AN OUTLINE HISTORY
OF THE METROPOLIA CENTER
OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
OF THE USA
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA had its beginning in 1915 when several already existing parishes and clergy of other Orthodox and Catholic dioceses decided that the Ukrainian population of the USA had reached the level that this distinctive ethnic identity should have its own jurisdiction. There were many spiritual and political concerns, which inspired this decision and it was immediately successful in terms of the number of parishes and faithful who joined the movement. The group sought and received spiritual protection under the omophorion of Bishop Germanos of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the USA. Bishop Germanos provided the necessary guidance for the fledgling jurisdiction until a petition was sent to the newly independent Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which had formed in October 1921 under the leadership of Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivskyj following the first declaration of Ukrainian Independence in 1918. The response was the assignment of then Archbishop John (Theodorovich) to care for the spiritual needs of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful of the United States of America.
Archbishop John arrived in the United States in 1924 and immediately called for a Sobor, which would formalize the establishment of the Archdiocese as the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. Bishop Germanos officially relinquished his authority over the Church to Archbishop John. Following the Sobor, under the guidance of Archbishop John, the life of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA truly began to blossom. The Archbishop remained in contact with the Church in Ukraine, but, by 1927 it was clear that the Communist regime would not stop its persecution of this Church, having by that year arrested all its Hierarchs and most of its clergy and destroyed most of the Church properties. By 1937 all the Bishops had been executed and there were no signs of the Church’s life existent. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church had no opportunity to plead its case for canonical recognition to world Orthodoxy. Almost from the moment the 1921 Sobor concluded, the struggle for continued existence was doomed. Archbishop John rejected the claim of the Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction, which replaced the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine and cut all ties to Ukraine.
The American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA was deeply affected by these facts, in that Archbishop John has been consecrated as one of the first three bishops of the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine and had not received the canonical recognition of world Orthodoxy. In spite of several attempts to plead his case before the Ecumenical Patriarchate no progress was made on the issue. The clergy and faithful of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA, however, were undaunted in their conviction and their commitment to build their own independent church, which continued to grow and develop spiritually and materially. With the Archdiocesan center located in Philadelphia, a seminary was established and the clergy needed to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful were educated and assigned – all of them working miracles in the establishment and building of new parishes all over the country.
In 1928 a second group of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in the USA initiated a movement toward Orthodoxy. Because of the questions surrounding the status of Archbishop John, the group hesitated in affiliating itself with his already established jurisdiction even though it was thriving. The first Sobor of this group met in Allentown, PA in the spring of 1929 and established itself as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America. Rev. Dr. Joseph Zuk was elected as administrator to organize the diocese and at its second Sobor of 1931 in New York City he was elected as its first Bishop. Two hierarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the USA consecrated Bishop Zuk in 1932 at St. Volodymyr Cathedral, on 14th Street in New York City. Unfortunately, Bishop Joseph lived less than two years following his consecration.
In 1936 the Ecumenical Patriarch accepted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America under his omophorion and in 1937 Bishop Bohdan (Spylka) was consecrated as bishop of the diocese. Under his guidance the jurisdiction also began to thrive and the number of parishes and faithful grew, almost rivaling the growth of the American-Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA under Archbishop John.
The two Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions co-existed in the USA for the next 17 years. They both expanded, with Archbishop John also heading the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada and Bishop Bohdan establishing several parishes there, as well.
In 1942, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine was re-born once again, during a brief relaxation of religious persecution during the German occupation of Ukraine. One of bishops consecrated for the resurrected church in 1942 in Kyiv was Bishop Mstyslav (Skrypnyk), who eventually came to Canada to lead the Ukrainian Orthodox Church there, taking over from Archbishop John. Bishop Mstyslav left Canada within a few years and came to the United States to join the jurisdiction of Bishop Bohdan. He had a great desire to unite the two existing jurisdictions in the USA. Bishop Mstyslav, who was a validly consecrated bishop, persuaded Archbishop John to submit to a new consecration in order to resolve all canonical questions about his Episcopal status and as prerequisite of unification of the two churches. In 1949 Archbishop John agreed and was consecrated by Bishop Mstyslav and Metropolitan Christopher, Exarch to the USA of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.
