In the fall of 1965, Archbishop Iakovos of New York, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, sent a letter to Patriarch Justinian recommending Archimandrite Victorin to lead EMORA. The patriarch embraced this idea, saving it for the opportune moment, and even sent him some spiritual gifts through Archdeacon Bartolomeu Anania (the future metropolitan of Cluj), who arrived in America on October 29, 1965. Archdeacon Bartolomeu made the same recommendation to the patriarch as well, after meeting Archimandrite Victorin.
In the context of the terrible competition with the “Diocese of Vatra” (The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, Romanian acronym EORA) and its pastor, Bishop Valerian Trifa, the superior authorities of the country (Romania) were forced to accept the proposal of Patriarch Justinian and agree that Archimandrite Victorin was the most suitable for shepherding EMORA; he was considered rather “the only appropriate solution.”
During the Congress of April 23, 1966, Archimandrite Victorin was elected unanimously by secret ballot, and then bishop of EMORA by unanimous acclaim. The congress voted that he be proposed to the Holy Synod for approval and recognition. In the meeting of June 6, 1966, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church recognized and approved the election, awarding him the hierarchical rank of bishop.
Through the work of God, the intuition-desire of Metropolitan Visarion Puiu that Archimandrite Victorin be shepherd of (some of) the Romanians on the North American continent, undergone through the filter of time and of the Romanian Orthodox Christian community in America, sprouted in the heart of Patriarch Justinian and then obtained the consent to be adopted from all the decision-making echelons in Romania at that time.
The ordination service was held on Sunday, August 7, 1966, in St. George’s Cathedral in Windsor, Ontario, by Archbishop Iakovos; Archbishop Epiphanius of Philadelphia, hierarch of Romanian-Macedonian origin and spiritual father of Archimandrite Victorin; and Archbishop Aristobulus of Kyriakopolis, as representatives of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The enthronement took place on August 21, 1966, this time in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Detroit, and the silver staff was offered to him by Nicolae Corneanu, Metropolitan of Banat. On this occasion, Bishop Victorin issued a Pastoral Letter in which, among other things, he set out both his vision on “the much-desired unity between the Orthodox Churches in America” and on the relations with the other Romanian Diocese. The first can be summarized in the idea that “unity is a natural effect of Canonicality,” and as for the second, he urged “the priests and believers of the Missionary Episcopate, that in their relations with the clergy and believers of the Romanian diocese under the jurisdiction of the Russian Metropolitanate, to demonstrate the fullest understanding.” He anticipated that his entire pastorate would be a struggle to maintain the canonical connection with the Romanian Orthodox Church and, at the same time, to reject any attempt of interference—and there were many!—of the communist authorities in Bucharest.
Then began one of the most flourishing and edifying periods for EMORA, based on the collaboration between now Bishop Victorin and Archdeacon Bartolomeu Anania, on whose help he relied. And this growth was highlighted by almost doubling the number of priests and parishes in ten years.
Meanwhile, the year 1968 proved to be one full of comfort for Bishop Victorin, because, after 22 years of wandering, he visited Romania between September 14 and October 21. Among the most important moments were the reunion of the whole family, between September 21 and 23, the encounter with his mother being incredibly emotional; the veneration at the tomb of Stephen the Great from Putna; the visits to Neamț Monastery, the seminary, the monasteries and hermitages in the area, in particular the meeting with Father Cleopa Ilie; and the visit to Toplița Monastery, where he embraced his former abbot from Neamț, Archimandrite Melchisedec Dumitriu.
Upon his return to his activity in America, all the progress made by the Missionary Episcopate were not overlooked, and in the meeting of June 11, 1973, which was attended by Bishop Victorin—during what proved to be his last visit to Romania before the year 1990—the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decided to elevate him to the rank of archbishop. The annual EMORA Church congress, held on July 21, 1973, in Boian, also decided to raise the episcopate to the rank of archdiocese. The Holy Synod took note of this decision and agreed to it at the meeting of December 12, 1974, on which occasion “considering the proposals of Your Eminence [Archbishop Victorin] from the address No. 163/1973 and those from the report from December 10, 1974, of the V. Rev. Archimandrite Bartolomeu Valeriu Anania” a synodal document was issued which granted the new Archbishopric a wide administrative autonomy.
The flourishing of EMORA was abruptly arrested at the end of 1976, when the authorities in Bucharest decided that “Anania and Victorin […] are downright dangerous and must be brought back to the country—first Anania, then Ursache.” The first was detained at the end of October, but he managed to warn Archbishop Victorin about the plot. This warning made Archbishop Victorin extremely cautious and reserved about any proposals or contacts coming from Bucharest. In particular, he stopped visiting Romania and refused to receive priests sent from the country to fill the vacant parishes of EMORA.
The Bucharest authorities began the open fight at the end of 1980, when on December 4, following an informative note from October 17 and a report from November 17, an informative action on the group of “The Uprooted” was open, those targeted being “Archbishop Victorin Ursache; Archimadrite Vasile Vasilache, vicar of the archdiocese; and Father Gheorghe Chișcă.” The notes and the report on the opening of the informative action present the main charges: “Bishop Victorin Ursache […] displays exaggerated tendencies of autonomy and reduction of contacts with the Romanian Patriarchate”; “he formally stated that he is attached to the Romanian Patriarchate but showed a clear distrust in the Church leadership in the country, he refuses to come to Romania fearing a possible replacement, does not care about solving the problems of the diocese, especially those related to filling vacancies with priests sent from the country, etc.” Despite this crisis suffered by EMORA due to those reasons specified above, it began to develop again after the fall of communism in Romania.
In Bishop Victorin, Romanian Orthodoxy in America was granted a brilliant representative and ambassador, respected and honored by all the hierarchs of the other sister Orthodox Churches and by political representatives. He became an honorary citizen of Winnipeg (July 2, 1978) and Edmonton (July 3, 1997) and was invited to the installation of American presidents, as well as to other events and conferences at the White House. A representative who imposed respect, who did not allow himself to be dragged into the mud of barren polemics, a man who knew how to serve his flock like a good shepherd, with an extraordinary spirit of sacrifice.
To complete the biography of Archbishop Victorin Ursache, we must mention the autumn of 1995, when he was invited to head an official EORA delegation to Bucharest for the festivities of the 110th anniversary of the Romanian Orthodox Church’s autocephaly and its 70th anniversary of becoming a Patriarchate. On that occasion he was invited to give a speech on behalf of the entire Romanian Diaspora in the plenary of a special meeting of the Chamber of Deputies on Saturday, October 28, attended by the Ecumenical Patriarch and all the primates of the Orthodox Churches. He spoke about the lives of the Romanian Orthodox Christians in North America and their struggle to maintain canonical relations with the Mother Church despite the difficulties of the post-World War II period. He added that in North America, believers live in completely different conditions than those in Romania, and it is of paramount importance to respect their place and the countries in which they reside.
(To be continued)