Posts tagged OCA
Editor’s note: The following article was written by Christopher Orr.
Update (6/18/11): What follows is an updated version of the original article.
On May 24, 2011 – the feast of the holy Equals-of-the-Apostles, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Enlighteners of the Slavs and the name day of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All-Russia – Metropolitan Jonah (Primate of the Orthodox Church in America) and Metropolitan Hilarion (First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Moscow Patriarchate) in New York City.
This is the first concelebration between the first hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in decades. 
Also concelebrating was Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk (Administrator of communities in the USA directly under the Moscow Patriarchate), Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania (OCA) and Bishop Jerome of Manhattan (ROCOR), Igumen (Abbot) Sergius of St. Tikhon’s Monsatery in South Canaan, PA and the former Abbot of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, CA, Archimandrite Gerasim, as well as clergy of the Patriarchal Parishes in the United States, the OCA and ROCOR.
By way of background, the OCA and ROCOR have had a stormy relationship since the latter’s formation in 1921.
The OCA – known previously as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, or informally as the “Metropolia” – was the Russian Orthodox diocese for North America established well before the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). ROCOR – informally known as “the Synod”, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), or the “Church Abroad” – saw itself as the duly constituted, representative body of all Russian Orthodox bishops, clergy and laity outside of Soviet Russia based on Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow’s Ukaze (Decree) 362.  The ROCOR hierarchy was primarily comprised of refugee bishops, their clergy and faithful fleeing Russia with the “Whites” who had lost the 1917-21 Civil War in Russia to the Bolshevik “Reds”. However, Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of the Metropolia and Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievsky) of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Western Europe saw themselves as more ‘canonically established’ than the refugee bishops who had (uncanonically, but understandably) their dioceses in Russia and were without dioceses abroad. That is, Mets. Evlogy and Platon were bishops resident in their own dioceses whereas the ROCOR hierarchs were bishops of dioceses in Russia, which they were unable to occupy.  The Metropolia cooperated with the ROCOR bishops at first but severed relations with them in 1926 citing the Synod’s increasing claims of authority over the more ‘canonically regular’ American diocese. The Synod, for its part, suspended Metropolitan Platon of New York and his clergy for disobedience. However, in 1935, an agreement was signed that normalized relations between the Metropolia and ROCOR, and the Metropolia’s 6th All-American Sobor (1937) affirmed that the Metropolia remained autonomous while reporting to ROCOR in matters of faith.
Towards the end of World War II, ROCOR, which had been cooperative with the anti-Soviet forces of Nazi Germany, was forced to move its base of operations from Yugoslavia (the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Serbia) to New York City (the jurisdiction of the Metropolia).
In November 1946, soon after the close of WWII (in which America was allied with the USSR against Nazi Germany), the 7th All-American Sobor of the Metropolia (comprised of laity, lower clergy and bishops) met in Cleveland and severed ties with ROCOR so as to attempt a reconciliation with the USSR-based Patriarchate of Moscow whose relations with Stalin’s government were greatly improved (comparatively) during and immediately after WWII. Reconciliation between the Metropolia and Moscow was proposed with the stipulation that the Metropolia be allowed to retain its complete autonomy from the Soviet-dominated Church of Russia. When this condition was not met, the Metropolia continued as a self-governing Church in communion with neither Moscow nor ROCOR.
For its part, ROCOR viewed the Moscow Patriarchate as a puppet church controlled by the anti-religious, militantly atheistic Soviet state. ROCOR saw itself as the only free, legitimate part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some within ROCOR even argued that the Moscow Patriarchate was “without grace”, i.e., no longer Church. ROCOR was constitutionally and culturally opposed to any reconciliation with the Soviet-controlled Moscow Patriarchate.