In 1950, both jurisdictions held separate Sobors in New York City at St. Volodymyr Cathedral on 14th Street – one in the Church itself and one in the Church auditorium. Then on 13 October a combined Sobor of unification took place in the Church where all the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA under Archbishop John and the majority of the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America united by signing an Act of Unification. Unfortunately, some clergy and parishes under Bishop Bohdan were not convinced and persuaded him to reject the union. Bishop Mstyslav did, however, join with the majority of Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America parishes and Archbishop John was recognized as presiding prelate and Mstyslav as President of the Consistory of the now greatly expanded Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. The Act of Unification was proclaimed during Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God – Pokrova – 14 October – in St. Volodymyr Cathedral by newly elevated Metropolitan John, Archbishop Mstyslav and Archbishop Hennadij with the following words:
“From today our Churches, the American Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America are united and form One, Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America, which from this day forward will live and act as a Metropolia under one spiritual leadership and be governed by one constitution, which we at the same time collegially ratify and accept.”
We can only imagine the immense joy felt by the participants of this joint Sobor at hearing these words and what they envisioned to come in the life of their Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was a joy that resounded throughout the world and over the next two decades, many more parishes joined the united Church and still more were founded by recently arrived immigrants from the Displaced Persons camps in Germany.
Work began in earnest on the next day with the Consistory, headed by Archbishop Mstyslav, working diligently to bring more and more of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in the USA into the Church. The Metropolitan Council met frequently in those first months to make the decisions necessary for building a solid base for organized life in the Church. At the June 1951 meeting of the Council, a proposal was presented to purchase a 57-acre farm in Central New Jersey, not far from the Ukrainian Village, a summer residence and social center of St. Volodymyr Cathedral, New York City. Protopresbyter Lev Weselovsky was the pastor of the Cathedral who convinced our Hierarchs to consider the proposal and give their support to it. The farm was originally the estate of New Jersey’s delegate to the United States Continental Congress – Heindrick Fisher. The proposal to the Metropolitan Council stressed the historical connection to American history and that the topography of the property, along with the buildings thereon, all lent to a most appropriate location for the Administrative Center and National Headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
When one reads the minutes of that 1951 Metropolitan Council meeting, the enthusiasm for the proposal almost jumps off the pages and immediately both clergy and lay members make their pledges toward the purchase price of $90,000 – an enormous sum for the time: Frs. Lev Weselovsky, Demetrius D. Leschishin, Ivan (later Archbishop Mark) Hundiak and Mykola Kashuba all pledged loans of $500. Outright gifts were committed to by: Archbishop Mstyslav for $200, Fr. Weselovsky (in addition to his pledge to loan $500) another $500, Council Member Oleksij Heleliuk $250, Hryhorij Pypiuk, Fr. Ivan Hundiak, Fr. Andrew Beck, Fr. Mykola Kashuba each gave $50 and Prof. Vasyl Zavitnevych - $25. A total of $3,125 gifted in just a few minutes – this was an enormous sum of money for the day. After such an expression of enthusiasm, needless to say, the proposal was approved unanimously.
In the Consistory Circular to the clergy and faithful following this Metropolitan Council meeting, Archbishop Mstyslav, President of the Consistory wrote:
“With the Proclamation of 15 October 1950, in which the Sobor of our Church called into being the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA…uniting all those who not by word, but by deed, gave evidence to their devotion to our Heavenly Father, all those who honorably thirst to serve God and the ill-fated Ukrainian nation. The united Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA has become a treasury of immense value, at one of great importance to Ukraine and to the United States of America.
