Metropolitan Nicholas, an Orthodox bishop whose Christian influence far outweighed the size of his American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the United States, died Sunday of cancer.
Because of his heritage and education, Metropolitan Nicholas "bridged the Slavic and Greek worlds of Orthodoxy. He was a very unifying figure," said the Rev. Mark Arey, ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
The Rev. Frank Miloro, chancellor of the Carpatho-Russian diocese, said the metropolitan "was very much interested in the spiritual renewal of the people of the diocese, and he succeeded in that to a great extent. Secondly, he was interested in renewal involving other Christian churches. ... He was truly an ecumenist and not afraid to say so."
Bishop John Kudrick of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio -- a tradition with which Metropolitan Nicholas sought to rebuild ties 50 years after a bitter schism -- said, "All Christianity grieves the loss of an exemplary spiritual leader."
He was born in Perth Amboy, N.J., the son of immigrants from the Carpathian mountains of Eastern Europe. The family had been Eastern Catholic, loyal to the pope but maintaining Orthodox traditions that included a married priesthood. After the Vatican banned married Eastern Catholic priests for America in 1929, many Catholics left what is now the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and formed the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.
Ordained in 1959, he attended the Orthodox seminary in Johnstown, where he later served as rector. He also studied at the Ecumenical Patriarchate's seminary in Halki, Turkey, spending time in the Holy Land and on Mount Athos, the monastic center on the Greek coast. He took monastic vows and was abbot of a monastery in New York when he was elected auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in 1983. In 1985 he became the Carpatho-Russian primate.
He presided over a liturgical revival and promoted youth ministry and mission outreach. After an initial invitation from the late Metropolitan Judson Procyk of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Metropolitan Nicholas promoted a mutually supportive relationship between the estranged churches. He had represented the ecumenical patriarch at the Vatican's Synod of Bishops.
He was a long-standing officer of the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops in America and showed great wisdom in addressing the complex ecclesiastical, ethnic and geopolitical challenges that Orthodox churches face in America, Father Arey said.
"He was known to be a mediator. He had a personality that could deal with anybody, no matter what the issues," Father Arey said.
A statement from the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA said: "We will miss the off-the-cuff remarks during intense situations, which immediately reduced that intensity, yet made points for those who heard to contemplate. We will long for the stark honesty and openness of his expressed opinions."
Christina Duranko, a parishioner from Rankin, said that he would get to know the children at the diocesan camp, learn their names and stay in touch as they grew up. His faith was deep, but never stodgy, she said.
"He was known for his infectious laugh and quick wit, always ending a banquet with the ancient hymn 'God Grant You Many Years,' adapted to the melody of 'How Dry I Am' as it was sung by immigrants in the early 20th century coal towns," she said.
Such a banquet was held Feb. 22 in Johnstown for his 75th birthday. He told the 400 guests that the length of their lives was far less important than how they used those years to glorify God.
"I have enjoyed 52 years being a priest and the last 28 years have also brought me great joy working for you as your bishop," he said. "I don't regret any of the 75 years God has given to me. And I would not change them in any way."
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has appointed Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America as the temporary administrator of the Johnstown-based diocese. It has about 10,000 members in 80 congregations nationwide.
Metropolitan Nicholas' body will lie in state in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Johnstown, from 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, with a short requiem service at 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. Thursday until a longer requiem service at 7 p.m. His funeral will be Friday at 10 a.m.
He will be buried in Perth Amboy, where viewing and services will be held at St. John's Orthodox Church on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.