Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach)
Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) (1952- 2016)
Dennis Alexander Pihach was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 27 June, 1952, the eldest son of Alexander and Elizabeth (Korpan) Pihach. His parents had 2 younger sons, Terry and Murray. They were the great-grandsons of the Priest Hrihory (Gregory) Pihach, who homesteaded at Saint Julien, Saskatchewan, who had served in many pioneer communities, and whose remains rest in the oldest cemetery at Saint Julien.
Dennis completed elementary and high school in Saskatoon, where he was actively involved in the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral as both a youth leader and an acolyte (Altar-server), and where he was a member of the youth choir. In time, Dennis felt called to serve the Lord as had his great-grandfather, and he enrolled in Saint Andrew’s College at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In 1973, Dennis graduated from Saint Andrew’s College. In that same year he was ordained a subdeacon by Bishop Boris (Yakovkevich) in Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Saskatoon, where he also worked as a church secretary and youth worker. Continuing his studies at the University of Saskatchewan, he graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Sociology and Slavic Studies.
A professional social worker, Dennis Pihach was employed by the Province of Saskatchewan for over 8 years in several varied positions, gaining experience in the fields of corrections, mental illness, and troubled youth and youth addictions services, at first in Saskatoon. From 1979-1981, he was a social worker in the province’s Corrections Department. From 1981-1988, he was the director of a psychiatric group home. Finally, from 1989-1997, he was an addictions counsellor and chaplain in the White Spruce Youth Treatment Centre near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. This treatment centre helped young people suffering from additions. It was based at the former Royal Canadian Air Force Station, Yorkton, and it then became the Orcadia Youth Residence. It has since then been closed. In this context, however, it was noticeable that the Orthodox Faith was his whole life.
Dennis Pihach was a founding member of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Saskatoon, which at that time became a parish of the Archdiocese of Canada in The Orthodox Church in America. The years at Holy Resurrection were formative years in many ways, as he served with the Archpriest Orest Olekshy, together with his wife, Oksana. As an ordained reader and a singer, his deep melodic bass voice was unforgettable.
While he was in this parish, he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate on 20 July, 1986 (at age 34), in Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, in Narol, Manitoba, and then to the Holy Priesthood on 16 November, 1986, at Holy Resurrection Church in Saskatoon. In both cases, it was His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) who ordained him. Soon afterwards, Father Dennis was assigned to do missionary work in the Manitoba/Saskatchewan Deanery.
In 1987, the Priest Dennis Pihach began a mission station in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, which later became Saint Mark’s Church. Besides having galvanised this urban community as an English-speaking mission, he negotiated a co-operative agreement with the Greek community there, which allowed for the sharing of the building. In addition, he established a system of visiting the rural parishes from Yorkton which provided much more frequent services. This service stretched at times as far as Swan River, Manitoba and Montmartre, Saskatchewan. A considerable amount of consolidation of resources was accomplished during this time, so that the sparsely populated rural communities could better maintain their facilities and continue to worship in their pioneer-established Temples. Saint Mark’s parish grew to be a “flagship” parish in the deanery and the archdiocese, and a nucleus of health for many small communities which had come to the very verge of extinction. Now, with new life, Temples began to be repaired and renovated, and hearts were consoled. Most importantly, both old and young parishioners were being taught the Orthodox Faith, and their hearts were refreshed with love for Jesus Christ.
In 1994, Father Dennis was elected and appointed to serve as the dean of the Manitoba/Saskatchewan Deanery.
In 1996, Father Dennis was assigned to serve as the chancellor of the archdiocese. He became the second chancellor to serve in the administration of the diocese after the retirement of the Archpriest John Tkachuk from that position.
He continued to serve as rector of Saint Mark’s parish until December, 1998, when he was transferred by Bishop Seraphim (Storheim) to Edmonton, Alberta, and assigned to serve as rector of Saint Herman’s Sobor there. By this time, this parish had become one of the largest of the archdiocesan parishes in Western Canada.
In addition to this substantial new responsibility, as well as serving as the chancellor of the archdiocese, he concurrently held the responsibility of being Acting Dean of Alberta from 1999 until 2002. Then he was elected and assigned to be the Dean of Alberta. The decanal responsibility was intensified to include closely supervising the pastoral care of the 14 rural communities northeast of Edmonton, an area rich in pioneer Orthodox history and culture. He helped the 2 priests who served them, and he frequently appeared there for meetings and for festal celebrations.
