As we prepare to receive Bishop Irenee at St. Nicholas, we are given a chance to also reflect on the lives of two very important bishops who helped establish our current Church life and administration. This week we remember the repose of both Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevitch) May 14th 1965, and Archbishop Sylvester (Hannus) May 19th 2000.
It could be said that after Sts. Innocent and Tikhon, Metropolitan Leonty is the most important Church leader in the over two hundred year life of the Russian Mission, Metropolia, and Orthodox Church in America.
Leonid Ieronimovich Turkevich was born in 1876 in Kremenets, Volhynia. In 1905, he married Anna Chervinsky and was ordained a deacon and priest at the Pochaiv monastery. In 1906, Bishop Tikhon (latter Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus) of the North American diocese found him a suitable candidate for the rector of the new seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, later becoming the dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York where he was the main advisor of the ruling bishops. Fr. Leonid was widowed in 1925, and in 1933 took the name Leonty in monasticism, being elected and consecrated bishop of Chicago. In 1950 Bishop Leonty was elected unanimously as Metropolitan by delegates of the Eighth All American Sobor.
Metropolitan Leonty assumed leadership of a rudderless Church. Years of administrative neglect (and at times ineptitude) brought on by the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, and rising nationalism, made the once visionary Russian Mission, into a loose collection of independent congregations. Little by little metropolitan Leonty organized and established administrative norms, such as working Church offices (Chancellor, Secretary, Treasurer etc.) as well as statues for the Church. He also brought with him many of the ideals of the All Russian Council of 1917- 1918. Chiefly the ideal of Sobornost (Собо́рность “Spiritual community of many jointly living people”). That both the laity and clergy of the Church had a responsibility in the direction of its life, as guided by the Holy Spirit, and blessed by its hierarchs. We see this lived out in our Church today, whether it be in the Metropolitan or Archdiocesan councils or our local parish councils. By the time of his death, Metropolitan Leonty had left the Metropolia a stable enough foundation in which to continue, but also grow into an autocephalous Church. The Orthodox Church in America (1970). The life of Metropolitan Leonty, like our beloved Archbishop Arseny, is currently being reviewed by the Holy Synod to be included in our list of North American saints.
Vladyka Sylvester was born of Latvian-Russian parents in 1914 in Dvinsk, Latvia, and named Ivan Antonovich Haruns. By the early 30’s his life was entirely dedicated to serving the Church. At this time, he also met, and was a devoted disciple of Archbishop John (Pommer) of Riga, until the archbishop became a martyr in 1934. During these days also, the future archbishop became acutely aware of the persecutions in the USSR, because Dvinsk was very near the border. Then, despite the early opposition of his parents, which later changed, he went away to study at the Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge in Paris, France. The future archbishop was tonsured a monk with the name Sylvester at the Institute, and then he was ordained in 1938 to the diaconate and priesthood by Metropolitan Evlogy of Paris.
Archbishop Sylvester spent his early priesthood serving many of the refugees of the Bolshevik revolution, and then Russian POW’s who came to France as forced labourers for the Nazis. It could be said that this work among the broken, starving, abused and dying would leave a lasting impression on his ministry as priest and then as bishop. He was ordained to the episcopate by Metropolitan Vladimir of Paris (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in 1952, and he was assigned first to those administrative duties connected with missionary work and publications, first in Paris and then Nice France. In 1963 Bishop Sylvester moved to Canada to become the bishop of Montreal. He was elevated to Archbishop in 1966. Like Metropolitan Leonty, He inherited a diocese, that had not had an active, and stable Episcopal life in over 40 years.
like many others in the Metropolia, he considered that autocephaly was necessary and correct for the North American Church under the conditions existing at that time. He managed to calm the fears of some, and to pacify the inflamed passions of others about this matter. In 1974, he was appointed Temporary Administrator of The Orthodox Church in America to assist the ailing Primate, Metropolitan Ireney. In this position of great responsibility, he ably fulfilled many functions of the Primate until October 1977, when Metropolitan Ireney retired and Metropolitan Theodosius was elected to succeed him.
Like St. Tikhon, Archbishop Arseny, Metropolitain Leonty, and countless other bishops, priests, and laymen, Vladika Sylvester understood the importance of cultivating Orthodoxy beyond its traditional centers. With foresight and charity, the blessing of English and French language missions in Canada started with him. Changing the face, and context of over a hundred years of Orthodoxy in Canada, without dismissing its historical and cultural foundations. If Vladyka Sylvester had not done what he did, and been who he was, there would very likely have been nothing for any of us, from Archbishop Seraphim (his successor) to my children’s children, to inherit.
Archbishop Sylvester retired in 1981 and although the diocese was by no means structurally able to manage itself at that time, it was able to spiritually manage its life, following his example of meekness and humility. in May 2000, he received Holy Unction and also the Holy Mysteries before his repose. This was through the hands of the then Hieromonk Irénée (Rochon), who would later become our current Administrator of the Archdiocese of Canada. It is of note that Vladika Sylvester requested to be buried as a monastic, and not a bishop. Bishops do not usually request this, but in this their is both an indication of his humility, and a constant awareness of the primacy of his monastic life of repentance. This says more than words can convey.
So much has been written about both these bishops, and their blessed work. But for all their administrative and visionary accomplishments (which are far-reaching in themselves), they are truly remembered, (even venerated for) their profound love and humility. They were able to see the presence of the Kingdom in the life and liturgy of the Church, through all the disfunction and disarray of life, and as such, bore witness to it until the end. This is the foundation we continue to build upon and the examples we try to follow.
As our Saviour said we should, both bishops had done their duties as faithful servants, and will surely have been greeted with the words “‘Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:23)
Pray to God for us holy Metropolitan Leonty, and Archbishop Sylvester.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
Priest Gregory Scratch