Analyzing the transformation of Church-State Relations in Russia from 1987 to 2008

The “Gorbachev Revolution” and Beyond: An End to State Repression and an Organic Orthodox Resurgence, 1987-2008:

The quarter century that has passed since the fall of the USSR has seen the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) [1] as a major force in Russian public and political life. Given that the Church is the only ancient public institution which survived Soviet rule, and that it serves to tie Russians to their pre-revolutionary national culture and history, understanding how it came to revitalize and resurrect its cultural influence and political power in the wake of the Soviet collapse is crucial to understanding Russia today. Russian church-state relations beginning with Gorbachev in the mid-1980s were marked by an end to the Soviet policy of marginalization and repression of the MP and growing state toleration of Church influence. The seeds for much of the Church’s rapid rise in political prominence, influence, and power under Yeltsin and especially Putin may be found, ironically, in Gorbachev’s personal attitudes and official changes in state policy toward the Church during his tenure at the helm of a USSR where, ironically, Marxist-Leninism and atheism remained official state ideologies until the 1991 collapse. Patriarch Aleksey II proved crucial to developing, along with Gorbachev and later Yeltsin, many aspects of this new church-state relationship which marked a complete departure from Soviet leaders’ entrenched anti-Church attitudes, laws, and policies before 1985. By the fall of the USSR, the Church’s resurgence and revitalization had already begun, and would only deepen and grow stronger in the following years.

Gorbachev and the Church’s new-found freedom: mid-1980s to 1991

As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a January 2008 lecture one year prior to then-DECR chairman Metropolitan Kirill’s election as Patriarch and Hilarion’s own appointment as Kirill’s replacement, the case for a genuine religious reawakening in Russia can be made from as far back as the period of perestroika and glasnost under Gorbachev in the mid-to-late 1980s when Russia remained an officially atheistic communist republic. [2] As former Reagan adviser and Russian cultural historian Suzanne Massie observed in a lecture she gave at the Washington DC Kennan Institute in December 2008 [3], by the 1980s, an astonishing “55 million Russians were willing to say that they were Orthodox (almost three times as many as were in the Communist party).” [4] That a solid majority of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox in an officially atheistic political society is remarkable and speaks to the tenacity of Orthodox identity as an integral part of historical memory for most Russians. One telling anecdote Massie noted in her lecture, is that when reporters asked Gorbachev in France whether or not he had been baptized, he responded incredulously “Yes, isn’t everybody?” [5] [6]. For the leader of the Soviet Union to utter these words is nothing short of astonishing, and speaks to the Church’s quiet but continued influence among ordinary Russians despite intermittent waves of persecution under the communist regime.

A major watershed moment for the Church came leading up to the 1988 millennial anniversary of the historic baptism of Kievan Rus under Prince Vladimir the Great, in which, ironically, major state-supported religious celebrations took place in Kiev, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and many other cities. [7] While many anti-Kremlin Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox leaders and faithful laity opposed and protested the Soviet-sponsored celebrations, successfully urging Pope John Paul II not to attend any of the events in the USSR but to send a delegation in his place [8], major Orthodox dignitaries from around the world did attend. The Ecumenical Patriarch was, however, notably absent.

In the wake of these celebrations in numerous Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian churches, and the previously unimaginable state-sponsored publication of commemorative plaques, medals, and history books about the Millennium, the atmosphere of greater openness Gorbachev sought to encourage resulted in something happening which was unthinkable before his tenure: the Soviet state returned many desecrated churches and confiscated ecclesiastical properties to the Church. This began before the anniversary, but culminated with the symbolic handing back of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra [9], the center of Orthodox spiritual life in Ukraine, to the MP. Despite that many Ukrainian observers disappointedly noted how the commemorative events centered around Moscow, not Kiev [10], even if the celebrations were Russocentric, they were nevertheless enthusiastically observed throughout the USSR. Soon after the Millennium, the Soviet state sent shockwaves throughout Orthodox and Catholic circles by lifting the universal ban on religious broadcasts on state television. As Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey — Massie’s friend and a former Hillwood Museum docent [11] — observed in an interview, this meant that for the first time in Soviet history, both Orthodox believers and non-catechized Russians curious about their patrimonial Church could view Orthodox religious services on state television, the primary source of electronic media. As Ms. Swezey recalled, these services were immensely popular in part because everyone wanted the thrill of participating in history, in something that had until only recently been forbidden.

Ms. Swezey’s friend and spiritual father, whom she aided for over a decade as his personal assistant, was a Russian Orthodox bishop Basil Rodzianko (formerly Fr. Vladimir, 1915-1999) [12]. A veteran BBC religious news broadcaster to the Soviet Union who produced thousands of tape cassettes of Orthodox spiritual talks, sermons, and reflections, in the late 1980s Bishop Basil produced a widely circulated Russian language video “Reemergence” on the ongoing revitalization of the Church in Russian public life. Russians widely regarded Vladyka Vasily as a starets in the Orthodox mystical tradition; as my godmother, his assistant, told me, on one visit to a rural Russian village in the early 1990s, babushki crowded around him exclaiming “He is with the angels!”. Bishop Basil was formed spiritually during his Belgrade youth by Church luminaries living there at the time such as Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), the first First Hierarch of ROCOR, and the future St John (Maximovitch), archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. [13]

Ms. Swezey credits Gorbachev’s reformist political policies with “liberating” the Church from what Bishop Basil and all his episcopal friends in Russia regarded as the “Soviet captivity” under Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. She helped Bishop Basil and a Washington DC committee in defense of persecuted Christians organize the first ever state-approved religious pilgrimage to visit historic Russian churches and monasteries for the 1987 Nativity and Theophany celebrations. Ms. Swezey emphasized that this would have been unthinkable before Gorbachev; his predecessors simply never would have allowed it. Bishop Basil’s radio broadcasts had inspired a large popular following in Russia, and many people recognized him during the 1987 pilgrimage from his distinctive voice.

