100 Year Old Court Documents Raise Questions for Movement to Canonize Archbishop Arseny
In a series of postings on the website of the Society for Orthodox History this past week, Fr. Oliver Herbel has published court records that have raised questions concerning the Archdiocese of Canada’s push to canonize Archbishop Arseny (+1946). +Arseny is best known as a Canadian missionary and the founder of St. Tikhon’s monastery in Pennsylvania. Herbel begins:
“.... +Arseny had served as a married priest in Russia until his wife died. In 1902, he came to America and served under St. Tikhon. He was instrumental in founding St. Tikhon’s monastery and the accompanying orphanage. Late in 1908, he was sent to Canada to administer the parishes there. In 1910, he returned to Russia and in 1920, was in a Serbian monastery when some Canadians asked that he return to serve them. In 1926, he was consecrated as the Bishop to Canada. He died in 1945 and is buried at St. Tikhon’s monastery.
At the time of the court case I am about to discuss, Arseny was an Archimandrite in charge of the newly-formed St. Tikhon’s Monastery. In June of 1908, Svoboda, a Greek Catholic (Uniate) paper published an article in which the author claimed Archbishop Arseny sexually forced himself upon one Mary Krinitsky on a buggy ride in the middle of the night.”
Ms. Krinitsky, a 24 year old domestic employed by the St. Tikhon's orphanage, had gone to help at a reception following the dedication of an Orthodox cemetery in Simpson, PA. She missed her train back to South Canaan. Herbel continues the story:
“ He (Arseny) offered her a ride and allegedly forced himself upon her after treating her nicely. Allegedly, this was the first occurrence, because after nearly a year later, she gave birth to a son. On the basis of an affidavit signed by Mary Krinitsky herself, Svoboda claimed Archimandrite Arseny (whose last name is rendered as Chagovtsov, Chagovets, and/or Chahovtsov in the documents) fathered the child. Archimandrite Arseny filed two libel suits against the paper–one in civil court and the other in criminal court.”
It is these court documents that Herbel has researched, and made several disturbing discoveries. He writes:
“First, the documents the canonization committee says it has from Kharkov would show that a son was born to the Chagovtsov family, after the first year of marriage, apparently.... Now, if that is true, then the following testimony seems very odd:
“Smitkin: Were you a married man in Russia?
S: Had children, didn’t you?
S: How long had you lived in Kharkov?
A: Not in Kharkov, near Kharkov.
S: Well, near that place, how long had you lived there?
A: About thirteen years.
S: Didn’t your wife give birth to a son to you?
[This may be found on pp. 45-46.]”
In defending himself from an accusation of sexual misconduct, the Archimandrite appears to have openly lied to the court. That there was indeed a son in Russia is evidenced by +Arseny himself, for in his final will, dated 1946, he leaves a portion of his estate to his son, Dionysius Andreievich, in Russia, should he still be alive. (Alas, he was not, apparently having fallen victim to Stalin’s purges in the late 1930’s.)
That +Arseny was guilty of prevarication on the stand is made further demonstrated in a portion of the transcripts Herbel does not discuss, but were made available to OCANews.org. Under cross-examination Arseny claims that his transfer to Canada after the birth of the baby was in the form of a “promotion” - trying to show the court that the Church did not believe the accusation against him. The defense attorney jumps at the opening, quoting +Arseny's own deposition for the civil trial, in which Arseny claimed he was “exiled” to rural Canada, and thus “suffered great damages” from the alleged libel. The attorney asks: Which is it? Exile or promotion? Realizing he has been caught, +Arseny is reduced to mumbling. His point made, the attorney moves on....
How did the trials - both the criminal libel and the civil libel cases - end? No one knows. Yet.
“The (criminal libel) transcript itself ends with an adjournment due to the illness of juror number six. The court adjourns for a week and then there is nothing...” As Herbel explains, the final pages of the transcript of the criminal trial are missing. Herbel continues:
“There are several possibilities as to what this means. First, as Fr. John Hainsworth (a member of the OCA canonization committee) has suggested, Metropolitan Herman may have the final pages (of the court transcript). If this is true, then they were obtained well before they were lost prior to the microfilming of the transcript in 1984. This could be possible but if it is, it raises the question of whether the pages would become available. Second, it could be the pages were simply lost early on - and no one has them. Third, the DA office might have dropped the charges (and the case ended). Fourth, there could have been a settlement.”
“Even if we are unable to obtain the final pages, there are a few things that can be done. First, I hope to pursue the civil case. It was tried in April/May of 1909, so it is possible the criminal case is referenced in it. Also, it may yet be possible to find a recording of the decision, even if the transcript remains incomplete.”
Herbel does offer this tantilizing piece of evidence indicating one possible conclusion:
“One thing people may find intriguing is that both defendants remain in their positions at Svoboda subsequent to this trial. This need not mean the jury ruled in their favor, but it is worth noting.”
The transcript of the trial - such as is available - has now been posted on the SOCHA website at www.orthodoxhistory.org.
- Mark Stokoe