Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, in the case of Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, The Right Reverend Herman, Bishop of Philadelphia, St. John The Baptist Russian Orthodox Church of Mayfield, Pennsylvania, Joseph Jaye, David Brzuchalski, William Hanchak, John Nayduch, Rose Kelechawa, Martha Scopelletti, Reverend Mark Shinn v. Thomas Pavuk, Andrew Paserp, Rose Telep, John Doe, Jane Doe, 82 Equity 69.
Arthur L. Piccone, with him, Ronald V. Santora, Hourigan, Kluger, Spohrer & Quinn, for appellants.
Gene E. Goldenziel, Needle and Goldenziel, for appellees.
Judges Colins, Palladino, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins.
[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 177]
We here consider a dispute over the right of possession and control of certain church property known as St. John The Baptist Russian Orthodox Church in Mayfield, Pennsylvania (St. John's). Appellants, the Orthodox Church of America, Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, its Hierarch, Bishop Herman, and other parties of interest, seek review of an order*fn1 of the Court of Common
[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 178]
Pleas of Lackawanna County which vested control of the property in appellees, parish members of St. John's who had voted to disassociate from the Orthodox Church of America and affiliate with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (Church Abroad). The matter is strikingly similar to a church property dispute considered by this Court in Mikilak v. Orthodox Church in America, 99 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 264, 513 A.2d 541 (1986), allowance of appeal denied, 515 Pa. 602, 528 A.2d 958 (1987), which involved another secessionist congregation of the Orthodox Church in America desiring to join the Church Abroad. Indeed, the impetus for appellees' realignment in the instant matter was the same as in Mikilak: a proposed revision by the Church Hierarchy of its Julian Calendar by which the dates of certain Holy Days would be altered,*fn2 a modification found unacceptable by appellees.
Constrained as we are to consider this matter by "neutral principles of law," see Mikilak, and after a thorough review of the extensive testimony and documentation proffered by both parties, we conclude that the trial court properly vested the right to possess and control parish assets in appellees.
We will not now discuss the ecclesiastical history and polity of Russian Orthodoxy, amply set forth in Mikilak. For our purposes, the following facts are relevant. In 1902, St. John's, then known as the Greek Catholic Church of St. John The Baptist and comprised of persons not party to the instant litigation, was granted affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church under
[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 179]
the authority of Bishop Tikhon, the Russian Orthodox Bishop of North America. The parish incorporated in 1907 "for the purpose of worship of Almighty God according to the faith, doctrine, creed, discipline and usages of the Holy Orthodox Church, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Bishop appointed by the Holy ...