by the Orthodox Church in America


The Archdiocese of Canada, also known for several decades as the Orthodox Church in Canada, is a territorial diocese of the Orthodox Church in America (before 1970 known as the Russo-Greek Catholic Orthodox Church). It is the continuation of the Russian Orthodox Mission which began in Alaska in the Russian Empire in 1794, and which began serious missionary work in Canada with newly-arrived immigrants from 1897. In its earliest days, this mission, like its USA parent, was intended by its mother church to minister to all the Orthodox on the territory, regardless of language or national heritage, in the usual Orthodox manner. That we exist now, in 1998, as one of many overlapping dioceses on the same territory is the abnormal result of political turmoil at the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. Yet it is, in this second century of Orthodox mission in Canada, that we seriously search for ways to recover the natural unity in Christ.

The roots of the Orthodox Church in Canada as a whole, and of the Archdiocese of Canada in particular, lie in the missionary service of the Orthodox Church in the Russian Empire. In the 1870s there were already some services in Lennoxville Québec, at Bishops University. Priests travelled from the USA to care for a community of Syro-Lebanese Christians. It was not, however, until the summer of 1897 that the lasting missionary presence was established with the serving of the Divine Liturgy and other sacraments at Stary Wostok (“Old East”) Alberta, some 110 km north-east from Edmonton. There, immigrants from what is now western Ukraine had been establishing themselves since 1891.

It was Father Dimitri Kamnev who served both at Stary Wostok, and at Rabbit Hills, south-west from Edmonton, at the farms of Theodore Nimirsky and Theodore Fuhr, respectively. This work was taken up agin the following year with the blessing of newly-built temples, and the receiving of many converts by Fr. Vladimir Alexandrov. At the same time, Father Nestor Dmitriwa, accomplishing similar work, served the first liturgy at Star, in its new temple. Soon after, Father Michael Malyarevsky made the beginnings with immigrants in Winnipeg, rural Manitoba, and what is now Saskatchewan. Father Jacob Korchinsky was the first of many permanent priests, beginning at St Barbara’s in Edmonton. In 1901, Bishop (now Saint) Tikhon consecrated three churches in Alberta. In 1903, Bishop Tikhon visited Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and incorporated, in the person of the Bishop, the Church in the Northwest Territories: Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1904, Bishop Tikhon extended the foundations with another visit, and consecrated St Barbara’s Church in Edmonton, and Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg. It was then also, that Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) was consecrated Bishop of Brooklyn, and opened the way for permanent care for Syrian/Lebanese parishes in Canada. In 1907, Father Feofan Buketov, with Archbishop Platon, established and incorporated Sts Peter and Paul Church in Montréal, Québec. Other parishes were established also, over the years, in many places across the country (although chiefly on the prairies), and many converts were received into Orthodoxy.

In 1914, with the beginning of World War I, many Orthodox were in the Armed Forces of Canada, and were cared for by the first Canadian Orthodox Chaplain, Father John Ovsyanitsky. The first attempt at a seminary was by Father Vladimir Sakovich in Montréal in 1915. By this time also in the west, some schools and monastic communities had been organised. Missionary outreach continued, supported still by the Russian Mission Society. In 1916, Canada received its own, first, resident bishop, Bishop Alexander, and Christ the Saviour Church was established in Toronto, Ontario.

In 1917, the revolution in Russia produced turmoil in North America, as the Mission here was left without any resources from its mother church. Many difficulties arose, and the church, which before had been almost a single unit, in order to survive, began to divide according to national lines, a condition which lasts to the end of this century. Thus, in 1919, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada was organised in Winnipeg, followed in 1921 by the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1924, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese was founded. There were for some years also some irregular administrations. Meanwhile, the Russo-Greek Catholic Orthodox Church continued to be administered from the United States with a series of its own bishops, and for many years with clergy often present for short pastorates from the USA. Like its parent in the USA, the Canadian diocese continued to struggle with the complete absence of any financial support for its life, other than that provided by the local (and often penurious) faithful—a significant challenge for an orphaned mission left to its own devices before the normal time.

In 1926, Archimandrite Arseny (Chahovtsev) was consecrated bishop of Winnipeg and Canada. He was an outstanding preacher, pastor, teacher, monastic founder, and parish visitor. His mark and memory remain with the Diocese to this day. In 1927, Bishop Emmanuel (Abu-Hatab) was consecrated for the Canadian Syrian communities in this diocese. In 1928, Bishop Arseny established a pastoral school in Sifton, Manitoba, at Holy Ascension Monastery. In 1933, Holy Protection Skete was founded in Bluffton, Alberta. By 1934, there were established six provincial deaneries. In 1936, a Romanian Episcopate was founded for North America, and continued the care of a portion of the Romanian parishes in Canada. In 1937, Archbishop Arseny, having been wounded by gunfire, retired to Pennsylvania, and founded St Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan at St Tikhon’s Monastery (which he had also founded) in 1938. In that year, Bishop (later Archbishop) Ioasaph was assigned to Canada, and lived in Edmonton.