At this time, the timid Patriarch Pimen headed the Church (r. 1971-1990); he had endured house arrest for a number of years and rumored torture, as Bishop Basil recalled, and was unwilling to approach the Soviet authorities about the upcoming 1988 Millennial celebrations for fear of incurring their displeasure. Bishop Basil was aware from his close contacts on the MP Synod that, prior to Gorbachev, neither Brezhnev nor his two elderly, old guard successors had been willing to permit the Church to plan any public commemorations of the Millennial anniversary in major Soviet cities, especially Kiev and Moscow. In contrast to this ideological refusal, Gorbachev’s openness represented a virtual sea change in state attitudes toward the Church as an institution in Soviet public life.

One example of this radical change under Gorbachev, as Ms. Swezey related in the interview, was at a major diplomatic reception in the Kremlin in fall 1986. Bishop Basil’s friends on the Synod informed him that at the reception, at which both Gorbachev and Patriarch Pimen were present, the General Secretary approached the Patriarch, asking him “are you having any difficulties in your preparations for the Millennial celebration?” , knowing full well that he was. The Patriarch, taken aback, responded “no”. The General Secretary replied diplomatically, “Well, if you do have any difficulties, let me know” and the state would step in to help. As a result of this conversation, and the tidal wave it represented of a subtle but definitive change in official state attitude toward the Church, soon after it was announced that the ancient, crumbling Danilov Monastery in Moscow would be fully restored and serve as the principal patriarchal administrative center and site of the Millennial celebrations. By the time of Ms. Swezey and Bishop Basil’s pilgrimage with American Orthodox believers in January 1987, major restoration work on the monastery had already begun. These construction and restoration projects could never have occurred before Gorbachev’s tenure.

Ms. Swezey emphasized that most of this repair work was not financed by state coffers or supervised by the Soviet authorities, but represented a genuine, large-scale, organic outpouring of support and labour from all segments of Russian society. Ordinary babushki, specialist artisans, and thousands of ordinary Russian men and women set about donating what they could and helping physically in the restoration efforts at the Danilov and other monasteries and churches, mirroring the later efforts under Patriarch Aleksey in the 1990s to rebuild Christ the Saviour Cathedral which Stalin had demolished in 1931. [14]

One cannot ignore the personal aspect of Gorbachev’s reasons for so abruptly and completely reversing his predecessors’ restrictive approach to the Church. As Bishop Basil recalled to Ms. Swezey, it was universally known among Orthodox believers that Gorbachev’s mother was an active churchgoer and dedicated parish council member in Stavropol. After becoming General Secretary, Gorbachev ensured that a new parish church was built close to his mother’s residence.

Ms. Swezey described how, in her view,

the whole country came to do the work and donated rubles. The Church seemed to come together as people came to do the reconstruction and restoration projects — not just carpenters and masons and other specialists, but ordinary grandmothers and unskilled male laborers. Somehow the Church collected the money needed for all the construction projects, and this was no easy task, as the Danilov, among so many others like it, was in a state of rubble and near collapse.

Gorbachev not only designated the Danilov as the principal locus of the upcoming Millennial events, but facilitated the construction of a new administrative building from which to oversee the restoration work. Talking with a young monk at the Danilov who spoke excellent English, the American Orthodox pilgrims led by Bishop Basil and Ms. Swezey learned a revolutionary bit of news: the monk said quietly “Well, you see, we believe that the celebration of the Millennium will bring about a new baptism of Rus” and the reemergence of the Church as a prominent force in public life. Ms. Swezey clarified that this meant that Church leaders and ordinary faithful anticipated an organic revival of the Church’s position, but not the fall of communism itself. Like most clergy, Bishop Basil always attributed the rapid fall of the USSR to God’s providence.

Around this time, Bishop Basil learned that Gorbachev had asked four senior MP Synod bishops to meet with him, and that he had proposed an unprecedented, revolutionary alliance which violated the core tenets of Marxist-Leninism’s view of religion generally as an enemy of the working class and Bolshevism’s view of Orthodoxy in particular as backwards, superstitious nonsense. In the wake of Gorbachev’s campaigns to push for a more open and healthy society, Bishop Basil’s episcopal friends told him that the General Secretary asked the Synod bishops to enlist the Church’s cooperation in helping to restore what he called “moral values”, offering the Church a major cultural role in the public life of what he envisioned as a new, revitalized Soviet society. This shift in 1987-88 not only marked the end of all remaining Soviet state attempts to marginalize the Church, but instead prefigured the future efforts of Yeltsin in the 1990s and Putin since the early 2000s to co-opt the Church and use its influence to buttress government policies and ideals.

Under Aleksey II and Yeltsin: Greater transparency, confronting the Soviet legacy, renewed public prominence, and the seeds of close cooperation between Church and State:

Patriarch Pimen’s death in 1990 and the election to choose his successor marked a second major watershed; this was the first free (non-Soviet controlled) patriarchal election since the 1917 All-Russia Sobor raised St Tikhon as the first Patriarch since Peter I let the office fall into abeyance. Whereas Pimen and his predecessor Aleksey I (r. 1945-70) had presided over a Church which was completely dominated by, collaborated with, and subservient to the communist state [15], Aleksey II was the first patriarch to lead the Church in the post-Soviet era. He was chosen in large measure due to his established “reputation as a conciliator, a person who could find common ground with various groups in the episcopate.” [16] As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a December 2013 interview with Pravmir, prior to his elevation as Patriarch, then-Metropolitan Aleksey served as a member of the Supreme Soviet, the highest parliamentary body, and he was thus well acquainted with all senior Soviet leaders at the time of his election. [17] As one of the archbishops who voted for his election observed in the MP’s official journal in October 1990, “With his peaceful and tolerant disposition Patriarch Aleksi will be able to unite us all.” [18] Aleksey was thus expected to be a conciliator and peace-builder who would work to resolve the tensions in Soviet (and soon, post-Soviet) society without upsetting the communist old guard who had reluctantly agreed not to interfere in the election process.