“We are, however, only free to praise ourselves and fully rejoice at this great and monumental event in our life, when with equal measurement, we are aware of the obligations placed on our shoulders by our Lord in blessing our Church unity. We can never forget that our united Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is called by God to the fulfillment of great tasks – reaching out to the forsaken, the addition of new spiritual qualities, the return to the Church of our brothers who have abandoned God and nation, leading our children along the path of Christian life – among others. In all this, the Lord is testing us, but as a Good Father, He has equipped us for this test. He has united us and made us stronger as a result! In our hands today are those Gospel ten talents, which we must multiply and not simply bury or completely waste.
“In order to enable us to approach our obligation to fulfill these tasks, the Metropolitan Council and Consistory have resolved to create one center, which will house all the institutions of our Church…30 miles from New York City in the small town of South Bound Brook, NJ. We call upon you dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters to assist in realizing this decision, for without the support of our entire Church, the Consistory will be unable to accomplish this most important and historical task in the life of Orthodox Ukrainians in the USA…This is our first great challenge…If we complete this task, we honor ourselves, our parents and grandparents, we leave to our children a good name and we open the eyes of those shortsighted and unite them to us. May God bless us!”
The appeal was a success and the consecration of these holy grounds was scheduled for 1 June 1952. A three-day long summer rainstorm, however, prohibited the actual consecration from taking place. In spite of the rain, over 2,500 people arrived, surprising, but at the same time morally uplifting the organizers of the event. The whole program, including Divine Liturgy, was moved to the auditorium of the local high school, which held only 1,200 people, so all the hallways and some classrooms were filled with faithful. Some even had to remain in their cars or buses. Over 30 priests, five deacons and 30 altar boys served with Metropolitan John and Archbishops Mstyslav and Hennadij, while the choir from St. Volodymyr Cathedral in New York City, enhanced by singers from parish choirs of Carteret and Newark.
During Divine Liturgy all three bishops spoke. Metropolitan John spoke of the great role played by Ukrainian Orthodox religious centers in the life of our Ukrainian nation – like Pecherska Lavra (the Monastery of the Caves) in Kyiv. He reminded everyone of the great responsibility placed before us by God in this center founded only seven months earlier.
Archbishop Mstyslav pointed to the continued growth of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA since the Sobor of Unification in 1950, especially with the recent founding of many parishes by recent arrivals from Europe. In concluding his talk, the Archbishop – always looking ahead – called upon all the faithful to contribute to the building fund of the Memorial Church, which would be built on the South Bound Brook property – in remembrance of those millions who gave their lives for the independence of both Ukraine and the United States of America.
Following his talk, the Archbishop distributed hand painted icons of the Mother of God to 56 individuals who had contributed at least $50 toward the purchase of the Fisher estate. It was a moving scene as described in the Ukrainian Orthodox Word:
“This moment was especially emotional, for among these donors were many aged and handicapped people who needed assistance to approach the Archbishop. Receiving the Holy Icon from the hands of the Archbishop, many of them cried. One elderly woman in answering the question, “Why are you crying?” responded: “I’m crying from joy, because for the first time in my life I prayed with such a large Christian community of my brothers and sisters, for the first time I participated in a Divine Liturgy with three bishops and so many priests.” This 82 year old woman that very day offered another gift of $50 to the building fund of the Memorial Church.”
Needless to say, the cultural concert of choirs and a large dance ensemble from our parish in Johnson City, NY had to be cancelled for the afternoon. The philosophical response of one of the teen-age dancers summed up the day, however: “Well, this is God’s Will, that we will have to entertain at another time, before 10,000 of our people, because only one third of those planning to come to South Bound Brook today actually showed up!”
The actual consecration of the center property, along with the residences, the newly established library and archive, and the print shop, were blessed in rescheduled ceremonies on 21 September 1952 – the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God. 1,500 people participated in this celebration and had the opportunity to walk through the entire property, especially approaching the location of the temporary altar, which stood on the spot where our Memorial Church stands today. Behind the altar was the beautifully crafted icon of the Mother of God – a photo of which you received today – the original distributed 50 years ago. Metropolitan John and Archbishop Mstyslav concelebrated Divine Liturgy. It was a gloriously beautiful day on which that originally scheduled cultural concert took place. Fifty-six priests participated in the event, which immediately followed the first ever clergy conference of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA following the Unification Sobor.
