1. THE MEANS BY WHICH VALIDITY MAY BE DEMONSTRATED
We have already established the conditions under which a church may maintain full validity in Roman Catholic canon law and at the same time not be under the jurisdiction of the Pope. Such bodies, among which the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi is included, are in partial communion with the Holy See[i]. They are part of the Catholic Church according to its definition, and not branches or independent churches.
In order to demonstrate validity, it is necessary first and foremost to demonstrate a valid transmission of the episcopate from a bishop who was part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and to show that the non-Roman bishops of that hierarchy received the episcopate validly in the Catholic sense. There are multiple episcopal successions from the Roman Catholic Church to the present Prince-Abbot of San Luigi, and this clearly means that the claim to validity does not simply rest upon a single bishop.
2. THE SUCCESSION
In this section we will give an example of a lineage from a bishop who received public acknowledgement of his validity from a Roman Catholic source during the twentieth-century.
Robert Gerald John Schuyler Zeiger (1929-99) became one of the few independent Orthodox bishops in the United States to be able to reference a published statement by Roman Catholic authority that acknowledged his validity as a bishop. Zeiger was ordained priest by Archbishop William Henry Francis Brothers of the Old Catholic Church of America on 22 February 1959. He was consecrated bishop on 1 July 1961 by Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky, whose Orthodox status will be discussed subsequently, and three bishops of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, Hubert Augustus Rogers, his son James Hubert Rogers, and Julian Lester Smith, the NAORCC being in communion with Patriarch Peter. Zeiger was designated Bishop of Denver and charged with conducting an Orthodox ministry for the benefit of Western traditionalist converts. This ministry was called the American Orthodox Catholic Church.[ii]
The ceremony of consecration was photographed; the photograph below shows the moment at which the consecrators imposed their hands upon Zeiger.
Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky (standing left), Archbishop Hubert Augustus Rogers (standing rear), Bishop James Hubert Rogers (partly obscured, standing right) and Bishop Julian Lester Smith (obscured, standing right rear) consecrating Robert Schuyler Zeiger bishop.
Patriarch Peter Zhuratwetsky and Robert Schuyler Zeiger at the latter’s consecration
Consecration certificate of Robert Schuyler Zeiger. The Rite used was that of the Russian Orthodox Church translated into English, which is recognized as a valid rite by the Roman Catholic Church
The Denver Catholic Register was as of 1962 part of the National Catholic Register system of diocesan newspapers. It was and remains today under the direction of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver and is that Archdiocese’s official paper.[iii]
In its edition of 26 April 1962, vol. LVI, p.4, the Denver Catholic Register carried comments concerning Archbishop Zeiger in its column Registorials, authored by Paul H. Hallett[iv].
The article stands as an extremely rare explicit acknowledgement by official Roman Catholic authority of the validity of a prelate not under Roman jurisdiction. Further, its approach and conclusions are in line with the understanding of separated churches that we have discussed earlier to be the official position of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1963, Archbishop Zeiger consecrated Prince-Abbot Edmond II of San Luigi (George Arvid Edmond Lyman) to the Sacred Episcopate, sub conditione, and installed him as Archbishop of San Luigi.
In 1977, Archbishop Zeiger (who was married with children) retired from his independent Orthodox ministry and sought reconciliation with Rome. However, as a condition of his acceptance, Rome required of him that he should agree not to exercise his ministry of a priest or bishop (while not denying the validity of his priestly or episcopal orders). In 1981, doubtless finding this position unsatisfactory, Archbishop Zeiger returned to independent Orthodox ministry[v]. However, he also remained a member of his local Roman Catholic Church (St Jude, Lakewood, Colorado), until his death, and taught religion there.
As far as can be established, Archbishop Zeiger only conducted one episcopal consecration after 1977. This was the subconditional consecration of Nils Bertil Alexander Persson on 14 June 1994. Bertil Persson (1941-) was at that time Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, additionally serving as a bishop inter alia in the Philippine Independent Church (Anglican Communion), having close connections with the major Orthodox Churches and being a priest in the Church of Sweden (Anglican Communion).
