Holy Trinity Monastery Cathedral, Jordanville, New York

The Greater Your Authority, the Greater Your Duty

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