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.
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:
- formalizing the Church’s successful experience of the autonomous organization in the territory controlled by the White Army; and,
- 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
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.
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.
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