Archbishop Dmitri Royster
+ 2 November, 1923 – 28 August, 2010 +
This article is an edited version of our pastor’s masters thesis, which can be read, in its entirety, here.
The Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America has, in some ways, become synonymous with its widely beloved first bishop, Dmitri Royster, who fell asleep in the Lord on August 28, 2010. At the very least, the story of the founding of this diocese cannot be separated from the life of Archbishop Dmitri.
The Diocese of the South was the first specifically missionary diocese established on North American soil since 1840, when Saint Innocent Veniaminov, having appealed on behalf of the Alaskan people, was assigned by the Russian Orthodox Church as the first Alaskan bishop. Even though there was no cathedral or infrastructure to support such a diocese, Bishop Innocent served, in the words of the Czar, “… like an apostle.” While the stories of Archbishop Dmitri and Saint Innocent diverge in many ways, there are many similarities. The dioceses both existed, for a time, serving people of Russian descent, and they were both transformed under the leadership of dynamic bishops who began their work as priests. Both bishops initially served with great zeal, and then advocated for a diocesan structure to support their missionary work. The end results were dioceses that were thoroughly Orthodox, yet bore indelible marks of the surrounding culture (native Alaskan and “Southern”).
Teenage Odyssey: Conversion to Orthodoxy
Born November 2, 1923 in Teague, Texas, Robert Royster was raised in a strong, Bible-believing, Baptist family. His mother was the practicing Baptist, and his father simply had “protestant sympathies.” He was baptized in the Baptist Church when he was twelve years old. Robert and his sister, who were very close, became convinced, however, that “the spirit of the Protestant Church, as they knew it, and the spirit of the Holy Scriptures were simply not compatible.” The deep reverence for the scriptures instilled in Robert from an early age drove him and his older sister in search of the “original scriptural community and the roots of the early church.” Almost twenty years later, Royster would recall the beginning stages of the conversion process as follows,
We began to look around. We visited a number of Churches.We had a big book called the Book of World Religions, or something like that, in which all religions and denominations were described, rather briefly, but at the same time rather completely. There was a rather complete description of the Orthodox Church in there. It described the Orthodox Church as being the mother of all Christian Churches.We began to look at the New Testament rather carefully and pick out portions of the New Testament that reflected in some way what the Church was in the apostolic age.
Robert and his sister began to discuss their faith, and they came to the same conclusions. They encouraged each other and prepared for the difficult decision which they were about to face in what Royster describes as a “provincial capital” like Dallas, where Greeks, or any foreign group, were considered a very unusual thing. During a period in American history when the Orthodox Church was seen as a religious community only for certain ethnic populations which were historically Orthodox, the presence of two American, teenage inquirers would surely puzzle the Greeks in Dallas.
This quest ultimately led theRobert and his sister to the doorstep of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church – the only active Orthodox community in Dallas at the time – Robert was 15 years old.“We knew from that moment that we would probably never go anywhere else,” said Royster.He recalled that when they attended their first Divine Liturgy, “It was so evident that something really took place … the Holy Spirit transforming the bread and wine,” – they were ready to begin the conversion process.Their priest, Fr. Daniel Sakalarios, was initially surprised by the Roysters’ interest in the Church, but he took his duty to instruct the two quite seriously, and he offered them hope that there would one day be English services for them. The two inquirers faithfully attended services for over a year, following along in parallel Greek-English service books.Having begun his formal inquiry in late 1939 Robert, as a young 17 year old man, along with his sister, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church with the name Dmitri (his sister took the feminine form of the same name, Dimitra) in early 1941.
Military Career and Time in Japan
Two years after entering the Orthodox Church, Royster’s studies at North Texas University were interrupted when he entered the Army in 1943. The United States Army and Navy were both in dire need of Japanese translators during World War II, but because of efforts to relocate Japanese Americans by the US Government and an inherent distrust of the same, an intense recruiting effort began on United States college campuses for qualified students to become specialists in the Japanese language, and Royster was one of 60 selected.After training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. This move away from a parish church situation and into the flux of military life would, however, prove pivotal to Royster’s life in the Church. Leaving his roots in Dallas (and the Greek Church), Royster would establish a pattern of seeking out the local Orthodox community wherever he was stationed – he attended the Greek Church in Ann Arbor, and he attended both Greek and Russian parishes in Minneapolis, Minnesota while stationed there (he also spent a short time in Alabama where there was no Orthodox presence).
