Remembering Metropolitan Leonty—The “Minneapolis Connection”

Met Leonty
Fr. Leonid Turkevich, 1907.

Metropolitan Leonty’s connection to Minneapolis relates to his work in three capacities: as pastor, seminary rector and hierarch.  From 1906 to 1912, Father Leonid Turkevich, a young recently ordained priest who had just arrived in America, was Rector of the newly established North American Orthodox Seminary, which stood across the street from Saint Mary’s Church, Minneapolis, MN, and for five of those six years, he also simultaneously served as Pastor of this parish.  Later, after being widowed, he served as Bishop (and Archbishop) of Chicago and Minneapolis from 1933 to 1950.  In fact, he was the first Orthodox bishop of Minneapolis.

On August 7, 1906, at the request of Archbishop Tikhon of the Aleutians and North America and by decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia, Fatjer Leonid was appointed Acting Rector of the fledgling seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In 1909, he would be confirmed as Rector.

One might ask how Archbishop Tikhon came to choose Father Leonid Turkevich to be the Rector for the North American Seminary that had been established a year earlier.  No correspondence has as yet been found that would speak to the reasons.  However, the two shared some close personal connections.  Father Leonid’s brother, the Priest Benedict, had been in America since 1898, serving as a reader until his ordination to the priesthood by Saint Tikhon in 1902.  By 1906, he was Rector of Holy Trinity Church in Yonkers, which is just north of New York City, the diocesan See.  Saint Tikhon was so close to Father Benedict and his family that he became godfather to one of Father Benedict’s children.  Another leading clergyman of the North American Diocese hailed from Kremenetz, like the Turkevich family.  Father Alexander Hotovitzky, the long-time Dean of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York City and editor of the diocesan publication The Messenger, was the son of the rector of the Volhynia Seminary, where Father Leonid’s father, Father Jerome Turkevich, was Dean of Students and where Fathers Benedict, Alexander and Leonid had all studied.  It is possible that Saint Tikhon knew of Father Leonid through Fathers Benedict and Alexander, who were among their Archbishop’s closest advisers.

On October 27, 1906, Father Leonid and his wife Anna reached the place of their new assignment.  What was this new seminary and what were the tasks before Father Leonid as head of the school?

In 1896, a three-story brick building had been constructed across the street from Saint Mary’s Church, where its parish center is now located, to house the Diocesan Missionary School, whose students numbered 122 by the time it was transferred to Cleveland in 1905 to make room for the new seminary envisioned by Saint Tikhon.  Several years earlier, a commission had been formed to study the need for and feasibility of a seminary in America.  As life in America and parish ethos differed greatly from those in Russia, the need for a seminary was great.  The flock in America needed indigenous priests who were educated locally, who did not need time to assimilate in America and to adjust to Church life here, only to leave in a few years.  Sending candidates for the priesthood from America to Russia for studies was also discounted, as it would be difficult for them to adapt to a foreign educational system even if they spoke the language.  After careful discussion throughout the diocese, Minneapolis was chosen as the location of the new seminary, since it had a suitable school building.  The Seminary opened in 1905 under the supervision of Father Constantine Popoff, Rector of Saint Mary’s parish.  However, the first Rector of the Seminary would be Father Leonid Turkevich.

Soon after arriving in Minneapolis and beginning his work directing the seminary, Father Leonid wrote of his thoughts and plans, noting the wise counsel Archbishop Tikhon had given him on a visit to Minneapolis, that the school should be based on the structure of seminary education in Russia, but adjusted to the needs of the local Church, so that the pastors it produced would be kind, worthy and knowledgeable leaders of their flock guiding them on the path to salvation.  Father Leonid further noted that the Archbishop told him that the work of the seminary would ultimately be guided by the developing realities of Church life.  As the Archbishop was leaving, he handed Father Leonid, who did not yet speak English, two books – a service book and a catechism – in English.  This gesture clearly reflected the missionary direction of the seminary.

