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CZERNIAWSKI (Czernowski, Cherniawsky), JOSEPH (transliterated from the Cyrillic as Osyp or Iosyf Cherniavsky), farmer and Independent Greek Church clergyman; probably b. c. 1875 in Volchkivtsi, Sniatyn county, Austrian crownland of Galicia (Ukraine), son of Wasyl Czerniawski, a farmer, and Anna Woytkiw; m. c. 1902 Rozaliia —, and they had four children; d. 17 March 1912 in Goodeve, Sask.

Joseph Czerniawski completed at least two years of a gymnasium education in Galicia and was employed as a customs officer before he immigrated to Canada with his parents and siblings in 1900. Settling in the Sich-Kolomea district northwest of Vegreville (Alta), he found seasonal employment in the mines of British Columbia and then turned to full-time farming. When Ivan (John) Bodrug and Aleksii Bachynsky visited in the fall of 1903 to recruit priests for a Ukrainian church free of Roman Catholic or Russian Orthodox control, Wasyl Czerniawski and others supported the venture. Several weeks later Joseph was one of four local men ordained by Bishop Seraphim [Stefan Ustvolsky*] of the independent All-Russian Patriarchal Orthodox Church. By January 1905, however, Czerniawski and most of the men ordained by Seraphim had left his church and proclaimed their allegiance to a new institution, the Independent Greek Church.

This church was the creation of Bodrug, Cyril Genik-Berezowskyi*, and Ivan (John) Negrich, literate Ukrainian immigrants influenced by the Ukrainian Radical party. Since 1890 the Radicals had been trying to neutralize clerical influence in Galicia and Bukovyna (Ukraine) by reviving traditions of lay initiative in ecclesiastical affairs and acquainting Ukrainian peasants with Protestant teachings. In Canada Bodrug and Genik-Berezowskyi hoped that Protestantism, with its emphasis on Scripture, freedom of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, and Christian ethics rather than ritual, would stimulate literacy, diminish clerical tutelage, and foster thrift, sobriety, self-mastery, and other qualities needed for peasant immigrants to succeed. Accordingly, they had first approached Presbyterian divines at Manitoba College in 1898. Five years later, when Seraphim arrived in Canada, Bodrug and others presented themselves for ordination and then, in May 1903, with the aid of their Presbyterian mentors, they secretly drafted the statutes of the Independent Greek Church and began to distance themselves from the suspect Seraphim. Although the church was conceived as a bridge to Protestantism and its ministers were to espouse evangelical principles, traditional Eastern liturgy and ritual practice were retained to avoid arousing the sensibilities of conservative peasant immigrants. Since there were few Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Orthodox priests in Canada, the Independent Greek Church expanded rapidly. By 1907 it boasted 15–20,000 adherents and 24 ministers and missionaries, all financed by the Presbyterian board of home missions.

Czerniawski was one of the church’s most respected ministers. A gentle, reasonable man with a firm character, he was a prolific reader and, according to the Presbyterian Record, a “natural orator” blessed with a “magnetic personality.” Assigned to the large area of Ukrainian settlement in east-central Saskatchewan, he ministered to some 200 families north of Yorkton until the summer of 1908; thereafter he farmed and ministered in the vicinity of Goodeve. Czerniawski was typical of the young Ukrainian immigrant leaders who had reached maturity during the 1890s, when the Ukrainian Radical party had begun to mobilize the peasantry. In addition to his pastoral duties, he took an active interest in the immigrants’ cultural and economic life and in the Ukrainian struggle for greater political liberty in Austria. He chaired countless secular and ecclesiastical meetings, and helped Ukrainian settlers to establish schools, reading clubs, and cooperative stores. The convention in August 1908 of the Saskatchewan Independent Greek Church, which Czerniawski chaired, called for the creation of a training school for Ukrainian-English teachers, the appointment of Ukrainian school inspectors and justices, and more government controls on the grain trade.

