Archpriest Cyprian R A Hutcheon

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Archpriest Cyprian R Hutcheon M.D., F.R.C.P.(C), M.A., Ph.D. (Th.) (1943- )

— edited from an article by Mother Sophia (Zion) in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”.

Although both his parents were born and raised in Saskatchewan, by an “accident of history” Robert Alan Hutcheon was born to his parents W Les and Margaret D (born Ferguson) Hutcheon in 1943 in Brandon, Manitoba. At that time, his father, then a rookie lieutenant in the Canadian Army, was training for overseas service. While his father was away in Europe, Robert and his mother spent the first 3 years of his life with his grandmother and an aunt in Sardis, British Columbia. In 1946, following his father’s return from the European war (World War II), he and his parents returned home to Saskatoon, where he spent the next 21 years of his life. The family grew to include his 2 sisters, Marian and Patricia.

Between 1949 and 1961, Robert attended primary and secondary schools in Saskatoon. During his high school years, he was active in student government and a variety of extracurricular activities. One of these was the Young People’s Union at Westminster United Church, an originally Presbyterian congregation whose founding members included his Ontario-born maternal grandparents. He says that his family were by no means “religious” in the traditional Protestant sense, in that they rarely (if ever) prayed or read the Bible together. However, he was fortunate to have had several inspiring Sunday School teachers, and he “joined the church” when he was 13 or 14.

Higher education

After he completed his secondary education, he entered the University of Saskatchewan.

On 13 January, 1965, while Robert was in the midst of his second year as a medical student at the University of Saskatchewan, and while his father was serving as the newly-installed Dean of Agriculture at the same institution, his family life was altered radically and permanently when his father suddenly reposed from a heart-attack at the age of 48. Robert says that he has only realised in retrospect how completely “bowled over” he had been by this event, and how restricted his grieving had been by his immersing himself totally in his medical studies. As a result of this immersion in study, when he graduated (M.D.) from the University of Saskatchewan in 1967, he was chosen as that year’s Rhodes’ Scholar for Saskatchewan, an opportunity which sent him to England’s Oxford University in October, 1967.

Rhodes Scholar ; medical studies

In order to attend Oxford for 2 years, Robert deferred his paediatric post-graduate medical training until 1969 (when he moved to Montréal, where he still lives). At Oxford, he pursued post-graduate medical studies as he majored in Biostatistics (of potential application to a future career in medical research). There, he enjoyed a variety of new experiences that included a trip to the USSR with a British student group, and attendance (in Oxford) at his first-ever Orthodox Divine Liturgy. The celebrant of this Divine Liturgy was the future Bishop Kallistos (Ware).

During this time, although he was firmly convinced of the truth of the Christian revelation, he was basically an infrequent church-goer who was searching for “the Church”. However, it was only in 1972 (while working as a paediatrician in Kenya) that he read (and re-read) Bishop Kallistos’s book, “The Orthodox Church”, and from this came to the strong conviction that this was where God was leading him. However, it took 7 more years (2 of which were spent back in Kenya) before he finally entered the Orthodox Church. Many people who are searching for the truth about Christ have a similarly long path in finding the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is not easy to find, somehow, for very many people. There are many reasons.

In 1975, Robert Hutcheon became qualified as a paediatric specialist (F.R.C.P.C.), and he then practiced paediatric medicine at the Montreal Children’s Hospital for the next 30 years. From his position as Associate Professor of Pediatrics at McGill University, attached to Montreal Children’s Hospital, Robert was seconded to the University of Nairobi, Kenya from 1976-78.

Reception into the Orthodox Church

In November, 1979 (almost despairing of ever being able to find some sort of “non-ethnic” Orthodoxy in Montréal), he happened to see an article in a Montréal newspaper that was written about a new English-speaking Orthodox community which was about to celebrate its first anniversary by holding a Vespers and “open house” to mark the occasion. He went along, he says, with joy and expectancy in his heart, and he was blessed to discover The Sign of the Theotokos Mission (now Church) where, in March, 1980, he was received into the Orthodox Church, and where he has made his “church-home” ever since.

Diaconal ordination ; diaconal service

A few years after his arrival at “The Sign”, the pastor, Father John Tkachuk, approached him to inquire whether he had ever thought of becoming a deacon. He replied that he had not ; but after thinking and praying about the matter for nearly a year, and with Father John’s encouragement and support, he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate by Metropolitan Theodosius (then locum tenens for our diocese) on 12 February, 1984.

Since (and prior to) that date, he has played an active role in the life of his home parish. In addition to exercising his diaconal service in various ways, he served on the parish council in several different capacities and, for a time, he even served as a substitute choir director when necessary.

In the later 1980s, he was chosen to be a member of the Archdiocesan Council, and served as such for nearly 10 years (many of them as the recording secretary). He also served for some time as the executive Secretary of the Archdiocese of Canada.

