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|Fr Constantin Alecse
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|Posted: Fri Jul 06, 2007 3:10 pm Post subject: ROEA: A Part of the American Orthodoxy, by Fr. G. Gardan PHD
|The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America
- A Part of the American Orthodoxy
by by Fr. Gabriel-Viorel Gardan, PHD
The last two or more centuries which have passed since the first coming of Orthodox missionaries to North America have been characterized by a complicated and often tense evolution of Orthodoxy in this part of the world. Conversions have been made, missionary successes have been achieved, and the number of Orthodox believers has grown largely. This has been due primarily to the emigrations from the beginning of the XXth century. At the same time, church life has been organized and imposing religious edifices have been built. However, at the same time, (and contrary to the spirit of the Orthodox canons), parallel Ecclesiastical jurisdictions have been created, the believers have been divided based on ethnic and linguistic criteria, canonical connections have been broken on political and social grounds, and the canonical authority of one or another jurisdiction has been contested. An autocephalous Orthodox Church has been created, although it contains only a part of Orthodox believers, the rest remaining under the canonical obedience of the Mother Churches.
Our paper is meant to be a case study in the larger context of American Orthodoxy. We will attempt to answer to a number of questions, including: How did the Orthodox believers arrive in America? How were the first Orthodox communities formed? Where did the priests of these communities come from? How were the communities of believers belonging to the same nation organized? Who were, and who are, their bishops? What kind of relations exist between the church communities of the New World and the Mother-Churches of the Old World? To what extent have the political and economical situation of the native countries affected the church life of the immigrants, now Americans? How have the different ethnic jurisdictions gained understanding to co-operate? It is possible, or even necessary, to have only one American Orthodox jurisdiction?
We believe that the answers we have found to these and similar questions, and which have been applied to the group represented by the immigrants of a Romanian origin, are, to a great extent, applicable to the other ethnic groups with an Orthodox past, present and future. The experiences of the Romanian Orthodox believers have been experienced by Orthodox believers other ethnic backgrounds. They have a common past, today they face same problems and they might share a common future.
We hope that our research will be an impetus for new approaches to this complex subject. We have tried to present an accurate image of the historical evolution of the particular jurisdiction we have dealt with. Our guidance principle was that of allowing the documents and the testimonies of that time to speak about times and peoples, preferring their testimony to speculations.
I. The Present Stage of the Research Regarding the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America – Part of the American Orthodoxy
This chapter has two sections. One of them is dedicated to the analysis of the historical evolution of the Orthodoxy in general in America, the other deals strictly with the history of the Romanian Orthodox in North America.
Although there are hypotheses that the first Orthodox missionary actions in the North American were undertaken as early as 1000 A.D., solid proof of Orthodox Christianity in the Americas exist only since the XVIIIth century. Documentation shows that the first Holy Liturgy was celebrated on July 20th, 1741, the feast day of Prophet Elijah, on board the ship “Saint Peter” anchored in Sitka Bay, Alaska. This was presided over by the Hieromonk Ilarion Trusov and the Priest Ignatie Kozirevsky. It should also be mentioned that on the 26th of June, 1768, the first Orthodox Greek colony was founded in the oldest town in the United States: St. Augustine, Florida.
Despite this early activity, an Orthodox mission on North American territory was only first established in 1794. On the 24th of September, 1794, ten monks from St. Valaam Monastery from Russia, sent by the Russian Orthodox Church, landed on Kodiak Island, Alaska and from that moment on, the Orthodox Holy Liturgy has never ceased to be celebrated in North America.
The Orthodox Church life has not been overlooked by those who studied ecclesiastical history, although there have been conflicts and contradictions evident in past research. The explanation of this consists in the tendency of registering only the events, the inevitable consequence of an approach to an almost contemporary subject; it consists also in the desire of each author to show the reason of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction’s existence with which he deals or whose interests he represents.
Due to these facts, there are two main categories of studies. One group has a general character and is interested in the evolution of the Orthodox presence in North America, in all its forms of jurisdictional manifestation. The other group of studies refers to the same presence, but only in part, describing the evolution of a single branch of the American Orthodoxy or concentrating upon a certain period of this history and upon some personalities who have marked the respective jurisdictional branch and its evolution. It has to be noted also the present tendency of research in the direction of being objective and providing solid documentation, essential attributes of any pertinent historical approach.
Among many studies we have read, we will mention here only the most important ones. In 1995 Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994 was published, the result of the co-operation between Mark Stokoe and Leonid Kishkovsky, two prominent figures of the administrative staff of the American Orthodox Church. The authors of this study describe the evolution of the Orthodox community’s life since the beginning of the mission in Alaska until the present day. There is emphasis on the important moments of the past two centuries of Orthodox believers on this continent, with special attention being given to conversions, immigrants, the immigrant Church, the Orthodox jurisdictions of different ethnic groups which have formed the ethnic Churches, the Orthodox mission in America and the views of Orthodoxy in the American society and environment. The personalities who have marked the historical evolution of Orthodoxy in this area, as well as the different moments of the American Orthodox community, are not overlooked either.
Shortly after the publication of this book, another book was published by Thomas E. Fitzgerald, Professor of Church History at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline and program headmaster in the World Council of Churches, entitled The Orthodox Church. The book, part of the famous collection Denomination in America, was considered at that time the first comprehensive introduction to the history of the Orthodox Church in America since 1794 to present day. The author describes the origin and the development of the American Orthodox Church in the last 200 years and tries to explain the causes of the existence of more than one Orthodox entity in the same area. The subjects taken into discussion are: the mission in Alaska, the foundation of the first parishes, the development of the episcopates, the jurisdictional co-operation, the challenges coming from the old and the new world, and the necessity of unity for the mission which the Orthodox Church has to accomplish in America. Special attention is given to the real experiences that the believers involved in the life of the church have lived during the last two centuries. Likewise, the author insists on the relations which the Orthodox Church had with other Christian Churches and underlines its contribution to the ecumenical movement. The first edition of the book includes also a biographical dictionary of 80 personalities of the American Orthodoxy, which was not included in the second edition, published in 1998. The chronology contained in the Appendix and the bibliographical essay which offers new views for the research is worthy to be mentioned, too.
The subject is also analyzed by John H. Erickson, the dean of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary – an institution under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America– in the book Orthodox Christians in America. Erickson presents the way in which Orthodoxy in North America has developed, from the first missionaries who came to Alaska, to the massive infusion of immigrants, which has changed the destiny of the Orthodox presence on this continent, and to the converts of the last decades, who have given a new meaning to the Orthodox presence. The author gives a lot of attention to the problem of the historical evolution of the ethnic Churches, emphasizing on one hand the fact that these Churches are less and less influenced by the Mother-Churches of the Old World, but on the other hand that they don’t find a way to unification.
Extremely interesting are the results of the scholar Alexei D. Krindach who, starting in the year 2000, has undertaken a large sociological investigation regarding the presence of the eastern Christianity (Orthodox and old eastern) in America. This investigation points out every year new elements of Orthodoxy’s evolution in America, circumscribed to five major aspects: members, Church-religion institution, the degree of interaction between the Church and the American society, the ecumenical opening and implication, and the non-religious social functions which the Church assumes.
There are many studies which analyze the history of the different Orthodox jurisdictions in America or concentrate upon different periods or moments of this history. We don’t discuss these studies here. We only mention that many of these try to justify the canonical status of the jurisdiction which they deal with, for which reason there are polemical accents, and to write down, for posterity, the historical evolution of their respective jurisdiction.
