50th ANNIVERSARY - REPOSE OF METROPOLITAN JOHN
50th ANNIVERSARY - REPOSE OF METROPOLITAN JOHN
Metropolitan John during a visit to his Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Philadelphia in the 1940s
Metropolitan John during a visit to his Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Philadelphia in the 1940s
Metropolitan John during a visit to his Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Philadelphia in the 1940s

Reflections from Metropolitan Antony

as appeared in the UOL Bulletin

On the third of May 1971, the First Primate of our Church of the U.S.A., His Beatitude, John, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of North and South America, fell asleep in the Lord. The Funeral Services and Eulogies on his behalf, witnessed unto the entire world the extreme sorrow with which the clergy and faithful accepted his repose. Thousands of his spiritual flock along with all the clergy and faithful of other churches and faiths paid homage while he lay in state. Faithful of other Orthodox Churches with their hierarchs and clergy conducted memorial prayers. “These services, eulogies and farewells formed an undying wreath, which we placed upon his fresh grave out of a deep respect and love for him.” (Archbishop Mstyslav)

Metropolitan John (Ioan Theodorovych) was born in the town of Krupets, Ukraine, on 6 October 1887. Krupets, is a community in the Volyn Region (equivalent to a USA State), where his father served as a priest and where others of his ancestry also served the church. In this community he began his studies and later entered the Seminary Preparatory school in the city of Klevan. Upon graduation here, he enrolled in the Zhytomyr Theological Seminary from which he graduated with high honors. Following graduation, he continued his studies and received his teacher’s certificate, which he utilized by teaching for five years in the schools of the Dubno and Ostroh Districts. It was during this time that he married.

He was ordained a Deacon, in 1914, by the Archbishop Evlohiy of Volyn and was ordained a priest on 10 May 1915, by the Bishop of Volodymyr, Thaddeaus. This was during the World War I and tragically, Fr. John’s wife suddenly reposed in August of 1915. Following this tragedy he joined the army and served as a priest and with the Red Cross in the southwestern front.

In 1917, he was appointed Chaplain to the Ukrainian Division of the Imperial Army. After the Bolshevik Revolution in October of this year, Father John later joined the Ukrainian freedom movement and became an active participant until the end of actual armed contention. During the first liberation struggle in Ukraine, he became the Chaplain of the (Sirodzupanniky) division and then he was assigned Directing Chaplain of the right-bank front, which included the Kholmska, Podilska and Kiev armies of the Ukrainian National Republic. Along with many of the soldiers of this army, Father John suffered typhoid fever in 1917. He nearly died after being shot during a battle, but lived to see the tragic end to the war, with a Moscow Bolshevik victory over Ukraine.

Metropolitan John in the 1920s
Metropolitan John in the 1920s
Metropolitan John in the 1920s

Following the war with the Bolsheviks, Father John was assigned to a parish in Mitintsi, in the district of Starokostantiniv. At this time he began his activities with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church movement. He was a participant in the Diocesan meeting in Zhytomyr and the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Congress of Kiev. He was assigned by this Council to organize parishes in Volyn and Podillia. This assignment was extremely dangerous because of Bolshevik control. He was placed in a concentration camp and only by a miracle was he saved from being shot to death. Upon his release from camp just before the opening of the First All-Ukrainian Church Sobor in Kiev, he immediately made arrangements to be a participant of the Sobor.

He was particularly active during this Sobor and became one of three candidates who were elected to become Bishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. He was consecrated Bishop by the Metropolitan of All-Ukraine, Wasyl Lipkiwsky and Archbishop Nestor Sharaysky on the 26 October 1921. At this time he became the Bishop of the Podil’ska Eparchy. This Eparchy consisted of only eighteen Ukrainian parishes. By 1923, just two years later, the Podil’ska Eparchy had over 300 Ukrainian parishes. 