In 1999, Father Dennis prepared for and organised the sanctification of the new Holy Table and Temple of Saint Herman's Church by Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor). In 2001, the Temple was elevated to the dignity of a “sobor” (a larger Temple, usually). This parish grew in the number of faithful and in responsibilities within the archdiocese. Under the rector’s leadership, in 3 years, Saint Herman’s Sobor fostered 3 missions from the parish itself. At that time, there was as well the reception of a parish into the archdiocese in the greater Edmonton area. Saint Herman's Sobor became for a time the central focus for the 14 rural parishes outside Edmonton, with the priests of these many parishes attached to the Temple. The number of clergy in the Alberta Deanery tripled between 1999 and 2004. From Edmonton, between 2000 and 2004, the chancellor’s office established an insurance and health benefits plan for the archdiocesan clergy.
While serving in Edmonton, Father Pihach’s gift for including others in God’s service was a sight to behold on a Sunday, as a score of people, from readers, Altar-boys, music reproducers, the choir, coffee-makers, servers and cleaners worked together seamlessly to enable a wonderful Divine Liturgy. This was followed by warm hospitality afterwards in the downstairs hall. Everything was worshipful, personable, amicable and was done to the highest standards.
Father Dennis was a combination of deep devotion and earthy humour. He knew everyone by name and he had the gift of relating easily with others. Pensioners in places such as Yorkton, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Smoky Lake delighted in his presence. Youth found him to be “with it” because he was in touch with modern needs. In his family, "uncle Dennis" was considered to be the greatest and dearest uncle, who always made time for family, regardless of where he was in the world. He was well-grounded in the Ukrainian language and loved his inherited Ukrainian traditions, while living the broadness of Orthodoxy that goes far beyond linguistics and culture. This warm relationship extended also all across the diocese.
Father Alexander knew well how to live in the moment. In Edmonton, his fellow-pastor, Igumen John (Scratch), together with the Priest Michael Schaplowsky, decided to play a practical joke. They let it be known that Father Dennis loved the accordion and that he knew how to play it. The opposite was true. On a public occasion, he was presented with an accordion and he obligingly played some squeaks with a big smile. He was thereafter constantly pressed to play this instrument, and he repeatedly made jokes about it himself.
In 2003-2004, Father Dennis participated along with Bishop Seraphim in important meetings at Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Sobor in Vancouver. At this time, particularly on 1 January, 2004, 9 parish council members signed the "Declaration of the Re-establishment of the Parish". The "Russian Orthodox Society" was dissolved, and the Holy Resurrection parish was created as part of the Archdiocese of Canada. The new constitution and by-laws, which were in conformity with normal parish organisation, were adopted and registered.
Father Dennis travelled in official delegations to represent The Orthodox Church in America to the Churches of Ukraine, Georgia, Russia and Poland. He was a founder of the Canadian diocese’s "Project Ukraine", a charitable organisation that gives aid to the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine in order to assist the bishops, parishes, seminaries and orphanages there. He facilitated a great improvement in communication and co-operation between the Archdiocese of Canada and the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine. He took part many times in leading pilgrimages of Canadians to holy sites in Ukraine, and he participated also in many other pilgrimages. Partly in response to these visits to Ukraine, Father Dennis became a long-time and strong supporter of the "NASHI --- Our Children" organisation against human trafficking. Its headquarters is in Saskatoon, and it is led by Father Pihach's long-time friend Savelia Curniski.
When he was asked, Archpriest Dennis replied that he understood his main interests to be mission work and Church administration. The administration of the archdiocese needs, he said, to have a solid financial base on which to continue the growth it has experienced recently. This includes the need in this vast diocesan territory for auxiliary bishops who can assist the bishop in “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
On 11 July, 2009, the Archpriest Dennis Pihach was tonsured to be a monk, and he was given the name of Alexander (after Saint Alexander Nevsky). He was elevated to the dignity of igumen. He was also assigned to be the Igumen of Saint Elias Skete at Dickie Bush, Alberta, once the site of a small monastic community. He joked that the name “Dickie Bush” meant “Wild Bush,” which was quite suitable for him, a prairie monastic.