Indeed, the daily liturgical services of the seminary, which took place at Saint Mary’s Church, were sometimes conducted in English.  Students were taught a great range of subjects, in addition to their theological studies.  They were encouraged to expand their cultural horizons with excursions to museums and concerts.  The aim of the school was to give them the practical tools to effectively minister to their flocks in America.  There was no attempt to “russify” the students, most of whom came from Slavic families who had emigrated from Austro-Hungary.  While preserving the core of Russian seminary curriculum at that time, teaching methods were somewhat modified to be in conformity with those used in America.  Some classes were taught in English.  Father Nathaniel Irvine, a former Episcopal priest who had converted to Orthodoxy, taught comparative religion with a focus on the American religious landscape.  There were courses in “Little Russian” (Carpatho-Rusyn) culture to enable the students to understand their ancestral culture and the culture of their future flocks.

In February 1907, just a few months after Father Leonid’s arrival in America, the First All-American Sobor was held in Mayfield, Pennsylvania.  Father Leonid’s bright intellect and erudition quickly placed him in the forefront among the North American clergy.  He had already become one of Saint Tikhon’s closest advisors and was elected Chairman of the Sobor, while Saint Alexander Hotovitzky served as Secretary.

At this and subsequent All-American Sobors, it was Father Leonid’s leadership and guiding voice that helped the Church to navigate stormy waters, holding fast to the vision of Saints Innocent and Tikhon for the Church’s mission in North America.  In his concluding remarks at the 1907 Sobor, underscoring the importance of this gathering, Father Leonid said, “May the Lord God, Who is glorified in the Holy Trinity, be praised for deigning this!  May He be praised for allowing us to come together at this Council, to get to know one another, and by the measure of our strength and discernment to come to the needed decisions.  Any betterment of these decisions, to strengthen them, will be worked on by our future Orthodox Councils, which, as all of us can see, are a necessity to meet at regular intervals again and again” [Американский Православный Вестник (subtitled in English as Russian Orthodox American Messenger), Vol. XI, No. 7, 1-14 April 1907, p. 122 (translation by A.L.)].

The final words of his remarks are today perhaps even more timely and meaningful for all Orthodox Christians in North America than they were a century ago: “Renewed in spirit, with faith and hope in God, may our Church grow and be courageous, pure, loving and strong in her unity; may she draw unto her bosom not only the Uniates, who are our brothers by blood, but advancing beyond the Russian race, may all those who live in America be drawn to the Holy Apostolic Church, so that here, there would be one flock and one Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory and majesty with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages” [Ibid, pp. 122-3].

The life of the seminary was closely intertwined with the parish.  Those faculty members who were clergy, including Father Leonid, assisted in ministering to the pastoral needs of the parish, while the seminarians bolstered the ranks of the choir and the serving acolytes.

Met Leonty
The Minneapolis Seminary with St. Mary’s Church [today a cathedral] in the background.

When Father Constantine Popoff and his family returned to Russia in 1907, Father Leonid, while continuing to head the seminary, was also named Rector of Saint Mary’s Church, which created an even closer bond between the seminary and the parish.

The original church building had burned down in 1904, and construction of the current church was completed before Father Leonid arrived in Minneapolis.  However, it was under Father Leonid’s direction that icons from Russia were installed in 1907 and new bells were purchased and installed in 1909.

