selective obedience shown to him, would he?
Bishop Nikolai was placed on leave according the OCA Statutes which he was
fully aware of when he was consecrated. If he had a problem with them, he
should have registered his apprehension prior to consecration. You don’t get
to change the rules in the middle of the game. The statute permits the Holy
Synod to take the course of action as it did to prepare charges against Bishop
Nikolai if the investigation finds grounds.
A suspension is hardly a deposition, but merely a necessary step in preparing a
fair investigation. Had the Holy Synod have issued charges against Bishop
Nikolai at this time, he would have complained of (and been right to do so) of
the haste. The Holy Synod took a merciful step in allowing him to go quietly
into a leave that may have resulted in his being pardoned. Now, he has
violated the canons apart from whatever the Holy Synod’s investigation would
have otherwise uncovered.
We must remember that the canons and the consecration oath proclaim
obedience to the Holy Synod as being primary. Without obedience, the entire
Church slips into the very disorder Bishop Nikolai decries.
The fact that Bishop Nikolai cites his conscience has no canonical standing
apart from his brethren, which he is called to be of one mind with. The fact
that he is so far removed from the common thinking of all his brethren appears
to me to indication that there is a serious problem.
If Bishop Nikolai were to follow the example given to us by such great saints
at St. Nektarios and countless martyrs who suffered after the manner of our
Lord, he would have quietly obeyed. Instead, he has chosen to go to war
against the unanimous decision of his long-suffering brethren.
Given Bishop Nikolai’s break in obedience with the Holy Synod, I do not think
that it is irregular for the clergy of Alaska, being, after all, under the
jurisdiction of the OCA, to cease commemoration of a hierarch who has stated
his unwillingness to be of one mind with the Synod. Again, this is akin to
permitting a presbyter to continue to serve at the altar after he refuses to
acknowledge his bishop’s right to call him to obedience. I am certain Bishop
Tikhon would not expect Orthodox priests to follow after a bishop who has
broken from his Synod?
I think we can agree that the Holy Synod has indeed been longsuffering,
knowing of Bishop Nikolai’s break with them yet still refusing to give up on him
entirely. The Holy Synod could have declared the obvious and announced
Bishop Nikolai’s break with them. In a way, instructing the clergy not to
commemorate Bishop Nikolai is in keeping with common sense: how can the
clergy commemorate Metropolitan Herman and Bishop Nikolai at the same time,
when Bishop Nikolai has, effectively, broken with his Synod?
If he will not obey the Synod, he undoes himself. One could go as far as to
say that, by renouncing obedience, he is effectively no longer a bishop at all,
as a bishop is not a bishop merely by being consecrated, but through his
membership in a Synod. He can’t be a member of a Synod unless he submits
himself to it, even when he disagrees and could even have very valid points.
The big question, then, is whether a bishop can be a bishop without
obedience to his Synod. Perhaps His Grace can enlighten us on how that
works, canonically speaking of course. From my reading of the canons, the
episcopate is fundamentally and ontologically bound to the concept of
obedience to a Synod.
This is what Bishop Nikolai swore to, and what he now violates. I say this
with sorrow, bearing him no hatred or ill-will. My sorrow is for everyone
involved. Don’t think that I do not pray for Bishop Nikolai, and the clergy and
people of Alaska, because they are my brethren in the Lord.
It is so sad that all of this must be trammeled out on the internet.
Bishop Tikhon’s letter, while sad, is very illuminating. It is also problematic in
its own right.