Pilgrimages

Archbishop Seraphim - Nov 2007 - Pilgrimage to Greece

Pilgrimage in Romania (2010-08-02)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Romania
2-15 August, 2010


Having left from Ottawa on Monday, 2 August, I arrived in Bucharest at noon on Tuesday, 3 August. En route, during the flight-portion from Zurich, I encountered Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste, Romania, whom I had met previously at several inter-Orthodox meetings and celebrations.

I was met in Bucharest by the Canadian family who were to drive me about ; and after having had lunch, we drove from Bucharest to Constanta (on the Black Sea coast), and we arrived in the early evening. Walking along the harbour and water-front, we viewed a display of funerary stela with inscriptions written in Greek and in Latin (from the 1st to 4th centuries) during the time of the Roman Empire. The inscriptions were both pre-Christian and Christian. The latter were very simple. The former were salutations from the dead to the passer-by, giving life-circumstances, and some philosophical comment. We drove then to Techirghiol, a city by a lake, the mud of which is much sought-after for its healing qualities. There are several spas, and the Monastery of the Theotokos (a stavropegial women’s monastery) includes such a spa. There, at supper, we met Bishop George from Georgia (who was on his way to have a medical check-up in Bucharest). The 2 Churches of Georgia and Romania have ancient connexions which remain active now. With the blessing of Abbess Lucia, we were able to stay in the monastery through the following morning.

On Wednesday, 4 August, we arose for the Divine Liturgy. This followed Morning Prayers, an Akathist for the day’s saint, and the Hours. The Divine Liturgy was served by a priest who was passing through his first 40 days of serving after ordination. He was being supervised and corrected by a priest-monk. On this territory, there is an old wooden Temple of the 17th century, which had been moved to this place by Patriarch Justinian in 1952. It has folk-style iconography on the walls and on the iconostasis, including some on glass. It includes a Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos. After breakfast, we had the blessing to speak with Starets Arsenie (Papacioc). At 96, he is serene, radiant and peaceful. He is also firm. He lives in Christian simplicity, and he encourages others in this. He had an experience of 14 years at hard labour (including torture) in communist times, because he was a Christian priest. He said quite firmly that suffering precedes joy, just as the Cross precedes the Resurrection ; but everything must be for the sake of Christ. Starets Arsenie told us that his family is of a Macedono-Romanian people, historically coming from an area north of Thessalonika. It was a blessing to be briefly in the presence of this living Confessor, to whom many come daily, seeking healing and direction.

Later, we began driving the approximately 600 km across Dobrogea and Moldavia, which would bring us to the Petru Voda Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in the mid-evening. We arrived during the early part of Vespers, and I was asked to join for Litya. After the Six Psalms of Matins, we left for Saint Panteleimon’s Women’s Monastery (5 km distant) at Paltin, to take the blessing of Starets Iustin (Pârvu). The starets is also a living Confessor and survivor with Starets Arsenie and others (such as Starets Roman Braga) of many long years at hard labour. He has been recovering from a serious illness for many months. He now had enough strength to see pilgrims wishing to speak with him, and/or make confession. This hearing of confessions begins in the late afternoon and lasts until after midnight. This is actually a very significant reduction from his previous activity. The nuns who care for him in the infirmary regulate some of the activity. Because there are physicians and dentists, and others similarly qualified amongst the nuns, there is a well-equipped medical and dental clinic in this building, which serves not only both monasteries, but also the neighbours. Regardless of his weakness, Father Iustin was full of joy and spiritual energy. This visit was followed by prayers with the Sisterhood of Saint Panteleimon, and then a collation and conversation with the Abbess Iustina, and with others. After midnight, the Sisterhood began their night-services, and we returned to the other monastery, and retired.

On Thursday, 5 August, after the conclusion of Morning Prayers and Akathist, I served the Divine Liturgy with the brotherhood in the monastery Temple. This was followed by dinner in the refectory, and then a lengthy question-answer session with some of the brotherhood in the Chapel of the New Martyrs under communism. After this conversation, we drove again to Saint Panteleimon’s Monastery, where we said farewell to the nuns. Then we drove the over 2 hours required to reach the Dormition Monastery of Putna. On arrival, we were given our rooms in the arhondarik (guest house) outside the walls, and then supper. Because of our late arrival, we had missed the Vigil, but we heard part of it broadcast on the radio (thanks to Radio Trinitas, the Orthodox radio station). After supper, there was a spiritual conversation that lasted for several hours, and then we retired, again quite late.

On Friday, 6 August, we rose for an 0800 hrs departure with Archimandrite Melchisedek to the Holy Resurrection Suçevita Women’s Monastery. The Transfiguration was the original feast of the original monastery, when it was situated on a nearby mountain. The current monastery was established 500 years ago by an uncle of Saint Peter Mogila (Metropolitan of Kyiv), with the dedication to the Holy Resurrection (but the previous name-day remained also). Staritsa Mihaila had earlier expressed sadness to Archimandrite Melchisedek that it seemed to her that this year there would be no bishop available for the feast. Starets Melchisedek, however, did know of some other possibilities, but he had said nothing until the last minute when there was certainty. Presiding over this Name-day Liturgy of the Monastery was Metropolitan Joseph from Paris, together with Bishop Meletii of Khotin in Ukraine, and me. Bishop Meletii brought with him a deacon and 10 priests, so there were 3 bishops, more than 30 priests and 6 deacons serving. Staritsa Mihaila commented later that probably not since the original founding had so many bishops served there together. The Sisterhood sang the responses, and there were several thousand persons present and participating. As usual, the monastery has an exterior structure constructed especially for such occasions. After the conclusion and the blessing of the people, there was a dinner for almost 100 persons in the refectory of the monastery. There were two groups of clergy who sang at the conclusion of the dinner, which produced great joy. Before the end, there was a Litya for the departed, eating of koliva, and a couple of speeches. Metropolitan Joseph noted during his comments that there are 3 ½ million Romanians living on his territory in western and southern Europe, which includes 3 dioceses that include 300 parishes. He commented also that Germany is yet another large diocese besides. Departure to Putna followed all this. Upon arrival, there was a cup of tea with another spiritual conversation with monks, and then over supper a conversation with Starets Melchisedek.

On Saturday, 7 August, I had the blessing to rest somewhat instead of rising early for Midnight Hour, Matins and Liturgy. Later in the morning, there was breakfast in the arhondarik, and again more spiritual conversations, followed by hearing confessions. After lunch, my guiding family departed for Bucharest. There was another conversation, a rest, then supper, and then the serving of Vigil from 1900 to 2300 hrs. It was, as usual, well-attended by the Brotherhood and many pilgrims. After the conclusion of Vigil, and a return to the arhondarik, there was a brief cup of tea, and rest.

On Sunday, 8 August, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy began at 0900 hrs, with arrival at the Temple at 0830 hrs. The Divine Liturgy was served in the usual careful, attentive and beautiful manner. Attending were a great many persons who live in Western Europe, and who were on vacation at home in Romania. It was given to me to offer the homily, which was given between the communion of the clergy and the communion of the faithful, as is generally the custom at present. There were 6 priests and 4 deacons serving. There were very many communicants. The priest-monks hearing confessions do so hour after hour (that is to say, up to 14 hours per day on the week-ends). Dinner with Starets Melchisedek began just at 1400 hrs, and this included some people coming for a blessing. Then, after an interval, there followed Vespers, Paraklesis and Compline. After this was supper with the brotherhood, and a conversation with the brotherhood from 2000 hrs, and retirement before 2300 hrs.

On Monday, 9 August, I attended the Hours, Divine Liturgy and Akathist from 0700 hrs. After this, there was breakfast, and a lengthy conversation with a priest-monk and a lawyer from Iasi, and also with a couple of the monks. The resident population of the monastery is about 100 (with many others resident in other places and caring for concerns of the monastery and other properties). The population of the monastery also seems to be steadily “raided” by bishops who need clergy, and who ask for the release of priest-monks for this purpose. Afterwards, there was a period of free time. A great amount of work has been required to prepare for the coming Feast of the Dormition, the Patronal Feast (name-day feast) of the monastery. This year, the monastery Temple’s interior has finally been completed in full frescoes, a project never completely fulfilled in its more than 500 years of history until now (because of wars and invasions). For this reason, the Patriarch of Romania had decided to participate in this feast, along with the Metropolitan of Iasi and Moldavia Teofan, the Archbishop of Suçeava and Radauti Pimen, and other visiting bishops. During the free time, there were various conversations, and after 9th Hour, Vespers and Akathist, there was supper, yet more conversation, and then it was time to retire.

On Tuesday, 10 August, once again I joined the morning cycle. Every week-day at Putna begins at 0430 hrs with the Midnight Hour, Matins, the Hours, and continues with the Divine Liturgy (which includes an Akathist before receiving the Holy Mysteries). If there might be a particular illness concerning a person (as was the case this time), then the Service of the Oil (Unction) follows the Divine Liturgy over the course of 7 days. All present would usually be receiving the Oil. This time in particular, one monk was recovering from surgery for a brain-tumour, and a wife-and-mother was suffering from cancer. After the Divine Liturgy, there was breakfast at the arhondarik with the starets, and then began a visit to regional monasteries. This is undertaken, not as a sort of tour by the visiting bishop (although it can have this aspect), but as a sharing of this visit with the neighbours. Episcopal visits are not very frequent, in fact.

Driven by Hieroschemamonk Iakov, we first visited the Moldovita Women’s Monastery. This numerous community of over 40 women has many works. Previously, they did weaving of carpets by looms, but now they do embroidery of vestments, and iconography (besides all the work of the garden, which supplies 70% of their food). After a tour of all the work-shops, and taking tea, we made our departure for the men’s Pojarâta (hermitage) Saint John Jakob of Neamt the Chozebite. This term “Chozebite” refers to the fact that he (as did other saints) lived for a time in the wilderness of Chozeba near Jericho in Palestine. Numbering 24, this community of hermits is near the top of a mountain, and access is only possible by a “4x4” or other strong vehicle, or by foot. This hermitage was long ago founded by our driver, who, under obedience, had established and built other communities as well. This community was particularly impressive for me, since it is seldom that one sees such brightness and purity in the eyes of people these days. The brotherhood works hard to survive under difficult conditions. It reminded me of one of our own hermitages that I used to visit atop a Québec mountain. Then we began the three-hour drive back to Putna, for supper. As always, this was followed by a conversation and in due time, retiring to rest. During this day, I had heard the following statistics : In Romania today, there are about 600 monastic communities, with 3,000 male monks, and 9,000 female monks.

On Wednesday, 11 August, after the morning services, we prepared for an earlier departure to nearby monasteries. First, we stopped in Suçeava to venerate the relics of Saint John the New Martyr. We also briefly met the Abbot, Father Bartholomew. Then we drove to Botosani, where we visited the Popovita Monastery of Saint Nicholas, and the Starets Ioann. He has a reputation of being a strong preacher of repentance, and many people regularly attend this monastery, which is in the middle of the city. It is an old foundation, from 1460. It has the foundational ruins of a home of Saint King Stefan the Great. The community numbers 12 at the present. As in Suçeava, the roof of the old Temple was damaged in communist times, and the iconography was somewhat damaged. Most of the iconography remains intact, however. There is also a substantial new Temple, whose frescoes are not far from completion.

From here we drove on to Vorona. The first community here, of the Nativity of the Theotokos, is on the edge of the village. Founded first by Slavic and Greek hermits in 1503, it became a formally established community in the 18th century when a hetman funded stone constructions (a hetman is a high military leader of the Polish army and of the Cossacks). The architecture is typically Romanian of Moldavia, but the cupolas are topped by “onion” shapes. Before communism, this monastery was a male community. Patriarch Teoktist, in his younger years, revived this community as he similarly helped many other monasteries. He did this here by creating a female community, which now numbers about 40 nuns. This community has serious financial constraints because the nearby village also suffers much economically. People seem to go abroad from here to work, but not to be very willing to share by sending something home. After this visit (now in the late afternoon), we drove farther into the forest, and we visited the Vorona Hermitage. This is a very peaceful place in the forest, where a few men live and serve as hermits, but which lacks a priest except for greater feasts. Here, we were able to venerate the Relics of Saint Onufrie (Onouphry) of Vorona. He was the confessor of Saint Paissie (Velichkovsky). We then began the nearly 3-hour drive back to Putna, where we were given supper (which included more spiritual conversations), and we retired for the night.

On Thursday, 12 August, I went to the morning services as usual. The monastery has continued to have its usual stream of visitors ; but the population of the monastery had increased at this time, because of the very many volunteers who arrived daily from surrounding villages in order to help the monastery prepare for the coming Patronal Feast. The brotherhood, at the same time, is well-known for the practical help given to any and all villages in times of need, such as in the recent flooding of the land. Towards midday, Father Iakov, Brother Mihail and I departed for the new Hermitage of Saint Daniel. Because the roads are as difficult as previously, the same strong vehicle as before was necessary. The direct distance by foot is only 7 km ; but by road, the shortest route is 25 km. Much of this road has been recently reconstructed after heavy rains and destruction, and the incline is very sharp, so the passage is not much faster than walking. This hermitage is, in fact, on the top of a mountain. A year-and-a-half ago, in mid-January, much of this monastery burned quickly in the night, while the monks were in the Temple. At this time, it is only partly re-constructed, and the process remains slow because of the repeated washing-out of the roads by heavy rains. We were told that this sort of rain is a new phenomenon in this region. Eventually we arrived, and we were met by the quite young Starets Parthenie, a disciple of Starets Melchisedek. Once again, I found it striking that there is such visible light, modesty, humility, joy and love in a small group of men of rather different ages. We visited the one Temple that had not been destroyed, that of Saint Daniel, and then we were given a collation in the newly re-constructed monastic quarters, in the new trapeza. The starets is also the cook. After a very pleasant conversation (Father Iakov, who looks a little like Patriarch Ilya II of Georgia, is always a source of news, and of advice to hermits), we began to make our way slowly back to Putna, where we arrived towards 2000 hrs. There, supper was prepared, and after some talking, we then retired.

On Friday, 13 August, I once again joined the morning cycle in the Parakles Temple. Some final details were being finished on the frescoes of the main Temple. After this day’s Divine Liturgy, the weekly Service of Anointing was being offered, and many had arrived for this. Every day there were many receiving the Holy Mysteries (after having been to confession), but this day there were even more receiving than usual. After breakfast, I was interviewed by a monk from the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, and I encountered a nun of the Romanian Mission in Jerusalem, whom I had met there during the April pilgrimage. Our Orthodox family is a very near and dear one. This day continued more quietly, with various conversations, and with participating in services. The bishop cannot go anywhere without giving many a blessing (especially to the increasing number of faithful arriving). This time, many were arriving dressed in regional traditional dress. The arrival of the patriarch in Putna was to be the next event, for which all was ready (although there remained details of preparation for the Feast). In the late afternoon, I attended the evening cycle, and then went to eat and to talk briefly.

Then we gathered just outside the main gate of the monastery, to await the patriarch’s arrival. There were children singing spiritual songs, and people blowing the long trumpets traditional in this region. When His Beatitude, Patriarch Daniel did arrive, he had earlier moved from an auto to a horse-drawn carriage ; and as he progressed, he was preceded by horsemen bearing and waving flags, and by others blowing horns. These horns look similar to the long alpenhorns famous in Switzerland. Patriarch Daniel stood down, and then walked a good distance as he blessed people and received flowers. There was a formal greeting before the gate by Bishop Joachim, a Vicar-Bishop (who once had served in Paris). The patriarch was (as is customary for a Romanian patriarch) dressed all in creamy-white. We then proceeded in crowd-fashion to the Temple, which was once again ready to function, and where there was a thanksgiving service, with polychronia (Many Years) for all the bishops, the abbot and the monastery. In addition to those already mentioned, there was also present Bishop Barsanoufie, another Vicar-Bishop. The patriarch’s entourage numbered about 30 persons. After the service, we withdrew to the Great Hall, where a formal dinner was served. All the animated conversation was also enriched with various humourous anecdotes told by His Beatitude. In the end, it was rather late to bed.

On Saturday, 14 August, I rose once again to participate in the morning cycle. On this day, Metropolitan Teofan of Iasi participated also. He is the main ruling-bishop of Moldavia. The following hours were spent in breakfast and lunch conversations with the bishops, and with others present. The patriarch remained in solitude in order both to rest and to accomplish needed work. There were other conversations during the day, while people continuously arrived for the Feast. It takes considerable preparation to receive and to feed so many official guests, and also to prepare to feed the many thousand pilgrims also arriving for this Feast. However, it seemed that most necessary things were accomplished by the first part of this day. The Vigil was served from 1800 hrs in the same place where the Divine Liturgy would be served on Sunday, that is to say at the exterior scène (“stage”). More than a thousand persons were present, and there was noticeable silence for such a number of people participating. This Vigil was sung by the usual monastic choir, but augmented by guests. There had by then arrived Bishop Emilian, another vicar of the patriarch, so there were 4 bishops “in the Altar”, with Metropolitan Teofan presiding. Again, the patriarch did not serve, because of other concerns. Nevertheless, all was certainly heard through his window, via the public-address system. Besides the 4 bishops at Vigil, there were 3 deacons, and at least 35 priests serving. By the end of the Vigil, there had arrived Bishops Iriney and Meletii from Ukraine, together with Archdeacon Nikita, our Protodeacon Nazari and several priests. The Vigil concluded at about 2300 hrs, and this was followed by a supper. After the supper, all those who had arrived were given rooms, and we were able to retire by 0030 hrs.

On Sunday, 15 August (the Altar Feast of the main Temple and Name-day of the monastery), the main services began at 0900 hrs with the blessing of the new iconography in the main Temple of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This was followed immediately by the serving of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy by the eastern wall of the monastery, on a specially-constructed and roofed scène. There were great crowds of people at the monastery during the whole of the Liturgy, which continued until about 1400 hrs. There were many presentations and some speeches. Those serving with Patriarch Daniel included yet more bishops who had arrived, and over 60 priests and 6 deacons. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the bishops made their way towards their quarters to unvest ; and we were all blessing the crowds of people as we departed from the outdoor scène through the midst of these crowds. Afterwards, there followed a formal dinner in the formal trapeza. There was some talking and some singing, and it seemed to be rather a familial dinner indeed.

In its way, the table of the dinner was a symbol of our own Canadian history and situation. Gathered together with Patriarch Daniel were bishops of Romania, of Ukraine and of Canada. At this table, the old Province of Bukovina was represented as it was before it was divided by Stalin during World War II. Represented at this table were both the foundation of our Orthodox Canadian immigration a century ago, and much of the constituency of our current immigrations from Romania and from Russian-speaking lands. Of course, there are also the converts (which neither Romania nor Ukraine is lacking in any way). For me, Romania feels spiritually “home” in many ways. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, as Metropolitan Teofan reminded me, for 300 years, Romania has been using in its worship and prayers the language that people understand. After all the celebration had come to a conclusion, it was time for parting. The family that guided me had come back to Putna in time for this holy day, and now was returning to Bucharest to return home. I was then taken by Bishops Meletii and Iriney and others to Chernivtsi (Cernauti) in order to begin the pilgrimage in Ukraine, and to join later with the pilgrims who were arriving from Canada.

Pilgrimage in Ukraine (2010-08-15)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
15-31 August, 2010


The pilgrimage in Ukraine began at various times. The main group arrived in L’viv on 17 August from Canada. For Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko and me, it began on 15 August with the ending of the my previous private pilgrimage in Romania, at the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy for the Dormition of the Theotokos at the Dormition Monastery of Putna, west of Suçeava (quite near the Ukrainian border). Protodeacon Nazari had accompanied two bishops, a priest and a deacon from Ukraine the day before, to participate in this historic Divine Liturgy.

After all the services and festivities had concluded, we drove to Chernivtsi (Cernauti in Romanian), to spend the night at the metropolitanate of Metropolitan Onouphry. This metropolitanate is a complex of residences, offices and diocesan shops, all next door to the Sobor of Saint Nicholas. There, at the end of supper, there was an impromptu vocal concert on the “patio”, which was given by some members of a well-known Moscow family of 9 children (whose father is a priest). The mother and children (4 of the children had remained in Moscow) sang a series of very pleasant spiritual songs of the more modern sort. It was good preparation for retiring as we sat beneath the grape-arbours in the twilight on that warm evening. Such pilgrimages as this have generally presented to the participants not only an encounter with the Ukrainian Church (the source of our main immigrations in the past) and her many saints, but they also have given to some an opportunity to visit relatives for a few days.

On Monday, 16 August, after breakfast, we began the six-hour drive over the Carpathian Mountains and onto the rolling hills to the west, to Khoust, in the province of Trans-Carpathia (Zakarpatiya), to visit Archbishop Mark (Petrovtsiy), who had previously served for 11 years in Canada as the administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate Parishes. On arrival in the late afternoon (and after tea), we walked around the territory of the diocesan administration building that is under construction : a large Temple which is nearly completed, and an office-building one-third built, and the residence. At this time, we also met Vladyka’s elder brother, the retired Bishop Mefodiy. Then we began a visit to 2 monasteries. The Monastery of Saint Nicholas is near the Village of Khoust, and there are the relics of the very effective Missionary Priest-monk Aleksy of the earlier 20th century. The monastery, led by Archimandrite Andrian, does not own its original monastic quarters, since these are now occupied by a Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and there is neither a reason nor the means to move the hospital to another place. There is a general peaceful co-existence. The monks certainly work hard. Then we drove some distance into the mountains to visit the Archangel Michael Monastery, which is led by Igumenia Metrodora, and the Spiritual Father, Archimandrite Partheny. Here we prayed, and here we were given supper. The warm Christian hospitality of our people is always remarkable. After this, we returned via Khoust to the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos, where Protodeacon Nazari and I would be staying over for 2 nights.

On Tuesday, 17 August, the Priest John Shandra came to meet us at the monastery, where we were given breakfast by the Abbess Evgenia and her nuns. Father Shandra had served the Moscow Patriarchate parishes in Alberta for 8 years, and he was well-loved by his people. He also has had (and does have) good relations with our people. He accompanied us first to the Bishop’s residence, to collect Vladyka Mark’s brother, Protodeacon George Petrovtsiy, who would be driving us for the rest of the day. Then we went to the village-centre, to greet Vladyka Mark in his office, and afterwards to tour the new cathedral next door. This building has been under construction for some years. The exterior stucco is completed, and the interior stucco is almost completed. By next spring, enough money should have been collected to install the heating, so that services can continue all year round. This year, regular week-end services began to be served in this building from May. The diocese has changed very considerably since the last visit of a bus-load of Canadians on a pilgrimage five years ago. Church life is becoming visibly abundant ; and so, too, is the manner of daily life amongst the people. Then we drove to the Monastery of Uglai, which is led by Abbess Catherine. On the grounds of this very old monastery (which had suffered closure under the Austro-Hungarian Empire) is buried the body of the last (until recent times) Orthodox Bishop of Maramuresh (Maramures), Dosifei (Dosoftei), who reposed in 1735, and who has now been glorified by the Romanian Church. A Confessor, he maintained and developed Orthodox life in this area until his death, despite being imprisoned many times for doing so. At this monastery, there were also 330 Monk-Martyrs, who were killed at about the same time. Their bodies repose also in the cemetery, although the particular graves have never been marked. Then we drove to a remote rural mountain parish, which has the relics of the Confessor, the Priest-monk Iov. He had lived as a hermit in these mountains, and he had helped very many people in communist times. Recently glorified, his memory is kept on 22 September. After having dinner with the parish priest and some others, we drove back to Khoust, where we collected Vladyka Mark. Vladyka then led us to several other monasteries and hermitages in the area, each with a significant history and each with a current Orthodox Christian witness in the region. We also visited his home village. In the evening, we visited the Ascension Women’s Monastery and its Abbess, Theodosia. This women’s monastery numbers over 40, and suffers a little from an age-problem. This is mainly because the community has provided many nuns to other monasteries as abbesses. At the end of the day, we returned to the Nativity Monastery, and to the opportunity to sleep.

On Wednesday, 18 August, we had a brief cup of tea with the Abbess Evgenia. Afterwards, we were driven by Protodeacon George Petrovtsiy to the bishop’s residence for breakfast, where we had a conversation with Archbishop Mark about life in Canada, and about life in Ukraine. Then, after saying our farewells, we were driven by a Khoust parishioner and his son to Pochaiv. This is a drive that requires at least 5 hours’ time (depending on traffic and speed). On arrival, we were shown to the newly-built pilgrim-hostel, where we were given rooms, and where we joined the pilgrim-group from Canada and Igumen Alexander (Pihach). We also saw the construction work that had been begun on a new, large Temple, which is just next to the hostel. After a collation, it was time to serve Vigil, along with Archbishop Vladimir, at 1700 hrs. The Temple was full, and the 3 choirs sang strongly and beautifully. During the Vigil, we had time to speak to Fathers Gabriel and Ioann, who had accompanied the Pochaiv Icon of the Theotokos to Canada, and who were asking about our faithful people. Then, after supper, we retired for the night. Change comes with “modernisation”. At the same time as the new pilgrim-hostel is very convenient, quite a lot of noise has been added from the new adjacent parking-lot, through which also pass construction vehicles and machines. However, within the old Monastic Enclosure, the noise is not evident. When I first visited Pochaiv, there were 40 monks ; now, during this visit, there were more than 200 hundred in residence.

On Thursday, 19 August, from 0900 hrs, the group was led to the cave by the Lower Temple, in order to venerate the relics of Saints Job and Amphilokhiy. Afterwards, we were brought upstairs to the Upper Temple, where we venerated the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv. It had been lowered from its usual place above the Royal Doors. We venerated the Foot-print of the Theotokos after the completion of the Divine Liturgy for this Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. Archbishop Vladimir and I served together, along with 16 priests and 6 deacons. One of the priests was the Mitred Archpriest Feodor Smakouz. He is the father of Bishop Iov who currently serves in Edmonton, Alberta. Father Feodor has served for 50 years as a priest, and he remains energetic. Bishop Iov was born in a building of the Pochaiv Monastery which, in communist days, was hospital. There were many communicants, since very many persons had been to confession during the evening. At the conclusion of the Liturgy (the Ouspensky Temple was full and over-flowing), there was the blessing of the fruit, and a procession around the Temple, during which priests were blessing baskets of fruit (and also the people) with Holy Water. On returning, there followed the post-Communion prayers, the veneration of the Foot-print, and dinner. Some took dinner in the hostel, but the 3 clergy ate with Archbishop Vladimir in his abbatial quarters. There were substantial reminiscences about the Visit to Canada of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv. Archbishop Vladimir commented that although the monks are numerous now, it is notable that because of westernising mentality, only a few of those who come to try to live the repentant life manage to stay. At that time, arrangements were made for the later afternoon’s visits.

In the mean time, the pilgrim-group went on its own to visit the area round about Pochaiv, and in particular the blessed Spring of Saint Anne. The clergy, with Archbishop Vladimir, in the early evening drove to the city of Kremenets, not far from Pochaiv, to visit the Women’s Monastery there. It had been many years since I had visited this monastery, and miraculous has been the transformation. All the original monastic buildings have been returned to the nuns, and they are all in use. The buildings had been being used as a hospital during communist days. The Temples are all restored and in use. There are 2 serving priests. Whereas before, there had been real poverty and fewer than 20 nuns, now there are at least 80 nuns, and their domestic economy is in good condition. We arrived in time for part of Matins, which was being served by Archbishop Sergei of Ternopil, whom I had not seen for a long time. He is one of the most stable, joyful personalities I have ever known, and full of Christ’s love. After having had supper together with him and the abbess, we began to make our return to Pochaiv. However, before leaving, we were introduced to the sister of Bishop Iov (in Edmonton), Mother Cherubima. She has many of the pleasing characteristics we have seen in her brother. Then it was time to return to Pochaiv, and to sleep.

On Friday, 20 August, we rose to have a parting breakfast-tea with Archbishop Vladimir and Archbishop Sergei (who had spent the night in this monastery), while the pilgrims went to find food (no food is served in the morning in the hostel because of the Divine Liturgy which is served daily). The conversation was very lively, and was concerned mostly with current Church life. We pilgrims then set off northwards, in the direction of Lutsk. We had intended to visit the historic Zimny Monastery of the Caves in Vladimir Volynsk ; but the road we had to take was in such poor condition that it would have taken us much longer than we expected or had time available. Therefore, we decided to stop in Lutsk, and to visit on the way the Safe-House near there, which was nearly finished in its reconstruction and extensions. This project, developed by our Canadian NASHI group, has been intended to save young women and children from the sex-trade, and from human trafficking. It was anticipated that the building (which will house up to 18 persons) will be able to begin functioning early in the new year. Nearby was the Temple which would be consecrated on the following Sunday. We went on to Lutsk, settled into our lodgings on the outskirts, and rested from quite a bumpy journey. The reason for staying in Lutsk was, in principle, because it is nearer to our Sunday destination than is L’viv.

On Saturday, 21 August, we rose, and after breakfast, we were taken to see the historic fortress of Lutsk, which was built in the 14th century. The castle has many interesting historic displays, and it is in good condition. There was a pause for a visit to the bazaar, then tea-time, and then we went to Vigil at the Church of the Protection, the present cathedral of Metropolitan Nifont of Lutsk. There have been many changes there also since the last visit 15 years ago. At that time, there was only this one Temple (which has foundations that date from the 12th century) available to the canonical Church. This Temple was also one of the smaller ones in the town. This was because the Kyivan Patriarchate had taken over all the other Temples by force 16 years previously. Nowadays, by contrast, there are 20 places available to the canonical Church for serving the Divine Liturgy in the city, even if all 20 do not have actual Temples, but “temporary” locations. In Volyn, the Canonical Church outnumbers the “patriarchate”, but statistics have not shown this fact truly and honestly, since the government has been controlled by this “patriarchate”. Now, things begin to level out. The Volyn Seminary in Lutsk, which had been re-founded by Father Peter Vlodek (who served 30 years ago in Edmonton), has grown to have 120 students, and it serves all western Ukraine. Later, Metropolitan Nifont invited us to send any students we wish to the Volyn Seminary.