Unlike his two Russian predecessors whom Stalinist repression had cowed, Aleksey was born in Tallinn to an ethnically Baltic German family of emigres who had fled the 1917 Revolution. He grew up in a religious family prior to the Soviet invasion of his country, and thus, he was raised in a society in which the Church was essentially free. During his first year in office, as Soviet institutions remained paralyzed, the economy struggled, and millions of citizens suffered the fear and uncertainty of not knowing what the year would hold politically and economically, Aleksey shrewdly capitalized on the Soviet state’s weakness to insist on an increasingly public place for the Church in society. [19] Whereas Pimen had been shocked and unprepared for Gorbachev’s openness and desire to work with the Church, Aleksey quickly became a vocal advocate of what he regarded as the Church’s rights, calling for the Soviet government to allow religious education in state schools [20] and for a “freedom of conscience” law to protect believers from discrimination. [21] During the attempted communist hardliner coup in August 1991, the Patriarch shocked the Soviet old guard by publicly denouncing the plotters’ arrest of Gorbachev. [22] He went further and declared the plotters excommunicated (a largely symbolic gesture, since they were all atheists, this kind of bold gesture of defying the communists would have been unimaginable five years earlier). In a series of press releases and public statements, the Patriarch denounced the communist junta as illegitimate, implored the military not to attack the legitimate elected authorities, and demanded that Gorbachev be allowed to address the Soviet people. [23]

In order to better understand how the Church came to dominate Russian public and political life as it does today, it is crucial to first realize that the Orthodox religious revitalization began under Gorbachev, who, ironically, played a leading role in reviving this ancient anti-communist institution which would ultimately outlast the Soviet state he sought to restore. While Gorbachev departed from power in 1991 following the dissolution of the USSR, Patriarch Aleksey remained as the earthly head of the Church until his death seventeen years later.

As patriarch in post-Soviet Russia after 1991, Aleksey presided over Orthodoxy’s historic revitalization and re-emergence in Russian public life. It is a telling sign of his tenacity that Aleksey managed to outlast Yeltsin’s time in office, attend and formally bless the new President Putin’s first inauguration in May 2000, and, upon his death in December 2008 and his almost-official state-level funeral, receive official words of praise and elegies from both Putin and Medvedev.

Ms. Swezey recounted from her many visits to Russia how the Patriarch managed to retain a degree of popularity as his Church grew in appeal and public stature while old Soviet institutions crumbled, the Russian economy floundered under hyperinflation, and public confidence in democratically elected President Yeltsin quickly evaporated. As the economy worsened, the churches filled, becoming, as she recalls, stiflingly crowded on major holidays. Unlike his predecessors who never dared to publicly criticize the Soviet regime, during Aleksey’s first official visit to Germany in 1995, the Patriarch publicly apologized for the “Communist tyranny that had been imposed upon the German nation by the USSR”, for which Russian Communists criticized him for his supposed insult to Russian national memory. [24]

Symbolic of the Church’s ever-increasing role in public life, Patriarch Aleksey presided over the combined country-wide and international effort to rebuild the historic Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow, which Alexander I had ordered erected as a monument to Russia’s overcoming Napoleon’s Grand Army in 1812. Donations poured in from across Russia and the Orthodox world, and momentum continued to build for the temple’s dedication as a monument to all victims of Soviet oppression.

Ms. Swezey observed how it was universally known among all Russians that every Orthodox cleric, every seminarian seeking an ecclesiastical career in the USSR had to have a modus vivendi with the KGB; they were vetted by KGB officials and received frequent visits from their designated KGB handlers. Every Russian patriarch from Sergey on was rumored to have been a secret KGB agent, which the MP strenuously denies to this day. In an unprecedented gesture of transparency and reconciliation, Patriarch Aleksey boldly discussed the issue of collaboration between MP clergy and the Soviet state in a wide-ranging interview with Izvestia in June 1991, imploring forgiveness for the role Soviet-era hierarchs had in agreeing to the Soviet domination of the Church:

Before those people, however, to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty permitted by the leaders of the church in those years caused pain, before these people, and not only before God, I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers. [25]

Serge Schmemann, award-winning son of the late Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann [26] and former Associated Press and New York Times Moscow Bureau chief, noted in November 1991 in The Times the many challenges facing Aleksey in the post-Soviet era:

Standing at the center of the magnificent Cathedral of St. Isaac [St Petersburg]… diamonds and rubies glittering from his miter and staff and with a host of Romanov princes, politicians and worshipers arrayed around him, Patriarch Aleksy II… was the image of the church victorious over seven decades of militant atheism.

Not long ago the great domed cathedral was a state museum, the Romanovs were a curse, no Soviet politician would dare step foot in a working church and Patriarch Aleksy was a bishop locked in a running struggle with atheist watchdogs of the State Council of Religious Affairs.

[F]or all the obvious gains of the Russian Orthodox Church and of religious freedoms in the years of perestroika, the 62-year-old Patriarch, like his country and his church, is also a leader who faces a barrage of new problems raised by the sudden outbreak of freedom.

In his sermon in St. Isaac Cathedral, the Patriarch… spoke of the urgent need for tolerance and unity. Those are themes to which the Patriarch returns often, as he did in a recent interview in Moscow.

[H]e seemed in personal awe as he checked off the statistics of the Russian church’s rapid revival. More than 5,000 parishes opened since 1988, 106 in Moscow alone. Baptisms tripled, marriages increased ninefold, the number of monasteries up from 18 to 121.

And yet the Patriarch also spoke, as he has in many sermons and speeches, of the deep and profound damage left by Communism.

“The greatest wound inflicted by the Communist dictatorship was lack of spirituality,” he said. “All other evils were the result of the planned, systematic and total eradication from the souls and consciousness of the people of the very notion of ‘spirituality.’ I am not even talking about the disgusting anti-church propaganda and actions against the church.” “I never thought the moment would come,” acknowledged the Patriarch,..