In 1968, the Metropolia and the Moscow Patriarchate again began informal negotiations meant to resolve their long-standing differences. Representatives from the Metropolia sought the right of sacramental independence and episcopal self-governance (autocephaly), as well as the removal of Russian jurisdiction from all matters concerning the American Church. Official negotiations on the matter began in 1969. On April 10, 1970, Patriarch Alexius I of Moscow and fourteen bishops of Moscow’s Holy Synod signed the official Tomos of Autocephaly, which reestablished communion between the two churches and granted the Metropolia complete autocephaly as the newly renamed Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the fifteenth autocephalous Orthodox Church according to Moscow’s reckoning. ROCOR was decidedly against what it viewed to be the OCA’s compromise with a Patriarchate they saw as being either created or controlled by the anti-religious USSR.
However, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resurgence of free church life in the Russian Church, the canonization of the New Martyrs who suffered under Communism (including Tsar St. Nicholas and his family), repentance over the murder of the royal family, and a general thaw in relations in the first decade of the 21st century, the Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate and the the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were reconciled in 2007. ROCOR became an autonomous part of the Russian Church.
While intercommunion of OCA and ROCOR laity and clergy has occurred following the 2007 reconciliation , full intercommunion between ROCOR and the Metropolia/OCA in the persons of the presidents of their respective Synods had not taken taken place prior to this historic, 2011 Divine Liturgy. 
“Behold now, what is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 132:1)
1. No one seems clear on when ROCOR and OCA/Metropolia bishops last officially (or unofficially) served together in the altar prior to the 2007 reconciliation between Moscow and ROCOR.
2. See the unpublished M.Th. dissertation by Nikolaj L. Kostur, “The Relationship Between the Russian Orthodox Church in North America and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad from 1920-1950″ (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, May 2009), pp. 16-18.
3. As noted in a comment by Fr. Andrew Damick, Met. Platon was also a refugee who had abandoned his Russian diocese (Kherson and Odessa) and found refuge in America where he had previously been diocesan hierarch from 1907 to 1914. After his return to America as a refugee and the departure of Abp. Alexander (Nemolovsky) to Europe, Met. Platon was elected and confirmed as head of the Metropolia by Patriarch St. Tikhon. This appointment was rescinded by later decree of Patriarch St. Tikhon that many took to be written under Soviet duress to Soviet political ends. It became increasingly difficult for Russian hierarchs abroad to communicate with the Patriarchate – and to be sure the communications they received were authentic and freely given. This uncertainty and confusion fomented factionalism and chaos within the Church and emigre community abroad – which was the likely the intent of Soviet ‘meddling’. Met. Evlogy was thus the only hierarch resident in his diocese about which there was absolutely no question regarding his canonical standing, though Met. Platon and the other Russian bishops abroad would dissent the point on various, sometimes conflicting grounds.
The Russian bishops abroad found themselves in a bit of a canonical ‘no man’s land’ since they viewed themselves as refugees who would return home to Russia rather than as permanent residents abroad (or as missionaries). In some ways, with ROCOR being based in Karlovtsy, Serbia, the Russian bishops were hierarchs of the Serbian Church without traditional, geographically-defined dioceses – that is, except for the bishops of the previously established Russian Orthodox dioceses of Western Europe and North America.
This was a confusing time with competing narratives and facts. Time will tell the tale. Thankfully, due to the 1970 reconciliation between the Metropolia and Moscow, the 2007 reconciliation between Moscow and ROCOR, and the 2011 concelebration of ROCOR and the OCA’s first hierarchs the details are now moot outside of academic and historical questions.
4. While not concelebration proper, ROCOR and OCA bishops communed together during the 2010 Episcopal Assembly in New York City. The Liturgy was served by the Dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral (GOA) alone with the attending bishops communing in the altar.
5. It has been independently confirmed that individual bishops of ROCOR and the OCA have also served together prior to the May 24, 2011 Divine Liturgy, e.g., the enthronement of the OCA’s Met. Jonah (Paffhausen). It should also be noted that simply praying together – in the altar or anywhere – was an important step for ROCOR and OCA bishops given ROCOR’s stance on prayer with heretics and schismatics. The import of these common prayers was not well noted at the time.