Upon preparing for deployment in San Francisco, Royster saw a sign in front of one of the Army chapels which said, “Orthodox Church Services in English.” He called the phone number on the sign, and Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky, an Orthodox Army chaplain who was assigned to the San Francisco “Port of Embarkation” in 1943,answered the phone. “I stayed there for about three weeks,” recalled Royster, “I think I was in [Fr. Vladimir and his wife Mary’s] homeevery night for those three weeks. We talked, and talked and talked. We became very close friends.” Royster departed for the Pacific theater where he worked as a Japanese language interpreter on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, but Borichevskywould remain a constant and influential presence in Royster’s life.
Since Royster’s specialty was the Japanese language, this carried him to the heart of the Pacific conflict as part of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section. His first assignment was in the Philippines, but he eventually settled as an officer in U.S. occupied Tokyo, attending the Cathedral of St. Nicholas with great frequency. He recalled, “The atmosphere there was no different from what it is in any Russian Church except that all the personalities were Japanese – except a small group of Russians that lived in Tokyo, they attended there. The bishop was Japanese, the language was Japanese, it was in the Japanese language but they used Russian chant.”This was Royster’s first encounter with an Orthodoxy which found its way into another culture without taking on a ghetto quality, and it would come to shape his thinking of mission and worship in days to come.
Royster’s time in Japan would continue to focus on the cathedral community in Tokyo, and he had almost daily contact with members of the St. Nicholas Cathedral. He would not only worship with the people of the community, but he took an active role in teaching them. During those nine months in Tokyo, one of the men in Royster’s unit described one of their visits to the cathedral,
“Royster was giving Greek language lessons there … ‘Royster’s class is given in a wooden building on the church grounds. It numbers about ten, all Japanese, all church connected. … The students sat down at a long table in a rectangular room … The lesson in Greek started with each crossing himself and singing a Russian hymn in Japanese … Everyone was alert as he explained things and questioned his pupils in his best Japanese. The lesson ended after an hour with another Russian hymn, and we said goodnight and stepped out into the dark. It was an unusual experience. A group of deeply religious Russian Orthodox Japanese, learning Greek from an American soldier.’”
The bond which Royster formed with these Japanese Orthodox was strong, and as he recalled over a decade later, “There was a period of time when I thought that the only thing for me to do was to go back to Japan and work with the Japanese mission.” Royster’s involvement with the Japanese Orthodox Church continued, and he even served as a liaison during Japanese efforts to secure a new bishop from the Russian Church.
Return to Dallas, Texas and a Hiatus from the Church
Upon returning from military service, Royster completed his bachelor’s degree, and went on to earn a Master of Arts Degree in Spanish on August 26, 1949 from Southern Methodist University where he was employed as an Instructor in Spanish (Royster also pursued post-graduate studies in linguistics at Tulane University). Royster recalled a profound period in his spiritual life, that coincided with his post-war days. In 1958, reflecting upon this period and its formative impact on his life and ministry, Royster noted, “I think of the period of spiritual slump that I had which lasted some three years was a valuable experience. I think what it did was to strengthen my faith.”
In December of 1952 Royster began to “take stock” in his life, and he realized that in order for his faith to become real once again, he needed to take an active step toward God; so he returned to church.
Returning to Dallas from New Orleans, the Orthodox Christian landscape in the region was no longer confined to the Greek Orthodox parish in which Dmitri and his sister encountered the Church almost a decade earlier. Royster was informed by his parish priest at the Greek Church that a new community of Mexican speaking Orthodox had formed in the area, and together, Dmitri and Demitra Royster joined this parish which had formed some eight months earlier. The move from an ethnic Greek parish to a Mexican community was a natural one for Royster who was fluent in Spanish, taught Spanish at a local university and loved the Mexican culture which surrounded him in Dallas.
After joining the Mexican Orthodox Church, Royster saw a need to assist in the Mexican parish since there was nobody to assist in the divine services.Royster and another convert (and former Roman Catholic monastic) in the Dallas area, took it upon themselves to translate into Spanish the Divine Liturgy and a host of other services. As Dmitri’s role and prominence in the parish increased, his responsibilities increased, and by the beginning of 1954 Dmitri was serving as an ordained subdeacon at the Mexican parish.
The Founding of St. Seraphim’s and Push Toward Ordination
Bishop Bogdan, of the Ukrainian Church, and Subdeacon Dmitri took a deliberate and measured approach to the work which was beginning to unfold in the Dallas area. Recalling the development of mission work in the area, Royster detailed an early conversation with his bishop,
His desire was that we needed an administrator for what was going to be some sort of missionary district, and there was a chapel in East Dallas (also Mexican). There was a possibility for a Mexican Church in Forth Worth, in Waco and McKinney – a town north of there. He wanted a headquarters to administer the work, and so he proposed that I do that, and at the same time that we have a chapel connected with the headquarters and there that we make an attempt to form the English language parish that we had always wanted to form.
