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OCANews: "A RESPONSE FROM ZOYA PIERSON"

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  • Nina_Dimas_42
    12.04.06 A RESPONSE FROM ZOYA PIERSON I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Jacobs letter. (Read that letter here). Jacobs correctly points out that silence does
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2006
      12.04.06


      A RESPONSE FROM ZOYA PIERSON

      I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Jacobs' letter. (Read that letter
      here). Jacobs correctly points out that silence does not "open the
      gateway for dispute". I would note, however, that silence is also
      the hallmark of both dictatorship and personal abuse.


      First, I must identify myself as Lydia Black's youngest daughter.


      Ms. Jacobs questions the purpose of examining the situation in
      Alaska. "More Trouble in Alaska" (Read that article here) provides
      insight into the character of the bishop who controls the most land-
      rich diocese of OCA. The site calls for a financial accounting of
      the cash raised by a spate of land sales and mortgages conducted by
      this same bishop, who does not apparently feel that he is
      accountable to anyone. Ms. Jacobs states: "I don't know that what
      His Grace has mortgaged in Alaska is anyone's business." Her belief
      appears to be that this single OCA bishop is entitled to more power
      than any politician, businessman or any other OCA clergyman holds.

      I disagree.


      If Syosset establishes procedures for accountability for itself,
      there should be no question that as a member of OCA, each diocese
      should, in turn, provide some sort of accounting to the
      administrative center of the Church, especially for OCA lands held
      by that diocese. Second, granting that the bishop of a diocese holds
      authority over diocesan property, he should be able, willing and
      required to provide an accounting to members of that Diocese in
      whose interests he purports to act.

      As for who has 'jurisdiction' over these lands, I have often
      wondered how these properties were deeded to the Diocese or OCA at
      all. The 1867 Treaty specifically states: "It is, however,
      understood and agreed, that the churches which have been built in
      the ceded territory by the Russian government, shall remain the
      property of such members of the Greek Oriental Church resident in
      the territory, as may choose to worship therein,"
      http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/ampage?
      collId=llsl&fileName=015/llsl015.db&recNum=574). This would indicate
      that the Alaskan properties were meant to be controlled, in at least
      some manner, by the local parishes. Did parishes ever sign deeds
      transferring ownership to either OCA or the Diocese?

      Ms. Jacobs states that, "Churches are being built and restored".
      However, this comes about because the churches in question do not
      meet Bishop Nikolai's personal standard of aesthetics (see below),
      and these "restorations" are, in at least several instances,
      conducted at an impoverished parish's expense, not that of the
      Diocese. Again, the question is: where is the money from the land
      sales and mortgages going?

      According to Ms. Jacobs, Bishop Nikolai is utilizing volunteer help
      extensively. She attributes Bishop Nikolai with their management,
      but one must note that he is merely inviting other organizations to
      undertake these projects. However, this utilization of free labor
      points out yet again that the cash generated through land sales and
      mortgages is not needed for these tasks. So, what is it needed for?


      As for Ms. Jacobs' casting aspersions on the "previous
      administration", it is widely believed in Alaska that Bishop
      Innocent, aware of his custodial responsibility to impoverished
      parishes, was replaced because of his hesitancy to blindly follow
      orders from Syosset to sell or otherwise use Alaska lands to provide
      cash to the central administration. Bishop Innocent, in fact, paid
      off the mortgage on the Seminary. Bishop Innocent consistently
      demonstrated his desire to preserve the wealth inherent in the
      Alaska lands for his flock, rather than obedience to a hierarchy
      which, as this Web site has documented, sought worldly wealth for
      itself.

      (For those who don't know, while the OCA obituary states that Bishop
      Innocent died on 'Monday' (his death was discovered on Monday
      morning), since he was taken in his sleep and was last seen alive on
      Easter Night, many in Alaska assume that he was taken late Sunday
      night. The Easter on which he died was also his name day (St.
      George) and the 25th anniversary of his ordination. By dint of Russo-
      Alaskan folk belief, these facts surrounding Bishop Innocent's death
      mark him as blessed.)

      I can confirm my mother's statement corresponds with what she told
      me approximately 36 hours after her eviction from the Seminary. Ms.
      Jacobs' contends that my mother's story reflects only "one
      interpretation of the event" – but she does not dispute the fact
      that a bishop kicked an elderly woman out of her home of three years
      late at night, giving her 10 hours to vacate the premises. It was
      only after he learned how well respected my mother is that he had
      any inclination to be 'forgiving' (and from my perspective, given
      his own actions, he is the one who should be seeking
      the 'forgiving').

