Valerian (Trifa) of Detroit

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His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Valerian (Trifa) of Detroit was the ruling bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America from 1957 until 1984. His tenure as bishop was marred by allegations of association with the fascist-leaning Iron Guard during his youth in Romania. As a result of the allegations he retired as ruling bishop and entered into voluntary exile to Portugal, where he died.


The future bishop was born Viorel D. Trifa on June 24, 1914, in Campeni, Transylvania, then part of the Austria-Hungary Empire. His father was Dionisie Trifa, a schoolteacher. His education began in his native village and continued at the Horia Gymnasium of Campeni and then the Gheorghe High School in Sibiu. He graduated in 1931. He continued his education in Theological School of the University of Jassy, where he studied theology, graduating cum laude in 1935. After graduation he studied theology, letters, and philosophy at the University of Bucharest. In 1939, he studied history and journalism at the University of Berlin.

It was as a student that his associations with the legionnaire movement of the Iron Guard created events that would follow him throughout his career and for the rest of his life. He was a contributor to the Libertatea newspaper of Orastie and in 1940 he was president of the National Union of Romanian Christian Students. On January 20, 1941, Viorel gave a speech in Bucharest that touched off three days or rioting and the death of 6,000 people, including 300 Jews. Among the atrocities committed was the kosher butchering of 200 Jews in the municipal slaughterhouse. While Viorel denied he had directed an attack against the Jews, others claim he was a leader of the massacre. To escape reprisals, fled to Germany. He was tried in absentia by the Romanian government and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In Nazi Germany, he was interned as a political prisoner in the camps of Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Dachau. Freed at the end of World War II, Viorel served briefly as secretary to Metropolitan Visarion Puiu in Vienna and Paris before he was engaged as professor of ancient history and French language at a Roman Catholic college in Italy.

On July 17, 1950, Viorel entered the United States under the Displaced Persons Immigration Act and became a writer for the Romanian language newspaper Solia in Cleveland, Ohio. As Romania came under communist control, the government through the Romanian Synod of Bishops attempted to control the émigré Orthodox diocese in the United States that was originally organized by Bp. Polycarp (Moruşca). The vast majority of parishes resisted and called for a council to establish self-government and to elect an auxiliary bishop pending Bp. Polycarp's return from Romania. Viorel led his congregation in occupying the residence, thus chasing away representatives of the Orthodox Church in Romania — as the latter was by then subordinated to the Romanian Communist Party. On July 2, 1951, Viorel was elected as the auxiliary bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. He was consecrated on April 27, 1952, having been given the name 'Valerian' upon his tonsure as a monk. After Bp. Polycarp's death in Romania on October 26, 1958, Bp. Valerian became the ruling head of the episcopate.

In 1960, the Romanian Episcopate was received into the Russian Metropolia as a separate diocese, and Valerian was elevated to the dignity of archbishop, becoming a member of the Synod of Bishops.

In 1975, the United States Department of Justices alleged that Abp. Valerian had entered the United States under false pretenses, having hid his membership in the Iron Guard. The initial evidence for the allegations had been provided by the Romanian communist government. Later, a latent fingerprint on a postcard to Heinrich Himmler was shown to be a match to Abp. Valerian. In 1980, as the accusations about his past increased, Abp. Valerian chose, for the peace of his diocese, to retire as the head of the Romanian Episcopate, surrender his American citizenship, and leave the United States. He departed the United States in 1984 and established residence in Portugal. He died there on January 28, 1987. He was succeeded as head of the Episcopate by Bp. Nathaniel (Popp) in 1984.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former general in the communist secret police (the Securitate) who defected to the United States, claimed that Trifa had been the victim of a frameup engineered by his former colleagues. Pacepa linked this to an alleged trip by Romanian bishop Bartolomeu Anania to the United States, of which he claimed was a common attempt of the regime and the main Orthodox Church to quell the dissidence of Romanian-American Orthodox believers.

Succession box:
Valerian (Trifa) of Detroit
Preceded by:
Polycarp (Moruşca)
Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate
Succeeded by:
Nathaniel (Popp)
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  • Constance J. Tarasar, Orthodox America 1794-1976 Development of the Orthodox Church in America, Syosett, New York, The Orthodox Church in America, 1975

External links

[[2]] Romanian) Claudiu Pădurean, "Spovedania de sub patrafirul Securităţii", in România Liberă, October 20, 2006