His Grace Bishop Boris (Geeza) of Chicago and the Midwest
His Grace, Bishop Boris (Geeza) was born in 1923 in Portage, Pennsylvania. His father, Very Rev. Theodore Geeza, was a priest in the Orthodox Church, and came from Loschia near the Austrian Hungarian border. His mother Mary was born in the United States. Boris and his twin sister Vera were the third and fourth of six children.
"Ever since I can remember I was in church, singing and chanting in English and Slavonic," says Bishop Boris. "Any kind of success I owe to father and mother who pulled, pushed and nurtured us in Church," he smiles. "We were blessed to be in the Church as a family, in worship, love, laughter and sadness. All of us became active, in administrative, spiritual or liturgical work. Growing up it never even occurred to me to leave the Church. It is my life – sacred to me."
Young Boris graduated from High School in 1941 and went to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and Columbia College at Columbia University in New York. "Classes were in Russian till Professor Fedotov came and taught in English. I received my B.A. at Columbia College and began dating Helen Korba from Yonkers, New York. We were married August 4, 1946 in Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. I had directed the choir in seminary, and after graduation was choir director at All Saints Orthodox Church in Garfield, New Jersey. I requested ordination and hoped to serve with my father in the Holy Altar. It was not to be. He died in April 1947, I was ordained in May."
Their first parish was Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in Weirton, West Virginia, where Fr. Boris taught the choir, organized Sunday School and started services in English. "After six year I felt I had built up the parish and it was time to move on. I visited a navy chaplain in Bainbridge, Maryland, and fell in love with the Navy. Helen was pregnant with our second child and stayed in New Jersey while I went to Chaplain School in Newport, Rhode Island, and on to serve at San Diego Naval Training Center. Helen followed with the children. It was 1953 and I remember driving the Pacific Coast Highway, seeing the blue ocean and knowing this is where I would want to come back, God willing.
"Nine months later I was sent to Japan to serve with the 3rd Marine Division. I spent 23 years as navy chaplain, 17 years with the Marines. The most spiritually rewarding of all my endeavors was during the war in Vietnam. For thirteen months I flew from camp to camp, visiting the sick and wounded, burying the dead. I contacted the commanding officers letting them know I was there and that Orthodox soldiers needed the Eucharist and services of a priest. I made my own prosphora in the Marine mess hall. I remember a young Orthodox soldier at the Divine Liturgy – the next day I saw him on a cot without legs. It was service in life and death situations – and I believe wonderful in the eyes of God.
"One of my most memorable Paschas was in DaNang, Vietnam. I wrote the parents of Orthodox soldiers back in the United States, suggesting they send food for the Feast. The response was great – we received gifts from all over the country. 75–80 Orthodox soldiers received passes to come. They were in uniform – singing ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!’ What a wonderful Paschal celebration!"
In 1966 Father Boris returned from Vietnam to Helen and the children in Quantico, Virginia. Their next duty station was Camp Pendleton and they bought a house in Carlsbad. Young Boris spent a year as an AFS student in Austria and Helena was planning to go when tragedy struck. "My wife was in our garden picking flowers when she cried out and collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital, but died a week later – on Holy Friday, 1971. She was buried on Bright Tuesday. My son and daughter and I made a pact – from that year on, nothing would part us from each other at Pascha."
The funeral was held in the chapel at Camp Pendleton. "My brother Gene was choir director in Encino, and came with his entire choir to sing for us. The Chapel was filled with clergy – military and civilian, friends and family. Bishop Dimitri came from Texas.
No more than two weeks later the question was asked: "When are you becoming bishop?" Bishop Boris shakes his head. "I was a prime candidate; had the education and experience in the priesthood. But I wanted to stay put till my children had completed their education. Boris graduated from UCSD with a degree in languages. Helena got her degree in music, music therapy and special education.
"In 1975 I retired from the U.S. Navy and worked with the Chancery of the OCA in New York, serving various parishes – all the while going back and forth over the question: ‘You’re going to be bishop’, ‘I don’t want to be bishop’. Seeking the answer and God’s will, I spent time alone in New Hampshire, fishing, playing golf and praying. After two months I decided: ‘I am ready. I will give a certain time of my life to the Church in whatever capacity. Use me as You want – if I am worthy enough to be bishop’."
In 1976 Fr. Boris was sent to San Francisco to succeed Fr. Sergei Glagolev as dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral and Chancellor of the Diocese of the West. A year later the Holy Synod met and elected him bishop. He was consecrated in the cathedral in Chicago on the Marine Corps birthday in November 1978, and appointed to the see of Chicago, Diocese of the Midwest.
"With that began a tumultuous, fast paced life as bishop, serving 65 parishes. I visited every one once a year, and some that needed it more, twice. I inaugurated the newspaper The Vigil and many departments in the Church, developed Sunday schools and retreats. I felt it was important for parishes to support an annual retreat for priests. I served on the Synod committee of bishops that was instrumental in changing from the old calendar to the new in OCA."
At 65, Bishop Boris retired and returned to his beloved California. His sister Vera lived in North Hollywood and her daughter, Vickie was married to Father Alexander Federoff who was now the priest in Poway, CA. "I came to St. John of Damascus in December 1988 and chose to attach myself here." Bishop Boris smiles: "I am retired, without authority and jurisdiction, but I have found this to be one of the finer experiences of my life. I live here with the people and the priest, grow together with them, experience joys and sorrows of life as given us by the Lord Himself." He nods: "I don’t wish I was twenty – I enjoy where I am – this is life itself. Leave that which you have gone through, go on to what lies ahead. One of these days you will meet your Maker. He will accept you as you are. I rest with a good conscience.
From His Beatitude Theodosius, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, came greetings:
"Your Grace, Bishop Boris, beloved brother in the Lord: . . . Your service has been, in a sense, a microcosm of all the ways in which pastoral ministry can be manifested in the Church . . . You have labored much and sacrificed . . . worked long and hard for the building up of the Orthodox Church. . . We are grateful and thankful . . . and wish you many, many more years of faithful and fruitful service in Christ’s Holy Church. . ."
St. John of Damascus (Poway, CA) Monthly Newsletter, July 1997