from and about Ukraine & Ukrainians
Ukrainian Community Press Releases
9:00 June 15, 1999
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A NEW BATTLEGROUND FOR THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX—THE COURTROOM…
South Bound Brook, NJ-USA. Archbishop Antony of Ieraopolis (a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople since 1995), simultaneously claiming to represent the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA, (UOC-USA) has taken his fight against the growing number of faithful who openly reject the actions of the hierarchy of the Church to a new battleground--the court room.
This latest action instigated by the hierarchs is an apparent effort to suppress the voices of an increasing number of dissenting member parishes which have begun withholding their annual assessments to the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA (the "head-office") in South Bound Brook, NJ, an action parishes began taking after years of unresponsiveness by the Church leadership.
As word leaks out, faithful and clergy around the country are shaking their heads in disbelief. Many of the clergy members are aghast as they report Church Canon law forbids clergy from bringing disputes between faithful into civil court. Furthermore, many argue that this matter should have been brought before the UOC-USA Church Court, members of which are elected by the triennial Sobor (the Church's decision-making body of the Church made up of clergy, laity and hierarchy). The Metropolitan Council has not even met to discuss this issue. Even more importantly, the realization that the Archbishop's decision listing the UOC-USA as a plaintiff, by default, has all the members parishes and parishioners of the UOC-USA bringing suit against a sister parish and specific individuals with whom they have no dispute. Many are alarmed.
This lawsuit is the latest in a series of attempts by the leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA to "bring in line" the faithful who publicly dare question the legality and propriety of the hierarchs’ 1995 decision to change jurisdictions and submit the American metropolia (branch) of the one worldwide Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople after Patriarch Mstyslav's death. Metropolitan Mstyslav of the UOC-USA was elected by as the first Patriarch of Ukraine and the leader of one worldwide Ukrainian Orthodox Church after Ukraine’s proclamation of independence. Archbishop Antony served in the enthronement ceremony in Kyiiv, elevating the Metropolitan Mstyslav as his own Patriarch.
This lawsuit pits the entire Church and hierarchy against member parishes and individual parishioners, and threatens the very essence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA since its founding--"sobornopravinst " (congregational rights of its members). It promises to be a case, which could ultimately decide the individual rights of all member parishes vis a vis the Consistory in matters of property ownership, assets and administrative decision-making. Is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA now hierarchical, submitting to the authority to the Archdiocese in all matters, or, as originally established, "sabornopravana", where individual parishes retain the right to control matters pertaining to the administration of their own parishes, including finances, real property and assets?
This unique structure of the Church from its inception continues to be a unique phenomenon in the Christian World. It requires a delicate balance between the various branches of its governing organs, not unlike the division of powers between the various branches of the US government. The system works best when the balance is maintained and all the branches recognize and respect the others authority and responsibilities. Periodically this balance gets disrupted by some one branch of authority and must be redressed. This unusual arrangement of shared authority and responsibility is confusing to many. To many knowledgeable Ukrainians, however, this form of governing is an essential birthright.
Further exasperating the situation, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s championing of the Moscow Patriarchate as the only permissible authority in newly independent Ukraine has also become unpalatable to most Ukrainian Orthodox faithful.
After years of silence, the Bound Brook hierarchy has at last spoken. At the beginning of June, a lawsuit was been filed by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA, Archbishop Antony, Rev. Arkadiusz Mironko and other plaintiffs in the Superior Court of New Jersey against the duly elected Board of the Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Clifton NJ.
The Archbishop chose Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in Clifton NJ as his test case in defining the relationship and individual rights of member parishes vis a vis the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA. It was precipitated by the plaintiffs’ disapproval of recent decisions, voted on and passed by the majority of the voting parishioners of Holy Ascension in a Special General Meeting of the parish, held in accordance with the Parish Constitution and its by-laws.
Members of the Board first received letters in May from a high-powered law firm retained by the plaintiffs, indicating a lawsuit was imminent. Among the clients of this Washington- DC based firm are the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of America (the offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA. They have offices throughout the world, notably in Moscow, Hanoi, Rangoon, Vladivostok and Ho Chi Minh City. For the local filing in Superior Court, the plaintiffs have retained the law firm of Juman, Juman and Hedesh.
The plaintiffs are asking for a temporary restraining order restricting the activities of the elected officers of the Board, freezing the assets, and request that the court immediately appoint a receiver to manage the day to day affairs of the parish. In addition, the court will be ruling on the plaintiffs’ request to forbid the duly elected parish Board from the distribution of information, making any disparaging remarks against the Archbishop, and/or the calling of meetings of the general parish membership and disallowing any expenditures by the duly-elected Board. If successful, the fundamental right to assemble, (that is to hold meetings in their own church hall), to speak freely on issues crucial to their church and act according to their conscience will be denied the faithful of Holy Ascension Parish in Clifton, NJ USA.
These actions appear to be clearly an attempt to take control of the parish--its property and assets. The suit calls for the removal of the duly elected Board, and asserts that the decisions of the majority of parishioners voted in at a Special General Meeting of the Parish are illegal, and subordinate to the authority of a bishop, who, in actuality, became a bishop of a the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in March 1995.