Until the early 1980s, some OCA parishes in the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania used the Old Calendar. In 1982, then-Bishop Herman Swaiko of Philadelphia ordered all of his parishes to switch to the New Calendar. Predictably, this wasn’t universally well-received. The majority of St. Basil Orthodox Church in Simpson, PA jumped to ROCOR, and this led to a dispute over the parish property. The case, Mikilak v. Orthodox Church in America went to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in 1986.
The court reviewed the history of Russian Orthodoxy generally and St. Basil’s in particular. The parish was founded in 1904 as part of the Russian Mission, and originally, both the parish congregation and the ruling Russian bishop in America had legal control (by deed) of church property. The parish was formally incorporated in 1924, and the incorporation document stated that the property was “subject to the control and disposition of the lay members” of the parish. (No reference to any hierarchy or diocesan authority.) Three years later, a court transferred the bishop’s interest in the parish property to the parish itself, giving the congregation complete legal control over the property. In 1937, the parish adopted bylaws which again asserted that the property belonged “to all members of the parish.”
All this time – all the way up to 1956 – the parish hadn’t formally recognized any hierarchical authority: not ROCOR, not the Metropolia, and apparently not the Moscow Patriarchate either. I don’t know how this worked, as a practical matter. Who assigned the parish priest? Whose signature was on the antimens? Was the parish never visited by a bishop? Anyway, this is what the court tells us, and we’re further told that in 1956, the parish voted to affiliate with the Metropolia. The Moscow Patriarchate sued (this was just after Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, and Moscow wasn’t interested in losing control of any property), but the case settled and the parish kept its building. So from 1956 to 1982, St. Basil’s was a part of the Metropolia/OCA — but this was never put into the legal documents of the parish.
In Pennsylvania, courts use the neutral principles of law approach in church property disputes when there is “no inquiry into ecclesiastical questions.” The burden, said the court, is on the OCA to show either (1) a transfer of property from the parish to the OCA, or (2) “clear and unambiguous language” indicating that the parish created a trust in favor of the OCA. If there was a trust, the parish would remain the property owner, but it couldn’t just do what it wanted, without OCA consent.
As the court saw it, there was neither a transfer of ownership nor a trust. From 1927 (the court order noted above) onward, the parish property belonged solely to St. Basil’s congregation. The parish never created a trust in favor of the OCA. Even the OCA Statute (Article X, Section 8) supports this, said the court, since it asserts that “[t]he parish or parish corporation is the sole owner of all parish property, assets, and funds.” Yes, the Statute goes on to say that the parish officers must “act as trustees of God’s, not man’s, property” and other such ambiguous language. But there’s no creation of a trust. The only caveat is the stipulation that if the parish is abolished, the antimension, tabernacle, and sacred vessels must be surrendered to the diocesan bishop.
On the basis of these findings, the court ruled that the congregation could keep its property when it joined ROCOR, except that it must return the holy objects I mentioned above.
The court doesn’t really get into the obvious issue of defining the parish. It treats the majority as being the parish, but from the OCA’s perspective, the parish was really the minority of members that remained in the OCA. We’re not congregational, so what gives? The answer, according to the court, is that “St. Basil’s exercises congregational control and ownership over its church property.” And the hallmark of “congregational” churches is that the majority rules. So, even though St. Basil’s was a part of the hierarchical Orthodox Church, on the level of parish property, it was treated the same as a congregational church.
I’m sympathetic to the parish majority, who didn’t want to be forced to accept the New Calendar, but the outcome of this case raises some alarm bells. The court quite casually classifies this case as one not involving “ecclesiastical questions,” and it’s this classification that allows the court to employ the neutral principles approach. But the church calendar is an ecclesiastical question. For that matter, the deeper issue of a diocesan bishop’s authority is also an ecclesiastical question. The court was, quite frankly, wrong when it claimed that there were no ecclesiastical questions at issue.
Which gets to a broader point that I keep running into — there is no such thing as an Orthodox court case that doesn’t involve ecclesiastical questions. How could there be? The power of a bishop or synod, the identification of this or that group as the “true” parish — these are profoundly ecclesiastical questions, and they are inherent in every Orthodox property dispute I’ve seen. I’m not saying neutral principles shouldn’t be applied, or even that I disagree with the court’s decision (I actually take no position on it right now). I’m saying that the court was factually incorrect, and had it accurately recognized the ecclesiastical issues in the case, it would have been legally obligated to apply deference to the higher church authorities (in this case, Bishop Herman Swaiko).
