Glory to Jesus Christ!
I consider it a special blessing from God that I stand before you today. As you all are aware by now, for nearly the last six months I have been in a residential rehabilitation facility for clergy suffering from the disease of alcohol addiction. These months have been for me a life-changing process whereby I have been able to truly recognize that my condition is not unlike diabetes, or Parkinson's or any other chronic, progressive and fatal disease. Glory to God: the good people of the facility where I have been helped me to learn how to manage my illness so that I can now return to my work with renewed vigor and dedication. I come back to you healthy, strong and ready to take on the challenges placed before me with the help of Almighty God and the support of you, my Archpastor and my Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ. Many of you may be wondering: how do we treat him now? Must we walk on eggshells in his presence for fear that we will ‘set him off’ or cause him to drink -- let me clarify for you that this is my illness and I alone am responsible for its management; You, dear brothers and sisters, have only the obligation to treat me with love and to respect my position as chancellor to His Grace, Our Bishop.
If any of you have followed the internet over the past months, you are aware as I that Satan has taken advantage of my illness as an opportunity to prompt the spiritually sick to attack me in my infirmity; to use the circumstances of my active illness as an opportunity to attack our Bishop and ultimately to wage a war against this God-loved Diocese and our Seminary. I deeply regret the circumstances of the events of May which prompted my decision to enter treatment. First, I regret from the bottom of my heart the agony of soul this situation has caused our Bishop, my spiritual father. If I could undo one thing and one thing only, it would be to undo the worry and suffering my addiction has caused you, dear Vladyka. For this, I ask your forgiveness. I also regret the worry, inconvenience and pain it caused my brother clergy: in particular Fr. Innocent Dresdow who went out of his way to care for me during that last phase of my active illness. He showed compassion without agenda. His actions prove to me the dedication with which the clergy of this diocese embrace their pastoral responsibility. It is heartbreaking for me that the last phase of my active illness became an opportunity for the powers of evil to align themselves against the church and to cause turmoil in the lives of those I truly love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters: You should also all understand that I did not drink to escape or cope or ease my suffering or to deal with any abuse which my enemies so ludicrously allege. I drank because I had become an alcoholic. First, as a young man, I found the bottle. I found it was something that made me feel good. I continued, to differing degrees through out my life from the age of 18 to have that bottle. Over time, however, the tables turned and eventually, the bottle had me. I lost my freedom to choose between it and God, it and those I love and it and those who love me. In the addicted, alcohol develops its own independent existence within the sufferer and begins to demand that he preserve alcohol’s existence at the cost of all else. In my life, periods of inactive or non-drinking alcoholism would be met with benders, binges and ‘sneaks’ --- one sip here, one sip there -- ever consumed between drinks for when the next would be. I would think to myself: It won’t hurt if no one notices. I am convinced that alcoholism is truly a disease which convinces a person that he is not sick. Yet, in a moment of clarity, on the eve of the anniversary of my monastic tonsure, God inspired me to reach out to Him, to admit my powerlessness and to ask my spiritual father for help -- a help he gladly gave.
I am not sharing this synopsis of my illness to entice you to commiseration, rather, I come before you to make sure that you all know that there is no shame in repentance. The only shame in illness comes when we refuse the help offered to us, when we refuse to allow the hand of the divine physician to work for the betterment of our soul and body, when we refuse the support of those whom the Lord places before us to bring us to a life promised by him. Jesus Christ tells us that he came to give us “Life more abundantly.” Repeatedly our Lord expresses a central truth -- that we are healed from our infirmities by faith, not only our own faith, but the faith of the church as well. Think of the woman suffering the hemorrhage. Think of Jairus’ daughter. Our Lord, faced with all manner of sin and disease, makes it very clear, when he says to the woman who was caught in sin “neither do I condemn you” that the key to our forgiveness and healing by the Lord is the repentance that comes from our hearts and a decision to place our will and out life into His divine care.
Indeed, why share all of this with you? I want you to know, those of us who sit up here know what kind of suffering alcoholism causes in the lives of our people, because it has touched our life too. I know what each of you who suffer this illness goes through. And although Vladyka has much experience with alcoholism among the children of his diocese, both laymen and clerics, he also knows the intimate pain of having such a disease under one’s own roof and the powerlessness one feels to help when faced with such tragedy. My brothers and sisters: I want you to know that you don’t have to hide, you don’t have to avoid help, you don’t have to suffer -- there is a way out from the darkness of this illness and though that way out is initially paved with pain and difficulty, particularly as we deal with this regrettable consequences of our illness, the Lord promises that those who rely on him and trust him will have life and have it more abundantly. Believe the Savior’s promises! Abandon yourself to Him, accept your powerlessness to this malady and reach out to us for help. Encourage your faithful to do the same. No one is beyond helping -- no one is unsalvageable.