Among many authors of articles and studies regarding the American Orthodoxy, we mention here only Alexander Schmemann and Bartholomew Anania. Fr. Schmemann has expressed on many occasions, in his role as a member in the Department for the External Affairs of the OCA, his position regarding the delicate situation of Orthodoxy in America. Among the most eloquent writings of his, published mostly in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, we mention: Episcopatus Unus Est; Problems of Orthodoxy in America, the canonical problem; Problems of Orthodoxy in America, the liturgical problem; and Problems of Orthodoxy in America, the spiritual problem. His plea for the jurisdictional unity and for the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America has, as a starting point, the recognition of the real existence of the spiritual, liturgical and canonical problems within the framework of the American Orthodoxy. He insists that, with some exceptions, the schisms and the conflicts which poison the ecclesiastical life in America and stop progress have their roots, are not to be found in North America, but in the dependence on administrative centers located thousand of miles away from America and which are radically alienated from the real needs of the American Orthodox Church.
On the other side, Bartholomew Anania (at that time, archimandrite in the Missionary Orthodox Episcopate in America, which is under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate), synthesizes the positions of those who consider that it is too early to speak about an American Orthodoxy with the phrase: which was not born yet and cannot be forced to be born before its time. In other words, the involvement of the Mother-Churches in the life of the diasporas on the North American continent is not only justified, but also necessary.
Regarding the studies concerning the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, we can mention that until now, historians, including those from Romania, have given only little attention to the subject. Many justifications and explanations can be found for this situation, but, in our opinion, there are two important reasons. First is the oppressive Communist regime, which would not allow the debate on such delicate subject as is the Romanian Orthodox diaspora in America. Such a subject was not, at that time, attractive even for the most passionate historians. The second reason is the fact that we are dealing with a piece of recent history and, therefore, most of those who deal with the problems of the Romanian Orthodox church life on the American continent are content to write down facts, attitudes and events, without criticizing them and without trying to make a systematic and coherent account of them. There are some exceptions, and we have mentioned them at length in our paper. Even today, there are still difficulties in approaching this subject, the main one being access to adequate documentation, indispensable for an objective approach.
In the paper, we have analyzed the most important historical contributions to the study of the religious life of immigrant Romanians in America. We cannot enumerate them here; in fact, this would be useless in the given context. We only say that the simple mention of the main efforts in the research of the Church history of Orthodoxy in America and of Orthodox Romanians in America could easily create the false impression that a lot of papers have been written on this subject. But reading what has been written until now, we realize how much subjectivity exists in some of them and how many questions are still waiting for an answer. Much information still needs verification by archived documents. The importance of the development of Orthodox Romanians’ ecclesiastical life on the American continent and the consequences which the various events that took place in this period have generated needs for evaluation. Documents will confirm some of the studies already made, will complete and explain some theories and certainly will reveal events, facts and aspects still unknown. This is the purpose of our paper.
II. Orthodoxy in America: Radiography of a Complex Problem
Although the first Holy Liturgy of Orthodoxy in the Americas was performed in 1741 (see above), an Orthodox mission on the North American territory was not established until 1794. On September 24th, 1794, the monks from Saint Valaam Monastery, sent by the Russian Orthodox Church, after 293 days of travel and 7300 nautical miles, landed on Kodiak Island, Alaska, and, from that day on, the Orthodox Holy Liturgy has never ceased to be celebrated in North America. These monks didn’t come as political refugees or as immigrants with an economical interest looking for a better life. They had a precise missionary assignment: to preach the Gospel of salvation to the natives of Alaska. They had the destiny of all genuine missionaries: isolation, linguistic challenges, adversity and martyrdom. But their mission put the foundations of the Orthodox presence in the New World and impressed a profound missionary character on this presence. The Alaskan mission demonstrated respect for the natives’ culture, linguistic adaptation and cultural sensibility, these attitudes being confirmed by the translation of the Gospel and of the Holy Liturgy in the languages and dialects of the different populations of this area and, of course, by the considerable number of converts.
Between 1870 and 1920, American Orthodoxy changed itself from a small mission in Alaska into a Church which had a rapid development in North America. The relocation of the episcopal see from Sitka to San Francisco and, especially, the immigration wave at the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth was influential in this. This immigration wave has brought to America, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Macedonian and other ethnic Orthodox immigrants. The emigration of a large number of Orthodox believers from the south and east European countries has opened another dimension for the Orthodox presence in America. As immigrants come to America searching from a better life and freedom, they have brought with them their spiritual treasure, a treasure in which the Orthodox faith had a vital position. For its cultivation and preservation, they founded Orthodox parishes on the entire American territory. These parishes played a central role in the life of the new communities of immigrants, both from a religious and a sociocultural point of view. The cultivation, in these parishes, of the national cultural values and of the languages of each Orthodox ethnic entities has offered to the immigrants a meaning of continuity with their past and a feeling of social and religious membership which have helped them to preserve their identity, and, on the other side, to become integrated, without major spiritual risks, in the specific socio-mental structures of the American society’s spirit. From an ecclesiological point of view, the foundation of these parishes –belonging to different Orthodox jurisdictions depending on the ethnic background -- has generated a series of problems which, unfortunately, was not addressed until now.
Except the Greeks, who have founded parishes under the direct patronage of the ecclesiastical authorities of Greece or Ecumenical Patriarchate, the parishes founded by the Arab, Serbian, Albanian Orthodox Christians joined the Russian Missionary Episcopate, contributing in this way to the foundation of the so-called “Immigrant Church”.
In 1921 we have for the first time, different ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the same geographical area, this fact representing the beginning of a new, complicated and muddled era of the “Ethnic Churches” of the Orthodox Christians in North America. Fr. John Meyendorff sees in this fact a victory of nationalism, condemned as heresy by the Constantinopolitan Council in 1872. Nationalism wanted the Church to be organized only on ethnic criteria, without taking into account the territorial boundaries. This principle prevailed among most of the immigrant groups, without facing a firm opposition from the bishops; this situation was encouraged and supported by the Mother-Churches.
Two canonical principles have contradicted each other when the problem of the organization of the immigrants’ ecclesiastical life arose: the ethnic principle and the jurisdictional principle.
The ethnic principle stipulates that the bishops of each nation should gather themselves in a single Church under the leadership of a single person, according to the 34th apostolic canon. This principle is observed by the Romanian Orthodox Church, by all Slav Churches and by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Therefore, their Orthodox diasporas from all over the world are under the jurisdiction of the Mother-Church.
On the other side, the jurisdictional principle, according to the 8th canon of First Ecumenical Council, stipulates that it is unnatural for two or more Orthodox jurisdictions to exist in the same geographical territory. But this is exactly what took place in North America because of the observance of the ethnic principle.
The apparition of the ethnic jurisdictions has opened the era of the ecclesiological contradictions in the life of the Orthodox Churches which share the same territory and divide the believers on criteria of nationality, culture and language. The focus of different jurisdictions was directed to the preservation of the various national and cultural legacies, i.e. Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, and so on. Step by step, the American Orthodoxy started to be regarded, both by the Mother-Churches and by the American natives, as “Diaspora” or, better said, as national and ecclesiastical “Diasporas”, united by the Orthodox creed, but divided from the ethnic, cultural, canonical and administrative point of view.
The original Church that stepped foot on American soil continues her mission. Since then, this Church has developed itself. In the beginning it was a Mission, which became an Episcopate, which grew to a group of Episcopates or a local Church. She did not stop there and, in spite of the appearance of parallel ethnic jurisdictions in 1921, continues her fight for identity and unity of the Orthodoxy in North America.
The normal jurisdictional relations between the American Church and the Patriarchate of Moscow were interrupted by the events of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. There was no schism, fight or conflict involved in this. The bishop appointed by Moscow went to Russia and never came back to his diocese. Deprived of the material help of the Mother-Church and poisoned by the Communist revolutionary propaganda, the Church in America was in a position of great spiritual danger. In this situation, considered by Fr. Alexander Schmemann as being “tragic”, the Synod gathered in Detroit in March and April of 1924 and proclaimed temporary autonomy of the Missionary Church, which from now on was called the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Church of America.