It remains an open question as to whether, in consecrating Bertil Persson without a Papal mandate, Archbishop Zeiger incurred excommunication latae sententiae as is prescribed by Roman Catholic canon law. The consecration was not secret, and was listed in a book published by Persson in 1998[vi]. Persson has never been a Roman Catholic and is not subject to Roman Catholic canon law. His consecration by Zeiger is thus undoubtedly valid, but it cannot be deemed unlawful, since he is not subject to the canon law in question, nor could he be excommunicated by a church of which he is not a member.
Consecration certificate. A second certificate was issued in Latin. The Rite used was the Byzantine Rite, which is recognized as valid by the Roman Catholic Church.
On 23 November 2008, Bertil Persson assisted by other bishops conditionally consecrated the present author in Golders Green Unitarian Church, London, installing him as Archbishop of Great Britain in the Apostolic Episcopal Church. In 2011, I succeeded as the eighth Prince-Abbot of San Luigi. In 2015, I succeeded as Head of the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios and as Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church. Like Archbishop Persson, I have never been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, having been originally a member of the Church of England.
Bertil Persson, Emeritus Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, imposes hands and consecrates me, 23 November 2008
The form used for the ordination was that of the “Tridentine” Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, in English.
It can therefore be seen that there is a complete, evidenced and unambiguous transmission of the valid episcopate from Archbishop Robert S. Zeiger, a bishop recognized as valid by the Roman Catholic Church, to the present Prince-Abbot of San Luigi. With such a transmission comes all the essentials for a valid church, which are contained within the episcopal power, and with it likewise comes the ecclesiastical fons honorum that inheres to any valid church descending from the pre-1054 united Church.
3. PATRIARCH PETER ZHURAWETSKY AND THE BELARUSIAN PATRIARCHATE
We have already encountered Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky (1901-94) as the principal consecrator of Archbishop Robert S. Zeiger in 1961. Patriarch Peter was an independent Orthodox bishop whose primary work was the establishment of Orthodox missions in the USA. He would play a unique role in the survival of the Belarusian church and nation in exile.
Christianity in Belarus owes its birth to the Ecumenical Patriarch Photius I (St Photios the Great). According to tradition, the Kievan Rus were converted under him around 867AD and it was the Ecumenical Patriarch who provided their first bishop. A century later, the Baptism of Kiev firmly allied the Rus with the Byzantine Empire. According to the Primary Chronicle, at Constantinople, the advisors of Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev were so astounded by the beauty of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) and the liturgical service held there that they made up their minds there and then about the faith they would like to follow. Accordingly, Prince Vladimir travelled to Constantinople where he was received into the Orthodox Church by baptism and married the sister of the Byzantine Emperor.[vii]
The legacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Belarus was a lengthy one. Until 1686, the Metropolitanate of Kiev and all Rus was a constituent part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1684, the Patriarch of Moscow sent a delegation to Constantinople formally requesting the right to appoint the Metropolitan of Kiev, but this request was refused by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The following year, Moscow acted uncanonically and in disregard of the Ecumenical Patriarch by appointing its own candidate, and in 1686 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysios IV was persuaded to issue a Tomos regularizing this act, having accepted a large sum of money from Moscow to do so.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has on many occasions since then protested at this event and referred to it as uncanonical and illegal, but has stopped short of revoking the Tomos of 1686. Many have seen in these protests a tacit support for the re-establishment of the indigenous churches of the Rus under Constantinople.