A preliminary hearing was held on Friday June 11, 1999 and was attended by a number of defendants and Rev. Diakiw, Consistory Vice president for the plaintiffs. The attorney for the plaintiffs argued that there exists an "implied contract" between the member parishes and the UOC-USA, and alleged that once a member of the UOC-USA, individual parishes, thereafter, must subordinate themselves to the hierarchs’ authority and, do not, for example, retain the right to hire and fire priests, nor the right to withdraw from the UOC-USA, in spite of what may be defined in their own parish constitutions and by-laws. Amongst other things, the plaintiffs argue adamantly for the removal of the defendants’ attorney, Myroslaw Smorodsky, Esq. This motion was denied.
This suit, if successful against the Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church, would establish a legal precedent on the subordination of all member parishes of the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the radically different UOC-USA, with the bishops of the Church of Constantinople at its helm.
It is important to understand the history of the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church here in the USA in order to understand the sensitivities of the faithful toward protecting their right for self-determination and their strong unbroken ties to their Mother country Ukraine.
The UOC-USA was established as a Metropolia of the one worldwide Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalus Church, with its historical, spiritual and administrative seat in Kyiiv. It was founded on the principles of self-determination for Ukraine and the right of Ukraine to have a national Church, free from Moscow’s or any other foreign domination. The Church was persecuted and almost obliterated by Moscow. In the United States, the Church found a safe haven from the systematic and concerted effort of Moscow to obliterate and liquidate it. Until such time as a free independent Ukraine could be established, the representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Exile throughout the years was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA. The Cultural and administrative center in South Bound Brook was established in the 1950’s as a memorial to the Genocide Famine of 1933 when millions of Ukrainian faithful were starved to death by Moscow’s leaders. It today represents a permanent and immutable bond to that legacy. Metropolitan Teodorovich and his successor Patriarch Mstyslav were uncompromisingly defiant in their commitment to a continuing struggle for survival, in the Diaspora and in Ukraine.
In March of 1995, the decision of UOC-USA hierarchs to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople after Patriarch Mstyslav’s death has created an intolerable situation to faithful member parishes and a schism in the United States. To many, the Ecumenical Patriarchate's unrelenting advocacy of Moscow’s authority over Ukraine is an obscenity before the principles on which the Church in the United States was founded, and to what Ukrainians in the Free World have dedicated their lives.
Although the hierarchs, promised that this agreement would "help Ukraine attain recognition in world orthodoxy" assuring that "nothing would change", things did change. A painful example is the fact that no UOC-USA priest can co-celebrate freely with his brother Ukrainian, unless that priest has subjected himself to Moscow’s authority. The authority of Patriarch Alexei of the Moscow Patriarchate over Ukraine, a Stalin-appointed bishop, who has never repented for his membership and activity in the KGB, is unacceptable to the faithful.
Today this is what is at stake. Have we begun a new era where member parishes sue each other? Brother against brother? Faithful against faithful?
If a member and/or parish remains silent, their silence is an endorsement of the court action. Further, the court will view member parishes under the UOC-USA who remain silent as willing plaintiffs against a sister parish. Every faithful member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church must decide which side he or she will come down on: the Covenant of their forefathers who for centuries paid dearly for loosing their liberty, or the neophytes, and their quest to get fitted with a new purple yoke.
Along with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA and the Archbishop, the law suit lists the following plaintiffs: former pastor of Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Parish Arkadiusz Mironko, Bob Barnett, Jerry Burgan, Lidia Buly, Frederica Sedlock, Audray F. Sedlock, Marion Jendras, John Piropato, Grzegorz Romanowicz, Michael Heretz, Rose Key Boykas, Kathryn Sova, Frank Bauer, Stella Bauer, Linda Thomas, Tessie M. Nosal, Mario Chichik, Brian Drost, John Cherkas, Ann Mazurenok, Jean Zachar, Mary Hilt, Eugene Leshchyshyn, Barbara Leshchyshyn, Jean Arson, Eugenia Romanowicz, William Kuzbyt, Madeline Kuzbyt, Millie Sosonka, Gary Markovich, Jean Kolis, Mary Pankiw, Eugenia Tabachuk, Emelia Tabachuk, Mychail Newmerzyckyj, Gene Hallick. Debra Burgan, Olga Piropato, Oksana Tittansor, Richard Jendras, Julian Burgan, Carol Hotrovich.
The defendants are listed as John Luchejko, individually and as President of the Parish Board of The Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church, John Marchenko, individually and as Secretary of the Parish Board of HOLY ASCENSION, Roma Lisovich, individually and as Recording Secretary of the Parish Board of HOLY ASCENSION, Walter Mohuchy, individually and as a Trustee of the Parish Board of Holy Ascension, Rev. Myroslaw Swiecicki, the Church Board of Holy Ascension and John Doe 1-150 (fictitious names of board members) individually and as members of/or officers of the Church Board of Holy Ascension.
See attached addendum for details
of the events leading up to the lawsuit:
[Background and Events Leading to the Lawsuit].
If you have any questions, please call Peter Paluch 201-460-1364 or Simon Nahnybida-908-604-0479
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