On this evening, I served together with Metropolitan Nifont, and I anointed about 300 persons during Matins. During Vespers, I had also been interviewed for television. Many things are different nowadays. In my opinion, Metropolitan Nifont is one of the living Confessors. He had been severely beaten 16 years ago because of his faith. The Lord has been blessing his work, indeed. The cathedral, although small, has 3 choirs, and the people seem to sing along as much as possible. After Vigil, and warm farewells from the faithful, there was supper in the metropolitan’s residence for the bishops and some of the clergy. At that time, Father Peter Vlodek was still teaching at the age of 87 (although he was doing no more administration), and he stood throughout the whole of Vigil. He was remembering fondly his parishioners in western Canada, and he was asking after many of them. Father Shymko, who also had served in Alberta, has reposed some years ago. After again bidding farewell with regret, we then returned to the hotel for rest.

On Sunday, 22 August, we rose to depart at 0700 hrs for Stoyaniv, and for the consecration of the new Temple. Once details were organised, Archbishop Avgustin of L’viv and Galich and I were formally greeted, and we entered the Temple which was to be blessed in honour of Saint Parasceva. The whole service went quickly, largely because of the manner of Vladyka Avgustin’s serving. The “support-choir” from L’viv sang very beautifully. There were approximately 300 persons participating, both inside and outside the Temple. Amongst the participants were the new Governor of the L’viv Oblast (an “oblast” is like a province), and the Ukrainian Consul who presently serves in Ottawa, who was about to end his term there. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, there were many gramotas and awards distributed, and then we went to a special hall, where a dinner had been prepared for many. There were, as expected on such an occasion, many speeches, many toasts, and many conversations that lasted until mid-afternoon. At that time, the L’viv participants made their departures by bus and by car. The rest of us stayed, with many parishioners, to talk and to listen to many spiritual songs and folk-songs being sung by some parishioners. We ate again, and we talked more, and we did not depart for Lutsk until early evening. On arrival, near 2200 hrs, we retired, and prepared for the morning’s departure.

On Monday, 23 August, after an early breakfast, we set off first for Ternopil. Even though the distance is not great by North American standards, it takes at least twice as long as we would expect to take to travel a similar distance, because the roads are uneven, and the roads pass through many villages. Often, these villages have domestic animals near or on the roads. On arriving in Ternopil, we went to the Cathedral of the Pochaiv Icon of the Theotokos, the cathedral of Archbishop Sergei. I had been present in 1994 for the laying of the foundation-stone of this cathedral. By now, the whole structure of the Temple has been completed, and part of it is now in daily use. This part is the lower Temple of Saint Sophia and her Children. Some people might call it a basement Temple, but it is not very deep into the ground. The upper Temple of the Theotokos is not yet being used, because its mosaics and frescoes are being prepared at this time. It is expected that it will be a couple of years yet before the sanctification could take place. After touring this building and the office-building next door, we were driven to a nearby village (where Vladyka Sergei lives), and we were given dinner quickly, before making our way to the south. The civil authorities in this city always make things difficult for the Canonical Church. They allowed the construction of a rather ugly Roman Catholic church opposite the cathedral, and also an auto-sales building immediately in front of it, so as to block the visibility from the main street beside which the cathedral is situated. This is the only Canonical Temple in this heavily-churched city. Indeed, according to statistics, Ternopil and L’viv have the most churches per capita of any cities in the world. On the way to Chernivtsi, we passed by several villages whose names provide familiar place-names in Alberta and Saskatchewan. By 1800 hrs, we arrived at Chernivtsi. The clergy were settled into the guest-rooms of the metropolitanate, and the others went to their hotel-rooms. Metropolitan Onouphry returned from the cathedral at about 1930 hrs, and supper was offered. After that, it was time to retire.

24 August is Independence Day for Ukraine, and Ukraine celebrated in this year the 19th year of having a restored independent government. Metropolitan Onouphry travelled to Kamenets-Podilsk for the name-day Divine Liturgy of Archbishop Feodor, and several Canadians travelled to visit their ancestral villages. After breakfast, the clergy of our number visited in the rooms of the two men of our pilgrims who would be spending an over-night in Romania, while seeing 5 of the historic monasteries of Bukovina. Afterwards, we were given a brief tour of a university, which had once been the centre of the Autonomous Metropolia of Bukovina (under Serbia, during the Austro-Hungarian Empire). After this, we visited a few other historic places in the city. We were given dinner at the Presentation of the Lord Women’s Monastery (led by Igumenia Melitinia). This monastery, established in 1904, had originally been a skete with a domestic chapel. In Soviet times, it was closed. Now, there are several modern buildings, and a new Holy Trinity Temple, with an upper and lower Temple, and also a good population of nuns. After this visit, we visited the nearby Museum of Olga Kobilyanskaya, a famous poetess, writer and early feminist, who had been a correspondent of Lev Tolstoy, and also a friend of Lesya Ukraina. Some of her works have been translated into English in Canada, and there were some samples visible amongst the displays. Then we returned to the metropolitanate. After a little rest, we took supper together with Metropolitan Onouphry, during which we discussed possibilities for future exchanges concerning our youth to our mutual benefit, and then it was time to retire.

On Wednesday, 25 August, we took breakfast together, and then we set off to visit the nearby eastern side of the Carpathian Mountains, where there is being constructed an international ski-resort. It is my opinion that this resort, when completed, will appear to be more natural in its setting than does the resort at Québec’s Mont-Tremblant. After this, we stopped at some very old farm-steads in the forest, and then we passed through Chernivtsi towards the east, and on to the Village of Boian (after which a village in Alberta is named).

In Boian, we venerated the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos, and we were given dinner by the nuns of the Women’s Monastery of the Protection. At that time, their population was 115, and they were very much involved in the life of the Bancheni Orphanage not far away. It was this orphanage that was our next stop. This orphanage I had visited previously, and it is an integral part both of the Boian Women’s Monastery and of the Bancheni Men’s Monastery of the Ascension. Their Abbot Longin has personally adopted every one of the 250 children, in order to protect them from predators (in state-orphanages, the orphans are sent away on their own and with no resources at age 16). We visited each of the 3 main houses of the children, where the nuns are the main care-givers. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by the children and the youths. Many are in good health, but there are some with serious disabilities. One group of children suffers from AIDS, and they live in separate quarters in a distinct building (for protection from infection). Nevertheless, it was reported that there were recently 6 verified healings. It was clearly stated that because of the nature of this orphanage, each healing had to be medically and scientifically confirmed. Those now healthy children had joined the others without special needs. The orphanage and the Ascension Monastery were preparing for the wedding of one of the now-adult children of the orphanage-family, the third such marriage. This was to take place after the coming Feast of the Dormition. Some of the children have graduated from school and have proceeded on to higher education. Some of these have returned to help their adoptive siblings. The Men’s Monastery of the Ascension farms 450 hectares of land, in order to feed the nuns, the 95 monks, the children, and the many voluntary workers and paid workers. All participate in some way. Again we were fed, both at the orphanage and at the monastery. In due time, we returned to Chernivtsi, and to supper with the family of our Protodeacon Nazari.

On Thursday, 26 August, we rose for an early breakfast. Along with Metropolitan Onouphry and the Archpriest Michael Sava (of Saint Anne’s), we made an early departure in order to visit a historic Jewish settlement at Medzhebizhi, some 250 km distant from Chernivtsi (beyond Khmelnitsky). In this town, there had been a very great massacre of Jewish residents during World War II. Here, we had expected to find some sort of display of older buildings, which would present an example of the appearance of this pre-World War II settlement. Instead, we found a new synagogue and some other new buildings, together with some older homes, all labelled in modern Hebrew (only 18 in number). These homes appeared to be no different from the present-day Ukrainian homes nearby. All that we were able to understand from neighbours is that most present-day Jewish persons in the town are vacationers from Israel, and that there is an annual festival in honour of the memory of a well-known righteous rabbi and physician, who is buried at this place. After walking about the area, we viewed the walls of an old fortress.

Then we drove back in the direction of Chernivtsi, and we stopped for a picnic lunch beside the road, on the edge of a field that was being harvested. We continued on from there to Khotin, where we toured an old fortress that had been built on the banks of the Dniester River, as an anti-Turkish defence. This fortress had been built when this area belonged to Romania. Beside it is the Temple of Saint Alexander Nevsky, which we also visited. After talking with the Rector of Khotin, we drove on through to Chernivtsi (it was a very full day of driving because of the roads), where we collected Protodeacon Nazari. He had been attending to the needs of the pilgrims who were now returning to the city, and we went on to supper with various members of the family of Metropolitan Onouphry (whose cousin had arrived from New Jersey for a month of visiting with her family). We then returned to the metropolitanate, and to retire for the night. Meanwhile, the pilgrims had returned from their visits, and also had retired in their hotel.

On Friday, 27 August, we rose as usual. The 2 men of our pilgrim-number who had visited Romania had returned safely, and they now departed for L’viv on the bus, in order to prepare for an early departure for Kyiv. The women moved to a hotel closer to the cathedral. Father Alexander and Protodeacon Nazari attended to the details of the travelling needs of all during the middle part of the day. We were then given dinner, which was followed by a time to rest. Then we participated in the Vigil at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (which has a staff of 10 priests, besides the deacons). The Vigil began at 1700 hrs, and continued until 2045 hrs. I suppose that there were more than 1,000 to be anointed, and there were 2 priests helping me to do this. Metropolitan Onouphry, Bishop Meletiy and I served together in Matins. The cathedral has a new floor, and the 2 kliros choirs have new elevated places, leaving more space beneath them where people can stand. There were 3 choirs singing at this time, although we were told that in school-time, there is a fourth choir (of children). The people constantly approach the bishops for the blessing, sometimes during services as the bishops stand in the midst of the Temple. After the Vigil, there was supper at the metropolitanate, and then retirement for the night.

On Saturday, 28 August, we rose for a 0730 departure. We drove north to the bank of the Dniester River, to the village of Kupivtsi, not far from the village of Kadubivtsi, where the late Metropolitan Wasyly (Fedak) of Winnipeg had been born. In Kupivtsi, there is now the Monastery of the Dormition, a male monastic community. This had previously been simply a parish church ; but in the recent renewal, the village supported the development of this substantial monastery, which serves the village as well. At this monastery, we met Bishop Panteleimon of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kolomeya, who served with us, and he invited us to visit his diocese sometime. The service included (as it does now in most places) a long period of time in giving Holy Communion (with 4 chalices). Especially during this fasting-period, many of the faithful will have been specially prepared, but one generally now sees much more frequent Confession-and-Communion than formerly. After the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy ended, there was first the blessing of the Shrine of the Bleeding Icon of the Saviour in the main Temple, and a Cross-procession to several new chapels, which were blessed with holy water. We also went to the basement of one Temple, where there is a recently-established mausoleum, in which a monk and a nun are buried, and where we sang a Litya. After the conclusion of the procession, there were many awards and gramotas distributed to the main donors for the constructions. Then there was a meal accompanied by much humour. Afterwards, we returned to Chernivtsi for an hour’s pause before Vigil in the cathedral. The Vigil was served by Metropolitan Onouphry, Bishop Meletiy, and me. Because this Vigil included the Burial Service of the Theotokos, as well as the Sunday Vigil, the whole Vigil took more than 4 ½ hours, and it was very moving. After the Vigil, there was supper at the metropolia, and retirement for the night.

On Sunday, 29 August, we rose for departure to the cathedral at 0930 hrs. The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy (the second Divine Liturgy of the day) began shortly after 1000 hrs ; and soon after 1215 hrs, we were told that we now had to take some “short-cuts” to enable the beginning of marriages just after 1230 hrs. Metropolitan Onouphry presided at the marriage of a daughter of one of his priests, and at the marriage of another couple also. We returned to the metropolitanate. There, when the metropolitan was able to return, we took dinner together. Amongst those present at the dinner was Metropolitan Onouphry’s eldest brother, the Mitred Archpriest John Berezovskiy.

Just after 1700 hrs, we departed for Saint Anne’s Hill (Anina Gora) Monastery, to the west. Here we participated in the baptism of the grandson of the Archpriest Michael Sava, and I became spiritually even closer to this diocese than before. I mean by this that I was appointed to be sponsor for the baby Panteleimon Sava. Bishop Meletiy joined us after he had completed the Moleben for Beginning School at the cathedral. He said that the Temple had again been full. After the baptism, we had supper provided by the nuns, and we returned very late to Chernivtsi.

On Monday, 30 August, we rose for a 0500 hrs departure by auto for Kyiv. We had tried to find a way to travel by all other modes, but they were either too costly, or there were no tickets. Instead, Protodeacon Viatcheslav drove us in a van, so that we would be in Kyiv in time for our 1500 hrs appointment with Metropolitan Volodymyr. We collected the women-pilgrims, and the long drive passed peacefully. On the way, we drove past the historic Jewish settlement at Medzhebizhi which we had previously visited, but without stopping this time. We arrived at the Kyiv Caves Lavra at 1230 hrs. There we also met the male pilgrims who had arrived earlier, and we settled in for the ending of our pilgrimage. Some pilgrims went immediately to the Kyiv Caves to venerate the Fathers and Saints there. Others did necessary errands, and they also visited the Kyiv Caves. Because of his complicated agenda, Metropolitan Volodymyr delayed our appointment, and he invited us to take supper with him. Bishop Philip of Poltava, who had also been invited to supper, invited us to visit him and his diocese as soon as possible. Bishop Philip commented that Poltava has a School of Missions, and he invited any of our students to study there. This supper and conversation were very pleasant, and Metropolitan Voldymyr asked that I try to come to Ukraine yet more often. Because the Relics of Saint Vladimir were to come to Canada, in accordance with his blessing, it would likely soon be necessary that I return. Nevertheless, it seems that his Secretary, Bishop Alexander, will visit us in conjunction with the arrival of the Relics of Saint Vladimir.

Thus, on Tuesday, 31 August, the pilgrimage ended with our departure Canada-wards. This pilgrimage was full of blessing, but it was of a rather different character (for me) than the previous pilgrimages have been. Glory be to God for everything.

Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (2010-04-12-26)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in the Holy Land
12-26 April, 2010


It takes a long time to travel to the Holy Land, wherever on the North American continent one begins. In this case, some began in Ottawa, flying first to Toronto and then onwards. Some of the pilgrims travelled first to Toronto by bus, making a beginning of their travel 12 hours before departure time. Some began in Edmonton or Calgary, Alberta, others in Vancouver, BC, taking many hours already to arrive in time for the Toronto departure. Some of us travelled to, and/or through the eastern USA, and 4 travelled from Berkeley, California. The first challenge, managing to get to the Holy Land, is part of every serious pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is not tourism. Indeed, traditionally, pilgrimage implies walking (which only the very few, very strong in the Lord now do). We did do some noticeable (for us) walking, including in the aeroports, and we also drove in buses — in accordance with our reputation for pilgrimage in Ukraine. It takes a long time to travel to the Holy Land. Our travel included sitting on an eleven-hour flight, after having departed from Toronto at midnight Monday, 12 April, and arriving in Tel Aviv at 1800 hrs on Tuesday, 13 April. Once we arrived, and assembled, we numbered 43, although 2 of our number had to leave after a week because of a family emergency.

I cannot omit remarking that there were many Jewish travellers on our flights in both directions. In the course of these flights, it was impossible not to notice that the men and women of all ages were using their prayer-books, and they were offering their morning, evening and travelling prayers to the Lord. It was obvious what they were doing, because they were standing up and facing easterly, and their heads were covered by prayer-shawls. These prayer-books are always with these seriously-praying persons, and they very frequently are using them. The custom is, in fact, identical to our inherited custom of offering morning, evening and other prayers to the Lord — except that I have seen in my pastoral travels how much eroded this has become in our daily lives as Canadian Orthodox Christians. It is dangerous that we let ourselves fall into a minimal habit, merely saying “hello” to the Lord in the morning or “good-night” to the Lord at bed-time. Because we live in such a non-Orthodox environment, this allows us to slip away from Orthodox instincts and mentality, and to become captured more by other, quite foreign ways.

After we arrived, we easily made the ascent from Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean to Jerusalem atop the hills, because of the bus. I could see how walking up to Jerusalem would be a challenge. We settled in at our Mount Scopus Hotel. It was not luxurious (by Canadian standards), but it was clean and adequate, and offered very good food. This hotel sits on the border between East and West Jerusalem. It is useful to keep in mind that the country Israel (which numbers several million inhabitants) has now only about 120,000 Christians of all sorts, now making up only 1.5% of the whole population. Not long ago, the actual number of Christians was much greater, and the percentage of them was much higher as well. Circumstances (both political and religious) have for a very long time made it difficult for any and all Christians to remain in the Holy Land.

Making a pilgrimage does not in itself make one holier or better than anyone else. As anyone who has made a serious pilgrimage is aware, temptations do come with making this offering to the Lord, precisely because it is being offered to the Lord. However, there are blessings that do come. As one person already told me (who had recently accompanied Metropolitan Kallistos to the Holy Land on pilgrimage), she is now able, when reading the Scriptures, to have a clearer sense of the places that are described in the Scriptures. One can have an even better sense what it is to walk in the foot-steps of our Saviour, both while there and when at home : when reading the Scriptures, or when making liturgical observances, such as in Passion-time. Making a pilgrimage can make connexions in the heart. This is the case also with other pilgrimage destinations related to various holy persons about whom we read. In the course of our pilgrimage, we usually would read a passage from the Gospels or the Acts regarding each place ; and we often sang the tropars appropriate to the places, as far as possible.

On Wednesday, 14 April (day 1 of the actual pilgrimage), we arose to depart from the hotel at 0730 hrs, and we headed for the Garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives by the Kedron Valley, which we visited first. Here, we saw olive trees which are obviously very, very old. It is usually said that one or two could date from the time of our Saviour. After this, we went by bus again to the Saint Stephen’s Gate of Jerusalem, and we visited there the Temple of Saint Anna, close by the supposed home of Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Theotokos. It is here that the Theotokos (the Birth-giver-of-God) was born. Near there is the Sheep-pool, where sheep were prepared for being sacrificed in the Temple, and where the paralytic was healed by our Saviour (see John 5:1-9). There are substantial visible remains of these deep pools. At this time, our leader, the Archpriest Ilya Gotlinsky reminded us about the tradition of the special, redemptive tree of Abraham’s nephew Lot, which was in effect a triple-tree. Having been cut for a beam in the construction of the Temple, it was rejected as inadequate, and it was placed in this pool. It was this tree that was kept by the Angel who stirred the waters, and which was later used for the Cross of the Saviour.

We then began the Walk of the Passion, and we followed very approximately the way of our Saviour as He walked to His Death, beginning at the Franciscan churches and a series of other churches dedicated to this. Our guides, Nadi and Father Ilya, provided us with plenty of archaeological information regarding all the sites, and historical, liturgical and scriptural information as well. Sometimes, we stopped to sing tropars, and we often had the appropriate Scriptures read about the various stages of this walk. We stopped at the Russian Orthodox Representation (which had originally been purchased by the Russian Imperial Family). More than a century ago, it had been under imperial sponsorship through this Representation, that the necessary archaeological digs were undertaken, which uncovered and revealed the actual Judgement Gate through which our Saviour passed as He walked to His crucifixion. There are also some portions of the original wall still connected to the gate, which may be seen there. These structures are all within a modern building. At this time, there was shown to us what is well-expected to be the “eye of the needle”, to which our Saviour referred in one of His statements (see Matthew 19:24). It is a small opening in the wall near the Judgement Gate, which could admit someone trying to gain entry after the closing of the gates. We also visited the prison where Christ would have been kept imprisoned and also scourged. The dark cave, in which prisoners would be seated (chained by the neck and by the ankles) was very intimidating. Then it was time to visit the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which was a short walk distant. We were not able to meet Patriarch Theophilos to take the blessing, because he was in Qatar consecrating a new Orthodox Temple there ; but we were warmly received for a substantial encounter with Archbishop Methodios of Mount Tabor, and a few others. After leaving

We later arrived at the Temple of the Resurrection, where there were large numbers of other pilgrims and visitors. This Temple is frequently called by others “the Church of the Holy Sepulchre”. We were guided around the whole structure by Father Ilya, so that we would be aware of the history of the work of Saint Helena of Constantinople († ca. 330), the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, and also of subsequent constructions. The following sites are all under the roof of the one structure. We were shown the Tomb of the Martyr Saint Nicodemus († first century), and then we descended into the Armenian chapel of the Finding of the True Cross (ca. 326) by Saint Helena. After this general introduction, which included considerable information, we then ascended the Hill of Golgotha (see Matthew 27:33 et al) to venerate the place of the Crucifixion. This is nowadays approached by means of marble steps. The crowd was numerous, so this took some time. Following this, we queued to venerate the Tomb of our Saviour. This construction is not exactly the original Tomb as it was then, but a re-working of the original Tomb, including the original materials. By this, it is intended to say that these sites were formerly parts of a single hill (with Golgotha above, and the Tomb at its foot). The Tomb remains where it was, but the hillside was cut away from it so that it became free-standing (with some later decorative carving of the stone). Although most of the original rocky hill was removed, what remains allows pilgrims to understand what was the original arrangement of the whole site. After the hill was cut away, the Temple of the Resurrection was constructed to contain everything under the one roof. This reconstruction allowed many people to have access to each important part of this Holy Place during the course of any day. Most of this happened in the 4th and 5th centuries.

After we had all completed our venerations, we walked on across the Old City to the Western Wall of the Temple. As we walked, we passed through a district in which we had to “walk the gauntlet”, as it were. Some by-standers jeered and threw refuse at the pilgrims. We were able to observe the Western Wall from an elevated and distant spot, but not to approach. From our place above, we could easily see the former site of this Temple, which is now replaced by the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosques. We then walked to where our bus awaited us, and we returned to our hotel for supper and for rest. Many of the pilgrimage sites had long ago been described by the fourth-century Spanish pilgrim Egeria ; and, in the course of this day, we had come to understand that these sites are, indeed, in the very places which she had described. Further, the sites are all connected with the important element of oral tradition. We were frequently reminded that even in the context of the Roman and other destructions, the local faithful always remembered the important places, always went to them, and that they kept this custom over many generations in secret, despite persecutions.

On Thursday, 15 April (after breakfast), we left our hotel with our baggage at about 0800 hrs. The weather was again mild and sunny. We drove first to the base of the Mount of Olives, to the Tomb of the Theotokos, which is now separated from Gethsemane by a road. Here, we venerated the Tomb of the Theotokos, and also the Wonder-working Jerusalem Icon of the Theotokos. Nearby is the Monastery of Saint Stephen, which had been recently rebuilt over the very old monastery which had long ago been established at the site of the martyrdom of the Archdeacon Stephen (see Acts 7:54-60). After this, we walked a little farther down the Kedron Valley to the monument which is often called the Tomb of Absalom (son of King David). However, it was explained that there is another tradition which, from ancient times, associates this monument with the father of the Forerunner John, and with Saint Symeon the God-receiver, and with one or another prophet. From there, we drove to Mount Sion on the west side of the old city. There, we visited the 2 representative sites which provide an “iconographic” site for the Upper Room. This was the site of Great Thursday’s Supper (see Matthew 26:17-30), of the choosing of Matthias (see Acts 1:26), of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:1-12), and of other important events), and then below this room, the Tomb of King David. Despite the usual accuracy of oral tradition, the actual sites cannot be found because of the very thorough Roman destructions (ca. 70). These sites are, however, near the originals. We then went “next door” to the Roman Catholic Abbey of the Dormition, which presents a possible site at which the Mother of God reposed. The Upper Room (in which the previously-mentioned 3 Events occurred) and the Tomb of King David were likely in this very neighbourhood, if not on these actual spots. We then walked on to visit the Monastery of the Repose of the Righteous Elder Symeon the God-receiver.

After this, we went to the Monastery of the Holy Cross, a very old monastery with origins in the 4th century, at which traditionally grew the Triple Tree planted by Abraham’s nephew the Righteous Lot. The wood of this Tree eventually became the Wood of the Holy Cross of Christ, as we learnt on our first day when we visited the Sheep-pool. This monastery also has a Georgian history. Following this, we visited the Monastery of Saint Elias near the Tomb of Rachel (see 1 Moses 35:19-20), which is at the place to which the Prophet Elias fled after the miracle of the fire and the rain (see 3 Kingdoms 18). We took lunch at this site, and then we drove to the Shrine of the Book, the Israel Museum (in new, West Jerusalem), which presents displays about the several findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 11 caves (which began in 1949 and continued for some years). In this museum, there is also a detailed model of pre-Roman Jerusalem. After this, we visited the Temple of the Holy Trinity, the main Representation of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Russian Mission. Earlier in the day, Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv had completed his visit to the Holy Land in this Temple. From here, we drove to Bethlehem. We passed over the border and the border-wall to the West Bank area, Palestine. We checked into our hotel and took supper. Then, there was time for shopping before we retired.

On Friday, 16 April, we rose early for breakfast, and we made our departure at 0800 hrs. We drove through the so-called check-point at the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The passage took more than a half-hour. That 2 soldiers walked through the bus (albeit smiling) while they were carrying machine-guns, made it appear much more like an international border. This wall of separation reminded one of the former “Berlin Wall”. May it be demolished soon. There is no doubt about how this makes life painful for ordinary Palestinian farmers or workers. This wall divides many of their farms and orchards in two, and makes access to the Israeli side somewhere between difficult and impossible for them. From this border, we drove through Jerusalem and onwards to the east (where the road becomes the Jericho Highway), to the Red-rock area, on which are 3 significant archaeological sites. For our visit to these, we had the aid of a Russian-Israeli archaeologist who has personally worked on all 3 sites. The first site was the Monastery of Saint Martyrius, which flourished between the 3rd and 6th centuries. This monastery was very significant in its day, being an important hiatus point for pilgrims on this Jericho Road. The intact early mosaics are impressive, to say the least. Very isolated in its day, it is now in the middle of a housing development. The small cells of the coenobitic monks were interesting. This monastery began as a lavra, but it was (as were others) converted to coenobitic life. At that time, a lavra was a group of detached or semi-detached cells of hermits which surrounded a central chapel or Temple. Most of the monastery’s foundations remain intact, along with the original mosaic floors. The monastic cemetery has not been found, but the grave of the major abbots has been found.

The second stop was at the Saint Euthymius Monastery, which was in existence from the 4th to the 12th centuries. After the Persian and Islamic conquests, it was recovered, rehabilitated and remodelled by the Crusaders. It was a large monastery, with an amazingly large sixth-century water-cistern. One might describe the cistern by saying that it resembles a very large below-ground hall which has a very high ceiling. This monastery also had its beginnings as a lavra, and the remains of this construction are under the existing foundations to the south-west of the complex. In this case, the Temple is on the second floor. It was previously very large, but then reduced in size because of fewer monks and less available money.

The third stop was the Good Samaritan Inn on the same road (see Luke 10:30-37). Archaeology shows that the beginnings of this inn were in about the 2nd century BC. This inn is perhaps half-way between Jerusalem and Jericho. It had its own mosaics, and these were rather amplified in later years when an East-Roman (usually called Byzantine) Temple was constructed. Nearby, there is a fortification constructed by the Crusaders on a hill, which protected this inn. In time, it became a Turkish caravanserai. Fourth on our agenda was Bethany, which is now largely a Muslim town, and which is very different from how it was in Biblical days. Here, we visited the Tomb of Lazarus (see John 11 ; 12:1-11), and afterwards we took lunch nearby.

After a brief pause, we drove again past the Good Samaritan Inn, towards Jerusalem. We followed the road, then, which took us once again past the great “evil wall” which blocks direct access from Bethany, and we continued on to the Mount of Olives. This journey now requires a circuitous half-hour drive to cover a distance that once took a few minutes. At the top of this mountain, we entered the Monastery of the Ascension (a community of the ROCOR), and we were led by a monk, Pierre, who guided us around this monastery. We visited the Temple of the Ascension there. On the floor is a portion of a sixth-century mosaic, and there is also the circular spot near the entrance, in which lay the Head of Saint John the Forerunner for several hundred years until it was taken. We then walked to the nearby site of the Ascension itself, now covered by a small circular building within a much larger octagonal wall, at the foot of which are the remains of pillars that once supported the large Orthodox Temple which before extended to the outer walls. The site is now in the hands of a Muslim family. Inside the circular building is a foot-print in the rock which remains from the Ascension (see Luke 24:50-53 ; Acts 1:9-11).

Leaving this site, we descended to the church of the Our Father, on the walls of which this Prayer is written in a multitude of languages. We descended on foot, walking farther down the mountain along Palm Sunday Street (see John 12:12-15, et al), and we paused and visited the Tomb of the Prophets, which is deep in a cave. This may be the site of the burial of the Prophet Haggai, but it certainly was used by the earliest Christians as a place of refuge, of worship, and then of burial. There are many tombs in this very large, dark, unlit cave, one of which is also larger than the others, and which is generally assumed to be the tomb of Saint Joseph of Arimathea (see Matthew 27:57-60, et al). This great cave is surrounded by private dwellings of Muslim families, but it is cared for by the Orthodox Community of Saint Mary Magdalene. It was to this monastery that we then descended on foot by a narrow lane. Here, we entered the quiet gardens, and we joined the nuns for Vespers and Compline. After this, we departed for our hotel, and then to supper. At this time, there was a visit by the Priest Timothy Lowe and his wife Lisa, who now work on the edge of Jerusalem by Bethlehem. They served for some years in parishes in the USA, and they now direct the Tantur Research Institute (a subsidiary of Notre Dame University).

On Saturday, 17 April, we rose to visit the Basilica of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem (see Luke 2). We were warmly received by 2 of the Palestinian priests of the basilica, one who has served there for 40 years, and the other for 47 years. Here, we were able to venerate the places that mark the site of the Nativity of Christ, and the site of the Manger. These sites may not be exact, but that this Cave itself was the site of the Nativity was already of long-standing oral tradition when Saint Helena was doing her research. The basilica itself had been reconstructed by the Crusaders on a somewhat smaller scale than the structure erected by Saint Helena. Nevertheless, we can see some parts of the mosaics of the original floor of the original basilica through several openings in the floor. Nearby, under the Roman Catholic church, we visited the cave in which Saint Jerome lived and translated the Scriptures into Latin — the Vulgate (the language spoken by the people of the time). This cave is immediately adjacent to the Cave of the Nativity. As our leader Father Ilya repeated, many of the sites are mentioned by Egeria in her book about her fourth-century pilgrimage. He also reminded us that because of the climate, many a home of this era would have been built over a cave, in which goods could be kept cool (and where people also kept cool) in the hottest weather. Some such homes were larger under-ground than they were above-ground. One such example is the house in Jerusalem that represents the home of Saints Joachim and Anna.

