Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop

Bishop-elect Alexander Golitzin will be only the second bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America. Father Alexander succeeds the late Archbishop Kyrill.
Bishop-elect Alexander Golitzin will be only the second bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America. Father Alexander succeeds the late Archbishop Kyrill.

Nearly five years after the bishop's chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today's consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

"Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution," said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. "Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful."

Father Alexander said in an interview that the thought of being a bishop would be "kind of frightening" if he didn't feel confident that God opened the door for him.

"It's kind of like when I came here to Marquette. I had no idea I was going to be teaching. The job market was nonexistent, so I stopped thinking about it. Then an opportunity came out of nowhere. A door opened and it seemed to me providential. I walked through it, to my great happiness.

"This seems much the same thing. I hadn't been thinking about [being a bishop] at all and then they asked. It seemed to me -- maybe this is a little pretentious to say so -- but it seems God's will. So I walked through the door again."

The Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The Bulgarian Diocese was formed in 1963 and Archbishop Kyrill was consecrated its first bishop on Aug. 9, 1964, according to the Rev. Don Freude, chancellor of the diocese and pastor of St. Elia the Prophet Church in Akron.

"In 1976, Bishop Kyrill led the diocese to join the Orthodox Church in America," Father Don said.

Most parishes in the diocese now consist of second or third-generation Americans, with only a handful comprising new Bulgarian immigrants, he said.

To be a bishop in the Bulgarian Diocese of the OCA, a person must be unmarried -- he can be widowed -- and come from the monastic ranks, Father Andrew said. He has to be at least 35 years old, but most are typically much older when nominated, he said.

The committee reviewed the names of 22 possible candidates, pared it to seven, then held a vote between two finalists in July, 2011, in Fort Wayne. The Rev. Paul Gassios, pastor of St. George in Rossford, was the other finalist, with Bishop-elect Alexander receiving a majority vote. His election was approved by the OCA's Holy Synod in October.

Father Paul said today's consecration ceremony is "a wonderful thing."

"Archbishop Kyrill founded the diocese and left the diocese in good shape, financially, but we've really needed a bishop for quite a while now. We look forward to Father Alexander beginning his episcopate here. We see this as a real exciting time for our diocese."

Bishop-elect Alexander, who turns 64 this month, was born in Tarzana, Calif., and received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley, a master of divinity from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in New York, and a doctorate in theology from Oxford University in England, where he studied under Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.

During his seven years of study for a doctorate, he spent two years in Greece, including a year at Simonos Petras Monastery on Mount Athos.

Bishop-elect Alexander has been a professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee since 1989.

His uncle and namesake, Alexander Golitzin, who died in 2005 at age 97, was a renowned Hollywood art director who worked for Universal Studios 30 years, winning Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.

The consecration of Bishop-elect Alexander Golitizin as Bishop of Toledo in the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America is to begin at 9 a.m. today at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, 738 Glenwood Rd., Rossford. A vespers service is to be held at 6 p.m.

-- David Yonke