Archpriest Vladimir Lecko
March 16, 2021
Archpriest Vladimir Lecko, 91, fell asleep in the Lord on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Throughout his 51+ years of pastoral ministry, Father Vladimir faithfully worked to build up the church and its members with kind words, wise counsel, well-written homilies, personal attention, laughter, and loving hugs. He appreciated the joy of children and their sense of wonder, connecting with others, and laughing out loud. Father Vladimir especially loved bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
Born in May 1929 to immigrants from the Carpatho-Rusyn region of Poland, he was the last surviving member of his siblings (5 other brothers and 2 sisters). Father Vladimir was a faithful life-long member of the Orthodox Faith, having served as an altar boy in his home parish of Saints Cyril & Methodius Church, Terryville, CT. He learned to sing and chant from his father, Alexander, the parish cantor.
In school Father Vladimir excelled in his studies, played basketball and baseball. His musical accomplishments led to being a member of the school bands in both Terryville and the neighboring town of Thomaston.
Among his many interests including being a pilot (trained but never took his pilot’s license exam), Father Vladimir enjoyed photography. Owning a portrait photography studio after high school, he later served as the official photographer for the 1970 Glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska in Kodiak, AK.
At the encouragement of his older brothers, Father Vladimir enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. After completing his basic training in Washington, DC and Texas, he was assigned to the Air Force Band of the West. In 1952, joined by his new bride, Virginia, Father Vladimir was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska where he participated in Air Force survival training exercises in the fierce Alaskan winters. He moved through the enlisted ranks, while also handling percussion duties in the Air Force Band. During USO visits, Father Vladimir performed with notable entertainers Jonathan Winter, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and countless others. His musical talents were invaluable to the Air Force and he was invited to perform with the Anchorage Symphony, under the direction of guest conductor Robert Shaw.
It was at the required Air Force performances occurring during Holy Week that Father Vladimir most poignantly yearned for the Orthodox Faith. He might have been on stage, but in his heart, Father Vladimir was envisioning the divine services, readings, and hymns of our Lord’s Passion. His desire to be in church, and growing closer to God, led to a desire to know even more about the Orthodox Faith. Having made contact with the Archpriest Basil Stroyan, a military chaplain, Father Vladimir and Matushka Virginia began to read everything they could about the Orthodox Faith.
After nine years in the Air Force, Father was discharged to attend seminary. Father Vladimir and Virginia moved to eastern Pennsylvania, where he enrolled in Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and later Wilkes University.
Father Vladimir immersed himself in seminary life at Saint Tikhon’s. While Father Stroyan nurtured his thirst for learning in the classroom, Professor Basil Zhukov encouraged Father Vladimir to expand his love and understanding of church music, by learning the crucial tenets needed for all liturgical music: to sing calmly, smoothly, and prayerfully. Father Vladimir’s peaceful and mentoring personality was appreciated by classmates and faculty alike, and his experience with the services and music often led to his singing or directing services in local parishes.
In April 1963, Father Vladimir was back in Terryville, CT celebrating Pascha with his family. While Father was singing with the choir during the procession around the church just before midnight, Father John Semanitzky died of a massive heart attack. Metropolitan Leonty, knowing of Father Vladimir’s liturgical knowledge, assigned him to coordinate the Bright Week funeral services for a priest along with fellow seminarians George Afonsky (later Archbishop Gregory of Alaska) and (later archpriest) Vadim Pogrebniak.
During his years as a seminarian, Father Vladimir had the opportunity to nurture the collegial relationship between classmates at both Saint Tikhon’s and Saint Vladimir’s Seminaries. Working as a seminary volunteer with students from both institutions, Father Vladimir saw this as an opportunity to encourage greater collaboration between future clergy, as they assisted those gathered at the All-American Councils.
The relationships made at those Councils lasted a lifetime through shared efforts on national committees and boards, by living out the words of the Psalmist, “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
After graduating from Saint Tikhon’s in May 1963, Father Vladimir became choir director at Saint John the Baptist Church, Edwardsville, PA, while completing his undergraduate degree in Sociology at Wilkes University, graduating in 1965.
During his time in Edwardsville, Father Vladimir worked with the youth programs of the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (later the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America), encouraging young people to be active Orthodox Christians, while living the Faith in the life of the Church. Father was involved in many youth activities including teaching Russian and coaching the girls youth basketball team. While in Edwardsville PA, Father was instrumental in obtaining and installing the first language laboratory at St Tikhon’s Seminary. He also established the Anthracite Valley Balalaika Orchestra as a way to nurture fellowship and musical expression by the area youth.
In October 1969, Father Vladimir was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood by Metropolitan Ireney. His first parish assignment was Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, Madison, IL. Father Vladimir served for nearly ten years in Madison, having a profound impact on the faithful.
His low-key approach to solving problems reflected the love of Christ, and Father instilled hope while encouraging young parishioners to grasp opportunities before them, often giving wise guidance and direction.
Father Vladimir also worked with the youth Cossack Dancers, encouraging them, and starting a balalaika orchestra that became the “toast of the town,” performing throughout the bi-state area and in other parts of the United States. Father Vladimir was very involved with the Madison Junior “R” Club, organizing projects, sporting events, and educational programs. He was always available, working late into the night on projects with parishioners, whether it be planning a golf tournament or caring for a parishioner in need.
The Church always came before everything else in Father Vladimir’s life. During his years in Madison, Father Vladimir served as Dean of the St. Louis Deanery and was active in the Orthodox Clergy Association of St. Louis, served as Spiritual Advisor for the Midwest District of the F.R.O.C., the Junior Department of the F.R.O.C., and the International Folklore Federation.