We then boarded our bus, and we drove out to the Monastery of Saint Theodosios, which is now inhabited by nuns. From there, we drove in mini-buses to the Monastery of Saint Sabbas. This monastery began as a lavra of hermits, and then it became a coenobium. A coenobium was (and is now) a community in which monks have all things in common, and in which the monks usually live together in a more substantial structure. Only males may enter the Monastery of Saint Sabbas. The women pilgrims remained outside the walls, where they were given relics to venerate, and tea to drink, while the men visited the sixth-century Temples and viewed the caves over the Kedron gorge. The Kedron Brook was flowing strongly in this gorge. We also venerated the incorrupt relics of Saint Sabbas (†532). The guide here, Father Lazarus, was formerly from the USA. There were, at the time of our visit, 18 monks in this brotherhood.

After drinking coffee, we returned to our bus which awaited us at the Monastery of Saint Theodosios, and we drove to the Temple of the Shepherds’ Field, whose known foundations were established by Saint Helena. Some of its floor-frescoes remain. Here also, there once were the relics of the Bethlehem Martyr Infants and of the Shepherds (see Matthew 2:16-18 ; Luke 2:8-19) ; but there still remain the heads of Martyrs of the Persian massacre († ca. 614). Many years ago, the Abbot, Father Ignatios, had served in Mississauga in Canada for five years. After eating in the same town, we drove to Hebron, where we visited the Monastery Temple of the Ancestors of Christ, and we visited the Rector, the Archpriest Vladimir. On this same property is what remains of the Oak of Mamre (under which Abraham tented several thousand years ago ; see 1 Moses 18:1). This tree had stopped putting out leaves only a few years ago. This Monastery and Temple constitute the only Christian presence in Hebron. It had been founded over 100 years ago by the Russian Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate, under the patronage of Tsar Alexander III. We returned to the hotel, received a short talk about missionary work in Israel by the Priest Alexander Vinogradsky, and then rested briefly before our 2300 hrs departure for the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, 18 April, we arrived at the Temple of the Resurrection before midnight, and we awaited the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. As it happened, there was a late beginning. Archbishop Methodios of Mount Tabor was presiding, and Bishop Antonin of the Serbian Church was co-serving with him, along with 4 deacons and about 30 priests. After the conclusion of Matins, the Divine Liturgy began to be served within the Tomb-structure (it was the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women). The Proskomedia had been prepared on the Tomb of the Lord itself, just beyond the ante-room of the Tomb-structure. Processions of the Lesser and Great Entrances were made by going out the one door from the ante-room of the Tomb, circling round about the whole structure, and re-entering the ante-room. The bishops were within the structure, and the priests stood in lines outside its entrance-door. The service progressed as would a normal Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. In due time, Holy Communion was distributed to the people in the main part of the cathedral, before the iconostas. During all this time, the people could venerate at will the Golgotha ; and this time, the Relics Room below the Golgotha was open and available to us. Pilgrims were there from all over Europe, and there were many requests for prayers because of the grounding of flights (due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland). We returned to the hotel at 0500 hrs, just as the Islamic muezzin was proclaiming the first call to prayer.

We rose a little later for a later-than-usual departure, after taking a brunch. This departure was further delayed at the “Wall of Separation”, because everyone on the bus was asked to pass through a cursory viewing of passports in a nearby building, and then to re-board the bus. Usually the bus is simply toured by two heavily-armed soldiers before permission to pass is granted. After this inspection, we began by driving to Emmaus-Nikopolis, an archaeological site some 30 km west of Jerusalem. This site (which includes a first-century Jewish burial site, a sixth-century Temple, and a fifth-century baptismal font for adult baptisms) is on the territory of a Roman Catholic Cistercian monastery. We were told that this particular site is one of three sites of the same name, one of which is only 11 km distant from Jerusalem. The biblical Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35) was within a Sabbath-day’s walking-distance of Jerusalem. A Sabbath-day’s journey (depending on who defines it and when it is defined) could be between 2,000 and 11,000 cubits, that is, between about 9 km and about 50 km.

After this visit, we drove farther west to Lod-Ramle, which would be known to us as Lydda-Arimathea. Here is where Saint Joseph of Arimathea lived, and here was the site of the martyrdom of Saint George the Victory-bearer. Here, we met a group of pilgrims from Saint Petersburg in Russia, whom we met again as we travelled during the day. This Temple of Saint George has in its crypt the emptied tomb of the Great-martyr George, and on a wall hangs a set of the Chains of the Apostle Peter (see Acts 12:5-10). Since this apostle was imprisoned more than once, there exist several sets of Petrine chains. After this, we drove to Jaffa (Joppa), where we visited the Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Chains of the Apostle Peter (see Acts 12), and the Tomb of Saint Tabitha the Resurrected (see Acts 9). We saw the fruit of the labour of twenty years by Father Poemen, who has made a series of beautiful gardens now freed of multitudes of snakes. We were blessed by being offered to eat kulich and drink tea and juice. At this time (because we were late), we abandoned the attempt to visit Caesarea Maritima, and we drove back towards Jerusalem and visited at Ein Karem, the birth-place of the Forerunner, and the home of Saint Zacharias and Saint Elisabeth, and also the site of the Visitation of the Theotokos to Elisabeth (see Luke 1). Both these sites are governed by the Franciscans, and they were built by Crusaders over sixth-century East-Roman predecessors. Nearby is a Russian Orthodox Monastery on the mountain. After walking in this village and on the hills, we returned to Bethlehem in time for supper, and for earlier retiring.

On Monday, 19 April, we rose early to take breakfast and to begin the day’s journey as we drove to Masada, the site of an ancient Jewish fortress on the top of a mesa-top mountain. Masada is approached by driving south along the main north-south highway, which runs along the west coast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has become very greatly diminished from its former size by heavy water-usage. We were informed that there is a plan to build a canal to bring water to the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, in order to compensate. We arrived at Masada, viewed the introductory film, and then we boarded the cable-car to ascend to the top of the mesa. There is still a path by which one may make the ascent on foot, as some hardy folks do, but the heat deters most. There, we were walked about the Herodian fortifications, and we were given explanations about the usage of the various rooms, and about the processes of archaeological investigations. We also heard alternative theories about the meaning of the events surrounding the Bar Kochba Revolution, and the conquering of the defences by the Roman army (ca. 135 BC). We then visited the remains of a sixth-century Temple, which is what remains of what is understood to be one of the monasteries established by Saint Euthymius, namely the one at Marda. We sang there the Paschal Tropar. The temperature was very high, but the wind permitted some comfort. At the base of this mesa, the altitude is about 350 m below sea-level. At the top, the altitude would be about 200 m above sea-level.

After descending, we drove north to the site of Qumran, the visiting of which was also introduced by a short film. We walked about the site of the former Qumran community’s building-remains, and we viewed from a distance the cave in which the famous scrolls were found (see Day 2). We were presented with one theory as to the nature of this community, and its relationship to our Saviour and to the Forerunner. After hearing this “official” theory, we then debated amongst ourselves various alternative theories. Following this, there was an opportunity for those desiring it to spend time in the Dead Sea. I stopped for coffee with others, and there I found Bishop Antonin of the Serbian Orthodox Church. We had a long conversation about the nature of the Church’s overall life in North America. Then it was time for us all to depart.

We moved on to nearby Jericho, and we visited the monastery that encloses the remains of the tree considered to be that of Zacchaeus (see Luke 19). After visiting the Temple, named for the Prophet Eliesseus (Elisha), we went to the nearby Russian monastery, which includes the House of Zacchaeus. This room has fourth-century mosaics on its floors. After a thorough visit (which included tea), we drove to the near-by Monastery of Saint Gerasimos of the Jordan and the women’s monastery of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Again, we viewed beautiful and old mosaics. Descending to the lower rooms, we venerated the bones of some martyrs who were killed by the Persians in this place. After having been offered refreshment, we returned to Jerusalem for supper, sleep, and an early rising. In the course of these 2 days, we had encountered more than 3 times a group of pilgrims who had travelled from Moscow and environs.

On Tuesday, 20 April, we rose even earlier because of the need to approach the border between Israel and Jordan at a very early hour. The process of crossing the border is usually quite lengthy, although our crossing was by God’s mercy rather quick. We had arrived before the opening of the border, which may have helped. Afterwards, upon boarding the bus with our Jordanian driver, our guide, and our tourist policeman, we drove immediately to Bethany Beyond the Jordan (also called Bethabara) (see John 1:28), where Saint John the Forerunner baptised, and where our Saviour was baptised. In this area, many Temples are presently being constructed by the Orthodox. There are archaeological remains in this area, dated from the 4th to the 6th centuries. We were able to approach the Jordan River (now a mere remnant of what it was, because 80% of the water is now diverted). By the water’s edge in this place are the remains of a very old baptismal pool, and of Temples with mosaics. It is a complex site. At the water’s edge, only some few metres from Israel (where there is a very well-developed baptismal site), one may touch the Jordan with caution. The caution is because of pollution. Nearby this site is a new Greek Orthodox Temple of Saint John the Forerunner. After leaving this site, we visited the hill of the traditional site of the ascension of the Prophet Elias to Heaven (see 4 Kingdoms 2:1-11). This site also has ancient baptismal pools and mosaic floors. In addition, there is a place where are the remains of an apse, in which is the traditional site of a cave where Saint John the Forerunner lived for some time. The temperature in this area was over 40oC when we were there.

After this substantial walking-visit, we drove to Mount Nebo (meaning “mountain of prophecy”), a Franciscan-protected and developed site. This is usually considered to be the place from which Moses viewed the Promised Land which he would not himself enter. It is also considered to be the place where Moses reposed and was interred by the Lord (5 Moses 34:5-6). Here, also, there were examples of intricate frescoes of the 4th to 5th centuries that are well-preserved. It is not easy to describe the beauty of the frescoes and mosaics we were seeing, and photographs do not do them justice, either. From here, we had a good view (through haze) of Jericho, and also of the Gilead mountains. At a height of 750 m above sea-level, the temperature was lower and the air was drier. From here, we drove along the King’s Highway to the town of Madeba, in the area of Moab. This is a very old town founded on the basis of fruit-production. We took dinner, and we then walked to the Temple of Saint George, which contains the remains of a famous East-Roman map-mozaic. Here also, we met a local priest who used to serve in the USA. After completing this visit, we visited the local mosaic work-shops, and we then departed for Petra, a three-hour drive. We went to our hotel nearby Petra, and after supper we retired rather late, ready to rise again early.

On Wednesday, 21 April, we rose early for breakfast, and we began the day devoted to the ruins of the ancient city Petra. First, we drove to Little Petra. This place is some kilometres distant from the main town of Petra, about 20 minutes’ drive (with stops). We were shown en route how the Nabataeans were farming the area, as are the Bedouin today, except that the Bedouins plant grain instead of the grape-vines and jasmine planted by the Nabataeans. The grapes and jasmine were used in trade with Egyptians and others. There are several wine-presses known to be in the area of Little Petra (one of which we saw). The wine was used domestically ; however, later on, it was used for tribute that had to be sent to Rome. Little Petra and Great Petra were settled over 3,000 years ago by the Nabataeans, who came previously from near Medina in Arabia. In Little Petra, there are still intact archaeological remains that are almost the same as those in Great Petra. It is understood that these Nabataeans could well be the descendants of Ishmael because of the place of origin, and because of their name. “Nabataean” is very close to the name of the descendants of Ishamel’s first-born, “Nebaioth” (see 1 Moses 25:13 ; Isaiah 60:7). The First Book of Moses indicates that the names of his children are connected to place-names. Little Petra, built in a similar fashion to Great Petra (in a blind-end canyon), is understood to be the place of interaction and taxation between the Nabataeans and the travellers on the Silk Route who were using the King’s Highway.

The King’s Highway still exists. However, in ancient times, it was a very important trade route in the ancient Middle East, and it is referred to in 4 Moses 20:17-21. It began in Egypt, at Heliopolis. Then it went to Clysma (Suez), south through the Sinai to Eilat and Aqaba. It proceeded northwards through the Arabah past Petra and Madeba, through Damascus and other ancient towns, to Resefa on the upper Euphrates.

After our visit to this site, we drove to the entrance to Great Petra, and we made our descent through the Siq (canyon), a walk of 1.5 km. We then walked the next more than 1.5 km amongst the many royal tombs that are carved into the very colourful sand-stone of the area. Although we saw a great many tombs, temples, and one stand-alone building, we were informed that 91% of the habitations are still unexcavated and unknown. Some of the pilgrims were able to walk up to the remains of a monastery (no small feat). Others visited a Temple of the 4th to 6th centuries (with a baptismal font of the 4th century), one of 3 excavated in the area, with 5 more yet to be investigated. One of the royal tombs was converted in the 5th century into a bishop’s cathedral, of which there remain physical indications. The day was very sunny, although rather less hot than the previous day, so the walking was manageable. We returned to the hotel for supper. In this area, there was noticeable greenery and blossoming plants of various sorts.

On Thursday, 22 April, we rose for an immediate post-breakfast departure at 0730 hrs (with pre-packed baggage). We drove first to the north, to Shubak Castle, which was constructed in 1115 by Crusaders. It is also called Krak de Montréal. We toured the substantial remains of this castle, including one of the several chapels. We then drove to Um ar-Rasar, or Castron Mefa, the remains of an East-Roman cavalry unit. It was a border-camp of the 5th to 6th centuries, which was finally overcome by Islamic incursions. This complex has the remains of many domestic and other buildings (besides the military compound), and it also contains the remains of 15 Christian Temples. We visited 2 of these, and noted the truly remarkable good condition of the sixth-century mosaic floors. Little has been disturbed in all these centuries. Following this, we travelled another kilometre to the nearby stylite pillar, one of the few in the world remaining intact. This 15 m construction was home, it is said, to a Monk Samuel in the period of the 6th century. Nearby this square pillar is a chapel, probably containing the tomb of the stylite, and also what appears to have been a pilgrim-hostel. Leaving this, we drove some distance to view the great Arnoun Valley, which divides the Moabites from the Amorites. We passed through Dhibon, the domestic capital of Meshach, sometimes called Kedar (see Psalm 119:5). From here, we drove to the remains of the Makheras Fortress of Herod Antipas (above the east coast of the Dead Sea), where the Forerunner John was beheaded (see Matthew 14:1-12, et al). Some were able to walk up the substantial hill and to view the excavations being undertaken. From there, we drove on to Ammon, where we took supper, and where we stayed the night in a hotel.

On Friday, 23 April, we rose again for a post-breakfast departure at 0800 hrs (with pre-packed baggage) for the archaeological site of the town of Jerash (Gerasa), 48 km north of Ammon. This city, one of the Decapolis (10 cities), was established in the time of Alexander the Great, and it persisted in some ways through the Roman period up until the fall of the empire. There have been found 13 East-Roman Temples, including the Cathedral of Saint Theodore. A former pagan temple of Dionysius became a Temple of the Theotokos. There are another 3 Christian Temples not far away, close to the temple of Artemis (which never became a Christian Temple) ; and there is quite a small Temple (more like a chapel) across the street from the Hippodrome and close to the Triumphal Arch of Hadrian, which suggests that it stood there as a witness to the better way, the Christian Way. There are many remains of beautiful mosaic floors, which usually include an indication of the dedication of the Temple in which they are. Outside the three-apsed Cathedral of Saint Theodore (built in about 365), there are the almost-intact remains of a fountain and its water-supply. Of old, in this fountain there was always water, except on the day commemorating the Marriage at Cana, when it flowed with wine. Many of the other Christian Temples were built in the time of the Emperor Justinian. The state of this city’s preservation is remarkable, especially considering the fact that earthquakes still continue to happen, which threaten the many free-standing columns. In the course of our walking, we met Orthodox people from Damascus and from Beirut (both not far away by land). The city of Jerash is only 20% excavated so far. Jordan has several hundred such sites, but there is no money either to do a complete excavation or to maintain well what has been excavated.

Departing from this city (after walking along the colonnaded cordo — main street), we boarded our bus to cross the River Jordan into Israel again at the King Hussein Bridge. This crossing was a time-consuming process. Once this was completed, we soon parted with Igumen Alexander (Pihach), who had to leave that night for Canada. The rest of us continued on to Tiberias on the south-west side of the Sea of Galilee. Tiberias is a Roman City built by Herod over a cemetery (which made it unacceptable for habitation to the Jews of the day). At present, the city of Tiberias is a popular resort-site, and it has a very large population. The Sea of Galilee is alternatively called Kinnereth, because it has the shape of a harp. We entered our hotel, took supper, and then retired. This day had been, on the New Calendar, the Feast of the Great-Martyr George ; but the Patriarchate of Jerusalem follows the Old Calendar.

On Saturday, 24 April, we began by taking a boat-trip part of the way across the north of the Sea of Galilee, the lowest fresh-water lake in the world (212 m below sea-level), to the site of a kibbutz, at which there are the remains of a recently-discovered boat from 2,000 years ago. This boat (now preserved in a special museum), demonstrates the appearance of the boats of the period which sailed on the Sea of Galilee, such as shown on many pieces of art of the period. From the boat, we saw Mount Arbel, past which our Saviour would have walked, on His way from Nazareth to the Jordan Valley and to Capernaum. After leaving the kibbutz, we drove to Kursi, in the Golan Heights. It was en route to this place that our Lord calmed the sea (Matthew 8:23-27, et al) ; and it is in this place that our Lord healed the demoniac, and then the herd of swine rushed into the sea (see Mark 5:10-20). Here, there are remains of an old monastery Temple of the 5th century, again with beautiful mosaic floors. This monastery was the largest East-Roman monastery on the territory of Palestine.

Next, we drove to the site of the Mount of Beatitudes (see Matthew 5), which is cared for by the Franciscans, and there we met an Antiochian Priest from the USA, who was on a scholarly tour. We learned that lower on this hill there have been discovered the remains of a very old East-Roman Temple, but that it is not presently accessible to the public. After this, we drove to Tabhga, where our Lord multiplied the loaves and the fishes (see Matthew 14:13-21, et al). The name is an Aramaicisation of the Greek word for “Seven Springs”. In Tabhga, there is a baptismal font of the 5th century. Then we visited Capernaum (which in Aramaic means “Village of a Dignitary”). Our Lord spent much time in this town. It was a major commercial site, and a major stopping-place for travellers. In Capernaum is the home of the Apostle Peter and his mother-in-law, and the remains of a synagogue. This is a newer one built on identical ancient foundations, and this synagogue is the place where our Lord often prayed and spoke. Very near this place also are the remains of an ancient house-church (domus ecclesia). In this house, our Lord healed the paralytic (see Matthew 9:1-8, et al), and nearby, the woman with the haemorrhage (see Mark 5:25-34, et al). Nearby this house, at the sea-shore, also occurred the Miracle of the Fish and the Coin (see Matthew 17:24-27). Not far from the house-site is the Orthodox site, on which there is a beautiful Temple of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated in memory of the Healing of the Paralytic (see previous references) and the Calling of the Twelve (see Matthew 10:1-4, et al). Here, there are remains from the 4th to 6th centuries. Here also, as we walked about the grounds, we met the dean of the Orthodox Seminary in Iasi, Romania. After this day, we returned to the hotel in Tiberias for supper and overnighting.

On Sunday, 25 April, our last day in the Holy Land, we rose early to travel to Magdala, to serve the Divine Liturgy in the Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene. This was the site of her home (see Luke 8:2). There are several Russian nuns in this monastery, and they welcomed us warmly. The service was served simply, but there were required doublings of readings and hymns for the sake of language, and we took more time than expected. We left the monastery to return to the hotel for breakfast, and after putting our bags on the bus, we departed for Mount Tabor, where our Lord was transfigured before His apostles in the presence of the Prophets Moses and Elias (see Matthew 17:1-8, et al). This is the only free-standing mountain in the Galilee. I wrote “the Galilee” because it is a specific region, and this has become the normal way to refer to this specific region. “Galilee” by itself seems to be vague. Because it is so high and steep, buses can travel only part of the way up the mountain, and mini-vans are required to take non-walking pilgrims the rest of the way. These are operated by Bedouins who had been settled in this region by the government. At the top of the mountain, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel (Armageddon), there are 2 sites : one Orthodox, the other Roman Catholic. We visited the former. As in every case with monasteries we had encountered, this monastery enclosure was serene, quiet, well-ordered, clean, flowery and beautiful. The nuns admitted us to the Temple, which is in typical basilica form, and we venerated the Stone of the Transfiguration, and some relics, and we saw the beautifully renewed interior.

Having spent over an hour in this place, we descended the mountain to where our bus awaited us, and we travelled on to Cana (see John 2:1-11). We were not able to visit the Orthodox site in Cana, but we did visit the Roman Catholic one. Here, there are representations of ancient stone-jars in which wine would have been kept. Here, also, we met pilgrims from Moscow whom we had already met elsewhere. Then we drove to Nazareth, which is now the largest city in the Galilee. In the time of Christ (and even until World War II), Nazareth was a very small settlement, indeed. Again, we could not visit the Orthodox site, which is over the Spring of the Theotokos. Nevertheless, we were able to walk to visit the Roman Catholic Basilica, near which is the Home of Saint Joseph the Betrothed, and under which is the Home of the Theotokos. Here, also, are excavations which reveal the nature of ancient homes in the Galilee (but particularly in Nazareth), and here also are the remains of a synagogue. After completing our visit, we walked to a restaurant near the Orthodox site, where we ate our farewell supper peacefully, joyfully and talkatively. After this, we boarded our bus and began the less-than-two-hour drive to Tel Aviv and the aeroport, for our departure at 2355 hrs. Nevertheless, there were several pilgrims who had earlier decided to prolong their stay, and who would not arrive home until later that week.

The security processes at the aeroport were thorough and elaborate, and therefore time-consuming. One would want to arrive at least 3 hours in advance, and even earlier if one were not with an expected group. Once the return flight was engaged, all was peaceful and uneventful. Giving thanks to the Lord, we arrived home safely on 26 April.

Pilgrimages are always unpredictable, and each is unique. They all depend on the local circumstances at the time, and also on the personalities of the group of pilgrims. Pilgrimages always come with blessings, but they also come with temptations. Our group was spared any serious temptations, but there were many small ones. It is important that we all learn to call to the Lord for help in this circumstance, to give thanks to Him, and to be very careful to live in forgiveness with each and all at all times. Glory be to God for all things, and for His endless kindness towards us, for His loving protection, and for His tender care.

Visit of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah to the Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus’, Kirill (2009)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
The Primatial Fraternal Visit
of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah
to the Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus’, Kirill
25 April - 4 May, 2009


It was a previous decision of the Holy Synod of Bishops that the Metropolitan of The Orthodox Church in America not travel abroad without being accompanied by at least one other bishop. It was in accordance with that decision, and in this particular capacity, that I travelled as a part of the delegation on this Primatial Fraternal Visit.

On Saturday afternoon, 25 April, the delegation led by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, arrived in Moscow. Besides Metropolitan Jonah, the entourage consisted of Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), Archpriests Alexander Garklavs and Leonid Kishkovsky, Archdeacon Kyrill Sokolov, Brother Gregory, and me. Bishop Alexander of the Moscow Patriarchate was the official “guide” for the delegation. With me still en route, Metropolitan Jonah and the delegation travelled to Saint Catherine-in-the-Field Representation Church to pray there first, to be received formally by the OCA Representative, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), and to view the premises. Then the delegation travelled to its main lodgings at the Danilovsky Hotel, adjacent to the historic Danilovsky Monastery. I arrived after this. As we were to be reminded several times, with our arrival had also come the warm weather. The temperature had suddenly risen, with clear skies, to the lower 20ºC range. This was immediately accompanied by the appearance of spring flowers, and the budding-forth of trees.

Saint Catherine-in-the-Field Representation Church

At 1600 hrs, the delegation travelled to the Donskoy Monastery, where we were met by the Igumen, Archimandrite Alexei and members of the brotherhood. Singing the Paschal Tropar, we entered the main Temple and venerated the Holy Table. Then there was veneration of the Relics of Saint Patriarch Tikhon, and the reading of a prayer. This was followed by a brief tour of the Winter Church and the cemetery grounds. Afterwards, returning to the Danilovsky Hotel, we walked to the adjacent Danilovsky Monastery where we attended the Resurrectional Vigil. After this, we went to Archimandrite Alexei’s quarters, and were given “Russian Tea” (this really means supper), with animated and warm conversation. Metropolitan Jonah has many old friends in Russia, including this abbot. Many years ago, His Beatitude spent over a year in Russia, both as a Valaam novice, and as an editor of the magazine Rusky Palomnik. It was then that his Russian-speaking became fluid.

On Sunday morning, 26 April, the delegation departed the hotel at 0745 hrs for Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where we would serve. Vested, we greeted His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah at 0845 hrs at the Cathedral Entrance. There were 18 bishops serving together with the 2 Primates. His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill was greeted at 0900 hrs. Then, after his vesting, began the Confession of Faith of the Bishop-elect Tikhon of Podolsk. The Divine Liturgy followed, which included the Ordination to the Holy Episcopate of Archimandrite Tikhon (Zaitsev) to be the Bishop of Podolsk. (Vladyka Tikhon had previously been the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Representation to the Jerusalem Patriarchate.) After the completion of the Liturgy, and the exchange of formal greetings by the two Church-Heads, there was a formal dinner in the lower level of the cathedral. Following this dinner, the entourage was given a tour of the cathedral, and then withdrew to the Danilovsky Hotel for a pause. The entourage was then gathered for a concert at 1830 hrs. The concert, “The Moscow Paschal Festival”, was given at the Moscow Conservatory, and it consisted of 2 major pieces : Act II from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Skazanie O nevidimom grade Kitezhe I seve Fevronii ; and Act III from Richard Wagner’s opera Parzival. Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) and Bishop Alexander were with us during this most interesting concert, which was directed by Valerii Gergiev, whom we met during the interval. The hall, built by Nikolai Rubenstein, dates from the 1860s.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral

Then the entourage was taken to the buildings of the Moscow Seminary and Academy, where Metropolitan Jonah was greeted by its Rector, Archbishop Evgenii. His Beatitude venerated the Altar of the Seminary Chapel (the chapel is the size of many of our parish churches), and we all were taken on a tour of the museum. During this time, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah presented a substantial quantity of Orthodox Study Bibles to the Academy for student use. This was followed by a dinner near the Rector’s Office. Here, conversation was very animated, regarding theological education and the spiritual formation of both Orthodox pastors and Orthodox believers. It was an excellent and productive conversation. After some more time spent on the territory of the Lavra, the entourage returned to Moscow and visited the Sofrino Shop in the middle of the city, to purchase some Church-goods. After this, we all travelled to the USA Embassy, where there was a half-hour meeting with the US Ambassador. At this time, our Russian guides had to leave us because of the embassy’s security requirements. We understood that the relationship between the OCA’s Representation and the Embassies of both the USA and Canada are both good and active. Both ambassadors (and some staff) visit the Representation Church often.

Following this visit, there was a visit to Saint Catherine’s Representation Church, at which time Metropolitan Jonah was interviewed at length by reporters. This was followed by a visit to the Novospassky Monastery, and to Archbishop Aleksy. This visit was very pleasant, and more informal than the visits thus far. The Novospassky Monastery has a smaller brotherhood than many, although it is healthy. The community lacks the large donors of other communities. Here, there is deliberately no paid choir. The brotherhood sings. The Novospassky Catholicon has in its crypt the tombs of some significant persons, particularly members of the Romanov family.

On Tuesday morning, 28 April, we left the hotel at mid-morning to visit the Sretensky Monastery, which is near the Kremlin and next to what was formerly the Lyubianka Prison. This monastery is named for the feast of the arrival and meeting in Moscow of the Icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir. In the precincts of the monastery many persons were formerly both killed and buried, and it is reckoned that over 500 persons lie buried in the grounds. Much of the open-space of the grounds is now flower-gardens. The buildings of the monastery house the monks, book-stores (perhaps the largest ecclesiastical book-shops in Moscow) and an active seminary. There are other adjacent buildings which formerly belonged to the monastery as well, but they presently belong to others. In the crypt of the Temple, there is a shrine-chapel dedicated to the Shroud of Turin. Here, in this chapel, the brotherhood offers services for the departed every night. During this visit, we stopped twice, in different buildings, for tea with the Abbot, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov).

Sretensky Monastery

At noon, we returned to the hotel, and we walked to the Synod Building (on the Danilovsky Monastery territory) for our meeting with His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill. This building also serves as one of the official patriarchal residences. This meeting had 2 elements. The first element was a meeting of the 2 delegations in the throne/meeting room, where we sat face-à-face. The patriarch’s delegation included, among others, both Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), the new Head of the Department of External Church Relations, and Archpriest Nicholas Balashov, the new First Deputy Head of this DECR. There was a formal conversation between Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Jonah regarding the overall situation of the whole Orthodox Church in North America, and the rôle in it of The Orthodox Church in America. His Holiness took care to underline one more time the support that the Russian Orthodox Church continues to give regarding the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church in America. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah responded in terms which indicated that our Churches appear to be in many ways “on the same page”. He also emphasised that the 2 Churches have similar local missionary challenges, and that we might very well be able to help each other in this work. At the end of the lengthy conversation, there were photographs taken, and mutual award-presentations made. The second element was a dinner in the nearby formal refectory designed for this purpose, at which these conversations continued over food. We were given a generous amount of time, and there was no apparent hurry. Soon after the conclusion of this meeting, Metropolitan Jonah was again interviewed by reporters. This was followed by a rest-period in the hotel, and then supper. At this time, we parted company with Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, who would return to the USA soon. We then boarded the night-train to Saint Petersburg, which departed at 2340 hrs.

