This past weekend, the Canonization Commission of the OCA issued a statement at OCA.org. According to Commission secretary (and OCA archivist) Alexis Liberovsky, the Commission will begin detailed studies of the lives of both Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich and Archbishop Arseny Chagovtsov, to determine whether the OCA should canonize them. Canonization obviously has a strongly historical element to it — after all, these are historical figures — so the potential canonization of an American saint is of special interest to historians of American Orthodoxy.
Here at OrthodoxHistory.org, we haven’t yet done a whole lot of work on Metropolitan Leonty, but he is a giant of an historical figure. The OCA statement provides a brief outline of his life:
Metropolitan Leonty [1876-1965] came to America as a young priest in 1906 to assume duties as rector of the seminary in Minneapolis, MN, which had been established by Saint Tikhon, at the time Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America. As a delegate from the North American Diocese to the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-18 in Moscow, he had experienced first-hand the horrors of the Russian Revolution. Upon returning to America, he sought to incarnate the conciliar spirit and groundbreaking decisions of the Moscow Council into the life of the Church in America in his every action. After the death of his wife, he became Bishop of Chicago in 1933. In 1950, he was elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada by a nearly unanimous vote. Many who knew him remember his personal holiness.
My favorite Leonty anecdote comes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann:
Great Lent, 1964. The special solemn service for all those persecuted for the Orthodox faith just ended at New York’s Greek Cathedral. At the end of the service Metropolitan Leonty approaches Archbishop Iakovos to thank him on behalf of the Metropolia. Something extraordinary takes place: the Greek Hierarch, in all his majesty, bows before the Elder in white, kisses his hand and says, You have a great soul.
Anyway, the statement goes on to outline Abp Arseny’s life as well. If you’ve been following our website recently, you know that we’ve devoted a good deal of attention to Arseny, particularly the 1909 rape allegations against him, and the subsequent criminal libel trial. In response to this, Liberovsky said, “The Canonization Commission has been aware for some time of the controversy surrounding Archbishop Arseny arising from allegations of serious moral transgression and unethical behavior, which has recently been publicized on the internet. These allegations, which Archbishop Arseny challenged in the courts a century ago, and attendant issues require further study and verification.”
It’s important to understand that there are actually two committees looking into the canonization of Abp Arseny. There is the main OCA Commission, of which Liberovsky is the secretary, and there is also a separate Canadian committee. Liberovsky explains, “[S]everal years ago His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada established an Archdiocesan Canonization Committee in Canada, which conducted extensive research.”
Both the Timeline and Life of Arseny were produced by the Canadian committee, not the main OCA Commission. Having recently spoken with Alex Liberovsky, I am confident that the OCA Commission will exercise due diligence in its investigations into both Leonty and Arseny.
If anyone has information or source materials that might help the Commission’s work on either Leonty or Arseny, they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; write to PO Box 675, Syosset, NY 11791; or call 516-922-0550 extension 121.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]