“In 1924, Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory VII in the Tomos for the granting of autocephaly of the Polish Orthodox Church, wrote: “The first part of Our Throne of the Kyiv Metropolis, and Orthodox Metropolitan of Lithuania and Poland, dependent, as well as their attachment to the Holy Church of Moscow is done not by the provisions of the canonical Rules and also everything has not been complied with that has been established with respect to the full autonomy of the church and the Metropolitan of Kiev, who held the title of Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne“. Patriarch Gregory cited three grounds, which allowed him to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church within the revived Polish state. This is, firstly, the need to harmonize religious borders with the new political boundaries, and secondly, the right of the Ecumenical Patriarchal Throne to support the Orthodox Churches, “who are in need” and, thirdly, infringement of the canonical rules, committed in 1686 (Orthodox dioceses in Poland, Lithuania and Belarus in 1686 were part of the Kyiv Metropolis).
In March 2005, Archbishop Vsevolod Skoplskim…who is a curator “of Ukrainian politics” at the Ecumenical Patriarchate at a meeting with President Yushchenko said that the Patriarchate of Constantinople never recognized the legality of transition of the Metropolis of Kiev of Constantinople to the Moscow Patriarchate and, therefore, to this day it continues to consider Ukraine as its canonical territory. While this statement has caused severe protests from the Russian Orthodox Church, officials of Constantinople did not comment on the statement of Archbishop Vsevolod, implying that they effectively ignore the resentment of Moscow.
Most recently, in Kiev during the anniversary celebrations on the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has repeatedly stated that Church of Constantinople is the Mother Church in relation to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, not Moscow. On July 26 2008 in his keynote address to the Ukrainian people, uttered at the Sofia Square in Kiev, Patriarch Bartholomew expressly called the Metropolis of Kiev’s accession to the Moscow Patriarchate “annexation”. [viii]
After the partition of Poland and the annexation of Belarus by Russia in 1795 the religious affiliation of Belarus became divided between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, with a small minority of Greek Orthodox and Protestants. When the November Uprising of 1830-31 against Russian rule failed, the Roman Catholic Church was suppressed in favour of the Russian Orthodox Church. Since that time, the story of Christianity in Belarus is united with its political oppression firstly by the Russian Empire, then by the Soviet Union, and today by the successors of the USSR. All have promoted the Russian Orthodox Church and suppressed the indigenous church of Belarus.
In 1922, the Byelorussian Autocephalous Metropolia was founded at a Sobor in Minsk by former members of the Polish Orthodox Church, which would be granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1924, but this church had effectively been suppressed in Stalin’s “Great Purge” by 1938. During Nazi occupation, a new Sobor in Minsk in 1942, formed by clergy willing to collaborate with the Nazi regime, declared an autonomous Byelorussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The defeat of Nazism meant that this church was absorbed into the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia in 1946. In 1949, Bishop Siarhiej Okhotenko of the uncanonical Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Exile attempted independently to revive the BAOC and several descendants of this revival exist today.
Since 1946, the Russian Orthodox Church has exerted dominance over Belarus and has even established its own “Belarusian Orthodox Church”. Conflict between the large, wealthy and politically well-connected Moscow Patriarchate and those small, impecunious, marginalized groups in exile that have been struggling for the true and autonomous Belarusian Church has regrettably become entrenched.
Our view is that the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus is effectively a colonizing power, and that it can never take the place of the authentic Belarusian Orthodox Church. Nor can we recognize uncanonical attempts by exiled bishops of Ukrainian churches to revive the former Byelorussian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The future Patriarch Peter Andreas Zhurawetsky was born in Uhniv, Galicia, in what was then Austria but is now Ukraine, on 7 December 1901. Amid the upheaval of war and revolution, he came to the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at the University of Vienna to study. Among his classmates were the future Archbishop Andrei Kuschak, Bishop Bohdan Shpylka and Ukrainian Kievan Patriarch Mstyslav I Skrypnyk. He then commenced missionary work among Ukrainian exiles in the United States in 1925, and also had posts as secretary to Bishop Joseph Zuk and his successor Bishop Theodor Shpilka of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America.
