George Gavrila: „The Mission of Bishop Policarp Morusca“
Thirty-three years after the first Romanian Orthodox priest arrived in the Americas, the first hierarch to be the religious and spiritual leader of the entire Romanian Orthodox community in North and South America reached these shores.
As we well remember, Bishop Policarp was truly a humble and spiritual man, a religious leader but also a disciplinarian. He had come to head and to administer a group of churches and people, clergy and laymen, who themselves had not seen anyone quite like him before, or since they had left Romanian years ago. Not only that, many had never seen a Bishop let alone spoke to one.
With the Bishop’s installation in July of 1935, priests and laymen alike, both of whom before had been without a leader and who had made their own rules as they went along, were now pressed by the situation to accept the Bishop’s enforcement of canonical rules to regulate and establish the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate on a firm foundation.
The clergy, most of whom had been here from the early 20’s, reacted to him in a variety of ways: some were openly hostile while others were absolutely devoted.
Thus, after a few months, the Bishop looked at the unique patchwork quilt ensemble of parishes, personalities and organizations and tried to make some semblance of organization from the grandly named „Episcopate.“
After listening to statements and complaints from laymen and clergy, both accusing each other of responsibility for the lack of organization and incompetency, the Bishop, I heard say, stated: “ I accept you just as I find you!“ There were no wide scale rejections, no disqualifications, no dismissals, but only gracious acceptance clothed in tolerance for the situation.
The already existing feud between the societies and the Church continued, and the new Bishop became the focal point for the misunderstanding because he was, in the eyes of some, the leader of an “ opposition.“ This unfortunate situation robbed the hierarch of valuable time, keeping him from attending to the real problems of Church life in the New World. It was like trying to fight with one hand tied behind the back.
Bishop Morusca’s steadfast rigidity came from the defensive attitude he had had to assume in the face of the accusation of his detractors, especially those who were not anxious for the Episcopate to be strong, or for him to succeed.
After several attempts to form a national women’s organization, His Grace was successful in laying the foundations for today’s ARFORA, an organization which loyally and with great devotion supported Bishop Policarp. From 1953 to 1963, my mother, Mrs. Martha Gavrila. was the National President of ARFORA. About this same time, the Bishop gave renew ed life to the official publication of the Solia newspaper, and soon the Calendar appeared.
Later, with my limited help as chauffeur and translator, (remember that the Bishop spoke no English), he headed out on a pastoral visit to the eastern states, stopping to see the communities in Cleveland, Young-stown, Mount Union, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Bridgeport, Woonsocket, Southbridge, and finally, Montreal.
Policarp wanted to see all his Romanian Orthodox Christians united into a strong diocese and Church; therefore, he went to them to see how they worked, how they lived, and how they prayed.
I feel certain that many times he experienced incidents which were cause for consternation, sometimes alarm and in other instances, downright embarrassment; nevertheless, he always said: “ I accept you as I found you.“
Although both he personally and the Episcopate collectively were financially limited, the new Bishop took the chance and involved the diocese in buying the Boland farm location in Grass Lake Township and today called the “ Vatra.“ Soon after the legal purchase of the land, in the summer of 1938, His Grace relocated on Grey Tower Road. At that time, the buildings were in great disrepair and even in shambles.
In that same year of 1938. the first Congress was held there. A disiornted. disorganized conglomeration of people descended ec the mzir. house ană m the living room, spilling oat onto the great veranda-porch, and held debate.
Among those things discussed were the proposals to fix up the property, to restore some of the buildings and, hopefully, to build a cathedral, basing it on the plans of those of the famous “ Curtea de Argeş“ in Romania!
The coming of the Second World War, however, temporarily put a halt to many of the Bishop’s plans and dreams. Some of them remained fixed in the minds and hearts of the faithful, others were to become reality through the dedicated efforts of his successor, Bishop Valerian. Others remain still a dream.
Some people interpreted the tolerant attitude of the Bishop toward the parishes as a sign of weakness. Whatever, he remained a charismatic figure who tried to combine Christian love and forgiveness with a determined decision to knit the masses of Romanian Orthodox into a strong Church in America with its future toward the next generation.
(“ Solia“ Calendar, 1985)
GEORGE R. GAVRILA