Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America

Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York signs the bill creating the Federation

Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York signs the bill creating the Federation


In conjunction with the recent podcast concerning the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America, I thought I would publish a special, extra entry for Frontier Orthodoxy. I still plan on writing two additional columns this month. For this entry, however, I wish to provide a basic timeline of the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America (FOGCPJA). This timeline may be useful when listening to the recent podcast on American Orthodox History over at Ancient Faith Radio.

I also wish to note that I failed to make an important connection within the interview itself. Near the beginning of the podcast, I mentioned the difficulties Fr. Boris Burden had with Metropolitan Platon. I meant to return to this later to note that the tense relationship between the two may have also been a factor that excluded the Metropolia from membership. It was not the only factor, as I mentioned the FOGCPJA’s requirement that each jurisdiction be under a Mother Church/Patriarch, but it may well have played a role. Metropolitan Benjamin (Moscow Patriarchate) relied quite heavily on Fr. Boris Burden.

I should further note that Phillies’s membership in the Masons may not have been as ill received since Archbishop Athenagoras and Metropolitan Antony were also Masons. Although Masonic membership would have likely concerned Fr. Boris Burden, it is possible that Metropolitan Benjamin showed some restraint in this regard.

Timeline

Fall of 1942 (September or October): The Selective Service attempted to draft Fr. John Gelsinger. When that happened, Fr. John Gelsinger, and his father, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, contacted George E. Phillies, a family friend and local attorney in Buffalo, New York.

October 9, 1942: Phillies appealed to the federal authorities, via General Lewis B. Hershey, having gone before the local and state selective service boards. The response from Washington D.C. was that they needed to see proof of an organized Orthodox Church in America. In response to this, the hierarchs of the four primary jurisdictions met.

Fr. Michael Gelsinger (New York Syrian) and Fr. Boris Burden (Moscow Patriarchate) were the instrumental people behind the movement. Fr. Michael received commitments from Archbishop Antony Bashir and Archbishop Athenagoras and Fr. Boris Burden convinced Metropolitan Benjamin and the Bishop Dionisije, the Serbian bishop.

At the subsequent hearing at the Pentagon, Bishop Germanos, an auxiliary bishop of Constantinople, was the only testifying witness. U.S. Senator James Mead (NY, hometown of Buffalo) and Representative James Wadsworth (NY) also appealed on behalf of the Orthodox Church.

December 8, 1942: Major Simon P. Dunkle signed the paperwork instructing the selective service of New York to recognize Fr. John Gelsinger as a priest and providing Orthodox the Opportunity to enlist as Orthodox. Orthodox priests were granted the opportunity to serve as chaplains.

Phillies hailed this as the first time the four primary jurisdictions had provided a united front in America. He quickly built upon this momentum to pursue another venture: amending New York state law for religious corporations. He did this because his reading of the laws of New York convinced him that it was possible the Roman Catholic Church might claim sole legal right to the terms Greek, Catholic, and Orthodox. He also had found no legal incorporation of an Orthodox Church (jurisdiction) that would mitigate this. Individual parishes had incorporated, but the only large scale incorporations were Roman Catholic, such as the Greek Catholic incorporation in Pennsylvania.

February 10, 1943: George E. Phillies wrote to Gov. Dewey, recommending that the hierarchs visit and Dewey replies by stating they should do so after the signing.

February 19, 1943: Charles J. Tobin, secretary of the New York State Catholic Welfare Committee, wrote to State Senator Charles Burney, objecting to the proposed legislation, claiming that only Rome could use the terms Catholic or Greek Catholic.

February 25, 1943: Rev. Philemon Tarnavsky (chancellor of the diocese of Philadelphia) also wrote to Gov. Dewey and agreed with Tobin. He objected to the use of the word Catholic, which he said was linked to the Holy See in Rome. He even noted that the word Orthodox is also used by Greek Catholics, questioning whether Orthodox should use it as a self designation. Rev. Turnavsky was a Greek Catholic himself.

March 5, 1943: Episcopal diocese of Western New York wrote to support the bill (Rt. Rev. Bp Cameron J. Davis)

March 8, 1943: Phillies asked “Charlie” [Burney] for a moving picture crew and claimed there were five million Orthodox in America.

