Patriarch Yuri I (centre) with Archbishop Spataro of the AEC and Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan of the Order of Corporate Reunion at St Lucy’s Cathedral
The death has been announced of Patriarch Yuri I, Apostolic Administrator of All American World Patriarchates and Patriarch of the Byelorussian Orthodox National Church in Exile. He had been suffering from cancer for some years and passed away yesterday aged 82.
The episcopate of Emigidiusz Jerzy Ryzy was intimately connected with that of his late brother, Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski (1925-78). Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski was a Byelorussian priest who during the 1960s came into contact with Patriarch Wolodymyr (Walter Myron Propheta) (1912-72) of the American Orthodox Catholic Church. The AOCC, which was incorporated in 1965, was an attempt to build an indigenous American Orthodoxy inspired by the earlier example of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966), being non-ethnically and non-nationally established and welcoming all who sought Orthodoxy. Patriarch Wolodymyr based his church upon a steadfast witness to the seven Ecumenical Councils but allowed his bishops a free choice of liturgical and other matters provided these were in accordance with an Orthodox understanding.
On Christmas Day 1965, Metropolitan Peter Zhurawetzky (who was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch) then-acting Archbishop of Miensk and all Byelorussia of the Apostolic Synod of “SUBOZHNIA” and Patriarch of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America elevated to the rank of Archbishop and consecrated Ryzy-Ryski, to be the Apostolic Administrator of the Byelorussian Orthodox Catholic Church of St Apostle Andrew in both the Eastern and Western Rite. Ryzy-Ryski also served as Chancellor to the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America.
In 1967, without leaving Patriarch Wolodymyr’s jurisdiction, Ryzy-Ryski began a new mission, the American World Patriarchates, and became known as Patriarch Uladyslau I. This loosely-structured mission sought to create an international hierarchy of bishops. It was formally separated from the jurisdiction of Patriarch Wolodymyr when, just before his death in 1972, Patriarch Wolodymyr excommunicated Patriarch Uladyslau.
The work of Patriarch Uladyslau was organized from the Bronx in New York, where he established a Cathedral of Learning and the People’s University of the Americas. This offered courses in English as a second language and the humanities for immigrants (particularly Spanish-speakers) at affordable fees, and became extremely popular. Meanwhile, the American World Patriarchates expanded with the appointment of patriarchs for Puerto Rico, Colombia, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, El Salvador, Nigeria, the West Indies, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and the Ukraine.
Patriarch Yuri, like his brother, had spent his entire adult life in exile. In Poland, where he lived in the city of Ustka, he trained and worked as an engineer for over a decade. He came to the United States in 1976 and began training for ordination the following year. His rapid advancement was in recognition of the responsibilities that his brother’s illness would soon require him to assume.
When Patriarch Uladyslau died on 1 March 1978 he was succeeded by his brother, who had been consecrated on February 19 that same year by Patriarch Uladyslau, Metropolitan Peter Zhurawetsky and other bishops, and who now became Patriarch Yuri I. On 29 May 1978, Metropolitan Zurawetzky elevated Patriarch Yuri to be Apostolic Administrator of the American World Patriarchates while still recognizing him to be a Bishop of his own Byelorussian jurisdiction.
Under Patriarch Yuri the American World Patriarchates continued its growth and mission. By 1997, the AWP could report 19,457 members, 17 congregations, and 54 priests in the United States; one congregation with three priests in Canada, and work affiliated with the AWP taking place in 17 additional countries.
A great wish of Patriarch Uladyslau was that he should re-establish Orthodoxy in his homeland of Byelorussia (Belarus). This was accomplished under Patriarch Yuri during the 1990s and at this point congregational numbers began to increase substantially. His first visit to his homeland since childhood took place in 1993, and thereafter he returned annually. As of 1993, there was one bishop there, six assisting priests in Minsk, Lida, and Siomki Goradok, and a lay membership of thirty-five thousand which was continuing to grow. However, this activity was opposed by the Belarusian regime, which suppressed many of the churches that had opened.
On January 28 2001, Patriarch Yuri was also raised to Archbishop of the Holy Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Atlantic, by bishops of the Uniate Western Orthodox Catholic Church, the Apostolic Episcopal Church, the African Orthodox Church, the Order of St Benedict the Moor, the Anglican Independent Communion and the Order of Corporate Reunion in St. John’s Episcopal American Catholic Church, New York City.
Patriarch Yuri continued to reside in New York and ran a Belarus Home Mission there as well as being active in Belarusian civic associations. The AWP entered intercommunion with the AEC and Patriarch Yuri was often an ecumenical guest at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral where services of the Order of Corporate Reunion have been held over the years. He was held in great respect and affection by all as a source of wise spiritual counsel and sound teaching.
The wake and funeral will be at the memorial home in Ossining, likely on Friday night at 8 pm. The funeral, which will be according to the Western Rite, will be led by bishops who were friends and colleagues of Patriarch Yuri, followed by burial at the family plot on Saturday.
Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!