The reason for this act was a profound ecclesiastical one: the desire of assuring, in the newly created context, the continuity of life, faith and order of the Ecclesiastical body. The Patriarchate of Moscow, being under the Communist tyranny, reacted harshly to this act condemning the Metropolitan Church, and considering it schismatic. In 1933 the Patriarchate of Moscow established its own jurisdiction on the North American territory, in the form of an Exarchate.
The challenges of the Russian Metropolitan Church were experienced by other ethnic jurisdictions, i.e., Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian, Ukrainian, after the Second World War, when their canonical relations with the Mother-Churches were interrupted when the Communist regime took control in these countries. As in the case of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Mother-Churches reacted harshly, considering their respective ethnic jurisdictions in America schismatic and founding other jurisdictions subjected to them, which functioned parallel to the “schismatic” Episcopates. This situation was complicated by the already delicate problem of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. Under these circumstances, a bishop having no parishes was recognized as being “canonic”, because he was appointed by his patriarch. At the same time, a bishop belonging to the same ethnic church, who was leading a flourishing Episcopate, was considered “non-canonic”, because he was not recognized by the patriarch. We cannot fail to notice that in the same period, the notion of canonicity received a relative value and that there were some ordinations of bishops and priests which were doubtful from the canonical point of view.
In time, the idea of restoring the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Metropolitan Church in America was up for discussion. The debates, begun unofficially in 1963, soon became they were followed by official meetings. These meetings took place between 1967 and 1969. The result was that on April 10th, 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the Metropolitan Church in America as an autocephalous Church, which will be known from now on under the name of “Orthodox Church in America” (OCA).
The decision of the Russian Patriarchate to give autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America brought a strong negative reaction from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which asked the other Orthodox Sisters Churches not to recognize this unilateral act of the Russian Orthodox Church. The position of the Russian Orthodox Church to give autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America for the good of the American Orthodoxy and for the glory of God, did not sit well with the Ecumenical Patriarchate which wanted to be recognized as the only ecclesiastical authority entitled to bestow to a Church the status of being autocephalous. These claims are founded on a subjective interpretation of the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, which in the opinion of the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, would give to the Patriarch of Constantinople jurisdiction upon the entire Orthodox Diaspora.
The relations between the Orthodox Church in America and the Ecumenical Patriarchate resumed in 1990, in the context of the pre-conciliary dialogues regarding the status of the Orthodox Diaspora. The solution that they came up with in problematic regions, like North America, is to establish episcopal assemblies which have the purpose of assuring the transition to autocephalous jurisdictions. In the view of convening the Holy and Great Orthodox Council, the Diaspora problem is still open.
We find ourselves today, in the first years of the third millennium, more than 200 years after the beginnings of Orthodoxy in North America, in the following situation: there are between two and seven million believers, organized in more than 2,250 parishes, which are grouped together in 13 canonical and some in “less” canonical jurisdictions. A short history of these jurisdictions and of its present situation is described in this paper.
III. The Emigration of the Romanians over the Ocean: Causes and Consequences
The European emigration over the ocean was a complex phenomenon and the driving forces of this process are different from one country to another and from one historical period to another.
The territories inhabited by Romanians have experienced this phenomenon in the last period, the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth, integrating itself in the so-called wave of the new emigration, a wave which, as we have mentioned before, includes the ethnic groups from central and eastern Europe: Polish, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Serbians, Hungarians, Romanians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Macedonians etc.
The dynamics of the European phenomenon of the migration have been determined by certain external conditions: the movement of the North American focus to an area rich in natural resources, situated south of the Great Lakes, and the dynamics of the underlying agricultural and industrial framework resulted in job opportunities.
The emigration of the Romanians to North America has been determined by a number of reasons of economical, demographic, socio-political and psychological character. To these reasons we can add an “attractive force” exerted by the economic conditions in America.
The first Romanian about whom there is certain information about going to America is the Orthodox priest from Transylvania, Samuilă Damian, who, around 1750, got in touch with the famous statesman and man of science, Benjamin Franklin, with whom he had an interesting correspondence.
The presence of more Romanians coming to the New World is mentioned during the Civil War (1861-1865), when Romanians such as George Pomutz, Nicolae Dunca, Emanoil Boteanu, Eugen Alcaz etc. remarked themselves in military events.
The real Romanian movement of emigration started only in the last decade of the XIXth century, coinciding with the Romanian migration from the territories under the Austrian Hungarian rule, such as Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina. In about 25 years, approximately 165,000 Romanians came to the New World.
The first institutions of the Romanians in America were the boarding houses, the aid societies and cultural ones. These provided them with the feeling of identity and unity and made easier the adaptation to the harsh realities of their new life in America.
For a better understanding of the Ecclesiastical life’s evolution of the Romanian immigrants, one must have a short review of the main stages of their community’s history. We have identified four important stages in the development of the Romanian communities in America: The “Mia şi drumul” generation (~ 1895-1924), The stage of turning into Romanian-Americans (~ 1924-1948), The stage of the anti-Communist exile (1948-1989), The “quantitative” stage (1990-today).
IV. The Beginnings of the Church Life of the Orthodox Romanians in America
The great majority of the immigrants have felt, since the first days of their arrival, the lack of the religious life from back home, particularly on the occasion of religious holidays. Likewise, the lack of some Romanian Orthodox priests who should have been with them in moments of sorrow (burial) or joy (baptism or wedding) was felt strongly by the first immigrants. In these circumstances, as a consequence of the debates held in the dining rooms of the boarding houses where they were living, the immigrants from different towns and cities started to found parishes and to petition the church authorities from Romania to send them priests for their religious needs. The impetus for the accomplishment of this project has been given by the priest Gheorghe Henţea from Ghelar-Hunedoara, who visited America in 1902, and by the mission of the priest Zaharia Oprea from Bandul de Câmpie, mission ordered by the Metropolitan of Ardeal, Ioan Meţianu, in 1904.
The Orthodox Romanians from Canada have been pioneers of the church life. In 1901, they built the first Romanian Orthodox church in North America, and in 1903, they had their first priest, the archimandrite Evghenie Ungureanu.
The first Romanian Orthodox parish in USA was founded in 1904, in Cleveland, Ohio. The parish was founded on August 5th/18th, 1904, during the first meeting of the Romanian Club in Cleveland. The first step of this project was the convocation of the Romanians of that town in a meeting, on August 28, 1904. During this meeting, held in the house of Mihail Bârză, on Herman Street, an appeal was put forward to all Romanians from Cleveland and the surrounding areas, asking them to support this initiative. Two months later, there had been already held a parish council in Cleveland; on October 30, 1904, the parish petitioned the Metropolitan Ioan Meţianu and to the Metropolitan Consistory of Sibiu, asking them to approve the parish’s foundation, the construction of a church and requesting a very well-trained priest.
The answer of the Consistory was, of course, a favorable one. The answering letter also contained the recommendation that the parish should be organized on the basis of the Organical Status of the Transylvanian Metropolitan Church.
The demand of the Orthodox believers in Cleveland to receive a well-trained priest has been accomplished, for objective reasons, only at the end of 1905, when the first priest of the Romanian Orthodox parish in USA was appointed, Moise Baleain a young graduate of the Andrei Şaguna Theological Institute.
Shortly after his installation in Cleveland, Moise Balea started a pioneer work, founding several parishes in different towns (South Sharon, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Indiana Harbor, Indiana).
The administration of these four parishes and the fulfillment of the religious needs of the believers required a huge effort from the priest Moise Balea. Nevertheless, the results appeared and, in the autumn of the year 1906, the parish in South Sharon had secured a lot for the construction of a church. The parishes in Cleveland and Youngstown had acquired significant amounts of money, and the believers in Indiana harbor succeeded, on November 4 1906, in setting the foundation for what was to be the first Romanian Orthodox church in USA.
