American, Orthodox Priest Returns to Roots

For Father Daniel Hubiak, being an American Orthodox priest in Russia has not been easy.

First there was a two-year struggle to get a church in Russia to represent the Orthodox Church of America, which broke off official relations with the Russian Church after the 1917 Revolution.

That was followed by a yearlong battle to oust the tenants in the clergy house where Hubiak and his two assistant priests have their offices.

The next step was getting a place to hold services. But even though Patriarch Alexy II put pressure on the city to give the Americans the Church of the Great Martyr Catherine, Hubiak said renovations cannot start until an art restoration company moves out of what was once the winter church premises. The firm says it cannot afford to move to a new location.

"If we get the building, we can begin rebuilding the church, which needs a lot of restoration," Hubiak said.

The restoration may mean yet another headache for the 70-year-old priest because the historic site must be restored to its original state, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

To begin the restoration, Hubiak will have to research the archives to find out what type of church was constructed, what was in it and how it was configured.

"The historic site commission would do a background study for us, but we have to pay for it," he said.

Despite these setbacks, Hubiak has come a long way since he first envisioned an American representative church in Russia during a visit to the Soviet Union in 1970. During the visit, the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the Orthodox Church of America, which also has parishes in Canada and Mexico, as a self-governing, sister church.

"As a member of the delegation... I brought up the idea for a representative church here, and they said, as the youngest church that would be impossible, and here I am 20 years later appointed the representative," Hubiak said.

Hubiak, who has Carpathian-Russian ancestors, said he was always close to the church, but never considered the priesthood until he attended St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York. He was ordained an assistant priest in 1952.

Hubiak rose through the church's administration, finally being appointed in 1973 to the top position of chancellor, which he held for 15 years before returning to parish life in New Jersey.

In 1992, Hubiak moved to Moscow to set up the representative church for the Orthodox Church of America. When he first arrived he regularly accompanied Patriarch Alexy during many of his services, including regular Sunday liturgies in the Patriarch's Cathedral for Epiphany.

After a year, Hubiak began a small parish of his own in the bell tower at St. Danilovsky Monastery. By the spring of 1995, the parish grew to hold regular weekly services at St. Catherine's.

"I think what we're doing is right. People are coming for what we have to offer," said Hubiak, who conducts English-language services each Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Although Hubiak is modest about his work, he recently received the ranking of proto presbyter -- the highest-ranking member of the married clergy -- for his lifelong service to the church. In the Russian Orthodox Church, there are only two such priests and only a few in America, he said.

Although the Russian Orthodox Church has fallen on hard times as national identity, monetary and spiritual problems have surfaced, what the Russians have here makes Hubiak's counterparts back home a bit jealous, he said.

"When we participate, it's a witness to the unity in Orthodoxy and probably this unity is not so visible as it is in Russia," he said.

Hubiak praised the patriarch for pulling people together during this difficult period and noted that the Russian Orthodox Church has played a role -- and will continue to play a role -- in Russian life.

"He's trying to have the church be the church, and because Orthodoxy has played such an influential role in Russian society for 1,000 years, it's difficult to see the church completely outside political thought," Hubiak said. "By its very existence, it's playing some kind of role. Russians understand Orthodoxy as part of their culture."