I would like now to move to the subject of the Diocese. As you heard from His Grace, this year of 2007 has been a truly difficult one. We in the administration have all suffered both as a result of my illness and absence, but in no way would I ever suggest that I was indispensable for the Diocese -- God doesn’t need any of us in order to make the Church thrive. Yet, my rehabilitation and return promise that my renewed strength can be channeled into my work with increased dedication.
My experience convinces me that the dedication of our Bishop to wellness initiatives must be even more strongly supported and our relationship with support organizations life FWWI and others must be more strongly developed. These relationships need to foster the advancement of some kind of Russian Orthodox social service agency. With the blessing of His Grace, Bishop NIKOLAI I began initial work on this during the months before my entering treatment. I believe God has revealed to me through my experience the necessity for all of us to seek to de-stigmatize alcoholism in our villages, families and in our own minds and at the same time to seek even more fervently for wellness and recovery in our communities. If we are to do this, however, we need to have our own support network so that we can grow to rely on the talents of our own faithful to answer the great needs that exist within the Alaskan Church.
As Chancellor of this Diocese, my primary role should be that of a liaison between my brother priests and the bishop of the diocese. While Vladyka NIKOLAI’s unprecedented accessibility would seem to make this unnecessary, it is my true belief and has always been my goal to free him up so that he can use his many other talents for the good of the church and worry less about the day-to-day management of personnel and protocol. Technology makes so much possible. Thus, I would like to implement regular teleconference based deans’ meetings with myself, and where travel is difficult within a deanery, regular deanery teleconferences. These calls will be coordinated through my office. I believe that one weakness we clergy experience in this Diocese is the infrequent contact we have with one another. Through the advances of technology, I believe, we can narrow our physical division and strengthen our spiritual bonds.
Other areas of technological advancement that I would like to pursue include the digitization of the Diocesan files so that we need no rely on paper and file cabinets. During the next year I also hope to make a complete revision of the pastoral request documents used by the diocese and to prepare diocesan guidelines regarding marriages and sacraments of initiation. It seems to me that the complexity of the processes of these two areas are always a bit of a difficulty for the clergy and I hope that guidelines and better documentation and questionnaires will streamline this process. We want to increase the members of the body of Christ and through the sacraments, we must bring an end to the plague of illicit unions and illegitimacy. The mechanism of the Diocese for approving these cases are meant to aid in the expedition of these blessings not their hinderance. Thus, when I receive applications from my brother clergy that are inadequate to make an informed decision I blame myself more than I blame the priest who submits the application.
As you may be aware, His Grace, Bishop NIKOLAI has suggested that I move my office from the residence to our diocesan property at A Street where a comfortable office has been set up for me. There are numerous advantages to this: it will give the diocese more visibility and will make it easier for me to conduct diocesan business and coordinate meetings. It will allow me to help in the oversight of the Diocesan Museum and Holy Trinity Chapel. It will also allow me easy access to the downtown venues to participate in activities in the community for which an Orthodox presence is needed. I want to make very clear to you, brothers and sisters, my illness and the subsequent treatment for it, has not left me in shame or wanting to hide my head, rather it has left me with a burning in my heart with gratitude to our Lord and a desire to tell the whole world what good things God has done for me.
In closing, I have one final word for you: if, for any reason, my illness has had regrettable consequences for any of you or if I offended you in any way, I ask your forgiveness and invite you to approach me during this assembly so that we may truly be reconciled as brothers or sisters in Christ. Finally, I want to thank those who have offered their support and prayers over the last months: I am ever grateful to you. To those who have found my illness and its subsequent consequences an opportunity to wag their heads and say, in the words of the psalmist, “aha aha” or to use the situation to their own advantage, I offer my forgiveness and prayers as well. What Satan tried to use for evil, God will ultimately use for good -- just like the Patriarch Joseph the All-Beautiful tells us in the Book of Genesis. Please, dear brothers and sisters, join me in embracing my new path and glorifying God for his mercy, for his compassion and for his love. It is time to serve the Lord!