Metropolitan John in the 1930s
Metropolitan John in the 1930s
Metropolitan John in the 1930s

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA had its beginnings in 1915 when various Ukrainian parishes and clergy who were serving in other Orthodox Churches, Eastern and Roman Catholic jurisdictions decided that the Orthodox Ukrainian American population had reached significant enough numbers as a distinctive ethnic group and should have its own jurisdiction. There were many spiritual and political concerns, which inspired this decision and it immediately prospered in terms of the number of parishes and people who joined the movement.  Eventually, in 1918, the group sought and received spiritual protection under the omophor of Bishop Germanos (Shehadi) of the Syrian Orthodox Church.  Bishop Germanos provided the necessary guidance for the new jurisdiction until the need for it own Bishop became obvious to all.  The jurisdiction requested the appointment of one from the Autocephalous Church. Because of his proven exceptional organizational and administrative skills, Bishop John was elevated to the rank of Archbishop and assigned by the All-Ukrainian Church Council to Archpastoral duties in the U.S.A.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA had its beginnings in 1915 when various Ukrainian parishes and clergy who were serving in other Orthodox Churches, Eastern and Roman Catholic jurisdictions decided that the Orthodox Ukrainian American population had reached significant enough numbers as a distinctive ethnic group and should have its own jurisdiction. There were many spiritual and political concerns, which inspired this decision and it immediately prospered in terms of the number of parishes and people who joined the movement.  Eventually, in 1918, the group sought and received spiritual protection under the omophor of Bishop Germanos (Shehadi) of the Syrian Orthodox Church.  Bishop Germanos provided the necessary guidance for the new jurisdiction until the need for it own Bishop became obvious to all.  The jurisdiction requested the appointment of one from the Autocephalous Church. Because of his proven exceptional organizational and administrative skills, Bishop John was elevated to the rank of Archbishop and assigned by the All-Ukrainian Church Council to Archpastoral duties in the U.S.A.

The first Sobor of our Church in Newark (now Maplewood, NJ). The Ukrainian American Orthodox Church in the USA was proclaimed.
The first Sobor of our Church in Newark (now Maplewood, NJ). The Ukrainian American Orthodox Church in the USA was proclaimed.
The first Sobor of our Church in Newark (now Maplewood, NJ). The Ukrainian American Orthodox Church in the USA was proclaimed.

Archbishop John arrived in the United States in 1924 and immediately called for a Sobor, which would formalize the establishment of the Archdiocese as the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. This Sobor elected Archbishop John as its first Primate.  Bishop Germanos officially relinquished his authority over the Church to Archbishop John. Following the Sobor, under the guidance of Archbishop John, the life of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA truly began to blossom. He established his cathedral and administrative offices in Philadelphia and St. Vladimir Cathedral was his base. 

Metropolitan John meeting with clergy of the Pittsburgh deanery:  Row 1 left to right - Frs. H. Pypiuk, P. Kachmarskyj, Deacon T. Forosty, Frs. I Shnurer, P. Bilinsky, M. Karischak. Row 2: Frs. S. Vulchyn, E. Korolyshyn, A. Dworakiwsky, H. Chomytsky, M. P
Metropolitan John meeting with clergy of the Pittsburgh deanery: Row 1 left to right - Frs. H. Pypiuk, P. Kachmarskyj, Deacon T. Forosty, Frs. I Shnurer, P. Bilinsky, M. Karischak. Row 2: Frs. S. Vulchyn, E. Korolyshyn, A. Dworakiwsky, H. Chomytsky, M. P
Metropolitan John meeting with clergy of the Pittsburgh deanery: Row 1 left to right - Frs. H. Pypiuk, P. Kachmarskyj, Deacon T. Forosty, Frs. I Shnurer, P. Bilinsky, M. Karischak. Row 2: Frs. S. Vulchyn, E. Korolyshyn, A. Dworakiwsky, H. Chomytsky, M. P

The Archbishop remained in contact with the Church in Ukraine, but, by 1927 it was clear that the Communist regime would not stop its persecution of this Church, having by that year arrested all its Hierarchs and most of its clergy and destroyed most of the Church properties. By 1937 all the Bishops had been executed and there were no signs of the Church’s life existent. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church had no opportunity to plead its case for canonical recognition to world Orthodoxy and the decisions and actions of its organizing Sobor have remained controversial to this day. Almost from the moment the 1921 Sobor concluded, the struggle for continued existence was doomed. Archbishop John rejected the claim of the Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction, which replaced the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine and cut all ties to Ukraine.

