Archbishop SYLVESTER, retired ruling hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America’s Archdiocese of Canada, former Temporary Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America and Vice-Chairman of the Holy Synod of Bishops, reposed in the Lord on May 18, 2000. He was 85 years old.
Born Ivan Antonovich Haruns on October 19/November 1, 1914 in Dvinsk, Latvia, Archbishop SYLVESTER became involved in the Russian Student Christian Movement while in high school. Inspired by lectures by such luminaries as Father Sergius Chetverikov, he decided to devote his life to serving the Church. Upon completing his secondary education, he wished to study at Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France to prepare himself for ecclesiastical ministry. However, his parents were opposed to this and hoped that he would enroll at a local university. One year later, as his resolve had not waned, his parents blessed his departure for Paris. Ivan Haruns would never again see his homeland or the members of his family, most of whom were to perish in the turmoil of the Soviet takeover of Latvia.
Prior to his graduation from Saint Sergius Institute, Ivan Haruns was tonsured a monk by Metropolitan Evlogius [Georgievsky] with the name Sylvester on March 8, 1938, ordained to the diaconate the following day and to the priesthood on April 10, 1938, after which he was assigned to serve in eastern France. With the advent of World War II, he ministered to Orthodox servicemen in the French armed forces stationed in that area.
In 1941, the Germans began bringing thousands of Russians from the Soviet Union to northwestern France as prisoners to serve in labor camps. Father Sylvester felt a call to minister to them, and having obtained official permission from the authorities and the blessing of his bishop, he left his parish to devote himself totally to this ministry, which took him to many locations under often difficult conditions. In 1944, he was falsely accused by a “brother” in the faith and imprisoned by the Gestapo in solitary confinement for six weeks, after which his name was cleared during an investigation and he was released.
After the war, Father Sylvester was appointed to serve a large parish in Paris, at which he developed an extensive education program for youth and the parish became well known for its excellent church school. At this time, he also headed the Missions Department of the Russian Orthodox Diocese in Western Europe and the Immigrant Aid Society and he served as co-editor, together with the late Proto-presbyter Alexander Schmemann, of the Diocesan Herald. When Father Schmemann left for America in 1951, Father Sylvester continued as the publication’s sole editor for another five years.
Throughout his life, Archbishop SYLVESTER continued his involvement in the Russian Student Christian Movement, and in the post-war years, he was particularly active in youth ministry, having a devoted following among young people. After his consecration to the episcopacy, he was affectionately nicknamed “Bishop of all the youth.” From 1963-79, he was the Chairman of the Russian Student Christian Movement and was actively involved in its publication efforts, especially the Vestnik, and the organization’s support of dissidents in the Soviet Union. Archbishop SYLVESTER maintained a lively correspondence with Alexander Solzhenitsyn after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, and was pleased to host him at Montreal’s Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral for paschal services in the mid-1970s. His consecration as Bishop of Messina within the West European Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople by the Exarch, Metropolitan Vladimir [Tihonitsky], together with Bishop Cassian [Bezobrazov], took place on April 27, 1952 at the Church of Saint Sergius Institute in Paris. Initially, he was assigned to assist Metropolitan Vladimir in his administrative duties with a particular focus on missionary work and diocesan publications. Two years later, he was transferred to Nice with oversight of parishes in the south of France and Italy.
Bishop SYLVESTER was initially invited to serve within the Church in North America in the late 1950s. However, his move across the ocean did not occur until 1963, when he was appointed Bishop of Montreal and Canada within the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America [now the Orthodox Church in America]. In Canada, he was able to quickly complete the construction of a building adjacent to the cathedral to house the diocesan offices and his own residence. Under his leadership, the interior of the cathedral was also soon completely refurbished with new beautiful iconography in a traditional style. Due to the great distances of his vast diocese, he was not often able to visit remote communities, but he frequently traveled to the major cities, and strove to maintain a solid organizational structure in the far-flung Canadian Archdiocese.
In 1966, he was elevated to the rank of archbishop. From 1966-72, he was also administrator of the Diocese of New England. Archbishop SYLVESTER also served as Chairman of the Preconciliar Commission and Chairman of the Department of History and Archives. Additionally, when the OCA accepted several parish communities in Australia under its omophorion, Archbishop SYLVESTER was assigned to oversee them from 1972-1981, and made several trips to Australia to spiritually nourish the flock there.
In the late 1960s, the Church in America began negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate which led to the grantingof autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America. This caused much controversy and conflict in the life of the Church. Archbishop SYLVESTER was able to pacify inflamed passions and to clarify numerous misunderstandings among the clergy and faithful regarding autocephaly. He viewed autocephaly as the correct canonical structure for church life in North America.
On May 15, 1974, Archbishop SYLVESTER was appointed Temporary Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America to assist the ailing Primate, Metropolitan IRENEY [Bekish]. In this position, he ably fulfilled many functions of the Primate until October 25, 1977, when Metropolitan IRENEY retired and Metropolitan THEODOSIUS was elected to succeed him at the Fifth All-American Council. Archbishop SYLVESTER was then appointed Vice Chairman of the Holy Synod, a position he held until his retirement from active episcopal service.
With turbulent changes taking place in society and in Church life, and with a new generation of hierarchs and clergy assuming leadership positions, Archbishop SYLVESTER decided that it would be best for him to relinquish his hierarchical responsibilities. He retired on July 1, 1981. For many years thereafter, he continued to serve as pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Montreal, and Saint Seraphim Church, Rawdon, QC. He especially rejoiced at the arrival of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and they flocked to him for spiritual nourishment. As weakness and illness overtook him in the last couple of years of his life, he was no longer able to serve, which caused him great anguish.
Archbishop SYLVESTER was a quiet, shy and reserved man. Some misperceived him as being aloof. He did not like to engage in frivolous conversation, but he always spoke intelligently and with a sharp sense of humor. He was an articulate public speaker and his sermons were inspiring to many. He was a popular father confessor and had a legion of spiritual children both in Europe and North America. He lived meagerly and demanded little for his own material comfort. He was approachable, sought and beloved by many for his wise and kind spiritual counsels. He was always generous in helping those in need, organizing extensive charitable aid within the Canadian Archdiocese for the needy in many parts of the world. He would surreptitiously send Orthodox literature to Russia, and he quietly provided assistance to the families of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs. He loved literature and had a great knowledge of culture and history. This, combined with the firm grounding in Orthodox theology and spirituality he received from his illustrious professors in the heyday of Saint Sergius Institute, gave him a broad and intelligent world view. While he might be characterized as profoundly traditional, his traditionalism was not a closed-minded fanatical con-servatism. He loved the Church’s liturgical services and celebrated them with great dignity. He was a firm proponent of frequent Communion by the laity. He was also open to the use of liturgical languages other than Slavonic in the services, such as English and French. Above all, Archbishop Sylvester was a faithful and loving archpastor, in firm adherence to the teachings of Christ. He was a also a true monastic in his personal piety.
Archbishop SYLVESTER passed away quietly at 2:00 AM on May 18, 2000. He had received Holy Communion and was anointed just two days before his repose. According to his wishes, his funeral was served according to the rite for monastics on Tuesday, May 23 at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Montreal. Bishop SERAPHIM of Ottawa and Canada concelebrated the funeral with ten priests. Due to the US visit of Metropolitan Sawa of Poland, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS was unable to travel to Canada to preside at the funeral services. He was represented by Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor.
Archbishop Sylvester was laid to rest at Saint Seraphim’s Cemetery, Rawdon, a beautiful place that had been expanded and embellished through his tireless efforts.
May his memory be eternal, and may his selfless life devoted to serving Christ inspire us.