Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
writes to the Thessalonians:
…Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other abounds; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure:…
My Dear Children in Christ,
I greet you with these words, glorifying our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and giving thanks for His limitless mercy.
Each year, as we gather for our annual Diocesan Assembly of the God-Protected Diocese of Alaska, it has been my tradition to review the past year and in some small way to look toward the future.
I wish to begin this year’s address by acknowledging before you that the darkest days of my life were experienced this last summer. The unfounded accusations made against me and my Chancellor and, indeed, the entire Diocese, distracted from the work that we are called to accomplish on behalf of God’s people in this corner of His Vineyard.
Much of this unfortunate situation was played out on the internet. Unfortunately, the internet, which can be used to accomplish so much good in our working for the Kingdom, has become a forum for all types of personal attacks and anti-Church propaganda, and has attempted to make the Church’s life and struggles into some type of anti-religious soap opera.
There were certainly many persons, maybe even some of you, who read the harmful and hurtful things being said about me or Archimandrite Isidore or the God-loving clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska.
Maybe some of you even chose to accept what you read as the truth.
And the True Word of God was forgotten in the process.
Fortunately, the darkness of those days has passed and the light has again shown. Those very difficult days have passed but the workings of the evil one and those who choose to follow him still continue; the dark forces of pride, envy and injury are still at work in the world.
What can we do in the face of such dark powers?
We must be willing to gird ourselves in this battle and while we do so we must acknowledge that temptations will always be placed before us.
The evil one will always be at work to destroy. And there are those who will choose for evil and there are those for whom sin is a conscious choice and way of life. But God’s mercy is greater than the power of evil and the doors of repentance are open to all.
Our Orthodox Church in America
is plagued with this, too, and Alaska
continues to be the target of those malefactors wanting to destroy the good work which the Lord has blessed us to accomplish here instead of continuing to build for God’s glory.
The Church in this land was established through the sacrifice and suffering and commitment of those who have gone before us and has even been sealed by the blood of martyrs through their martyric deaths.
Today we are called to do the same. We are called to sacrifice, making holy what God has given us. We are also called to die to ourselves and to root out our pride, envy and self righteousness.
I ask forgiveness and apologize that you have become victims in this battle against me and my very episcopate.
But I also ask you to understand that I will not change my direction in keeping this land Orthodox and in maintaining our Orthodox Faith, Life, and Traditions as we have received them from those who have gone before us.
Neither will I compromise in dealing with those who are working against us in preserving our heritage and maintaining this vision.
It was Almighty God, speaking through His Church who placed me here as your Spiritual Father and Archpastor.
I take this very seriously and will until my last breath.
While to some I may be a symbol of controversy, to most I am the symbol of our faith as it stands true to how we are called to live it and make it more present, more visible to the world.
Believe me when I say that I am very clear about Who is in charge of this church
Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ!
During the dark days of the recent months, one morning I opened the newspaper and read an article about Mother Theresa and her own days of spiritual darkness. It was a consolation to me and from these deep and dark days I came to a closer relationship with Almighty God through the intercessions of His Holy Mother, something that I had fallen from because I was too busy. There is never so little time as there is for more prayer and time with Him and those whom He has chosen. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
And there is nothing like darkness to bring us to our knees.
I thank Almighty God for the return home of my Chancellor, the Archimandrite Isidore.
His life has been be smudged with rumor, hearsay, innuendo and destruction.
There were times in the last six months that I feared for him because of the direction that some were taking to destroy him. The only sin he committed was asking for help as he faced his own personal darkness and expecting to be treated honorably by others within the Church.
However, our Church did not act honorably toward him; this included some bishops of the Church. Even some of you did not act honorably toward him and treat him with the dignity, respect, and the love that he has shown to so many of you in times of your own personal difficulties.
Some were willing to stand in glass houses and cast stones; not even simply a first stone, but even a second.
Who would be left in our Church if we discarded everyone who sinned?
Having spoken about the recent darkness and difficulties, I want to review the life within our Diocese that has been so blessed by God. The life of our Diocese has been extremely blessed. I am still hopeful to live and share these blessings with you for many years, by God’s grace and through your holy prayers.
We continue to partner with the Southcentral Foundation and the Wellness Initiative. What a blessing for us to have the resources to go into our villages bringing health and new life.
