Homily on the Centennial Anniversary
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

by Deacon Andrei Psarev

Delivered during Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Monastery on Thanksgiving Day, November 13/26, 2020

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Beloved broth­ers and sis­ters in the Lord! Today, on the feast day of St John Chrysos­tom, we cel­e­brate three mem­o­rable jubilee dates.

I. The found­ing of the Russ­ian Church Abroad 

We might say that no one found­ed the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side of Rus­sia. She came into being in the course of nat­ur­al events. As a result of the defeat of the anti-Bol­she­vik forces in Euro­pean Rus­sia, Russ­ian refugee-bish­ops end­ed up in Con­stan­tino­ple. As soon the Russ­ian cler­gy who had already been out­side of Rus­sia learned of the bish­ops’ arrival, they began to turn to them with ques­tions under the purview of hier­ar­chs. For exam­ple, the Russ­ian Eccle­si­as­ti­cal Mis­sion in Jerusalem became such a suppliant.

All-Diaspora Council of 1921

Atten­dees of the All-Dias­po­ra Coun­cil of 1921 in Srem­sky-Karlovt­sy (Yugoslavia).

The foun­da­tion of the Russ­ian Church Abroad, which we cel­e­brate today, is con­nect­ed to the Res­o­lu­tion of His Holi­ness the Patri­arch, the Holy Syn­od, and the Supreme Church Coun­cil of Novem­ber 7/20, 1920, No. 362. This doc­u­ment pro­vid­ed church dis­tricts with a foun­da­tion for tem­po­rary decen­tral­iza­tion in the event of extreme cir­cum­stances. Here again, the ques­tion aris­es as to why exact­ly the Res­o­lu­tion came into being. When, in the night from Novem­ber 7–8, 1920, a detach­ment of the 6th Red Army, togeth­er with the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Insur­rec­tion­al Army of Ukraine, broke through the defense of the Crimean Penin­su­la mount­ed by Gen­er­al Petr Wrangel’s Russ­ian Army, it became clear that the Civ­il War in Euro­pean Rus­sia was over. The armed forces of the Russ­ian Sovi­et Fed­er­al Social­ist Repub­lic had won. There­fore, one might con­sid­er the Res­o­lu­tion of Novem­ber 7/20 as:

  1. for­mal­iz­ing the Church’s suc­cess­ful expe­ri­ence of the autonomous orga­ni­za­tion in the ter­ri­to­ry con­trolled by the White Army; and,
  2. bestow­ing the right of such autonomous orga­ni­za­tion to the Russ­ian eccle­si­as­ti­cal refugees who had been evac­u­at­ed from the Crimea on Novem­ber 13–16. These émi­grés had orga­nized them­selves under the lead­er­ship of sev­er­al mem­bers of the Tem­po­rary Supreme Eccle­si­as­ti­cal Admin­is­tra­tion in the South-East of Rus­sia who met in Con­stan­tino­ple on Novem­ber 19, 1920.

Russ­ian polit­i­cal refugees were utter­ly trau­ma­tized by the Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tion, frat­ri­cide civ­il war, and loss of their home­land. The bish­ops and cler­gy who walked this path togeth­er with their flock could under­stand them bet­ter than any­one else.

The self­less min­istry of the numer­ous pas­tors of the Russ­ian Church in the emi­gra­tion has tak­en shape in a kind of icono­graph­ic image of min­istry as expressed in the Russ­ian say­ing, “For the sake of Christ Jesus, and not for a bite of bread.” This was so vivid­ly expressed by Arch­priest George Benigsen, who dur­ing World War II min­is­tered in the Pskov Mis­sion of the Moscow Patri­ar­chate and after the war served with­in ROCOR in the Dis­placed Per­sons (DP) camps in Ger­many and then in the Ortho­dox Church of America:

Wher­ev­er we had been, we left last, doing our work to the bit­ter end with unfail­ing resolve, in the knowl­edge that our cause was that of the tri­umph of Christ… We went with the peo­ple, yet again leav­ing our native lands, leav­ing behind vic­tims who fell under the bul­lets of par­ti­sans and Gestapo agents alike or who resolved not to leave or could not leave in time. We went West­ward, know­ing that we could not expect any mer­cy from the Bol­she­viks, know­ing the Sovi­et régime just as well as the Ger­man one this time around. We often heard our hearts say­ing: stay here, share in the fate of those who have tak­en up the cross of mar­tyr­dom, who are suf­fer­ing for Christ in exile and con­cen­tra­tion camps in the bound­less expans­es of Siberia. But yet anoth­er voice was call­ing us West­ward, say­ing that that’s not all there is, and that they know the truth in the West. It will be able to stand up for the truth” 1

II. Foun­da­tion of Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery in 1930 

Fr Panteleimon (Nizhnik)

Fr Pan­telei­mon (Nizh­nik)

Our Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery sprang forth from the old­est ortho­dox monastery in Amer­i­ca, St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA. Nei­ther the Ven­er­a­ble Father Nilus of Sora in 15th cen­tu­ry Mus­covite Rus, nor St Ignatius (Bri­an­chani­nov) in the 19th cen­tu­ry Rus­sia find a suit­able monas­tic ordo in their time. Sim­i­lar­ly to them, Fr Pan­telei­mon (Nizh­nik) had to estab­lish his own monas­tic com­mu­ni­ty to imple­ment his vision. As a result, a par­tic­u­lar syn­the­sis came into being — on the one hand, care for the ornate litur­gi­cal stric­tures of the Typ­i­con; on the oth­er, open­ness to mis­sion­ary work and to the needs of the Ortho­dox peo­ple in the Unit­ed States.