Meeting with Canadian Bishops c. 1960:  Archbishop Mstyslav, Archbishop Hennadij, Metrpolitan Ilarion, Metrpolitan John, Archbishop Michael
Meeting with Canadian Bishops c. 1960: Archbishop Mstyslav, Archbishop Hennadij, Metrpolitan Ilarion, Metrpolitan John, Archbishop Michael
Meeting with Canadian Bishops c. 1960: Archbishop Mstyslav, Archbishop Hennadij, Metrpolitan Ilarion, Metrpolitan John, Archbishop Michael

The American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA was deeply affected by these facts, in that Archbishop John had been consecrated as one of the first three bishops of the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine and had not received the canonical recognition of world Orthodoxy. In spite of several attempts to plead his case before the Ecumenical Patriarchate no progress was made on the issue and in fact, all his correspondence went unanswered. The clergy and faithful of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, however, were undaunted in their conviction and their commitment to build their own independent church, which continued to grow and develop spiritually and materially. With the Archdiocesan center located in Philadelphia, a seminary was established and the clergy needed to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful were educated and assigned – all of them working miracles in the establishment and building of new parishes all over the country.  Archbishop John’s vision of what could be for the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful had become a blessed reality.

The Third Sobor of the UOC of USA St. Volodymyr Cathedral Chicago 1959
The Third Sobor of the UOC of USA St. Volodymyr Cathedral Chicago 1959
The Third Sobor of the UOC of USA St. Volodymyr Cathedral Chicago 1959

Metropolitan John completely immersed himself in the life of our Church and in American society.  He became completely fluent in the English language comprehending that his faithful, who had immigrated to the USA beginning in 1880 and between World Wars I and II, had greatly assimilated into their new society.  These were Ukrainians who never knew an independent Ukraine or a Ukraine as a political entity to itself.  They came from the regions of Ukraine that were occupied continually by neighboring nations like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland and others. The Metropolitan gave them an identity upon which to build their church and he was capable of doing so in a language spoken by all.  He was very articulate in English and expressed his deepest theological and pastoral concerns with ease in that language.  He was keenly aware of the need to engage the youth of the Church. 

In 1947, with the leadership of Fr. Volodymyr Bukata and Fr. Stephen Hallick-Holutiak, he formed the Ukrainian Orthodox League, the first of our Church Central Organizations.  The organization has functioned for 74 years and has been the instigator of many historical developments in the life of the Church – the creation of our own Seminary of St. Sophia, the purchase of All Saints Camp in Emlenton, PA, creation of scholarship programs – the Metropolitan John Scholarship Fund for seminarians and the Lynn Sawchuk-Sharon Kuzbyt scholarship for UOL members who attend college or university, the publication of an abundance of educational materials and ultimately the creation of a Junior Ukrainian Orthodox League of the USA in 1962 to prepare our youth for leadership roles in the life of our Church.  Without Metropolitan John Theodorovych, none of this would have been realized.

In 1928 a second group of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in the USA initiated a movement toward Orthodoxy. Because of the questions surrounding the status of Archbishop John, the group hesitated in affiliating itself with his already established jurisdiction even though it was thriving. The first Sobor of this group met in Allentown, PA in the spring of 1929 and established itself as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America. Rev. Dr. Joseph Zuk was elected as administrator to organize the diocese and at its second Sobor of 1931 in New York City he was elected as its first Bishop. Two hierarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the USA consecrated Bishop Zuk in 1932 at St. Volodymyr Cathedral, on 14th Street in New York City. Unfortunately, Bishop Joseph lived less than two years following his consecration.

In 1936 the Ecumenical Patriarch accepted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America under his omophorion and in 1937 Bishop Bohdan (Spylka) was consecrated as bishop of the diocese. Under his guidance the jurisdiction also began to thrive and the number of parishes and faithful grew, almost rivaling the growth of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA under Archbishop John.

The two Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions co-existed in the USA for the next 17 years. They both expanded, with Archbishop John also heading the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada and Bishop Bohdan establishing several parishes there, as well.