In a reflection published for the 50th anniversary of Saint Mary’s parish in 1937, Father Leonid, who was by then Bishop Leonty, recounted the following story concerning the church’s bells: “As if to culminate all the grief and hardships, an incident occurred of a comical yet serious nature.  It was Easter Eve, 1909.  The church bells had begun to ring for Easter Evensong.  Whether it was due to the overexertion of the bell ringer, or whether it was time for the end, the bell in the tower went ‘Dong, dong,’ and crack!  Dead silence.  Then it was recalled how cheaply it had been bought, for only $40 from some bankrupt bell company in St. Louis.  Everybody knew it was of cast-iron and not copper, and they hoped it would last.  But it failed.  There was laughter and sadness a plenty.  The hour of the service drew nigh; the parishioners gathered outside, looking up at the familiar church tower, hopefully; but from up there, not a sound.  Old Reshetar or the active church-warden John Jaroscak, would come out and beckon and say ‘Come on, inside….”  The loss of the bell had affected everybody, and they seemed a little ashamed.  Collections were taken up in the homes.  Paul Podany contributed $300, John Korin $100, Simon Sivanich $100.  $700 was collected from the rest of the parish.  And thus, three new bells were bought.  They were blessed in 1909, when the snow was already on the ground.  The Greek Archimandrite, Father Alexander Kukulevsky and Father Nathaniel Irvine took part in the dedication services.  When for the first time the bells pealed joyfully, a smile broke upon the face of every listening man, woman, and child.  Everybody felt that now ‘everything was in order.’  The poor cracked bell was turned upside down, filled with black earth, and placed in the church yard, to serve as a flower urn.  And there it stands to the present day” [Golden Jubilee Album 1837-1937, St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, p. 31].

In his pastoral activity as parish Rector, while ministering with great care and sensitivity to the many and sometimes difficult pastoral needs of his flock as evidenced by his correspondence and reports, Father Leonid focused his attention on education, developing a variety of day, evening and Sunday school programs at different levels for children.  Partly in response to the opening nearby of Saint John the Baptist Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church, he also organized a Society of the Defenders of Orthodox Religious Life, dedicated to preserving splendor and proper order in Church services and calling on each member to pledge to live a truly Christian Life.  There were two divisions: youth aged 12 to 20 and adults over 20.  The members attended to various necessary tasks during the liturgical services or participated in charitable community activities.  It proved to be a wonderful witness for the parish.

Father Leonid also established a Russian Library Association named in honor of Archbishop Nicholas of Warsaw, who had been the diocesan bishop of North America before Saint Tikhon and, as such, had provided archpastoral guidance for the faithful of Saint Mary’s parish during its first years in Orthodoxy.  The Association promoted education and culture with discussion groups, the creation of a reading room and library and the formation of a theatrical troupe.

Father Leonid always showed great respect for the historical and spiritual significance of Saint Alexis Toth for the Minneapolis Orthodox community and the Church in America.  There is evidence that there was an ongoing, warm, fraternal correspondence between them.  The OCA Archives contain some letters from Saint Alexis to Father Leonid, but Father Leonid’s responses, if they still exist, have yet to be found.  When Saint Alexis reposed in 1909, Father Leonid conducted a memorial service at Saint Mary’s and delivered an inspiring eulogy during the service.

When Saint Mary’s parish was brought into Orthodoxy under Saint Alexis in 1891, 361 faithful were received.  During the years that Father Leonid was its Rector, the parish experienced tremendous growth.  In his report on the parish for 1907, Father Leonid listed 170 dues-paying families and 70 more who were unable to pay.  In his four full years (1908-11) at the head of the parish, there were 572 baptisms, 87 marriages and 119 funerals.  While these numbers include sacraments in surrounding mission communities, which were pastored by Father Leonid and the other Minneapolis clergy, these numbers exceed any other four-year period in the parish’s history.  One can only wonder how Father Leonid had time and energy for both parish ministry and his duties at the seminary.  Ironically, Father Leonid indicates that this growth of the parish was a contributing factor to the need to separate it from the seminary.

In 1912, with the shift in demographics of the Church to the East Coast, it was decided that the seminary should be more appropriately situated near the diocesan See in New York City.  The Minneapolis parish community was dismayed by this decision, as the presence of the seminary enriched the life of the parish.  Nevertheless, a property was purchased in Tenafly, New Jersey, and the seminary relocated there in the summer of 1912.  The school was soon named Saint Platon’s, in honor of the patron saint of Archbishop Platon, the diocesan hierarch who had succeeded Saint Tikhon in 1907.  It continued to function there until 1923, when financial difficulties and other turmoil caused by the 1917 Revolution in Russia forced its closure.

When the school moved to Tenafly, Father Leonid and Matushka Anna moved east with their growing family: three of their five children were born in Minneapolis.