“We have to rebuild everything — charity, catechism,” he said. “The new generation has forgotten everything — the very word charity was barred from dictionaries. An immediate revival is impossible, but the will is there.” [27]

Symbolic of Russian society seeking to reexamine its immediate pre-Soviet past and freeing itself from Soviet communist propaganda, Aleksey II presided over the glorification of hundreds of Russian “New Martyrs” — bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and laity killed by the communist regime– including Grand Duchess and Abbess Elizabeth Romanova, widowed sister to the last empress, in 1992, and in 2000 the glorification of the “Royal New Martyrs”, the last Imperial Family, as “passion-bearers” (the assassinated Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarevich Aleksey, the Grand Duchesses, et cetera).

In September 1997, another major watershed moment in Russian church-state political relations took place when the widely unpopular President Yeltsin signed into law, despite vocal American opposition, a parliamentary bill “that protects the Russian Orthodox Church from competition with other Christian faiths…”. [28] While not officially establishing Orthodoxy as the state religion (forbidden by the Russian Constitution), “the law create[d] a hierarchy of religious groups, with the Russian Orthodox Church firmly ensconced in the first and most privileged category while rival Christian groups are afforded a secondary status.” [29]

Patriarch Aleksey unsurprisingly praised the law which cemented his Church’s predominant legal and political position, saying ”Today’s law is another step toward perfecting the legislation that secures and defends the rights of Russia’s believers”. [30] Despite that U.S. Vice President Al Gore had urged senior Russian politicians to persuade Yeltsin to veto the bill, and that President Clinton had personally urged Yeltsin not to sign it, the Church lobbied successfully to pass the legislation, which restricted the legal rights of faiths (mainly Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that did not have a long-established presence in Russia to organize, proselytize, and build houses of worship. [31]

For those who would espouse the Western liberal critical view and blame President Putin and Patriarch Kirill for (by Western standards) an inappropriate church-state relationship today, this law is vital to understanding that as early as 1997 the Church was essentially operating as a quasi-established state religion, a protected and state-supported institution, and that it was President Yeltsin, the Western-friendly ‘democrat’, and Patriarch Aleksey II, not Putin and Kirill, who presided over this new arrangement. It is astonishing that, in only a decade, the Church went from being a cowed, barely public institution in an officially atheist state under a timid Pimen (a man who had no idea how to influence Gorbachev) to being protected under Aleksey as a semi-established state religion.

 

The Church in Putin’s Russia: Developing into the unofficial State Church, 2000 to today

Putin’s first inauguration ceremony in May 2000 solidified in a symbolic way the Church’s increasingly dominant role as the preeminent religious institution in Russian society. The Patriarch was not only prominently present at the inauguration in a seat of honor, but he formally blessed the new Russian president with the sign of the cross in the name of the Trinity, and presented Putin with an icon of St Alexander Nevsky.

Photograph courtesy of Kremlin.ru: Inside the Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskiy Sobor) in the Kremlin, the Patriarch presents new Russian president Vladimir Putin with an icon of St. Alexander Nevsky at the latter’s presidential inauguration, 7 May 2000.

 

As this photograph shows, Putin began his first term as president with the Church’s full symbolic (and literal) blessing. How did church-state relations develop in Russia to the point that in 2015, to all intents and purposes, the Church has become the unquestionably leading religious institution in Russia, whose Paschal and Nativity services the President and Prime Minister publicly attend each year at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral? [32] One of the watershed moments was the 19 May 2007 signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the MP under Patriarch Aleksey and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) under Metropolitan Laurus at the Cathedral in the presence of then-President Putin and then-Prime Minister Medvedev. [33] All Orthodox bishops I have talked with about the Act reported that the President had taken a keen interest in the restoration of communion (all these hierarchs likewise hold the President in high regard, including ROCOR’s present First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral, and the OCA’s [34] former reigning Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, now a retired ROCOR bishop). It is impossible to know for certain whether Putin’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the reconciliatory Act is an example of his calculating politically to use the rupture between the Russian Church in and outside of Russia to solidify his political appeal among Orthodox around the world and Russian Orthodox in particular living abroad, or the genuine desire of a devout Orthodox believer who happens to be the Russian president to help facilitate the historic reconciliation. It is entirely possible that both political calculation and genuine piety informed Putin’s role in supporting the Act.

The extent to which, by 2008, Church and state had become firmly intermeshed and intertwined is evident with the Kremlin’s reaction to Patriarch Aleksey II’s death in December of that year. Immediately following his death, President Medvedev — widely held to be more personally devout than Putin — issued a presidential ukaz which “enjoined” that on the day of the Patriarch’s burial Russian cultural organizations and news broadcasters should cancel entertaining programs. [35] This decree stopped just short of ordering a day of full, official national mourning. While the President issued his decree, the Prime Minister (Putin) released a statement via Interfax, an official state news source, lauding Aleksey as a “a prominent figure in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as a great statesman” who “made a very considerable contribution to relations between various faiths.” [36] Putin also acknowledged that Aleksey “did a great deal to help establish a new governance system in Russia”. [37] Along with their wives, both Medvedev and Putin attended the funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral presided over by the Orthodox primus inter pares Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. [38] [39]

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, his then-wife Ludmila Putina, Svetlana Medvedeva, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Aleksey II’s funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

Bibliography

Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

Davis, Nathaniel. A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

Gedney, Adam. “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”. YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

Gordon, Michael R. “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”.  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

Greeley, Andrew. “A Religious Revival in Russia?”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Hunter, Ryan. “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”. Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

Hunter, Ryan. “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”. Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

Interfax Religion. “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

Kolarz, Walter. Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966).

Kutash, Ihor G. “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”. Christian History. Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

Leustean, LucianEastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945-91. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2009. 

Massie, Suzanne. “Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

“Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”. 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html 

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998).

Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

Sanidopoulos, John. “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

Schmemann, Serge. “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”. The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop). “His Eminence the Novice”. “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

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Weekly, The Ukrainian. “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly. 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii. No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

 

End Notes

[1] Hereafter, for brevity and consistency’s sake, I will refer to the Moscow Patriarchate as the “MP” and the Russian Orthodox Church as “the Church”.

[2] Sanidopoulos, John, “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

[3] A lecture at which my godmother was present.

[4] Massie, Suzanne,“Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. Page 6. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] According to Andrew Greeley, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, this anecdote actually occurred between Gorbachev and Pope John Paul I. See: Greeley, Andrew, “A Religious Revival in Russia?”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[7] Kutash, Ihor G, “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”, Christian History, Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

[8] “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly, 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kutash, Ibid.

[11] Ms. Swezey obtained her MA in Russian History from Harvard, concentrating on Russian cultural and artistic history. Aside from her work at Hillwood, she ‎has also served as a Guest Curator at the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation. She lives in Washington, DC, where she served as the parish historian at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral for over thirty years. She has edited and authored numerous articles on Russian history, Orthodox iconography, and imperial decorative arts, especially Faberge, an anthology The Tsar and the President: Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln, Liberator and Emancipator, and The Romanov Family Album

[12] Hunter, Ryan, “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”,  Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

[13] Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop), “His Eminence the Novice”, “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

[14] Hunter, Ryan, “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”, Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

[15] Upon his Stalin-approved election as Patriarch in February 1945, Aleksey I assured the dictator of his “profound affection and gratitude” and vowed to “safeguard the Church against mistakes and false steps” against the communist state. See: Kolarz, Walter, Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966), page 55.

After Stalin’s death in March 1953, the collaborationist Patriarch Aleksey composed a statement of condolence to the USSR’s Council of Ministers: “…His death is a heavy grief for our Fatherland and for all the people who inhabit it. The whole Russian Orthodox Church, which will never forget his benevolent attitude to Church needs, feels great sorrow at his death. The bright memory of him will live ineradicably in our hearts. Our Church proclaims eternal memory to him with a special feeling of abiding love.” See: Kolarz, page 65.

[16] Davis, Nathaniel, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 86.

[17] Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

[18] Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii, No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 284.

[19] “Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

[20] Mandated by a parliamentary law signed in January 2013 by President Putin.

[21] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ibid.

[22] Davis, 96.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Pospielovsky, Dimitry, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998),  page 394.

[25] From an interview of Patriarch Alexei II, given to Izvestia issue No 137, 10 June 1991, entitled “Patriarch Alexei II:—I Take upon Myself Responsibility for All that Happened”, English translation from Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, (Oxford: Westview Press, 1995), page 89.

[26] Father Alexander Schmemann, a prominent Russian Orthodox theologian of the St Sergius Institute in Paris and former dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary in NY, played a leading role in negotiating the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY. The OCA received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[27] Schmemann, Serge, “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”, The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

[28] Gordon, Michael R, “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”,  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] VideoNews, “Russian President attends Easter services at Moscow cathedral”, YouTube. 12 April 2015. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeOJXO0619g

[33] Gedney, Adam, “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”, YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

[34] The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY, received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[35] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru. 7 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.

[36] Interfax Religion, “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

[37] Ibid.

[38] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru.

[39] “Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”, 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html 

 

Metropolitan Jonah Released From the OCA to ROCOR

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with a glad heart full of rejoicing that I share with you that earlier today Metropolitan Jonah received a signed letter of official release from Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) releasing him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, has been notified that the OCA Synod has, at long last, made good on their promise to release Metropolitan Jonah. Vladyka Jonah is thus received into ROCOR’s jurisdiction. His status–whether he will be received as a retired or an active Metropolitan– is still to be determined by the ROCOR Synod. The OCA publicly and officially acknowledged its release of Metropolitan Jonah here.

This means that, at long last, Metropolitan Jonah will be free to serve wherever he is blessed to do so by the Synod of the ROCOR and Metropolitan Hilarion. He will be free to serve unhindered at St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral (where he has been serving for most of the past three years) and wherever else he is invited to do so, with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod. He will continue his teaching ministry at St John’s (including regular sermons and lectures which may be found here), continue to speak at conferences and symposia and other academic events, and, above all else, continue to serve weekly Liturgies at the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC. He ultimately plans to begin a monastery, but in the meantime looks forward to living and teaching the Orthodox Faith and serving his spiritual children.

Now that he is no longer in the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah will lose his modest stipend which he has, until now, received from the OCA in his capacity as one of their several retired Metropolitans. ROCOR cannot afford to grant Metropolitan Jonah a stipend, so he will rely on the charitable support of the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation to meet his basic living needs. You may donate to the Holy Archangels Foundation and subscribe to receive e-mails here.

In terms of his recent activities, Metropolitan Jonah met this past weekend with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is visiting for the upcoming Washington, DC Orientale Lumen conference this week. Time allowing, Metropolitan Kallistos will join Metropolitan Jonah in con-celebrating Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Chapel this coming Friday, June 19.

At the end of June, on Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Jonah will present at a conference at the ROCOR Church of the Intercession in Glen Cove, NY, titled “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today” along with Dr. Sister Vassa Larin and Dr. Valerie Karras. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Professor of History at SUNY Albany, will moderate the discussion. Below is the event poster.

June 27 Conference Poster for

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Metropolitan Jonah will then travel to South Carolina to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and Tsarina-Martyr Alexandra and their children, along with the Tsarina’s sister the nun Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companion the nun Varvara. He will serve vigil at the ROCOR Church of St Elizabeth the New Martyr in West Columbia on Friday, July 17, followed by Liturgy the following morning, St Elizabeth’s feat day and the day of her martyrdom. On Sunday, July 19, he will again serve Liturgy, followed by giving a lecture on “Temple Worship and the Liturgy”.

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Glory to God for all things!