On 1 September, 2009, Igumen Alexander was assigned to serve as the Interim Dean of Annunciation Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario. At the same time, he remained in his responsibility as rector of Saint Herman’s Sobor in Edmonton, Alberta. As a result, he divided his time between the 2 communities.
In May, 2011, Igumen Alexander (Pihach) was elevated to the dignity of archimandrite. He was released from his responsibilities at the cathedral in Ottawa, and he was returned to Saint Herman's Sobor in Edmonton on a full-time basis.
On 16 October, 2012, Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) was released from his duties as Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Canada, and as rector of Saint Herman’s Sobor in Edmonton, and he was assigned by the Holy Synod of Bishops of The Orthodox Church in America to take on the duties of acting Dean of the Church of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr (also known as Saint Catherine in-the-Fields because it was built on farmland) in Moscow, Russia. He was released from the Archdiocese of Canada and transferred to the omophor of the Metropolitan of The Orthodox Church in America.
On 14 November 2012, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America approved the appointment of Archimandrite Alexander to be the Dean of the Church of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr in-the-Fields in Moscow, Russia, and Representative of the Orthodox Church in America to the Moscow Patriarchate. On 30 November, 2012, His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, was formally advised of the appointment by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon (Mollard) of The Orthodox Church in America.
Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) remained in this responsibility until his repose. While he was in Moscow, he travelled frequently between Moscow and Canada, and he was also present on many occasions in Ukraine and the United States.
It is impossible to count the number of church services that Father Alexander served, the number of kilometres that he travelled on behalf of the Church and the arduous hours that he spent in administrative meetings. It can be said that he lived as a good soldier and ascetic in the service of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, leaving family and property behind him to do what was needed. He believed in community and gave himself to it fully, wherever he was. He could be equally a breath of fresh air and a stabilising pillar. He was as at home in Saint Basil’s Orthodox Church in rural Gorlitz, Saskatchwan, as he was in the grand Saint Basil’s Church in Moscow. He was as comfortable with hierarchs and respected church dignitaries as he was discussing farm crops at Saint Julien, the Pihach family’s pioneer community northeast of Saskatoon. Without exception, as someone with prairie roots, his hand was always on the plough. He set a strong example that on this earth a Christian has no abiding city.
Archimandrite Alexander, Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko and others at vigil in Saint Catherine's Church, Moscow
During the last several years of his life, he suffered from a small cancer in his larynx. He received several treatments for this illness, and he was declared to be free from cancer well before his sudden repose. Earlier in October, 2016, he had returned from Moscow to Edmonton, where he had undergone a small procedure, and he was assured that the cancer was not a concern. After visiting there, he went on to visit his family and friends in Saskatoon, where that visit had been very pleasant. After that, he travelled to Toronto as he was making his way back to Moscow. Further repairs were in process at Saint Catherine's, and he had intended to continue his supervision of that work.
Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) fell asleep in the Lord suddenly and unexpectedly in Toronto on 8 October, 2016. He had just arrived at the home of the rector of Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Sobor in Toronto, the Archpriest Vasyl and Matushka Oksana Kolega. It is reported that the reason for the sudden repose was a massive heart-attack.
The first funeral services were presided over by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 823, Manning Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. The Order for the Burial of a Priest was served on Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. in the cathedral. The Hierarchical Memorial Divine Liturgy was served on Thursday, 13 October, 2016, at 10:00 a.m. at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Afterwards, letters of condolence were read which had been received, from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and from the Canadian and American ambassadors to Russia. A message of condolence from Metropolitan Sotirios (Athanassoulas) were read by his chancellor, Protopresbyter Panagiotis Avgeropoulos. An American young man from Michigan, who had been newly married by Archimandrite Alexander in Moscow in September, went to Toronto for the funeral from Michigan, where he was visiting. After the service, the body of Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) was transferred to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where there were served several panikhidas at Holy Resurrection Sobor, where his body rested briefly.
Because Holy Resurrection Sobor was too small for the large number of people expected, the funeral services were held at the rented Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family (123, Nelson Road, in Saskatoon). On Monday, 17 October, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., the Order for the Burial of a Priest was served. On Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., the Hierarchical Memorial Divine Liturgy was presided over by Archbishop Irénée (Rochon), together with the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, the Mitred Archpriest Anatoliy Mel’nyk (one of the first clergy who was helped to immigrate to Canada by Father Alexander) and with many other clergy. Interment followed in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Saskatoon, where members of his family repose.