Danilovsky Monastery

On Wednesday, 29 April, we rose to be prepared for the arrival of the train in Saint Petersburg at 0830 hrs. The entourage was met by Ivan Nikolaevich Sudossa, Secretary of Metropolitan Vladimir of Saint Petersburg (who was away at the time). We were taken for breakfast to the Saint Petersburg Academy, adjacent to, and “behind” the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra, where we were greeted formally by the Rector of the Academy, Bishop Amvrosii, and staff and students. I also had the opportunity (all too briefly) to greet our Juliania Anatoliëvna Melnyk of Montréal, who is studying at the Academy, and to meet her fiancé, Vasilii Tsaritsyn (also a student there) and to bless them (they already had received the Rector of the Academy’s blessing to marry). I also met briefly Vyacheslav Rogoza, who formerly lived with his parents in Montréal. The parents are now in Kyiv. He was second-year student there. After being fed well, we were driven quickly to the Saints Peter & Paul Fortress, outside which a helicopter was awaiting us. At the place of departure, there was a greeting of Metropolitan Jonah with Paschal spiritual songs sung by a group of school-children, priests and teachers. We then flew to Valaam Monastery, which took a little over an hour. We landed on Saint Herman’s Field near the main monastery. There, we were greeted by the abbot (who is the Vicar-Abbot for Patriarch Kirill), Bishop Pankratii. We then were taken to the main monastery itself, where we left our baggage. This was followed by the formal greeting in the Lower Church of Saints Sergius & Herman, and a brief visit to the main, fully restored Church of the Transfiguration. At one time, this Temple was the largest in Russia. This was followed by dinner with Bishop Pankratii.

Valaam Monastery

We then began visiting 4 sketes without an interval : All Saints, Smolensk, Resurrection, Gethsemane. On my last visit, all these buildings were in very poor, or ruined condition, and now they are either fully restored and functioning, or they are nearly so. Bishop Pankratii indicated that the foundational, stable monastic population of the whole Valaam Archipelago at this time is about 120. He said that the monastery has many Representation Churches elsewhere (operated by monks), and that there are also always some monks absent for work, for study, or because of illness. One of the igumens, Father Seraphim, is a priest-monk I had met many years before at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Essex, UK. He is now leading a community of thirteen monks in one of the sketes. We returned quite late in the afternoon for Vigil. We had missed Vespers, but we participated in Matins for the Feast of Saint Alexander of Svir (†1533), a Wonder-working Abbot of another community on another island. After Matins, we adjourned for an evening meal with Bishop Pankratii, and we retired.

On Thursday morning, 30 April, we all went early to the Temple to prepare for the greeting of Metropolitan Jonah for the serving of the Divine Liturgy on this Feast Day of the Wonder-worker Saint Alexander of Svir. Metropolitan Jonah was greeted at 0830 hrs, and the Primatial Liturgy followed, served by the 3 bishops, with about 14 priests and 4 deacons. The monastic choir sang in its characteristic blend of Valaam Chant, Constantinopolitan Chant (imported there through Vatopedi, Mount Athos, with which the monastery has strong ties), and Obikhod. Very little of the usual Russian-style harmony is ever used, but rather the melody with an ison in the singing. After the Divine Liturgy, we ate with the brethren in the trapeza. The entourage then went to the harbour, where we boarded 2 hovercraft that took us over water (and the remaining patches of ice) to two of the 52 islands in this archipelago. The first was Holy Island. This is the site of the Saint Alexander of Svir Skete, which includes both the skete’s chapel (with housing), and also the Cave of Saint Alexander. It is he who is known for having been given a Vision of the Holy Trinity. The Saint’s Relics are not in this monastery now, but rather at the Monastery of Saint Alexander of Svir, at the south end of Lake Ladoga. These relics are incorrupt.

After this visit, we departed for Saint Elia’s Skete, on another nearby island. In this place, there is a remarkable log-built Temple in Karelian style, which was built using no metal nails at all, but only wooden pegs where necessary. There are other log-built quarters nearby, also. The log-built guest-house includes Canadian red cedar as panelling on the interior. On this island, and in many places in these parts (including Saint Petersburg), there was a blue flower blooming in profusion. It is amongst the earliest after the departure of the snow. Its name is petchonitsnitsya, a violet, and its appearance is something like the scilla that we have blooming in the spring at home. After long walks and talks, we re-boarded the hover-craft to return to the main island of Valaam, in time for tea. Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Pankratii adjourned to another skete for private conversations. After a rest period, there was supper (which never takes only fifteen minutes). During the supper, there was a lengthy reflection on the multitude of developments, repairs and reconstructions, which have occurred during the abbacy of Bishop Pankratii (whose civil profession had been that of architect).

On Friday, 1 May, we rose for breakfast, and for a continuation of the visitation. One visit was at the Skete of Saint Vladimir. This is a skete new to the monastery, established under the late Patriarch Aleksy II. Although new, its architecture is in “classical” style in appearance. Nearby are two official residences, one for the Patriarch, and one for the President of Russia. Returning to Valaam Monastery for dinner, and a visit to some chapels (one being of the Theotokos, where the Psalter is continuously read), we then flew by helicopter to Saint Petersburg. There, we were met by Bishop Amvrosii of the Academy, and by the administrative leadership of the metropolia, and we were taken quickly to the Saint John of Rila Women’s Monastery, to venerate the Relics of Saint John of Kronstadt, and to pray briefly in the Monastery Church. We were unable to stop long enough for tea, as we were quite behind time according to the agenda. Then we drove to the Smolensk Cemetery, where we first visited the Cemetery Church, and then the Chapel of Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg, where we venerated her relics. Metropolitan Jonah and Archimandrite Zacchaeus then left our group early, to fly back to Moscow. The remainder of the group drove instead to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra, where we venerated the Relics of Saint Alexander Nevsky, and visited the historic cemetery. We paid a particular visit to the grave of Metropolitan Nikodim, and to the Cemetery Church of Saint Nicholas. We then travelled to Saint Vladimir’s Sobor, where we prayed in this historic, now mostly-restored Temple, and we adjourned to the Parish House for a generous supper. At its conclusion, the group went to the railway station to board the night train for Moscow.

Saint John of Rila Women’s Monastery, the Relics of Saint John of Kronstadt

Chapel of Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg

Arriving early on Saturday morning, 2 May, the delegation went first to the Danilovsky Hotel. We then went quickly to Saint Catherine’s Church, where we served the Divine Liturgy. There were six bishops, including Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk and Bishop Zosima (Davidov) of Yakutsk, and also about fourteen priests and four deacons concelebrating. Later, Bishop Zosima repeated his previous invitation to me that I soon return to visit Yakutsk. Siberia has few visitors from abroad, and the faithful people there need encouragement. Yakutia was a major centre of Saint Innocent’s missionary activity. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, all walked to a nearby restaurant for a formal dinner. We then drove to the Saint Tikhon’s University, adjacent to the Church of Saint Nicholas, quite near to Saint Catherine’s Church. The rector of both the university and the church is the Mitred Archpriest Vladimir Vorobev. Here, we participated in the afternoon session of the “Third Annual Saint Innocent Readings”, a seminar devoted to Saint Innocent of Moscow’s life and missionary work. One of the faculty is a former student at Saint Vladimir’s in New York (now a professor), Dr. Alexander Dvorkin, who participated in the whole day’s events along with us. Another professor is Dr. Andrei B Efimov, who has friends in Canada, and who, like Dr. Dvorkin, is a long-time friend of our metropolitan. At the conclusion of this visit, following tea, we participated in the Vigil at Saint Nicholas’ Church. Departing quickly from there, we drove to the Church of the Theotokos where we met Archbishop Hilarion, who was in the midst of serving Matins. After an exchange of greetings, and venerating the local Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos, we departed for the hotel for supper, and rest.

Saint Catherine-in-the-Field Representation Church Moscow

Early on Sunday morning, 3 May, we arose and drove to the Kremlin in order to serve the Divine Liturgy together with Patriarch Kirill at the Cathedral of the Dormition there. The choir this day was from the Sretensky Monastery (by some considered currently to be the best men’s choir in the city). Following the Liturgy, there was the usual dinner in a nearby building, during which there were very warm and mutually supportive words repeatedly exchanged by Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Jonah. Our metropolitan seems to continue easily to establish new, warm connexions with those he encounters. Following this, there was a brief visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, in order to venerate the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir, which resides in the working Church of Saint Nicholas in this museum. From there, we went to the Pokrovsky Women’s Monastery, to venerate the Relics of Saint Matrona. After this, we were taken to the 2 main churches of this monastery to venerate the Holy Tables there. Then the nuns of the monastery gave us a brief dessert with tea. At the same time, many of the girls of the monastery’s orphanage recited and sang for us, and several played mandolin, guitar and electronic piano. It was a very moving experience. On the previous day, I had spoken with Father Arkady, who oversees the Saint Dmitri Hospital, the Nursing School, and also 4 orphanages. I first met him 13 years ago, in the early days of the first of these orphanages. He said that the great challenge that the orphans face is that they do not know how to love, and that this is quite understandable under the circumstances. The ecclesistical institutions give opportunities to orphans that the State cannot, or will not give. In State orphanages, children are released to the streets at the age of 16, with nothing. The ecclesiastical institutions try to see the children into adulthood, and to a healthy life. After departing from the monastery, we went to the Moscow River, where we were given a quiet period on a boat for about two hours.

Cathedral of the Dormition in Kremlin

We disembarked, and returned to the hotel for the usual farewell dinner with Archbishop Hilarion, Archimandrite Alexei, and others. It may be of interest to be aware that the warmth of the weather had continued through most of the week, albeit at slightly lower temperatures than at first, and the result was both a profusion of early spring flowers, and the appearance, over the course of one week (!) of green leaves on the trees. It is helpful to have it noted for the sake the context that, by-and-large, the Church does not yet actually “own” its own properties and buildings. They “rent” them from the State, because they are historic structures. This is probably not the case, however, with newly-built structures.

Very early on Monday morning, 4 May, I left for Canada, while the remainder of the delegation rose later, and after breakfast drove to the Epiphany Cathedral, where a Litya was offered by Metropolitan Jonah and the delegation for the recently-departed Patriarch Aleksy II, at his tomb. The delegation then made its departure from Moscow, accompanied to the aeroport by the representatives of the patriarchate. En route to home, during the long interval in Frankfurt am Main aeroport, yet another, unmistakeably providential event occurred : as I was sitting in a side waiting-area, working on a text, I was greeted by Archpriest Anatoliy and Matushka Irina Melnyk. They were on their way to Saint Petersburg for a week, to see their daughter, Juliania, and to meet their soon-to-be son-in-law and his mother. One cannot pre-arrange such things so that they actually happen (at least it doesn’t work for me) ! Someone else, for instance, had hoped to meet me in Moscow, and we had made a tentative plan, but it did not happen. This meeting did happen. Glory be to God for everything, and for His tender care for us all. This is evident on very many levels, and it is important that we recognise it, and give thanks always.

Visit to Norway 19 - 31 July 2009

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Visit to Norway
19-31 July, 2009


This year, in 2009, I had the blessing to visit my ageing relatives in Norway, along with the elder of my sisters and her husband. The last visit to these relatives had been about 13 years earlier. Since then, some first-cousins had already reposed, and other cousins are nearly 90 years of age. These persons are great-grandparents, and some are nearing the possibility of seeing yet another generation. It was a good thing to visit at this time, and I am glad that my sister had insisted, since I have no idea when, or if, I may have the blessing to visit again. Of course, I said I would return “as soon as possible”, but I had said this same thing thirteen years earlier, on my last visit. Life is unpredictable, financial resources are unpredictable, and we cannot know with certainty when this “as soon as possible” might actually be.

Much of my time was spent in talking with these very relatives, and with their children and grand-children, and this in an odd mixture of English, French, and three sorts of Norwegian. From this visit, there are some details which may be helpful to put in writing in order to share with others. These include the nature of the Orthodox Church in Norway, and the increase of the devotion to Saint Sunniva.

The last times I had visited Norway, the Orthodox Church had subsisted mostly in Oslo, with some very little activity in other parts of the country. At that time, any activity beyond Oslo stemmed from Saint Nicholas’ Church in that city (which began in the 1920s with Russian émigrés, who in time came under the “Paris Jurisdiction”, the Russian Diocese of Western Europe of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, currently under the archbishop in Paris, Gabriel (de Vylder)). There has been (for at least 30 years) a monastery about 1 ½ hour’s drive north of the city. This is the residence of the now Archimandrite Johannes (Johansen) and 2 other monks. Archimandrite Johannes has been the rector of Saint Nicholas’ Church in Oslo for all these years, and the monastery developed at the same time, while he commuted to serve the parish in the city. Somewhat more recently, there arrived in Norway a number of Greek-speakers. Eventually, they established a Greek parish in Oslo, which is under the omophor of the Metropolitan of Stockholm, Pavlos (Paul). Then there arrived a new Russian-speaking immigration, and also Serbs and Romanians, and more recently many Ethiopians, Eritreans and Copts. Regardless, all these more recently-arrived Orthodox communities had their beginning in, and from the Church of Saint Nicholas in Oslo.

From the time of the beginning of the service of Archimandrite Johannes (a graduate of the Institut Saint-Serge de Paris), the focus of this parish (and with it the monastery in Hurdal) has been to develop the use of the Norwegian language in worship and in publications, and to attempt to do some missionary work. This is particularly difficult in the Norwegian environment, which has been so much formed by the Lutheran State-Church. Nevertheless, there are now established communities in places such as Bergen, Stavanger (https://sites.google.com/site/heilageherman/) and other places, as is reported on the web-site of Saint Nicholas (see http://www.ortodoks.com/, and http://home.online.no/~thorosl/Kirkeside/ENsite.html, and also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodoxy_in_Norway). In the city of Oslo, there is now a parish established directly under Moscow, with its own set of missionary parishes throughout Norway (see http://www.russia.no/regional/, and https://www.ortodoks.no/). In Oslo, there may also be found a Serbian parish, a Romanian parish, a Bulgarian parish, and a Greek parish (http://www.greskorthodokskirke.no/), in addition to the original Church of Saint Nicholas (see also http://orthodoxwiki.org/List_of_parishes_in_Norway). In addition, there is an Oriental Orthodox community made up primarily of Ethiopians and Eritreans which has been recently established. All these churches are generally invisible to most Norwegians, especially in comparison with the increasingly numerous (and increasingly vocal) Muslim immigrants who have also arrived in the country. There are now many Norwegian converts to Islam, particularly amongst young women who marry Muslim men. There is a substantial immigration to Norway from Africa.

Our Saint Nicholas Church began in a house ; and then, as it grew, it continued in a basement of a Lutheran Church in western Oslo (which is where I first visited it in 1974). That basement church remains a part of this parish’s life. However since my last visit, the parish has also bought and taken over what used to be a grocery-store in eastern Oslo, in an area where more new immigrants live. When I arrived at this new Temple, I was surprised to see that it is just across the street from the apartment in which my recently-deceased cousins used to live. The shop has been converted very thoughtfully and well into a small, but visible, above-ground Temple. When we were visiting there this time, there was an absence of many parishioners, because July is the main vacation month in Norway. Nevertheless, there were still many in church, and the singing and serving were pleasant. Archbishop Gabriel of Paris had given the blessing that I serve there, which I did. It was the first time that I served completely in the Norwegian language. In addition to all this, I considered it a particular blessing to have been told that the principal icon of Christ on the iconostas has been giving myrrh regularly and continually for the past 10 years. Indeed, it was noticeable when I was there.

It is important to be aware that the decline of the Norwegian Lutheran Church (which has been well known-about in the past) has been accelerating. There are fewer and fewer clergy ; and it seems that very few people now attend church services, except at Christmas (Pascha is now mostly for skiing). This State-Church seems to have been reduced to being (for the most part) a socially-active entity that is disconnected from the people. One of the cousins (of contemporary age to me) lamented the fact that, although when she travelled abroad, she could, and did go into many Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and did light candles with praying, she could not do so anywhere in Norway. Her opinion was supported by another, somewhat younger cousin. Indeed, the churches in Norway are (as in North America) locked outside of service-times (except for the historic ones, for which there is a charge to enter, and a guide, but no candle-lighting). Norwegians are well-known for their social responsibility and for their concerns about promoting peace. All this is rooted in their Christian ancestry, but this major source is deliberately ignored in the context of humanism. I was rather saddened to be told that in my family’s village, a circuit priest comes every 3 weeks, and that only about 12 persons now attend services (except at Christmas). It seems that even some urban churches suffer the same shortage of clergy and of congregations. Some years ago now, the Swedish Lutheran Church disconnected itself from the government in Sweden, and it now lives from its own resources, rather than from the government subsidy through taxation. I have, myself, heard nothing about such a movement in Norway. However, the apparent paralysis of this church in Norway could, in my opinion, be in some way overcome (and some sort of renewal embraced) by doing something similar. Of course, it is easy to make such critical comments from the outside.

At the same time, in Vestland (the western fjord-district), in Nordfjord, I was told that there are now many Russian-speaking women immigrants who have married Norwegian men. Such a phenomenon could help to turn the tide. Russian women in general are known for bringing their husbands to the church. This particular fjord is certainly not at all a centre of vitality, but it is a rather remote, and somewhat struggling community. This remoteness has generally been the case (except in Viking and Hanseatic times) because it is still approached most easily by water. Roads are now more numerous, but the driving remains a challenge. By contrast to the Lutheran Church, the Roman Catholic Church (which has been small for a long time) is very noticeably growing. It seems that many Lutherans will recognise and accept their Roman Catholic historical background (which is generally popularised in writings and education), in comparison with their more unknown historical connexion with Rus’ (although this is very clearly addressed in the sagas). Indeed, it was the Rus’ connexion that gave Christianity permanent roots in Norway, not the British one (as is so often wrongly repeated). One of the signs of this (apart from Constantinopolitan iconographic styles in early murals and in some architecture) is the fact that clerical celibacy as required by Rome was never able to be established in Norway before the Reformation. Of course, afterwards, there was no such requirement.

Another detail not discussed directly by my relatives is the activity of the Pentecostals, who are visibly present in their various halls. As I understand it, they had their beginnings in Norway over a century ago. It is no wonder to me that other alternatives are being tried, or that people have withdrawn into themselves, since so many complain about the Calvinistic disposition of many Lutherans in Norway. Amongst those who are active as Lutherans, the tendency is to be pessimistic and negative about human behaviours, and to be living in an atmosphere of guilt and of condemnation. There is very clearly a disposition, as in North America, of a “consumer-style” approach to the Church. The lack of any sense of “absolute Truth”, and the current, prevalent egocentric relativism contributes greatly. Further, it has been interesting to see how (as in other places), when there is an abandoning of the traditional Christian way of life, and an abandoning of the importance of the worship of the Lord, there immediately arrives superstition to take its place. Ironically, fear is a noticeable element in Calvinistic attitudes, and people substitute this with superstition and pagan ideas which carry even more fear. There is in Norway, also, some sort of pagan revival, with nostalgia for the so-called “good old days”. Regardless of all these comments, and although all is very slow-moving (not so different from Canada), there are many Norwegians who have an appreciation for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy presents hope.

Saint Sunniva, the Virgin-Martyr of Selja Island with her companions (who died in about 960), has now become quite popular in Norway. During my last visit, she had begun to be better known, although the Nordfjordites had always been aware of her. The spring/well at the monastery ruins, for instance, has been known for a long time to be beneficial, and healing. The water is very fresh, cool and also aromatic. However, because of Lutheran resistance to saints, there grew up instead a superstitious attitude towards this spring (in part, I suppose, to protect it). Now, people are told that if one kneels to drink, and takes the water to the mouth in the right hand, and also washes the face with the right hand, then one will become younger ! We made a pilgrimage to this island during this visit to Nordfjord, thanks to one of our older cousins. She was really glad to be able to go. Even from halfway down the fjord (as is our family’s village of Stårheim), it takes at least an hour to drive to the town of Selje, over the new and improved roads, and thence by a small boat for 15 minutes to the island. The remains of the Benedictine monastery that grew up in the 11th century near Saint Sunniva’s cave are still quite visible. In part, they are being restored. The steps up to the cave are many, and very difficult to manoeuvre. There is now an icon of Christ at the place where Saint Sunniva’s uncorrupt body was found, and where it rested for more than a century. There are now annual pilgrimages for the Feast-day on 8 July (both Roman Catholic and Orthodox), and there are cultural festivals associated with Saint Sunniva. Her name and image are now associated with the county of Selje, and her name has also become rather commercialised, being found as a brand-name on soaps and fruit-juices.

We made a pilgrimage with one cousin to the Skete of Saint Trifon (of Pechenga), some 90 km north from Oslo, which is also the residence of Archimandrite Johannes (Johansen). He is also Dean of Scandinavia for the Archdiocese of Western Europe, under Archbishop Gabriel. This skete is situated in a remote area of Hurdal, amongst hills and forests not unlike either Trans-Carpathia or Bukovinian Romania. It was previously situated in an even more remote area. However, about 10 years previously, the skete moved to the present site, easily accessible from a not-busy highway. The main building is a former school, which accommodates the small community very well. Nearby is a small log-built chapel to Saint Seraphim of Sarov, built in a rural Norwegian style. Almost completed is a stone-construction Temple near the entrance, and close to the main building. Everything is built with ecology in mind (and recycling as well). The style of this Temple is a near-copy of a Temple in Kosovo, and it is purposely built to be visibly “in solidarity” with the Serbian Church there. The monastery is the supporter and source of the main missionary and publishing work in Norway. From here, also, is served annually the small chapel in Neiden, North Norway, which was built by Saint Trifon of Pechenga (Petsamo) about 500 years ago. The conversation with Archimandrite Johannes (whom I have known since 1980) was very frank in terms of the similar sense of missionary purpose that we share as North Americans, and as Norwegians.

Saint Sunniva and her Companions, of Selja, Norway

Saint Sunniva is a Virgin-Martyr († ca. 960) in Norway. She was an Irish princess, a Christian, who was to inherit her father’s kingdom. However, at that time, there arrived the conquering Vikings, whose chieftain was insisting on marrying Sunniva. She had, by this time, determined not to marry, and to devote her life to Christ. Therefore, she refused his offer both for this reason, and also because he was a pagan. She, her siblings, and others with them entrusted themselves to the Lord, and set themselves adrift on the Irish Sea, without either sails or oars (they were not the first of that area to have done such a thing). In due time, the boats landed on two islands on the west coast of Norway. Saint Sunniva and her companions arrived at Selja, at the western end of Nordfjord, and one of her sisters, and her companions landed on the island of Kinn, farther south, near Florø. They all settled as well as they could. There were some arable areas on the islands, but there were also resident sheep belonging to a local jarl (earl). When it was discovered by the earl’s shepherds that some sheep were missing, it was the new-comers who were blamed. People on the mainland had a mistrust of the newly arrived, and they accused them of stealing sheep. The pagan population came against them with sword and fire, but then a storm blew in. Then the local pagan leader, the Earl Håkon sent people to kill them. Saint Sunniva and her companions, knowing that the earl’s people were on their way to confront them, retreated to a cave on higher ground, and they prayed that the Lord would protect them from being killed by the earl. Rocks came rolling down from the higher slopes, and covered the mouth of the cave. The earl then could not find anyone, so he left. After that, many strange things seemed to be appearing on the island.

According to some sources, we know the name of Sunniva’s siblings — her brother Saint Alban, and her sisters, Saints Borni and Marita, all of whom are commemorated amongst the saints. These companion Irish refugees, who went ashore on other boats which landed on the island of Kinn (where they remained), probably lived their lives just as did Saint Sunniva and her companions on Selja. They lived an isolated ascetical life on the spot, much as did Celtic hermits on various other islands in the Atlantic, including on Iceland and Greenland. They lived thus until they died a natural death. They are nevertheless treated as martyrs.

In 996, according to the saga, Saint Olaf Trygvasson (by now the King of Norway) was told that there was a bright light coming from the island. This was told by 2 farmers from Firda County, his subjects Tord Eigileivsson and Tord Jorunsson, who had sailed past the island on their way to Trondheim, and had seen it. The light over the island was so great that they anchored at the island. They then found a white, fragrant skull, and some other sweet-smelling bones near a rock-fall. They continued the trip to Trondheim, where they met with King Olaf Trygvasson and Bishop Sigurd. The king and bishop believed that the skull had to be a relic, so they sailed south to Selja. In the cave that they excavated, they found Saint Sunniva, whose body was whole (that is, uncorrupt), and even looked as if she were sleeping. Together with her, they found many skeletons that exuded the same scent as the skull. The bones were gathered together and placed in a box, and then placed in a coffin that was constructed for the body of the Holy Sunniva. Saint Olaf is reported to have stopped to pray in the cave-chapel on his way to and from England, when he was attempting to bring Christianity to Norway the first time. This mission did not succeed. It was only after his retreat to Kyiv, and his marriage to the daughter of his cousin Yaroslav the Wise, Anna, that the mission succeeded in Norway.

Soon, Benedictines from England settled on Selja, and built a monastery which they consecrated to Saint Alban (who, according to one version of the saga, was Sunniva’s brother). Judging by the archaeological excavations around the monastery, there was a school for boys there. There is evidence that already in the period before the Reformation, the monastery was affected by both fire and epidemics. Soon also, there were built five Temples on this island. Not long after this, Selja was established as an Episcopal See, along with Trondheim, for purposes of rooting the mission in Norway. There is also, close to the monastery walls, a well (or rather, a spring), whose waters are cool, fragrant and healing. In 1170, the Episcopal See was moved to Bergen. Saint Sunniva’s body was transferred to the Church of Christ the Saviour in Bergen, and placed in the Sanctuary. This was on 31 August, 1170, which is the second feast-day of Saint Sunniva, the day of the translation of her relics.

During the fires in Bergen in 1170-1171 and in 1198, the remains of Saint Sunniva were taken from the Church of Christ, and set down by Sandbru. This reportedly halted the advance of the fire, and it was hailed as a miracle.

In about 1170, the story of Saint Sunniva the Martyr was written down in a Latin hagiographic work entitled Acta sanctorum in Selio.

In this particular area of west Norway, there is a long-standing interchange between the Norse and Gælic cultures, and there are mutually connected linguistic influences which are quite detectable. Besides fishing, both groups of peoples have been active in business and trading over the North Sea waters. There are also very many inter-marriages between Norway and Scotland in particular. MacDonald is not an unfamiliar surname in western Norway.

Pilgrimage in Ukraine 20 November - 1 December 2009

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
20 November - 1 December, 2009


Because of the recent Visit and Progress across Canada of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv, it was necessary to make a personal, private, and unofficial visit to the Ukrainian Church, in order to express gratitude for this blessing. The occasion for this visit coincided with a celebration of the birth-day of Metropolitan Volodymyr. Therefore, the Archpriest Oleg Kirillov (Dean of Ontario), the Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko (Episcopal Secretary) and I departed Ottawa on the evening of Friday, 20 November, and we all arrived in Kyiv via Frankfurt just after mid-day on Saturday, 21 November.

We were met at the Borispil Aeroport by the Archpriest Nicholas Danylevych, who brought us by van to the Kyiv Pecherskaya (Caves) Lavra. Protodeacon Nazari and I stayed at the Lavra, and Archpriest Oleg Kirillov stayed at a nearby hotel. After un-packing and settling, there was an orientation lunch at the metropolitanate, followed by some free time. In the evening, there was a formal, private meeting with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Volodymyr at his office. We presented some gifts from Canada, and we immediately came to the point of this visit : we expressed our gratitude that the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv had been blessed to visit Canada recently. This was followed by some conversation about the good effects of the recent Visit of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv. His Beatitude indicated that similar experiences of healings, and of repentance on the part of many, were evident when the Icon visited Moscow, and then various parts of Ukraine. This was during the period of celebrating the 450th anniversary of the arrival of this icon in Pochaiv. This meeting was followed by supper with His Beatitude, and the close of the day’s programme.

On Sunday, 22 November, the Primatial Divine Liturgy was concelebrated by Metropolitan Volodymyr, Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa, Bishop Alexander of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy, and me, beginning with the greeting of the metropolitan at 0900 hrs. We served in the Church of All Saints, which is some distance to the west of the Lavra. A log-built Temple, it is adjacent to the site of the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, which is to be built over the next several years. Holy Resurrection Cathedral is to be constructed in Ukrainian style, and it will be very large. During the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Volodymyr requested that I ordain a deacon, which was done. Such ordinations by guests are not uncommon, since they “cement relations” between our Churches. After the Liturgy, we toured the already-constructed Press-centre.

Then, after dinner at the old metropolitanate, our group went to visit the new Monastery of the Annunciation in eastern Kyiv, which is under the leadership of Archimandrite Varlaam. There is already considerable development in the construction of this monastery, which is intended to have two different, but proximate sites : one for men, and one for women. This monastery now gives witness for Christ in a newer area of Kyiv, where there are few other Temples. The monastery is blessed with the presence of many relics, and a Wonder-working Copy (spisok) of the Icon of the Theotokos of Tinos (Greece). It was pointed out that in the Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr (which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate), one can see and venerate the Relics of the Great Martyr Barbara, and of Saint Macarii, Metropolitan of Kyiv. Afterwards, we returned to the Lavra for the evening.

In the early evening, there was offered a dinner with Metropolitan Volodymyr in the Formal Trapeza of the Residence. This was in traditional style, with, of course, singing both of the Many Years, and of folk-songs. Later in the meal, Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) arrived from Moscow. He had just returned from China, and he gave to the bishops (with others present) a summary of his recent visit there, and of the attempts to enable the re-establishment of the Orthodox Church in China in a legal manner. He noted that the Roman Catholic Church has such a status. Until now, China does not permit a legal ordination of Chinese Orthodox priests, because the Chinese-born candidates would be ordained abroad by foreign clergy. The whole meal, with its toasts and speeches, concerned itself with the fatherly example and leadership of Metropolitan Volodymyr. Even those who see and point out that sometimes mistakes occur, are ready to praise his overall leadership and his personal example. Some suggest that our dependence upon such personalities is a sign of weakness amongst us Orthodox. However, others would counter that the supposed weakness is compensated for by the sincere love of and for the actual leaders, and that we are concerned not with mere principles and abstract philosophical ideas.

