Voices from Russia

Monday, 31 August 2015

31 August 2015. A Young Friend Castigated Me About Nicholas Smiško…

01 Metropolitan Nicholas Smisko of Amissos


A young friend castigated me about Nicholas Smiško. Well, it was one of those “imperfect choices”… it was him or Michael Dahulich. I think that ACROD made the right choice (and the OCA the wrong one). Here’s something from someone far better suited than I am to speak to the matter, mostly on Bishop John Martin, Nicholas’ predecessor:

Bishop John Raymond Martin (1931-84) grew up in a very strong pro-Catholic environment, attending the Roman Catholic seminary in Lisle IL, about 1951 (maybe, the Uniates didn’t have theirs up yet?) He served as chancellor of some Catholic diocese in California and was starting to attend graduate school, claiming he was only “one thesis away from a doctorate in theology”, which of course means that he was nowhere near, since a thesis is what you do for a doctorate!

He jumped ship in 1966 to the ACROD when (to his own everlasting regret) Vicar General Peter Molchany of the ACROD, who I think may have baptised JRM in 1931 when Molchany was still Greek Catholic, talked JRM into coming over to be a bishop. There was a string of carpetbaggers starting in 1963, when Bishop Orestes Chornock (1883-1977) turned 80 and the powerbroker priests (Yurcisin, Molchany, Zeleniak) wanted to phase him out and get someone else in. Ironically, Bishop Orestes lived to 94! Maybe, he was stubborn. The attempt to do so caused much turmoil among those who were loyal to Bishop Orestes. In 1963, the first assistant bishop was an elderly retired OCA priest, Fr Peter Shymansky, who passed away 6 months later after consecration. Then, in 1964, they talked Orthodox Bishop Methodius Kancuha from Czechoslovakia into abandoning his diocese and coming here, but this caused major problems and he went back in disgrace after 6 months. The thinking in 1966 was that maybe a young educated American-born person would avoid those two sets of problems and last longer than 6 months. JRM fit the bill, or so they thought!

He was extremely arrogant and vain, thinking he was the smartest thing on two legs. He treated people badly if he didn’t like them, for no good reason, and was very controlling. One thing people heard him say was that he couldn’t stand “DPs” (“displaced persons” immigrants) and wanted nothing to do with them. He never could stand people who were proud of their national origin, especially Russians, and I always thought it odd that he disdained the very ones who had lost their homes and lived in the camps after World War II, but were proud of their Russian heritage. Amazingly, he let this overt prejudice poison his attitude to anyone who had ANY connection to Eastern Europe of any sort. He refused to accept into the ACROD several priests from Czechoslovakia who were able to get permission to leave, and who would have been nice additions to the Diocese. They went to the OCA instead. For an even more bizarre example, he disdained diocesan priests educated in pre-war Czechoslovakia, which had absolutely nothing to do with post-war camps. One priest he disdained was a long-time priest in Pittsburgh who was American-born, but went there for seminary in the 1930s. Another one was born in America, but grew up in Czechoslovakia , but returned to the USA. Again, before the post-war camps. Many priests left the Diocese and not deal with him (1966-84).

Years later, Fr Molchany repented of his unwise manoeuvring to get John Martin in as bishop, and even tried in the early 1980s to get a council of priests together to do something, but (rumour goes) by then most priests feared the idea of taking on Bishop John, who was known to call up and verbally abuse those whom he wished. No one would dare face him one on one or risk being seen as disloyal. It’s the strong belief among some (but this is all secret) that his premature death from a heart attack at a parish dinner in 1984 saved the Diocese (he had a history of heart attacks, including a massive one back in 1973, which was actually kept secret). I heard that it was a certainty that in 1985, when Fr Michael Dahulich would have turned 35, the traditional earliest age for consecration, Bishop John would’ve consecrated him as assistant for the ACROD, to be a younger version of himself. Had that happened, who knows what would’ve happened. The poor faithful Carpatho-Russians deserved better, and wouldn’t you know it? All worked out by the mysterious workings of Providence.