It was a feast of faith and love on behalf of Archmandrite Alexander (Pihach) who fell asleep in the Lord this October 2016. Archbishop Irenée (Rochon) was officiating at the Parastas and Divine Liturgy services with Father Leonard Herrem, Priest-in-charge of Holy Resurrection Sobor, along with many priests and deacons from all across Canada. In addition, there were Deacon Kirill Dotsenko (who was Archimandrite Alexander’s Deacon from Saint Catherine’s Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow) and the retired Metropolitan John (Stinka) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. (Subdeacon James Nicholas Davis)
A reflection by the Archpriest Lawrence Farley Saturday morning began with a thunderbolt: a dear fellow-priest from my diocese began his phone call to me early that morning with the words, 'Did you hear about Father Alexander?' I had not heard about Father Alexander Pihach, but soon was informed that he had died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier that day. After travelling to Toronto from Moscow where he served as priest at the Representation Parish of Saint Catherine’s, and arriving in Toronto very late, he had been picked up at the airport and was eating at the home of a fellow priest in Toronto when he suddenly collapsed afterward on his way to bed, and he died. He had been lately been given a clean bill of health after his cancer treatments, and was looking forward to many more years of fruitful ministry. He was 64. I was not the only one who felt as if he had been struck by lightning. Father Alexander (or 'Father Dennis' as he had been known for years) had served as Chancellor in the Canadian diocese for many years, and as Rector of parishes across the country. He was well-known, and even more well-loved. I met him when I was still an Anglican priest investigating Orthodoxy. I had travelled three hours from northern Saskatchewan to the city of Saskatoon to observe the odd phenomenon of an Orthodox Liturgy being served in English. Dennis was a deacon at the parish there. I had many questions, most of them dumb. I also asked him, 'What’s the deal about this "jurisdictions thing"?' He and his priest exchanged a meaningful glance, and then Dennis answered, 'The only place to talk about Orthodox jurisdictions is either on your knees or in a bar.' I didn’t understand it then, and could only later appreciate the combination of wit, wisdom, pragmatism and humour that characterized Dennis Pihach. It was a combination that would later help keep many people sane when he served as Chancellor for the diocese through some interesting years to come. If I had to pick one phrase that described my friend of many years, it would be the phrase 'holy pragmatism'. Father Dennis was above all things a holy pragmatist, determined not to die on any hill but the one chosen by God. He knew how to roll with the punches (and there were many punches), to find the one thing needful, to keep both his integrity and his sense of humour — no mean feat — and to share his wisdom and perspective with those who needed it most. He had the gift of friendship, of connecting with people very different from him in both point of view and temperament, and of enriching them by that gift. He had no time for pretentious unreality (what the world calls 'bs'), and sat lightly on worldly honours. If Father Dennis/Alexander thought that something was nonsensical or that a man was an idiot, the thing in question probably was nonsense, and the man probably was an idiot. He had a judgment and discernment that could be relied upon, and yet he despised no one. He saw the Church with all its flaws, and loved her just the same. Father Dennis/Alexander was a big man, and his big frame contained a big heart. Those of us who knew him well knew that we had a place somewhere in that heart. He would sometimes call me from Moscow (across heaven knows how many time zones) just to talk and connect and encourage. Alas for me and for us all: our phones may now ring many times, but he will never again be on the other end of the line. We are all the poorer for his passing, and will not soon see his like again. May his memory be eternal.