In April of 1954, Subdeacon Dmitri and his sister Demitra, along with Fr. Rangel of the Mexican parish, sought the permission of Bishop Bogdan to establish an English-language Orthodox mission in the city of Dallas, and with assistance St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Dallas, the parish held its first services (in English) in a newly purchased building – this was the beginning of St. Seraphim Orthodox Church in Dallas; it was June of 1954.
Royster recalled, “Our growth came after we moved and bought our own place and had a permanent address. We [attracted] Greeks, Lebanese, Russians, Ukrainians, Carpatho-Russians and Galetians and Serbians and converts,” said Royster.
Subdeacon Dmitri was ordained by Bishop Bogdan to the diaconate on November 2 and the priesthood on November 6, 1954. He was assigned as rector of the newly formed St. SeraphimEastern Orthodox Church in Dallas, and the title of the property purchased for St. Seraphim’s Church on McKinney Ave. was transferred to St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church by mutual agreement (St. Nicholas using the building one weekend a month, and St. Seraphim’s the remainder of the month). This new, English-language Church of this Ukrainian jurisdiction worked closely with the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, and the clergy often concelebrated services.
The impressions of Fr. Dmitri’s experience at the Army chapel in San Francisco thirteen years earlier, and the pastoral care offered to him by Borichevsky in those three weeks on base, was perhaps leading Fr. Dmitri to attempt to recreate what he experienced before his war-time deployment and to offer this to the people of Dallas. The property purchased by St. Seraphim’s on Newton Avenue in 1956 was the initial purchase of what would become the St. Seraphim’s Cathedral complex many decades later, fulfilling Royster’s vision of providing a place of worship for Orthodox people of all national backgrounds.
In time, Royster’s relationship with Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky led to discussions about the possibility of St. Seraphim’s parish continuing its work under the guidance of Borichevsky’s bishops, who were of Russian descent, but committed to the establishment of a truly American Orthodoxy. As the discussions progressed, Fr. Alexander Schmemann was dispatched from his post on the faculty of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York City to visit St. Seraphim’s Church in Dallas and to report back to the chancery regarding his findings. His impressions of the English language parish were, according to Royster, “in keeping with Schmemann’s vision for Orthodoxy in America,” and he returned to Church’s primate, Metropolitan Leonty, with a positive report.
On September 12, 1958, Metropolitan Leonty welcomed, “St. Seraphim Eastern Orthodox Church in Dallas, together with its priest, Rev. Dmitri R. Royster,” into his pastoral care. In the end, Royster landed in the jurisdiction to which he was initially drawn through the influence of his friend and mentor Fr. Vladimir at a time when the “Russian Metropolia” was aggressively pursuing a vision of Orthodoxy which transcended ethnic and linguistic boundaries – a truly American Orthodoxy!
Witnessing the transformation of St. Seraphim’s parish, the Mexican Orthodox Church in Dallas followed suit, and their parishioners (49 adults and 62 children) were likewise received into the Metropolia as St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church.
St. Seraphim’s parish was looking toward the future with its first plan for expansion; on April 18, 1962, Fr. Dmitri noted, “This land purchase will almost double the size of our property and is of the utmost importance for the future development of our parish.”The parish did indeed grow, and it attracted a more diverse group of worshipers. St. Seraphim’s became the primary place of worship for non-Greek, Orthodox Christians in Dallas, and in May of 1964, Fr. Dmitri found himself in the national spotlight when Time Magazine featured a full-page photo of him baptizing the child of Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald at St. Seraphim’s.Fr. Dmitri was gaining visibility at the local and national level; his mission church was now a well-established parish.
The National Church “Considers the Future” of Father Dmitri
1966 was a pivotal year for Fr. Dmitri. Metropolitan Leonty, the bishop who received him into the Church, died in 1965, and was replaced by Metropolitan Ireney on September 23, 1965.Fr. Dmitri had grown a sizeable parish in a major metropolitan area in a region of the country which, until this point in time, had seen little evidence of Orthodox Christianity, and so he was brought to New York to meet with Chancery officials shortly after the election of Metropolitan Ireney in January of 1966. Just intime for the 1966-1967 academic year at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, New York, Fr. Dmitri was sent a letter of transfer from Metropolitan Ireney which read, “You are hereby released of your duties as Rector of Saint Seraphim Church in Dallas, Texas and are attached to the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection in New York City. Please make all necessary arrangements for this transfer and inform us of your arrival as soon as possible.”Father Dmitri enrolled at St. Vladimir’s Seminary as a non-degree seeking student. Arrangements were made for Fr. Yves Dubois of England, to serve St. Seraphim’s during Fr. Dmitri’s absence.During this year of study, Fr. Dmitri would be introduced to a Bishop José Cortes y Olmos who was associated with an “Old Catholic,” separatist Mexican Church.