Of course, that’s why we have a Greek bishop, even though the ACROD contacted multiple qualified people, both in America and in Europe, and no one seemed interested due to its smallness (although in some cases there other reasons as well, but I have minimal information since the process was kept secret, going so far as to forbid priests to talk with laymen about it). In that same regard, this new one also believes he is smarter than everyone else is, having been a research scientist before his new path. Like I always say, if I didn’t believe Orthodoxy is the absolute ultimate truth, one might despair!

My reply was:

It does explain why Dahulich was so insistent on trying for the white hat at the last OCA Sobor. If he’s 65 now, the chances of his having another shot are next to nil. Yet… it explains much about him. Dahulich didn’t want to be a bishop in the ACROD… it was too small a compass for him (he was like Hopko from Endicott… jumping to the OCA for ambition’s sake). Dahulich is lying low on the marriage issue… I hear that he’s marshalling his troops, though. They’ll be trouble, no doubt, before it’s over. However, he’s no Reardon… he’s NOT going to do anything stupid. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Somebody was insistent that I post a gushing encomium of Martin. I always ask around… once burnt, twice cautious, ya know…

So, Nicholas Smiško wasn’t the “best choice”… but he was “better than the available alternative”… that’s often why so many seeming drones get in. Drones are better than over-ambitious power-hungry people with agendas. Do note this… two groups turned down Dahulich for the white hat… both the OCA and the ACROD. I find that significant. He’s someone whom you should never your back upon. I’ve met him… his personal aura is that of a “cold fish” with no real interest in anyone not of his faction. Remember, he was an EP man and has a papist PhD… I doubt that he has any real Russian Orthodox creds whatsoever (note how he counsels his young smitten and besotted disciples to wear Greek, not Russian, vestments).



Thursday, 8 January 2015

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas in Saint Clair PA

russian orthodox bellringers


On Wednesday, it was a white Christmas for those who celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ at St Michael the Archangel Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Saint Clair PA. The snow that fell on Christmas Eve provided a beautiful scene for the actual holy day. Families and individuals came to the church in the morning with the temperature at about 15 degrees and snow blowing from roofs and along streets. About 70 people who attended the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom on Orthodox Christmas; they wouldn’t have missed it for cold weather or snow to be part of celebrating the birthday of Jesus. Whilst Christmas is 25 December according to the Gregorian calendar, St Michael parish, which follows the Julian calendar, celebrates the holy day on 7 January. The church is part of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.

One could hear “Merry Christmas” from time to time, but many people gave the traditional Orthodox greeting of “Christ is born!” or “Christos Razhdayetsya!”, with a joyful response of “Glorify Him!” or “Slavite Yego!” Members of the St Michael Choir led by dirigent Barbara Verbitsky sang hymns in English and Rusin before the Divine Liturgy. The choir also chanted many of the responses throughout the liturgy, which they sung “a cappella”, without musical instruments. Fr Jeff L Zias, pastor, celebrated the Divine Liturgy. At the start of the liturgy, Zias incensed the ikonostas, or icon screen, then, walked down the centre aisle, incensing the congregation. At the back of the nave, he incensed the icons of Christ Pankrator, Mary the Godbearer, and St Michael the Archangel, the patron of the parish.

According to Orthodox teaching, the birth of Jesus is of tremendous importance to eternal salvation, because through his birth, God gave us the food of life eternal, which is his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They give very little importance to the exchange of gifts or to any commercial thought. Orthodox Christians rejoice on Christmas Day because Christ is in their midst, a newborn child with outstretched arms begs for his love, and he returns this love in his God, his neighbour, his family, and to his country.