In 1927, Metropolitan Platon Rozdhestvensky and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America, working in opposition to the uncanonical “Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia” (ROCOR), authorized the “formation of a group of Eastern Orthodox bishops in North America” under Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966), Bishop of Brooklyn in the Russian Orthodox Church. In this situation, Eastern Orthodox bishops in America were often asked to co-operate across their ethnic boundaries. Zhurawetsky was part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Archbishop Palladios Rudenko, but that Archbishop’s illness meant that on 20 March 1932, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City, Zhurawetsky was instead ordained priest by Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America (who would become the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1948). In 1933, Archbishop Ofiesh married in contravention of the canons and the recognition of his group by the Russian Orthodox Church came to an end, although most of its clergy continued their work in other jurisdictions.
Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky’s Letters of Ordination to the Diaconate and Priesthood by the future Ecumenical Patriarch, 1932.
In 1940, Father Zhurawetsky was transferred to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America under Metropolitan Christopher Contogeorge. In 1942 Metropolitan Christopher raised Father Zhurawetsky to Mitred Archpriest and made him Administrator of the Eastern Catholic and Apostolic Diocese of America. A legal dispute between Metropolitan Christopher and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese was concluded with the issuance of a letter from Archbishop Athenagoras on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch of 1 March 1945, which confirmed the canonical character and validity of the ecclesiastical acts of Metropolitan Christopher.
Letter on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch confirming validity of the acts of Metropolitan Christopher Contogeorge, 1945.
In 1922, the regime of Lenin confiscated all property from the Russian Orthodox Church and gave its support to the Temporary Higher Church Administration formed by a number of priests. This body became known as the Renovated or Living Church, and it acted to depose Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and re-establish the Holy Synod originally proclaimed by Peter the Great to rule the Church in 1721. Although the Living Church was seen as a pro-Soviet organization, receiving official standing and support from the government and Communist intellectuals, its greatest support from within the Church came from married priests who were excluded from the episcopate by the canons.
Although it gained only limited popular support, the Living Church had established a presence in America where its policy of allowing bishops to marry had attracted a number of clergy. The Detroit Sobor of 1924 resulted in a temporary administration for the American congregations until such time as the Russian Orthodox Church had re-established its central church authority. The Living Church proceeded to establish a fierce and at times bloody rivalry with the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia (ROCOR), with both groups denouncing each other as uncanonical and schismatic.
However, the Living Church was fatally undermined when in 1927 Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhny Novgorod concluded his “alliance with Satan” by pledging the loyalty of the Russian Orthodox Church to the atheist Soviet Union. After this point, ROCOR became steadily more accommodating of Stalin’s regime while the Living Church was more isolated.
In 1943, Stalin disbanded the Living Church altogether and permitted the election of a new Russian Orthodox Patriarch. Most of the Living Church clergy in America joined ROCOR at this point, but a minority, including its married bishops, elected to continue under Metropolitan Nicholas Kedroff (1902-44), formerly Archbishop of North America and the Aleutian Islands in the Living Church. But his death the following year left his clergy stranded. When the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow convened to elect a Patriarch in 1945 these American clergy intended to be present and relations with them were among the subjects discussed.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the exigencies of the closing months of World War II, the American clergy were delayed in their travel itinerary and the Sobor reached its decisions in their absence, with the Patriarch of Moscow issuing an Ukase in February 1945. The Ukase determined that it would only recognize the Russian Orthodox Church in America if the latter would abstain “from political activities against the USSR” and effectively cede control of its affairs to Moscow. This demand reflected the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate was now hand-in-glove with the regime of Joseph Stalin, who would doubtless have relished the prospect of turning the American church into a KGB base on American soil. The Russian Orthodox Church in America considered the matter at the Cleveland Sobor of 1946 and responded by rejecting any further administrative control of their affairs by Moscow, while continuing the stance of explicitly not breaking communion that had also become the historical policy of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. Rather than submit to Moscow, they would instead seek paternal affiliation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the basis of the recognition of the autonomy that they had exercised since the Detroit Sobor of 1924.