After his studies, Father Dmitri returned to Dallas and St. Seraphim’s, and Bishop José contacted Fr. Dmitri with letters which Bishop José hoped Fr. Dmitri might pass on to Metropolitan Ireney. Fr. Dmitri was recruited as an advocate for the Mexican group, and he took his charge seriously.
OnJune 22, 1969 Fr. Dmitri was consecrated Bishop of Berkeley, California – Vicar to Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco.The consecration took place at Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral on Second Street in New York City and was attended by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky. Bishop Dmitri was sent to Berkeley, the epicenter of the counter-culture movement, “The late 60’s, that was an interesting experience … the hippies thought I was one of them,” recalled Royster.“[We] had a chapel on the edge of campus.” The new bishop was touted by the Orthodox Church in America as a highly credentialed, American-born hierarch.
But Bishop Dmitri’s time in California was cut short in the wake of the Metropolia’s reception of autocephaly, or self-rule, from the Moscow Patriarchate as the new Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and Metropolitan Ireney sought Bishop Dmitri out as his auxiliary bishop. So Bishop Dmitri moved back east and was given the title, “Bishop of Washington D.C. – Auxiliary Bishop of the New York – New Jersey Diocese” in December of 1970, and he began his work assisting Metropolitan Ireney in the administration of his diocese in the newly formed OCA; he was assigned as Bishop of Hartford and New England in October of that same year.
Bishop Dmitri’s contact with his acquaintance, Bishop José of Mexico resumed in 1971, and
his investigations into the situation of Bishop José’s group in Mexico came to a close in February of 1972 when he presented his findings to the Holy Synod of the OCA for consideration.On April 22, 1972, Bishop José was consecrated as a bishop of the OCA at Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in New York City.
Bishop Dmitri would remain active in all aspects of Church life,and while New England would act as his base of operations, his attention would quickly return to the southern United States and the missionary possibilities which remained unaddressed when he left Dallas to assume his responsibilities in episcopal ministry.
Groundwork in the Florida Deanery: 1951-1970
While the ministry and work of Archbishop Dmitri is pivotal in the story of the Diocese of the South, the work which began some 1,400 miles away from Dallas in Miami, Florida in 1962 is also a very important part of the history of the diocese. On February 1, 1962, Father George Gladky, the Assistant Priest at St. Vladimir Russian Orthodox Church was “received into the Metropolia with [his] parish.”St. Vladimir Orthodox Church was founded in 1946, built a permanent building in 1948, and has been served by the Russian Church Abroad ever since.St. Vladimir parish, historically, was quite concerned with Russian identity, Russian language and Russian culture.As its assistant priest,Gladky started serving English liturgies shortly after his ordination. On July 23, 1960, The Miami News ran an article announcing the first English language liturgy at St. Vladimir Church, “For the first time in its 10-year history, St. Vladimir Russian Orthodox Church will conduct its liturgy tomorrow entirely in English.” This was essential, “due to an evident and urgent need to service the many English-speaking parishioners [and] third generation Russian children.”While the parish of Christ the Saviourwas founded under totally different set of circumstances and in a different geographic region of the country, its mission was quite similar to St. Seraphim’s in Dallas. Florida’s other other parishes existed, however, as outposts of retirees who had moved from the northeast to warmer climates. Saints Peter and Paul in Miami (est. 1951) and St. Nicholas in Fort Lauderdale (est. 1961) predate Gladky. Additional missions and parishes were started in Florida largely through Gladky’s missionary efforts after the founding of Christ the Saviour.
In letters written by various leaders in the Church during this era, hints emerge of the vision for a Southern Missionary Diocese. Gladky wrote, “We will be a new missionary Diocese with great possibilities. It … will soon come to light. Be patient … Let’s hope for a bright future for our South.”Gladky’s planning would soon see the light of day, but it would require a hierarchical blessing.
A Cohesive Vision Emerges – The Southern Missionary Project
On December 16, 1975, at a meeting of the OCA Department of Missions held in Yonkers, NY, a motion was passed granting $4,000 to the newly formed Southern Missionary Project. This new endeavor was created by the Holy Synod of the OCA in March of 1975 in order to investigate the possibilities of establishing missionary parishes in what was deemed a “long neglected” region of the country.
