by Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov)

Met­ro­pol­i­tan Vitaly (1910–2006) was the fourth First Hier­ar­ch of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side of Rus­sia. Through­out his tenure as Pri­mate, Vl. Vitaly earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a stead­fast and stern bish­op. Below, from the Metropolitan’s own writ­ings, we gain a win­dow into his soul through a touch­ing anec­dote from his arch­pas­toral travels.

It is often nec­es­sary for me to trav­el by plane through­out my scat­tered dio­cese, vis­it­ing parish­es and some­times even remote com­mu­ni­ties of our Church’s faith­ful. Unex­pect­ed encoun­ters can occur. This is Divine Prov­i­dence act­ing in people’s lives. 

Once, return­ing by plane to Mon­tréal, I wor­ried that this time I had been unable to bring any­thing home with me! I sat, lost in my thoughts, until my ears were struck by hearty, pure laugh­ter erupt­ing from a small group of pas­sen­gers that sur­round­ed a small (or bet­ter said, a crumb-sized) girl — still a tod­dler, real­ly — whose car­ry­ing voice rang like a bell and could not be drowned out, whether by the roar of the plane or the cacoph­o­ny of voices.

I began to lis­ten and glance at this group. The young girl fas­ci­nat­ed every­one with her famil­iar man­ner, sin­cer­i­ty, and puri­ty.  She looked every­one in the eye with her bright blue iris­es and con­fi­dent­ly asked, “What’s your name?”, “Why are you fly­ing?”, “Where are you com­ing from?”, “Where are you going?”, and oth­er, most unex­pect­ed ques­tions. When she saw that she had no suc­cess in soft­en­ing a per­son, she attempt­ed to crawl on their knees, hug them, kiss them on the cheek. No one could avoid her atten­tion. Her moth­er did not suc­ceed, despite her best efforts, in tear­ing the child away and forc­ing her to sit still and behave. Active, open, and excep­tion­al­ly atten­tive, she maneu­vered back into the aisle between two rows of seats and once again approached every­one and enveloped them in the warmth of her pure child’s heart. 

In Ottawa, a new pas­sen­ger board­ed. He was a full-bod­ied man with a trimmed beard, very seri­ous — per­haps a high-rank­ing bureau­crat, per­haps a pro­fes­sor — ful­ly con­scious of his own impor­tance. This was a man to whom one does not sim­ply ingra­ti­ate one­self, of whom one does not sim­ply ask a ques­tion. Very quick­ly, he became the object of the young girl’s atten­tion. She laid eyes on him and again with­out bar­ri­ers asked him the most straight-for­ward ques­tions. And here a mir­a­cle occurred! The great man sud­den­ly and com­plete­ly trans­formed, his face was dec­o­rat­ed in a wide grin, his eyes, to this point seri­ous and even stern, sparked with true emo­tion. Before us sat a new man!

Well, then it was my turn. Unno­ticed, she some­how rose up at my feet and asked per­mis­sion to sit next to me since two adja­cent seats were emp­ty. She asked who I was. My mode of dress did not per­plex her in the least, though she must have found it pecu­liar. She point­ed at my pana­gia1 and asked who was depict­ed on it. I told her this was our Sav­iour, Jesus Christ. She asked if I had a mom and dad, where I lived, and so on. “How old are you?” I answered, “Over six­ty.” She said that she couldn’t count past twen­ty but, real­iz­ing that my num­ber was clear­ly high, this most tiny, minia­ture, four-year-old girl promised to help me car­ry my brief­case. Then she snug­gled her head up to me and kissed the pana­gia. I made the sign of the Holy Cross over her head. She did not notice my move­ment, but nev­er­the­less her pure soul felt the Grace of God upon her and she began to kiss my hands. This was so unex­pect­ed, so direct that I was extreme­ly touched and shocked by this child, whom no one, of course, had ever taught to kiss a bishop’s hand. Tru­ly, “the human soul is Chris­t­ian by nature.“2 She did not leave my side even when we arrived in Mon­tréal. Thus I dis­em­barked the plane hold­ing her hand. She would not let go. She enlivened, cheered, and encour­aged every­one on the plane. Masks of feigned indif­fer­ence, hes­i­tance, and for­mal­i­ty fell away from many.

We all cre­ate our moral cages in which we live for years, often fail­ing to notice our humor­ous­ly arti­fi­cial pos­ture. All of this depart­ed from us thanks to a tod­dler — this lit­tle, crumb-size, minia­ture girl. What more of a mir­a­cle do we need! Every­one part­ed from her with a smile and with emo­tion. This girl’s name is Ang­ie. Pre­serve her, o Lord, just so pure and sin­cere among the moral degra­da­tion of human society!

Trans­lat­ed from Митрополитъ Виталій, Первоіерархъ Русской Православной Зарубежной Церкви: Юбилейный Сборникъ. — Б. м., б. г. [New York, 2001]. — С. 132–134.


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