After the Epistle reading from the Epistle of St Paul to the Galatians 4.4-7 and the Gospel reading from Matthew 2.1-12, Fr Jeff gave a sermon, which was the Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity by Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, Primate of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ was incarnated from the Virgin Mary for us humans and for our salvation. This salvation is boundless and is offered to us on a daily basis. As we continue to face difficult times and circumstances in the whole world and in our personal lives, let us embrace with our whole hearts the happiness that the Lord offers us at this special Nativity season. Let us love Him as our Saviour and let us love our neighbours as our brothers and sisters. With Jesus Christ in our hearts, the difficulties and troubles, no matter how great, do not have the power to disappoint us because He fills us overwhelming with joy. When we are tested by temptations and encounter sadness in our lives, let us remember that these trials merely make us stronger and more faithful. Let us always remember that God never abandons us. Today, God is revealed to us as a small child in the manger. This child may look weak and fragile, but it has enough love to cure each and every one of us of all our ills. Let us invite this child into our lives in order to transform our entire existence. May all of us, priests, panis, deacons, subdeacons, readers, parish officers, parishioners, friends and supporters of the God-protected American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, experience the joy and wonders of the shepherds and the awe and respect of the three wise men at the arrival of the Messiah, our new born King. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”

8 January 2915

John E Usalis

Pottsville (PA) Republican Herald


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Rusin Nativity Music… from St Michael Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church (Binghamton NY USA)

00 Sasha Ressetar. Holy Supper. 2014

An Old School “Holy Supper”… long may they endure…



Nebo i Zemlya (Heaven and Earth)… one of my favourite kolyadki


Here are some sounds of the season from the Far West of Holy Rus. The correct transliteration is “Rusin”, as the Cyrillic is “Русинь”… a “y” would transliterate “ы”. “Rusyn” is mangled Galician usage. All of Holy Rus is ONE… yet, it’s not all identical… go figure. From Cape Anadyr to Mukačevo/Munkacs, from Kotlas to Tskhinval (some would count Orthodox Alaska Natives as a constituent part of “homeland” Holy Rus… I would)… it’s one civilisational space… MANY peoples… ONE ethos. The Rusin people are “one of us”… they’re not “Westerners”… they’re an indispensable “piece of the mosaic”. They’re simply the most Westward-located part of our civilisational bloc… which gives them some distinctiveness, which we Great Russians should respect. Being the largest group doesn’t give us the right to impose our ways… God willing, I’m not the only one to think like that (HH certainly does, too)…

In My Father’s House, there are many mansions… indeed!


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Yes, It Was Orthodox Christmas Yesterday… A Multimedia Presentation

00d Orthodox Christmas 2013. Serbia. Badnjak. 12.01.13





Typically, when they celebrate Christmas Eve, members of St Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in McKeesport PA gather outdoors for the traditional blessing of the badnjak. This year, due to the extreme cold, they held most of the ceremony indoors in the fellowship hall… as golden-robed acolytes brought in an oak branch with browned leaves… a symbol of hope in rebirth amid the dark of winter. Only the last part of the ceremony… the burning of the badnjak… took place in a fire pit outdoors. However, there was plenty of warmth indoors, physically and spiritually. Very Rev Stevan Rocknage of St Sava said, “Christ is born!” The worshippers crowded into the hall replied, “Indeed he is born!” Then, they repeated the phrases in Church Slavonic, “Mir Bozhi, Khistos se rodi!” “Vaistinu se rodi!” In beginning the evening’s festivities, Fr Stevan said, “Let’s get this show on the road”.

Whilst many Orthodox celebrate Christmas at the same time as Roman Catholics and Protestants, most Slavic Orthodox continue to follow the traditional Orthodox calendar based on the ancient Julian calendar, according to which today is Christmas Day. At St Sava, the priests and a small, but energetic, choir alternated with chants and hymns, some in English and others in Church Slavonic. Clergy blessed wheat, walnuts, and coins… auspicious symbols scattered in the straw on the floor for the children to pick up. Before the service, Mary Magdić said that she loves the annual Christmas gatherings, “You don’t get this everywhere”, pointing to the crowded room brimming with conversation and anticipation. Gary Trbovich agreed, saying of the congregation, “It’s a family. It doesn’t get any better than this”.

