Arseny (Chagovtsov) of Winnipeg
His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Arseny (Chavtsov) of Winnipeg came to the United States as a monk in the early twentieth century and was instrumental in the founding of St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He was administrator of the Canadian parishes under Abp. Platon before returning to Russia until after the Russian Civil War. He was elected Bishop of Winnipeg by the administration of Metr. Platon. Retiring to St Tikhon’s Monastery, he established the Pastoral School at St Tikhon’s.
Andrew Lvovich Chavstov was born on March 10, 1866 into the family of a village church reader in the Kharkov Eparchy. As a young boy he tended his father’s sheep, but his intelligence and love for school did not go unnoticed. When his father died, leaving him as the eldest of five children, he was sent to a school for clergy children for eleven years. From there he was admitted to the Kharkov Theological Seminary from which he graduated with distinction in 1887. The same year he was ordained a deacon and then priest.
His years in the seminary and there after are vaguely known. He apparently married while in the seminary and was assigned as a priest to a village church in Kharkov. There is a question whether he had a son, but soon his wife died, probably about 1890 of an unknown cause. A some time thereafter he was tonsured a monk with the name Arseny, in honor of St Arsenius of Konevits. But, his journey from his wife’s death to his tonsure was a time of great anguish as he related in his elevation speech as Bishop of Winnipeg. In 1900, he was appointed Igumen (Abbot) of Kuriansk Monastery. Two years later he joined Bp. Tikhon in America as he was a natural preacher with fluency in many Russian dialects, and thus, well suited to the American missionary scene. He was active among those returning from the Unia and served many communities after his arrival, including Troy, New York and Mayfield and Simpson, Pennsylvania.
While he was active among the people, a dream of his came true when with the blessing of the then Abp. Tikhon, Hiermonk Arseny founded the St Tikhon monastery and orphanage in the rural countryside near Carbondale and Mayfield, Pennsylvania at South Canaan. The Wagner farm was purchased for $2580 during the summer of 1905. On the day of its dedication, July 31, 1905, a crowd on foot formed a pilgrimage walk of the ten miles through the mountains from Mayfield to the site of the new monastery. On the following May 30, 1906, at a dedication of the chapel at the partially finished monastery building with Abp. Tikhon present, Bp. Raphael spoke of the hard work by Fr. Igumen Arseny for the realization of the monastery. When Fr. Arseny was named the Superior of the monastery, the crowd answered loudly, "He is worthy." The anniversary of this dedication has become an annual Memorial Day pilgrimage to the monastery.
Then, in 1908, Fr. Arseny was appointed by then Abp. Platon to the position of dean and administrator of the Canadian parishes. With his knowledge of the many dialects of the Carpatho-Russian/Galician area and his ability to preach in them, the Canadian faithful almost immediately fell in love with him. With these rare missionary talents, he had great success with receiving back uniats as well as welcoming many Galicians and Bukovinians who were arriving in numbers to Canada. His preaching produced for him the affectionate title The Canadian Chrysostom. But, after only two years he returned to Russia in 1910.
Little is known for certain of why he returned to Russia or his activities while there. Some reports are that it was to train missionary-priests and that he headed a monastery in the Crimea. After the October Revolution, he served with the White Army to comforted the soldiers. In 1920, he was able to get to Yugoslavia and entered a monastery. But, some of his old Canadian flock learned that he was still alive and petitioned Metr. Platon to return him to Canada as a bishop.
Thus, the Holy Synod under Metr. Platon elected him Bishop of Winnipeg and requested his consecration, which took place on June 6, 1926 in Yugoslavia. So, with joy in his heart, Bp. Arseny traveled to New York to meet with the metropolitan, visit his beloved St Tikhon’s Monastery, and then continue on to his new cathedra, But, it was a different place than from that which he left 16 years before. The seeds of violence from the Red Revolution, Ukrainian nationalism, and the Living Church made his task of serving his faithful difficult, even to the point of being injured by gun fire. In 1936, he was assigned briefly to Detroit and Cleveland before retiring to St Tikhon’s Monastery where he was elevated to archbishop for his tireless work.
Yet, in retirement he did not stop. In 1937, he applied to the Holy Synod of the Metropolia for blessing to establish a Pastoral School at the monastery in South Canaan. With the blessing of the Holy Synod and the approval of the Sixth All-American Sobor, and great effort on his part, Abp. Arseny opened on October 24, 1938 the first class of the St Tikhon’s Pastoral School, later to become the St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
He continued active visiting the local parishes and traveling to special occasions. Then at the age of 79, illness over came him and Abp. Arseny died on October 4, 1945 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His funeral and interment at St Tikhon’s Monastery took place on October 9, 1945, attended by many hierarchs, priests, and faithful.
Abp. Arseny was a remarkable and humble man, whose contributions cover so many things in the life of an Orthodox Christian. He is remembered for his work as a parish priest, for his preaching, for his missionary zeal, as a leader and bishop, and as a founder of monasteries, orphanages, and pastoral schools. He is especially remembered by his Canadian flock for his service and sacrifice for them and as a great homilist - a Canadian Chrysostom.