A reflection by the Priest A Gregory Scratch from his parish blog : On Saturday night, I usually pack my pipe and go for a walk to fine-tune and shape my sermon, in an attempt to avoid rambling. That morning, I had been informed about the sudden repose of Archimandrite Alexander (Dennis Pihach), and it had weighed heavily on my heart throughout the day. I was working on my sermon about Saint Tikhon (whose feast day of glorification it was to be), yet every time I would go over my sermon, I would get lost in thoughts of Father Alexander. I would re-focus and get back to my sermon only to slip back into thoughts about Father Alexander. This went on for a bit (well, two hours) as I considered the many humble works Saint Tikhon did in this ountry and province : serving immigrants from Ukraine, preaching the Good News, building churches, babysitting children while their families were in the fields, or helping push wagons out of the mud – all for the glory of God. Then it dawned on me that Father Alexander not only continued this work, but he was also was transition between the world of Saint Tikhon and our 21st century Canadian culture : between a culture steeped in a millennium of Christianity, and a world thirsting for meaning ; between a cultural Orthodox tradition, and the convert experience. He always gave honour to the blessed gift of Orthodoxy, the inheritance of those saints and pioneers who brought with them the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Whether it was taking young converts with him to bless homes in rural Manitoba for Old Calendar Theophany, immersing them in the festive life of the Church as lived out in the homes of the faithful, or giving a feast for the servers of the Cathedral in Ottawa on the occasion of his name-day, or serving at the OCA representation Church in Moscow (a Bukovinian boy from the prairies in Moscow, — how is that for irony ?) ; or whether it was his willingness to be “all things to all men that some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22) applying the fluidity of the Gospel that witnessed the saving love of Christ, and not simply moral piety : he worked to help others find their way as Orthodox Christians within a culture that gives no room for either tradition, or conversion. This was truly his witness and his suffering. To some he was a traitor, and to others a one-track-minded traditionalist, but to myself and to many in the Archdiocese of Canada, he was a voice of reason and clarity. It was not that Father Alexander re-invented Orthodoxy, or that he made it a new, purer expression of Christianity, or that he crystalised the life of the Church into some relic of distant lands and ages. What he did was continually to bear witness to the living Faith : the love of God the Father, in His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, made real in the Church, regardless of whether it was expressed in Slavonic, Ukrainian, English or French ; whether it was served on the old or new Calendar, or in full or abbreviated services. His legacy will not simply be the men, women and families that he brought closer to Christ, or the men he inspired to serve at Christ’s Altar (myself included) ; or the churches he built, and the parishes he healed. Rather, like Saint Tikhon’s legacy, the seal of his legacy is that he cultivated the hearts of the faithful that they might hear the voice of the Shepherd, Christ our God, calling each of us to peace, mercy and grace in a very turbulent and trying time. The question now for us is what do we do ? How do we serve ? What do we proclaim ? Do we cultivate the world around us to hear our own voices, or the voice of the one Shepherd who calls us by name ? Is it our own word that we bear witness to, or the divine Word, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon all creation ? If we are true to the work of Saint Tikhon and holy men and women who have served the Lord in Canada (like our beloved Archbishop Arseny) ; and if we are true to the memory of Father Alexander, our proclamation will be of the Lord’s saving mercy poured out onto a new land, a proclamation that cutting through the noise of sin so that the hear voice of God calling us to life eternal. May His memory be eternal.
Message from Metropolitan Tikhon to Saint Catherine’s Church in Moscow Beloved clergy and parishioners of St. Catherine’s Church: The falling asleep of Archimandrite Alexander has deprived you of a loving and gentle pastor. The Orthodox Church in America is deprived of a faithful representative and wise counselor. Father Alexander’s spiritual authority came from a peaceful heart, quiet manner, and steadfast faith. He radiated genuine good will. These qualities shone brightly in his church ministry in Canada and in Moscow. As we join with you in prayer for the repose of Father Alexander’s soul, we are confident that the Risen Christ embraces him with love and greets him with the words, ‘well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.’ May the blessing and consolation of the Lord be with you, through His grace and love for mankind.
Photos from the funeral in Toronto :
Photos of the funeral in Saskatoon :
On 7 October, 2017, there was a memorial service offered in Moscow, Russia, at the Temple of Saint Catherine-in-the-Fields in order to mark the first anniversary of the falling asleep of Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach). He had served formerly as the Dean of Saint Catherine's and Representative of the OCA to the Moscow Patriarchate. Bishop Daniel (Brum) of Santa Rosa, accompanied by Archpriest Christopher Hill, Archpriest Valentine Vasechko, and Archpriest Kirill Sokolov, served the Panikhida. May his memory be eternal.
Additional information :
"Canadian Orthodox Messenger" (Winter, 1992/1993) pp. 1-2. Report about "Project Ukraine"
“Canadian Orthodox Messenger” (Summer, 1993) p. 3. Further report about the second year of "Project Ukraine".