On 14 April, 1991, Deacon Cyprian R Hutcheon was elevated to the dignity of protodeacon during the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the Sign of the Theotokos Church in Montréal, Québec.

Further study ; theological formation

Since he had had no formal theological education prior to his diaconal ordination, in the mid-80s he began studying theology part-time at Montreal’s Concordia University, where he obtained a Diploma in Theology in 1992. It was not physically feasible for him to travel to an Orthodox Seminary to study, nor were there at that time any substantial “distance-learning” possibilities available for him to pursue studies specifically in Orthodox Theology. Besides, a full-time physician with a speciality in paediatrics has few possibilities for attending a seminary far away. Nevertheless, Deacon Cyprian was and is a voracious reader ; and, because of the Lord’s blessing, he was able to attend very many lectures given by many prominent Orthodox teachers and professors, with some of whom he had a long-standing personal contact.

In his paediatric service, Father R Cyprian Hutcheon became the first Medical Director of the Palliative Care Program (for terminally ill children) at the Montréal Children’s Hospital, in which capacity he served from 1991 until 1995. It was, in fact, very much through his initiative and work that this palliative-care program came into being.

During many of these years, Father Cyprian had been representing the Archdiocese of Canada in the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). He served for many years on the Governing Board, and then more recently on the Faith and Witness Commission. He recently served as a Vice-President of the CCC. He was amongst the first active and vocal Orthodox participants in the CCC. His participation (along with a few others) enabled the participation of the Archdiocese of Canada in the Canadian Council of Churches in a more visible, constructive and active manner, and his participation greatly complemented the presence and participation of other Orthodox Churches in the Council.

Ph.D in Theology

In 1995-1996, Father Hutcheon took a leave-of-absence from his duties as a physician at this hospital, and he spent one academic year at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa. Thereafter, he undertook the study towards a Master of Arts degree in theology at the University of Saint Paul in Ottawa (with which the Sheptytsky Institute is affiliated), which he completed in 1997. Following this, on 31 October 2003, he became the first person to receive a Ph.D. (Th.) in Eastern Christian Studies from Saint Paul’s University after he successfully defended a pastorally-focussed dissertation on the Orthodox Funeral Service and its potential role in promoting healthy bereavement. (The Sheptytsky Institute opened its civil doctoral program in Eastern Christian Studies in September 2000.) Professors, students, staff, family members and invited guests gathered in the university’s amphitheatre for a wonderfully engaging presentation and discussion on the candidate’s dissertation : “From Lamentation to Alleluia : An Interpretation of the Theology of the Present-Day Byzantine-Rite Funeral Service Analyzed through its Practical Relationship to Bereaved Persons”. The published report comments, as follows :

 The candidate pointed out that his thesis topic was conditioned by his own biography, in particular 
 by the experience of his father’s funeral in the Protestant tradition.  In contrast, the Byzantine 
 Funeral Rites, with their open confrontation with the reality of death, provide a real opportunity 
 for bereavement and healing.  Today’s growing trend to skip traditional rituals, in Dr. Hutcheon’s 
 view, is a temptation to be avoided.
 Deacon Hutcheon contested the work of the late Alexander Schmemann, a renowned Orthodox liturgical 
 scholar, who had critiqued the theological adequacy of Byzantine funerals.  The candidate stressed 
 that the existing format of the Byzantine funeral with its apparent paradox, leading 'from 
 lamentation to celebration', develops a liturgical and pastoral theology that easily draws the 
 bereaved into a celebration of Christ’s victory over death, in other words, into the paschal 
 The candidate’s presentation was followed by interventions from the four examiners, Rev. Professors 
 Andriy Chirovsky, John Gibaut and David Perrin from Saint Paul University, with 
 Prof. Vigen Guroian from Loyola College in Maryland.  The discussion was lively and enriching and 
 culminated with Dr. Hutcheon, the physician, being recognized as a Ph.D. in Theology, Eastern 
 Christian Studies.  
 Thesis director Fr. Peter Galadza was delighted with the candidate’s achievement: ‘Bob has produced 
 a work that is as academically rigorous as it is pastorally relevant. That’s quite an 
 accomplishment. But what else would you expect from a former (Oxford) Rhodes Scholar who has worked 
 as a physician and deacon for so many years?’ 
 Dr. Hutcheon was honoured to be the first student to receive a doctorate in Eastern Christian 
 Studies at Saint Paul University, but he "played down" his accomplishment saying he had a head 
 start over the other students. 

In addition to all this, he was also teaching 2 courses at the Université de Sherbrooke (Longueuil Campus, Montréal).

Episcopal candidate

For some time, the bishop and the archdiocesan council had understood that there was a clear need for the work of a Vicar-Bishop in Canada. Several candidates began to be considered. The life, work and dedication of Protodeacon Cyprian Hutcheon contributed to his being one of these candidates. He had constantly and willingly shouldered the responsibilities in diocesan administration that had been given to him, and his careful, thoughtful, measured judgement was valued.

