Today, May 14, 2020 marks the 55th anniversary of the repose of Metropolitan Leonty. At the time of his repose in 1965, Metropolitan Leonty had been Primate of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America — the Orthodox Church in America — for 15 years. He is remembered throughout the Church as a humble, wise and saintly hierarch and pastor.
Having come to America at the insistence of the missionary Saint Tikhon of Moscow, Metropolitan Leonty was committed to two ideals, conciliarity and a steadfast belief that Orthodox had a vocation to reach out to a broad, American audience.
As a priest in the former American diocese, Metropolitan Leonty saw no contradiction in unfaltering loyalty to his Russian roots, fidelity to the Russian Church, and a commitment to an independent, multi-ethnic Orthodox Church in America.
In remaining faithful to the ideal of conciliarity in church governance, Metropolitan Leonty worked to make the All-American Council an integral, rather than occasional, part of the governance of the Metropolia, and flowing from this was possibly his most enduring contribution to the growing church in North America, active lay participation in the life of the church.
Such openness resulted in many creative opportunities: between 1950-1965, conciliar initiatives opened the Metropolia to the suburbs through the creation of new, English-speaking, multi-ethnic parishes. Women were admitted to Orthodox seminaries for the first time; and women pioneered the use of English-language religious materials even as they encouraged the creation of new, formal religious instruction sessions (Sunday Schools). It is noteworthy that Metropolitan Leonty himself edited the first series of English language religious education materials in America back in 1935.
With Metropolitan Leonty’s blessing inter-Orthodox cooperation across jurisdictional lines was begun on hierarchical, clergy, and lay levels. The Metropolia became a leading Orthodox ecumenical presence through membership in both the National Council of Churches (1950) and the World Council of Churches (1954). Under the leadership of Metropolitan Leonty the Metropolia moved steadily towards the use of English, an academically educated, American priesthood, and a new, multi-ethnic identity. In short, Metropolitan Leonty carried forward the vision that had inspired Archbishop Tikhon of North America a half-century earlier—the vision of a church that brought together and united immigrants, ethnics, and those who were just plain American.
Metropolitan Leonty’s pastoral approach and policies set in motion, and laid the foundation for the historic events leading up to and resulting in the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America and the founding of the Orthodox Church in America. When in 1963, while on a visit to New York City, Metropolitan Nikodim, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, expressed a desire to Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann to visit Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, it was Metropolitan Leonty’s openness to creative ideas that caused him to respond to the request in the following manner: “Receive them with love.”
While Metropolitan Leonty never participated in formal discussions with the Church of Russia on the matter of autocephaly, his openness to meeting with Metropolitan Nikodim, a meeting recounted here, and his directive “receive them with love”, very well could be the opening words in the story of the granting of autocephaly.
After 15 years of service as Primate, Metropolitan Leonty peacefully fell asleep in the Lord at his residence in Syosset, NY, on May 14, 1965, and was interred at the Monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, South Canaan, PA.
May Metropolitan Leonty’s memory be eternal.
You can read more about the life and work of Metropolitan Leonty here:
- Official Biography of Metropolitan Leonty
- Eighth Annual Saint Alexis Toth Lecture: Metropolitan Leonty: The Minneapolis Connection
- Available from Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Press: The Life and Work of Metropolitan Leonty
- Personal recollections from Metropolitan Leonty’s personal aide