Commemoration of five year anniversary of Metropolitan Laurus’ repose

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Commemoration of five year anniversary of Metropolitan Laurus' repose

Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, presided yesterday at the Panihida memorial service for his predecessor Metropolitan Laurus at Holy Trinity seminary Cathedral near Jordanville, NY. Along with the Moscow Patriarch Alexey II, Met. Laurus worked for the 2007 reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church after a painful separation dating to the Soviet years of persecution. Here is an article from the ROCOR website with additional information on the memorial service.

Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 

1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 

“Again, we ask Thee, Lord, to remember all Orthodox bishops who rightly teach the word of Thy truth, all presbyters, all deacons in the service of Christ, and every one in holy orders.”

– from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, inspired from this verse of Holy Scripture.

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Many friends across the U.S. and Canada have asked me to give an update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation. People often ask me how he is doing, or if I have heard anything new. I hope that I am able to answer people’s questions here. 

I am blessed to see him regularly, since he resides here in Washington and has been serving each week at the ROCOR Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a warm and bustling parish. Metropolitan Jonah has been welcomed very kindly by all, including both English-speaking parishioners and Russian and Ukrainian parishioners who usually attend the Slavonic Liturgy. His weekly Friday night Bible studies are always very well attended, and this is a growing ministry at St. John’s which Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov has kindly encouraged with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. Friends from across the country have told me of how much this ministry enriches their faith and spiritual lives, and deepens their understanding of Orthodox teachings and beliefs, Church history, and contemporary moral issues in society. 

When I think of his growing ministry, how so many people are asking me how they can access his YouTube videos (these can be found here at the St John’s Cathedral YouTube page), I am amazed and deeply moved that, despite everything he is going through, he has the focus and presence of mind to continue his teaching ministry. I see this as the Providence of God. By cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Metropolitan Jonah is able to continue to serve as a teacher, his true capacity as a bishop.

The true responsibility of an Orthodox bishop is a profoundly pastoral one: to communicate the transformative wholeness and living beauty of the Faith to people in the language and context of the times in which they live. Above all, a bishop’s writings, sermons, and talks should enable the faithful to better live and integrate the fullness of Orthodox teaching and spirituality into their daily lives. As Metropolitan Jonah often says, “what we do in church on Sundays counts for less than 5% of the week, so how are we spending our time while outside of church?” How are we understanding, and most of all, living, our faith day-to-day, hour by hour?

Thus, in communicating to the people the fullness of the Orthodox faith which is the way to salvation, the inner life and glory of the Church, a bishop’s role is primarily that of a teacher. He is charged with guiding the people, “rightly dividing”, or discerning and communicating, the word of Truth in all its catholicity.

This is how I see Metropolitan Jonah: above all, he is a teacher. From the numerous Bible studies, sermons, conference and retreat talks I have heard him give, it is clear to me that he is an exceptional one. Metropolitan Jonah has the charism of communicating profound spiritual truths, as well as deeply intellectual, and often philosophically worded, Orthodox spiritual concepts (theosis, koinonia, theoria, synergeia, hesychia, prayer of the heart, conciliarity/sobornost, etc) in language that people can understand and apply to their lives. Thus, as a teacher who can articulate Orthodoxy to people today living in a cultural context removed from that of a traditionally Orthodox cultural environment, he is invaluable. He is widely and rightfully recognized as an engaging speaker whose spiritual talks have served as an Orthodox bridge to the Roman Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant communities.

Even now, Metropolitan Jonah’s ministry is inspiring many faithful across the Orthodox jurisdictions on this continent. This is a great joy, and I am reminded of one of my favorite verses from Holy Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:16):

“Rejoice evermore”.

It amazed me to discover that the verse following St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to always rejoice is a verse with which I was already familiar, but whose exact context and placement in his epistles I did not remember until re-reading it: “Pray ceaselessly”. (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How fitting that, inseparably tied to rejoicing in the boundless grace of God, we should also always remember to thank and supplicate Him in prayer, our hopes, praises and deepest yearnings which rise like incense to heaven (Psalm 141:1-2).

There is so much for which I and many others close to Metropolitan Jonah are profoundly grateful. His constant kindness, easygoing warmth and sense of humor always put anyone meeting him for the first time at ease. When one has talked with him often, one comes to appreciate how he has not only a remarkable depth of theological knowledge and spiritual awareness, but a profound humility of spirit.

This humility and real sense of Christian love is at the heart of who Metropolitan Jonah is as a person. Anyone who has heard his spiritual talks or read his book Reflections on a Spiritual Journey  knows that a constant theme is: “Do not resent. Do not react. Keep inner stillness.” It is this profound theological and spiritual principle which he has so often articulated, one which the early Desert Fathers and many of the Church’s foremost theologians taught, which he is trying to live now. 

My wonderful godmother, who is a great blessing in my life, often tells me about the extraordinary life of Bishop Basil Rodzianko, her spiritual father, whom she assisted for many years. From my godmother I have heard many wonderful stories and anecdotes about his life, and in many ways I feel I have come to know this remarkable holy man, especially through prayer.

There are a number of parallels between the life and work of Bishop Basil, and Metropolitan Jonah. Just like Metropolitan Jonah today, Bishop Basil preached the true fullness of the Christian witness of two millennia, offering to all the full message of the Gospel and the Church’s revealed moral teachings.

In retirement, Bishop Basil often served at St. Nicholas Cathedral, and lived out the remaining years of his life in a cozy studio apartment-chapel. He often served liturgies there, and continued his remarkable radio ministry to the faithful living behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. As you can see below, this intimate, holy place remains in use today.

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Metropolitan Jonah celebrating Liturgy on January 23 at Bishop Basil Rodzianko’s studio apartment-chapel in Washington, D.C. Bishop Basil reposed here in September 1999.

Metropolitan Jonah serving Liturgy at the late Bishop Basil's apartment chapel on February 21, 2013.

Metropolitan Jonah serving Liturgy at the late Bishop Basil’s apartment chapel on February 21, 2013.