      However, Bishop Nikolai's behavior belies his 'forgiving' nature as
      demonstrated by an incident whose description my mother failed to
      include in her statement. Following her eviction, she and Bishop
      Nikolai exchanged a telephone call. The discussion, according to my
      mother, seemed to go well, but then, suddenly, the bishop became
      angry with her all over again and declared her 'persona non grata'.
      Mom still ' know what prompted his anger. Perhaps he was reacting to
      something she said, but he didn't say what it was, if that indeed
      was the case. How does one attempt reconciliation with someone who,
      when offended, doesn't say so and refuses to address the specific
      offense, but simply banishes you?


      It made me laugh to see Ms. Jacobs' statement, "Let us be . . .
      vigilant in how we treat one another through word and deed", when
      she has already stated that my mother's treatment by Nikolai is
      irrelevant. Furthermore, +Nikolai's reign here has lasted for the
      past five years precisely because we modern Christians take the
      admonition to 'turn the other cheek' to mean 'do nothing and remain
      silent'. I sometimes wonder what would happen if Christ's
      overturning of the moneychangers' table in the Temple were to occur
      now? I'm almost certain that 'good' Christians would castigate him
      for his extreme behavior.


      One gets the impression from Ms. Jacobs' letter that Bishop Nikolai
      is running the Diocese like a corporation and turning a loss into a
      profit. Again, what purpose does this serve? The Alaska Diocese was
      never run by cash or 'wise investment' but by the love and faith of
      its membership, mostly Alaska Natives who, although frequently cash-
      poor themselves, were willing to forfeit meals in order to provide
      funds for icons and repairs. They donated their labor with love to
      the Church which sustained them. While it may be an accomplishment
      of +Nikolai's that he has built new churches in Anchorage, it is
      shameful that Native elders who attended Church faithfully all their
      lives have become so alienated that many either skip services when
      Nikolai is officiating or have stopped going to Church altogether.
      Native tradition goes far beyond the aspects of biological
      ethnicity, spoken language and food referenced by Ms. Jacobs. It
      informs behavior, attitudes and lifestyle choice. Sadly, +Nikolai is
      alienating Native elders who are the living repository of Native
      tradition which, in Alaska, includes a relationship of mutual
      support between laity and clergy (I refer readers to Professor
      Dauenhauer's letter regarding Bishop Nikolai's attitude toward this
      relationship). It is quite true that Bishop Nikolai
      dosen't 'differeniate'- he treats his Native parishioners, the
      frontline defenders of Orthodoxy in Alaska, no better than he does
      any other parishioner or any other person for that matter. While
      expansion in Anchorage may be considered an accomplishment, it does
      not excuse his alienation of the very people who have served and
      protected Orthodoxy despite severe hardship for generations.

      I also find myself required to correct Ms. Jacobs on another rather
      important point. Ms. Jacobs states, "Incidentally, it was research
      initiated by His Grace into the Martyr Juvenaly's death which
      revealed that it was a Native companion who perished with him." This
      is patently untrue. In 1987, Father Michael Oleksa, who is on
      Alaska's Diocesan Council, presented his paper "The Death of
      Hieromonk Juvenaly", a published edition of which can be found in
      Russia in North America/Proceedings of the 2nd International
      Conference on Russian America/Sitka, Alaska/August 19-22, 1987, ed.
      Richard Pierce, The Limestone Press, 1990. At the time, according to
      his OCA Web site biography, +Nikolai was a year or so away from
      receiving the "canonical release ". . . [and being] received into
      the ranks of clergy of the Orthodox Church in America."

      Ms. Jacobs claims to have addressed Mr. Stokoe's summary of what has
      been happening here with regard to the "seizing of archives,
      dispersal of collections, de facto closing of museums", but she does
      not directly address these allegations. She ignores the fact that
      after my mother's sudden dismissal, the Seminary's archive was
      seized despite its containing property belonging to others who left
      items in the Seminary's care so that Seminary students would have
      immediate access to them.

      Ms. Jacobs has not, in this letter or ever, answered my mother's
      question as to what became of St. Herman's copy of Life of St. Nilus
      (which my mother had restored along with several other items.) There
      are other Alaskan items which also have been sought and whose
      current whereabouts is unknown.


      Ms. Jacobs did not, in this letter or ever, acknowledge that upon my
      mother's dismissal, the Seminary museum was 'de facto' closed, even
      before the archives and items on display at the Seminary museum were
      physically relocated to Anchorage. The new 'Diocesan archive'
      reportedly can only be accessed with Bishop Nikolai's express
      permission. This is in stark contrast to the Seminary archive which
      was open, during my mother's tenure, to all, including those who
      came (from all over the country) investigating parish records
      seeking after their family's lineage.