Czerniawski advocated respect for all religious denominations, avoided disputes with Russian Orthodox and Catholic missionaries, and won the regard of the Ukrainian nationalist critics of his church. Nevertheless, it appears that he fell victim to the superstition, fanaticism, and intense denominational rivalry that he had hoped to eliminate. On 17 March 1912 his mutilated and dismembered body was found on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway east of Goodeve. John Aurischuk (Ivan Oryshchak), who had been on bad terms with Czerniawski and had been seen in his company on the previous evening, was charged with murder. The accused had married the daughter of an Independent Greek Church supporter and had allowed his children to be baptized in the church, but he had begun to stalk and threaten Czerniawski after a Catholic missionary had urged him to rebaptize his children in the Catholic Church. On one occasion he tried to stab Czerniawski while shouting “give me back my soul”; on another occasion he declared that “anyone who kills a priest like Czerniawski will be absolved of all his sins by God.” Although the police were able to build “a strong case of circumstantial evidence” against Aurischuk, he was acquitted in December.

The death of Czerniawski brought to a climax a crisis that had been brewing within his church for years. With the possible exception of two clergymen, William Patrick and John A. Carmichael, few within the Presbyterian Church really understood the purpose of the Independent Greek Church. If its Ukrainian leaders and their Presbyterian mentors were anxious to promote evangelical Christianity and the assimilation of Ukrainian immigrants, they interpreted these objectives in different ways. While the leaders wanted the immigrants to discard obsolete perceptions and behaviour and become enlightened and self-reliant, many Presbyterians simply wanted to Canadianize them in the narrowest sense and they saw the Independent Greek Church and its clergy as instruments for extirpating the immigrants’ language and collective identity. Efforts to reform the church had met with resistance and, with public opinion among Ukrainian immigrants being shaped by nationalists and socialists, the rationale for the church’s existence rapidly disappeared. Czerniawski’s death tipped the scales in favour of those Presbyterians who wanted to terminate an expensive and embarrassing experiment. In August 1912 the Presbyterian home mission committee withdrew its financial assistance from the Independent Greek Church, placed its congregations under local presbyteries, and invited its clergy to apply for admission into the Presbyterian Church. By year’s end 19 Independent Greek ministers and their congregations had been absorbed.

Orest T. Martynowych

Kanadyiskyi farmer/Canadian Farmer (Winnipeg), 4 Sept. 1908. Ranok/Morning (Winnipeg), 1907–12, esp. 20 March 1912. Svoboda [Liberty] (New York), 3 March 1904; 9 Aug. 1906; 31 Jan., 9 May 1907. Ukrainskyi holos/Ukrainian Voice (Winnipeg), 28 April, 3 May 1910; 11 Jan., 1, 15 Feb. 1911; 20 March, 3 April 1912. John [Ivan] Bodrug, Independent Orthodox Church: memoirs pertaining to the history of a Ukrainian Canadian church in the years 1903 to 1913, ed. John Gregorovich; trans. Edward Bodrug and Lydia [Bodrug] Biddle (Toronto, 1982 [copyright 1981]). Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1913, no.28: 160; 1914, no.28: 176. Oleksander Dombrovsky, Narys istorii ukrainskoho ievanhelsko-reformovanoho rukhu/Outline of the history of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed movement (New York and Toronto, 1979). O. T. Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada: the formative period, 1891–1924 (Edmonton, 1991). PCC, General Assembly, Acts and proc. (Toronto), 1907: 17. Presbyterian (Toronto), new ser., 21 (July–December 1912), 25 July, 24 Oct. 1912. Presbyterian Record (Montreal), 36 (1911): 60. I. L. Rudnytsky, Essays in modern Ukrainian history, ed. P. L. Rudnytsky (Edmonton, 1987). Ukrainian Pioneers’ Assoc. of Alberta, Ukrainians in Alberta (2v., Edmonton, 1975–81), 1. Petro Zvarych [Svarich], Spomyny, 1877–1904/Memoirs, 1877–1904 (Winnipeg, 1976).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Orest T. Martynowych, “CZERNIAWSKI, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/czerniawski_joseph_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/czerniawski_joseph_14E.html
Author of Article:   Orest T. Martynowych
Title of Article:   CZERNIAWSKI, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   May 19, 2024