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ST. MICHAEL AND ARCHANGEL RUSSIAN ORTHODOX GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH v. UHNIAT ET AL. (11/11/69)

decided: November 11, 1969.

ST. MICHAEL AND ARCHANGEL RUSSIAN ORTHODOX GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH
v.
UHNIAT ET AL., APPELLANTS



Appeals from decrees of Court of Common Pleas No. 3 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1962, No. 3343, in case of St. Michael and Archangel Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church et al. v. Peter Uhniat et al.

COUNSEL

John S. Manos, with him Philip Adler, of the New York Bar, for appellants.

Ivan Michaelson Czap, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Roberts dissents for the reasons set forth in St. John Chrysostom Greek Catholic Church v. Elko, Author: Eagen

[ 436 Pa. Page 223]

In this action in equity, the basic issue is whether St. Michael and Archangel Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Philadelphia (St. Michael's) is subject to the patriarchal jurisdiction of the Moscow-based general Russian Orthodox Church, officially known as "The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church" (Russian Orthodox Church), or is it within the jurisdiction of "The Russian Orthodox Church of America" commonly known as the "Metropolia." Upon the determination of the proper jurisdiction hinges certain property rights.

The chancellor in the court below, after extended hearings, entered an adjudication and a decree nisi ruling that as of that date St. Michael's was within and under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarch

[ 436 Pa. Page 224]

    of the Russian Orthodox Church, but that it could, by a majority vote of its parishioners, join the "Metropolia." After considering exceptions to the chancellor's adjudication and decree, the court en banc entered a final decree ruling in favor of "Metropolia" jurisdiction. Two interrelated appeals are now before us.*fn1

Although the background of the Russian Orthodox Church, both in the Soviet Union and in the United States, is not at issue here, it appears to us to be quite necessary to relate that ecclesiastical history in order to put this controversy in its proper context. In the rendition of that history, we are aided by the thorough and scholarly discussion of the chancellor below.

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous member of a family of churches known as the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and whose official title is the "Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Eastern Church." Orthodoxy was first introduced into Russia in the ninth and tenth centuries through the missionary activities of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Christianity became firmly established in Russia by the end of the tenth century, and continued to flourish there until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, and the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople quickly waned, to the delight of the Russians. In 1453 the Russians, for the first time, elected their own Metropolitan, and by the end of the sixteenth century, the Patriarchate of Russia had been established.

[ 436 Pa. Page 225]

The independent Patriarchate was not long to enjoy harmonious relations with the Russian Czars; the latter increasingly exerted their authority and influence over the Church until Peter the Great discontinued the Patriarchate in 1721, and established in its place the "Holy Synod", a body composed of representative bishops, religious orders and priests, and of course, of the Czar himself who became known within the Synod as the "Supreme Judge of the Spiritual College." The Church continued in this subjugated role, a mere branch of the government, until the Revolution of 1917. Acting with the permission of the Provisional Government, the first Church Sobor (convention) in centuries was held in 1917-1918; the outcome was the reestablishment of the Patriarchate, and the selection of Tikhon as Patriarch.

The future of the Russian Church was doubtful in a political system which regarded atheism as the state religion. Immediately after coming to power, the Bolshevik Government restricted, if not totally abrogated, the rights of the Church. Tikhon encouraged church members to resist property confiscation by the government, but in 1922, he was arrested and incarcerated.

With Tikhon out of the way, a small group of church clergymen, unfaithful to their promises to Tikhon to bestow complete administrative powers to a designated bishop during his absence, held a Sobor, abandoned the Patriarchate and created the "Provisional Supreme Administration" as the ruling body in the Russian Church. The new organization came to be called the "Living Church" and its influence spread rapidly because its founders kept in the good graces of the Soviet Government.

In 1923, the "Living Church" held its second Sobor and defrocked Tikhon, who died in 1925.

Tikhon's successors were also imprisoned because of their unwillingness to negotiate with the Soviet Government.

[ 436 Pa. Page 226]

In 1927, however, Sergius, the suffragan Patriarch, reached an Accord with the government, promising on his part, to oppose the counterrevolutionary activities asserted against the Soviet Government; the government reciprocated and gave recognition to the Patriarchal Church. Thereafter the "Living Church," bereft of its favored position with the government, which it enjoyed from 1922 to 1927, declined in influence.

The Patriarchal Church lived through many shaky days from 1927 until 1932. Thereafter, the Soviet Government exerted less control over the Church's internal operations, and when the Church supported the Russian war effort in World War II, the government became more tolerant of it. Stalin restored the office of Patriarch in 1943, and Sergius was chosen Patriarch. Following Sergius' death in 1945, Alexy was elected Patriarch and continues in that office now. The Soviet Government is generally tolerant of the Church today and, apart from its mass anti-religious propaganda, does not interfere with the Church's activities.

The Russian Orthodox Church is a missionary church. Late in the eighteenth century, a mission was established in Alaska. With the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, the mission was elevated to a diocese and the See was eventually transferred from Alaska to San Francisco. In 1900, Russian Orthodoxy began to spread and grow dramatically due to the immigrations of the Greek, Russian, Slavic and Syrian peoples. The See of the North American Diocese was moved ...


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