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JUNE 15, 1999


LEADING TO THE LAWSUIT Of THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE USA, Archbishop Antony, Rev. Arkadieusz Mironko and other plaintiffs
Against Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Ascension Church

The lawsuit filed June 3, 1999 by plaintiffs The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-USA and Archbishop Antony and other plaintiffs against the Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Clifton, NJ specifically stems from the decision made by the general membership of the Holy Ascension parish to withhold temporarily their annual membership assessment from the Consistory until unresolved issues stemming back as far 1995 were resolved. Similar actions were undertaken by a number of other parishes.

Archbishop Antony was invited to the parish to address these issues. His answer to this written request was the suspension of the parish and removal of the acting priest Rev. Arkadieusz Mironko (also a plaintiff). Due to a sequence of events, which followed the majority of the general membership voted to accept the Archbishops removal of the priest permanently. These actions are the basis of the suit filed by the Archbishop last week.

Unbelievably, the law suits also names as a defendant with personal liability the Rev. Myroslav Swiecicki, who agreed to assist the parish on a temporary basis, when the parish found itself suspended and without a priest to serve during Holy Week. Archbishop Antony is asking the court to bar Rev. Myroslav Swiecicki from serving the parish and demanding that the court reinstate Rev. Mironko, despite the wishes of the majority of the parishioners, as Pastor of the parish. This action comes after the Archbishop himself forbid Rev. Mironko to perform any services at Holy Ascension, giving the church board a mere 24 hour notice. This crass exhibit of self assertion was exercised on March 27th, 1999, a week prior to Palm Sunday and the holiest week of the year for all Christians, Holy Week of the Resurrection of our Lord.

Showing utter disregard for the spirit of the Holy Week and the spiritual needs of the faithful, Rev. Mironko admitted to Board members that on the night of March 28th, the Archbishop traveled to Clifton and ordered Rev. Mironko to open the Church. The Archbishop then removed the Holy Antimines (presented by Metropolitan Teodorovich in 1926) from the altar, thereby precluding any further Liturgical service. Later, Rev. Mironko recanted this version, indicated he removed the Antimines under the Archbishop's command. This act, in fact, rendered the House of Worship a mere assembly hall. Entering the Church premises with the intent to remove any property without proper notification and approval of the Board is a blatant disregard of parish rights.

During the week in question, prior to the above incident, the Board of Holy Ascension made numerous efforts to contact the Archbishop and negotiate an agreement that would allow Rev. Mironko to serve the parish through the High Holy Days. All their efforts were for naught, as Archbishop Antony refused to answer any and all overtures to talk. On instructions of Archbishop Antony, Rev. Mironko went so far as to refuse a deceased long-time parishioner church services during the funeral. Pleas by the family of the deceased fell on deaf ears as both Rev. Mironko and Archbishop Antony initially refused to accommodate the family in their deepest hour of grief.

The Board of Holy Ascension had no choice but to seek another priest. Little did they know, that, not only did Archbishop Antony remove the Antimines from the altar of Holy Ascension precluding any services, but no priest within the jurisdiction of the UOC in the USA would be allowed to serve in the Clifton parish. Since the union with Constantinople, priests from Ukraine are forbidden to freely co-celebrate with the brothers in the US unless they are members of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Parishioners and Board members were surprised and offended by Rev. Mironko's invitation and warm embraces toward Russian-American priests who visited the parish Good Friday, in sharp contrast to the welcome, Rev. Swieciski received. The latter was not allowed to stand behind the altar during services that same week.

The law suit further asks the court to give the former pastor unrestricted access to the church building and the rectory, while barring the duly elected members of the Board of Holy Ascension, President Luchejko, Secretary Marchenko, Recording Secretary Lisovich, and Trustee Mohuchy from performing any of their legal responsibilities as custodians of the Parish. The law suit asks the court to freeze all expenditures and at the same time asks for the reinstatement of Rev. Mironko with all his previous pay and benefits which he enjoyed prior to his breaking the terms of his employment agreement, and abandoning his flock.