On Monday, 23 November, there was a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Volodymyr in the Trapeznaya Temple of the Kyiv Caves Lavra. The title of this Temple shows us that a century ago, when the monastery had a very large monastic population, it was in this Temple that the daily meals of the brotherhood were taken. The reason for serving on this day was to celebrate the 74th birthday of Metropolitan Volodymyr. It began with the greeting of the metropolitan at 0900 hrs, as usual. Most of the Holy Synod of Ukraine were present, with the addition of Archbishop Hilarion and me. It was Archbishop Hilarion who gave the homily on this occasion. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, we were able to give His Beatitude the Canadian Archdiocesan Medal-and-Award of Saint Tikhon. Because Metropolitan Voldymyr is a collector of writings by and about Taras Shevchenko, we presented to him two copies of his works, published in Ukrainian in Canada in 1952.

After taking dinner briefly at the brotherhood trapeza, we drove again to the site of the future Holy Resurrection Cathedral. With the serving of a moleben, Metropolitan Volodymyr blessed the Press-centre, and this before the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv, which had been brought there by Archbishop Vladimir. It was a blessing once again to be able to venerate this holy icon. There were present in this hall many displays by local ecclesiastical artisans. There was then offered a programme of entertainment by children and youths. During this programme, His Beatitude sat to one side, and people took the opportunity to approach him, to take the blessing, and to be photographed with him. He is much beloved. In discussing the site with Metropolitan Onouphry and Archbishop Mark, I understood that the government had made a public demonstration of giving the property to the Church. However, the property is in an industrial area, with only a small resident population nearby ; and the Kyiv government is also demanding US $2,000,000.00 from the Church for the clearance of the scrub-trees on this land. The Church in Ukraine faces many challenges.

After returning to the Lavra for a short time, we were driven to a concert-hall in the city, where a performance of Archbishop Hilarion’s Oratorio, The Passion According to Matthew was given in honour of Metropolitan Volodymyr. It was also the first performance of this work in Ukraine. At the end, Archbishop Hilarion’s work received strong applause, and he was quickly surrounded by many of the audience. Beyond my own favourable reaction to the oratorio as music (which includes many liturgical melodic references), I am additionally impressed by its presentation, because I can see how this music can be a vehicle for basic catechesis as well. The oratorio presents the Passion of Christ with both Scriptural and liturgical texts, and it includes a meditation on the events. The style reminds one of Bach to some extent. After this, there was again time to eat, and then it was time to retire.

On Tuesday, 24 November, I was not able to do anything active for some hours, because I had awoken with a badly irritated (allergic) eye. The condition improved significantly later on, when Protodeacon Nazari found some anti-allergic eye-drops at a nearby pharmacy. The day offered the others an opportunity to visit in the Lavra, and to attend to necessary matters. After dinner at the brotherhood trapeza, and being invited by several bishops to visit their dioceses, we began preparations for departure. However, on this day, there was a Seasonal Session of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the ending time was not able to be predicted. Therefore, we talked and we prepared, and then we waited at the metropolitanate for the ending of the session, and for Metropolitan Onouphry to be ready. Because there were elections of bishops on this day, there was extra time required, and it passed into supper-time. Therefore, the nuns offered us a meal in the general dining-room for daily use by staff and visitors to the Metropolitan’s Residence. Upon the completion of the Session (at 1800 hrs), we had the opportunity to speak, in the central entrance, with Metropolitan Onouphry, Archbishop Mark, and then with Archbishop Hilarion, as he entered to speak with Metropolitan Volodymyr. After the talking, we began our departure by car westwards towards Chernivtsi, and in due course we managed to pass through the full Kyiv rush-hour. We arrived finally in Chernivtsi at 0230 hrs, and we were able to sleep for some time after that. Father Oleg Kirillov and I stayed at the metropolitanate, and Protodeacon Nazari stayed with his family.

On Wednesday, 25 November, we arose, and ate brunch together later in the morning. After no little amount of talking, we went our separate ways : Metropolitan Onouphry to his office-work, Father Oleg Kirillov for a tour of the city (guided by another Priest Oleg), and Protodeacon Nazari and I on a visit to several cottage-industry vestment-making enterprises in the area. What is significant about each of these enterprises is that the women who are directing the businesses are also employing many local young women to work (and at an acceptable rate of income). This helps them remain in their home villages, and saves them from the temptation to leave for the West instead (and likely to a very degraded way of life there). At the end of all these rounds, we met again at the metropolitanate trapeza for supper, followed by a reasonably early retiring. It is useful to understand that there is a rather large Romanian-speaking population in the Diocese of Chernivtsi. It is also a fact that this diocese has managed to care for the Romanian-speakers pastorally, and that both bishops are able to speak well in Romanian. The parts of Bukovina that are in Ukraine and in Romania are the ancestral homeland of many of our Orthodox Canadians.

On Thursday, 26 November, there was an early departure at 0700 hrs, for the Divine Liturgy in Kelmentsi, a Bassarabian town, 160 km distant from Chernivtsi. From there, it is only 15 km to the Moldovan border. This day was the Feast of Saint John Chrysostom (O.S.), and in this county seat there had been an extensive renovation to the Temple of Saint Michael. The Temple itself is not very big, but it accommodated several hundred persons on that day. There were rather more standing outside, as well. It was a blessing that the sun was shining at all times. Before the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Onouphry and I did the prayers of re-blessing of the Temple, with sprinkling with Holy Water. The Divine Liturgy was served by the two bishops, and about thirty priests, including the local dean. The singing was led by a small choir from Chernivtsi that accompanied the metropolitan, and Metropolitan Onouphry’s Protodeacon Vyacheslav was the only deacon serving this day. The people were very glad to receive not only the blessing of Holy Water, but also icon-prints from Mount Athos, and anointing with blessed oil. Food was also provided out-of-doors to all that came. After a pleasant dinner for the visitors in the adjacent hall, we returned to Chernivtsi.

After a two-hour pause (including some errands), we departed for another village, to the west of Chernivtsi. It was Bishop Miletii who drove us to the home of another dean, Vasili, and his Matushka Maria (who was celebrating an anniversary). I was told that this village is only 35 km from Putna Monastery in Romania. It seems that the border is now easily passable, in both directions. We spent several hours over supper at this home, with 5 local priests in attendance, and we discussed many aspects of Church life. This discussion included the comparison of the relationship between Church-and-State in both Ukraine and Canada. After much of such talk, we finally adjourned, with the customary lengthy “Russian good-bye”, and we set off for Chernivtsy. We arrived quite late at the metropolitanate.

On Friday, 27 November, we took an early breakfast, and we departed by mini-van for the Pochaiv Monastery of the Dormition. It takes a long time to travel this (to Canadians) short distance, because there are no express-ways ; there are many villages, and there is only the one highway, with only two lanes. As we travelled, we were told that every year, for the Feast of the Nativity of the Fore-runner, Metropolitan Onouphry leads a Cross-procession from Chernivtsi to the Kreshchatik Monastery, which is 40 km north of the city. Between 10 and 15 thousand people participate every year. They depart at 0600 hrs, and arrive at about 2200 hrs on the same day. I was reminded also that there are many people who, for one or another feast, will walk all the way to Pochaiv. We arrived in Pochaiv at noon, and we were greeted by the dean and his assistant. Archbishop Vladimir was still in Kyiv. We made our reverences to the main Relics of the Monastery : the Original Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos ; the Imprint of the Footstep of the Theotokos (and we drank the water that has risen from this Step for more than 800 years) ; and we venerated the Relics of Saints Job and Amphilochii of Pochaiv. It continues to imprint itself on my heart that the Holy Hand and Head of Saint Job are still warm after 300 years of resting in the reliquary, at the entrance to his former cave-residence. It was pointed out to us that this Lower-Church (beside which is this cave), and the halls leading to it, are so damp that the art-work on the walls must be renewed every 30-40 years.

After this, we were given lunch with the dean in the abbot’s quarters. The conversation included many reflections on the recent visit of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos to Canada. We also took this opportunity to present the Canadian Gramota with the Medal-and-Award of Saint Tikhon of Moscow to be given in absentia to Archbishop Vladimir on his return. After this, we were given a general tour of the monastery, with a historical explanation of the situation of the various Holy Relics and persons. This took some time, and it included a visit to the Holy Trinity Sobor, which was built by the then Abbot Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who was followed immediately by Abbot Evlogy (Georgievsky). Both these abbots were, later, bishops in post-revolutionary Western Europe. Because the Archdiocese of Canada had decided to give to the main hosting parishes a spisok (being a copy blessed by being touched to the original icon) of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv, which we that day purchased, we had to wait for the completion of the blessing (with touching to the original), and the wrapping of these icons for travel. We also had the opportunity briefly to encounter and to greet the Hieromonk Gabriel and the Monk Ioann, who had accompanied the Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv on its Progress across Canada. Thus, in the early evening, we left for Chernivtsi, where we arrived at 2130 hrs, and we were greeted by Metropolitan Onouphry with supper. Then we retired.

On Saturday, 28 November, we rose, and took breakfast at 0900 hrs. Others stayed in Chernivtsi, but Father Oleg drove me to Boian to venerate the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos in that village. This Myrrh-giving Icon began to do so during the times of communism, when there was strong pressure against the Church. Once the myrrh began to come, the former parish Temple became a monastery. Now, it is served by a Sisterhood of 140 women, many of whom also fulfil their obedience by doing work in an orphanage, which we also then visited. Father Oleg, the driver, explained that this monastery in Boian, about 25 km from Chernivtsi, is also a destination for an annual Cross-procession with the metropolitan.

The orphanage to which we drove is a part of the men’s monastery of 90 monks near to the village of Bancheni. Archimandrite Longin had established the monastery about 15 years previously, and the orphanage about 12 years ago. They all at present care for 250 children from all parts of Ukraine, from infants to those in early adulthood. The very neat and clean modern quarters house several children per room, and each nun cares for up to seven children. The male monks share in the work, but in a different manner. The education of the children is for the most part seen to on the premises, and everything is new and up-to-date. The atmosphere is clearly that of a family, despite the large numbers. The children call all the male monks tato (papa), and the female monks “mama”, and there is visible peace and joy, and very normal behaviour amongst them. A few of the children have visible physical or mental disabilities. Some are suffering the consequences of being children of addicts. There is on-the-spot medical supervision, as I saw. All the resources are provided by the monks, nuns, and private supporters of the orphanage. This is all in stark contrast to the State-run orphanages (called Internat) which I have seen elsewhere. It is still these State-run orphanages that send the children to the streets at age 16. Any Church-connected orphanage tries to keep the children until such a time that the children are able to look after themselves. This particular orphanage is yet different from these others. Archimandrite Longin has legally adopted all the children, so as to offer them all life-long protection and support. As a result of this work, Father Longin has been given by the President of Ukraine the Medal “Hero of Ukraine”, and a DVD has been produced in association with this recognition.

I visited the monastery itself, which is in an active building programme. A new, very large Temple of many altars is being constructed outside the monastic enclosure. Its style and size remind one of the Ouspensky Sobor of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra near Moscow. Its walls are all constructed, and it is roofed, but there is stuccoing yet to be applied, and the interior to be completed. It seems that the work is being done primarily by the brothers of the monastery themselves. There is, as well, a nearby guest-house that is half-constructed. The monks work hard, and pray hard. There are 5 Divine Liturgies served every day in different parts of the monastery, at several different times, and the Psalter is read continuously in an underground cave off a tunnel that connects 2 of the Temples. There is also a skete at a distance, in which place a few monks live in a very strict athonite manner. The 200 hectares of land are also worked by the brothers, and sometimes assisted by the children and nuns (such as at planting and harvest times). After this visit, we returned to Chernivtsi for a brief interval before Vigil at the Holy Spirit Cathedral. This was served by 3 bishops, 11 priests, 4 deacons and 3 choirs. The cathedral was quite full, and there was a very large number of children. Serving and singing are taken very seriously. Services are also offered polylingually in Slavonic, Russo-Ukrainian, and Romanian. After Vigil, we were given supper, and then we retired for the night.

On Sunday, 29 November, we departed for the cathedral to serve the Divine Liturgy at 0930 hrs. The Divine Liturgy was sung by 2 choirs, and served by 3 deacons, 11 priests and 2 bishops. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, there was the customary exchange of public comments from each bishop. I expressed our gratitude to Metropolitan Onouphry for his part in enabling the Wonder-working Pochaiv Icon of the Theotokos to travel to Canada, by giving him the Canadian Archdiocesan Medal-and-Award of Saint Tikhon. After the Divine Liturgy, we spent some time with the parents of Protodeacon Nazari, and then we packed bags. Afterwards, we drove to visit the Monastery of Saint Anne (Anina Gora) for supper. We arrived at this monastery, which is situated on a high hill that overlooks level grounds and fields in all directions (much as at Pochaiv). However, before doing anything else, we visited the Temple, venerated the Holy Table and the Holy Relics, and then we greeted all the male and female monks present. Some 15 years ago, the Abbess Nonna made her beginning here on this hill-top by digging a cave in the hill-side, in which she first lived. Then a few other nuns joined her there. Now, there are some substantial buildings, and a partly-finished log-constructed residence for retired clergy. Then we went to the residence of the monks, where we were served supper. At this supper I also gave a gramota to Bishop Miletii to express gratitude for his contributions regarding the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv. The supper was a “classical” parting supper, in some ways. The various conversations reflected on the recent events, and other current situations. There was singing of many liturgical and spiritual hymns. After much eating, and much talking, and the usual lengthy “Russian good-bye”, we returned to Chernivtsi.

On Monday, 30 November, we rose, prepared for departure, and gathered with Metropolitan Onouphry for the last time to take breakfast together. We made our departure as Vladyka was about to begin a Diocesan Assembly, and we drove for about 7 hours until we reached Zhytomyr, where we visited first the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. In the cathedral is a very old icon of Saint Basil the Great. It is said that Saint Volodymyr (Vladimir) the Great, Prince of Kyiv, received it from Constantinople after he converted Kyivan Rus’. It was claimed that the cathedral is the largest Temple in Ukraine, but it is probably only fifth-largest. Zhytomyr was once the main centre to the west of Kyiv, covering an area (before the Bolshevik Revolution) that now encompasses 5 neighbouring dioceses. Father Kirillov commented that this cathedral is in similar style to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris (rue Daru), but in a much larger version. Next to the cathedral is the former episcopal residence, which has not been repaired beyond its façade, because of the great expense. (Zhytomyr was formerly a very strongly communist centre, and the recovery from that is very slow.) The personal and fiscal resources of the diocese are still very limited. We then drove to the enclosure of the Bishop’s Sobor, which is an average-sized Temple. This enclosure (which includes several office-buildings) is where we were greeted by Archbishop Gurii of Zhytomyr. This was followed by a short tea-time in his residence (it was brief because of the shortness of our time). Despite the brevity, the visit was nevertheless very pleasant, and Archbishop Gurii expressed his hope that he could sometime visit Canada, since he has never been away from Europe. Archbishop Gurii is head of the Youth Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He is also one of the adjudicators of theses of those graduating from the Kyiv Academy. After this visit, we continued on for more than 2 hours, until we reached Kyiv. Father Kirillov was deposited at his hotel, and Protodeacon Nazari and I went to the Kyiv Caves Lavra, where we spent the night (as did our driver, who returned to Chernivtsi at 0530 hrs).

On Tuesday, 1 December, we rose, and prepared for our final departure. At 1000 hrs, we visited Metropolitan Volodymyr to say good-bye, and then stopped in at the Office of External Affairs of the metropolitanate, and of the Archpriest Nicholas Danylevych therein. We were then given a quick and light lunch, and taken to the aeroport. Arrival in Ottawa (by way of Frankfurt and Toronto) was at a very late hour.

From this visit, it was clearer to me than ever before that such visits are important for us all, Ukrainians and Canadians. Letters, e-mails and good wishes are not enough. It is a fact that we Orthodox are part of a large family, and such families require personal contact.

On departure, Metropolitan Volodymyr asked me when I was coming again. I replied that it was my hope, with God’s blessing, to return with pilgrims in the second half of August of the next year.

Pilgrimage to the Exarchate of Mexico (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage to the Exarchate of Mexico
30 May - 6 June, 2008


For a week (ending in the Feast of the Ascension), a group of four from Canada travelled to Mexico City, for the purpose of visiting our brother, Bishop Alejo, and the Exarchate of Mexico, in the manner of a pilgrimage. Bishop Alejo had for some time been extending the invitation to do this. With God’s blessing, it became possible at last.

The first day, Friday, 30 May, was taken up in travelling. The three other members of the Canadian “delegation” (the Chancellor, Archpriest Dennis Pihach from Edmonton, Subdeacon Daniel Boerio from Ottawa, and Reader Mark Petasky from Edmonton) made a rendez-vous with me in the Toronto aeroport. In due course, we arrived in the City of Mexico, and we were greeted by Bishop Alejo, some of his clergy, and a representative of the Department of Religious Associations of the Republic of Mexico. After having passed through the usual other immigration matters (visa and passport-checks), we were driven to our hotel, in the centre of the City of Mexico. It was very near the historic main square (plaza), which includes the Presidential Palace, and the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral. It proved to be a very lively centre, with Aztec dancers, and other performances and military manoeuvers daily. Later, the Archpriest Ernesto Rios arrived from Florida. He was a class-mate from seminary, and we had not been able to meet like this since graduation almost 30 years ago. Padre (father) Ernesto and his wife, Madre (mother) Martha, are frequently visiting Mexico and supporting the missionary work of the diocese. They are both Puerto Ricans. By the end of this day, there was time only for conversation, and supper. We soon understood that, apart from our recent metropolitans, and Archbishop Dmitri (who was for a long time the “exarch”), this was the first visit of any other OCA bishop to Mexico since about 1980.

On Saturday, 31 May, after breakfast, we walked with Bishop Alejo to the Plaza (Square), and toured the Metropolitan Cathedral. A guide was arranged, and he explained the history of this building. He told us how it had been built (just as other nearby buildings) on land which had been brought in to fill in a lake and canals, and how the foundation of the cathedral continues to shift in various ways. The guide told us that the building could, under certain circumstances, collapse. It has, nevertheless, stood for a few hundred years. We were also told that it had been built on the ruins of a temple of an Aztec god — in fact, the god of death. Regardless, the Aztecs seem to have known how to establish firm foundations in this watery area, since the more recent constructions are tending to subside, whereas Aztec foundations remain stable. The guide gave a pleasant overview of the Spanish, and post-Spanish history. The many, and large bells of the cathedral are fixed (rather than swinging), and they sound very much like bells that one might hear in Russia.

After this tour, we walked around the corner, as it were, to the uncovered ruins of the Templo Mayor of the Aztecs. These were discovered in an archaeological dig over 30 years ago, and one of the archaeologists of this dig was our guide on these grounds, and in the adjoining museum. At this site, there was on display a plan of the Aztec city of Mexico, with its various temples. We were given a thorough lecture about the history of the Aztecs, their influence unto the present, including rediscovered medicines, astronomical, and mathematical information, and philosophical perceptions. In fact, like the Incas, the Aztecs seem to have been primarily philosophers. The archaeologist was also interesting, because she was such a forthright personality. She claimed Aztec ancestry, and she spoke with an interesting mix of allusions to Aztec mythology, Christian-Roman Catholic perceptions, and some reference to Mormon-British Israel ideas about the migrations of the twelve tribes of Israel. In this context, there appeared an incongruity, in that the Aztec temples were oriented, whereas the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral (built 400 years ago) faces south — at a time when it was rare to find any Christian Temple which did not have its Altar at the east end. This guide showed us in a photo that she was one of the archaeologists who discovered this temple complex. She further pointed out (in photos) how the stability of this temple complex makes it appear to rise, so that it appears to be several metres higher than it was 30 years ago. We were informed by a cathedralite that most of the city is subsiding at the rate of 10 cm per year.

After this educational and detailed tour, we travelled to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and to the Teatro Nacional. Much of the art collection was unavailable for viewing, because of changing displays. We nevertheless spent a good amount of time touring this structure of “ecclectic architecture”, which was begun in 1904, and completed only in 1934, because of war-interruptions. These 3 tours were very long, and this led us to dinner time in a fish restaurant. After eating, instead of taking the siesta, we went to an area of the city which still preserves the old water-way combination of rivers and canals. On this, there is a very popular provision of barge-like, covered boats that are moved by a person, usually a youth, pushing a pole. The traffic on this network was active on this day, but we were told that it was not at all as busy as it is of a Sunday. People are often singing, reciting poetry and talking, and there are exchanges of at least waves between the passing vessels. This trip took longer than expected, because of the apparent slowness of our pilot, and because a thunder-storm passed over us at the same time, whose winds made it difficult to move the barge at all. This meant that we missed Vespers, so we returned to our hotel to take a snack, and to retire early. The Mexicans are, in general, delighted with their principal city, and of their history, and they are glad to share it. In fact, this city has always been the centre of Mexican life, even since the times of the Aztecs. We all were very impressed with how clean such a large city is, how efficiently it seems to run, and how little very visible poverty there is (we did know that the poverty does exist, however). It is very different, say, from Cairo in Egypt, where the poverty is very visible. A further detail became clear from the start : one cannot assume that anyone speaks English, or has the confidence to do so. One occasionally finds an English-speaker ; but even in a hotel or in a restaurant, it is better to be a Spanish-speaker, or to be accompanied by one.

On Sunday, 1 June, we left the hotel at 0900 hrs for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the Annunciation Cathedral. The Divine Liturgy was very pleasantly served, more or less in the style of the Diocese of the South (the Spanish translation of the service-texts is that of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas). The servers seemed to know reasonably well what to do, and when to do it ; and they were appropriately attentive, so the Divine Liturgy flowed well. The service was well-attended, and well-sung, in Spanish. Bishop Alejo and I served, together with six priests, and two deacons. Afterwards, there were many photographs taken. This was followed by conversations over lunch, which was taken in the newly-constructed library, above which are also newly-constructed monastic cells. This library was constructed with the long-promised money that had finally been sent from the Central Administration of the OCA. Following lunch, Bishop Alejo crossed over to the neighbouring park, in order to bless a three-bar Cross that had been erected there some time previously. He also showed us where, and how further extensions are in preparation for construction at the cathedral itself, in order to provide more housing and classrooms, in addition to the existing monastic quarters (where he resides with the other monks). He commented that the neighbouring Franciscan clerics are sometimes expressing discontent, because the cathedral is always open (every day), whereas their church is not, and that their people go to our cathedral to pray. Afterwards, we simply returned in mid-afternoon to the hotel. In the evening, we found a place to take supper. Always there is plenty of conversation.

On Monday, 2 June, after breakfast at the hotel, we left at 1000 hrs for the cathedral, where we met Father Antonio Perdomo, who had now arrived from Pharr, Texas for the Ascension Feast. Traffic, combined with construction, makes all travel take a longer time than may be anticipated, especially during the daytime. After spending some time at the cathedral, we departed in a caravan of three cars, in order to travel for a couple of hours to the Volcano National Park, not far from the summits of the “Sleeping Woman” and “Popocatépetl” volcanoes. Both summits are over 5,000 m in altitude, and Popocatépetl was emitting smoke. For a Canadian, it was very impressive to see to what altitude vegetation continues, and how tall trees are at such altitudes. At the foot of these mountains there are many farms and villages. They, likewise, are clean and orderly, even though much farming is still done with animals. Organic farming has apparently never left rural Mexico (or at least not where we were). Bishop Alejo clarified for us that indeed the people have a very low income, but they live with dignity, and they are apparently a joyful people for the most part. When money comes from the USA or Canada, much can be done with it, because at present the exchange of the peso to the dollar is ten to one. On the return, late in the afternoon, we stopped in a village (Amecameca) by the highway to take dinner, and we then returned to the city in time to see the official lowering of the Mexican flag in the main plaza by the army at 1800 hrs. The raising and the lowering of the flag, is accomplished on a daily basis by the military branches at 0600 hrs and at 1800 hrs. In the evening, we took supper.

During all the travel and eating, there was considerable conversation, as usual. This time, I was told about the history of the Mexican Exarchate, and about the manner in which the exarchate had acquired the status of a “National Church”, because it is, indeed, a Mexican Church, of and for Mexicans. There is no doubt about the difficulties that the exarchate has faced in its history, difficulties which made its survival a question at times. However, both the perseverance of Archbishop Dmitri, and the hard work over many years of the now Bishop Alejo have not only saved the situation, by God’s Grace, but it also appears that there is now real hope, and a sound foundation prepared for the future. Where there was danger of disorder and division, there is clearly now unity. Bishop Alejo literally devotes all his resources to the development of this Missionary Diocese, which he loves. This love is obvious, not only in his paternal care for his people, but also in their warm response to this loving care. Besides my own perceptions, I received considerable historical information from the Archpriest Ernesto Rios, who has been associated with the exarchate since the time of the late Bishop José. An important factor for us outsiders to keep in mind is that a priest who had recently reposed in Christ had baptised around 20,000 persons in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz, and Puebla. Bishop Alejo is preparing someone to succeed him there.

On Tuesday morning, 3 June, after breakfast at the hotel, we were collected by Bishop Alejo, in order to pay the official visit to the Department of Religious Affairs. When we arrived at the office, it became clear to us not only that Bishop Alejo is well-known and respected, but there are also some employees in this office who are Orthodox, and connected with the cathedral. It is again important that we understand that the exarchate has a status that the other Orthodox in Mexico do not have, and perhaps cannot have. The others are regarded by the government as being canonical, but foreign Churches. The visit with the Director General for Religions Associations was brief, informative, and very warm. The conversation ranged over the state of believers in Mexico. It seems that various Protestants and sects have made significant inroads in Mexico, so much so, that the Roman Catholic Church may now only count about 50% of the population. The Orthodox Church, and our exarchate (which is regarded as the National Orthodox Church) are respected. This is, in part, because of the contributions made by the exarchate towards stability in society, far beyond what would be expected of its relatively small membership, and also because it is not a politically active body. The person of Bishop Alejo and his personal reputation count for much. He has, after all, been an active professor of philosophy at the university, and he now remains a part-time administrator of the faculty there (in addition to everything else he does). The Director General, who had previously (when he was in the Ministry of Energy) been in Alberta several times, parted with us, as he expressed his intention to try to increase contacts with us in the north. We had made it clear, I believe, that it is our purpose, as The Orthodox Church in America, to enable, and to become, the local Church for, and of the local peoples throughout North America. After this visit, there was a pause at the cathedral, and then a visit in the afternoon to the Pyramids in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Some dared to climb the Pyramid of the Sun. This is not a minor feat. After this, and the return to Mexico City, we were taken for supper to the home of a family of the cathedral parish. This experience, giving a taste of local hospitality, was very positive. It also showed us that the cathedral congregation has many well-educated persons who work in responsible positions. By their behaviour, they demonstrated how well-formed they are as Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church has been in Mexico for over 30 years, and it has taken root well in those who have embraced her.

On Wednesday, 4 June, after breakfast at the hotel, we first went to the cathedral, and then we stopped to visit the Holy Trinity Mission, which is on the opposite side of the aeroport from the cathedral. This mission had been in poor condition, but it is now very clean, and in good order. Everything we saw and experienced showed to me how Bishop Alejo is a patient and perceptive leader. He is determined that the clergy become responsible and strong leaders in their various communities. He wants them to have secular employment, in order to care for the development of their missions. I am told that he is very careful in his discerning of vocations (or lack thereof) in potential candidates for ordination. After this visit, we travelled to Saint Antonios’ Monastery, the monastery belonging to Metropolitan Antonios (Chedraui). The members of the Chedraui family are very known, and they are greatly influential in Mexican society. This monastery has at present only a few monks and one nun, although it usually has a larger population. There are also partly-resident older orphans from the Guatemala Orphanage, who move to Mexico to continue higher education. They usually begin their life in Mexico at the monastery, and then they go to live with families. We were received with a short Te Deum in the rather large Temple, and then we were given dinner. Then, after taking coffee, we were given a walking-tour of the monastery and its grounds. There is a main building, which includes some cells, other rooms, a refectory and a sitting-room. Nearby, there is a new building which has both modern and spacious guest-quarters, and more monastic cells. The monastery has fields that are planted, and greenhouses from which they sell plants and flowers. They also have rabbits, which they sell regularly at the market (the demand is still small). Besides that, the monastery has a flock of sheep and goats, a couple of horses, and a flock of chickens for eggs, . There are fruit trees and bee-hives, and fields of corn for the animals. The community apparently originally was envisaged as including a seminary as well. At the end of the walking-tour, we went back to the Temple for Vespers and Litya for the Ascension. After all this, we made the two hours’ drive back to the hotel.

On Thursday, 5 June, at 0900 hrs, we were collected and taken to the Cathedral of the Ascension, in order to serve the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy for the Altar Feast of the Cathedral. I served alone, together with eight priests and two deacons. There was a small, but effective choir, and Bishop Alejo was organising and co-ordinating in the back-ground of all. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the clergy went up to Bishop Alejo’s apartment/office for coffee, cake and conversation. Then, once we had spent time there, we travelled to another part of the city for the formal dinner of the Altar-Feast. This dinner, again, was mostly for the clergy and the helpers. The dinner took place in a room/apartment of a building which had been recently donated to the exarchate. There are problems associated with this building, in that it cannot be used for income, because it was donated to the Church. In due time, however, it is expected that this building will be used primarily for a Pastoral School/Seminary.

At the conclusion of the dinner, we were driven to the Basilica of the Theotokos of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is a former town, which is now a suburb in northern Mexico City. This Image of the Theotokos of Guadalupe is venerated by the Orthodox as well as the Roman Catholics, because of its particular nature. Representations of this Image are now becoming available in our Orthodox iconographic style. We had the blessing of sufficient contacts (through Hieromonk Victorin) to be able to be brought to the upper level of this modern structure, and therefore as close as it is possible to approach the actual Image (this is still a gap several metres over an opening ; most people look up to it from a lower floor, through this opening). We were very well-received by a monsignor. After this, some of us went to a family for a light dinner, and the others went to the hotel to pack. It was once again a pleasant opportunity for contact with parishioners, and we returned to the hotel late.