Because all Orthodox court cases necessarily involve ecclesiastical questions, we will need to develop a framework more nuanced than the binary yes/no approach currently employed by the courts. We must admit, up front, that courts will decide ecclesiastical questions, in every case, whether they like it or not. It is unavoidable, regardless of whether they use deference or neutral principles. And because it’s unavoidable, we must accept it and develop some guidelines to ensure that judges can do their jobs without involving themselves too deeply in the affairs of the Orthodox Church.
I have no answers at this point, and if anyone out there has any helpful suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
From the New York Times, November 25, 1952, page 31:
U.S. COURT VOIDS ACT ON RUSSIAN CHURCH
State Law to End Communist Sway in Orthodox Cathedral Here Is Upset by Ruling
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CITED
8-to-1 Decision Holds Action Violated 14th Amendment — Jackson Lone Dissenter
BY CLAYTON KNOWLES
WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that a New York law, seeking to eliminate Communist influence in Russian Orthodox churches chartered in the state, fell into the realm of religious control barred by the Constitution of the United States.
Under the state law, the Rev. Benjamin Fedchenkoff, Archbishop of the church in North America by appointment of the Patriarch of Moscow, was removed from his pulpit at St. Nicholas Cathedral, 15 East Ninety-seventh Street, New York.
The Court of Appeals, highest tribunal of the state, upheld the validity of the state law under which the ouster was undertaken but the Supreme Court, reversing this finding in an eight-to-one decision, held that such a law violates the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion in this country.
The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Stanley F. Reed, said a state Legislature “cannot validate action which the Constitution prohibits.”
Argument by Jackson
Registering his lone dissent, Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson held that the argument that the state law violated the Fourteenth Amendment safeguards of religious freedom was “so insubstantial that I would dismiss the appeal.”
“To me, whatever the canon law is found to be and whoever is the rightful head of the Moscow Patriarchate,” he wrote, “I do not think that New York law must yield to the authority of a foreign and unfriendly state masquerading as a spiritual institution.”
A bitter factional fight has raged at St. Nicholas Cathedral since 1917, when the Russian revolution brought changes in the central church. A faction, headed by the late Archbishop John S. Kedrovsky, got control of the cathedral in 1926 and kept it up to 1945, when a legal battle was begun over it.
Joined with Archbishop Fedchenkoff as an appellant in the present case has been the Rev. John Kedroff, a son of the late Archbishop. The basic fight has been between those supporting the mother church at Moscow and adherents of the Russian Church in America, recognized under New York law as having the authority over Russian Orthodox churches within the state. This latter group was set up in 1924.
It was on the basis of this law that officials of the cathedral sued to remove Archbishop Fedchenkoff, whose Moscow-bestowed title was Archbishop of the Archdiocese of North America and the Aleutian Islands.
The prevailing court opinion held that the New York law undertook to transfer control of the New York church from the central governing hierarchy and thereby “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by prohibiting in this country the free exercise of religion.”
Majority Opinion Stated
The Reed opinion took cognizance of the fact that the Court of Appeals felt that, since the Russian Government exercised control over the central church authorities, the state legislature had been reasonably justified “in enacting a law to free the American group from infiltration of such atheistic or subversive influences.”
“This legislation, in view of the Court of Appeals,” wrote Justice Reed, “gave the use of the church to the Russian church in America on the theory that this carry out the purposes of the religious trust. Thus, dangers of political use of church pulpits would be minimized.
“Legislative power to punish subversive action cannot be doubted. If such action should be actually attempted by a cleric neither his robe nor his pulpit would be a defense. But in this case, no probation of law arises. There is no action by any ecclesiastic. Here there is a transfer by statute of control over churches. This violates our rule of separation between church and state.”