In 1913, shortly after the seminary moved to New Jersey, Father Leonid submitted a report on Theological Education in America to Archbishop Platon.  His reflections were largely based on his experience at the Minneapolis Seminary.  Regarding the aims of seminary education, he wrote, “The missionary pastor must emerge from our seminary as the Apostle of Orthodoxy, the warrior for the Church of Christ on the American battlefield, fully capable in the best way possible to be simultaneously the guardian of the flock, its leader, the fighter for its interests, and the “speedy lasso” of love, concern and attentive care—the searcher after the sheep who have gone astray or have been rapaciously pillaged.  The systematic program of theological education in our seminary must be in conformity with these aims” [Published in English in a slightly abbreviated form in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Volume 9, Number 2 (1965), pp. 59-67].

Father Leonid continued as Rector of the Seminary until 1915, when he succeeded Saint Alexander Hotovitzky—who had returned to Russia—as Dean of the New York City Cathedral and as Editor of the American Orthodox Messenger (Vestnik), the Church’s official periodical.  He would continue serving in these positions until his elevation to the episcopacy in 1933.  The move to the East Coast inaugurated the period of Father Leonid’s greater involvement in service to the entire Church at the highest administrative echelons as a close adviser to hierarchs, as representative at the All-Russian Church Council, as chairman or leading voice at All-American Sobors, culminating in his consecration as bishop and eventual election as Metropolitan.

In 1917, Father Leonid was chosen to be one of two priests to represent the North American Diocese—alongside Archbishop Evdokim, the ruling hierarch—at the All-Russian Church Council in Moscow.  Interestingly, both of the priests representing North America at this Council had Minneapolis connections.  Father Alexander Kukulevsky, the other priest representative, had taught at both the Missionary School and the Seminary and, after his ordination in 1907, was Father Leonid’s assistant at Saint Mary’s for two years.

The Moscow Church Council was a landmark event, just as the First All-American Sobor had been a decade earlier, bringing together hierarchs, clergy and laity to address crucial issues of Church governance and ministry.  This was the first Church-wide council in Russia in nearly two and a half centuries.  At the Council, Father Leonid delivered a speech in which he argued vehemently in support of the restoration of the Patriarchal system of Church governance.  His arguments were based on his experience that the Russian Church’s missionary efforts abroad were being hindered by the general perception that the Church’s ties to the Russian state and that the state’s political goals were too strong.  Therefore, he advocated for a Patriarch at the head of the Church who would ensure the ecclesial character of the Church’s mission and thereby enhance the Church’s credibility.  The Council did, in fact, restore the Patriarchate, and Saint Tikhon, the former Archbishop of North America, who had established the Minneapolis Seminary, was elected Patriarch of Moscow, the first in over two hundred years.

After participating in the All-Russian Council, Father Leonid returned to America via Japan, having traversed Siberia where he witnessed the horrors that the newly established Bolshevik regime was inflicting upon the Church and the people of Russia.  The situation in Russia would soon create dire consequences for the Church in North America as well.  Communication between the North American Church and Church authorities in Russia became extremely difficult, and even impossible.

Due to the ever-deepening crisis of the Church in America, the Fourth All-American Sobor in 1924 declared the Church in America to be temporarily self-governing until such time as normal relations could be reestablished with the Church in Russia.  Father Leonid was the key figure in deliberations and drafting the documents adopted at the Fourth All-American Sobor.  For his far-sighted ecclesial vision, he was acknowledged as the “soul” of the Fourth Sobor.

As Dean of New York City’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral in the 1920s, he was confronted with litigation over the cathedral property by the schismatic “Archbishop” John Kedrovsky of the “Living Church.”  Incidentally, as Archivist I must acknowledge here a debt of gratitude to Father Leonid who, in his abiding concern for preserving the Church’s historical legacy, when the courts at one point granted the cathedral property to Kedrovsky, salvaged numerous priceless archival documents as he hastily complied with the order to vacate.  These documents are now preserved in the Archives of the Orthodox Church in America.  It is therefore to him that we owe the beginnings of the OCA Archives.