      In addition, as demonstrated by the incident in which the visiting
      librarian who examined the Seminary's books directed that
      anything 'old' and 'foreign' be put out with the trash, there most
      certainly has been dispersal of collections. Thank heavens that not
      only my mother's landlady, but the director of another of Kodiak's
      museums, heard about the 'trash' outside the Seminary and rescued
      some rare items. (I could not help but laugh when I read the text of
      Bishop Niklolai's speech given at this month's Diocesan Assembly in
      which he reverently discussed history, given how much is being lost
      under his direction!)


      Numerous village churches have been ordered to remove or
      destroy 'old' or 'ugly' icons which either date from the Russian era
      or were hand-crafted by villagers themselves and, in one case,
      possibly Saint Yakov. Many of these 'old' or 'ugly' items have
      value, be it to that particular community alone, or for the Orthodox
      community at large because of an object's religio-historical origin.
      +Nikolai does not ask village elders why they have 'old' or 'ugly'
      icons; he merely decrees their removal post-haste, and so, he never
      learns of the sacrifice a community made to obtain the object or
      that the object was hand-painted by a respected figure or was
      retained as part of a treasured past.


      In 2002, for example, he had destroyed an iconostasis which was
      commissioned by Bishop Innocent, painted by an iconographer trained
      at the Danilov Monastery. The iconostasis took several years to
      complete since he used the traditional egg tempera style of
      painting. Bishop Nikolai did not even have the grace (pun
      intentional) to inform him of the destruction of his work which had
      only recently been completed. My husband and nephew found out when
      they went to photograph the iconostasis and were told that it was
      now gone. When we told the iconographer's wife, she didn't believe
      us until she went and looked for herself. She was devastated and in
      tears (as any wife would be) and went to speak with the Bishop. Her
      conversation lasted but 30 minutes. The bishop again displayed his
      lack of tolerance for any questions – even when it is merely a
      request for an explanation. He told the wife, who ran a store on
      church property, that if she continued to 'make a fuss', he would
      take away her livelihood. These acts of destruction, with the
      resulting hurts, have occurred only because Bishop Nikolai insists
      on imposing his aesthetic preferences on the entire church.


      As for the idea of relocation of the archives and museum to a higher-
      profile, more populous location, Kodiak, which is the site of the
      annual St. Herman's pilgrimage, was the center of Russian America.
      It is the islands and southerneastern coast of Alaska which were and
      still are the centers of Orthodoxy. Kodiak is also a destination
      stop for cruise ships and is a shopping and family visit destination
      for Alaskans (as well as a tourist stop) via the Alaska Marine
      Highway ferry. The faithful from everywhere come to Kodiak
      specifically because it is not merely a tourist destination, or yet
      another big city, with yet another museum. It is closest point to
      Spruce Island, the home of St. Herman. It was from Kodiak that the
      Martyr Juvenaly went on his mission. St. Herman's Seminary in Kodiak
      is central to the education of our priests and as an Orthodox
      learning institutie - especially for the converts who have been
      steadily increasing since the 1980s, many of whom know nothing about
      either Orthodox history or Alaska's history. Anchorage does indeed
      hold the major portion of the population of Alaska, but the vast
      majority of that population is composed of people who leave the
      Lower 48 for Alaska and settle in a familiar urban environment –
      i.e., they are non-Orthodox and rather unlikely to consider
      converting to Orthodoxy (regardless of the new Chapel-Museum-Coffee
      Shop's presence).This raises the question: Who is this Chapel-Museum-
      Coffee Shop for? The faithful? Potential converts? Tourists who can
      contribute to Diocesan coffers? Tourists visited the Seminary
      archives and museum on Kodiak as well - but I bet the coffee shop
      makes more money for the Diocese than any other venture....


      As for Ms. Jacobs' statement, "Without facts it becomes destructive
      gossip", the problem is not gossip, but that Mr. Stokoe's Web site
      has published the facts about the Alaska lands. The questions being
      raised about Bishop Nikolai's handling of them are extremely
      important.


      The fact that +Nikolai does not consider himself accountable to
      anyone, his flock or Syosset, is evident in his treatment of others
      and by his compulsion to silence anyone who dares question what he
      does. Sadly, his behavior is so egregious in verifiable, witnessed
      episodes that any 'gossip' is sure to be believed because it is so
      hard to imagine what he would not do. This awareness on the part of
      Alaskan parishioners that he is essentially accountable to no one
      contributes to the "cumulative effect which is painful, demoralizing
      and deadening" referenced by Professor Dauenhauer. Unlike his
      predecessors, Bishop Nikolai appears to believe that the parishes
      and parishioners exist to serve him, rather than the other way
      around. Such is the true state of affairs in Alaska.


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