CASES OF INTEREST

Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Archbishop Antony et. als. v. Luchejko et. als.
This suit was initiated in May of 1999 by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of United States of America [hereinafter referred to as UOC-USA], Archbishop Antony, and a small minority group of former parishioners of the Holy Ascension Parish of Passaic NJ, Inc. now located in Clifton, NJ [hereinafter referred to as Holy Ascension Parish]. The Defendants are the Holy Ascension Parish, the Parish Board and individual Parish Board members. Thereafter, Metropolitan Constantine was interpleaded as a third party defendant.

The dispute began after the Defendants questioned the propriety of certain actions in December of 1994 taken by Plaintiff Archbishop Antony and other church corporation office holders, especially the signing of the “Points of Agreement” which the Defendants show constituted an unlawful and unauthorized attempt to merge the UOC-USA with a totally separate and unrelated (even sometimes inimical) church, the Church of Constantinople [sometimes referred to herein as the Ecumenical Patriarchate or Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople]. By these actions, the Plaintiff Archbishop Antony and the other hierarchs left and abandoned the UOC-USA and became clerics in a totally distinct and separate religious institution thereby forfeiting all corporate, spiritual or any other authority over member parishes of the UOC-USA.

In response, the Plaintiff, Archbishop Antony allegedly “suspended” the parish and directed the then parish pastor, Rev. Mironko, not to celebrate liturgy; the Archbishop refused to recognize any actions of the lawfully elected Parish Board.  The Parish Board, in turn, hired another Ukrainian Orthodox priest which action the Defendants state was authorized by the Holy Ascension Parish’s organic documents and by the UOC-USA’s long standing customs and practices. Thereafter, this litigation began.

The complaint, as advanced by all the plaintiffs, seeks to assert control over the internal management, operations, property and assets of Holy Ascension Parish. The Defendants responded asserting that such control over all parish assets is vested solely in the parish itself and that the parish has by custom and its own organic documents the right to secede from the UOC-USA. The Defendants also asserted claims against the bishops sounding in common-law tort, fraud, misrepresentation, and deceit.

During the course of the litigation, the claims and defenses of all of the clerical Plaintiffs and of a substantial majority of the individual Plaintiffs were dismissed with prejudice which dismissals were never appealed. Seven individual Plaintiffs were reinstated as plaintiffs in August 6, 2001 who the Trial Court on March 14, 2003 concluded had legal standing to pursue the claims alleged in the complaint.

The Chancery Division of Somerset County had also granted Final Judgment on these claims in favor of the plaintiffs who still remain in this action, ruling essentially that the claims of the Plaintiffs are justified under the Constitution of the UOC-USA and because the defendant parish is a part of a “hierarchical” church organization which is centrally controlled in all important respects. The Judgment also granted the Plaintiffs’ request that individuals approved by the Archbishop be appointed to the parish board thus giving control of the property and assets of the parish to the UOC-USA hierarchy. At the same time, the Chancery Division entered judgment against Defendants in this action on their counterclaim against the senior bishops of the UOC-USA on the basis that a secular court had no jurisdiction to entertain the Defendants’ claims against these persons sounding in common law tort, fraud, misrepresentation, and deceit.  The Defendants appealed the trial court decision to the NJ Superior Court - Appellate Division.

On November 27, 2004, the Appellate Division reversed the September 3, 2003, Final Judgment of the Chancery Division of Somerset County which approved the Archbishop's appointment of the Parish Board (and thus giving control of the property back to the Parish) and further concluded that the court lacked jurisdiction over the remainder of the issues in the case since they involved in the court's view religious questions.  The Plaintiffs appealed this reversal  to the NJ Supreme Court and the Defendants Cross-appealed the other juridictional conclusions of the court.  Tthe Supreme Court decided not to grant certifacation in March of 2005.

In 2007, the Plaintiff  UOC-USA again attempted to take control of the parish property by obtaining a "church court"  decree against the Defendants and then requesting that the civil courts enforce it. The Defendants'  response made clear the following fundamental  facts:
     (1) the Plaintiff UOC-USA was established as a diocese, a subunit and integral part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a spiritually hierarchical religious body with its home and center of authority in Kyiv, Ukraine, in the early decades of the 20th century;
     (2) the Plaintiff UOC-USA, through the actions of its senior clerical officials, is now in open rebellion against its Mother Church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and has, contrary to both civil and religious legal tenet, cast off its obedience to the Church in Ukraine and its Patriarch and has, without the consent and in defiance of the wishes of Holy Ascension Parish and the individual Defendants named in the Complaint of the Plaintiff UOC-USA, purported to affiliate itself with a competing Greek-language church jurisdiction based in Istanbul, Turkey;
     (3) Holy Ascension Parish in Clifton, New Jersey, was organized under the leadership and at the behest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church based Kyiv, Ukraine, and has remained steadfast in its spiritual loyalty and fealty to its Mother Church until the present day and has resisted the impositions of the plaintiff UOC-USA designed to force it into rebellion against its Orthodox Mother Church in Ukraine and its Patriarch;
     (4) the individual Defendants named by the Plaintiff UOC-USA in its instant Complaint have, as has Holy Ascension Parish, likewise insisted on their continued spiritual loyalty and fealty to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv, now under the patriarchal leadership of Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv, and have similarly rejected measures by the Plaintiff UOC-USA and its clerical leadership in South Bound Brook intended to force them into leaving their traditional religious affiliation with and spiritual subjection to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv;
     (5) the church court judgment issued by the Plaintiff UOC-USA and its clerical leadership in South Bound Brook against both the Holy Ascension Church of Clifton and the individual Defendants has been countermanded and declared null and void by a comprehensive decree of the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv, ruling that the actions taken by the clerical leadership of the Plaintiff UOC-USA are null, void and of no effect; and
     (6) in its present civil action against Holy Ascension Parish and the individual Defendants here, the Plaintiff UOC-USA and its clerical leadership in South Bound Brook attempt to invoke the legal and equitable jurisdiction of this Court in favor of the judgments and rulings of its Turkish church leader and his new organization to which it has unlawfully subjected itself, and, at the same time, attempt to invoke the power of this Court against the Orthodox Patriarch in Kyiv to have his superior Decree in this matter superseded by an order of this Court.
The invocation by the Plaintiff UOC-USA of the legal and equitable jurisdiction of this Court contravenes in a variety of respects the guarantees of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, assuring the individual Defendants here (as well as Holy Ascension Parish) of the free exercise of religion and the noninterference by secular courts in religious matters as previously determined by the Appellate Division in the same dispute and, for this reason, should be rebuffed and dismissed by the Court.

Judge McVeigh of the Chancery Division, Passaic County, rejected the Plaintiff's request and concluded that the civil courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. This decision was affirmed by the Appellate Division in a strongly worded opinion in August, 2009. The UOC-USA attempted to have the matter reviewed by the Supreme Court of  New Jersey but  its request was denied on December 15, 2009.

The defendants were respresented by Myroslaw Smorosky.
Prof. E.R. Lanier , Georgia State Law School was counsel pro hac vice.

For additonal information, please visit  The Website SAVE OUR UOC-USA

Michalivsky Sobor, Kyiv, Ukraine