The ecclesial jurisdiction of San Luigi has existed alongside its political counterpart, in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church from 1883 until 1899 and 1925 to 1929, and otherwise autonomously as an Old (Roman) Catholic church in its own right. Throughout its latter history it has served as a demonstration of the unity of faith that is held between Old Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches.
From 1899, under Prince-Abbot Joseph III, San Luigi looked to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch for its jurisdiction, the Old Catholic Church of America having been erected as an autocephalous metropolitanate at the consecration of the Prince-Abbot at the command of the Patriarch in 1892, and the Order of the Crown of Thorns having been re-founded under the same Patriarch in the preceding year.
Official relations between the Syrian Orthodox Church and the American clergy continued intact until at least the death of Prince-Abbot Joseph III, but following a visit of the Syrians to the United States in 1928, when the Syrians requested a substantial increase in financial contributions from the Americans and were refused, matters deteriorated. In 1938, as a result of Anglican pressure, the then-Patriarch of Antioch was persuaded to issue a semi-literate statement of repudiation of those clergy who were in succession from Prince-Abbot Joseph III, and who had previously been accepted into intercommunion with the Patriarchate.
In response to this situation, the successor of Prince-Abbot Joseph III, Prince-Abbot Edmond I, formed an alliance with Patriarch Anthony Aneed (1879-1970) (pictured right). Aneed was a bishop of the uniate Melkite Greek Catholic Church who in 1945, convinced that the Melkite expatriate community must break from Rome’s influence, established the Byzantine Universal (Catholic) and Orthodox Church of the Americas. He has continued to be recognized by the Melkite Church to this day.
On 1 January 1946, Patriarch Aneed was enthroned as the first Patriarch of the Byzantine Universal (Catholic) and Orthodox Church of the Americas. At the same occasion he formally re-established the jurisdiction of San Luigi, installing Prince-Abbot Edmond I as Archbishop of San Luigi, Grand Master of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and additionally appointing him as Titular Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in the Byzantine Universal (Catholic) and Orthodox Church of the Americas.
Patriarch Aneed also conditionally consecrated Prince-Abbot Edmond I assisted by two other Byzantine bishops, Lowell Paul Wadle and Henry Kleefisch. This act ensured that the episcopal orders of Prince-Abbot Edmond I would be recognized by the Melkite community. The major reason for this was that the Melkites by custom require three bishops to consecrate, whereas the Roman Catholic Church accepts solo consecration as valid. Prince-Abbot Edmond I’s 1923 consecration by Prince-Abbot Joseph III had been performed solo.
During the 1960s San Luigi developed close relations with the Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America under Patriarch Peter II (Peter A. Zhurawetsky) (1901-94) (pictured left) and its daughter church the American Orthodox Catholic Church, which between its foundation in 1961 and 1964 was led by Archbishop Robert Schuyler Zeiger (1929-99). Both of these churches had close connexions with the canonical North American Old Roman Catholic Church led by Archbishop Hubert Augustus Rogers (1887-1976), the duly appointed and elected successor of Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora (1878-1958). Archbishop Zeiger was consecrated by Patriarch Zhurawetsky assisted by bishops Hubert A. Rogers, James Hubert Rogers and Julian Lester Smith, all of the NAORCC, on 1 July 1961. The Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate was a founder member of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Catholic Churches and was paternally affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Prince-Abbot Edmond I consecrated his successor, George A. Lyman (1938-98) (who would become Prince-Abbot Edmond II upon his resignation on 16 February 1962), on two occasions. In the first of these, on 8 May 1960, he was assisted by Count Michel L’Estrange (Hugh Michael Strange), who was at that time heir-designate to San Luigi. On 29 December 1961, by which time L’Estrange had been removed from his position as heir-designate, he again consecrated Lyman assisted by Old Roman Catholic Archbishop Emile Rodriguez y Fairfield (1912-2005). Notwithstanding the efficacy of these acts, it was the wish of Edmond I that his successor should be enthroned after his death in a public ceremony, at which Archbishop Zeiger would conditionally consecrate him, assisted by Archbishops Fairfield and Edgar Ramon Verostek, who was an Old Roman Catholic bishop who was part of the 1944 American Concordat Exarchate under Patriarch Aneed. This ceremony duly took place on 14 March 1963 at the Macarthur Community Church in San Pablo, California.
The result of these acts was that the episcopal orders of San Luigi were not only recognized by the Roman Catholic Church (as had been published by the Holy See in respect of Prince-Abbot Joseph III in 1925) but were now accepted as valid by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (who recognized Patriarch Aneed) and by those churches and hierarchs who had recognized the episcopate of Patriarch Zhurawetsky, which had been duly transmitted to Archbishop Zeiger. These latter were as follows:
(1) the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, H.B. Athenagoras I (1886-1972) (pictured above at his meeting with Pope Paul VI in 1964)
>>Letter from the Exarch to the Ecumenical Patriarch (Greek Archdiocese of North and South America), conveying Apostolic Blessings of the Ecumenical Patriarch, 4 April 1951
(2) the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, H.H. Nicolaos VI (1915-86)
>>Letter from the Patriarch of Alexandria, 29 June 1978
(3) the Primate of the Orthodox Church of America, H.B. Metropolitan Ireney (Bekish) (1892-1981) (His predecessor, Metropolitan Leonty, was a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns)
>>Letter from Metropolitan Ireney, April 1976
The episcopate of Archbishop Zeiger had also been affirmed as valid in a Roman Catholic diocesan newspaper, the Denver Catholic Register, of 26 April 1962:
>>Denver Catholic Register, 26 April 1962
The newsletter of Patriarch Zhurawetsky, Our Missionary, was under the editorship of the Most Revd. Prince Kermit Poling, today the senior living member of the San Luigi Orders. He was ordained priest and then consecrated by Patriarch Zhurawetsky on 1 November 1970. He is head of the Order of the Sacred Cup in succession to its founder, Patriarch Zhurawetsky; the present Prince-Abbot of San Luigi is a knight of this Order.
In the October-November 1988 edition of Our Missionary, Patriarch Zhurawetsky addresses a message to the Patriarchate, in which he lists his bishops by name; within that list we find both Prince-Abbot Edmond II and Archbishop Zeiger.
Finally, a direct Apostolic link exists between Archbishop Zeiger (pictured above) and the present Prince-Abbot, whose consecrator, Archbishop Bertil Persson, was consecrated by Archbishop Zeiger on 14 June 1994:
In the present day, the recognitions accorded to the ecclesial jurisdiction of San Luigi have been augmented by the ecumenical work of the Apostolic Episcopal Church during the period from the 1970s onwards. The Apostolic Episcopal Church, of which Prince-Abbot Edmond II was a bishop, entered into intercommunion with Patriarch Zhurawetsky and was also in intercommunion with the jurisdictions of Archbishops Fairfield and Verostek. This has brought about friendly contact with many of the Orthodox Churches as well as strengthening links with the Anglican Communion (through an intercommunion agreement with the Philippine Independent Catholic Church in 1988), the Continuing Anglican movement and the canonical Old Catholic churches. Today, the present Prince-Abbot also holds office as a bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.