Following Matushka Anna’s death from tuberculosis in 1925, elevation to the episcopacy was almost immediately proposed to Father Leonid, but he rejected it initially out of commitment to the continued upbringing of his five children.  Eventually, in 1933, he accepted monastic tonsure with the name Leonty and was consecrated Bishop of Chicago and Minneapolis on July 10 of that year.  At that time, the bishops of various cities and regions throughout the North American continent were vicar or auxiliary bishops under the obedience of the Metropolitan of All America and Canada, who was the diocesan ruling hierarch.  It was only in the 1930s that these regional vicariates began to be transformed into dioceses.  This transition from vicariates to dioceses would not be completed throughout the Church until the 1960s.  Thanks to the energy and acumen of Bishop Leonty, the Vicariate of Chicago and Minneapolis was one of the first to take on a diocesan structure.  When he acceded to the Chicago and Minneapolis See, Bishop Leonty energetically undertook the organization of the region entrusted to him.  In order to foster unity and common purpose, frequent meetings of clergy from throughout the region were held to discuss and decide both administrative and pastoral issues.  In 1938, the Chicago Ecclesiastical Administration was renamed the Chicago Diocesan Council.  The Diocese was incorporated in 1945.

As the hierarch of the Chicago-Minneapolis Vicariate, Bishop Leonty would visit Minneapolis whenever he could, especially for anniversaries and other events.  Just after his consecration, he presided at a deanery meeting here, for example.  The Minneapolis community often addressed him on special concerns with parish life and he offered wise direction.

Bishop Leonty’s activities extended beyond the diocese.  He was recognized as a leader throughout the Church.  When Metropolitan Platon reposed and the Fifth All-American Sobor convened to elect his successor in November 1934, Bishop Leonty was widely viewed as a leading candidate for the primacy, though a hierarch for just over a year.  At that time, the Church did not have an established procedure for the election of its Metropolitan.  At the Council, there was extensive debate on how the Metropolitan should be elected.  In order to lead the Sobor delegates, who were caught in an impasse over electoral procedure, to a resolution, Bishop Leonty with characteristic humility proposed that the Sobor should simply acknowledge the senior hierarch, Archbishop Theophilus [Pashkovsky] as Primate of the North American Church.  The delegates concurred with a resounding “Axios.”

While continuing to shepherd the Orthodox flock in the Midwest until 1950, Bishop Leonty, was also Metropolitan Theophilus’ foremost assistant in guiding the North American Church.  He was a leading advocate at Sixth All-American Sobor in 1937 for the reinstitution of theological schools in the American Metropolia after nearly 15 years without one.  In fact, when Saint Vladimir’s Seminary and Saint Tikhon’s Pastoral School (later Seminary) opened the following year, an attempt undertaken by Archbishop Leonty to establish a third theological school in Chicago was also originally projected, but proved unfeasible.  Reprising his role as an educator, he would lecture at the seminaries and, from 1955 to 1962, would serve as Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary.  He oversaw the planning of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Orthodoxy in North America in 1944 and edited two historical volumes published for the jubilee.  In 1945, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.

When Metropolitan Theophilus died in 1950, Archbishop Leonty of Chicago and Minneapolis was elected Locum Tenens of the Primatial See.  In that capacity, he delivered a memorable address to open the Eighth All-American Sobor in December 1950, in which he highlighted the Church’s ongoing growth “from council to council” and affirmed the necessity of the Church’s continued autonomous existence, especially in view of the failed attempt at reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate due to the impossibility of accepting dictates from the Russian Church while it was controlled by a totalitarian regime.  He stressed that Divine Providence had rooted the Church in America and that her mission is to be a united, self-governing Church for all Orthodox Christians in North America, as envisioned by Saint Tikhon.

Met Leonty
Metropolitan Leonty after his election as Primate in 1950.

At the Eighth Sobor, it was clear that one hierarch stood far above the others in leadership qualities and in the length, breadth and depth of his experience in the Church in North America.  Indeed, when the primatial election took place on December 6, 1950, the second day of the Sobor, the clergy and lay delegates voted nearly unanimously for Archbishop Leonty of Chicago and Minneapolis as Primate, and the vote was immediately confirmed by the canonical election of Metropolitan Leonty by the Great Council of Bishops.