My personal thanks to Katherine Gottlieb and her dedicated staff for their attentive dedication to the good work we are accomplishing together. May this relationship continue and grow as time passes. And we have a plan to visit more villages this year.
The building in our church continues.
Of course, we always look first and foremost to the spiritual building and growth that is taking place. Teaching our people by example and truth that the Holy Orthodox Church is the way and the life to which God has called us.
I am encouraged in every visit how the temples are becoming more beautiful and the faithful more pious.
May He help me to be an example to you in this life of example and teaching.
You’ll hear and read more about the life in the Diocese as we highlight the reports and make notation about what is being done by so many, all to the glory of God.
Our presence in downtown Anchorage
is a wonderful opportunity for us to be visible and to place our light on the night stand rather than underneath.
Minadora Jacobs has made the museum, gift shop and coffee shop a place that is warm and friendly, and a place of outreach and gathering.
My deepest and sincere thanks to her especially these last six months in the absence of my Chancellor as she has had to carry much of an added burden. And now she is off to care for her aging parents in England
, may God bless her travels and time in their last years.
This last May we blessed the cross on the site of the new monastic building in Eklutna. This is to become a gathering for Pilgrimage in the Anchorage
area and with God’s blessing we will also develop an Orthodox cemetery.
As an extension of Monks Lagoon and the first monastery in the new world it reminds us of those who came before and sacrificed and died for us to have what we are enjoying.
I pray that in the years ahead we will have a place of pilgrimage in every region of our Diocese.
As we enjoy God’s blessings and the generosity He bestows upon us we must not hesitate to show our gratitude and to return to Him what is His from the beginning.
Every natural resource comes from Him and our Scriptural mandate is to return the first tenth as an offering to Him.
Entitlement is not Orthodox, sacrifice and tithing is.
This Assembly we will hear about tithing and this presentation will move our hearts to encourage by example and leadership. Our goal is to have every one of our faithful tithe and every parish to tithe.
And further, next year we want to have a representative from every parish. At next year’s assembly, I hope to have a meal with the Starostas of the parishes with their bishop.
Mary Ann Khoury, our representative in the lower forty-eight, and coordinator for our Outreach Alaska is another of those who believes in the vision we all share. The Adopt a Seminarian Program and St. Juliana Pantry are tribute to her care and love for Alaska
Her efforts and untiring work to provide for our seminarians goes un-thanked too often. I wish to thank her personally and on behalf of the entire Diocese. It is my hope that each of you will also extend your personal thanks to her for all she does for us.
A bright gem within the crown of our Diocese is St. Herman Seminary.
We are blessed like no other diocese in the Orthodox Church in America
to have our own seminary. A place where we can train men and women to serve the Church in Alaska
When I arrived in Alaska
there were two students coming to the fall semester and I traveled with Father Isidore to the villages and we found potential students and started that first year with ten.
The faculty was sent from the diocese to teach and that is what we are doing today. The rumors and unfair criticisms of my leadership and care for the seminary are simply absurd.
I have always been committed to keeping the seminary open and have from the very first day when I decided that no student would pay tuition.
In addition, it is the finances from friends of mine, personal contacts outside this diocese that refurbished those buildings that were in terrible disrepair.
Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding - this was my initiative and by God’s Grace that it was achieved with workers and teams from outside the diocese, not from our own diocese and not from anyone even in Kodiak.
The entire Diocese remains grateful to those from outside who have shown themselves to be supportive of the good work we are accomplishing here for the glory of God.
My thanks and gratitude is extended most particularly to the Priest John and Matushka Beagu Dunlop whose hard work and commitment to the vision of the seminary kept its work going until my arrival, and to this very moment they are the mainstay of this institution.
I mentioned that it was several people from outside the Diocese whose work and contributions have improved to the quality of life of our students and their families and who enabled the seminary to continue even in its lowest moments, and we are indebted and grateful to all those many benefactors throughout the years who supported the seminary and who continue to do so.
But we must also acknowledge that we, within the Diocese, have an obligation to support our seminary.
We cannot rely on others to keep those doors open. The time has come for us to acknowledge the blessings we have been given and to live the life we have been taught to live and to make holy what was created by God.
We must rise to the occasion, stand tall, and accept the responsibility to support the seminary and the diocese.
We will live our life according to what we receive from tithing and we will flourish.
Glory to God!