In the following years, other priests sent by the Metropolitan of Sibiu joined the priest Moise Balea (Trandafir Scorobeţ, Ioan Tatu, Simion Mihălţan, Ioan Podea etc.). Each of these priests founded new parishes and new churches in these parishes.
The church life of the Romanians was not without tensions and problems. The parishes’ foundation and organization generated conflict. The first parishes had been founded according to the example of the Protestant churches. A constitutive assembly decided the foundation of a parish and, then, it was registered to the law-court as a religious “congregation”, having its own organization and governing rules. Most of the time, the priest was at the hand of his believers, who made statutes and regulations of organization and working to their liking. On many occasions, these regulations were inconsistent with or even in contradiction with the canons of the church. Between the president of the parish, the laymen and the priest, there were almost always tensions; often the priest was forced to give up. For this reason, some of the priests, after a period of mission in the American parishes, came back to Romania, and thus, the lack of priests became a constant of early church life in.
V. From Deanery to Episcopate. Avatars of the Church Life’s Strengthening
The more and more ambiguous situation, the Baptist proselytism actions and the increasing number of emigrants determined the Metropolitan Church of Sibiu to decide, at the beginning of the year 1912, the foundation of a deanery under the leadership of the priest Ioan Podea. The main task of this association was to gather the Orthodox parishes, which were divided by selfish passions, into a central organization structure.
The deanery was to be the expression of the unity of the Romanian ecclesiastical communities and had to facilitate the interparish relations, on the one side, and their relations with the Mother-Church, on the other.
At the same time, the foundation of the deanery was a visible sign that the Metropolitan Church of Sibiu had started to reconsider its attitude toward the character of the church organization of the Romanians in America, admitting that this character becomes a permanent one.
The first preoccupation of the new Protopresbyter Ioan Podea was to elaborate the statute of the new ecclesiastical association, on the basis of which its juridical personality should be recognized, according to the American juridical usages, and he could be able to exert his authority over 13 to 14 parishes and 4 to 5 priests.
The parishes from Canada were not included in this deanery. Because the majority of immigrants from Canada were natives of Bucovina, they asked the Metropolitan Church of Moldavia, which they recognized as their spiritual protector, to send them priests.
In spite of all efforts, the American deanery functioned only nominally, because its decisions were, most of the time, ignored and very often infringed willingly.
The world conflagration that started in 1914 in Sarajevo, in which all the great powers had been quickly involved, had repercussions on the Romanian community in America. After the United States entered the war in 1917, those who had intended to return to Romania could not, due to the adjournment of the trans-oceanic air-liners. Also, the economical prosperity brought by the progress of the American economy changed the plans of many people.
People started to earn more money, and this fact had consequences in the church life, too. New parishes had been founded and more churches had been built, but the majority of them have no priest, because of the impossibility of sending them from Romania. Six new parishes had been added to the 16 parishes founded before the war under the jurisdiction of the deanery led by Ioan Podea. If we count the parishes founded in Canada, we observe that there were in North America, at the end of 1918, 30 Romanian Orthodox parishes.
The year 1918 represents the manifestation of the cohesion between clergy and believers. The reason of this manifestation was the engagement in the fight for the state unity of the Romanians. The press campaign, the protest manifestations against the Hungarian propaganda, the memoirs addressed to the American authorities, the refusal to conscript themselves in the Austrian Hungarian army, all were actions which supported the efforts of the brothers from the mother-country.
On February 24, 1918, in an assembly gathered in Youngstown, Ohio, those 13 Orthodox priests from the USA, together with 57 lay representatives, in the name of the 150,000 Romanians who lived in America at that time, fulfilled what the historiography called “the union before union”. As an expression of the unanimous will, a solemn act, called “Charter for the Submission and the Dedication of the Rumanian Orthodox Church in the United States to the Holy Metropolitan See at Bucharest” has been elaborated and signed. In essence, this act stipulated the renunciation to the canonical jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Church of Sibiu at the submission to the one of the Metropolitan Church of Ungro-Vlahia. This act of church union of the Transylvanian Orthodox Romanians, emigrated over the ocean, with their brothers from Romania, anticipated the political union of all Romanians, being the expression of the national and church ideals which have preoccupied the Romanians for centuries.
This act is also important for the fact that it puts forward the idea of the foundation of a Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America. In fact, this idea became reality; on the basis of the decision and of the act above mentioned, the Protopresbyter Ioan Podea applied, on August 22nd, 1918, to the Secretary of State in Columbus, Ohio, for the recognition, by the American authorities, of the new-founded Episcopate. A few days later, on August 27th, the Secretary of State in Columbus, Ohio, issued the act of recognition.
In its turn, the Holy Synod – the central church authority in the capital of Romania – showed great concern to the demands of the Orthodox Romanians in America. Thus, the decision taken in Youngstown had been brought to the knowledge of the members of the Holy Synod by the Metropolitan Miron Cristea, through the address 1217 from March 25th, 1920. By this act, the metropolitan, an expert in American-Romanians’ problems, solicited the approval of the foundation, in principle, of a Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America, under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Church of Ungro-Vlahia. In a meeting held on June 11th, 1920, the Holy Synod was informed about the decisions of the Romanian Orthodox believers in USA and decided to send a bishop to investigate.
One of the most delicate problems appeared in the church life of the American-Romanians was that of the “priests of necessity”. The priests of necessity were those priests ordained from among the simple Christians, in the best cases ex-church singers, by the Russian bishops Ştefan Dzubay and Adam Filipovski from New-York, Arsenie of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and Villatti, Metropolitan of the old-eastern Church in America etc., at the suggestion of the ex-Professor of the Theological Academy in Cernăuţi, the priest Lazăr Gherman.
The shortage of priests, exacerbated during the war years, because of difficulties in bringing new ones from the old country, led to the apparition of this kind of priests. Thus, about 21 priests of necessity had been ordained. They had no theological training, and some had serious canonical impediments to ordination.
What started as an emergency was transformed rapidly into a source of serious misunderstandings. The priests from the country, having superior training, despised the priests of necessity. The latter ones were traveling from parish to parish, looking for a bigger income, but everywhere where they went, they created only discords and quarrels among the believers. The deanery led by the priest Ioan Podea had no control over them, because they ignored all orders.
The priests of necessity, under the leadership of the priest Lazăr Gherman, tried to organize an Episcopate of the Orthodox Romanians in America. Initially, the priests ordained in the country joined them. When the priests ordained in America by the Russian bishops decided that the autonomous Episcopate of the Orthodox Romanians in America would be under the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishop Adam Filipowski, the two groups separated.
In spite of the fact that the requirements of the priests of necessity had been disregarded by the church authorities from the country, they brought attention to the problem of the canonical organization of the Romanian Orthodox believers living over the ocean. This generated measures which will lead, eventually, to the effective foundation of the Episcopate.
The immediate consequence of the actions carried out by the priests ordained in America was the fact that 11 priests had been sent from Romania, among them Andrei Moldovan, Ioan Truţia and Ioan Stănilă, the protagonists of many future events of the church history of the Romanian-Americans.
The presence of these priests gave an impetus to the church life and made important steps for the foundation of the Episcopate. This desire had been made known permanently to the authorities from the country through numerous memoirs and letters elaborated and signed by priests, believers, organizations and personalities of the Romanian communities in America. As a consequence of these efforts, the Holy Synod, in meetings held on December 16th, 1925 and on March 8th, 1926, had consented to send a bishop for the Romanians in America. The civil authorities adhered to the Synodal decision, but didn’t find the necessary funds for sustaining the mission of a bishop over the Ocean. Therefore, the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America existed only on paperwork.
