+Nikolai's address to AK Diocesan Assembly
- http://dioceseofalaska.org/html/assembly2006_address.html DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY November 12 14, 2006 Bishop NIKOLAI Address
Dearly Beloved in ChristVery Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Matushki, Delegates, Observers and the Faithful of this God Protected Diocese of Alaska
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Five years ago today, November 13, 2001 Bishop TIKHON of the West and I were sitting together in the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) restaurant in Syosset. It was the night before the special session of the Holy Synod convened to elect a ruling bishop for Alaska. I had been in Alaska for nearly four months and had visited most of the regions in our Diocese. Some of those places were dusty, some were muddy, some had no running water and most had mosquitoes big enough to suck your last drop of blood! Bishop TIKHON looked at me seriously and said, You know, Alaska is the place that gives dignity to The Orthodox Church in America. My first reaction was to laugh. But, by the look on his face, I paused, realizing, he wasnt thinking about dusty streets and hungry mosquitoes, but about history and legacy. During the past five years I have come to recognize the truth in his observation. Alaska is our Mother Diocese. She represents the beginnings of Orthodoxy in
North America for every Orthodox Christian. We have the awesome responsibility of maintaining Her integrity to be what God intended. This responsibility is in our hands and we will do it, God help us! Wouldnt it be wonderful if more of our own people in America made pilgrimages to Alaska and venerated the relics of our St. Herman? Wouldnt it be wonderful if the knowledge of life here in this Diocesethe largest church in the Statewas better known? Where else in America can it be said that the Orthodox Church is the largest church? But let us not forget that history and size mean nothing without continual hard work and sacrifice. This is the commitment our Lord calls us to make.
I want to thank a few people in particular. One is my Chancellor, Archimandrite Isidore who represents me on the line with all of you and who hardly needs any accolades or would want them, Minadora Jacobs, my assistant whose tireless efforts on my behalf and daily in the running of A Street, the Archpriest Chad Hatfield for his tireless leadership and dedication to the training of our students and integrity he brings to the Seminary, the deans in showing example by their leadership, the clergy who strive to be obedient in doing Gods will in a secular world and our faithful who follow the Lords direction through example and love.
What does hard work and sacrifice mean for us today, more than 200 years since those first missionaries arrived in Kodiak? We know that in order to accomplish anything worthwhile, we must have the necessary tools. For us, as Orthodox Christians, that means the spiritual tools, which the Church provides. We have gathered here at this Assembly as representatives of the God Protected Diocese of Alaska. We give thanks to Almighty God for His protection and for the intercession of His Holy Mother and all the saints who watch over our people.
One of the spiritual tools most readily available to each of us is our Christian name. As your Bishop, I ask you to remain firm in your resolve to use the names you and your children were given at Holy Baptism. Why would we ask the saint whose name we bear to hear us only once a week in Church when we can call on them daily to intercede for us? Let us strive to dispense with the secular names and rely on our saints to guide us each and every day. Remember my dear ones, the evil one works 24/7 and we need this protection.
St. Innocent wrote that there were some things that he felt had not been accomplished during his time in Alaska. He said that alcoholism and those living together outside Holy Matrimony were his foremost concerns. My dear faithful these are still problems and we have begun to address them. Our partnership with South Central Foundation has been a start and may that relationship grow and become even stronger for the wellbeing and health of our people and communities. Our seminarians are getting the proper training and certification in substance abuse counseling to help in the communities they will serve. As our church life becomes our focus and the center of our lives we will render these obstacles less powerful, day-by-day.
I am so grateful for the number of requests I receive continually from couples wanting to have their unions blessed. We are making a difference but we have to persevere in His direction. We would never deny a child the sacrament of Baptism because their parents are not married. But we want every child to have a proper home in the eyes of God, struggling right along with the rest of us toward salvation.
Another spiritual tool is arriving in a timely manner to the Church services. It is important that we take the time to reverently venerate the icons of our saints before the service begins. It is equally important to be present the moment the priest intones, Blessed is the Kingdom One theologian likened that announcement to the beginning of a train journey when the watchman calls out, All Aboard! But we can relate to that even better when we are traveling in a village or in the cities at the airport. When they announce the plane is boarding we are there ready waiting and excited to enter.
The Church should be an even more exciting place and we should eagerly be awaiting that beginning prayer. Our Divine Liturgy is a weekly journey to the Kingdom of Heaven where ultimately, through the Holy Eucharist we encounter the Living Christ. Who would be late for such a journey? The Holy Fathers structured the Divine Liturgy, not for us to come and go according to whim, but to stand and be present, praying and vigilant until we meet our Risen Lord.
Through Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving (PFA) we acquire the spiritual tools to accomplish the hard work and to make the sacrifices which the Scriptures quite clearly direct. Have you given your Permanent Fund Dividend tithe to the Church? Have you reminded your spiritual children of this Scriptural directive? We know that when we return to God what he has first given us, only then can our lives be truly blessed.
So, let us remember to use our Christian names, to arrive at the services on time and to maintain the standard of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Let us encourage our loved ones to have their unions blessed and to pray in particular for those struggling with substance abuse. A strong spiritual life provides us with the necessary tools to build up the Church in our Diocese and it gives us the strength to bear the sacrifices.