Metropolitan John and Archbishop Hennady in Chicago Cathedral 1959
Metropolitan John and Archbishop Hennady in Chicago Cathedral 1959
Metropolitan John and Archbishop Hennady in Chicago Cathedral 1959

In 1942, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine was re-born once again as part of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Poland headed by Metropolitan Dionisij (Valedynskyj) during a brief relaxation of religious persecution by the German occupation of Ukraine. One of the bishops consecrated for the resurrected church in 1942 in Kyiv was Bishop Mstyslav (Skrypnyk), who eventually came to Canada to lead the Ukrainian Orthodox Church there, taking over from Archbishop John. Bishop Mstyslav left Canada within a few years and came to the United States to join the jurisdiction of Bishop Bohdan, with the approval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He had a great desire to unite the two existing jurisdictions in the USA. Bishop Mstyslav, who was a validly consecrated bishop, persuaded Archbishop John to submit to a new consecration in order to resolve all canonical questions about his Episcopal status and as prerequisite of unification of the two churches. In 1949 Archbishop John agreed and was consecrated by Bishop Mstyslav and Metropolitan Christopher, Exarch to the USA of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.

In 1950, both jurisdictions held separate Sobors in New York City at St. Volodymyr Cathedral on 14th Street – one in the Church itself and one in the Church auditorium. Then on 13 October a combined Sobor of unification took place in the Church where all the parishes of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA under Archbishop John and the majority of the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America united by signing an Act of Unification. Unfortunately, some clergy and parishes under Bishop Bohdan were not convinced and persuaded him to reject the union. Bishop Mstyslav did, however, join with the majority of Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America parishes and Archbishop John was recognized as presiding prelate with his Cathedral in St. Vladimir Parish, Philadelphia, PA; Mstyslav as President of the Consistory and Archbishop of New York; and Archbishop Hennady leading the Chicago Eparchy of the now greatly expanded and renamed Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. The Act of Unification was proclaimed during Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God – Pokrova – 14 October – in St. Volodymyr Cathedral by newly elevated Metropolitan John, Archbishop Mstyslav and Archbishop Hennadij with the following words:

“From today our Churches, the American Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America are united and form One, Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America, which from this day forward will live and act as a Metropolia under one spiritual leadership and be governed by one constitution, which we at the same time collegially ratify and accept.”

We can only imagine the immense joy felt by the participants of this joint Sobor at hearing these words and what they envisioned to come in the life of their Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was a joy that resounded throughout the world and over the next two decades, many more parishes joined the united Church and still more were founded by recently arrived immigrants from the Displaced Persons camps in Germany.  Even though he had decided to remain outside the newly united Church, Bishop Bohdan did attend the unification Liturgy to witness the event.

Work began in earnest on the next day with the Metropolitan Council, headed by Metropolitan John and the Consistory, headed by Archbishop Mstyslav, working diligently to bring more and more of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in the USA into the Church. The Metropolitan Council met frequently in those first months to make the decisions necessary for building a solid base for organized life in the Church.  Under Metropolitan John’s administrative and spiritual guidance, the number of parishes joining and being established throughout the nation grew rapidly.  In 1950 the process was initiated to purchase the beautiful Hendrick Fischer property in South Bound Brook-Somerset, NJ.  Of course, this became the impressive Metropolia Center that we know today with St. Andrew Memorial Church – the first monument to the millions who perished in the genocidal Holodomor in the world, St. Andrew Cemetery, the Ukrainian Orthodox and Seminary Library (which is named after Metropolitan John), St. Sophia Seminary, the Consistory Administration building, the Ukrainian Cultural Center and the Ukrainian History and Education Center.  These all continue to flourish to this day.