On Friday, 6 June, after breakfast at the hotel, we were collected after 0900 hrs, to make our way towards the aeroport. This included a quick stop for shopping, and also a last visit to the cathedral. Bishop Alejo and his clergy escorted us through the whole process, until security barred them.

In my view, in association with, and following the late Bishop José, Archbishop Dmitri himself, through his translations, and his paternal attention, laid a good foundation in this country. It is important that we all understand the importance of his personal contribution to Mexico’s Exarchate. Without him, it would not likely have survived the early and unexpected death of Bishop José, the first bishop.

In this context, I must add that it seems to me that we are really lacking in our seriousness about our missionary purpose in North America. In Alaska, we have heard accusations about suppression of aboriginal languages, and cultures. In Canada, we have really only one serious French-language Mission. Although this mission has existed for many years, it is still very small. In the USA, which has so many Spanish-speakers, there are very few truly Hispanophonic parish communities. It makes me feel that, despite any good intentions, or well-intended declarations, we are perhaps being satisfied with tokenism in mission. Perhaps we are not, in fact, capable of addressing the many other cultures of North America, and it seems to me that we have a lot of re-thinking to do about our actual mission-work on this continent. This is maybe particularly the case when we see how often, and how quickly we see people writing ridiculously about possible dissolution of the OCA, or its being absorbed into some patriarchate. It really gets my goat (or fries my potatoes) when people seem so ready to be like Esau (see 1 Moses 27:1-40). The Lord has called us all to be missionaries, and it is time we seriously determined to accept this call, and live it out. Our Canada was, is, and always should be a Missionary Diocese !

Pilgrimage in Romania, and to Kyiv (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Romania, and to Kyiv
14-29 July, 2008


By God’s mercy, I was once again asked to accompany a local family to Romania to visit some monasteries, and I willingly accepted. This time, however, the plans were adjusted. Before departure, it was announced that, sponsored by the Government of Ukraine, together with the Church in Ukraine, there would be a celebration of the 1020th Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ in the city of Kyiv. As a result, because of my responsibility as Chairman of the Department of External Affairs and Inter-church Relations, Metropolitan Herman blessed that I cut short my time in Romania and go to Kyiv for these celebrations.

As I have become accustomed, there were the usual complications involved in trying to make a pilgrimage : delayed flights, delayed connexions, problems with communication, and a rather later-than-anticipated arrival in Bucharest on Tuesday, 15 July. There, I was met by the two brothers who looked after me. Before going to the Patriarchal Hotel of Saint Andrew, we went first to the territory of the patriarchate, even though it was quite late. Since my last visit, I could see that there were very extensive renovations in progress. The entrance to the Patriarchal Palace was being renovated completely, and the cathedral was covered with scaffolding. While at the hotel, I observed briefly a programme of Trinitas TV (a television station now beginning to be offered, which is funded by the patriarchate). It seems that it is not yet available full-time. I know that there has also been (broadcast from Iasi) a full-time radio station, with education, services, music and commentary available. I heard later that this has now been moved to Bucharest, along with Patriarch Daniel. (Patriarch Daniel had previously been Metropolitan of Iasi.) I could not understand much of the programme, except that there was an interview of a priest about the Crossing of the Red Sea.

On Wednesday, 16 July, the beginning of the first real day in Romania, the first visit was to the Antim Monastery, near the patriarchate. Its abbot, Archimandrite Mihail (Stanciu), greeted us warmly on this third visit, and he shared the monastery’s noon trapeza with us in his usual friendly and respectful manner. He also gave us a copy of his book : The Sense of Creation : A Study of Cosmology in the Context of Saint Maximus the Confessor. On visiting the Temple, we venerated the relics of Saint Parasceva, and of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, and also two wonder-working icons of the Theotokos. After the visit, we drove out of the city through the heavy traffic (more than ever), to the Monastery of Saint Dimitrie of Câldarusani, built 400 years ago by Mattei Bassaraba. Here were the relics of Saint Dimitrie the Scholar, Metropolitan of Wallachia, formerly a monk of this idiorhythmic monastery. After attending Vespers, we had a guided visit to the museum, and then we visited the cemetery, where rests the well-respected Starets Sofian (Boghiu). We were told that Saint Callinic had said that one day, this monastery would sink. It rests on a peninsula in a lake. (Recently, while drilling for water, it was found that, not far below the surface of the land, there is a large cavern.) The main wonder-working icon of the Theotokos in this monastery is connected historically with Bassarabian monks. It is understood that, once Moldova and Romania would in the future be reunited, this icon would be sent there, to New Neamt.

Again, we returned to Bucharest, and we met yet more congestion. The driving experience showed that in Bucharest, any travel by auto requires patience and a very generous allowance of time. It took almost 2 hours to cover this distance of about 30 km on our return. Soon after we arrived, we went again to the Antim Monastery for supper, and another conversation with Abbot Mihail. He indicated that there are now about 800 monastic communities in Romania. It seems that the increase by about 300 in the last three years has in part to do with the departure of some small groups of monks from older monasteries, in order to establish new communities, often in more remote places. On the other hand, there were reports that amongst males (at least for the last couple of years), there has been a reduction in the numbers of those entering monastic life. This still must be balanced with the dramatic increase in numbers of communities. Of course, paying too much attention to numbers can be spiritually dangerous.

On Thursday, 17 July, we departed from Bucharest in the late morning. We had planned to make a couple of stops, but the traffic was very slow (including plenty of construction) ; so we made our way in our little Dacia extended cabin pick-up truck (called a papuk, that is, a slipper) through Wallachia, to Pitesti, and to the Carpathian Mountains. Many people were surprised that a bishop would travel in such a vehicle, but it could manage difficult roads that “nicer” cars could not. On the very narrow and winding highway, we passed a dam and tunnel in these mountains, which had been built by the father and mother of the wife of one of these brothers. The father was one of the primary engineers, and the mother a support-level engineer. Also in this pass are the remains of a famous castle belonging to Vlad Tepes (commonly known by his patronymic “Dracula”. This name belongs also to one of the Bessarabian royal houses). Passing over the mountains and descending to the plains of Transylvania, we came at last to the Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Sâmbata, which was founded in the 17th century by the Martyr Prince Constantine Brâncovianu. It was already late, but the old, small Temple was opened for us so that we could pray, as was the “chapel” (pareclis). This chapel happens to be much bigger than the historic old Temple. There, I saw in the western-wall frescoes (amongst other personalities) the familiar face of our Bishop Irineu (Duvlea). He had been the starets (that is, abbot) of this monastery during its major renovations. He was asked after by some of the persons we met. The monastery of 40 monks has auxiliary buildings, including an ecumenical conference centre which seems to have been prepared for the purpose of conversations and dialogues with Roman Catholics in particular (because there are many Roman Catholics in this area of Romania). After we were given supper, it was time to rest, and we were lodged in the building of the Academy of Sambata (outside the monastic enclosure), which is the one used for this ecumenical centre. At this particular time, there was an interesting display of the work of young student iconographers, who worked with egg-tempera both on wood and on glass, in the Transylvanian manner.

On Friday, 18 July, the Hours began at 0600 hrs, and the Divine Liturgy at 0700 hrs in the pareclis, which we attended. The Divine Liturgy (just as I have experienced it elsewhere) was very carefully served by three priests. One of the concelebrants was Archimandrite Teofil (Ionescu), who has been blind from birth, and who has lived for 55 years in the monastery. He speaks French excellently. It was touching how the other priests were careful to lead him, in such a way that one would not necessarily notice the blindness of the one. Indeed, he required the help only very occasionally. Later, he told us that he had been ordained exceptionally, and it is obvious that this exception was very fruitful. He is 80, and full of joy, overflowing with joy in his love for Christ. He hears very many confessions throughout the day, as do others similarly gifted in other monasteries.

From here, we travelled about 8 hours through Transylvania, passing many towns and cities, monasteries, churches, many sheep, cattle, horse-drawn carts, and very interesting landscapes, including views of the ruins of various castles. We also passed over a second dam (of a different sort) which produces a lake behind it, at the end of which is the village and monastery of Petru Voda. This dam had been built by the aid of the same parents. The monastery is popularly named from the village. The Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel of Petru Voda numbers some 80 monks at present. A few kilometres distant is the dependency of Saint Panteleimon’s Women’s Monastery, with about 80 female monks. We arrived much earlier this time than at the last visit, and we were received by Starets Protosingel Iustin (Pârvu), now 88 years of age. He received us in the manner of a loving father, who made certain personally that we had enough to eat, and that we found our sleeping-places. He had been, as usual, hearing confessions apparently endlessly. While the queue of persons waited, they were singing spiritual songs. Once again, it was noticed that mobile phones do not work within the precincts of the monastery, but only in the field across the road. We retired, then, for a couple of hours, in preparation for the beginning of services at midnight.

On Saturday, 19 July, beginning at 0100 hrs, we prayed with the monks, and the rather many other pilgrims. The services lasted about 5 hours. The services were in the pareclis, instead of the Temple, because the pareclis had just been consecrated, and the Divine Liturgy must be served in it for 40 days afterwards. This new chapel is well-iconographed, by the monks ; and the service, which happened to be for Saint Seraphim of Sarov, was both long and beautiful. I did not serve (although I had been requested to do so), because it was late in the evening when we arrived, and I felt that it was too late for making such arrangements with the bishop (Metropolitan Teofan) by telephone. The chapel was full, and there were many receiving Holy Communion. Afterwards, there was time for a rest, and then breakfast. We also prepared our belongings.

On his return from an anointing, Father Iustin asked us to visit Saint Panteleimon’s Monastery (which we had hoped for), and we promptly did so. The Abbess Iustina (formerly a physician) took us to the Temple, where the sisterhood gathered, and she asked me to say something to them, which I did. Then, we were taken to see the new hospital, which is already filled with homeless widows and a few ill nuns, and several women who are dying. In another section is the orphanage, which numbers 20 children. The hospital (like an auxiliary hospital or hospice) also has facilities for doing dentistry, and giving minor medical treatments. This hospital is open to villagers (some kilometres distant). There is a priest-monk there, who serves as chaplain. It was a joy to sense the peace, and also to see the joy expressed on the faces of all the persons there, of all ages, monastic or lay. Then we were given lunch, and there was an extended spiritual discussion about the Christian life, and how to survive amidst the difficulties of modern society. After some time, we left the nuns in order to return to the main monastery, where Father Iustin had asked me to come to his cell for a conversation. This conversation lasted an hour or so (through an interpreter), before we were able to make our departure for the Putna Dormition Monastery. This was a distance of only 200 km, which we managed to cover in less than 4 hours.

We arrived in Putna soon after the beginning of Vigil, and we met Archimandrite Melchisedek in front of the entrance to the monastery. This visit had been expected for some time, and all necessary permissions had been received. He escorted us to our rooms, and afterwards he took food with us. Then we went to the Dormition Temple for Matins. The Temple is being frescoed, and the work is nearly completed. After venerating the relics of Saint Stephen the Great, and the wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos, I entered the Altar, and assisted at the remainder of the Vigil. I was glad to see Archimandrite Melchisedek tonsure 8 men as rasophors (during the Great Doxology). One of them had not long ago received a Ph.D. in the USA. At the end of Vigil, it was time to retire. The Putna Dormition Monastery numbers about 100 monks, and it is very near the Ukrainian border, and not far from Chernivtsi (Cernauti) in Ukraine.

On Sunday, 20 July, the Feast of the Prophet Elias, I was collected from my room by Archimandrite Melchisedek at about 0830 hrs, and we crossed to the Temple for the episcopal entrance, the veneration of the relics of Saint King Stephen the Great, the Entrance Prayers, and vesting in the Altar. The relics of Saint Bishop Ghenadie are also in this Temple. The serving was, of course, in the Romanian manner, and this serving was as always very carefully done, as was the singing. The Putna Dormition Monastery is known for its good, traditional singing ; and the Temple was full of standing and kneeling faithful. This is how it is there regularly. It was given to me to preach, which I did after the clergy-communion (as is the custom there). At the end of the Divine Liturgy, it was given to me to anoint all those present (which means several hundred persons) and we left the Temple at 1345 hrs for dinner in the trapeza for special guests. There was some discussion about the recent election of the new Metropolitan of Iasi, Teofan, who succeeds there the now Patriarch Daniel. Metropolitan Teofan had not at first been considered to be a candidate, but he was nevertheless chosen. There seemed to be a hopeful attitude about the new metropolitan. After a break for rest, at 1700 hrs I attended Ninth Hour, Vespers, Moleben to the Theotokos, and Small Compline. I was taken to the monastic trapeza for supper, and then (from about 1945 hrs to 2230 hrs) I gave a presentation on monastic life in North America, on The Orthodox Church in America, on Orthodox life in North America, and then I answered many questions. Retiring was late.

On Monday, 21 July, I and others left at 0700 hrs with Starets Melchisedek, in order to serve the Divine Liturgy at the Old Agapia Dormition Monastery, along with Metropolitan Teofan of Iasi and Moldavia. This celebration was concerned with the lives of the two newly-glorified Priest-monks Saints Raphael and Parthenius. I was being sent to this celebration on behalf of Archbishop Pimen of Suçeava, who was away in Vienna for a heart-treatment. Since I was representing Archbishop Pimen (with the blessing of the metropolitan), he put me in second place. In all, we were six bishops serving, along with at least 40 priests and three deacons. I was given the obedience to offer a word after the Gospel, and Metropolitan Teofan spoke after the clergy-communion. Before I spoke, the metropolitan informed the faithful that this is the historic, traditional moment for a homily. Then there was the reading of the Synodal Act of Glorification for the Priest-monks Raphael and Parthenius, who were monks of the Old Agapia Monastery. Saint Raphael was a wonder-worker of the late 16th century, and Saint Parthenius a wonder-worker of the early 17th century. According to the Pateric for Moldavia, the relics of both were incorrupt, and there are written testimonies of this. However, because of invasions, the relics were hidden in the mountains in a now forgotten place.

After the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, there was a procession down the mountain to New Agapia, and then there was a dinner given for the major guests by the nuns of New Agapia. Old Agapia numbers 40 nuns, and New Agapia 400 nuns. After this dinner, there was a brief rest period, and then there was an hour given for talking with as many nuns as could attend. At least half the total number was present. Because of the warm day and the small trapeza, Metropolitan Teofan blessed that we gather on an open, grassy space under some trees, on a hill above the monastery. He began the conversation with a fatherly commentary on the importance of reading the Scriptures, and then he gave me to say something, and also to answer questions about monastic life in North America. My translator at this time was the Archpriest Constantine (once of the Diocese of New York, then of Putna, and now a personal aide to Metropolitan Teofan). The whole experience was encouraging. In every way, Metropolitan Teofan was very hospitable, friendly and open. After all the conversations, we left at about 1730 hrs, and arrived back at Putna at 1930 hrs, for supper. On returning to Canada, I learnt that our Mother Nil (in Rawdon) had known Metropolitan Teofan when he was a student in France, and when he would sometimes serve at the Protection Monastery in Bussy-en-Othe. She told me that she had already, then, greatly respected him.

On Tuesday, 22 July, Starets Melchisedek departed very early for the village of Salash (65 km distant in the near mountains, where I had served 2 years previously), to help with work on a bell-house and other church buildings there. I attended the Divine Liturgy from before 0700 hrs, and at 0930 hrs went to breakfast and a conversation with some of the monks. Immediately afterwards, from about 1000 to 1315 hrs, I talked to and with a group of 45 young people, who were present at the monastery from a seminary in Moldova. There was interest in Orthodox life in the West, the usual questions about Father Seraphim Rose, questions about how to cope with the invasion of the sects, and about the sorts of conditions associated with (attached to) the various sorts of “aid” that is given to Romania from the West (particularly from the European Union). During this time, a general rain began, the first since my arrival. After lunch, there were many more conversations. Afterwards, I was taken by Father Hrisostom to the Cell of Saint Daniel of Sihastria, nearby (it is carved into a great boulder). After that visit, we went to the Annunciation Sihastria-Putna Monastery (a neighbouring and smaller monastery about 3 km distant). This very old monastery (renewed only 8 years previously) has many established buildings, and 37 monks. The abbot, Father Nectarius, invited us for a small refreshment and conversation. Here, as elsewhere, it was expressed that the monks perceive that in the context of current Church life, the Church seems to be under a cloud, or wrapped in fog. Perhaps the Church is wrapped in both a cloud and a fog-bank. Then we returned to Putna for a quick supper, and for the weekly Tuesday Protection Vigil. This vigil has been regularly served for some years, since the late Patriarch Teoctist had requested that it be served weekly during a particularly tense period. Because those problems were resolved peacefully, and because the Church faces difficulties often, Putna has not ceased serving this Vigil of the Feast of the Protection since that time. The service began at 1900 hrs, and ended at about 2230 hrs. It was beautiful, as usual, and heavily attended by pilgrims, of which there are many every day.

On Wednesday, 23 July, I went to attend the Divine Liturgy at 0700 hrs, again on a day of rain. I was told that this was finally a summer sort of rain (frequent heavy thundershowers), and that previous rains had been more like those of autumn. The brotherhood begins to worship at 0430 hrs, but the Starets blessed my arrival in time for the Divine Liturgy. During the services, I have noticed that the faithful who are coming to Holy Communion are doing as is done in some Canadian parishes with Bukovinian origins : holding a lit candle, they approach the Chalice. At the chalice, one of the monks takes the candle from the communicant (obviously in case of fire). It was good to be able again to see Father Teofilact, a monk who has been in this monastery since 1947, and who is now 82, albeit now in weakened health. After the Liturgy, I was taken up onto the scaffolding in the first, inner narthex area of the Temple. The frescoing of the Temple is nearing completion, and I was given to survey the progress (which has been considerable in 4 years). The only iconographer now is Mihail Morosan, his brother Andrei having reposed 6 months previously. It is said that this Temple probably lost its frescoes during one of the historically troubled times. Then, after a short break, Starets Melchisedek took me, with Father Hrisostom (the driver), Father John (the interpreter), and Father Timothy (the photographer) to several Temples, and we ended in Suçeava. As we drove, we passed a large German-owned lumber-mill. There is great concern about the clear-cutting of forests, and the resulting floods which are associated with such enterprises. While we had previously been driving through the mountains, this clear-cutting was obvious to us in some places. The company says that it is also taking wood from Ukraine for processing. Ukraine is quite near this place.

We stopped first at Malinuti, to see the restoration works on the Church of Saint Nicholas. Almost adjacent to this is the Church of Saint Stephen the Great, the Temple being used pro tem at least. The Saint Nicholas Temple was built by Saint Stephen the Great. Its frescoes (from 1499) are being restored, and many are in excellent condition and beautiful. The restoration was begun by a Japanese organisation, but it is now under the Ministry of Culture’s responsibility. Then we drove to Patrauti, to the Church of the Holy Cross. This was one of the earliest Temples constructed by Saint Stephen, in the context of the struggles with the Ottoman Empire. It has a significant fresco of a cavalcade of soldier-saints on the western wall (including also Saint King Stephen and Saint Constantine the Great), who are all following the Archangel Michael, who is in turn pointing to, and leading them to the Holy Cross. This was a sign of the determination of Saint Stephen to meet Islam spiritually, and under the protection of the Holy Cross. The Temple of the Holy Cross is very small, and once was the Temple of a monastic community. Now, it is part of a parish. The bell-house (rather old also, but of wood) holds a collection of cemetery Crosses, many of which (interestingly) have a circle around the upper portion, in the manner of the Celts. In the iconography of the various Temples from the 15th-16th centuries (around the time of Saint Stephen), there is a constant pictorial theme : the connexion between Saint Stephen and the Royal House in Constantinople (he had married a Paleologos). He tried, in various ways, to help the Patriarch of Constantinople under the Ottomans, through circuitous means. He also supported Mount Athos, Jerusalem, and Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

We stopped first at Malinuti, to see the restoration works on the Church of Saint Nicholas. Almost adjacent to this is the Church of Saint Stephen the Great, the Temple being used pro tem at least. The Saint Nicholas Temple was built by Saint Stephen the Great. Its frescoes (from 1499) are being restored, and many are in excellent condition and beautiful. The restoration was begun by a Japanese organisation, but it is now under the Ministry of Culture’s responsibility. Then we drove to Patrauti, to the Church of the Holy Cross. This was one of the earliest Temples constructed by Saint Stephen, in the context of the struggles with the Ottoman Empire. It has a significant fresco of a cavalcade of soldier-saints on the western wall (including also Saint King Stephen and Saint Constantine the Great), who are all following the Archangel Michael, who is in turn pointing to, and leading them to the Holy Cross. This was a sign of the determination of Saint Stephen to meet Islam spiritually, and under the protection of the Holy Cross. The Temple of the Holy Cross is very small, and once was the Temple of a monastic community. Now, it is part of a parish. The bell-house (rather old also, but of wood) holds a collection of cemetery Crosses, many of which (interestingly) have a circle around the upper portion, in the manner of the Celts. In the iconography of the various Temples from the 15th-16th centuries (around the time of Saint Stephen), there is a constant pictorial theme : the connexion between Saint Stephen and the Royal House in Constantinople (he had married a Paleologos). He tried, in various ways, to help the Patriarch of Constantinople under the Ottomans, through circuitous means. He also supported Mount Athos, Jerusalem, and Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

From there, we drove to Suçeava, to the Monastery of Saint George, to venerate the relics of the Martyr John the New. This Temple is from before the time of Saint Stephen, and it is very large. There, the frescoes are far-advanced in their restoration. We visited also the pareclis of the monastery, which is also in the process of being frescoed by Mihail Morosan. Leaving the monastery, we stopped briefly at a small nuns’ monastery which is in a state of disrepair, and which was committed to Archimandrite Melchisedek to put in order. Afterwards, we drove back to Putna. There, we had supper, and I, along with Fathers John and Timothy, were driven the 3 km to the Sihastria-Putna Monastery, where I was to speak with the brotherhood. This lasted from 2000 to 2230 hrs, when we returned to Putna for the night.

On Thursday, 24 July, I again rose to attend the Divine Liturgy. Then, near noon, we departed for a visit to several “painted monasteries” in the area. First, we went to Suçeavita, then to Moldovita, and finally to Voronet. All these monasteries were established in the time of Saint King Stephen, or of his son Petru Rares (which is to say in the 15th-16th centuries). There is a general restoration of the iconography in progress, and the frescoes (both interior and exterior) are fresh-looking, beautiful and awe-inspiring. They are prayerfully and wonderfully painted, with a programme characteristic of the time of Saint Stephen. Included in every Temple are : the Last Judgement on the exterior western wall ; Saints Constantine and Helen ; various military saints ; the votive scene showing who built the Temple and offered it to the Lord ; and many more. Common to all, also, is the demonstration by Saint Stephen (or his son) that the clear intention is to perpetuate the Orthodoxy of pre-conquest Constantinople. All the monasteries we visited were of women, and under the care of Archimandrite Melchisedek, who serves as the Exarch for them of Archbishop Pimen. He cares for at least 8 such communities. In some cases, these historic monasteries pose problems because of the number of visitors, or the condition of the structure itself. Sometimes, separate monastic quarters are constructed nearby, so as to minimise the stress of daily use on the old structures. During this day, the rain (which had been heavy) became torrential, and perhaps unprecedented. This was more than just summer rain. Streams rose, flooding began, and power-failures began also. The storm continued unabated into, and through the night (this perhaps was the remains of a hurricane). On returning late to Putna (the visits were not without being prolonged by hospitality and conversations), we ate quickly, and there was a conference with the brotherhood and the visiting Moldovan seminarians, until almost 2300 hrs. During this conference, there was a power failure. Thus, we all retired to bed by candle-light. During the night, there was considerable thunder and lightning (which began already before the conference), and it persisted until at least 0300 hrs. There were general power failures, and this continued through the following morning.

On Friday, 25 July, I arose for the Divine Liturgy for the last time on this visit at the Putna Dormition Monastery. At the end of the Liturgy, I met the Priest-monk Adrian, 96 years old, a living Confessor, who had been tortured in prison, and who had been part of the Burning Bush Movement. (The Burning Bush Movement began in 1945, and it was focussed on the Antim Monastery in Bucharest. Most of the members were priests, monks, intellectuals. The main focus was the spiritual life and the practice of the “Prayer of the Heart”. The aim was to revive a truly Orthodox Christian Romania through watering its spiritual roots in prayer and in the Gospel, and it had a great effect. Its members were harshly persecuted with the arrival of communism. Its membership produced many New-martyrs and New-confessors.) Afterwards, we went to breakfast in the guest-house, and then we walked about the area to inspect the damage. We could soon see that the Monastery of Sihastria-Putna had become isolated because of a washed-away bridge, and there were roads that were inundated, as well as homes and fields. It was reported that more than 20 litres of rain per square metre had fallen, and the same was yet to come again. It was painful to see. Because of deforestation, there were also land-slides in some places, of course. Nevertheless, some of the previously-constructed precautionary drains had functioned well enough, and some tree-planting had helped hold the soil nearby.

By the time we had returned to the Dormition Monastery, we found that Bishop Miletii from Chernivtsi had arrived to collect me (he speaks some Romanian). Archimandrite Melchisedek welcomed him, and he then walked with him and showed him some of the monastic buildings, while I heard a confession. Then followed lunch, and further touring of the work-shops and the cemetery, and then it was time to leave. In the typical style of Orthodox hospitality, we were delayed in departing as long as possible because of talking and eating. Then came the drive to the border, and we passed over the very swollen Siret River. The border took extra time because of computer failures. We then arrived in Chernivtsi, where we were greeted by Metropolitan Onoufry at the metropolis (residence and offices). After a brief interval, there was time for eating, during which Bishop Miletii left by auto for Kyiv. We then retired for the night.

On Saturday, 26 July, I was given breakfast early in my room, and then we departed for the aeroport. On arrival, we were met by 2 senators, friends of Metropolitan Onoufry. We all then flew to Kyiv on the regular flight. After arriving in Kyiv, we were taken to the Nationalnii Hotel, where we were to be accommodated. This, and the Hotel Kyiv nearby gave hospitality to all the delegations attending this, the 1020th Anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. The two patriarchs were housed in a large residence across from both hotels. After preparing ourselves in appropriate attire, we went out to a restaurant in the nearby Podolia (an older area, lower down the west bank of the Dnieper), and we then returned to the hotel for some further organisation. This included meeting Archbishop Gurii, who was to be my “guardian angel” during the impending celebrations, until my departure. Our van then took us to the aeroport, where we met Metropolitan Volodymyr, many other bishops and clergy, and also Prime Minister Yanukovich. In due time, we greeted Patriarch Aleksy II on his arrival. This was followed by a very rapid move to the Kyiv Pecherskaya (Caves) Kyiv Lavra, where big crowds were waiting to greet Patriarch Aleksy and Metropolitan Volodomyr. It was a time also for the rest of the Ukrainian bishops and many Russian bishops as well to greet one another. I found that I knew many of both. Many other invited bishops were accompanying Patriarch Bartholomew I. After the greeting and the initial moleben in front of the Ouspensky Sobor (Dormition Cathedral), Patriarch Aleksy and the metropolitans went into the sobor briefly. The other bishops, having found each other in the crowd, then departed for Saint Sophia’s Sobor. At the sobor, there was an outdoor reception, à la fourchette, and a speech by President Viktor Yushchenko, and by Patriarch Bartholomew I. Both speeches were principally pleasant greetings. Then it was time to return to the hotel. It was at this time that I met Father Vladimir Alexeiev, one of our delegation, who serves in New York. It seemed to me that the local organisation was quite good.

On Sunday, 27 July, I departed the hotel at 0745 hrs, to be taken by Archbishop Gurii to participate in the serving of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at the Volodymyrska Gorka, a level, grassy place on the upper west bank of the Dnieper River, and facing to the east. As always, security was very strict. Nevertheless, there were very large numbers of people who attended, although most were kept away at a substantial distance from the clergy. Patriarchs Bartholomew and Aleksy were officially greeted at 0830 hrs. Both patriarchs were vested together, and then the Divine Liturgy began. It was served in Slavonic and in Greek, and with some blending of the typikons. Every Local Church was represented (except Cyprus and Japan). Present also were Archbishops Ieronymos of Greece and Anastasios of Albania. Besides these Heads of Autocephalous Churches who were themselves present, there were also the Heads of Autonomous Churches : Metropolitans Volodymyr of Ukraine, and Filaret of Byelorus. As might be expected, there were small problems because of different languages and customs, but all did go well. Following this, there was a dinner provided at the Brotherhood Trapeza of the Lavra. As usual, there were speeches and gift-giving, which commenced soon after the beginning of dinner. Then, at the conclusion, Patriarch Aleksy gave a passionate word about the absolute need for Orthodox unity. After this, the meal ended, and the time arrived for the departure of Patriarch Bartholomew with his rather large delegation. Because it was so late, the delegations were not expected to be present at the Vigil, so there was time for some rest, and some conversations. By this time, there were news reports about considerable flooding in western Ukraine (around Ivano-Frankivsk), as well as in Romania (in Maramures and Moldavia). It has been said that this was the biggest storm in at least 100 years. In Kyiv, however, the day began cloudy, and then began to be sunny. In the evening, our Archpriest Oleg Kirillov arrived from Toronto, and he came to greet me.

On Monday, 28 July, we departed the hotel before 0900 hrs for the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at the Kyiv Caves Lavra, to serve in front of the Ouspensky Sobor, with Patriarch Aleksy, Archbishop Anastasios, Metropolitan Volodymyr (his name-day), Metropolitan Filaret, and at least 100 bishops. Amongst these, there were serving on this day those bishops and priests who could stay on of the delegations of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechia, and the OCA. The day was again sunny, and the whole Divine Liturgy was both grand and pleasant. This was followed in due time by a dinner, again at the Brotherhood Trapeza. Then came some congratulatory speeches for Metropolitan Volodymyr on his name-day. It was here that Archimandrite Zacchaeus, the third member of our delegation, having arrived from Moscow, found me. Then we returned briefly to the Palace “Ukraine”, for a national celebration with singing, dancing, recitation, and instrumental pieces, which lasted for two hours. Then we moved on quickly to the Hotel Rus’, for the final formal, public name-day banquet. At the close of the dinner, after another two hours, we returned to our hotel, where I was interviewed by a newspaper editor for over an hour, and it was finally time to retire.

