In Memoriam: Archpriest John Tkachuk

February 21, 2021

Archpriest John Tkachuk, the founding pastor of the Sign of the Theotokos parish of the Orthodox Church in America in Montreal, former Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Canada and retired U.S. Air Force chaplain, fell asleep in the Lord on Feb. 19, 2021 in Bronxville, NY, where he had been living in retirement. He was 76 and had been suffering from cancer.

Born in 1944 in Lodz, Poland to Archpriest Igor and Maria (Steblinksa) Tkachuk, their family fled Poland that year to Germany where Father Igor ministered to many persons displaced by World War II. Eventually, they emigrated to the United States with their children, John and Nina. Father Igor came from a part of Ukraine that later became part of Poland, and had served at the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Warsaw. 

In 1944, soon after John was born, the Tkachuk family fled before the advancing Soviet forces and succeeded in reaching the American Zone in Germany, from which they were able to emigrate to the United States in 1952. Matushka Maria, however, had contracted tuberculosis and was compelled to stay in Switzerland for two years before she could rejoin her family. In New York, Father Igor was received into the Metropolia and was assigned to a series of parishes in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Cleveland, New York, and finally the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY, where he served for 30 years. Young John was formed by the pastoral example of his parent’s service in the parishes of the Metropolia. 

Father John was educated at Iona College and Fordham University receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree. He then completed studies at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree. While at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, he was a member of the 1965 Seminary Octet which toured the United States raising awareness of the seminary’s mission.

In 1969, he married Mary A. Schmemann, daughter of Father Alexander and Matushka Juliana Schmemann. Soon after, he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate by Archbishop Sylvester (Haruns) of Montreal at the Chapel of Saint Sergius in Lac Labelle, Quebec, Canada, and then to the Holy Priesthood by Metropolitan Ireney (Bekish) of New York at the Transfiguration of Our Lord Church in Brooklyn, NY. Father John and Matushka Mary subsequently served Three Saints Church in Ansonia, CT, and at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Buffalo, NY.

In 1973, Father John was assigned to Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. During his tenure, Father John encouraged the use of English in the Divine Services. He was soon appointed Secretary of the Archdiocese of Canada and was instrumental in organizing the 5th All-American Council in Montreal in 1977 at which Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) was elected as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

In 1978, Father John and several families received permission from Archbishop Sylvester, then ruling hierarch of the Archdiocese of Canada, to form a new English- and French-language parish dedicated to the Sign of the Theotokos in Montreal. The new parish welcomed Orthodox believers of all national backgrounds. In their early years they met in humble rented quarters, then for many years in the basement of a Roman Catholic church. Finally, in 2000, “The Sign” acquired a spacious church building on the Boulevard Saint-Joseph, which remains its home.

Throughout his Canadian ministry, Father John held senior positions in the Archdiocese, serving as Secretary, Secretary-Treasurer and as the first Chancellor. Among his many contributions to church life in Canada, Father John helped organize an annual retreat known as the Orthodox Theological Institute (OTI). Held over three days, OTI became a fixture of the Lenten calendar in Montreal and came to feature some of the most prominent names in the OCA as speakers. Matushka Mary also organized an annual conference of “Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal,” whose speakers included her mother, Matushka Juliana Schmemann.

Beginning in 1983, he served in the US Air Force Chaplaincy. He was a Reserve Chaplain at the Plattsburgh (NY) and Hanscom (MA) Air Force bases, which included active duty for several weeks every year. He proudly served in the chaplaincy for 20 years and retired in 2003 with the rank of Major.

In 1990 he became the first Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Canada and was awarded the Jeweled Cross in 1992. Before his retirement in September of 2013, Father John was awarded the Order of Saint Innocent (silver class) by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, in recognition of his 40 years of priestly ministry.

Father John retired as rector of “The Sign” on Sept. 1, 2013 and soon after he and Matushka Masha moved to Bronxville, NY, where they could be near their daughter Vera and near Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He was attached to the Holy Trinity Church in Yonkers, NY.

In 2014, Father John and Matushka Mary moved to Bronxville, NY where they also cared for Matushka Mary’s mother, the late Matushka Juliana Schmemann.

Archpriest John is survived by his wife, Matushka Mary (Masha); their daughter Vera, granddaughter Alexandra Solak and grandson Peter Bullock. Their first grandchild, Justin Solak, passed away in February 2016.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to The Opioid Center of Support, a website founded after the death of Archpriest John’s grandson, Justin, of an overdose.

The schedule of services for Father John’s funeral is as follows (click for Zoom links to livestreamed services):

Tuesday, February 23, 2021
3:00 PM Vesting (clergy only) at the funeral home
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Visiting Hours at Holy Trinity Church, 46 Seymour St., Yonkers, NY
7:00 PM Funeral Service for a Priest at Holy Trinity Church

Wednesday, February 24, 2021
9:30 AM Divine Liturgy followed by Memorial Litiya at Holy Trinity Church
Burial at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Cemetery, South Canaan, PA

Thursday, February 25, 2021
The family is planning a Zoom memorial for Fr John on Thursday February 25 from 7:00PM-8:00PM.  If you wish to register for the event, please send an email message to Vera at vtkachuk@fordham.edu and she will send you the link.

May Father John’s memory be eternal!