It is from this recognition that the Church in Russia and indeed in Belarus had become irretrievably politicized through its accommodation of Communism that the ideology of opposition to it during the succeeding decades stems. In a letter of January 1970, Zhurawetsky wrote, “One hundred years ago the Almighty restored his true (Old) Catholic Church and has raised up modern prophets and Apostles to direct the work. Under the guidance of heaven, powers of priesthood have been brought back to earth by the ministry of angels. They did not come from any political unit.”[ix]
In 1950, the Standing Episcopal Conference of Orthodox Bishops was organized in the United States and canonically structured the following year. It was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch by letter of 4 April 1951.
The New York Times reports the formation of the Standing Episcopal Conference, 14 October 1950.
Letter of Archbishop Damaskinos of the Greek Diocese of the Western and Southern States of America to Bishop Peter Zhurawetsky concerning the formation of the Standing Episcopal Conference, 6 November 1950 (page 1)
The Standing Episcopal Conference was the first ecumenical body of Eastern Orthodox hierarchs in America and continues to exist today. It predates the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), formed in 1960, and the present Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, formed in 2010. Unlike those latter organizations, which have a purely consultative role, the Standing Episcopal Conference was a canonical synod with plenary jurisdiction. Through this act, the bishops expressed once more their non-acceptance of the stance of ROCOR which opposed all ecumenism with fellow Orthodox, even in the diaspora situation.
Letter of commendation of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Standing Episcopal Conference, 1951.
The first Moderator of the Standing Episcopal Conference was Metropolitan Joseph Klimovich, of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. Other member hierarchs were Metropolitan Fan S. Noli of the Albanian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Arsenios Saltas, Exarch in the United States of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, Metropolitan Nicholas Bohatyretz of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Archbishop Konstantin Jaroshevich of the Alexandrian Patriarchate and – admitted by ekonomia – Archbishop Josef Zielonka of the Polish Old Catholic Church of America and Europe. The new bishop Zhurawetsky was also a member; he had been consecrated to the Sacred Episcopate at Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, Springfield, Mass., on 15 October 1950, by Metropolitan Joseph Klimovich assisted by Archbishops Jaroshevich, Bohatyretz, Zielonka and Peter M. Williamovicz (of the Polish Old Catholic Church).
Consecration certificate of Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky
On 15 January 1951, the Standing Episcopal Conference incorporated the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America with Metropolitan Joseph Klimovich (1880-1961) and Bishop Peter Zhurawetsky as officers. Metropolitan Klimovich was elected the first Patriarch on 14 October 1950. He retired in 1957 and was succeeded by Bishop Peter as the second Patriarch. As Patriarch, Bishop Peter took the title Peter II. Bishop Peter had previously been raised to the archiepiscopacy on 14 March 1955 by Archbishop Jaroshevich and Bishop Miroslav Simonis of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ.
Archbishop Jaroshevich was a Belarusian by birth. He had come to the United States in search of a better life in 1910 and, after being converted by a street preacher in New York, spent four years studying at Johnson Bible College. He eventually returned to his homeland in 1921 and established a network of parishes. This work survived for some years, but official pressure under the Soviet Union forced most of the parishes into the Russian Orthodox Church after 1938.
Metropolitan Zielonka’s jurisdiction, the Polish Old Catholic Church, had formed in 1937 from a number of American parishes that wished to remain independent of the Polish National Catholic Church. Ultimately, they were united by their adherence to Western Orthodoxy and the Catholic faith, but did not accept the First Vatican Council of 1870 and so remained separate from Papal jurisdiction. Included in their number were not only Poles but also expatriate Lithuanians and Belarusians. The church concentrated mostly on pastoral outreach and by 1961 there were 22 affiliated parishes with most being located in New Jersey and some in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
On 17 December 1960, Metropolitan Zielonka passed to his eternal reward. He had previously named Bishop Zhurawetsky as his successor in a document of the previous year. Significantly, the original ethnic aspect of his mission had now become absorbed into a much wider Old Catholic mission “of both America and Europe”.Appointment of Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky by Metropolitan Joseph Zielonka, 31 October 1959.