On Tuesday, 29 July, we were preparing for our departure. I had breakfast with Archimandrite Zacchaeus, and there were some conversations with some other persons as they were departing. I then hurried to collect my bags, as departure time was at 1300 hrs, and I said my good-byes. Then Archpriest Oleg Kirillov and I were taken by Igumen Nicholas to the aeroport. Our return to Toronto, by Aerosvit, was peaceful and uneventful, and we gave thanks to God.

Pilgrimages as a bishop are not just the same as pilgrimages by lay-persons. Although sometimes “doors” may open that are otherwise mostly closed, it is not so easy for a visiting bishop not to be treated as a “delegation” from abroad, even when he is alone. As a lay-person, there are different obstacles to face (sometimes great ones), but such a person may be freer to pray. Local or distant, I recommend visiting monasteries, holy places, holy icons, holy persons. One is renewed, and encouraged in the heart.

Funeral of His Holiness, Aleksy II (2008)

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Funeral of His Holiness, Aleksy II
Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’
Moscow, Russian Federation
7-10 December, 2008


His Holiness, Alexsy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, unexpectedly reposed in the Lord early in the morning of 5 December, 2008, at his private residence in the village of Lukino (near Peredelkino), not far from Moscow.

In accordance with the blessing of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, on the afternoon of Sunday, 7 December, I departed from Montréal, and travelled via Zurich in order to participate in the funeral services of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow. Together with the Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky (as the chair and co-chair of the OCA’s Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations), we were to represent our metropolitan and our Orthodox Church in America at the funeral. I arrived in Moscow at 1730 hrs on Monday, 8 December, at the Domodedovo Aeroport.

At first, I had thought it would not be possible to accomplish this obedience, because when I learned of the repose of Patriarch Aleksy, the Russian Consular Office in Ottawa had already closed. Nevertheless, by God’s will, and the metropolitan’s blessing, all the necessary “doors” opened, and the Consular Office opened specially on Saturday in order to provide the necessary visa. The same thing happened for the Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky in Tripoli, Libya, where he had been participating in a conference.

Upon arrival in Moscow, I was met by Archimandrite Zacchaeus, and we drove directly to Christ the Saviour Cathedral in order to pay respects to the body of Patriarch Aleksy, which was resting on a dais in the midst of the Temple. There, I met many bishops and others I know, including the Archpriest Alexander Lebedev, who had accompanied Metropolitan Hilarion of New York. I also spoke briefly with Walter Cardinal Kasper, who was present with a Vatican delegation (he was for many years the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity). The exact arrangements about the nature of the funeral had been very fluid until the last moments. The decision of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to participate had added some technical complications. Because he is the highest ranking of the patriarchs, he would normally preside at everything. That he wished to participate clearly showed his respect for Patriarch Aleksy. Therefore, in order to allow the Russian Church to see to the funeral and burial of her own father, Patriarch Bartholomew did not serve the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. This was served only by the hierarchs of the Russian Church. Patriarch Bartholomew did preside at the funeral service afterwards. Nevertheless, in this context, he enabled the Russian Church to take the lead, because he alone stood not fully vested in the middle of the heads of Churches. He alone was vested in mantiya and omophor. It was for this reason of sensitivity that all the visiting bishops did not participate in that Memorial Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, but rather served together only for the service of the Funeral of a Bishop. It was nevertheless possible for us to watch the first part of the Divine Liturgy on television in the hotel.

On the evening before, Archimandrite Zacchaeus and I went to visit Metropolitan Kliment, briefly, because of needing a parking permission ; but the visit was slightly prolonged with warm conversation, as is characteristic. Metropolitan Kliment served in North America for some years (long ago) as the Representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, and he often visited Canada from New York in that capacity. After that meeting, the archimandrite and I were taken by car to visit briefly at the OCA’s Representation Church, Saint Catherine-in-the-Field. The restored frescoes in the Trapeznaya section of the Temple had been completed, and the Temple itself was returning to something of its former state. The restoration of the ceiling of the main dome is also completed, in accordance with the government’s requirements. Before its return to the Church to be used for worship, the Temple and its other buildings had been turned into public housing, and into ateliers for a company of art-restorers. It was a blessing to see the progress of the recovery, although it was also intimidating to hear how much this restoration was costing.

After this, I was taken to the National Hotel, where all the guests were being accommodated. This hotel was chosen because it is quite close to Christ the Saviour Cathedral. (Tuesdays are very bad days for traffic). There, also, I met several bishops I have known from elsewhere (including from Alexandria), and we were told that His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew I had arrived. Then the archimandrite took me to a nearby restaurant for a light supper, and I retired for the night.

On Tuesday, 9 December, I did not go to the breakfast, partly because of travel-fatigue, and partly because of wanting to participate in the services remotely by television for as long as possible. Archimandrite Zacchaeus collected me from the hotel at 0915 hrs, and we went straight to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where the Divine Liturgy had begun at 0800 hrs. It concluded at about 1030 hrs. The Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky had already arrived at the cathedral for the Memorial Hierarchical Divine Liturgy (he was staying with his daughter nearby). There, having vested fully, and waiting in the nave of the “basement-church”, I met, and spoke with Bishop Nifon (the Representative of the Church of Antioch in Moscow) ; Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and Albania ; Archbishop Leo of Finland ; Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, and others. Our presence was welcomed by all. On ascending the spiral staircase to the main Altar, I greeted several bishops I know from Russia and Ukraine, and I spoke particularly with Archbishop Demetrios of New York, Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv, and then with Patriarch Bartholomew. I also greeted Archbishop Arseny (a Vicar-Bishop of Moscow), and Bishop Mercurii, the Moscow Patriarchate Representative in the USA. I also met (and spoke warmly with) Metropolitan Hilarion of New York (ROCOR) and with the Archpriest Seraphim Gan of New York. I also met Bishop Seraphim who was representing the Japanese Orthodox Church. During the service, I had the blessing to be able to stand in the forward row of bishops, just facing the middle of the coffin and the body of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II. From there, I was able to be close to this man whom I had come to respect greatly and to love. The service began under the presidency of Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was vested only in mantiya and omophor, and who was not very vocal or active during the service, save for reading a Gospel, and a few exclamations. Metropolitan Kirill, the Locum Tenens, was clearly in charge. Present also were the heads of the Churches of Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Albania, Czechia-Slovakia, Ukraine, and Finland. Every other Church was represented at a lower level. During the service, Archbishop Simon from Poland told us that Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw was absent because he would be having a surgery the next day.

Visibly present during the service were the President and the Prime Minister of Russia (the latter and his wife were several times visibly moved), and the Presidents of Byelorus, Serbia, Armenia, Abkazia, South Ossetia, and Moldova. There were moments of concern when seven bishops (and some priests also) for various reasons suffered fainting spells during the course of the service. It was mainly understood that this resulted from the length of time without food, and, to some extent, age. There was no break between the Memorial Divine Liturgy and the Funeral Service, apart from a brief pause. The Funeral Service was well-served and restrained, despite the considerable emotion felt by the clergy and the faithful. Despite the pain and stress, the Russian Orthodox Church looked after us all very well, and warmly.

After the singing of the Kontakion, there began the veneration of the body of Patriarch Aleksy II by the bishops, priests, deacons, and monastics present. Some were very deeply moved with emotion, and amongst them, the many nuns who had operated his household. The civil leaders also venerated at this time. This included the representatives of the Romanov family who were present. Again, there were understandable expressions of considerable emotion. Metropolitan Kirill read the forgiveness prayer before the Dismissal, and the veneration continued. Then the clergy were asked to go and unvest. There was the possibility to go by bus to the Epiphany Cathedral for the interment therein ; but under the advice of Bishop Nifon (the Representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch), we did not do so (because of the press of people and the great lack of space there). Therefore, at the end of the funeral, we slowly made our way out of the cathedral. On the way, at the exit, we encountered Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Demetrios (who were awaiting their transport), and we took the opportunity to talk briefly and to take a photo. We then visited Saint Catherine’s Church, and took tea there. I was also shown the newly-restored side-chapel of Saint Nicholas. Archimandrite Zacchaeus indicated that a complete restoration of the Temple to its former state would take up spaces that are presently used for offices, Church School, meeting rooms, and other purposes. This is why a complete restoration is not yet anticipated.

After we had connected again with our Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky at the Representation Church, we once again drove to Christ the Saviour Cathedral by 1630 hrs, in advance of the Memorial Supper which was to begin at 1700 hrs. When we arrived, many were already seated, and eating (as has become awkwardly the custom recently), and so we did the same. During this time, the chief bishops of the Churches began to arrive singly, including Patriarch Bartholomew. Last, Metropolitan Kirill arrived with the President of Russia, the Prime Minister of Russia, and the Mayor of Moscow. Attending the meal were not only local and international Orthodox Church leaders, and other Christian guests (including some Roman Catholic Cardinals, and the Anglican Bishop of London), but there were also Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist leaders. Besides Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Kirill, it was only the President, the Prime Minister, and the Mayor who spoke. I found the words of these three government leaders to be particularly significant. Indeed, they all spoke with some emotion, and perhaps Mayor Luzhkov with the most. With the help of Archimandrite Zacchaeus’s memory, these are some items from the words of President Victor Anatolievitch Medvedev : The Patriarch’s rôle in bringing people to Orthodoxy after the fall of communism was great. He allowed those who were baptised in the 1990s (as was he, the President himself) to feel fully a part of the Church. Patriarch Aleksy united the secular world and the Church world in a blessed harmony, as he also brought harmony to those of different religions within Russia — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox. The loss of the Patriarch is a loss for the entire nation. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin recalled : The most important accomplishment during the Patriarch’s life was to bring healing to a horrendous schism within Russian Orthodoxy — that is, the reunification of the Church Abroad with the Moscow Patriarchate. The life of the patriarch can be summed up as having been a life of striving for unity amongst all. Even in his death, this legacy continues. Here, in this hall, we see Orthodox, Catholics, Jews, and Muslim, all honouring the memory of the Patriarch. A great patriot of Russia, he was loved by Russians both here and abroad. His kind eyes revealed the greatness of the man. Similar words were spoken also by the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Mihkailovitch Luzhkov, and they were spoken with the most visible emotion.

It was a very sober affair, this meal, but very significant. There were also present many prominent government and business leaders. For instance, I was seated near a part of the Czech-Slovak Delegation, and beside the head of the Russian Railway System, Mr. Vladimir Yakunin (who, I later learned, is a frequent visitor at our Saint Catherine’s Church). Again, the presence of so many during all the services, the private comments that were voiced, and the attitude of all reveal clearly the significance of Patriarch Aleksy II. Television reports indicate that around 100,000 persons passed by the dais in the Cathedral, on which the Patriarch’s bier rested, during the days before the funeral. A survey indicated that people had come from all over Russia to pay their respects in this manner. The length of the queue waiting to pass by the bier reminded me of the queues at the time of the return of the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin, as people waited to venerate this Holy Icon. As Archimandrite Zacchaeus later commented, many people interviewed on television had said that although they had never met Patriarch Aleksy personally, they had come to feel very close to him (even as if he were a family member) through hearing his many talks, speeches, sermons, and both formal and informal interviews on television. From the first (from long before I met him), I had heard about how much Patriarch Aleksy was loved by so many.

After the repast, we parted from Father Leonid Kishkovsky. His daughter lives nearby, and it was faster for him to travel by metro than to take extra time by car. He had to prepare for an early departure from Moscow. We travelled to the hotel for packing. Archimandrite Zacchaeus had several appointments with foreign delegates there, as well. Archimandrite Zacchaeus informed me later that he had been told by a Moscow cleric with a certain ability prayerfully to recall and to understand, that Patriarch Aleksy had died on exactly the same day in the course of his life as had two other recent Patriarchs ; and further, that he had died on his father’s name-day — The Feast of Saint Michael of Tver.

Departure from the hotel on Wednesday morning was at 0415 hrs, in order to be on time for the 0645 hrs departure from Domodedovo Aeroport.

Pilgrimage to St Petersburg and Moscow Region 16 - 29 August, 2007

Archbishop SERAPHIM
Pilgrimage to St Petersburg and the Moscow Region
16 - 29 August, 2007

15-16 August. Toronto-Moscow-St Petersburg, St Alexander Nevsky Lavra

Flying directly from Toronto to Moscow late on August 15, and then immediately to St Petersburg, our pilgrimage group of fifteen Canadians arrived at the St Alexander Nevsky Lavra's Pilgrim Hostel on the evening of August 16.


The Lavra is in the very centre of St Petersburg, and there is easy access to the historic area, and the relics of St Alexander Nevsky are available in the Catholicon for veneration. The last time I served in this Lavra was as a priest when, in December 1980, I visited the city with a group of Finnish youth. The Lavra received us well, despite the difficulties faced by the brotherhood recently, namely the flooding of their refectory (part of their normal pilgrim service), and the prolonged time required to dry it, repair it, and return it to working order.


17 August. Kronstadt, St John of Kronstadt, St Xenia of St Petersburg

Our first day was given mostly to St John of Kronstadt. We travelled by minibus to the island of Kotlin, now connected from the north of the Gulf of Finland by a dam. We visited the Church of the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos, the descendant of the first church established on the island by Peter the Great in 1704. This is the only working church for the city of over 40,000people. This temple's reconstruction began with the labour of the faithful only, who completed the lower church, and now under the leadership of Archpriest Sviatoslav Melnyk, the restoration of the upper temple is nearing completion.

We visited many other historic sites in the city, including part of the flat in which St John lived for over fifty years. Nearby were the ruins of St Andrew's Church. Indeed, much that had any connexion with St John was destroyed, and anyone who seemed to have a personal connexion with him was executed for it. The huge Sobor of St Nicholas, completed in 1913, is the main Navy Church, modelled after Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (except with a higher dome). It was used since 1918 principally as a theatre, and it will take up to ten million dollars to restore. Local and military authorities, however, do not give speedy co-operation in the renewal of any church life locally.


After a full day on the island, we travelled to the St John of Rila Monastery, and there venerated the relics of St John of Krondstadt.


Afterwards, we went to the Smolensk Cemetery, and venerated St Xenia of St Petersburg, although the chapel was by then closed. In every place, there were also wonder-working icons to be venerated. Throughout our time in the area, we were guided by two parishioners of Fr Sviatoslav.


18 August. Around St Petersburg

The second day, Saturday, many proceeded, as on the previous day, to the early Liturgy in the Monastery. We first went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, where Fr Anatoly met a classmate from seminary, who was preparing for Liturgy. Fr Feoktist gave the opportunity to commemorate pilgrims, and members of the diocese at proskomedia.


Then we passed by the sometimes-used, renewed temple of the Resurrection (Saviour of the Spilled Blood), on the way to the Winter Palace-Hermitage Museum, where we had a guided tour. After the tour, we visited the Sts Peter and Paul Fortress, in whose Sobor (the first Cathedral of the city) are entoumbed former Tsars. There also is a chapel in which is the tomb of the family of Tsar St Nicholas II.


Then we travelled to St Isaac's Sobor, the largest temple in Russia after Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. This temple's main altar is used now only four times a year, but there is a side-chapel in weekly use. After this visit, and driving around St Nicholas' Sobor (one of the few churches never closed after the revolution), we returned to the Lavra for the Vigil of the Transfiguration. On this evening, and the following day, some pilgrims took the opportunity to go to the Sobor of the Resurrection, where Metropolitan Vladimir and Bishop Markell were serving, in association with festival services, and concerts for the centennial of the temple.


19 August. St Alexander Nevsky Lavra

On Sunday morning, the Divine Liturgy for the Transfiguration was served at the Holy Trinity Sobor of the St Alexander Nevsky Lavra. At the dinner following, there were several historical speeches offered by Fr Victor, a priest who has served under ten Metropolitans of the city, and who endured through some of the most difficult times. He expressed his gratitude for the reconciliation with the ROCOR. He commented that it was only by accident that he knew of the ROCOR, because until about 1990 there was almost no information coming from the exterior about Church life anywhere.


After dinner with the Brotherhood (now 30+), we were given a brief tour of the Monastery territory. At every turn, because it is St Petersburg, we heard about the slaughter of the faithful after the communist revolution. Because of this monastery, two Metropolitans died. In this monastery, 120 monks were killed at once, and at another time, forty. The monastery's origins coincide with those of the city, and Peter the Great, and his descendants, have had much to do with the Lavra's development. This has included the presence of a seminary, and an academy, both served by the monks.

The offices of the Metropolitan have also been on this territory. It is now only eleven or so years that buildings, besides the Sobor, are being returned to the Lavra, and only just now the last two on the territory. All restoration and renovation is the responsibility of the Lavra, and of the Diocese. Although relations have been difficult with civil authorities, these have been greatly improving in recent years.

In the evening, there was tea given to the pilgrim group by Metropolitan Vladimir, who received us very affably. We were shown photos of the immense restoration work still progressing on the Metropolis building. His Eminence also informed us of the numerous diocesan departments that have offices in this building, and of the challenges in finding sponsors to support all the needed repairs. There were also exchanges of historical information, and answers to questions about friends working in Canada. We met the secretary of the Metropolitan, Archpriest Sviatoslav Diachena, a great nephew of the departed rector of Christ the Saviour Sobor in Toronto, Archpriest John Diachena. We were also given suggestions about how better to organise ourselves on a future visit.

20 August. Khutyn Monastery, Novgorod Kremlin, Yuriev Monastery

On Monday morning, we rose very early for the visit to Novgorod, a very historic city which provides a kind of mythic foundation to the history of Russia. A republic for many centuries, it came only late under the control of the Moscow princes. Only Ladoga could be called more historic in western Russia, it seems. Late in the morning, after driving over 200 km towards Moscow, we arrived at Khutyn Monastery, ten km outside Novgorod. We were given a tour of the monastery, among the oldest of Russia, and we venerated the relics of St Varlaam of Khutynsk. We also walked up, and prayed atop the hill of sand which St Varlaam had erected in his lifetime, as a daily exercise of prayer. We were told that in the temple itself, there is not one icon that has not given myrrh, at one time or another. The reconstruction and repair work are moving at an amazing pace. The present life is formed and led by the Abbess, who has 33 years of monastic life, her own formation having come from Puhtitsa Monastery in Estonia (like many other post-Perestroika abbesses).

After lunch at this monastery of fifty nuns, we travelled into the city of Novgorod itself, to the Kremlin, and there we visited the historic Cathedral of St Sophia. This Temple, built by Yaroslav the Wise, is contemporary with the St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. Here, we venerated the relics of St Anna, the nun-widow of Yaroslav, of St Bishop Nikita of Novgorod, and of other Novgorod saints. We were also told various stories of how this temple has been divinely protected, particularly during and after World War II.

After a further tour of the Kremlin precincts, we travelled about another ten km to the Yuriev Monastery (St George), the part also, as a residence for Prince Yaroslav, and princes who followed after, because Novgorod did not allow the princes to live within the city itself. Here is the diocesan seminary, as well as monastic quarters, and a pilgrim hospice. It also contains the residence of Archbishop Lev of Novgorod. We were able to visit him briefly, in the midst of his supervising the entrance examinations of the seminary. He received us very warmly and kindly, and also expressed his distress at not having known exact details of our itinerary in advance. After our prolonged conversation, during which there were exchanged also memories of earlier days at the St Petersburg Academy, and summaries of the multitude of works being accomplished in this diocese, we made our way back through moderately heavy traffic to St Petersburg, to eat and to retire.

21 August. St Petersburg Seminary and Academy, Pushkin, Peterhoff

Tuesday morning was our last day in St Petersburg. First, we paid a visit to the St Petersburg Seminary and Academy, and we were welcomed by Rector Archbishop Konstantin and given a tour of the building, which is greatly under renovation and reconstruction.

Before our departure, which was somewhat delayed (as usual), I was interviewed by two students for the academy's internet site. The academy is indeed doing many renovations, but they are very much in need still of some basic supplies. Education is supplied to the students gratis by the Church, but such things as proper black-boards, and other for-us standard teaching aids, seem to be completely lacking.

Next, we went to the town of Pushkin, and visited the Church of the Sign of the Theotokos, followed by a visit to the palace gardens. Afterwards, we stopped by the nearby Church of the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Theotokos, in the temple where Michael Romanov was blessed by his mother to become Tsar. We venerated this icon, and others. After this, we travelled to a restaurant of the traditional form for dinner, and then drove to Peterhoff (Petrodvorets).


After a walk around some of the fountains of this palace, we walked to the nearby Church of Sts Peter and Paul, constructed only a century ago, and appearing much like the Church of the Resurrection (Saviour on the Spilled Blood) in St Petersburg. It has a renewed, high, splendid, ceramic iconostasis.

Then we visited the Holy Trinity Monastery nearby, which adjoins the Presidential Summer Palace, and we venerated the relics of two local monastic saints, and then the icon of St Herman of Alaska. It was in this monastery that St Herman was tonsured a monk, and in this monastery that St Ignatii (Brianchaninov) was abbot for some time. After this, we visited for a time with the hermit-Igumen Nicholas (Paramanov), and talked about a number of spiritual experiences and concerns regarding the renewal of this monastery.

In every church, we sang some tropars together, and it seems that in almost every place, we met old friends, professors, and class-mates of Fr Anatoliy, and various clergy who have connexions with North America. Several times during these days, we met Vyacheslav Rogoza, son of Fr Vadim, who served for a time in Montréal. Having completed the Odessa Seminary, he was sitting his entrance exams for the St Petersburg Academy. Around midnight that day, we departed by train for Moscow. We arrived in Moscow around 10 o'clock.

22 August. Moscow

On Wednesday morning we were met by Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), and our Moscow organisers. We piled ourselves and our luggage into the minibus, and were driven to the OCA Podvoriye, St Catherine in the Field, on Bolshaya Ordinke Street, where Fr Zacchaeus is the rector. We venerated the icons and relics in the temple and sang tropars, and then headed to the recently renovated hall area, where we were given brunch.


After this, we drove to the Pokrovsky Monastery, where we venerated St Matrona's relics and were given a tour of the monastery's property. As usual, we sang tropars in the midst of the main temple, were informed about the great works associated with St Matrona, and also told about the community's caring for twenty orphaned girls. It seems they have done this since the re-opening of the Monastery. During the dinner which the nuns gave us, some of these girls entertained us with singing.


After visiting the book-store, the other pilgrims visited a museum, and I was met by Archimandrite Zacchaeus, and taken to the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarch, at the Danilov Monastery. There we had a conversation with Metropolitan Kirill (of Smolensk) about situations in North American and world Orthodoxy.

23 August. Vladimir and Suzdal

On Thursday morning, we departed early for the historic towns of Vladimir, and Suzdal, a three-hour drive, but in this case rather longer, because of Moscow traffic. We were greeted at the beginning of the city of Vladimir with a police-car escort, which helped, and sped the rest of the day's travels. We began our visit with a short moleben, venerating the relics of Archbishop Afanasy, and of Princes Andrei and Gleb, greeting Archbishop Evlogy of Vladimir and Suzdal, and greeting the rectors of the twelve churches of the city, all in the historic Uspensky Cathedral.

We were given a guide for the day, who introduced us to Prince Andrei's domestic church, St Dmitri's Sobor, with its elaborate limestone exterior carving. Vladimir, founded by St Prince Vladimir, was the first capital of Russia. Our travels this day were somewhat challenged by high heat, and smoke from forest fires. We took dinner with Archbishop Evlogy at the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, and he informed us of numerous historical facts, as well as telling us of the many opportunities for Christian education in his diocese - from Church school, through gymnasium, to seminaries. Then we toured the monastery and visited the royal monastery buildings.

Suzdal was our next stop, where we were impressed by the fact that it remains within its 17th-century limits, retaining much of the character of an old Russian town. It was a very popular pilgrimage site, which accounts for its many churches, as compared to its small population of 11,000. We first passed the earthen kremlin walls, and entered the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, where we venerated the relics of St Bishop Arseny of Elassa. During the whole excursion, the guide's good information was further supplemented by the commentary of Archimandrite Innocent of St Alexander Nevsky's Monastery in Suzdal.

In Suzdal there are presently four working monasteries, two each of men and of women, and one which is a museum. In the whole diocese, there are thirty working monasteries, all established in the past fifteen years. Women's monasteries are slightly in the majority, and the populations vary from three to thirty. We visited the Spaso-Ephemiev Monastery, which is a museum, and viewed and venerated many very old icons. Near this monastery there is a rapidly developing museum of wooden buildings, being collected from the whole region.

Then we visited the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery, opened now for only two years, and then took supper at the Pokrov Monastery. This was followed by a rapid return to Vladimir, and to the Uspensky Princess Monastery, and the veneration of the oldest of Russia's icons, the wonder-working Bogoliubsky Icon of the Theotokos.


24 August. Tretiakov Gallery, cruise along the Moscow River

On Friday, back in Moscow, we went by metro to the Tretiakov Gallery. This was an interesting trip, with the several transfers, but it gave a good perspective on the life of ordinary Muscovites, and particularly in the unusually hot weather. At the gallery we were first given a tour of the main parts of the regular exhibits of Russian painters, along with a well-detailed explanation of the use of light : Russian artists tend to respond to light from above, from heaven, and to try to reflect it. This tour took us from the early painters through the early twentieth century.

Then we went to the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the three-hundred-year-old temple of St Nicholas in the Tolmatch, around which the gallery grew in time. Here Archpriest Nicholas Sokolov, the rector, gave us a history of the church, and its connexion with the Tretiakov family. We venerated the wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir which, like the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin, is believed to be written originally by the Evangelist Luke. We were shown the back part of this icon, a cross-and-table, along with instruments of the Crucifixion, painted by St Andrei Rublev. We also venerated a very ancient Cross-and-Corpus, from which healings come. It is situated on the kliros of one of the side-chapels at the entrance. We prayed, and we sang tropars. Then we went to the basement of the Church, and had dinner with Fr Nicholas, who told us many things about the history of the parish and about his own life. After the dinner, we were taken by our guide to the Icon Collection of the Museum. Here, we were given very good scientific explanations about the difficulties of discovering, and of using correct restoration techniques.

Then it was time to leave, and we travelled to our OCA Podvoriye (representation church) of St Catherine in the Field, about a 20-minute walk, where we were given tours of the church, its sewing facilities, its work-shops, and its church-goods shops. There is also a medical clinic, which offers free service to the needy.

Following this was the arrival of Ralph Lysyshyn, the Canadian Ambassador, with whom we had supper for an hour. He gave a very good explanation of Canadian business activity in Russia, and Russian business activity in Canada, and he answered many questions of the pilgrims. It is clear that the political tensions we experience between Canada and Russia has its effects, such as our having closed the Consulate in St Petersburg. Business goes very well, however. After his departure, we walked to the metro, and travelled to the Kiev Station, where we boarded a boat for a guided cruise along the Moscow River.

25 August. Moscow Monasteries

On Saturday, we departed at mid-morning for a guided visit to several Moscow monasteries. This visit followed, to an extent, what is called the Boulevard, a former boundary of the city. We began with the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, a very old foundation, from about the 14th century, now having thirty nuns, and a considerable amount of restoration work yet to be done.

This was followed by the Spaso-Andronnikov Monastery, now a museum, but having a working church. This monastery was home to St Andrei Rublev, and is of similar age to the Rozhdestvensky Monastery we had just visited.

This was followed by the Novospassky Monastery, beside the Moskva River, where we venerated its wonder-working icon of the Theotokos, visited the temple, saw the Romanov crypt, and walked around the monastic grounds. A lot of rapid restoration has been done in this monastery, and its bookstore was highly commended by the pilgrims.

The next monastery, some distance away, was the Donskoy. This monastery, founded by Dmitry Donskoy, formerly housed the wonder-working Donskoy Icon of the Theotkos (now replaced by a spisok of this icon). Because the Church supported the army in defending Russia during World War II, the Donskoy Regiment considers this Monastery "home." Particularly important to us, in this place are the relics of the New-confessor St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, founder of this Archdiocese in 1903. He was imprisoned in this monastery, and he died here in 1925.

The cemetery is partly intact, and contains the relics of many famous persons. We had planned to visit the Novodevichy Monastery, but we took too much time at the others. We concluded this part of the pilgrimage at the Danilovsky Monastery, founded by St Daniel, son of St Alexander Nevsky. Here we were able to venerate the relics of them both, and the relics of other saints as well. This monastery has several wonder-working icons, as well as some myrrh-giving ones.

The grounds contain the Holy Synod building and the offices of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. In this monastery we had dinner in the monks' refectory, and afterwards were taken to meet Archimandrite Alexei, the Abbot. He served us tea, and asked many questions about Church life in North America. One subject of interest was the impending return of the monastery's bells which are currently at Harvard University in Cambridge MA, where they were taken after the Revolution.

After this warm visit, we drove to the Sretinsky Monastery, on Liubianka Street. The site is well-known by readers of Solzhenitsyn and other histories of the USSR. The monastery is so called because it was on this site that the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos was met as it first entered Moscow. The monastery territory was also the site of much suffering in Soviet times (the infamous "Lubianka Prison"), and there is a special crypt chapel presently built where the monks every night pray for the departed. This monastery also operates a seminary, numbering about 100 students. After a brief tour, we venerated the relics of the New-martyr Archbishop Ilarion. He was head of this monastery, and was the main supporter of Patriarch St Tikhon, and he suffered in part for this. We then attended Vigil in the monastery, and afterwards were given supper in the refectory, along with several monks, who asked many insightful questions. Then we returned to the hotel (Ukrainian-owned, we found), driven by our Cossack Lieutenant driver. Of course, there was photographing of us with him in his uniform.

26 August. 210th Anniversary of the birth of St Innocent

On Sunday morning, we had a general early departure. Some went with me to our Podvoriye of St Catherine-in-the-Field, and others went either to Sretinsky Monastery, or to Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Present at the Liturgy in the Podvoriye, and the Moleben that followed, was Bishop Zosima of Yakutsk and Lensk, a diocese which was part of St Innocent's first diocesan responsibility. It was interesting to observe how very much has already been done in renovating our Podvoriye, but also to note how much yet needs to be done in future. The sovietising of the buildings, and the ruining of parts of them, is still quite visible.