A document was issued detailing the vision of the Southern Missionary Project, the work being done in the south at the time and work which lay ahead. It began withthe missionary imperative of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), and it noted the modern examples of missionary saints such as Herman of Alaska and Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes Bare, Pennsylvania; it also noted, however, the great failure of the American Orthodox Church during the past 60 years which had become, “non-missionary, confined to the narrow scope of ethnic parochialism.” The document went on to say, “We are the Orthodox Church in America and we must realize our divine call and function as the Church … as MISSION.”
Current missionary endeavors throughout the south were outlined in the document. In Texas, in addition to the work at St. Seraphim’s, prospects for work in Houston and Galveston were noted. An active mission in Paris, Texas, served by the rector of St. Seraphim’s, Fr. Thomas Green, was mentioned, and possibilities for mission work in San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth were detailed in the document. The document also spelled out possibilities for Tennessee (Memphis and Nashville), Louisiana (New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport) and Oklahoma (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Jones and Hartshorne). Finally, there were “four states” described as a region in the south-east, stretching from Virginia to Georgia. Residing in this region were Fathers George DeTrano of St. Cyprian of Carthage parish in Richmond, Virginia and Fr. Igor Bensen of North Carolina. Bensen had been active in missionary work in the region since 1969, and he estimated that the “Non-Greek, baptized, Orthodox population in the southeast, four state area is [probably] between 30,000 and 50,000.” Most of these, he noted, went to Greek churches once a year or not at all.
The document concluded with the words of Fr. Igor Bensen, who made a “prognosis for the future” of missionary work in the southern United States,
There will be a continued deterioration of religious fervor among many luke-warm church goers here and simultaneously a more intense search of the remaining few for the true God’s work in religion: They can find it in Orthodoxy of the OCA. To open the doors to these new-comers in [the] Southeast, a minimum of narrow ethnic content should be left in the proceedings and conduct of the services. The Church should have an all-American face, and English should be its primary language. To this end, all Orthodox Church books, services and singing must be translated into English and become readily available to all. With this done, I believe, [the] South-East will accept Orthodoxy eagerly and in large numbers.
The vision was formulated, and the stage was set. It was now up to the members of the Department of Missions of the OCA turn this vision into a reality. With Bishop Dmitri as chair and Fr. George Gladky serving as a member of the department, it would not be long before action was taken.
Beginning of a Good Work: March 8, 1976
The deliberate and measured nature of the March 8 meeting of the Department of Missions at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Miami is well documented. Its sole agenda item, as previously stated, was to address the Southern Missionary Project, and a vision was presented forthe Church in the south. Bishop Dmitri told those assembled that they were gathered for an, “historic occasion, the first meeting of its kind.”
Bishop Dmitri noted that the autocephaly granted to the OCA gave the Church the responsibility to evangelize America, and, “The best place to begin is in the Southsince it is not part of any established and sovereign diocese.”At the end of a long day of planning sessions, the participants of the meeting requested that a resolution be drafted and sent to the Holy Synod of Bishops establishing a Southern Missionary Diocese. Those gathered would have to wait until the Spring meeting of the Holy Synod for a reply to their proposal.
At the Spring meeting of the Holy Synod with Archbishop Sylvester of Canada at the helm, Bishop Dmitri was not readily embraced by the Synod of Bishops. The Synod wrote:
The Holy Synod requests the Department of Missions to continue its work and expresses gratitude to Bishop Dmitri for his active concern for the souls deprived of pastoral care. Bishop Dmitri is placed in charge of the missionary district indicated in his report until such a time that the district is organized as a diocese. The organization of this missionary district into a diocese is postponed for consideration at a later date.
Bishop Dmitri continued his work as administrator of the Department of Missions; their work would, indeed, flourish in the days that followed.
Out of Florida – Expanded Horizons
In a 1977 report of the Southern Missionary District to the Department of Missions, it was apparent that much missionary work was being done outside of Florida in what was termed the “Deep South.” Reports were made of a new mission in Birmingham, Alabama, where, “some 30 enthusiastic people” gathered for Great Vespers, New Orleans, Louisiana, where approximately 20 people gathered for Vespers and expressed interest in forming an Orthodox parish, and New Port Richey, Florida, where 35 people regularly gathered for worship.“We have found that the make-up of worshipers at our services have been more of the inquirer group than of Orthodox of different national backgrounds.”1976 was a pivotal year in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States. With the passing of Resolution B-005 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which read, “The provisions of these canons for the admission of Candidates, and for the Ordination to the three Orders: Bishops, Priests and Deacons shall be equally applicable to men and women,” the floodgates were opened not only to the ordination of women to holy orders in the Episcopal Church, but eventually openly, active homosexual men and women.
