The journey from upstate New York to Australia is both long and costly and so an itinerary of more than two weeks’ duration was organized for Bishop Luke, culminating with the celebrations in Brisbane. He traveled almost continuously during his visit with two internal flights and numerous car trips, in order to maximize his experience of the life of the Diocese there. This afforded him the opportunity to celebrate divine services in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney and their surrounding areas, as well as in Brisbane. Archpriest Gabriel Makarov in Brisbane is a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary, as are many of the clergy with whom Bishop Luke served during his visit. Thus his presence in Australia served to reaffirm the spiritual ties of the Australian diocese with Jordanville and to encourage new seminarians to enroll at the seminary here.
The clergy in Australia are predominantly of Russian descent; Church Slavonic is still very widely employed in divine services and Russian spoken at church functions. Bishop Luke foresaw that a greater use of English would be an important component in bequeathing Orthodox life to the younger generation and in adapting to an Australian society that was becoming increasingly ethnically diverse with a very visible immigration from south-east Asia in recent years.
The Diocese does have several small monastic communities but Bishop Luke was only able to visit one of these, the Convent of Our Lady of Kazan, in Kentlyn, NSW. There he met with the Abbess Maria who told him that there “were five nuns doing the work of thirty.” Whilst visiting the convent he and Bishop George, the ruling hierarch of the Australian diocese, were able to serve a panikhida on the one year anniversary of the repose of Metropolitan Hilarion of blessed memory.
Kentlyn is a suburb of Sydney, from where it is a forty minute drive to the Diocesan Centre in Croydon. It is here that Bishop George resides and it was where Vladika Luke stayed at the beginning and end of his trip. There are no other monastics living with Bishop George, but the Centre does have a small chapel and is also adjacent to the parish church of All Russian Saints.
Bishop Luke expressed the hope that Holy Trinity Monastery would be able to help with the development of monastic life in the diocese and mentioned the possibility of a postulant coming soon to Jordanville from Australia. He also explained that efforts were being made by Fr Michael Protopopov and others to create a seminary in Dandenong, the suburb of Melbourne where Fr Michael serves. This would be a major step up from the online education that is presently the only option for clergy formation. Traveling for a married seminarian to America is daunting.
Whilst noting the need for a greater focus on missionary work in the Diocese, Bishop Luke spoke eloquently of the warmth of the people he met and their hospitality. One way this has been demonstrated most recently is in the provision of a shelter for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. Sadly these new arrivals do not seem to have an outwardly Orthodox way of life but he was encouraged in this respect by the “elevated piety” of the existing members of the Diocese, as evidenced by frequent church going and attendance at Vigil services and not only the Divine Liturgy. They also evinced an understanding of the importance of elevating the soul through the beauty of church arts such as church architecture, iconography, and singing. As an example of the latter he mentioned the Diocesan male choir, directed by Nektary Kotlaroff, and the iconography of Antonina Ganina. Two of Antonina’s works (the Nativity of St John the Baptist and the Defeat of Antichrist) are to be found in Jordanville, where some of her training took place. He said that “without exception” all the churches had “an Orthodox aesthetic ethos,” but cautioned them against excessive use of illumination, pointing out that in older times candles could not begin to create the amount of light that is possible with electricity and contemporary lighting systems.
Last, but by no means least, Bishop Luke expressed wonder at the diversity of nature, both flora and fauna, as well as wildlife such as kangaroos, koalas and cockatoos. He was only in Australia for two and a half weeks, but clearly in that time his feet barely touched the ground and he has been left with many vivid impressions.