Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County in the case of Orthodox Church in America, Dioceses of Eastern Pennsylvania, The Right Reverend Herman, Bishop of Philadelphia, St. Basil's Russian Orthodox Church of Simpson, Pennsylvania, Michael S. Mikilak, Dennis Buberniak, Stephen Kowalsky, Denise Cobb, Esther Kowalsky, Mary Burke, Reverend Michael H. Evans v. Joseph Mikilak, Anna Egnatovich, Alexander Kowalko, Stephen Fedak, Deemer V. Sumple, Karen Chaparo, June Barna, John Luchonok, Sr. and Frank Ference, John Doe, Jane Doe, 1982 Equity No. 82.
Gene E. Goldenziel, for appellants.
Arthur L. Piccone, with him, Jonathan A. Spohrer, for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Colins.
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This case involves a dispute over the right to possession of church property of St. Basil's Russian Orthodox
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Church of Simpson, Pennsylvania. Appellants are parish members of St. Basil's who seek relief from an injunctive order entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County granting possession of St. Basil's to the Orthodox Church in America*fn1 and other parties in interest (appellees). The congregation of St. Basil's seeks to leave the Orthodox Church in America and join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (Church Abroad). They seek to do so because the Orthodox Church in America has initiated reforms in the Julian Calendar utilized by that church, resulting in shifts of the time of worship of major holidays, which a majority of the congregation finds unacceptable.*fn2
Because under neutral principles of law the right to possession of St. Basil's lies with the congregation, we will reverse the lower court and vacate its injunction order. Since the underlying controversy has its roots in antiquity, a brief review of the history of the jurisdictional dispute over Russian Orthodoxy in America may prove helpful to the reader.*fn3
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I. History of Russian Orthodoxy
In 1054, a formal schism ensued between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity when the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo IX, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, exchanged decrees of excommunication and anathema. This schism resulted in the formal creation of the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Prior to formal schism, Rome and Constantinople were involved in rival missionary activities. The practice among the Eastern missionaries was to convert to the Orthodox faith in the native tongue of the populace and encourage the development of Orthodox churches closely allied to the national identity of the people.
In the Ninth Century A.D., St. Cyril and St. Methodius first converted Moravians, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Russians to the practices of Orthodox Christianity utilizing a dialect of Slav spoken by Macedonians known as Church Slavonic. In 988, the Russian ruler, Vladimir, married Anna, sister to the Byzantine emperor. Vladimir was converted to Orthodoxy and proclaimed Orthodoxy the state religion of Russia, which it remained until 1917. Church Slavonic became the official language of the holy books and service books of Russian Orthodoxy.
On April 7, 1453, hordes of Turks began a seven-week long siege of Constantinople, which culminated on May 29, 1453, in the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and the death of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI. With the extinction of the Byzantine Empire, Russian potentates assumed Byzantine titles of "autocrat" and "tsar" and adopted the state emblem of the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. Moscow became known as "the third Rome," after Rome and Constantinople. At this point, in 1453, the Russian Orthodox Church became formally autocephalous.*fn4
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The Bolshevik revolution and its aftermath resulted in a diasporic scattering of more than a million Russian Orthodox clergy and laity, many of them drawn from the cultural and intellectual elite of the Russian nation. This diaspora coincided with a 1920 decree by Archbishop Tikhon, then the titular Patriarch of Russian Orthodoxy, for Russian bishops in exile to set up temporary organizations of their own in the event that normal relations could not be maintained with the Russian Patriarchate. In the seven years that followed, a number of conflicting synods, sobors (councils) and decrees ensued within and without Russia, resulting in the creation of several rival jurisdictions of Russian Orthodoxy claiming hierarchy over Russian Orthodox practitioners living outside of Russia.*fn5
Consequently, Russian Orthodox faithful living outside of Russia could turn to the sovereignty of at least four ...