On August 6, 1977, Bishop Dmitri received a group of Episcopal monks into the Orthodox Church, and the New York Times ran an article on the reception of these Episcopalians the following day. The Rev. William Hart, who received the name Damian, told the New York Times that the 1976 General Convention of the Episcopal Church was the final blow “in a process which has led the church to betray its Roman Catholic heritage.”The New York Times article describes the ceremony in which the former Episcopalians were received into the Church, and it summarizes the political situation saying,
The decision to bolt the church is considered rash by many who disagree most vehemently with the General Convention’s permission to ordain women. But the extreme reactions manifest the tip of deep, unmeasurable levels of unrest that have led many clergy and laity to schism and set others to wondering how long they can remain loyal.
Nearly Two Thirds
In October of 1977, Bishop Dmitri’s life would dramatically change at the Fifth All American Council convened in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Metropolitan Ireney had announced his retirement as primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and the stage was set for Archbishop Sylvester (Haruns) of Montreal to officially assume the post of primate. He had been serving as administrator of the OCA since 1974 due to Metropolitan Ireney’s deteriorating health, and was the presumed successor of the Metropolitan’s seat inOrthodox Church in America. But when the votes were cast as mandated by the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, Bishop Dmitri received 278 votes, only 30 votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to have his name immediately submitted to the Synod of Bishops as candidate for Metropolitan of the OCA.
Again, as required by the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, a second ballot was cast, and this time two votes were cast by each delegate, and the Holy Synod was forced to select between the candidates with the two most votes – Bishop Dmitri with 348 and Bishop Theodosius with 179. After a short period of deliberation, the Holy Synod returned with the announcement that Bishop Theodosius was elected as the new Metropolitan of All America and Canada, but he obviously didn’t have a mandate from the people. The Orthodox Church in America, served until this point in time by bishops who were of Slavic descent, was simply not ready for a convert hierarch.
Royster recalled, “I didn’t need consolation because I didn’t want to be Metropolitan anyway.I wanted to come to the south and open a diocese … you have a whole quarter of the country … that is uncovered by any diocesan structure – we needed to form a diocese.” Bishop Dmitri finally saw his vision for a Southern diocese as a real possibility.
While the Holy Synod did not elect Bishop Dmitri, an American convert, as Metropolitan in 1977, they were left with no choice but to elect an American born first-hierarch; Now, Bishop Dmitri would at least benefit from a sympathetic primate at the first meeting of the Synod of Bishops. Shortly after opening the Spring Session of the Holy Synod of Bishops in 1978, Metropolitan Theodosius declared,
Some three years ago our Synod established a Southern Missionary District as a first step towards a more regular and canonical organization of the O.C.A. in the South. Bishop Dmitri was appointed as Bishop in Charge of that missionary district. It seems to me today the time has come to proceed further. In the first place, it is neither possible nor right for His Grace Bishop Dmitri to be loaded with what amounts to four different “diocesan” positions: Bishop of Hartford and New England, Bishop of the Albanian Archdiocese, Bishop supervising the Exarchate of Mexico, and finally Bishop in charge of the Southern Missionary District. In second place – the growth of the Church in the South will remain sporadic and accidental unless a full time diocesan structure, headed by a resident bishop is established. In view of this I will propose that the Holy Synod:
Establish the Diocese of the South, comprised of churches, parishes and missions existing on the territory of the following states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia (excluding the Greater Washington D.C. area).
That his Grace, Bishop Dmitri, be relieved of his functions as Bishop of Hartford and New England, and locum tenens of the Albanian Archdiocese, and be appointed as Bishop of the Diocese of the South, effective July 1, 1978.
That in view of the fact that the new Diocese will remain for a certain time a Missionary Diocese, i.e., supported both financially and administratively by the central church Administration, its Diocesan Council include as members ex officio – the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America and the Chairman of the Department of Missions, so that there will be constant coordination between the diocese and the O.C.A.
That His Grace Bishop Dmitri remain the Diocesan Administrator of the Mexican Exarchate.
… I will appoint His Grace Bishop Herman as the Locum Tenans for the Diocese of Hartford and New England, effective the same date, until such time as the new Diocesan Bishop is canonically elected and installed. As to the Albanian Archdiocese, I will assume its episcopal supervision myself until a Bishop is elected and assigned.
After three years of waiting, and many years of planning before that, Bishop Dmitri sat poised to assume leadership of a Diocese in the South.A brief period of routine business was addressed by the Holy Synod, and then a resolution was passed accepting all of the proposals of the Metropolitan. Bishop Dmitri joyfully accepted his transfer to the Diocese of the South.
