Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky)
by Priest John Matusiak
Perhaps the least known of all American primates is Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky. Little has been said about him save that he was unable to manage the critical situation of the American Diocese following the Russian Revolution. Often he is blamed for initiating many of the ills which have and continue to beset us. Over fifty years have passed since Archbishop Alexander departed from America and only now, through researching the facts and evaluating them in an unbiased manner, can we begin to assess his reign as primate of the North American Diocese.
Father Alexander Nemolovsky left Russia for America during the rule of Bishop Nicholas (1891-1898) and arrived in the United States with several other missionary priests, including Fathers Alexander Hotovitsky, Theodore Pashkovsky, Peter Popoff and Jason Kappandze. Besides labor-ing as a missionary priest, Father Alexander was active in working with new immigrants. He also was editor of a Russian- language daily newspaper, the Russian Immigrant.
In 1909 Father Alexander took the monastic vows and was consecrated Bishop of Alaska, replacing Bishop Innocent Pustynsky, who returned to Russia. In his capacity of Bishop of Alaska, Bishop Alexander was extremely active in traveling to the remotest outposts of his far- reaching Diocese, counseling and offering guidance in all facets of church life. Issues of the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger of his time contained almost monthly reports of his activities, as well as articles and monographs which he wrote concerning the life and development of the Church in Alaska. It was also as Bishop of Alaska that Bishop Alexander served from July 1914 to March 1915 as Temporary Administrator of the North American Diocese, pending the arrival of Archbishop Evdokim who succeeded Archbishop Platon.
With the creation of a new episcopal see in Canada, Bishop Alexander was transferred to fill this position in 1916, with headquarters in Winnipeg. Archimandrite Philip Stavitsky was consecrated as his successor as Bishop of Alaska. While in Canada, Bishop Alexander attempted to organize Church life there, which was greatly impaired by Protestant efforts to minister to the immigrants. Unfortunately, Bishop Alexander's stay in canada was a short one, as with the departure of archbishop evdokim for the all-russian sobor in 1917, bishop alexander once again was named temporary administrator and, in view of the many crises which had arisen both internally and as a result of the russian revolution, he left canada for new york, placing Archimandrite Adam Philipovsky as administrator in Winnipeg.
With the announcement that Archbishop Evdokim would not be returning to America, as he had joined the reform movement in Russia which was later to become the "Living Church," the Second All-American Sobor of Cleveland, held in 1919, elected Bishop Alexander as primate of the American Church. Confirmation later came from Russia, thus firmly establishing Alexander as Archbishop of the North American Diocese.
From the very beginning of his rule, Archbishop Alexander was faced with many problems. His greatest difficulty was the financial chaos which he inherited as Temporary Administrator and which was further complicated by the termination of funds from Russia. Although Bishop Alexander grossly mismanaged the entire crisis, one wonders if, in view of the complexity and magnitude of the financial crisis, he was not simply cornered by a situation with which he was perhaps unfamiliar and incapable of solving. Certainly we must admit that, although he was no doubt aware of the debt which he inherited from Archbishop Evdokim which exceeded $100,000, he must have been taken totally by surprise by the unexpected termination of the regular allocations from Russia with the October Revolution.
Unfortunately, Archbishop Alexander turned to the mortgaging and sale of church property in order to alleviate the debt and meet incoming bills. Not only did this policy further increase the debts of the Diocese, but it also pro-vided cause for Archbishop Alexander's enemies, particularly Father John Kedrovsky and his small band of dissident priests, to rise up against him.
While, in the words of the Russian Ambassador in Washington, Boris Bakhmetev, Archbishop Alexander was devoid of financial and administrative capabilities, he nevertheless sincerely wished to help the American Diocese meet its problems. His complication of the financial crisis was chiefly due to his hasty and unwise financial policies, which he increasingly turned to when the official plan to alleviate the debt, which was passed at the Cleveland Sobor, that of assessing every parish and priest a percentage of their income, failed because of a lack of cooperation on the part of all. It may be assumed then, that his further entanglements with property mortgaging were in part a reaction to the ineffectiveness of the percentage assessment plan.
Archbishop Alexander's enemies accused him of flagranly spending the church's money. According to Kedrovsky, Archbishop Alexander Nemolovsky and the Metropolitan Platon "have compromised themselves in the eyes of the believers by their scandalous living and by the dissipation of the Russian people's wealth ..." metropolitan platon, who obviously realized archbishop alexander's faults, nevertheless characterizes him as one who did not, in his unsuccessful financial struggles, pursue his own private goals or interests:
I Personally, Archbishop Alexander was hardly a money grubber, and in obtaining money in a faulty and dangerous manner, he thought of his own personal needs least of all, often himself living in total poverty and destitution ...
It is harder to determine where popular feeling toward Archbishop Alexander lay. While his financial policies, especially the placing of St. Tikhon's Monastery as security on two occasions, drew upon himself the suspicion and blame of all, it is still a fact that the majority of parishes remained firmly behind him, especially in the attempts of Kedrovsky and his colleagues to gain control, not only of parish properties, but of the Diocesan Administration itself.
Archbishop Alexander also experienced difficulties with the Church in Canada and its administrator in Winnipeg, Archimandrite Adam Philipovsky. There was a growing factionalism in Canada, with the immigrants dividing into Russian and Ukrainian factions. The idea of a Ukrainian Administration within the Diocese, similar to the Albanian or Serbian Adminsitrations, was raised at the Cleveland Sobor, and the reactions were positive. After the Sobor, however, Archbishop Alexander dismissed the matter, obviously feeling that Ukrainians were Russians and therefore not in need of a separate Administration. This policy, coupled with the Archbishop's mismanagement of the idea of a special sobor for western canada, greatly angered the Administrator, who published several pamphlets and articles against Archbishop Alexander. Many laymen were also disappointed by the decision and, in due time, a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese was organized outside the jurisdiction of the North American Diocese.
Due to the complications which had grown within the Diocese, Archbishop Alexander deemed it best for the Church to leave America, perhaps feeling that a stronger administrator, Metropolitan Platon, could better correct the ills of the Diocese. He left America for Europe on June 20, 1922. Before leaving, however, he addressed a letter to Metropolitan Platon, requesting that he assume the duties of Ruling Hierarch.