As his two immediate successors as hierarchs of the Chicago and Minneapolis Diocese were not as adept as he had been in their archpastoral care, he still received correspondence from Minneapolis concerning parochial problems, to which he always responded in an attentive and heartfelt manner.  He was always warmly received when he visited Minneapolis as Metropolitan for special celebrations.  It is clear that Minneapolis held a special place in his heart until the end of his life and that the faithful in Minneapolis had a special love and respect for their former pastor.

Following the failed attempt at reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate in 1947, Metropolitan Leonty and all the hierarchs of the Metropolia were considered to be under suspension by the Patriarchate.  In 1963, a door was cracked open towards healing the Metropolia’s painful separation from the Russian Church when Metropolitan Leonty received with brotherly love hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate who were in America for an ecumenical meeting.  This gesture led to further dialogue and, several years later, to official negotiations culminating in the granting of autocephaly by the Russian Church to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970.  Although Metropolitan Leonty did not live to see his vision for the Church in America fulfilled in the granting of autocephaly, his eldest son, Father John Turkevich, who was born in Minneapolis, was a member of the OCA delegation that received the Tomos of Autocephaly in Moscow in 1970.

After nearly 60 years of service to the Church in America, including 15 as Primate, during a period fraught with division and dissension most painful to the peaceful hierarch and contrary to the vision to which he held fast of “one flock, one shepherd,” one united Orthodox Church in North America, Metropolitan Leonty reposed peacefully in the Lord at his residence in Syosset (Oyster Bay Cove), NY on May 14, 1965.  He was buried at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

Throughout his life, he wrote extensively, particularly articles for Church periodicals and sermons on a broad spectrum of topics.  He also composed thousands of poems on diverse subjects, from feastdays, to memorial tributes, to places he visited, to literature, to biblical themes.  Unfortunately, little of his writing has been translated into English.  Among the various honors he was accorded, one of the most notable was the Imperial Order of Saint Anna, Second Degree, in 1912 in recognition of his work in Minneapolis.

Metropolitan Leonty’s legacy and his message to us was perhaps best summarized by Father Thomas Hopko in a tribute he wrote in 1990 on the 25th anniversary of Metropolitan Leonty’s repose:  “Metropolitan Leonty’s meaning and message were simple and clear.  The Orthodox Church in North America must be the Church and nothing but the Church.  It must serve God alone.  It must exist only for people’s salvation.  It must be contaminated by no political, ethnic, ecclesiastical or ideological causes of any sort.  It must have the best educated and most devoted leadership.  It must be fully conciliar (sobornal) at every level of its life and mission.  It must be free, joyful, open, honest, full of hope and fearlessly magnanimous to friend and foe alike.  Its rhetoric and its reality must be one and the same.  It must be single-mindedly consecrated to serving God and people of every nationality and race in the place where the Lord has put it” [Archpriest Thomas Hopko, A Person of Authentic Piety and Prayer, in The Orthodox Church, May-June 1990 (Vol. 26, No. 5-6), p. 9].

I would like to conclude with these final words of Father Alexander Schmemann’s eulogy at Metropolitan Leonty’s funeral:  “It is… a glorious day.  So much love, so much light, so much holiness have been given to us by God!  And it depends on us to make them the foundation of our life, the starting point of a new era.  And as we now, in faith and gratitude, take leave of our beloved Father, we can in joy and confidence address to him the eternal words of the Paschal Liturgy: Christ is risen and no dead are in the grave; Christ is Risen and life triumphs.  Through the prayers of our blessed Father, teacher, and Bishop Leonty, O Christ, Son of God, help us to continue steadfast in the way that Thou has revealed in him.  Amen” [Archpriest Alexander Schmemann, funeral sermon, The Legacy of Metropolitan Leonty,  in The Orthodox Church, June-July, 1965 (Vol. 1, No. 6), p. 7].