The Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, who came to the United States as a childhood refugee from war-torn Poland and later became a leader in cross-church cooperation and the first Eastern Orthodox president of the National Council of Churches, has died. He was 78.
Kishkovsky died of a heart attack Tuesday at Glen Cove Hospital in Glen Cove, New York, according to the Orthodox Church in America, where he served as director of external affairs and interchurch relations. He had long been in high-level administration at the Orthodox Church in America’s offices on New York’s Long Island, while also serving as a parish priest for a nearby church.
“He was definitely a giant in the church,” said the Very Rev. Alexander Rentel, chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America. “As gifted as he was as a diplomat and administrator, he was a caring and loving pastor.”
Much of Kishkovsky’s work involved relations with those outside of the denomination, from other Eastern Orthodox churches to representatives of Protestants, Catholics and other religions.
In 1989 he was elected as the first Orthodox president of the National Council of Churches after decades of Protestant leadership. The ecumenical body, while comprising both Protestant and Orthodox communions, was often seen as a project of liberal Protestantism, and Kishkovsky sought to bridge divides not only between denominations but between ideologies.
″There are people of deep Christian faith who hold liberal commitments and also those who hold conservative commitments,” he told The New York Times at the time. “My dream is that the differing communities of religious discourse could be in fruitful conversation and debate with one another.”
Kishkovsky, who was of Russian descent, was born in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, Poland, on March 24, 1943, according to the church. His parents fled with him to Germany the next year and resettled in Los Angeles as displaced persons in 1951.
He studied political science and history at the University of Southern California, graduating in 1964. He graduated from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, in 1967.
Kishkovsky worked in youth ministry and met his future wife, Alexandra “Mimi” Koulomzine of Montreal, Canada, at a student retreat. They were married in 1969, and he was ordained a priest later that year.
After five years of ministry in San Francisco, he began work with OCA headquarters in Syosset, New York, in 1974, and as rector of the nearby Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Sea Cliff, New York.
In 1982 he began editing The Orthodox Church, the denomination’s main periodical.
He was decorated by the council in 2020 with its President’s Award for Excellence in Faithful Leadership. The council said in a statement that Kishkovsky “held fast to Orthodoxy, yet he was open to the faiths of others. He was their friend, and with them he enjoyed intense conversation, shared keen observations, and gave in to hearty laughter.”
Kishkovsky also served in various roles with other ecumenical and interfaith groups, including the World Council of Churches, Church World Service and Religions for Peace USA.
He was a board member of International Orthodox Christian Charities and was involved in various other cooperative efforts across Orthodox communions.
Kishkovsky is survived by his wife, daughters Sophia and Maria and five grandchildren.
The Orthodox Church in America traces its roots to Russia and neighboring Slavic lands but, like other Orthodox branches in the United States, has increasingly drawn members from various ethnic backgrounds. As of 2010 it had 551 parishes and nearly 85,000 members, according to the “Atlas of American Orthodox Churches.”
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