This situation generated a large press-campaign in the Romanian colonies, thus persuading the Holy Synod to decide, once more in May 1928, to found an Episcopate under the canonical jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchy.
To accomplish this, a delegate was sent over the Ocean with the mission to make the necessary proceedings for the foundation of the Episcopate. This delegate was the priest Trandafir Scorobeţ, a pioneer of the Romanian Orthodox mission in America. For six months, he prepared the Church Congress, gathered in Detroit from the 25th to the 28th of April 1929. After intense debates, the Congress decided to found an autonomous Episcopate, led by a bishop who would be a full member of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Until the coming of a bishop, it was decided that the leadership of the Episcopate should be incumbent upon a committee led by the priest Ioan Truţia.
The decisions of the Congress have been approved by the Holy Synod and by the Church National Assembly, but only after a period of almost 5 years. In 1934 the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament elaborated, and the king Carol promulgated the law founding the “Missionary Episcopate for the Orthodox Christians in western countries”.
After these proceedings, the next step was the election of a bishop. The temporary commission elaborated, in 1932, a Statute and a Regulation on the basis of which the Episcopate should be organized. Regarding the election of the bishop, the 7th article of the Statute stipulated that he would be elected by the Church Congress of the American parishes. The law adopted in Bucharest stipulated that the bishop would be elected by the Holy Synod. These contradictory stipulations generated an intense debate regarding the election of the future bishop.
This is the history of the avatars for the organization of the church life of the Orthodox Romanians in America. The Christian who had left his native land and his village-church in searching of his luck in the “land of promises” had to fight heartily for a living, for a parish, for a priest with whom to share his joys and sorrows, for a church in which to kneel when there is a religious holiday. Even more difficult were the efforts of the priests and of their representatives to organize the parishes, which were spread all over the American territory, and to obtain a spiritual father, a bishop who would reprove, scold, forgive, comfort and bless his spiritual sons. Eventually, their perseverance and efforts were rewarded, but the real difficulties were only beginning.
VI. Policarp Moruşca – The First Bishop of the Orthodox Romanians in America
In January 1935, the archimandrite Policarp Moruşca, at that time abbot of the Hodoş-Bodrog Monastery, was elected by the Holy Synod as bishop of the orthodox Romanians in America. On the 24th of March, he was ordained bishop, and on the 4th of July, 1935, in the St. Gheorghe Church in Detroit, he was installed on the episcopal see of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America.
The absolute priority of the new bishop was the rigorous organization of the life of the Episcopate. For this, his adopted strategy was one of profound missionary character. The required measures would have been fruitless if the bishop had not known his priests and believers. Therefore, only three days after his installation, a list of canonical visits was already established. “A whole year, almost uninterruptedly” – confessed later the bishop Policarp – “I’ve been on missionary trips, on long and tiresome roads, in the heat of the summer and the frost of the winter. I have slept where they offered me to sleep, I have eaten what they offered me to eat, and all I’ve received, and I considered it good, thinking to myself as being in the war, where there is no room for comfort. But I had a warm welcome everywhere and, afterwards, I had the consolation and the pride to say that I have been and I have met the Romanians from America in their own homes, face to face, as no one else, during a whole year. And suddenly, I’ve gained the necessary experience and orientation for a solid organization of the missionary Episcopate in America”. During his pastoral visits, Policarp dedicated churches – because, until then, no Romanian Orthodox church in America had received the sacramental consecration from a bishop – celebrated religious ceremonies and, insistently, pleaded for the cause of the jurisdictional unity and set forth his agenda regarding the life and development of the Episcopate.
More and more often and more loudly, the bishop issued a call to organization, unity, discipline and obedience to canons. Such remarks were not pleasant to those who were already unaccustomed to listening to authority and to obeying orders. Insubordination and open conflict was only a step away.
A conflict with fatal consequences for the mission of Policarp Moruşca in America burst immediately after the first pastoral letter of the new bishop was published. The protagonists of this real dispute were the lay leaders of the Union and of the Aid-League, on the one side, and the bishop Policarp Moruşca, on the other. The Union was gathering, since 1925, the majority of the aid-associations organized by Romanians according to the model and to the principles of the American like societies. Mainly, the purpose of these societies was, to a great extent, similar to that of the present insurance companies. Moreover, the societies organized on ethnical criteria, as were the Romanian ones, also developed other socio-cultural activities, destined to preserve the ethnical identity of the immigrant groups. When the bishop Policarp put forward the calling to organization around the Church and, especially, when the parishes under his jurisdiction started to develop similar activities to those of the Union and to pay a special attention to the young people, trying to organize them under the patronage of the Episcopate, the leaders of the Union reacted violently, seeing in the Episcopate a competitor and in the person of the bishop, an enemy and an usurper of some rights belonging to the Union and to the League.
From that moment on, the mission of Policarp became impossible and the immediate purpose of all the actions of the Union was to thwart his mission.
This conflict, once started, was amplified by some warlike statements and, finally, degenerated into intense polemics, calumnies and insults. The accusations formulated by the enemies in the press, in memories addressed to the ecclesiastical and political authorities from the country, and in any other circumstances, were numberless. Among these accusations, we can mention those regarding the dictatorship, the religious intolerance, the anti-Semitism, and the portrait of the bishop, made by his detractors, was full of features of a man of discord, disorganization and feud. Finally, the option of the enemies was categorical: “His Holiness ended his activity here. He should return to the place he came from”.
The issue of this conflict appeared in an unexpected way for the bishop Policarp. In August 1939, the bishop came to Romania to obtain funds for the Episcopate and to present his activity report to the new patriarch, Nicodim Munteanu (1939-1948). From this moment on, the irreversible process of his removal from the Episcopate began. Historical events prevented him from returning to America. The beginning of the Second World War and the declaration of war, addressed by Romania to the United States, were the objective obstacles against the immediate return of Policarp to America. Later on, these obstacles were joined by the obstructions from the royal palace, sustained by numberless memoirs from over the Ocean. In the end, these obstructions and their promoters reached their goal. Bishop Policarp Moruşca, the first bishop of the Orthodox Romanians in America, was forbidden to return in the midst of his congregation. The only consolation was the fact that, for the majority of his priests and believers, he remained their Bishop until his death.
What is bishop Policarp’s legacy? An Episcopate sufficiently organized, having 6 deaneries, 44 parishes and 62 missions, 43 churches and 5 chapels, in which 34 priests were celebrating the religious services. He established a residence, or, better said, a real church, cultural and national center of the Orthodox Romanians in America (Vatra Românească), located in the vicinity of the city of Jackson, Michigan. Also he created “The Herald” newspaper, the press-organ of the Episcopate. For a period of time it was published at his expense, together with a calendar-almanac, having the same name. Then, he left numerous parish schools, church choirs, and organizations of the youth and of women, most notably he left a lot of believers with a clear idea about their confessional and ethnical membership and a minimum respect toward the canonical order.
Initially kept from going to America by the beginning of the war, then by the order of the king Carol the Second and by the refusal of the US Embassy to give him an entrance visa on the American territory, the bishop Policarp ended by being forced to retire in 1948 by the authorities of the communist regime, set up in Romania after the second world war.
read below (part II) chapters VII through X
Last edited by Fr Constantin Alecse on Fri Aug 10, 2007 9:51 am; edited 2 times in total
|Fr Constantin Alecse
Joined: 28 Jun 2006
|Posted: Fri Jul 06, 2007 3:21 pm Post subject: ROEA: A Part of the American Orthodoxy, by Fr. G. Gardan PHD
VII. “The Great Schism” of the Romanian Orthodox Diaspora in America
At the moment of his departure from America, the bishop Policarp entrusted the leadership of the Episcopate to the Episcopal Council, led by the priest Simion Mihălţan. Unfortunately, the Episcopate deteriorated progressively, the only positive fact being the continuation of its juridical existence and the payment of all the debt for the episcopal center of Vatra.