Presbyteral ordination

On 9 January, 2005, during the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, Protodeacon Cyprian R Hutcheon was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Bishop Seraphim.

Pastoral service

He was elevated also to the dignity of archpriest. He was assigned to the Sign of the Theotokos Church as Second Priest.

On 13 November, 2005, in addition to his other duties, Archpriest Cyprian Hutcheon was appointed to be Archdiocesan Dean for the Archdiocese of Canada.

At about this time, Father Cyprian R Hutcheon had been passing through the necessary examinations of life which are involved in assessing the possible candidacy for ordination to the Holy Episcopate. One such examination was (at that time) an interview by 2 of the bishops of the Holy Synod (since that time, the interview is by more bishops, or all the bishops). The bishops who examined him found that he was generally qualified ; but that his theological education was not specifically in an Orthodox institution was considered to be an obstacle.

There was a noticeable disappointment expressed on the part of the archdiocesan council and members of the diocese, and, of course, the bishop. It remains a fact that, over the course of several decades, Father Cyprian had had frequent personal encounters with such professors as the Protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, Thomas Hopko, as well as other faculty members of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. These personal encounters always included an educational aspect. There were many other well-known Orthodox professors whom he knew personally, including in Greece. It is also a fact that he had participated in many lectures given by these and other notable Orthodox teachers. The requirement of an Orthodox education is certainly important, but perhaps there is a variety of ways in which it may be acquired.

Retirement from medical practice

On 31 July, 2006, Dr. Robert Hutcheon retired from his position as Associate Professor of Paediatrics at McGill University, and as Active Attending Staff Paediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

On 15 August, 2006, Archpriest Cyprian Hutcheon, remaining Archdiocesan Dean, was released from his responsibilities at the Sign of the Theotokos in Montréal, Québec, and he was assigned to be Rector of Holy Resurrection Sobor in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This responsibility in Saskatoon was considered to be a providential opportunity by him and by the bishop, since his mother was living in this city, and since she was in failing health. However, the immediacy of the importance of his presence was quickly made obvious when, on 2 October, 2006, his mother Margaret Hutcheon fell asleep in the Lord in Saskatoon at the age of 88.

On 30 September, 2009, the Archpriest Cyprian Hutcheon was granted release from his responsibilities as Rector of Holy Resurrection Sobor in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he remained assigned to the Sobor, as Associate Priest.

Retirement from pastoral responsibility

In 2010, Father Cyprian had decided to return to Montréal, because Holy Resurrection Church seemed to be in good order and was ready for a successor. However, he had also become convinced that it was important that he be able to teach, to write, and also to be free to represent the Archdiocese in various capacities (including the Canadian Council of Churches). It was for reasons such as these that he was retired from active pastoral responsibilities. Without the burden of such responsibility, he has remained active, nevertheless, in parish life (particularly at “The Sign”) and in his parochial service.

It has been written that although Father Cyprian is a celibate priest, he appreciates the joys of family life, and that he is very proud of his niece and nephew, and his 5 god-children. Such a statement is certainly true. He has many, many friends, and he is a well-trusted friend, confidant and priest and god-father to many. His matter-of-fact humility is worth emulating, as is his deeply-rooted care for Christ and His Church, and his desire to serve in a selfless manner.

On 25 February, 2012, at Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montréal, Québec, the Orthodox Christian Women of Montréal hosted their 21st annual conference. On this occasion, the topic was “Why Do We Need the Creed ? : The Symbol of Faith in Today’s World”. The speaker was Archpriest Cyprian Hutcheon of the Sign of the Theotokos Orthodox Church.

Archpriest Cyprian R Hutcheon has been serving as the Vice-President of The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) Governing Board during the period 2012-2015. He serves also in the Christian Interfaith Reference Group, and in Faith and Witness.

In 2016, the Archpriest Cyprian R Hutcheon moved back to Saskatoon, where he entered a residence for senior citizens. From this residence, he continued to serve liturgically, to travel about Saskatchewan, to visit Montréal and other places, to give talks, and to participate in meetings.

Reference :

'The nomination process continues : Protodeacon Cyprian (Robert) Hutcheon' in "Canadian Orthodox Messenger" (Spring, 2004), pp. 19-20.

Additional information :

“McGill University Health Centre Department of Pediatrics Newsletter”, Autumn 2006

Diocese announcement

Archdiocese service record

Archdiocese listing

Canadian Council of Churches

Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal Conference 2012

Doctoral Defence

News item

Margaret Hutcheon

Ancient Faith announcement

Saskatoon OCF

CCC Faith and Witness Commission

'Protodeacon ordained to priesthood in Montréal' in "Canadian Orthodox Messenger" (Spring, 2005), p. 1.

'A wonderful gift' in "COM" (Spring, 2005), p. 3.

‘At Fall 2005 Archdiocesan Council Meeting: Archdiocesan Dean appointed’ in “Canadian Orthodox Messenger” (Spring, 2006), pp. 1-2.