In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter stated that St. Nicholas Cathedral was “not just a piece of real estate . . . no more than is St. Patrick’s Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.” The cathedral, he maintained, was “an archiepiscopal see of one of the great religious organizations” in stating that the essence of the controversy was “the power to exercise religious authority.”
Finding Called “Sound”
Philip Adler, attorney for St. Nicholas Cathedral [actually, the attorney for the Moscow group], said last night that the position of the Supreme Court was “sound,” regardless of one’s attitude toward Soviet Russia. He emphasized that while he was uncompromisingly opposed to communism, “the church must be preserved.”
Ralph Montgomery Arkush, the opposing counsel [for the Metropolia group], said that he preferred not to comment until he had an opportunity to study the court’s opinion. He added, however, that there “still may be a remedy at common law.”
Editor’s note: That last line by Arkush, the Metropolia’s attorney, is important: that there “still may be a remedy at common law.” The Supreme Court struck down an act of the New York legislature, but the Metropolia didn’t give up. They went back to court, this time arguing that even if the legislature couldn’t decide the property dispute in the Metropolia’s favor, the New York courts could.
New York’s highest court agreed. It found, as a factual matter, that the Patriarch of Moscow was dominated by the secular authority of the USSR, and because of this, his appointed Archbishop could not, under New York common law, take possession of the Cathedral. It was a blatantly anti-Communist rationale, and the case made it all the way back to the Supreme Court in 1960, under the title Kreshik v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral. In an opinion far shorter than the 1952 case, the Supreme Court struck down the New York ruling, reasoning that it doesn’t matter whether the state violates religious freedom through the legislature or the judiciary — either way, you’ve got the state violating religious freedom, and that’s unconstitutional. “[O]ur ruling in Kedroff is controlling here,” reads the opinion, and once again Moscow won.
St. Nicholas Cathedral remains the property of the Moscow Patriarchate to this day. Any future dispute over the ownership of the Cathedral was put to rest by Moscow’s 1970 Tomos of Autocephaly, granted to the OCA, which stipulated that the Cathedral (among other properties) is “excluded from autocephaly on the territory of North America.” Today, the Cathedral is the official representation church of the Moscow Patriarchate in America.
Editor’s note: The late Dr. Richard A. Pierce was among the foremost historians on Russian Alaska, and his many books remain standards in the field. In 1990, he published Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary (Kingston, Ont., Canada: Limestone Press). Among the many entries in the book is one on St. Peter the Aleut (pages 397-398). I’ve reprinted that excerpt below. While Pierce himself regards St. Peter’s martyrdom as “probably a fabrication,” he points to some very intriguing sources and other incidents that warrant further study.
Petr the Aleut, Saint. (d. 1815?), in June1815 the RAC [Russian-American Company] brig Il’mena took on supplies at San Francisco and then sailed south to poach sea otters along the California coast. In August, 8 baidarkas under the Russian fur hunter Boris Tarasov came ashore at San Pedro, but the Spanish authorities ordered them off. On 17 September, Tarasov landed again, and he and 24 Aleuts were seized. In 1817, Governor Sola delivered 15 prisoners to the Russians, and promised to get others who were being held at the southern missions. Those who had married California women and accepted Catholicism would be allowed to stay.
In March 1819, the Il’mena, under Benzeman, visited “Il’mena Island” (evidently one of the Santa Barbara Channel islands, probably named by the Russians after the vessel), and rescued a Kad’iak Island Aleut, Ivan Keglii (or Kykhliaia or Kychlai) and took him to Fort Ross, where the commandant, I.A. Kuskov, interrogated him. Said to be “not a type who could think up things,” Keglii said that he was among those captured by the Spanish in 1815. The Spanish priests, he claimed, had tried to persuade him and one of his comrades, named Petr (or Chungangnaq), to become converts to Catholicism. Keglii and his friend refused, so the priest returned the following morning accompanied by Indians, had the pair brought out and “then he commanded that Chungangnaq’s fingers should be cut off at the joints, and then his arms at both joints. Finally, not satisfied by this act of tyranny, he commanded that his intestines be opened up. At this last torture, Chungangnaq, thus a martyr, expired.” The same fate awaited Keglii, but was deferred and Keglii, who had watched his friend’s torture and death, later escaped with another Kad’iak man to “Il’mena Island” (perhaps Santa Cruz Island, the closest to Santa Barbara). His companion died, but Keglii lived with the Indians on the island until rescued in 1819.