Fr Stevan said that the blessing of the badnjak, is a Christianised version of an ancient pagan custom symbolizing death and rebirth, noting, “It’s a way of showing Christ is the God of life”. Steve Kracinovsky, president of the parish board, said that many members are in inter-religious families and exchange gifts on the Western Christmas, they’re able to focus on the spiritual aspects of the holiday by marking the Nativity separately, saying, “There’s no rushing. All the gift-giving is over”. Fr Stevan added, “From the eve of Christmas on Monday through 12 days to Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, we celebrate and try constantly to remind ourselves through our actions, this is why we’re celebrating”.

After the blessing of the badnjak, parishioners went upstairs to the sanctuary for Christmas Eve liturgy, beginning with a familiar tune, Silent Night in English and Church Slavonic. They also gather for liturgy on Christmas Day. Fr Stevan said that he sees parishioners seeking comfort and peace in spiritual things during times of economic and other struggles, observing, “What a wonderful thing for the birth of our Lord to come, because the world is in such turmoil. People flock to our parish just to get away from the craziness out there”. He said that it inspires people to do something about that craziness. For example, at a recent youth group meeting, he said that the young people resolved to bring gift packages to nursing homes and visit an Orthodox monastery to help spruce it up.

Similar observances took place at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Whitehall PA. The weather wasn’t ideal for an outdoor ceremony, but Very Rev Rajko Kosić, parish priest at the cathedral said, “You just have to do what you have to do. Even though Easter is the biggest holy day of all, Christmas is more joyous. When a child is born, everybody’s happy”.

6 January 2014

Peter Smith

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



01i Bagpipes serbian gaide






Perched in a sunny spot on Mim Bizić’s kitchen counter is a glass bowl that, at first glance, appears to be green grass growing from a bed of pebbles. However, the pebbles are grains of wheat that broke open to release shoots of new life… a metaphor for Jesus’ death and resurrection taken from the Gospel according to St John. This tiny garden of wheat is a psenica (SHEN-it-za, literally, “grain of wheat”), a Christmas tradition in the Serbian Orthodox Church, which occurs on 7 January according to the Orthodox Calendar. Traditionally, one plants the seeds in a bowl on 19 December, St Nicholas Day, and waters them after reciting the Our Father. Waiting for them to grow is a spiritual exercise.

Ms Bizić, who retired five years ago as a librarian in the Quaker Valley School District, said, “Isn’t it a fun way to pass the short, dark days waiting for the birth of Christ?” The green wheat is held tall and straight by a circlet of ribbon in the Serbian national colours of red, blue, and white. She said, “When you first put the wheat in, you wonder if it’ll grow. Then, you see it put out these little knots, and, then, the shoots. You can see it grow the next day and the next. It fills you with happiness”. Her home in Moon PA is fully decorated for Christmas, which she joked that she celebrates three times. There’s St Nicholas Day on 19 December, then, 25 December, for what she calls “American Christmas”, complete with presents. However, the holy day, and the day of the most treasured customs, is always 7 January.

She’s the granddaughter of Serbian immigrants who grew up on the South Side. She never felt odd for celebrating Christmas in January. Her German and Lithuanian friends enjoyed participating in the family celebrations with her. There was the Christmas tradition of lighting three candles… in honour of the Holy Trinity… whilst reciting the Our Father. There’s also a tradition of baking a coin into a special loaf of bread, which the family passed around the table as they sang a hymn. The coin brings luck to whoever finds it. Ms Bizić records these traditions and many more on her website, its name means “Grandma Mim”. It’s a virtual museum of Serbian culture, which her home has been for many years. Just inside the front door, visitors see a portrait of Karadjordje, who led the First Serbian Uprising of the Serbian Revolution against the Ottoman Turks. Every wall has icons, folk art, and family mementos. She passed all of this along to her son, Nick, who’s teaching it to his 3-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. Ms Bizić’s website includes a series of photographs in which she and Jocelyn prepared a psenica. Her son also spread the tradition to some of his Texas neighbours.