On that late summer day – 21 September 1952 – the only buildings existent at our Church Center under the protection of St. Andrew the First-called Apostle were the Fisher Family Home, which had become the Consistory and residence of the Archbishop, the print shop from which emanated the “Ukrainian Orthodox Word”, a small home where the Consistory Treasurer lived, and the mill, which served as a community center, library/archive, and a school of Ukrainian and religious studies.
Through the years much has been added to these hallowed grounds. Many changes of and additions to our property have taken place.
In 1954 Franklin Township authorities granted permission for the establishment on 15 original acres of our St. Andrew Cemetery. This was made possible only because the Fisher family cemetery was already located on our property and is still maintained by our Church as a historical site. The cemetery was consecrated on 26 September 1954. Interments began almost immediately and the cemetery has grown to almost 9,000 graves covering 25 acres of land.
In 1955 construction began on St. Andrew Memorial Church as a monument to those who were victims of the genocidal famine created by Josef Stalin and those who gave their lives for the independence of Ukraine and the United States of America. Construction continued for ten years and the Church was consecrated on 10 October 1965. No one has ever better described the Memorial Church than Archbishop Mstyslav shortly before the consecration:
“The Memorial Church – this is the combined monument over the graves of our forefathers – those related to us and most dear to us.
The Memorial Church – this is the expression of our deep respect for the heroes and martyrs of our Ukrainian nation.
The Memorial Church – this is the very humble cross over the graves of millions of victims of the genocidal famine ploughed over by the enemy.
The Memorial Church – this is our feeble attempt to recreate the majesty of the Ukrainian churches destroyed by the Moscow communists in just the 20th century.
The Memorial Church – this is the creation of the free Ukrainian spirit, inseparably joined to the ancient Ukrainian style of Church construction.
The Memorial Church – this is our humble contribution to the treasury of spiritual and cultural wealth of the United States of America.
The Memorial Church – this is evidence that those who contributed in any way to her construction, lived not only for themselves, but for the future generations of our nation.”
We can add that the Memorial Church, more than anything else, has become the symbol of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and our Church Center – the Ukrainian Jerusalem, as Archbishop/Metropolitan/Patriarch Mstyslav so fondly called it.
In 1960 progress had an effect on our Church life, when the Federal Government began construction of the Interstate highway system and took away from our property four acres of land for the actual highway and separated from the main portion of our property another 18 acres of land on the other side of the highway. We were paid $21,600 for the four acres, which was over 5 times what we paid for the property in 1951. We received many offers for the 18 acres on the “other side of the road” through the years, but with good foresight, Archbishop Mstyslav refused to sell, calling this land our assurance policy for the future. You will understand this in a few minutes.
On 13 June 1971, after six months of construction, the Great Memorial Cross in the center of our cemetery was blessed in memory of those who gave their lives fighting for the independence of Ukraine.
In 1972 God provided us with basically another gift. The Heatherington Estate – the family that founded the New York Stock Exchange – just across the pond from our original property was offered to us for purchase. It was the wish of the family that our Church have the first opportunity to purchase the property. By the Grace of God, our faithful were encouraged to offer their support with outright gifts and loans, to make this purchase possible. Fifty acres of land were received in this transaction at $50,000 per acre and there was much doubt from all sides about whether or not we would be able to pay the debt incurred. Again, the finger of the Lord intervened and a purchaser came forward with a proposition to purchase 15 acres of land on the back of this new property, right along Interstate 287. Over one million dollars was realized from this purchase and the balance owed for our original purchase was paid off.
