Red Bank, New Jersey, December 30, 2021
After more than a decade of suits against hierarchs and clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a group of parishioners from the St. Nicholas Church in Red Bank, New Jersey, was recently received into the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The parish is now considered part of the Slavic Orthodox Vicariate, under Archbishop Elpidophoros of Constantinople’s Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Vicariate reports.
The group consists mainly of the former parish council members, who were banned from Holy Communion for slandering and bringing legal action against His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of ROCOR, and other ROCOR representatives.
The switch to Constantinople began in 2020 when Alexander Belya, a defrocked former ROCOR priest, approached the parish and began to read akathists there on feast days. On December 12, Belya reconsecrated the church and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy under the Vicariate.
The Vicariate’s report notes that there had been disputes with Fr. Serge Lukianov, the rector assigned to the parish by ROCOR in 2008. It includes the accusation that the church had been “vandalized” by ROCOR, and links to a history of the dispute from the point of view of those who are now under Constantinople.
Interestingly, the report notes that the parish was actually rejected by various canonical jurisdictions before being taken in by the Vicariate, which is, in fact, made up largely of clergy who were canonically defrocked for schismatic activities (as detailed here).
While the linked history accuses Fr. Serge of being politically and financially motivated and of illegally seizing the church and its funds, a statement from the ROCOR Eastern American Diocese in 2014 shows that there is much more to the story.
Despite the parish council’s many complaints against Fr. Serge, investigations repeatedly found that Fr. Serge and others did nothing wrong. As detailed in the diocesan statement (and in the official documents linked to at the end of the statement), the parish had a pattern of priestly turnover, as the parish council members were unable to accept having a regular, priestly authority over them.
And while the Vicariate members accuse Fr. Serge of illegally seizing the parish’s funds, the ROCOR statement reveals that, in fact, the parish bank accounts were in the name of an individual, in violation of church statutes. Fr. Serge and the previous rector were able to move the funds into a new account in the name of the church.
Further, court documents from 2012 reveal that those bringing suit even acknowledged that no funds were misapplied or misused for any purpose other than to build up the church.
The former parish council’s suits were continually dismissed, and when they refused to stop, they were banned for Communion for a year. They then brought suit against Met. Hilarion himself, continuing to slander ROCOR and its clergy, and thus the ban was made permanent, pending their full repentance.
In May 2014, the Kuban Stanitza, which legally owns the church building, locked the ROCOR parishioners out. They thus petitioned to have the parish closed, and Met. Hilarion agreed. All property was thus removed and distributed to other churches. Those who are now in Constantinople’s Vicariate characterize this as “vandalism.”
Another suit against Met. Hilarion and the Eastern American Diocese recently ended with a small settlement payment for the sake of an amicable end to the legal disputes.