While in the past, efforts to formalize missionary efforts in the south were met with resistance on many fronts, by the time it was created there was much support for the vision which was once primarily Bishop Dmitri’s. The task at hand was now to solidify the vision of the Diocese of the South before July 1, 1978.
On May 9, 1978, twenty-two clergy gathered in Picayune, Mississippi to set the course of the new diocese established by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA. The meeting began with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the chapel of the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension. At the first session, Bishop Dmitri made it clear that the purpose of the planning session was to, “Lay a foundation and erect a framework upon which the Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Assembly could confidently build.” Then, Bishop Dmitri outlined four reasons for the erection of the diocese:
- Responsibility to witness to the Orthodox Faith
- Need for a functioning diocese – else the work of the Church is ineffective.
- All believers must gain a thorough knowledge of the faith through knowledgeable priests.
- The OCA must witness to the doctrines about Christ, and the most fundamental teachings of the Church cannot be negotiated to accommodate the world.
This focus on Biblical doctrine and teaching was deliberate since the south was seen as a place where such teaching was valued and appreciated, and as such must be emphasized.
Noting that all parishes and missions in the Diocese of the South, few of them being large, must give sacrificially in order to assure the success of the new diocese, a starting budget of $18,000.00 was adopted for the coming year.
Two deaneries were established initially, the first being the South Central Deanery which included New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Western Tennessee. The second deanery was the Southeast Deanery which consisted of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and the remainder of Tennessee. Possibilities for new missions in Nashville, Norfolk, Charlotte, Raleigh, Savannah, Charleston and Jacksonville were noted, and fact-finding trips were scheduled in those areas.
The matter of dues owed to the national church was addressed, and it was pointed out that some parishes had a long-established tradition of failing to pay dues to the National Church. This was unacceptable to Bishop Dmitri, and he noted that he expected his parishes to pay their assessments in a timely manner so that the Diocese would maintain a favorable reputation with the national Church. The matter of tithing of parish income was also addressed, and a rather lengthy discussion ensued,
Bishop Dmitri raised the possibility of combining two systems: tithing and assessment. Bishop Dmitri appointed a committee to study the matter and submit a report to him.
The issue of the parish tithe is an important one since it would eventually become the basis for the financial health of the Diocese of the South.
The date for the first Diocesan Assembly was set for September 1-4 in Miami, Florida, and the planning session concluded. Father Myron Hill, who had been appointed during the course of the meeting as Director of Public Relations, was tasked with sending a telegram to Metropolitan Theodosius with news of the completion of the planning session. The telegram read, “Your Beatitude, Christ is Risen. His Grace, Bishop Dmitri, His Grace, Bishop José and the clergy of the newly-formed Diocese of Dallas and the South, at its first planning session, held this day, greet you in filial love, and beseech your blessing and intercessory prayers upon our new venture in faith.”
The First Assembly – Miami Florida: August 25-26, 1978
The first assembly was marked by excitement and as an article in the first issue of The
Dawn(the diocesan newspaper) notes, “There was something electric, expectant, in the air. There was an attitude of quiet joy, of glad anticipation.” The themes of the workshops offered were “Stewardship in a Missionary Setting,” and “Liturgy and Music.” The first Diocesan Council, a governing body for the diocese comprised of laity and clergy, was appointed, the parish tithe was adopted as the norm and a new stewardship program called the “Southern Orthodox Stewards” was established.Possibilities for mission and youth work were explored and two sets of governing statutes were proposed – one for parishes and one for missions.
For a young diocese with so many issues to address, matters of governance and business were kept to a minimum. The general sense which one gleans from the recorded accounts of the proceedings is that those gathered were simply relieved to have some clarity about their future in the south. With a mandate, a leader and a vision, they were ready to tackle issues of worship, evangelism, stewardship and governance. The participants of this first assembly would leave Miami with an actionable plan for their parishes and the future of the Diocese of the South.
Bishop Dmitri would take his charge as bishop of this new diocese to heart, and made it his personal mission to bring the witness of the Orthodox faith to the people of his native south. Working with his deans, priests and the laity in his diocese, Bishop Dmitri proclaimed first Christ, and then Orthodoxy wherever he went. His bases were the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Miami and St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas, and his path between these two locations became familiar territory during his extensive travels. Parish visits, and the building of relationships, became the hallmark of his ministry, and he encouraged a vision of evangelism and faithfulness to Christ everywhere he went. He shared his faith with everyone he met, parishioners and acquaintances in airports or restaurants, and it was often said that the bishop never “met a stranger,” and his faith was contagious.