Besides his acting teaching ministry at St. John’s ROCOR Cathedral here, where he also serves regularly at Liturgy and vigil, Metropolitan Jonah spoke at the February 8-10 DC-Baltimore Orthodox Christian Fellowship district winter retreat at the Mar-Lu-Ridge camp site near Jefferson, Maryland. For many years he has participated in similar conferences and retreats, recently speaking at the 2012 winter OCF College Conference in California.

It was a joy to host him as a speaker, along with the exceptionally kind author and lecturer Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green and Dr Joel Kalvesmaki, Editor in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

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Metropolitan Jonah and Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green with students at DC-Baltimore OCF winter retreat, February 8-10, 2013.

The Holy Archangels Foundation, originally set up in 1986 to support Bishop Basil’s continued radio and teaching ministry, has been receiving hundreds of envelopes with checks and cash to go toward supporting Metropolitan Jonah’s continued teaching ministry here in Washington. Every day the Foundation receives many e-mails and letters from people across Orthodox jurisdictions, asking what they can do to support this kind hierarch whom so many of us love and support.

If you or anyone you know would like to help support Metropolitan Jonah’s continued ministry, please write any letters or send checks to this address:

Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation

3027 Foxhall Road NW

Washington DC, 20016

Wherever you are, if you love and support Metropolitan Jonah as do so many people, please continue to pray for him. He deeply appreciates everyone’s prayers. Many of us here in Washington have begun praying the Akathist to St. John Maximovitch (the Wonder-worker) in the hope that this blessed saint will intercede with the Lord to bring about a clear resolution.

May God bless you and keep you, and give you joy in all things.

Holy Cross Monastery

Video

This is a video featuring snapshots of liturgical life and day-to-day living for the monks of Holy Cross Monastery, located in my hometown of East Setauket, New York. The monastic brotherhood, led by the Most Reverend Archimandrite Maximos (Weimar), is under the omophorion (canonical authority) of His Eminence +Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. The monks maintain a beautiful blog here, and using these two links, you can access their popular Facebook pages.

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, an autonomous jurisdiction under the Moscow Patriarchate).

The opening to the video is hauntingly beautiful. The first chant which you hear (sung by the brothers of the Valaam island monastery in Russia’s Lake Ladoga) is Stasis 3 of the Bridegroom Lamentation chants for Good Friday. At 1:02 you see the Abbot of the monastery, the Most Reverend Archimandrite Maximos (Weimar), a very kind man and wise counselor and pastor. At 3:52 you see Fr. Hierodeacon Parthenios (Miller), a wonderfully kind, talented choralist and theologian.

Throughout this video, indicative of the incredible diversity and catholicity of Orthodoxy, you will hear Church hymns and prayers in multiple languages: English, Russian, Greek, and Georgian. These languages are often used in every Liturgy, along with Romanian and sometimes Spanish.

As of January 2012, I had attended Liturgy here only twice when I was home briefly for Winter Break before leaving to study on exchange at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. Since my return to the United States, I have been blessed to visit the kind monks whenever I am back at home in Setauket.

The monastery is a beautiful oasis of calm and peace in my busy Long Island, New York hometown.

The monastery grounds are on the edge of Setauket Elementary School (left of center beyond the hedges).

The monastery chapel, dedicated to St Herman of Alaska, is a century-old historic building which served for years as the town’s primary school.

The monastery’s church, dedicated to St Herman the Wonder-worker and Apostle to Alaska (1756-1837), was beautifully restored in late summer and early fall 2012.

The monastery used to be under the omophorion of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and is now under the canonical authority of
His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad,

The monastery’s bells are used to beautiful effect to call worshipers to the divine services, to signify the rejoicing and going forth out into the world at services’ conclusion, and they are rung at major points during the Liturgy, matins and vespers. Here, Fr. Silouan talks with Archimandrite Maximos.

Icon of the Theotokos with the Christ child inside the monastery church.

The beautiful, miracle-working Kursk-Root icon of the Theotokos has visited the monastery several times.

The monastery supports a small but diverse parish life, including many Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Greeks, Romanians, and American converts.

The monks and members of the parish community enjoy a fellowship meal with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). Metropolitan Kallistos, to the far left with the white beard, is an English Orthodox theologian, titular Bishop of Diokleia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate and retired Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford.

Fr. Maximos and Fr. Hierodeacon Parthenios outside the ROCOR Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. This is a beautiful cathedral built by St. John of Shanghai and San Franciso. As of Fall 2012, I have begun attending this cathedral with increasing frequency.

The Most Reverend Archimandrite Maximos, Abbot of Holy Cross Brotherhood

Father Silouan, a very kind, wise man

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, visits the monastery.

Metropolitan Hilarion standing with Archimandrite Maximos, Fr. Cornelius, Fr Silouan, Fr Hierodeacon Parthenios, and other monks and friends of the monastery.

Metropolitan Hilarion alongside Archimandrite Maximos standing before the solea and the iconostasis.

Metropolitan Hilarion blessing the monks and faithful as he stands before the thronos.

Metropolitan Hilarion censing the monastery’s icons, the monks and the lay worshipers.

A quiet, prayerful presence

Here is a print version of the article as it appeared in the January 31 edition of the Village Times Herald.

Here is a print version of the article as it appeared in the January 31 edition of the Village Times Herald.


On January 30 of this year, the Village Times Herald, my local paper back home, published this article, titled “A quiet, prayerful presence”, which I wrote about the wonderful monks at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in my hometown of Setauket.

Here is a PDF file of that week’s newspaper edition in which my article features. 

The Village Times Herald is owned by the Times Beacon Record newspapers which covers news on the North Shore of Long Island’s Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River. You can access their Facebook page here.

Below is my original article, unabridged. Given the spatial constraints, I am very grateful to editor Rachel Shapiro for publishing the article in almost its entire original form.