During the reign of Patriarch Peter II, the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America continued to be paternally affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate through His All Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras I. Patriarch Peter II had changed the name of his jurisdiction inherited from Metropolitan Zielonka to Christ Catholic Church of the Americas and Europe in order to reflect its wider mission in December 1960. He was additionally elevated by the Holy Synod of Christ Catholic Church on 1 July 1962 to be Catholicos of the Old Catholic Church. He also served as President of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Catholic Churches of America. Of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America he would write many years later, “The aim of this Holy American Patriarchate of Eastern and Western tradition is to be a spring-board upon which all the independent groups of Catholics can unite to form a viable church with beliefs and principles of undivided Orthodoxy.”
Message of Patriarch Peter Zhurawetsky, 27 August 1988, published in Our Missionary, the Newsletter of the Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America, Inc., October-November 1988. Note mention of Archbishop Zeiger.
As Patriarch, Peter II was less concerned with establishing a network of parishes than with building what he believed to be his mission of creating a genuine American Orthodox Patriarchate out of the divided splinters that had resulted from many attempts to plant Orthodoxy there. This emphasis earned him heavy criticism from some of his more democratically-inclined clergy who believed in growing a church from the bottom up[x], but this did not deter Patriarch Peter. His belief was in benevolent autocracy as a traditional form of governance, and that it was of the first importance that those clergy looking for a hierarch under whom they could unify should be able to find one. Aware that his jurisdiction was one of few such bodies that represented canonical Orthodoxy, Patriarch Peter was sought out by many clergy over the years who came to form a large and sometimes unruly family under his paternal oversight. Today, there are many Orthodox churches both in the United States and beyond that can trace their origins to him. However, Patriarch Peter was wholly unconcerned with numbers of followers and accepted that his mission would always be to a widely dispersed congregation of diverse ministries. One important aspect of the administration of his Patriarchate was that he abolished the usual Eastern Orthodox practice of celibacy for bishops, holding this to be not a dogma of the Church but purely a matter of discipline that could be changed without compromise to the faith. His wife Emily died in July 1984.
The canonicity and validity of the acts of Patriarch Peter are unquestionable. As further evidence of this, two letters of recognition are of particular importance. The first was written by the Greek Orthodox Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, Nicolaos VI, in 1978. In it, he states “This Apostolic and Patriarchal Church of St Mark, following its long Tradition to receive similar appeals from Orthodox Churches and respond to them affectionately and motherly, recognizes you as a Canonical Bishop.”
The second letter was written by Metropolitan Ireney of the Orthodox Church of America in 1976[xi].
A further letter from Metropolitan Archbishop Alexis of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the USA makes several points regarding recognition of Patriarch Peter and the continuing position.
In 1993, inquiry into the validity of Patriarch Peter’s Holy Orders was made to the Rev. John S. Melnick of Canada, an expert in canon law and in Orthodox-Roman Catholic relations. His letter in response is as follows:
It can be seen that these affirmations prove that Patriarch Peter and those who derive their episcopate from him are considered valid both by Orthodox and by Roman Catholic standards.
The Byelorussian Orthodox Catholic Church (Belaruskaia Subozhnia) (BOCC) was designated by Patriarch Peter as the successor of the Byelorussian diasporan missions of Metropolitan Zielonka from 1960 onwards. In a very real sense, this small and impoverished church in exile had become the only true non-partisan embodiment of Byelorussian national consciousness. One of Patriarch Peter’s first actions was to appoint the Belarusian priest Fr. Vatslau Mateichyk as Apostolic Visitor for Byelorussian Catholics in the USA and Canada. He continued this work until 1964, when he emigrated to Europe. V.J. Kaye was of the view that the church during this period played an important role in the development of national consciousness among Belarusians in the Canadian diaspora[xii].