In 1975 the main building on the Heatherington Estate – the family mansion – underwent a complete renovation and was converted into St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary. The doors to this venerable institution opened for the first academic year in September of this year and nearly a quarter of our current clergy received part or all of their theological and pastoral education there. Currently, there are 13 students who commute for classes on a regular basis – preparing either for the Deaconate or the Priesthood.
On 14 September 1980 this Ukrainian Cultural Center was blessed and occupied for the first time. It is dedicated to the Millennium of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine and is a memorial to all the churches, libraries and archives destroyed during the communist regime in the 20th century. It has served throughout its existence as a center for Ukrainian Arts, education (our School of Ukrainian and Religious Studies), social and cultural activity for the Ukrainian community of New York and New Jersey and for all activities of our Church. Most recently it also became the temporary repository and exhibition site of our Church Museum in anticipation of the construction of our new Museum. It is a source of continued financial support for the maintenance of our entire Metropolia Center for 22 years.
In 1983 on 23 October the impressive monument to Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivskyj took place. The Metropolitan is a martyr for our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church and without the courage he displayed, however it might be judged by others, it is most likely that our church here in the USA would not be in existence today. He awakened the consciousness of the faithful about their Ukrainian Orthodox Faith and the spiritual legacy handed down to them by their forefathers – the saints and martyrs who gave their life’s blood in protection of that legacy.
1987, 16 August Blessing of Ol’ha monument and beginning of a Holy Year of Commemoration in anticipation of the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Ukraine into the Holy Faith. This monument was the initiative of the United Ukrainian Orthodox Sisterhoods and Ukrainian women throughout the Diaspora and meant to commemorate this “Equal to the Apostles”, who was perhaps more responsible than anyone else for bringing the Ukrainian nation to Christ.
During the national Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine (988-1988) celebration, which took place here at the Center the Consistory/Library complex just across the street was blessed. It is the nerve center of our entire Church here in the USA. Here and throughout our Metropolia Center property, you have a small group of truly dedicated people who give so much of themselves for you and for the benefit of our Holy Church, accomplishing more than most can even imagine.
In 1997 we witnessed the blessing of restored Fisher Family Home – lovingly accomplished by our own staff – remaking it into the beautifully historical home it was meant to be. The original section of the house was built in 1688 and it is now a jewel of the historical legacy of Somerset County, New Jersey. Each year hundreds of visitors tour the home conjuring up in their minds what it must have been like for the original residents who played such an important role in American history.
The blessing of Holy Resurrection Mausoleum took place on 7 May 2001, on St. Thomas – Providna Sunday, and became the completion of one of the dreams of Patriarch Mstyslav, who had originally designed the Memorial Church with a mausoleum beneath. There we find the Patriarch’s crypt, which was blessed on 11 June 1994, once year after his repose, and a small museum of his life at the center. Surrounding this central area are another 276 crypts for the interment of Ukrainian Americans active in church and community life.
Finally, on 14 October of 2001 we blessed the site of the future Historical and Educational Complex Museum in memory of Patriarch Mstyslav, which will complete the Consistory/Library complex building. In the courtyard of this complex will be a permanent monument commemorating the 8 million victims of the genocidal famine. This has become a long-term project for which we will have to raise a few million dollars more. We urge your support of this worthwhile project to ensure that it becomes a reality.
Thousand upon thousands of Ukrainian Americans, Ukrainian world leaders, American Presidents, Senators and Congressmen and Ukrainian Presidents and many other Ukrainian government leaders, as well as people from all faiths have walked this property blessed those 50 years ago and have entered the buildings and institutions established here by the Grace of God and through the inspiration of Metropolitan John, Patriarch Mstyslav and all the bishops and leading clergy of our church. Many more will come and much more will be accomplished on these hallowed grounds by present and future generations of bishops, clergy and faithful, because God has implanted in us all a love for our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church and a desire to pass our rich spiritual and cultural heritage on, intact, to our children and grandchildren. May God give us the continued strength, dedication and will to do so.