The discord, the indifference, the quarrels and the schismatic tendencies dominated for more than ten years in the life of the Episcopate. Two centers of influence formed, one around the priest Simion Mihălţan, but led by Glicherie Moraru, and the other around the priest Ioan Truţia. The two groups “fought in a duel” continuously, a fact that had negative consequences.
The attachment of the group led by Glicherie Moraru to the political ideals of the ex-king Carol the Second, who sought to regain the throne of Romania, led the Romanian-Americans to try, in 1943, to adopt a declaration of independence and declare autonomy of the Episcopate, breaking the relations with the Romanian Patriarchy and the government of Antonescu. Only the firm intervention of the priest Ioan Truţia caused the Congress of the Episcopate, called in an extraordinary session to reject this act. The same Congress decided to change the composition of the Episcopal Council, its leader being now the priest Ioan Truţia, and to return to the legal stipulations from 1932, in which the bishop would be elected by the Congress of the Episcopate.
The consequence of these acts was to break the Episcopate in two. A part of the priests and believers joined the new leadership; the rest remained devoted to the opposition group. This split continued until 1947 when, the Romanian authorities attempted to send over the ocean the bishop Antim Nica without the previous consultation of the Congress. The two camps united, pronouncing themselves firmly against such a measure contrary to the legal stipulations and to the will of the clergy and of the American-Romanian believers. A decision which stipulated the full administrative autonomy of the Episcopate also was adopted.
In spite of this common attitude and of the determination to continue and intensify the efforts for the return of the bishop Policarp, the priests Glicherie Moraru, Andrei Moldovan, Ştefan Atanasie Opreanu tried different variants for bringing or electing a bishop to the group’s liking. Eventually, they organized a pseudo-congress at which 8 persons participated. This pseudo-congress elected on May 17th, 1950, the priest Andrei Moldovan, a widower, and nominated him as bishop of the Orthodox Romanians in America. “The Congress” also resumed canonical relations with the Romanian Patriarchy, by sending to Romania the newly elected bishop to be ordained. They also incorporated, the new organization, the Romanian Autonomous Episcopate of North and South America according to the laws of the State of Michigan State. All these decisions and the actions preceding these decisions were performed secretly.
On the occasion of the Episcopate’s Congress, gathered in an ordinary session in July in Philadelphia, the priest Andrei Moldovan (the elected bishop) made no mention about his “election”. Moreover, he supported the decision to continue the efforts for the return of Policarp.
Only two weeks after the end of the Congress, the priest Ioan Truţia received a telegram signed by the Patriarch Justinian. This telegram informed him that the Holy Synod approved the autonomy of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of North and South America and the election of the priest Andrei Moldovan as its bishop. He is expected to be as soon as possible in Bucharest, to be ordained bishop. The telegram also contained the advice that all priests should join the new bishop and put an end to all dissensions.
It is not difficult to imagine what a great surprise this telegram produced. The priest Ioan Truţia and the other members of the Episcopal Council, who didn’t know about the meetings, the “congress” and the secret decisions orchestrated by Glicherie Moraru, supposed that the Patriarch was misinformed about the decisions taken at the Congress in Philadelphia. In a letter to him, they said that there was no decision regarding the election of the priest Andrei Moldovan as a bishop. On the contrary, by the unanimous vote of the delegates, it was asserted that the Bishop Policarp Moruşca is the canonical Bishop of the Episcopate. Moreover, those who had signed the letter appealed to the patriarch to take all the necessary measures to allow the bishop Policarp to return back to his Episcopate. Receiving a telephone call from Ioan Truţia, the priest Andrei Moldovan denied any involvement in this action and, at his solicitation, sent a telegram to the Episcopal Council, having an ambiguous content: “I have taken no option and do not intend to”.
The course of events proved how involved Andrei Moldovan was in this affair. On the 29th of October, after the religious service in the church in Akron, Ohio, had ended, the priest Andrei Moldovan came in front of the altar, telling his believers that he had health problems for which his doctor recommended a cure with mineral waters; therefore, he will be gone, for the next three weeks to Hot Springs, a health resort in Arkansas. The believers and the members of the parish council were extremely kind, according him the permission to leave the parish and, moreover, paying his salary for this period, too. In the afternoon of the same day, the priest Moldovan left his parish in a big hurry, leading himself toward Detroit and from there, accompanied by Glicherie Moraru, he left for Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Then, he took an airplane to Bucharest, where he was impatiently expected. Received with great pomp both at the Patriarchy and in all episcopal centers and monasteries where he had visited, Andrei Moldovan was heading to the rank of bishop in a real triumphal march. At the same time, the believers of his parishes were receiving postcards from Arkansas, in which their priest was expressing his gratitude and his impatience to return to them.
On November 5th, Andrei Moldovan was tonsured in monasticism at Neamt Monastery. On November 12th, he was ordained bishop in the Metropolitan Church in Sibiu. At the ordination participated 400 priests, but not the bishop Policarp, who had forced-residence about 100 km away, in Craiva, Alba. On November 19th, at the Patriarchal Palace, important personalities of the “democratic” leadership of the country led by Petru Groza attended the investiture ceremony. On November 20th, the bishop Andrei Moldovan left Romania, in order to be the only spiritual and canonical leader of the Orthodox Romanians in America.
The reactions to these actions, considered as a rude and undesirable interference of the political and ecclesiological authorities from Romania in the life of the American citizens of Romanian origin and of Orthodox faith, and at the same time, as an obvious and irresponsible violation of the Episcopate’s autonomy, had been extremely prompt and radical. The priest Ioan Truţia urgently convened the Episcopal Council to make a decision. The meeting took place on November 16th, in Cleveland, and all members of the council were gathered there, including Simion Mihălţan. The council decided unanimously that the letters and the telegram received from the Patriarchy would not be taken into consideration and the new bishop would not be accepted, thus reaffirming the autonomy of the Episcopate.
This reaction of the council was amplified by the attitudes of the parishes, which dissociated themselves from the bishop Andrei Moldovan. The first to object were the believers in Akron, the same ones who, a few weeks before, were receiving postcards from Arkansas, from the priest who went for treatment at their expense. They refused to receive the Bishop Andrei in the parish church and unanimously decided that a priest who had lied to his believers in front of the altar had no place in Akron anymore. The Bishop Andrei was identified as an instrument of communist authorities, who sent him to America in order to control the life of the American-Romanians.
From that moment on, the protests and the polemical articles increased considerably, and the pages of “The Herald” became insufficient for them. Parish after parish, organization after organization and personality after personality, all wanted to express their disapproval for the action of the non-elected Bishop and their protest regarding the interference of the hostile communist forces in the life of the American citizens. Their voice found echo in the American press, too, especially since the American society and public opinion were in a period of anti-communist purification, promoted by McCarthyism. They were sensitive to any attempt to undermine democracy and had been annoyed by the anti-American attitude of the Patriarch Justinian regarding the war in Korea.
The reaction of the Bishop Andrei Moldovan to the strong opposition once again surprised everybody. Following the instructions received in the country, he tried unsuccessfully to obtain the control over the assets of the Episcopate, through the American judicial system. All courts rejected Andrei Moldovan’s claims, underlining the fact that he has no right because he does not represent the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. Further the Romanian Missionary Orthodox Episcopate in America is a completely separate entity.
Such actions made the separation from the Romanian Orthodox Church practically inevitable. The indifference of the Patriarchy of Bucharest and the intense campaign sustained by Andrei Moldovan and his American supporters increased this situation.