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A Quiet, Prayerful Presence

By Ryan Hunter

December 22, 2012

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross sits tucked behind trees and tall hedges on Main Street in East Setauket. Photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross sits tucked behind trees and tall hedges on Main Street in East Setauket. Photo by Rachel Shapiro

There is a small religious community here in Setauket which remains a mystery to many residents. Many do not even know it exists. When you are driving through town and turn off Route 25A onto Main Street, pass the Setauket United Methodist Church on your left and head north toward Emma S. Clark public library, the village green with its historic Caroline Church of Brookhaven and Setauket Presbyterian Church, you will pass, on your left, another white church right before Setauket Elementary School. This small, peculiar-looking building stands out: it is topped with a golden, Russian style onion dome and the cross of St. Olga.

Nestled here behind the tall, green juniper hedges lives the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of the Holy Cross. The men who live here are monks, part of an Eastern Orthodox monastery under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). You may have seen some of the monks around town, perhaps shopping in the supermarket, clad in their long black robes. The sight of these men might make some of you wonder: Why do they wear those funny robes? And what about those long beards and head coverings? It may seem strange that these men, living in the 21st century, would choose to live as they do, in a religious brotherhood. You might be asking: what do they do?

The very kind abbot, or superior, of the monastery is the Archimandrite Father Maximos Weimar. He and several of the hieromonks (priest-monks) who assist him spend considerable time traveling to diocesan and regional church conferences, and visiting Orthodox parishes in the local area and region. They give spiritual talks at the invitation of bishops and church pastors, visit and pray with those who are ill in hospitals or suffering from the loss of loved ones, and serve beautiful liturgies where they offer prayers to God on behalf of everyone in the local community, New York, the United States, and throughout the world.

At the monastery, the monks dedicate themselves to a life of ceaseless prayer. Even while they are busy looking after visitors, keeping up the beautiful grounds, or restoring and expanding the monastery’s old buildings, they are always praying. Like Roman Catholic monks and nuns, they have taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. As Orthodox Christians, they fast every Wednesday and Friday, as well as observing several more rigorous fast periods during the year, including Great Lent and the pre-Nativity (Advent) period. The monks support each other in their efforts to, through lifelong repentance, spiritual growth, and renewal, become transformed in the image of God. This is a process called theosis, or divinization, about which the earliest Christian leaders and theologians wrote widely.

Worship is central to the monks’ daily lives. Every morning and evening they gather in the beautiful, recently renovated chapel dedicated to Saint Herman of Alaska (1756-1837), a peaceful Russian evangelist to the Yupik and Aleut native tribes. At every service, they pray to God and all the saints for those who have asked their prayers. They pray for the healing of the sick, peace for the grieving, and rest for the departed.

A vibrant, close-knit community of parishioners thrives here. Just like the monks, who come from a diverse array of ethnic and religious backgrounds and traditions, the parishioners are a diverse representation of Orthodoxy, which, though a small presence in North America, is the world’s second largest Christian faith. Greek, Russian and Georgian immigrants, and many Americans all worship here. Some were raised in the faith, but many, like myself, are converts. Every Sunday for the Eucharistic service (the Divine Liturgy), and on many major feast days of the Church, the chapel is filled with the monks, parishioners, and visitors all worshiping together.

Because the monks dedicate their life to serving in the Church, they offer the divine services even when only a few people show up to worship with them. The weeknight Vespers is a peaceful, beautiful candlelit service, sung in its entirety, as all Orthodox services are, and filled with the ethereal, ancient chants and hymns of Eastern Christianity. Always hospitable, the monks invite everyone to visit with them after service and enjoy some refreshments or a light meal. They are exceptionally kind.

This holiday season, when Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior and Jews recall with the Festival of Lights the miracle of the burning oil in the Temple, is a time of festive rejoicing for all. It is a time when, surrounded by loved ones, many of us rededicate ourselves to what—and who—matters most. In all the sorrows and challenges of life, we rely on the loving support, encouragement, and prayers of those dear to us. Wherever you are in your life, whatever your circumstances, whatever burdens you have weighing you down even now, know that there is, in this town, a warm-hearted community which remembers you every day in their prayers.

Ryan Hunter talked with the monks of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross over many discussions and interviews. He is an active member of the Orthodox Church and a parishioner at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St.  John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. A senior pursuing his BA in History at American University, he attends services at the monastery whenever he is home in Setauket and studies with the monks.

Abbot Tryphon on “Christian Pharisees”

Christian Pharisees
The Orthodox Faith is Nothing Without Transformation of Life

If your spiritual life is concentrated only on external practices and traditions, but does nothing to bring about real change, you have gained nothing. Too many people think as long as they keep the fasting rules, do their prayers, and attend the services, they are good Orthodox Christians. Yet if there is no love, no charity, and forgiveness of others, and your life is filled with gossip and judgement, your Orthodox Christian faith is worth nothing. 

Christ condemned the Pharisees not because they kept the law and attended to the traditions of the Jewish faith, but because they did so while filled with pride and arrogance. Without sincere repentance and holiness of life, their encounter with God led to an emptiness of heart.

Because our Orthodox faith is one of tradition and liturgical structure, it is easy to fall into the trap of being nothing more than a Pharisee. Being strict in one’s observance of Orthodox practices can easily lead to pride and arrogance. If you find yourself feeling better than others and proud of your piety, you have gained absolutely nothing. The external practice of the Orthodox Christian faith without heartfelt humility and repentance leads down the road of spiritual ruin. 

The Church is the hospital of the soul, but healing can only come if we put effort into it. If your doctor prescribes a medication for your condition but you fail to follow your doctor’s orders, you will not get well. The Church has all that you need for spiritual transformation, but healing only comes if you cooperate with the healing process. 

The goal is holiness (wholeness) and is the direct result of our having submitted in all humility to a life of repentance. When you do this Christ changes you. If you simply go through the motions of your Orthodox faith, you are no better off than the Pharisees whom Christ condemned.

Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

ImageThe Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.