On hearing of the “barbarous deed,” the Emperor Alexander I at once asked that his charge d’affaires in Madrid be instructed to make inquiries, which was done (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, 29 August 1821:4254, Nesselrode to Pozzo di Borgo). Nesselrode, I.A. Kuskov, Chief Manager S.N. Ianovskii, the venerable Father German [St. Herman], Father Ioann Veniaminov [St. Innocent], and the company historian P.A. Tikhmenev all believed Keglii’s gruesome tale, and the martyred Chungangnaq became revered as St. Petr the Aleut. However since Keglii’s story is unconfirmed by other sources, features a degree of compulsion uncharacteristic of the mission fathers, and resembles no other case reported among Aleut hunters captured by the Spanish and later delivered to the Russians, it was probably a fabrication. The priests at Santa Barbara and most of the other California missions were Dominicans, but in later versions of the story the culprits are said to have been Jesuits. Since the extermination of Indians on “Il’mena Island” by Aleut hunters led by the Russian Iakov Babin, there with the RAC brig Il’mena, occurred at about the same time as the alleged martyrdom of Petr the Aleut, discovery of additional facts on the one may help explain the other.
Here are a few thoughts on the discussion about the historicity of the martyrdom account of St. Peter the Aleut kicked off by Fr. Oliver Herbel and continued by Matthew Namee on the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas’s OrthodoxHistory.org blog. These thoughts are borrowed (adapted and expanded) from comments to “Rebooted: Why I Currently Do Not Accept the Martyrdom Account for Peter the Aleut” on Fr. Oliver’s Frontier Orthodoxy blog.
We should understand more about how the cult of St. Peter the Aleut developed in the 1970s, i.e., in the lead up to his 1980 canonization by both ROCOR and the OCA’s Alaskan Diocese. It hasn’t been discussed, but there seem to be questions regarding the motives behind the canonizations. There have been whispers for years that “St. Peter the Aleut didn’t really exist” and about why he was canonized since “he didn’t exist” and ROCOR and the OCA were at each other’s throats in 1980. The process leading up to his local canonizations should be explored.
Specifically, was there perhaps a highly localized cult of St. Peter already that most are unaware of, e.g., in San Francisco, in Alaska, on Kodiak Island? Did The Orthodox Word [possibly Vol. III, No. 3 or Issue #14, June-July] or another publication simply stumble upon primary or secondary documents and unquestioningly publish them as true? Or, was an already established local tradition concerning St. Peter made public along with these supporting documents? If there was a local veneration of St. Peter why was it so unknown prior to the 1970s (and today)? Fr. Oliver says he knows “someone who went up [to Alaska] to document [the oral history surrounding St. Peter] and found none at all and was shocked.” Was the inclusion of Peter’s name in the service for St. Herman of Alaska (canonized in 1970) the primary introduction most Orthodox had to the story of Peter’s martyrdom? What sources were used to write this service? Were all of the primary sources assessed for reliability prior to his canonization (and the inclusion of Peter’s martyrdom story in St. Herman’s service) or were they taken simply, at face value? Was only the most ‘hagiographical’ account given credence to support an a priori decision to canonize? Did the RCC’s beatification of the “Mohawk Saint” Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980 play a part in St. Peter’s canonization on September 24, 1980? Were there political or ecumenical factors at play within the Alaskan Diocese, the OCA and/or ROCOR at the time that the canonization was meant to address? Were there cultural factors at play in Alaska between Natives and those from the lower 48? between Alaska and New York/Syosset?