At the beginning of 1951, when the lawsuits caused by Andrei Moldovan were in full progress, and the hope of reconciliation grew pale, the necessity of finding a positive solution to this prolonged situation of crisis became more and more evident. In searching for the best solution, the president of the Episcopal Council, the priest Ioan Truţia, organized a meeting whose purpose was to establish a common strategy of the American-Romanian community. On January 6th, 1951, the ones present at the meeting agreed that it is not sufficient to reject the actions of those in Bucharest, but it is necessary to adopt a positive solution. This solution, according to the spirit of the decisions of the Church Congress held in 1950, cannot be other than the election of a Bishop who will serve the Episcopate as a Vicar, until the Bishop Policarp will clarify his situation.
At the meetings of the Episcopal Council, held on March 16th, and on May 26th, a final decision was adopted regarding the election of a Vicar-Bishop at the Congress held in July 1951. Likewise, it was decided that the archimandrite Ştefan Lucaciu and the theologian Viorel Trifa should be invited to run for the episcopal see.
On May 15th, 1951, the Office of the Episcopate submits to the Patriarch Justinian and to all members of the Holy Synod a memoir in which an analysis of the situation is done. It recommends that a firm attitude should be taken against the Bishop Andrei Moldovan and against his actions; otherwise, the responsibility for the consequences will be entirely theirs.
This memoir was addressed out of the desire and with the hope that the Holy Synod would pronounce itself, in one way or another, until the Congress in July, 1951, when the problem would have been solved. Unfortunately, the Synod gave no answer whatsoever, and the situation entered an irreversible route.
The annual Congress of the Episcopate has been convened for the period of July 1st-4th, in Chicago. The program included not only the election of a Vicar-Bishop, but also many other problems of major importance for the life of the Episcopate. It was the first time the Congress was held after the incidents provoked by Andrei Moldovan and by the intervention of the Patriarchy. Until that time, the Episcopal Council faced attempts of imposing a non-elected bishop, but now, the clergymen and the laymen had to take a clear attitude regarding this problem. There was a strong political influence in this event and, therefore, making a decision was a difficult task. For the delegates to the Congress, most of them American citizens who were profoundly attached to the democratic values, the problem was as follows: Are they ready to accept Andrei Moldovan, the representative of the world behind the Iron-Curtain and, through him, to accept the possibility of receiving orders from the communists? Or have they to assume the responsibility of their own destiny and to remain loyal to the principle of the American life, making their own destiny according to this principle and to the future interests of the Church? The 62 delegates, representing 24 parishes, assumed the responsibility entrusted to them in the moment of their election and, after long debates, they decided:
In the case of Andrei Moldovan, the Congress found that Andrei Moldovan has not been elected bishop for our Episcopate and that, for being ordained bishop, he made use of forgeries and lies. Taking into consideration these aspects, the Congress voted unanimously on a motion in which, among other things, it was said that the Congress of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America considers the appointment and the ordination of the ex-priest from Akron, Andrei Moldovan, illegal and anti-canonical, being done on the basis of false data and, therefore, refuses to recognize him as bishop and declares that he will never be accepted as titular of our Episcopate.
The painful experience lived by the Episcopate in its relations with the Church in Romania, in the case of the Bishop Andrei Moldovan, generated intense debates regarding the future of the relations between the American Episcopate and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Twelve delegates proposed a resolution which stipulated the total separation of the Episcopate from the Patriarchy of Bucharest and the cessation of any relations. These delegates motivated their suggestion by saying that the Episcopate has been brought in a situation in which there is no other alternative than to act immediately. Following the debates, the Congress adopted unanimously this resolution, whose central point stipulated that the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America should be and should remain, in the future, completely autonomous towards the Romanian Orthodox Church in Romania, not only regarding its administrative affairs, but also regarding the canonical (spiritual) ones, the orders, measures or decrees promulgated by the Patriarch or by the Holy Synod of Romania having on it no validity.
By this decision, the break with the Romanian Orthodox Church and with its representatives, the Bishop Andrei Moldovan and his few parishes in America, was sealed, and became a painful reality for the American-Romanian community. The election, at the same Congress, of Viorel Trifa as Vicar-Bishop of Policarp Moruşca, was the first act of the full autonomous Episcopate and a measure to strengthen this autonomy. Policarp Moruşca was considered the canonical titular of the episcopal see until his death in 1958.
Therefore, after more than 12 years of anxiety, in the ecclesiastical life of the American-Romanians there were two Orthodox jurisdictions, one led by Bishop Andrei Moldovan, which contained only a very small number of parishes and which kept the canonical relations with the Romanian Patriarchy, and the other, the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, which contained most of the parishes and of the believers and was in a state of complete autonomy.
VIII. The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America– Part of the American Orthodoxy
The election of the theologian Valerian Trifa as Vicar of Policarp only partially solved the problem of the guarantee of the Episcopate’s leadership. In fact, this election generated a new problem, that of the ordination of Valerian.
The independence and autonomy of the Episcopate was contrary to the canonical rules of the Church. Moreover, the ordination of the new bishop could not be done without the help of the other Orthodox jurisdictions. The Episcopal Council invited other Orthodox churches in America to send their representatives at the ordination of Trifa. One by one, they refused the invitation of the Episcopal Council, some of them due to the pressures made by the Patriarchate of Bucharest, others due to the accusations brought against the candidate. Trifa was tainted by his political past (his affiliation to the Legionary Movement) and his involvement in the anti-Jewish actions organized by this Movement.
Finally, on April 27th, 1952, Valerian Trifa was ordained bishop by the Metropolitan John Theodorovici, the leader of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America. Bishops Mistyslav and Henadie also took part in the ordination. The Ukrainian Metropolitan was the only body that agreed to ordain him, as a gesture of brotherhood and without imposing any canonical jurisdiction.
A new step in the canonical existence of the Episcopate was its affiliation, in 1960, to the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Church in America, which will receive, in 1970, from the part of the Russian Patriarchy, the recognition of its autocephaly, thus becoming the American Orthodox Church. What brought the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate to the affiliation with the Orthodox Church in America? To this question, the Bishop Valerian answered this way: the years following our Episcopate’s submission under the Orthodox American jurisdiction proved to be years of calm and canonical stability. By affiliating with an American earthly Orthodox Church: it is put into practice the old principle that the Orthodox churches are tied to the people and to the land on which they lead their existence; the trauma of a state of independence has been eliminated; a real way of communication with other American Orthodox Christians who live in the same circumstances, have the same problems and inspire themselves from the same ideals as the American-Romanians, has been opened; the temptation of the foreign political powers to interfere with the church affairs which concern only the American citizens (even they are, from the ethnical point of view, of different origin), has been eliminated; a way of a closer relationship with the Mother-Church in Romania has been opened by eliminating the argument of territorial jurisdiction; to the younger generations, brought up here, in America, as well as to the converted ones, has been given the feeling that their faith, although it drank from the spring of the Romanian orthodoxy, may be practiced in America; the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America is no more jeopardized to disappear, once the believers born in Romania are dead, on the contrary, it has the opportunity to bring a Romanian contribution to the strengthening and spreading of the Orthodox faith on the American continent.
The activity of the bishop Valerian was a remarkable success from the ecclesiastical point of view, but it has been stamped by the open fight carried out against him by the Jewish circles from America and Romania, sustained by the communist authorities from Bucharest. After years of investigation and preliminary hearings, in 1980, the Archbishop Valerian Trifa disclaimed his American citizenship. This gesture didn’t signify the fact that he recognized any of the accusations brought against him. It was only the gesture of a man too tired to fight anymore against a system which had condemned him a priori and didn’t want to accept the truth. As a consequence he was forced to go into exile, in Portugal, where he died in 1987.
The leadership of the Episcopate has been taken over since 1980 by the present Archbishop, Nathaniel Popp, an American of Romanian origin. Since 2002, he is assisted by the Auxiliary Bishop Irineu Duvlea. These two have proved to be dignified successors and continuers of the mission assumed by the Archbishop Valerian within the framework of the American Orthodoxy.