In 1993, the Holy Synod elevated Bishop Dmitri to the rank of Archbishop. And he continued to chair various departments of the Orthodox Church in America. Early on, he was instrumental in speaking with representatives of the Evangelical Orthodox Church [EOC] who were seeking entrance into canonical Orthodoxy. His understanding of Christ as central to the Faith helped guide these discussions. As an example, an episode occurred in which members of the EOC wanted to focus on particulars of worship during initial dialogues. It is said that the Archbishop offered words of caution: “Let’s first discuss our approach to Jesus Christ, since everything that we have in Orthodoxy proceeds from that core set of teachings.”
On September 4, 2008, following the retirement of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, the Holy Synod named Archbishop Dmitri Locum Tenens of the Orthodox Church in America. In November 2008, Archbishop Dmitri’s role as Locum Tenens ended with the election of His Grace, Bishop Jonah [Paffhausen] of Fort Worth as Metropolitan.
Finally, on March 22, 2009, the Archbishop requested retirement from active ministry as a diocesan Bishop, effective March 31, 2009. Under his leadership, the Diocese of the South grew from a dozen communities to its present 70-plus parishes and missions.
After his retirement, Archbishop Dmitri lived peacefully at his home, writing, making occasional visits to diocesan communities, and maintaining a quiet involvement with the life of Saint Seraphim Cathedral. He was blessed in his last days to have many parishioners who visited and cared for him at home 24 hours a day, as well as medical professionals who came to his bedside to treat and evaluate his condition. The community in turn received a great blessing from the love and courage with which the Archbishop welcomed them and approached his illness. He remained courteous, hospitable and dignified throughout, even attending Church when his strength allowed. These unexpected visits to the cathedral by the Archbishop were sources of joy and inspiration to the faithful.
For his former Diocese and the Orthodox Church in America, Archbishop Dmitri leaves a progressive vision of evangelism and ecclesial life, a solid foundation upon which to develop future communities and schools. He leaves the faithful the experience of having had a compassionate father whose enthusiasm was contagious, inspiring many to look profoundly at their own vocations in the Church.
Archbishop Dmitri’s greatest joys – as well as sorrows – were connected to his episcopal ministry. The establishment of new missions, the ordinations of men to the priesthood or diaconate, and the reception of others into Orthodox Christianity, were continual sources of delight. He patiently dealt with clergy and laypersons who needed correction. In fact, it would be difficult to recall an instance in which he strongly reprimanded anyone, at least publicly. Private, gentle advice when needed was more “his style.” At times, his approach confused and frustrated some who believed that his manner of oversight should be stricter, or that he should be more demanding in his expectations. But this was never his way. It was not in his character to remind people bluntly of their responsibilities. He chose to lead by example rather than by decree. Ultimately and personally, this became a source of his extraordinary influence and popularity. Mere suggestions were readily received as directives because of people’s fondness for him. More than once the comment was made, “you cannot buy that kind of authority” – authority that proceeds from integrity and proven dedication, from a loving relationship between a father and his children.
As stated, Archbishop Dmitri’s episcopacy was strongly characterized by a single-minded devotion to the person and work of Jesus Christ. His publications are a testimony to his dedication, and include books titled The Sermon on the Mount, The Parables of Christ, The Miracles of Christ, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans and to the Hebrews, The Epistle of St. James, and The Gospel of St. John. His works also include the aforementioned Introduction to Orthodox Christian teaching, as well as A Layman’s Handbook on The Doctrine of Christ. Some of these have been translated into other languages, enthusiastically received as instructional tools by the faithful abroad. When asked to document his personal thoughts concerning evangelism or American Orthodoxy, the Archbishop consistently hesitated, preferring instead to dwell on the teachings of the Fathers regarding Scripture and Church doctrine.
For many years, Archbishop Dmitri served as editor of the first diocesan newspaper in the Orthodox Church in America, The Dawn. This modest publication was a primary means of education and an instrument of unity among members of a diocese that spanned over one million square miles. One full page in every issue of The Dawn featured his Spanish-language translations. Later, he included a page in Russian to minister to the needs of new immigrants.
The dignity that Archbishop Dmitri brought to his episcopacy was well known. People commented on his bearing, the way he carried himself as a Bishop of the Orthodox Church. Some found it surprising that such an august figure possessed great love and respect for others, and that he presented himself as one of the people. Without exaggeration, it can be said that he was a rarity, a unique combination of faith, talent, intelligence and charisma. For the Diocese of the South – indeed for the Orthodox Church in America – he was “the right person at the right time.” Throughout the 42 years of his episcopal ministry, every day was offered in service to Christ, with whom he now enjoys the blessedness of the Kingdom. We pray for his continued prayers, and we thank the Lord for having given His flock the gift of Archbishop Dmitri.
May Archbishop Dmitri’s memory be eternal!