Meeting with Canadian bishops in Winnipeg, Canada 1968:  Archbishop Andrew, Archbishop Michael, Metropolitan John, Metropolitan Ilarion and Archbishop Volodymyr
Meeting with Canadian bishops in Winnipeg, Canada 1968:  Archbishop Andrew, Archbishop Michael, Metropolitan John, Metropolitan Ilarion and Archbishop Volodymyr
Meeting with Canadian bishops in Winnipeg, Canada 1968:  Archbishop Andrew, Archbishop Michael, Metropolitan John, Metropolitan Ilarion and Archbishop Volodymyr

It was a great tragedy that struck the life of our Church in that May of 1971 with the repose of His Beatitude Metropolitan John Theodorovich, our prime hierarch from 1924 through 1971 – 47 years of love and closeness to the children of the church.  When he visited our parishes the children flocked to him because of his obvious love for them and he told them all to call him “Grandpa”, which many to this day fondly remember.  The Metropolitan continually strived to maintain the unity of the Church when faced with discord between the various waves of immigration that made up the laity and clergy of the Church.  He strove to be a pastoral bishop to his flock, a capable administrator and a true academic, theologian, philosopher and teacher.  He was prolific writer and served as a true pastoral example to his clergy throughout the Church. The Metropolitan did not permit the unending questions about his episcopal consecration to deter him from his true and devoted service to our Lord.  He simply trusted that God would be the Judge about whether or not he was “canonical”.  The Metropolitan was laid to rest in St. Andrew Cemetery just behind the Memorial Church at the Metropolia Center. 

As I, the fourth Metropolitan of our Holy Church, prepare this article, my mind, heart and soul are filled with much gratitude to His Beatitude, Metropolitan John.  I was born six months before the official organization of the Ukrainian Orthodox League in 1947!  My first experience of my beloved Metropolitan was at the age of eight sitting in a pew at St. John the Baptist Parish in Sharon, PA in 1955.  I was moved to the core of my being looking up to the amvon when this rather small man appeared to me to be God, Himself.  He had a manner of speaking, regardless of the language he used, that was comforting – even to an eight-year-old.  I was drawn to him and wanted to be close to him and to touch him because he was, indeed, the definition of “holy” for me.  He spoke of St. John the Baptist living in the wilderness preparing the way for coming of our Lord.  Never before nor since has a sermon been so successful in touching me at the depth of my soul – and I include my own sermons here.  I truly believe that this was the beginning of the comprehension of my “call” to the holy priesthood. 

I was in the presence of Metropolitan John numerous times during the next eleven years, in particular each year at UOL conventions, where he remembered me by name each time, but that first encounter would have been enough to sustain my path to seminary.  Finally, in 1966, I was enrolled at St. Andrew College/Seminary in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  This first year was one of the most difficult of my life.  It was a whole new world, which was conducted only in Ukrainian and I thought I would never make it through in spite of the fact that some very good classmates spent hours translating class notes for me.  Coupled with extremely difficult changes in my family life back at home and the attitude of the seminary administration to the theology students, I had pretty much decided that I would not return for a second year.

Then came the parish feast day at Holy Trinity Parish in neighboring New Castle, PA.  The Metropolitan served that day and I was just as mesmerized as always.  I was invited – as a seminarian – to join the priests in the parish residence for lunch and an afternoon of good company.  I do not know what gave me away, but the Metropolitan called me aside and asked why I seemed sad.  Seeing my reaction, he led me into a bedroom and sat down in a chair and I on the bed.  With a sense of compassion and love he pulled out of me all that was heavy on my heart and soul and with each issue described how I am being tested by God and/or tempted by Satan.  Finally, he profoundly brought all this together in a description of the lives of the desert fathers ending our conversation by saying: “You will now be returning to Seminary in September, correct?” And my immediate response with tears was “Yes!”  What I did not realize at the time was that two hours had gone by.  This tower of a man, with ten priests waiting to spend time with him, never once gave the impression that anything else in his life mattered during those 120 minutes.  He was mine and I have never appreciated another human being in my life more than I did him at that moment.

I deliberately do not share the details of our conversation because it is not necessary.  Suffice it to say that it was a conversation that has sustained me for the next 54 years – the first five of them in seminary and the University of Manitoba, followed by the coming later this year by the 49th anniversary of my priestly service.  I know that many others have had similar experiences with this man who gave his life to God from childhood back in Volyn.  May his memory be eternal in God’s Heavenly Kingdom and may his soul rest in eternal happiness as he awaits, along with all of us, for our Lord’s return and the Great and Final Judgment.

+Antony, by the Grace of God the fourth Metropolitan of the UOC of the USA and in Diaspora

 
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