IX. The Relations of the Orthodox Romanians in America with the Mother-Church
Parallel to the Episcopate of Vatra was the diocese led by Andrei Moldovan, under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate. In spite of the low number of believers, it has been consistently supported from the country.
After the death, in 1963, of the Bishop Andrei, the Archimandrite Victorin Ursache was elected as his successor. He led the Archdiocese from 1966 until 2000, when he retired. His mission has been supported by the actions of some theologians of great value, sent by the Patriarchate of Bucharest. The ecclesiastical authorities from Romania gave a large administrative autonomy to the American Diocese and made it, for a better prestige, Archdiocese in 1973.
When the Archbishop Victorin retired, the leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese was assumed by the Archbishop Nicolae Condrea, who was recently joined by Ioan Casian Tunaru as Auxiliary Bishop.
If the Archdiocese, loyal to the Mother-Church, enjoyed the support and the assistance of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the relations between the dissident Episcopate and the Mother-Church have been much more tumultuous. The documents we have examined reveal a dialogue determined by the common desire to achieve reconciliation, but interrupted because of the inflexibility of the two jurisdictions. A relative improvement of the situation occurred immediately after the death of the Bishop Andrei Moldovan. It was hoped, for a while, that reconciliation would be possible. Finally, the failure was obvious because of the inflexible attitude of the two jurisdictions. The Episcopate of Vatra wanted the abolishment of the parallel jurisdiction, being under the canonical authority of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the recognition of the Bishop Valerian. The Patriarchate considered Valerian Trifa heretic, schismatic and a plotter against the church order and authority. The consequence was the end of the dialogue and the preservation of this situation of discord, which has existed since 1950.
X. Instead of Conclusions: Between Conflict and Unity.
The Present Situation of the Orthodox Romanians in North America
The political changes in Romania in 1989 have had consequences for the ecclesiastical relations between the two Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions in North America.
The end of the Cold War, the fall of the iron-curtain and the fact that the Romanian people had obtained freedom through blood sacrifices, brought the Romanians from America into a new situation, which they enjoyed and of which they took advantage, in order to remove an extremely painful situation. Out of the moment’s enthusiasm resulted an incessant charitable activity, co-ordinated by the Archbishop Nathaniel of the Episcopate of Vatra.
The initiative of the archbishop proved to be very inspired and contributed to the improvement of the relations between the two jurisdictions of the Romanian-American Orthodox community, offering them the possibility to dedicate themselves to a common cause and to act, finally, together. The strategy of bringing the ecclesiastical jurisdictions closer by bringing the believers together has been continued by the foundation of the American Romanians’ Congress, whose fundamental purpose is to represent the interests of the American-Romanian community before the authorities of the United States. To what extent this initiative was successful, we may see from the support of the community from over the Ocean toward the aspirations of Romania to adhere to NATO.
The natural consequence of the inter-human approach was the activation of the dialogue-process between the two branches of the Romanian Orthodoxy in North America. This dialogue was initiated, timidly enough, at the end of 1990. Initially, the two parts found difficult enough to ignore the animosities that have marked their existence for almost 40 years. Two years passed until a formal dialogue between the two Episcopates was established, in the second half of the year 1992. This official dialogue was established at the solicitation and with the clear approval of the Congress that is the deliberative body of each Episcopate. A mixed committee for dialogue has been created, with two objectives: a nearer one and a more remote one. The nearer purpose aimed at the re-establishment of the communion and the normalizing of relations, while the more remote one aims at the reunion of all Orthodox Romanian believers in America into a single ecclesiastical entity.
During these 14 years of dialogue, only two concrete successes, which correspond to the immediate purpose of the dialogue, have been accomplished. First, the re-establishment of the Eucharistic communion between the two dioceses allows the possibility of believers to take the Eucharist in any of the churches belonging to the two jurisdictions and the priests to celebrate religious services together. The second success is the real, general and constant improvement of the relations between the two sister Episcopates.
The most obvious sign of normalizing and of fraternal communion between the two Episcopates, on the one side, and between the Episcopate of Vatra, being under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America, and the Romanian Orthodox Church, on the other, especially for the communities of the Orthodox Romanians from over the Ocean, was the participation of the Archbishop Nathaniel to the ordination of Î.P.S. dr. Nicolae Condrea, the new Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada, on the July 14th, 2002, in the “St. John the Baptist” Cathedral in Montreal, and the participation of Archbishop Nicolae Condrea at the ordination of Irineu Duvlea, as Auxiliary Bishop of the Episcopate of Vatra, an event which took place on November 3rd, 2002, in the “St. Gheorghe” Cathedral, in Southfield, Michigan.
Once the relations normalized and the community re-established, the contacts and the visits continued, opening a permanent dialogue between these two jurisdictions. The last expression of this dialogue was the initiative of some meetings between the Romanian Orthodox Bishops from Western Europe and America. The first meeting took place in Paris, between the 15th and the 19th of April, 2004, the second one took place between the 9th and the 16th of May 2005, at the Monastery “The Dormition of the Mother of God” in Jackson, Mi., and the third, planned for this year in Germany, never took place, because the Archbishop Nathaniel had announced in a letter the unilateral cessation of dialogue.
Concerning the second and, in the same time, the final purpose: the jurisdictional unity, here the dialogue was slower and, finally, stopped, because the two Episcopates offer different solutions to the same problem.
Presently, there is no doubt about the necessity of a unitary presence of the Romanian Orthodoxy and of orthodoxy in general in the western hemisphere. The present lack of unity gives birth to serious problems, especially problems of testimony, but also problems of discipline and canonical organization. The canonical discipline is difficult to maintain. The parishes and the priests swing between jurisdictions and take advantage of the lack of unity between the two dioceses. The itinerant priests and the independent parishes profit from the division by justifying their non-canonical status, often making the observance of the canonical norms an object of jurisdictional blackmail. Likewise, there are parishes’ superpositions, a fact that generates the inefficient use of limited resources, tensions and conflicts that cannot be solved by the ecclesiastical authorities according to the evangelical principles and the canonical norms. The ultimate consequence is the undermining of the evangelical preaching, the counter-testimony and the lack of the spiritual progress. The recognition of these realities with which the two Romanian Orthodox jurisdictions in America confront themselves for more than 50 years do not solve the way in which the unity can be realized.
As we were saying, the ways or the methods, through which the accomplishment of the unity is conceived, are different, even opposite, and this fact produced, as a consequence, the stagnation of the dialogue. For the Romanian Orthodox Archiepiscopate, the way to unity implies the return to previous situation. What it is desired is the re-union of the two jurisdictions in an autonomous Metropolitan Church under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The solution suggested by the representatives of the Archiepiscopate implies, as they themselves confess, the attempt to suppress the memories of the agitated history and to move on. The only reason to debate upon a certain historical event is to help each other in solving a problem which is an obstacle in the way of our unity. For many, the history of the past becomes a way to avoid the present responsibilities. The memory of the past mistakes and injustices incite the passions and open old wounds.
Such an attitude, which implies the elusion of the past for the future’s sake is unacceptable for the representatives of the Episcopate of Vatra. For them, assuming the past by the Romanian Orthodox Church in the way of knowing and admitting the historical truth of the committed mistakes is an act indispensable to any progress of the dialogue. Of course, these mistakes have been done to the Episcopate of Vatra under the pressure of the communist authorities. This Episcopate, for the reason that its legal rights and its autonomy have been violated, felt compelled to estrange itself from the Mother-Church. Therefore, only through admitting the historical truth, can the wounds of the past be healed and the exam of the mutual credibility passed, offering a real chance to the dialogue and to the unity. On the other side, due to the fact that the Episcopate of Vatra belongs to the Orthodox Church in America, solving the problem must be seen only in the larger context of the American Orthodoxy.
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