In 1940, Canada became a distinct diocese. During the course of World War II, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church cared for the many Orthodox in the Armed Forces with four chaplains. In 1946, St Andrew’s College was opened by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Winnipeg. In 1947, it was decided to divide Canada into three parts, and Bishop Anthony (Tereshchenko) was appointed as the first step. His death six months later halted all plans. In 1950, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church received Metropolitan Ilarion, and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad established a separate administration for itself. In 1951, Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich) of New York tried to further the previous plan of triple administration in Canada, and in 1951, Bishop Nikon (deGrève) was appointed for Canada. He was a very active visitor in the parishes from his base in Toronto. In 1952, Bishop (later Archbishop) Nikon and Father John Diachina established another short-lived pastoral school in Toronto. In 1954, the Diocese of Canada was declared an Archbishopric by the Great Council of Bishops in the USA. By 1955, there were more new parishes in Ontario and Québec, and some new churches built, such as that in Vancouver. In 1958, Archbishop Nikon retired because of ill-health. In 1960, the Romanian Episcopate was received into the OCA, This episcopate today cares for over twenty parishes in Canada, mostly in the prairie provinces.

In 1961, Bishop Anatoly (Apostolov) was consecrated bishop of Montréal and all Canada. Bishop Anatoly had come from Greece, found the Canadian climate too harsh, and soon retired and returned to Greece.

In 1963, Bishop (later Archbishop) Sylvester (Haruns) was brought from Nice, France to serve the Archdiocese. He would serve as ruling bishop for almost thirty years. In the course of these years, the Archbishop made many pastoral visits, and faced many practical obastacles as a faithful pastor. From 1950 until 1990 the main obstacle faced by all bishops is an acute shortage of clergy, and as Archbishop Sylvester observed, especially of those who could speak and serve in English. This particular lack would produce during these years a considerable loss to the diocese, from which there is recovery only now in the current decade. In the course of his episcopate, Archbishop Sylvester also served the Orthodox Church in America in various capacities, and most notably as Administrator of the OCA during the illness of Metropolitan Iriney (Bekish). In 1968, Bishop Ioasaph (Antonuk) was consecrated as Bishop of Edmonton, to be the auxiliary bishop in the west for Archbishop Sylvester. He lived in the Edmonton area for a time, and then moved to Vancouver where he served also as Rector of Holy Resurrection Church until his death in 1978. In 1970, the Russian Orthodox Church granted to its daughter mission Church in North America the right of full self-government, and granted the new name: Orthodox Church in America. In the same year St Herman of Alaska was canonised in Alaska. In 1972, St Herman’s pastoral school was opened in Kodiak, Alaska. In 1977 the fifth All-American Council was convened in Montréal, and Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) was elected to head the OCA to succeed Metropolitan Iriney. From this time a series of new missionary communities and a monastic community began to appear in Edmonton, Montréal, Rawdon, Ottawa, Kingston and Vancouver, all under the blessing of Archbishop Sylvester, together with the ordination of several convert clerics.

In 1981, after eighteen years of bearing many burdens both for the Archdiocese and the Central Administration of the OCA’s Holy Synod, Archbishop Sylvester decided to retire. Metropolitan Theodosius became the administrator of the diocese for nine years, following in the footsteps of both Metropolitans Iriney and Leony before him in this capacity. Missionary ventures continued to appear, and there was a renewal of diocesan life and structure under his wise leadership, which led to the election of a new bishop, Seraphim (Storheim) in 1987 to be Bishop of Edmonton and Auxiliary to the Metropolitan for the Archdiocese. In 1990 he was elected and installed as the Ruling Bishop of the Archdiocese as Bishop of Ottawa and Canada. During the ensuing years there has, by God’s blessing, been a steady growth and redevelopment of the Archdiocese. There has also been by the same blessing a renewal of communication and fraternal cooperation with all the other Orthodox in the country.

In the course of all these years, because of the separations engendered by the 1917 revolution, there has been a maintenance of Orthodox life in Canada mostly along national/linguistic lines. Besides the OCA’s Archdiocese of Canada, we, the overall Orthodox Church in Canada, include the Greek Metropolis of Toronto, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Parishes of the Romanian Patriarchate, and the parishes of the Romanian and Bulgarian Episcopates of the OCA. This division of administration and the resulting overlapping jurisdiction of the seven (at present) canonical bishops on the same territory is an abnormality in Orthodox ecclesiology. We progress with God’s help in overcoming these artificial divisions, and look with anticipation to the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in 1998 to add direction and blessing to our desires and efforts to take the small steps toward one day being visibly one.