In addition, Archbishop Antony and the other plaintiffs further ask that the court prohibit the Parish Board from "conducting any Special or General Meetings of the parish." If successful, the fundamental right to assemble, (that is to hold meetings in their own church hall), 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.

Thus it may turn out, that those who abandoned the Church of their martyred forefathers, will have unrestricted access to this house of worship and those who remained faithful to the covenant of their martyred progenitors will have to start a new life somewhere else.

The dispute revolves around the fundamental premise of what the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA represents and what is its legal structure. To many Ukrainian-Americans the resurrection of the Ukrainian Church in Kyiv, after years of persecution under Moscow was a miracle. In 1924 the Metropolitan of Kyiv, Vasyl Lypkivsky dispatched the monk Ioan Teodorovich to serve the faithful of the U.S. diocese as head of The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA. The Ukrainian Orthodox community embraced the pious Teodorovych and he presided over the flock of faithful in the USA until his death in 1971.

Back in the homeland the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was experiencing a new round of even more brutal persecution and destruction. Virtually all clergy and hierarchs of the newly resurrected Kyiivan Church were rounded up and shot, including the founder Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivsky. The Church founded by the Apostle Andrew, was once again laid into a mass grave along with millions of faithful starved to death during the Great Terror Famine of 1932-33, planned and executed by Moscows leaders as an act of genocide.

The American outpost of the Kyiivan Church emerged as the legatee to the spirit and assumed the responsibility for the destiny of its beleaguered homeland. The Cultural and administrative center in South Bound Brook was established in the 1950s as a memorial to that Genocide and its martyred clergy and faithful and 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 of the Church in the Diaspora and in Ukraine.

Following Patriarch Mstyslavs death, on March 13, 1995, three bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA flew off to Istanbul, Turkey. Secret meetings between the bishops of the UOC-USA and Istanbul resulted in the Agreement of Dec 6, 1994. The bishops accepted the authority of a new and foreign jurisdiction pledged allegiance to a foreign prelate and assumed the positions and titles as Bishops of Ierapolis, Ierinoupolis etc. Patriarch Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarchate-Constantinople then accelerated his war on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by supporting Moscow Patriarchate.

In most other Ecclesiastic communities, this Agreement, made without the prior consent of the laity would be considered appropriate, but in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church this is a violation of both an ancient legal structure and current church charter. The Ukrainian Church from its inception in 988 has always been a congregational Sobornopravna church, and as such must always receive its directives from its highest governing body the triennial Sobor. The executive branch must report to the Sobor, account for all its activities and expenditures and seek the final approval for all its deeds at that conclave. The UOC in the USAs affiliation with the Kyiivan Patriarchate, as its U.S. diocese was never terminated nor even questioned at either of the last two Sobors.

Just below the surface of this dispute one can find a whole litany of issues that have been simmering throughout the church. Many clergy and lay members who came to the UOC-USA from other denominations, i.e. the Russian "Orthodox Church of America," Carpatho-Ruthenian church, and even Jesuit trained Catholics, never quite grasped the essence and heritage of the UOC in USA. They were ill prepared and unfamiliar with the legal structure of the Ukrainian Church and the cultural underpinning of its spiritual tradition, the bedrock of that community. They fail to recognize the covenant with which this congregation is charged, and the depth of its commitment.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church from its establishment by Prince Volodymyr in 988 was and 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.

For many outsiders who do not know the source and reason behind this wisdom, this unique arrangement of authority and responsibility in an ecclesiastic setting is seen as "too democratic".

However, for Orthodox Ukrainians this shared form of government and the Church's independence is a birthright that is essential to the character and purpose of their faith. An independent "sabornopravna" Church, free from any foreign subjugation is what our Church was, and should remain.

The lawsuit press release:
[ A New Battleground For The Ukrainian Orthodox-The Courtroom ].

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