March 10, 1943: Tobin wrote to consul of the governor to object again. He included the assessment of Monsignor Tarnavsky.

March 15, 1943: Memorandum by Phillies stated the purpose(s), excluded the Metropolia, responded to Roman Catholic critics, and noted that the FOGCPJA was set up to parallel the federal/state division in the United States of America.

March 25, 1943: Governor Thomas Dewey signed the bill.

August 2, 1943: The Buffalo Evening News called Phillies the “lay head,” noted that he had dual membership in the GOC and the PEC, and was a Mason.

August 8, 1943: Concelebration.

August 22, 1943: Divine Liturgy in Kleinhans Hall (GOC too small). Archbishop Athenagoras presided, with Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Bogdan assisting (Ukrainian). By this time, the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Russians who were under Constantinople were participating in the FOGCPJA. A small internal disagreement ensued, because Frs. Boris Burden and Michael Gelsinger thought the service should have been in a larger non-Orthodox church building rather than one that was strictly secular.

Bishop Dionisije was bothered by the fact that the Carpatho-Russians and Ukrainians were under Constantinople and had other unnamed concerns. He soon quit participating.

October 3, 1943: At a meeting in Bayonne, NJ, the officers of the FOGCPJA passed the “Bayonne Resolution.” This resolution stated all officers of the Federation must be Orthodox, with no sacramental participation in non-Orthodox churches. Another problem that arose was that the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America had received a letter (likely sent by Phillies) asking for membership.

October 7, 1943: Articles signed by the bishops and the Federation is legally incorporated. Archbishop Athenagoras had been chosen as the presiding hierarch. Fr. Peter Horton-Billard was chosen as secretary, replacing Fr. Boris Burden. Phillies remained the elected chancellor.

October 8, 1943: Burden called the elections “conditional.”

November 1, 1943: Russians threatened to leave over concerns with Phillies.

December 18, 1943: Marriage served jointly by Fr. E Wolkodoff, a Metropolia priest, and PE priest J. Coseby. Metropolitan Benjamin suspended the priest. At this point, the Federation was suspended.

February 2, 1944: Meeting: 1) no “lay head” 2) hierarchs are the leaders 3) Orthodox cannot be communicants elsewhere 4) “chancellor” means “legal advisor” and nothing more. Metropolitan Benjamin also said he had the support of Patriarch Sergius.

Around this same time, Patriarch Sergius wrote to Metropolitan Benjamin, offering permission to be active in the Federation, but Metropolitan Benjamin and Fr. Boris Burden were preparing to renege on the FOGCPJA.

Early October 1944: Metropolitan Benjamin said Phillies was no longer the chancellor. Phillies claimed he was.

November, 1944: Russians officially pulled out. By early 1945, the FOGCPJA was basically dead, though Metropolitan Antony Bashir kept it alive on paper.

4 thoughts on “Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America

  1. “Charles J. Tobin, secretary of the New York State Catholic Welfare Committee, wrote to State Senator Charles Burney, objecting to the proposed legislation, claiming that only Rome could use the terms Catholic or Greek Catholic….Rev. Philemon Tarnavsky (chancellor of the diocese of Philadelphia) also wrote to Gov. Dewey and agreed with Tobin. He objected to the use of the word Catholic, which he said was linked to the Holy See in Rome. He even noted that the word Orthodox is also used by Greek Catholics, questioning whether Orthodox should use it as a self designation. Rev. Turnavsky was a Greek Catholic himself”

    Legal tricks: the use of “Greek” “Orthodox” and “Catholic” by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church was of long standing in NY law, ever since the 1871 incorporation law for “Greek Churches of the Christian Orthodox Catholic Church of the Eastern Confession”
    http://orthodoxhistory.org/?p=1240#comments

    Of course, the incorporation of Greek Holy Trinity, in opposition to St. Tikhon, and the subsequent incorporation of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America outside the Orthodox incorporation law may have muddled things.

  2. Pingback: OrthodoxHistory.org » Blog Archive » Today in history: the death of Metropolitan Antony Bashir

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