I highly recommend looking at the various posts (and comments) on this topic available on Frontier Orthodoxy and at OrthodoxHistory.org:
- St. Peter the Aleut Did Not Exist
- Fr. Oliver Herbel on St. Peter the Aleut
- Monday Morning Priest: Continuing the Discussion Concerning the “Martyr-Peter”
- Fr. Oliver “reboots” the St. Peter discussion
- Rebooting the St. Peter the Aleut Discussion
- Rebooted: Why I Currently Do Not Accept the Martyrdom Account for Peter the Aleut
- Is the St. Peter the Aleut story true?
- Primary sources on St. Peter the Aleut
When thinking through these issues, I think it’s also worth noting a couple of things about historical inquiry and the canonization process in the Orthodox Church, in no particular order:
- The Orthodox Church should not canonize people she knows or legitimately suspects were either immoral or fictionalized.
- Prelest, ignorance and error must be guarded against through prayerful, sober, deliberative discernment and competent, reasonable due diligence
- Local veneration can be founded on error, the same is true of purported miracles, sweet scents, visions, etc. as many a story in the Paterika tell us.
- Conciliar discernment of sanctity by the Church is required, which includes the bishops in Synod, the clergy, monastics and people.
- ROCOR and the OCA were in canonically “irregular” positions in 1980 when St. Peter was canonized.
- As has been shown in the recent Act of Canonical Communion between the MP and the ROCOR, ROCOR was always only a part of the single local Church of Russia. ROCOR cannot and could not speak for the whole local Church of Russia, definitively. Similarly, it is only the OCA’s Diocese of Alaska that has canonized St. Peter the Aleut, and a single diocese alone cannot speak for the whole OCA, definitively.
- Questioning and assessing local veneration and canonization is part of the ‘reception’ process in Orthodox ecclesiology, cf. the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, ‘to the Easterns’.
- Questioning the wisdom of local canonizations is a very different thing than questioning the reality of a St. Christopher, for instance, as the Roman Catholics have done; questioning the canonization of St. Peter the Aleut is not like questioning the canonization of a modern, well-attested to saint such as St. Tikhon of Moscow or of an ancient, universally venerated saint such as St. George.
- A lack of historical documentation does not mean a person did not exist or that an event did not take place.
- It is possible that the Church knows, for a fact, that a person is a saint while not knowing anything for sure about his/her life.
- It is possible there are less than historically factual stories circulating about a saint. Whether the person is a saint or not is a different issue than whether stories about him are literally factual.
- Lack of documentary evidence from centuries ago, from illiterate peoples, from frontiers, from climates that poorly preserve documents, etc. are different than a lack of documentary evidence closer to our age, in places and times with a profusion of surviving documentation, from literate peoples, etc.
- While St. Peter’s world may have butted up against highly literate, documentary cultures (Russian, Spanish) in 19th century California, it can also be said that the Mission country of Alta California and its Channel Islands up through Russian Alaska should be treated more like a centuries-past, wild frontier when assessing available evidence.
- When assessing the canonization of a 19th-century, frontier saint such as St. Peter the Aleut, we should keep in mind the same criteria we use when assessing ancient hagiographical writings surrounding St. George and the dragon, St. Mary of Egypt, non-Biblical Marian Feasts, etc.
- Poetic license is a facet of Orthodox hymnography. For instance, there are innumerable hymns that tell us (“literally”) that Mary said X and the Gabriel said Y and then, etc. Literally speaking, these conversations did not happen; however, iconically and poetically, they tell us something important – especially from the perspective of the Eternal Now, “Today”. (See pp. vii, x-xii in The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos [Holy Apostles Convent, 2006].)
- We should not be too quick to dismiss such stories as untrue ‘legends’, ‘fables’ and ‘myths’. We must be careful not to assume that pre-modern ways of viewing the world, speaking of the world, etc. are inherently inferior and unreliable when compared to modern/post-modern, materialistic ways of thinking and speaking. There is a paucity of non-literal, non-scientific language in our day; this was not the case in centuries and millenia past in more aural and oral, less literate cultures.
