Benjamin (Basalyga) of Pittsburgh
His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Benjamin (Basalyga) of Pittsburgh was the first bishop of the Orthodox Church to be American born. Coming from one of the earliest families to emigrate to the United States from Slavic middle Europe, he was an active part of the Orthodox mission as it grew in the United States.
The future Archbishop Benjamin was born Basil Basalyga on January 11, 1887 in Olyphant, a borough in the anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania where many emigrants from the Galician and Carpatho-Russian areas of central Europe had come to work in the coal mines. As a youth he was very active in the life of the church. When the first missionary school of the Russian mission was opened in Minneapolis in 1897, young Basil was among its first students, graduating in 1902. Upon graduation, he was given a position as instructor of the school's preparatory class. After moving back to Pennsylvania, he served a choir director and parish teacher in Charleroi and Pittsburgh until 1905. Then, with the opening of the new seminary in Minneapolis in 1905, he returned to Minnesota as a student.
In 1910, Basil became seriously sick, and upon recovering, he entered St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. In 1911, he was tonsured a monk and given the name Benjamin. On April 2, 1911 he was ordained deacon in Brooklyn, New York by Abp. Platon and then, on April 9, 1911, the archbishop ordained him a priest at St. Tikhon's Monastery.
After his ordination, Fr. Benjamin became a sort of traveling priest, serving for short times at many parishes throughout the United States. These included parishes in Chicago, Illinois; Hartshorne, Oklahoma; Pueblo, Colorado; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition, he helped organize parishes in Akron, Ohio; Spring Valley, New York; and Bellaire, Ohio. In 1919, Fr. Benjamin was raised in rank to igumen and appointed dean of the Scranton, Pennsylvania area. The next year, Fr, Benjamin was elevated to archimandrite and appointed administrator of the parishes in Canada.
After the return of Metr. Platon to the United States in 1923, Fr. Benjamin became for awhile his personal secretary. Thereafter, Fr. Benjamin again served at a number of parishes, including: Alpha, New Jersey; New York City; Wilmington, Delaware; Berlin, New Hampshire; and Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
On September 9, 1933, Hieromonk Benjamin was elected bishop by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Metropolia, and on September 10, he was consecrated to the episcopate at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in New York City, thus becoming the first bishop of the Orthodox Church born in America. He was then assigned as Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia. In 1938, Bp. Benjamin was sent as a delegate from the Metropolia to the All-Russian Sobor of the Church outside of Russia at a Sremski-Karlovtsy, Yugoslavia. In 1946, having been raised to the dignity of Archbishop, Abp. Benjamin was assigned to lead the Church in Japan, which had been placed under the protection of the American Metropolia after the Japanese surrender in World War II. In this position he led the Church of Japan in its recovery from the devastation from the war. In 1953, he was succeeded by Bp. Ireney and returned to his Pittsburgh diocese. On October 22, 1961, during the celebration of his fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, Abp. Benjamin ordained the monk Theodosius (Lazar) to the priesthood. Fr. Theodosius would in time succeed to his see as Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Abp. Benjamin died on November 15, 1963 in New York City during the sessions of the Eleventh All-American Sobor. He was buried at the cemetery of St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.
Benjamin (Basalyga) of Pittsburgh
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- Orthodox America 1794-1976 Development of the Orthodox Church in America, C. J. Tarasar, Gen. Ed. 1975, The Orthodox Church in America, Syosett, New York
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