It is the collaboration between Patriarch Peter II and Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski (1925-78) that produced the revival of the true Byelorussian Church in exile during the later 1960s. Father Ryzy-Ryski was ordained priest of the underground Byelorussian Orthodox Church during the time of Soviet occupation. Forced into exile by his religious and political activities, he became highly active in the raising of national consciousness in diaspora. He became a member of the Rada (Council) of the Byelorussian Republic in Exile (Rada BNR), which represented the unsuccessful attempt to create a Byelorussian state in 1918[xiii]. Educated not only in his homeland but at the Sorbonne, the Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Madrid, he earned his Master of Theology degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. He founded the Byelorussian Association in Belgium and then became General Secretary of the Byelorussian Institute at Madrid Cultural European Exchange Centre. His publications include numerous studies of Belarusian monuments, constitutional history and culture.
Once he had settled in the United States, Father Ryzy-Ryski sought ecumenical contact with Orthodox jurisdictions that were prepared to help Belarus. He came into contact with Patriarch Wolodymyr (Walter Myron Propheta) (1912-72) of the American Orthodox Catholic Church, and joined that jurisdiction. The AOCC, which was incorporated in 1965, was another attempt to build an indigenous American Orthodoxy inspired by the earlier example of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh, 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. Since the AOCC was in communion with Patriarch Peter, this was the context in which he and Father Ryzy-Ryski first met. On 19 September 1965, Patriarch Wolodymyr and Patriarch Peter with other bishops consecrated Father Ryzy-Ryski to the Sacred Episcopate as Bishop of Laconia, New Hampshire and the New England States for the AOCC.
Patriarch Peter and Bishop Ryzy-Ryski quickly began to consolidate their joint work for Belarus. On Christmas Day 1965, Patriarch Peter elevated to the rank of Archbishop and consecrated Archbishop Ryzy-Ryski, to be the Apostolic Administrator of the Byelorussian Orthodox Catholic Church and the Holy Synod of SUBOZHNIA. Archbishop Ryzy-Ryski also served as Chancellor to the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America. In his role as Apostolic Administrator of the BOCC, Archbishop Ryzy-Ryski then presided over the election of Patriarch Peter to be Patriarch of the Byelorussian Patriarchate of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle (Беларускі Патрыярхат Сьвятога Апостала Андрзя). He established the first pro-Cathedral, called “Bielorussicum”, in Shrub Oak, New York.
In 1967, without leaving his other jurisdictions, Archbishop Ryzy-Ryski began a new mission, the American World Patriarchates, and was elevated as Patriarch Uladyslau I. This loosely-structured mission sought to create an international hierarchy of bishops and in the following years 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 Uladyslau spoke additionally of acting to “prevent the spiritual division of the Slavic Peoples dominated by the tyrannical Moscow Patriarchate” through the initiation of an All-Slavonic Patriarchate with his Ukrainian bishop Adam Bilecky (Or’Tata Bozh). This body made contact with the then-imprisoned Josyf Slipyj, patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Peter had taken further steps to strengthen the Byelorussian Orthodox Catholic Church. Unsurprisingly, Patriarch Peter would also look to aristocracy as a means of combining sacred and secular authority, holding that a prelate could also exercise the fons honorum as indeed many Eastern Orthodox patriarchs had done in former times. When in the late 1960s Patriarch Peter came into contact with the future Prince Kermit of Miensk, then the Revd. Kermit William Poling (1941-2015), he recognized that Prince Kermit’s genealogical descent from the first Belarusian and Polish monarchs, together with his religious vocation, could equip him to undertake an unique role. Prince Kermit had already received the commendation of the Ecumenical Patriarch in a letter of 27 July 1970.