- Hagiography is not simply myth and legend, neither is historical fact the most true portraiture of sanctity; similarly, icons show us not simply historical characters and events as they were on earth in the flesh, but as they are now, transformed by God’s glory – as they were then, too, spiritually. Spiritual time and space are in the eternal Present, the Now, the “Today” of iconography, hymnography, liturgy and prophecy; and this can truthfully elide historical events with events from intervening centuries (as well as ‘interpolated’ theology, e.g., Nicene, Chalcedonian or Palamite formulae), together with present and future events. We are told something more than bare , historical facts in hagiography, which is why less than literal historical events remain in Orthodox hagiography, hymnography, etc. unlike in the RCC post-Vatican II.
- All the historian can do in the case of a poorly attested to event or person is make a case for the likelihood (or not) of existence and veracity. That is, the historian assigns probability regarding the facts surrounding a person or event.
- Probability is not the proper, primary determiner in deciding whether to canonize or not.
- However, evidence and its lack must be given serious consideration prior to canonization due to the ever present danger in sinful humanity of prelest, ignorance, error and overreach.
- Matthew Namee identifies a number of different areas of research in the St. Peter story: the historical (what really happened?), the historiographical (how has he been viewed by people over time?) and the ecclesiastical (how do/should canonizations work?).
- I would underline the importance of the historical question (what really happened?) to the past-tense ecclesiastical question (how and why did this particular canonization take place when it did? in both OCA Alaska and ROCOR?)
What I appreciate about the historical investigation and assessment of both Archbishop Arseny (Chagovtsov) of Winnipeg and St. Peter the Aleut for universal veneration is the enunciation, enumeration and assessment of reasons we may want to consider not formally canonizing these candidates sainthood. We shouldn’t simply decide someone should be canonized and then develop a case for their canonization – especially if this includes ignoring evidence that contradicts their sanctity (or existence). While I think some have overstated the case to be made against St. Peter’s existence based on the evidence available, I expect historians to grant significant weight to the tools of their academic discipline. As stated above, probability is often the best historical inquiry can do, and academic probability alone must not be given precedent over established Tradition. Since Archbishop Arseny and St. Peter the Aleut have only been canonized or venerated locally, as stated above, it is the Church’s duty to conduct appropriate, competent and reasonable due diligence into whether two new saints should be put forward for universal veneration. The Church is in need of those who will play “devil’s advocate”; She is in need of those who will raise potential concerns that could come back to embarrass the Church. Concerns about St. Peter have been whispered for years, and a modest inquiry into Archbishop Arseny quickly raised questions that should have been addressed far earlier in the canonization process. The informal, almost ad hoc nature of the Orthodox canonization process with its lack of formal criteria and procedure is perhaps too easily prone to misuse and/or prelest – or the perception of such. If a friendly “devil’s advocate” doesn’t raise all of the questions that can be raised, I assure you other, less friendly critics will. “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither [any thing] hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” (Luke 8:17)
“Sober, deliberative discernment is required” – which includes historical investigation and assessment – so the Orthodox Church does “not canonize people she knows or legitimately suspects were either immoral or fictionalized.” Our saints are canonized because they were and are living canons – literally “rules” – for us to live by. The Church should do all it can to ensure Her “canonized” measures are true.
A DECREE OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF ROCOR to the diocesan bishops and pastors of churches directly subject to the President of the Synod of Bishops
0n 15/28 October, 1980, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR] heard the appeal of a number of the faithful for the canonization of the martyrs Peter the Aleut and Hieromonk Juvenalius.
Resolved: In as much as the martyrdom of Peter the Aleut and Hieromonk Juvenalius is not in doubt, and that in accordance with a resolution of the Higher Ecclesiastical Authority their names were listed in the service to St. Herman of Alaska as holy martyrs, a new decision on their canonization is not required. Their memory should be celebrated on the same day as that of the Venerable Herman of Alaska.
[Resolved also:] To send an encyclical ukase for information and guidance to all the diocesan bishops and to the pastors of churches subject directly to the President of the Synod of Bishops.†Metropolitan Philaret, President†Bishop Gregory, Secretary
31 0ct./13 Nov. 1980
(Source; emphasis mine)
This article was written by Christopher Orr.