Father instilled hope and encouraged young people to be actively involved in the Church, providing answers to their thirst for knowledge about Christ and His holy Orthodox Faith.
During the race riots of the early 1970s, Father Vladimir partnered with area clergy and religious leaders to defuse tensions in local high schools. He played an active role in sharing Christ’s love and the message of peace in the face of turmoil.
After their son Pete was married and was attending college, Father and Matushka were transferred to Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis in 1979. As rector of one of the oldest and largest parishes in the OCA, Father Vladimir’s love for the church, photography, history, and music continued in the dynamic community. Working with the Archpriest John Matusiak, the Cathedral’s associate pastor, Father Vladimir spent countless hours involved with activities for seniors, families, and especially the youth.
Most importantly, Father Vladimir loved celebrating the divine services. His joy of being at the altar was an inspiration to the dozens of altar servers through the years. That is especially true for those who have gone to seminary, been ordained as deacons and priests, or serve as choir directors today. A strong believer in the educational programs of the Church, Father Vladimir served as spiritual advisor for the cathedral’s church school and summer camp programs. Over the years, he remained close with hundreds of young parishioners who, now with families and children of their own, still recall the impression he made on them as youth: to believe in Jesus Christ and follow His example of humility and compassion.
In Minneapolis, Father Vladimir established another youth balalaika orchestra which this year is celebrating its 37th year of performing. As in Edwardsville and St. Louis, Father Vladimir saw the orchestras not simply a means of musical expression, but a vehicle for witnessing to the Orthodox Church. With every public performance, those in attendance heard of the Cathedral and always the Orthodox Faith. Under Father Vladimir’s direction, the cathedral’s orchestra performed for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the Minnesota Orchestra; the mayor of Novosibirsk, Russia, and the American-Russian Trans-Antarctic Expedition team.
Through Father Vladimir’s efforts, the orchestra also performed at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Education Day, Crestwood, NY, International Caravan, Toronto, Ontario, Luther College, Decorah, IA, and many local cultural events. As popularity of the orchestra grew, Father Vladimir was asked by Concordia College in Moorhead, MN to help establish a music program with the Russian language camp at the internationally known Concordia Language Villages.
Father Vladimir used the invitation as an opportunity to introduce campers and faculty to the folk music traditions of Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and naturally, the liturgical music of the Orthodox Church. His love for witnessing to Jesus Christ was readily apparent deep in the north woods of Minnesota. Every summer, a four-part choir of faculty and campers sang the responses while Father Vladimir, the only Orthodox Christian present, celebrated daily vespers. For a number of years, Father Vladimir served on the OCA’s Board of Theological Education, and the Diocese of the Midwest’s Late Vocations Program, coordinating the training and education of candidates for the diaconate.
In 1994, Father Vladimir co-led a pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery for the glorification of Saint Alexis (Toth), the first pastor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis. As a seminarian, Father Vladimir had walked past the tomb of Saint Alexis every day, remembering the labors of this missionary parish priest. Nearly four decades later, Father Vladimir was blessed to carry the relics of the newly glorified Saint Alexis in procession around the Saint Tikhon’s monastery church.
After semi-retiring from active ministry in 1996, Father Vladimir and his wife Virginia moved to northern Wisconsin to continue the work of the church at the established Mission of Saint Andrew in Minocqua, WI. There they enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation with animals and birds venturing into their yard, and the countless stars above them at night. When a growing number of Orthodox faithful expressed a desire for a mission community in nearby Wausau, Father Vladimir agreed to be their first priest. The missionary efforts led to the formal establishment and construction of a church dedicated to the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God as a community of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Father Vladimir’s pastoral ministry served as an example of the growing cooperation between the Orthodox Church in America and ROCOR in the Upper Midwest.
While in “retirement,” Father Vladimir also volunteered in the local elementary school. Father Vladimir was recognized for his work with the award “Volunteer of the Year.” He partnered with the school’s social worker by assisting children with learning disabilities to achieve their potential in the classroom.
It was only as they neared their ninetieth birthdays and nearly twenty-five years of pastoral service while in retirement that Father Vladimir and Virginia began to scale back their work for the Church. After both Father and Matushka had extended stays in the hospital and rehab centers, they left northern Wisconsin, returning to Minneapolis for the necessary advanced care they needed. Even while in hospice care, Father Vladimir maintained connections with lifelong friends in the cathedral’s community. He recently made connections with newly discovered and distant relatives through social media, and always looked forward to talking with his two best friends, the Archpriests Vadim Pogrebniak and Bogdan Djurdjulov.
In 2013, His Grace, Bishop Peter of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America (ROCOR) presented Father Vladimir with a Thanksgiving Citation for his dedicated service to building up the Orthodox Church. In 2015, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America honored Father Vladimir and Virginia with a synodal citation for their years of dedicated service. Father Vladimir was also honored in 2018 by His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago who presented Father Vladimir the order of Saint John of Chicago for his decades of “faithful service to the Orthodox Church as a choir director, priest, father confessor, dean and educator – a ministry distinguished above all by a pastoral wisdom and compassion recognized by all as carrying the fragrance of the Holy Spirit."
Father Vladimir’s gentle spirit was respected by all who knew him. He listened intently and spoke softly. He provided wise counsel and advice when asked, always encouraging vocations as a means to become fellow coworkers in the vineyard of our Lord.
Father Vladimir was a loving and devoted husband of Virginia [Faunce] with whom he shared wonderful experiences, adventures, and laughs for 69 years of marriage. Together, they were the parents of Peter [Patricia], and the proud grandparents of Kristen [Daniel] and David [Laura]; three great grandchildren Megan, Andrew, and Amelia; and many faithful dogs as companions.