III. Great Con­se­cra­tion of the Cathe­dral of Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery on this day in 1950

Ear­ly in 1950, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos arrived in New York from Munich accom­pa­nied by Met­ro­pol­i­tan Anas­ta­sy, des­tined to lead ROCOR through the Sec­ond World War and the begin­ning of the Cold War.

Cathedral at Holy Trinity Monastery under construction, 1948

Cathe­dral at Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery under con­struc­tion, 1948.

Vla­dy­ka Anas­ta­sy was an out­stand­ing hier­ar­ch of the entire Russ­ian Church of the 20th cen­tu­ry, who, for exam­ple, com­posed the rite of instal­la­tion of the Holy Patri­arch Tikhon in 1917.2  His relics lie here under the altar of our cathe­dral. In 1950, the Coun­cil of Bish­ops gath­ered all the bish­ops in exile here at Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery. This was the first-ever Coun­cil of Bish­ops of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side of Rus­sia to take place on Amer­i­can soil. The ROCOR pres­ence in Europe was rep­re­sent­ed by St John of Shang­hai and San Fran­cis­co and his vic­ar, Bish­op Nathanael (Lvov) of Brus­sels. They both took part in the con­se­cra­tion of the cathe­dral on Novem­ber 13/26, 1950.

Consecration of the Cathedral at Holy Trinity Monastery, 1950

Con­se­cra­tion of the Cathe­dral at Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery, 1950. Left: Arch­bish­op Vitaly (Maxi­menko); Mid­dle: Met­ro­pol­i­tan Anas­tassy; Right: St John of Shang­hai and San Francisco.

The con­struc­tion of the cathe­dral by the broth­er­hood’s own hands last­ed for three years lead­ing to this momen­tous occa­sion. The heav­en­ly patrons of the monks who took part in the build­ing are depict­ed in the fres­coes adorn­ing the inte­ri­or columns. It was essen­tial for them to build this cathe­dral with their own hands. This was an act of their gen­uine piety. These brethren gath­ered in Jor­danville per­son­i­fied all the Russ­ian pain of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Pri­or to the arrival in the 1960’s of monks from the USSR at St Pan­telei­mon’s Monastery on Mount Athos, Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery was the largest Russ­ian monastery out­side of the bor­ders of the for­mer Russ­ian Empire.

What Can We Learn from These Three Events? 

Rad­i­cal social­ists, those who made a reli­gion out of Marx­ist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry, came to pow­er in Rus­sia because the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion adhered to a moral code that boiled down to: “It is no con­cern of mine.”

If the founder of our monastery, Archi­man­drite Pan­telei­mon, would have been an indif­fer­ent per­son, then there would have been no monastery. The same can be said of our bish­ops who took part in the con­se­cra­tion, among them Arch­bish­op Vitaly (Mak­si­menko). Archi­man­drite Flor (Vanko,+2012) recalled one instance:

There was a sem­i­nar­i­an from Tehran, and he was involved in some Hin­duist prac­tices. Vla­dy­ka Vitaly wor­ried about him, came to him so that he would not be lost. It was impor­tant for him to keep the man, and not to sim­ply say, “Well, go wher­ev­er you want.”

In Shang­hai, Russ­ian refugees were often demor­al­ized and were as good as lep­ers to the res­i­dents of the Shang­hai Inter­na­tion­al Set­tle­ment. St John became both a father and a moth­er for these pari­ahs, fol­low­ing the fate of his flock after emi­gra­tion from Shang­hai. Matush­ka Maria Potapov, who knew him in France, recalls that “there were always des­ti­tute peo­ple around him.” 3

How­ev­er, to be grate­ful that we had such “pil­lars of fire” means to strive to active­ly imi­tate them in their emphat­ic love for their neigh­bor. We can start small; just try to show com­pas­sion to our neigh­bor. Per­haps it is time to start to learn how to lis­ten emphatically.

In a speech giv­en in Jan­u­ary 2008 to the par­tic­i­pants of the con­fer­ence of the St Tikhon Ortho­dox Uni­ver­si­ty for the Human­i­ties in Moscow— one of his last pub­lic appear­ances — our ever-mem­o­rable rec­tor and abbot, Vla­dy­ka Met­ro­pol­i­tan Lau­rus, calls on us:

So, dear fathers, broth­ers, and sis­ters in the Lord;

our hum­ble refugees, bish­ops, cler­gy­men and laity built the Russ­ian dias­po­ra out­side of her bor­ders, while she was suf­fer­ing at the hands of the athe­ists. They knew that the main goal of church life is the cre­ation of a real Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. Just as every cler­gy­man’s ordi­na­tion is intend­ed for a phys­i­cal church, each bap­tism is per­formed for a con­crete com­mu­ni­ty. Every­one in the Church must serve—our exam­ple for this is the Lord Him­self, Who said: “but whoso­ev­er will be great among you, let him be your min­is­ter.“4 This is the exam­ple of serv­ing God and man: the greater your author­i­ty, the greater is your duty towards your neigh­bor.5