Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Metropolitan Leonty

Born in 1876 in Kremenetz, Volhynia (Western Russia) in the family of a priest, Leonid Turkevich, the future Metropolitan, followed the classic way of Russian "clerics." After seminary studies in Volhynia, he enrolled at the Kiev Theological Academy and upon graduation in 1900 began a teaching career in ecclesiastical schools. He occupied teaching positions as a layman at the seminaries of Kursk, in central Russia, and Ekaterinoslav, in the Ukraine. In 1905, after his marriage with Anna Chervinsky, he was ordained to the holy priesthood at the monastery of Pochaev and chose to succeed his father in the humble position of parish priest in Kremenetz. He thought of becoming a missionary in Persia, in the newly established Mission of Urmia, among the remains of the ancient Nestorian Church, part of which had joined Orthodoxy, but his missionary zeal was to be channeled into another direction.

In 1906, the young and dynamic Bishop of the American Diocese, Tikhon, found in him a suitable candidate for the responsible and pioneering post of Rector of the newly established Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He arrived in the United States in October 1906, and after that, his life was totally identified with the life and growth of the American Church. As Rector of the Seminary in Minneapolis and, after 1912, in Tenafly, New Jersey, he was the father of Orthodox pastoral education in America. As editor, from 1914 until 1930, of the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger, he was the Church¼s main spokesman and "ideologue." As dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral and member of the Consistory, he was the main advisor of the ruling bishops. Together with Father Alexander Kukulevsky, he represented the American Church at the Great Sobor in Moscow in 1917ć1918. He always enjoyed telling the story of how he thus received an opportunity to introduce at the Sobor a motion which led to the election of Tikhon ć his former diocesan bishop and close friend ć as Patriarch of Moscow. Upon his return to America ć through Siberia and Japan ć Father Turkevich went through the trying experience of church dissensions which he was to combat for the next several decades. As one of the main leaders of the Detroit Sobor in 1924, he became the chief architect of the Church¼s autonomy, based on the decisions of the Moscow Sobor. Widower since 1925, he was consecrated Bishop of Chicago in 1933. Thus, from the time of Archbishop Tikhon and for nearly half a century, he was at the center of the Church¼s life, and his election as Metropolitan in 1950 was a natural crowning of that total commitment. The formula of St. Cyprian of Carthage, "the Church is in the Bishop and the Bishop is in the Church," has seldom had a more adequate proof of its veracity.

What, however, distinguished Metropolitan Leonty from many of his "immigrant" contemporaries and colleagues, was his vision of American Orthodoxy, of the particular destiny and vocation of the Orthodox Church in the New World. He developed that vision long before the tragic events of 1917-1918 "forced" it, so to speak, on the Church, at a time when the very idea of the universal, transnational nature of Orthodoxy was virtually absent from Orthodox consciousness not only here but everywhere. Already in 1916, in his article on "The Tasks of Orthodoxy in North America," he affirmed his conviction that it is in America "that the Orthodox Church will manifest its universality in all its strength, reveal her creative ability organically to integrate all elements composing her. . ." and spoke of the future autocephaly. At the same time, having witnessed the revolutionary chaos in Russia and also the creative response to it of the Russian Church at her historic Moscow Sobor, he returned to America a convinced partisan of the sobornost, the active participation in, and responsibility for, the life of the Church of all her members, laity as well as clergy. He saw no contradiction between his unfaltering loyalty to his Russian roots, to the ideals and inspiration of Russian Orthodoxy and his commitment to a great and permanent and truly "universal" Orthodox Church in America. The latter was for him the true goal and the self-evident fulfillment of the Russian mission. If this vision made him eminently qualified to lead the Church through a difficult time of transition, it is his truly unique charisma of pastoral patience and generosity that assured the ultimate success of this transition, made it into an organic rather than critical process. His mere presence, quite often silent and apparently "non-committal," had a deeply pacifying effect on the passions and controversies which were raging around him. It is as if understanding all points of view, seeing the partial truth of each of them, he transcended all of them, preserving within himself the unity and the "wholeness" of the Church which so often were endangered by human passions. No one who attended it will ever forget his funeral in May 1965, at the New York Cathedral and then St. Tikhon¼s Monastery. On that day one almost physically felt a renewed gift of unity, a new and wonderful reality of the Church, which our old Father in Christ left with us as he was called to God.

Alexander Schmemann
"Orthodox America: 1794-1976"