This year her parish, St Elijah Serbian Orthodox Church in Aliquippa PA, sold kits to make psenicas. They’ll send the proceeds to Kosovo to buy firewood. She said, “Even though we mightn’t make that much money selling the kits, we’re keeping the custom alive for harried families who mightn’t have the time to go shopping to a speciality store to buy loose wheat”. On Christmas, the psenica takes its place at the centre of the family table, where it’s part of all the family prayers and rituals. Afterwards, one gives it to the birds. Ms. Bizić said, “We bless ourselves and make a grand send-off. We say, ‘We thank you, psenica, for being with us and making us happy through this whole season of expectation'”.

7 January 2010

Ann Rodgers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



St Nicholas. Serbian. 1987





This morning at St Nicholas Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Homestead PA, Fr Robert Buczak will celebrate Divine Liturgy, the choir will sing kolyadki, and everyone will eat an enormous feast. For his parish and Orthodox around the world, today is Christmas. Although many may think that Orthodox celebrate today because this is the day that the Magi, or three Wise Men, arrived to visit Jesus, Fr Robert said that it’s because it’s 25 December on the traditional Orthodox calendar. Most Orthodox follow the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, the civil calendar in widespread use. Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582; eventually, it became the calendar used throughout the world. Some Orthodox adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1923 for fixed feasts. Those following the traditional calendar celebrate Christmas and other church holidays, except Easter, 13 days after Gregorian calendar dates. Fr Robert said, “So, it’s not that we believe [Jesus’ birth is] a different date. It’s the same date”.

Christmas for non-Orthodox Christians usually includes a church service, gifts, mangers, carols, and a large dinner. Orthodox Christmas includes all that, too, but with a few tweaks. Even though they celebrate Christmas and worship Christ, Orthodox don’t usually say, “Merry Christmas”. They prefer “Christ is born”. The Nativity scenes also differ. Like others, the Nativity displayed at St Nicholas shows the Holy Family, animals, a star, and a manger. However, it doesn’t have statues. This manger scene is an icon, a traditional painting. St Nicholas, like most Orthodox churches, has icons, not statues. The manger scene resembles others… Mary and Joseph crouch over a baby in swaddling clothes, whilst a donkey and ox look out from a cave. Then, Fr Robert asked, “Is Jesus’ face a baby’s face or a man’s face? Are his blankets swaddling clothes or a burial shroud? Is the cave a manger or a tomb? Icons tell stories”.

You can hear another difference in the music… the kolyadki sung a capella by the church choir during the Christmas Eve service aren’t the ones played on the radio. Fr Robert explained that Orthodox from Carpatho-Russia in Eastern Europe founded St Nick’s, so, the kolyadki, or Christmas songs, come from that area. He promised me, “[When the choir sings] you’ll feel like you’re in the kingdom of heaven”. Fr Robert said that the Orthodox celebration begins on Christmas Eve with a Holy Supper served “when the first star appears in the sky”. It includes twelve fasting dishes, including mushroom soup and bobalki… dough balls with kapusta. Families place straw under the table to represent the manger and always leave one chair empty for any stray guest. Fr Robert said, “So, there’s always room at the inn”. After supper, an evening church service is held, followed by a second service Christmas morning, and a second feast, this one including meat.

When does the gift giving start? It already happened… on 19 December. That, according to the Church calendar, was St Nick’s Day. Traditionally, families give gifts then, based on the legend of St Nicholas giving three women three purses filled with coins to help with their wedding dowry. The early gift giving leaves St Nick’s parishioners free to focus on the spiritual side of Christmas.

7 January 2010

Kate McCaffrey

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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