I am reminded that our spiritual forefathers promoted education, built churches, a seminary, and orphanages here in Alaska. They had far less material and technological means than we have today. Certainly there was no Permanent Fund Dividend. Yet they persevered and we must do the same.
I would like to share some observations with you now on the progress in the Diocese and my prayer and vision for the near future.
St. Herman Seminary provides the life-blood in our Diocese, training men and women to serve in this land. We are blessed that the Seminary is thriving and that there are students who are already applying for admission next year. We deeply appreciate the financial support we receive at the Seminary from around the world, through private donations and organizations like Outreach Alaska and Ilaasi. But, we must rely on our own people, here in Alaska, to pay for the education of our clergy. It is time for us to commit ourselves to financially supporting our seminary, just as we resolved three years ago to tithe to The Orthodox Church in America.
Last month we launched a new program to train deacons to serve in the Diocese. We would like to replicate this program in Bethel where students from that part of the Diocese can participate in this training without having to travel great distances. This program does not diminish the work of the seminary; rather, it enhances the seminary education.
Today we have 40 active priests in the Diocese, 5 retired and as of yesterday by Gods Grace 12 deacons. There have never been more clergy in the history of this Diocese. We have read that at St. Yakovs funeral there were some fifty clergy in attendance. Although this is a remarkable fact, they were not only ordained priests and deacons but readers as well were included in that number.
This last week, on the Feast of St. Demetrius, the Great Martyr, young Paul Erickson died and was given a new life as the Stavrophor monk Panteleimon. And yesterday he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate. Monasticism is what brought Orthodoxy here and it is that mission of a hermitage on Spruce Island that we pray in the Akathist every week. With this in mind a plan for the Hermitage that we pray to build on Spruce Island has been drawn up.
We hope to bless the ground for the new monastic building at Eklutna this coming May 22nd on the Feast for the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas. The structure is inspired by plans that I saw while visiting Serbia last year. My friend Bishop Grigorije and I visited the site where this building was in progress. I asked him whether it would have nuns or monks and he looked at me and said, Whatever God blesses. May He bless our efforts in Eklutna.
We intend to transform our modest Russian Orthodox Museum in downtown Anchorage (6th and A St.) into a prominent center for the Diocese. Inspired by the Old Russian Bishops House in Sitka, this building will allow us to expand our museum, the gift shop and Cupola Coffee shop. The Diocesan archives will be transferred here so that scholars may access them more readily and where a full-time staff will care for them. The Diocesan offices will also be in this complex as well as a chapel. It is important that everyone sees that we are a Church that is alive and that our Church is at the center of our lives.
Many of you are faithful Distinguished Diocesan Donors. We have a plan to refocus our direction with this worthy program and to designate our 3-D monies for a specific project. It was decided at the Diocesan Council Meeting yesterday that we would direct these funds to paying off the mortgage on our downtown property at A Street. Our 3-D members will receive statements on the progress of this debt reduction and know that when we achieve our goal, the establishment of the Diocesan complex will become possible. As with everything we do in the Diocese there are no secrets about what we do and how we spend our resources.
Thanks be to God that our communities are transforming the church buildings inside and out to be appropriate temples of worship. You can witness this throughout the Diocese. It seems to me that Napaskiak started this major transformation. Now it is in evidence in every region of the Diocese and dozens of churches.
ROSSIA (Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska) is active in providing matching grants for communities to do work that they might not be able to do alone. St. Sergius Church in Chuathbaluk on the Kuskokwim, Holy Assumption in Kenai, St. Nicholas in Juneau and Holy Ascension in Karluk have been approved. Only those churches that are historic are eligible to receive these ROSSIA funds.
From what I have described today, I hope you have a sense of the direction I envision for our Diocese. With Gods help we will continue to embrace the dignity, Bishop TIKHON so aptly reminded me of on the eve of my election, and build on the legacy which we inherited. We will continue to reach out to the broader Orthodox community.
Our own Kazan Icon, the Wonderworking Icon of the Sitka Mother of God, made an extraordinary Pilgrimage last year to almost 100 locations nationally. Recently, His Grace, Bishop ALEJO of Mexico City presented me with a formal request at the Holy Synod asking if the Icon could travel to Mexico and if this could happen as soon as possible. Plans are currently underway for this Pilgrimage possible in April and when Canada makes the same request the entire territory of The Orthodox Church in America will have been blessed by her visit. We have many other holy objects but our greatest treasure is the Faith which was given to us through sacrifice and hard work beginning with that long sacrificial trip of love from Russia in 1793 and continuing until this very moment.
All these physical changes occurring throughout the Diocese are important. That our Churches are the most beautiful buildings in the villages and cities is an encouragement to us and an inspiration to others. Sharing our Holy treasures on Pilgrimage and in the Museum brings countless blessings and provides knowledge about the Orthodox faith to a wider community. But the most essential transformations must occur within each of us. We must become better Orthodox Christians and that can only happen if we are willing to submit ourselves to the will of Jesus Christ, to use the spiritual tools the Church provides and to live the life He has given us through the holy saints, many of whom walked this very land.
I give thanks for each and every one of you. I thank you for your prayers, your support and hard work. May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ continue to bless this beautiful and God Protected Diocese.
Access over 1 million songs - Yahoo! Music Unlimited.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]