On 1 November 1970, Patriarch Peter consecrated Prince Kermit to the Sacred Episcopate and appointed him to the position of Ecclesiast of All Byelorussia.
As a result, while Patriarch Peter remained its spiritual head, the executive functions of the Byelorussian Patriarchate of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle now derived upon Prince Kermit as head of its Holy Synod. At the same time, Patriarch Peter created and enthroned Prince Kermit as Prince of Miensk and Duke of Smolensk. These appointments placed Prince Kermit as the standard-bearer for the Royal Belarusian nation. Patriarch Peter accepted the Order of Ivan the Infante, the House Order of the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios reserved for members of the Royal Family, and became Exalted International Patriarch of the Holy and Blessed Order of the Sacred Cup until his retirement in favour of Prince Kermit in 1988.
[i] Full communion is the term used for churches under the overall jurisdiction of the Pope. However, as seen with some of the Eastern Catholic Churches, a church may be largely autocephalous under its own Patriarch and at the same time be in full communion with the Holy See.
[ii] Information about Zeiger and the other bishops is taken from Bain, Persson, Ward, Independent Bishops, op. cit. as well as from Karl Pruter and J. Gordon Melton, The Old Catholic Sourcebook, 1983, New York, Garland, and several booklet, newsletter and informational publications of Archbishops Zeiger and Zhurawetsky. All photographs reproduced are in the archives of the Western Orthodox University.
[iii] See history at https://denvercatholic.org/about/ and https://archives.archden.org/islandora/object/archden%3Adcreg “On August 11, 1905 the Denver Catholic Register was started by Thomas Casey who already ran the successful Catholic Register out of Kansas City. The first issues had little news on Denver focusing mainly on the happenings in Kansas City. The first issue was in fact known as the “Catholic Register of Denver” however by the next issue it had changed its name to the Denver Catholic Register. On December 8, 1910 the Catholic Publishing Society was formed and took control of the Register which then became the official paper of the Diocese.” retrieved 28 September 2020.
[iv] Archived at https://archives.archden.org/islandora/object/archden%3A8626 retrieved 28 September 2020.
[v] J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, article on Apostolic Catholic Church of the Americas, reproduced at https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eastern-liturgical-family-orthodoxy retrieved September 28 2020.
[vi] Bertil Persson, The Apostolic Successions of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, 1998, St Ephrem’s Institute, Solna, Sweden. p.60.
[vii] See https://orthodoxwiki.org/Christianization_of_Kievan_Rus retrieved October 20 2020.
[viii] Volodymyr Bureha, Accession of the Kyiv Metropolis to the Moscow Patriarchate: How it was (2008) retrieved from http://de.bogoslov.ru/text/print/315141.html January 4 2016.
[ix] Zhurawetsky, letter to Prince Kermit Poling de Polanie-Patrikios, 24 January 1970 (Original in Western Orthodox University Archives).
[x] For example, Bishop Karl Pruter in The Old Catholic Sourcebook.
[xi] The OCA is recognized by the Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish, Serbian and Czech and Slovak Orthodox Churches as an autocephalous jurisdiction, but not by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This further underlines the exceptional situation whereby Patriarch Peter was recognized both by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and by the OCA.
[xii] Kaye, V.J., Byelorussians of Canadian Origin in Revue de l’Université d’Ottawa XXX, 1960, pp.312-14.
[xiii] On 3 March 1918, Russia renounced sovereignty over Belarus to Germany under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On 9 March, within Russia, the Byelorussian People’s Republic was proclaimed but not effected. On 25 March the Rada of the BPR proclaimed independence in Minsk and asserted its right all of Belarus, but again this did not result in the cessation of control by Germany. On 27 March, the Rada claimed power and was forcibly shut down by the German authorities. On 10 December, Soviet Russia took Belarus and the Rada went into exile.
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