After this Liturgy and some food, Fr Anatoliy and I went to St TIkhon's University, to participate in a "round-table" on the occasion of the 210th anniversary of the birth of St Innocent. This discussion reflected on many aspects of St Innocent's life, work, and influence. Because of this anniversary, at the end of the Liturgy, we were blessed to venerate a part of the right hand of St Innocent, in a special reliquary. This reliquary was accompanying Bishop Zosima along his 3,000 km pilgrimage along the Lena River.

Most of the pilgrims, at that time, went to tour the Armoury of the Kremlin. Following all this was free-time, which for me meant being taken for supper to the datcha of a relative of a parishioner of Fr Anatoliy Melnyk.

27 August. Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, Elokhovsky Theophany Cathedral

On Monday morning, because of highway construction, we departed very early for the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra. Upon arriving, we were taken on a visit to the main temples of the Lavra and, as well, on a climb up the belfry of the Lavra, to the second level. This was most impressive to all of us. Included in our visit to the Dormition temple was the veneration of the relics of St Innocent of Alaska, and of St Maxim the Greek. This was followed by a very interesting and illuminating tour of the Moscow Academy facilities. Our guides were students.

After dinner, we went to the Holy Trinity temple, where we venerated the relics of St Sergius. Then we took our leave and travelled several kilometres to the place of the Spring of St Sergius, the refreshing water of which is collected regularly by the monks and drunk by many people to this day. Near the source, there is a church and a chapel, both built of logs, and wood, in the old North Russian Style.


From this place, we drove to Moscow, for Vigil at the Elokhovsky Theophany Cathedral. I co-served part of Vigil with Archbishop Arseny, one of the vicars of the Patriarch. Afterwards, we had tea with Archbishop Arseny, Protopresbyter Matthew Stadniuk, and Nikolai Symeonovich, the venerable starosta of the cathedral, who has served in this capacity for forty years.

28 August. Kremlin, Dormition Cathedral, Christ the Saviour Cathedral

On Tuesday morning, we departed early for the Kremlin, for the Liturgy of the Dormition in the Dormition Cathedral, co-serving with Patriarch Aleksy. This is the historic cathedral of the city, but because of its age, its situation in the Kremlin, and its artistic and architectural significance, the Patriarch is able to serve in this temple only a few times a year, and that during a limited time, and with limited numbers of servers and congregants. The Patriarchal Liturgy followed Matins, because of the limited time available for using this historic temple, which is now mostly a museum.

We next made an excursion to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the seven-year-old replica of the original, which was built originally mostly from the donations of the faithful as a memorial, following the Napoleanic war. The new building, however, has many below-ground facilities not included in the original, including a lower church which can accommodate about 7,000 persons. Here, on a weekly basis, many people are baptised in a side-chapel. After this tour, there was a visit to the Sofrino church-supply store nearby, and a return to the hotel, to prepare for an early departure the next day. The pilgrimage had many difficulties in its preparation, but the main organiser, Tatiana Prochina of Ottawa, managed, with her friends and contacts in Moscow, to pull the organisation together, through God's blessing and help. Her friend, Liudmila, was particularly competent. In addition, Fr Anatoliy Melnyk's brother, Fr Sviatoslav, and his parishioners Tatiana and Olga were the main support of our time in St Petersburg. And also, the Patriarchate was merciful to us. Thanks be to God for the many blessings that came from this pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is much more fruitful than simple tourism.

Pilgrimage on Mount Athos

Archbishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage on Mount Athos
(Thessalonika, Mount Athos)
10-17 November, 2007


As so often happens with a pilgrimage, one must be ready for all sorts of obstacles and changes of plans. This is not only because we are sinners (although this is true, and our sinfulness sometimes does impede blessings). However, it is also because of our intention to try to do what is right and pleasing to the Lord, that the Adversary sends obstacles. Often, especially in the midst of the events, it is not at all easy to discern which is which. Therefore, it is important that we always call to the Lord, and ask for the blessing, and that we not just assume that the blessing is there. Then, doors may open in an expected manner, or there may be significant changes. Always giving thanks to the Lord, we must be ready to accept whatever comes to us, and to glorify Him, regardless, as we live under His protection and that of the Theotokos. One hears frequently of this sort of situation with regard to Spruce Island in Alaska — that one cannot get there from Kodiak (or even on and off Kodiak Island itself) unless the weather permits. This is often understood to be involved with the blessing, or not, of Saint Herman. This is so elsewhere, not just in maritime environments. Also, regardless of attempts to express the experience of a pilgrimage, no-one can manage, really, to put this into words. One can only give a summary suggestion of the experience.

Our flight took us first to Athens, then to Thessalonika (named for the sister of Alexander the Great), where we arrived on mid-Sunday afternoon, 11 November. We would have only the “inside” of a week to make this pilgrimage. Upon arrival, there was just time to find supper, because the eating-places were soon closing. We also discovered that Thessalonika, obviously still a Christian city, has its shops closed on Sundays (and likely on major holy days, also).

For many years, I had hoped to be able to have the blessing to go to the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos. In our days, when we think that everything should happen automatically and according to our plans, still, the Lord has ways of showing us the correct perspective. Before we had begun our voyage, we thought we had made sufficient provision for the fact that our pilgrim-group of eight was larger than the usual maximum size of five. So it was that, although we had arranged according to the correct manner for approaching the Holy Mountain, we began on our first morning to encounter the application of the saying : “Man proposes ; God disposes”.

We arose very early on Monday, 12 November, as expected. However, on arriving at the bus-station, we found that the bus we had expected to take us to Ouranopolis was cancelled. When we finally did arrive in this little village, we found (after some searching) the Pilgrimage Office. There, they had no record of our group, although they eventually did issue the travel documents for the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos is an autonomous Monastic Republic within Greece). Having received these, we were told that the weather was too poor for any boats to travel that day. The wind was very strong, and the waves were too high for safe navigation and, in particular, safe docking. Therefore, we had time to walk about in the village, to eat, to talk, to rest. In the course of this walking and eating, to our surprise, we encountered many Russian-speakers and a bus of pilgrims from Moscow. Thanks to these Russians, we were able to find an available hotel and to spend the night there, because there is no place available to help pilgrims in this situation. There, we met Russian and Moldovan pilgrims, also. We were given all sorts of advice on how to maximise our experience of the monasteries during our short time on the Holy Mountain. Even before we embarked, instead of a simple two-monastery visit, we were beginning a multi-monastery visit.

Then we were driven to Karyes, to the Skete of Saint Andrew, which is very much under reconstruction. Its buildings are nevertheless beautiful. This, and other monastic buildings are often quite large, reflecting past very large populations. Father Ephrem, who greeted us there, reminded us that living in larger communities does not often work very well with western, modern man, because we are so used to living to and for ourselves. We cannot easily live with many persons and easily get along with them, and at the same time only see the spiritual father infrequently because of these numbers. He expressed the hope that future pilgrims from Canada would go to visit Saint Andrew’s. He expressed the readiness of this community also to pray for people if requests are sent.

We then visited the Protaton (the first, or main monastery), and the Icon Aksios estin (it is truly meet). The Protaton has all sorts of scaffolding, inside and out, because of renovation. Karyes is a sort of “centre” for the Holy Mountain, often called its “capital”, and there are some monastically-operated shops there. Then we proceeded to Pantocrator Monastery. When I write like this, it seems to make it seem to be a rather easy operation. Not so. Historically, until recently, people went to the monasteries by foot, by boat, or by donkey. Now, with roads, vehicles of various sizes are used more often. However, the roads are very difficult and some require special vehicles. In the Temples of the monasteries, we always met a monk who had enough English ability to tell us something about the monastery and its wonder-working icons and its relics. Sometimes, if the priests were available, we were able to venerate the holy relics that were not generally available to persons arriving. Because of the long history of some monasteries and their “proximity” to Constantinople and to Thessalonika, there are many relics of well-known saints from early times. After Pantokrator, we went to the Prophet Elias Skete nearby, and then we went to Stavronikita and finally to Iveron.

At Iveron, we joined in with Vespers, Paraklesis (in the chapel of the Portaitissa Icon of the Theotokos), supper and Compline (with Akathist). As we progressed, we were informed about the inter-connected histories of these monasteries. This is so, even in these days. The renewal of the life of these communities has been enabled by the movement of groups of monks from one community to another. In this case, Iveron was revived by the arrival of monks from Stavronikita. The communities are all repairing their buildings, and the spiritual life is now strong and the monks are again becoming very numerous. Some communities, like Vatopedi, now number about 100 in the main community. Besides this, there are many more living in dependent communities nearby. Iveron Monastery, which was founded by Georgians, is one of the three oldest monasteries. Its wonderworking icon, the Portaitissa, is a well-known wonder-working icon which is considered to be the protectress of the whole Holy Mountain. The Portaitissa Icon is represented in Moscow in Red Square in the Ivirsakaya Chapel. As was noted by one monk, although women do not enter the Holy Mountain, it is a woman, the Mother of God, who is its Protectress, and who is the most significant personality of the whole peninsula. It must be understood that the Mother of God is considered to be the abbess of each monastery. This monastery is also the home of the now-retired Archimandrite Vasilios, the writer, whose works are being published by our Dr. John Hadjinicolaou and Alexander Press of Montréal.

The next day, Wednesday, 14 November, after 0230 hrs, we could join the services of Midnight Hour, Matins, Hours, and Divine Liturgy. It was the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian and of Saints James, James, and Dionysius of Iveron. At the end of Matins, we were able to venerate the relics of each of these saints. On ordinary days and lesser feasts, Divine Liturgies are in the chapels, not the main Temple. Everything is served fully, in order and peacefully. Nevertheless, we were told that as many as 200 persons per day visit this monastery and ask to venerate the Icon of the Portaitissa. It was now raining significantly, and later in the morning we were helped to get to Karyes, where we had to take the large bus to Daphne, whence we had to take the boat to the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon. Once we arrived, the father in charge of guests gave us a short tour of the older main Temple, built after 1812. After this, he took us to the Reception Room for a cup of coffee, and he showed us to our rooms. Then we went to the upper, larger Temple, built at the turn of the 20th century, which could accommodate the 2,000 monks then living in this monastery. We venerated their many precious relics, which included those of the Forerunner, several apostles, many other well-known saints, including relics of most of the Unmercenary Healers, Saint Panteleimon, some more recent saints glorified in Russia, and of course, the Head of Saint Silouan. The present history of Saint Panteleimon is dated from the 19th century. Going back 900 years, however, it has very old roots in other small communities on the same site.

The clock of the monastery reminded us that the Holy Mountain operates on the old Christian time scheme, which followed that of the Scriptures : the day begins with sunset. There are twelve hours of the night, and twelve of the day, which are governed by the sunset. As a result, we were serving the Ninth Hour and Vespers at what appeared to be 1400 hrs, and Compline with Akathist at what appeared to be 1700 hrs. At 0800 hrs Old Time (0100 hrs civil time), we were beginning the Midnight Hour, followed by Matins, the three Hours, and the Divine Liturgy. All this was two hours later at Iveron. Nevertheless, the whole schedule is the same, and the general physical effect on us was one of an extra seven hours’ time-difference from Montréal, and much more “jet-lag”.

On Thursday, 15 November, after the end of the Divine Liturgy, there was a short rest, and we then went to the trapeza (refectory). After this, we were informed that the winds were too strong and the waves too high, and that our boat to Ouranopolis would therefore not arrive at the dock. Therefore, we had time to visit the Vicar-Abbot, and to discuss how better to encourage visits from abroad.

We were guided to the cemetery, which we visited, and then to the charnel-house Temple of All Saints, where more than 2,000 heads and other bones of departed monks are resting. We had it explained to us, also, that the colour of the bones is one indication of sanctity (or not). We were also told that the three-year exhumation custom on the Holy Mountain is primarily because of the very poor and limited soil on the peninsula. Nevertheless, this same custom is followed in very many places throughout Greece. (Greeks who have reposed relatives in Greece often are required to travel there for the exhumation of some relative.)

After this, there was time for rest, before beginning again the schedule of services. We had already had the blessing of participating in two complete monastic cycles of worship, one in Greek, the second in Slavonic. None of us was, of course, used to such long periods in church, even if we have plenty of experience otherwise. In the end, the winds did not subside, and so we were blessed with a third cycle of services.

Early on the final morning, Friday, 16 November, with the pooling of money, it was arranged that a small, fast boat come from Ouranopolis to collect us specially, since the sea was moderate, but in danger of increasing activity. Autumn is a windy time of the year, with fast changes in weather. That we were able to accomplish this, we take to be thanks to the help and protection of the Mother of God and the prayers of Saint Nicholas. We arrived in Ouranopolis via Daphne quite quickly, and then we went by mini-bus to Thessalonika (a cheaper option for many people travelling together, with several stops required — however there is nothing inexpensive about travelling in Greece on the Euro). Near Thessalonika, we stopped in at the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Monastery of Saint Anastasia (fourth-century Great Virgin Martyr), and we venerated her relics there. In the 4th century, these relics rested in a Temple in Thessalonika. We also were able to venerate the relics of Saint Theonas, the sixteenth-century Archbishop of Thessalonika, whose uncorrupt body rests there. It was moving to see two women approaching the relics of Saint Theonas. They ascended the stairs to the Temple on their hands-and-knees, and then they moved on their knees the whole way through the Temple to the iconostasis, at the south side of which is the reliquary.

We got to Thessalonika in mid-afternoon, and we were greeted by heavy traffic. Construction of a subway contributed to this congestion. After arriving at our hotel and taking a brief rest, we were collected again and taken to venerate the aromatic relics of Saint Demetrios, the Great Martyr (†306), in the basilica dedicated to his memory. There, we venerated also the relics of the Martyr Anysia of Thessalonika (†298). We also venerated the relics of the Archbishop of Thessalonika, Saint Gregory Palamas (†1359), in the Temple named for him. Then we visited the historic Temple of Hagia Sophia, named for the Martyr Sophia and her three children (†137). In this Temple, also, are the relics of the tenth-century Archbishop of Thessalonika, Saint Basil Homologites. There were official visits that we intended to have made, but they were impossible because of our late arrival. Nevertheless, it was a very blessed day, blessed in ways we could not have expected — even though it was not according to plan. I have always found that any plan made regarding a pilgrimage in particular, has to be very flexible because things are always changing. In this case (through our own Russian-speaking participants’ simple conversations with people), the changes had also to do with the unexpected encounter with various Russian-speakers in every place, who seemed to be sent to help us at difficult moments : they were on the spot at the needed moments, even if the change in plan often cost extra money. The Lord always knows how to care for us. The Mother of God is always taking care of us. The prayers of various saints are supporting us. In the end, we have to say “God is with us...”.

Early on Saturday, 17 November, despite trepidation about possible strikes, we embarked for Canada, and we arrived in the late afternoon (including the time required for a transfer), in time for being able to serve on Sunday.

Everywhere we visited, we were told that not very many pilgrims arrive from North America, and very few, indeed, from Canada. Instead, very many come from former Soviet countries and from Australia, Germany, Austria, and Britain. It is true that it is not an easy thing to make such a pilgrimage, and it is true that we have now many more monasteries close by in North America. It is true that it is an expensive undertaking to travel in territory governed by the Euro. It is nevertheless worth trying to gather the resources, to make the connexions as possible (even by computer now), and to go. We have the resources in Canada to give suggestions as to how to go about this, and there is computer information on the internet, as well. In our Archdiocese of Canada, Dr. John Hadjinicolaou can give a person some suggestions, as can Fathers Luke (Majoros), and Pierre (Vachon), and perhaps Father Cyprian Hutcheon. There are others. If one is a clergyman, the travel requires getting specific permission from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it requires a letter both from the diocesan bishop, and the bishop of the Greek Orthodox Diocese (in this case, Metropolitan Sotirios, the Patriarchal Exarch for Canada). Lay-persons can go for three nights (as a beginning), and perhaps then acquire an extension through the office in Karyes. There are many other monasteries in the areas of Chalkidiki and Macedonia, which can be visited in addition to the Holy Mountain. Most important, it is better not to travel as we did, with a short time available and with tight schedules ; but rather, to travel with enough time on either side of the projected arrival and departure times, so that one can allow for weather, or possible extended stays.

Again, the blessing is worth the expenditure. It is time for us in North America to start again to visit these places of refreshment and examples of the Christian way-of-life. Over fifty years ago, when travel was more difficult, Canadian believers did take the trouble to make such pilgrimages and to maintain contact with these monasteries. I remember myself encountering persons who did this. These communities are ready and willing to have correspondence with us and to pray for us. It is a spiritual struggle to make a pilgrimage, but the blessings that come are important, and the experience can help us to grow in Christ, to whom be glory unto the ages.

NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES

Bishop Seraphim : Report
NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Porto Alegre, Brasil
14-23 February, 2006


The purpose of this journey was to be a part of the delegated representation of The Orthodox Church in America at the Ninth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brasil. In advance of this, there had previously been several preparatory conferences, both in the USA and in Canada. These conferences included the Orthodox representatives from various Churches, and also others. One such conference included the various representatives who were being sent from amongst the member-churches of the Canadian Council of Churches.

It is crucial that it be understood that the Orthodox Churches participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) (and in other such organisations more locally) for two primary reasons. The first reason is that the Orthodox demonstrate, speak about and witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, the Truth, in the Orthodox way. It is an evangelical purpose. The second reason is that this participation facilitates conversations between and amongst the many Orthodox Churches, since there is no convenient vehicle for such conversations amongst all the Orthodox otherwise. It is in such situations that the Constantinopolitan and Oriental Orthodox can manage sometimes to talk. Since 1992, Patriarch Bartholomew I has very occasionally convened meetings of the Heads of Autocephalous Churches, but these meetings are very limited in numbers.

On Saturday, 11 February, I set off from Ottawa for New York, and I had expected to be leaving early the following day for Brasil. Instead, there was a heavy snowfall on the east coast (about 70 cm), which closed the æroports. I therefore stayed at the chancery of the OCA until the next possible time of departure, the evening of Wednesday, 15 February. This delay gave an arrival on Thursday, 16 February, towards mid-day. The route was through São Paulo to Porto Alegre, and our arrival was a day-and-a-half late.

One part of the delegation of The Orthodox Church in America had made an earlier departure, so the Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky had managed to arrive in Brasil before the storm (as did Alexis S Troubetskoy, who was representing other related entities). The remainder of the delegation of the OCA and of the Office of External Church Relations (consisting of Priest Alexander Rentel, Professor Paul Meyendorff, Matushka Valerie Zahirsky, and me, together with the observers Constantine and Arlene Kallaur) arrived late.

After arriving at Porto Alegre, and after having checked into the Ritter Hotel (it is like an older European hotel), we made our way to the Pontifcia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (São Paulo Pontifical Catholic University), the site of the assembly, and we tried to orient ourselves. We immediately joined the sessions, but we had also arrived at the university in time for dinner. After this break, we joined the afternoon Plenary Session on economic justice, and the evening business session for nominations. I found the translation services to be excellent and efficient, and the overall organisation was very good. However (as we would find), the commuting from all the hotels was a significant inconvenience and obstacle. Morning and evening, there was a prayer service, at which Orthodox attendance was conspicuously low. This was also the case in the past, apparently. The reason for that is ostensibly that previously, these services were an artificial blend contrived for each occasion, which the Orthodox often tried to avoid. However, there had been a change in rules about the nature of these services, so that they would be presented by a “denomination” according to its own manner of serving. Nevertheless, either because of fatigue, or resistance, the Orthodox attendance was low at these services. However, evening services apparently tended to be organised on a more local basis (not necessarily governed by these rules), and the nature of them was unpredictable and to many Orthodox indigestible. At these services, the Orthodox were even less visible. Supper was at our hotel.

On Friday morning, 17 February, there was a visit from the President of Brasil. He gave a speech that generally covered the recent accomplishments of his government, and also some future intentions, with particular reference to the concerns of the WCC about the environment and the right treatment of human beings. We then joined our various groups of “Ecumenical Conversations” on various topics. I, myself, with Arlene and Valerie and some other Orthodox, participated in a conversation about environmental concerns. The afternoon was devoted to the topic “Christian Identity”, and the chief speaker on the subject was Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. His presentation was hitherto the most substantial of any presentation we heard. It is important to understand that we had not heard Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, because he had already spoken by the time we arrived. His words in printed form were excellent, and I regret not having heard him in person. This was followed by regional meetings. The North American meeting was devoted to deciding on the North American presidential nomination for the WCC, its rationale, history, and future alternation between the USA and Canada. It was also recognised that Mexico and Central America are visibly absent from this North American region. Nevertheless, the Antiochian Metropolitan Damaskinos of São Paulo, Brasil, was the head of the delegation that represented all Latin America, including Cuba. It was averred that Mexico and Central America appropriately belong to the greater Latin American body. Supper was at the hotel ; and as it happened, the North American and Czech-Slovak delegations (with much humour) sat together. The latter delegation was led by Archbishop Kryštof of Prague, who also shared his hopes about his future visit to the USA.

On Saturday, 18 February, with everyone gathered, there was a morning Bible Study, following the morning prayers. The final session of Ecumenical Conversations followed this. After dinner, there was a long presentation on combatting violence. This was immediately followed by a caucus of the Orthodox (which included all Orthodox, both “Eastern” and “Oriental”). This meeting was chaired by Metropolitan Gennadios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. One of the major concerns entertained was the number of seats per Church on the Central Committee. Besides this, there were calls for a Council of reconciliation between the “Eastern” and “Oriental” Orthodox, and a revival of all conversations and processes needed to accomplish this. There was a steady concern for the inclusion of the youth and of women (of which there were many representatives present). There was dismay expressed by some that on Sunday (the next day) there would be both a “Greek”, and a “Russian” Divine Liturgy, and that there would be thus a visible division (besides that which required the “Orientals” to serve separately, anyway). The justification given was that both the Russian and Greek Temples and communities in this city are very small, and that they really wanted the visitors to come to them, rather than joining a larger assembly at the university. If everything were at the university only, the people of São Paulo would have almost no contact with the visitors, nor the visitors with the local people. The number of persons present at the caucus was about 300, and the atmosphere amongst them all was warmly fraternal. Supper was at the hotel. This night, according to the local custom, the clocks were changed back one hour.

On 19 February, the Sunday Divine Liturgy, in Russian/Slavonic, at Saint Sergius’ Church, was the one which most of our delegation attended. Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna served (with 4 priests and 1 deacon). The senior priest was our Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, who also gave the homily after the Gospel. The choir was made up of both visitors and local singers, and the languages used were Slavonic, English and Georgian. Most of the non-celebrating clergy received Holy Communion, along with a large number of faithful, many of whom also went to the Mystery of Confession both before and during the Divine Liturgy. The hierarchical service was somewhat simplified, because of a lack of personnel and “kiri”, but it was very pleasant indeed. Present amongst the bishops (besides me) were 2 Bulgarian observer-bishops : Metropolitan Dometian and Metropolitan Kyrill. Hospitality was as I have found it everywhere in such situations : the people were very happy to receive us, but they were not properly organised for one reason or another. Regardless, warm hearts always prevail over disorganisation. While speaking with the Bulgarian bishops, I was told that they are waiting for a visit from our Church to the Bulgarian Church. I explained that we are presently a bit short of money, but that we hoped to try to accomplish such a visit later on. Once again, in the course of our conversations, it was reinforced to me what sort of positive reputation we have abroad. Metropolitan Niphont, the Antiochian Representative in Moscow, expressed regret to Father Leonid Kishkovsky that the OCA was passing through its present controversy. He emphasised that the OCA is generally regarded by the others with a favourable attitude, even if there are sometimes tests. Lunch was as we could find it.

In mid-afternoon, we took the buses to the PUC campus, and joined the afternoon Plenary Session. This session consisted of a combination of audio-visual and live presentations, greetings, and explanations of Latin-American life and history. This was supported by actors/singers/dancers, with life-size “dummies”, who made a sort of play of the narrative. The main point of the presentation was to express something about the 500 exploitative/oppressive years since the arrival of the conquistadores ; and, although admitting that life before them was not perfect, to express the great hope in the present for improving life in general, while keeping this improvement in the context of remembering the living past. The over-riding concern in Latin America at present seems to be the destructive activities of big corporations, such as sellers of bananas and soy-products. There was a lot of attention given also to the negative effects of dictatorships and revolutions. The various ecclesiastical communities appear to be co-operating in the work of rescuing people, and attempting to right wrongs. It was a reasonably well-presented entertainment, but its specific contents do raise some serious questions. Always, our perception is that what is presented during these sessions could be more specifically Christocentric. We took supper at the hotel, because we did not feel up to taking in the various other regional entertainments which were offered, and we hoped to retire a little earlier.

Monday morning, 20 February, was taken up, first, by various conversations : with Metropolitan Ambrosius at breakfast, and then with the Priest Heikki Huttunen (both of Finland) at the PUC. Then followed the first of the day’s plenaries. There were various speakers on the topic of church unity. A couple of Oriental Orthodox speakers raised good and useful points, but the Protestant speakers expressed ecclesiologies that were ignorant of the Orthodox ecclesiology. The last and most famous of the speakers was Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa. There were, in my opinion, some good points in his emotional speech ; but he went far beyond the limits of our tolerance in his embracing of all human beings in a particularly indiscriminate manner. It is to be understood that he would feel inclusive, given his life’s experience, but an Orthodox could not go so far, and particularly not in this sort of speech. One might describe his attitude as being somewhat Ghandian. There appears to be a confusion between holding a respectful attitude towards human beings in general, and what is the truth about Who Christ is, and about the Church as the Body of Christ. After this, I had coffee with Archbishop Nifon of Targoviste, Romania, who has participated in the WCC for 15 years. I expressed to him my sense of struggle concerning the way things in general have been being expressed so very vaguely, so loosely all-encompassing, and so altogether over-inclusively at these meetings. He indicated to me that before the 1998 Harare Assembly, and before the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC (http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/2006-porto-aleg...), it was much, much more difficult to bear. I then thanked him for whatever he had contributed towards making it better. It is beneficial to be aware of the history of these developments, and I regret my lack of such detailed knowledge. The words and sentiments of Archbishop Nifon were repeated by several others in other conversations. Conversations such as this did stress the utility of our participation in such a body as the WCC, for two reasons. First, we Orthodox have a forum in which to speak with each other that does not otherwise exist. Second, we have an opportunity to witness to the value and stability of the Orthodox Church.

There was a Syndesmos-sponsored forum on the Orthodox presence and service in the world — its nature and purpose. (Syndesmos is the World Federation of Orthodox Youth.) It was mostly Orthodox people who were present at this forum ; but there were some observers also, who asked pertinent questions. After a break, there was a session devoted to various nominations, as presented by the Nominating Committee, and there were various questions about the rationale of these nominations. After this, there was a break, and there was a session devoted to proposals for “resolutions”, according to the criteria of the rules of the WCC. This was a very complicated consideration, concerned with wording and the intentions of the words, and some adjustments were made. This was a test of the “mood cards”. These were coloured cards used to indicate the disposition of the delegates, in order to determine consensus during such deliberations. This concern for consensus is one of the products of the “Special Commission”, and otherwise only referred to indirectly hitherto. Final consideration of these proposals would come later. After the close of the session, there was a meeting of the Heads of Delegations for the purpose of addressing the concerns expressed (chiefly by the Church of Romania) about the number of Central Committee seats allotted. After a lengthy discussion about the reason for the present distribution (both in the context of the history, and also in that of the current rules), it was agreed to accept the nominations as presented at this time. A further consideration of the question of candidacy for Moderator would be entertained on the following morning at a separate meeting. Supper was at the hotel.

Tuesday morning, 21 February, began with a meeting of the Heads of Delegations. In the Orthodox meeting, we first discussed the overall disposition of the Orthodox representatives at the WCC, and then we discussed the Orthodox liturgical service of Wednesday evening, which was to be an abbreviated Vespers, followed by an artoklasia. After some discussion, and after a strong contribution by Archbishop Anastasios, it was decided that Metropolitan Damaskinos of São Paulo, Brasil (who claims 1 ½ million adherents) would preside at the artoklasia, together with seven priests, each from a different Church. At the end, there would be no anointing, and bread would be distributed by the priests, who would not wear an epitrakhil for the distribution, nor manually distribute the bread, but simply hold a basket from which those who wish might take blessed bread. It was agreed that, as prepared, the pamphlet would explain clearly that this is a non-eucharistic service. Then there was a discussion about the candidates for Moderator, and Vice-moderator. In due time, Father Leonid Kishkovsky became a candidate for Moderator. He made sure that we all understood that he was not “attached” to this nomination, but that he regarded it as an opportunity to serve the Church if God blesses it. One of the recurring themes throughout all the conversations, however, is that there is general ignorance (even amongst the Orthodox) of what exactly is the OCA.

The Morning Session was the last of the “theme” sessions, and it was given in the form of a “talk-show” panel on the theme. The presentation was well-received. At the noon break, there were also the usual noon sessions, and many attended the one on Orthodoxy in Latin America. As usual, the OCA’s presence in its Exarchate of Mexico was not remembered by many. It was noted that São Paolo (the world’s third-biggest city) has a very large, and very old Antiochian presence. It is claimed that Orthodox have been present in South America for well over 100 years, and that all the Orthodox in Latin America number several million. Then followed two business sessions devoted to several documents, with the usual numerous comments and corrections. The Nominating Committee was ultimately challenged about the constitutionality of the number of seats, and the slate was returned for correction. The repeated question about the number of youth representatives (always considered too few) finally brought a derogatory comment from Father Vsevolod Chaplin of Russia. He was then derided by many delegates for saying the “quality level” of the youth participants was low. Others, however, agreed with him in private conversations later. At the end, several of us attended the evening prayers, as presented by a local Council of Churches (the nature and content of evening services are not controlled by the main office in Geneva, as previously noted), at which we found it rather difficult to be present, because it was much more a secular presentation on violence than a service. We left rather earlier than the end of this event.

Then we went with a group to another hotel for a reception by, and discussion about, Syndesmos. This included Archbishop Ieremiasz from Poland, the Priest Heikki Huttunen of Finland, our Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, Matushak Valerie Zahirsky, others and me. We discussed both our own histories with the movement, and ideas about its future possible work. Improving communication with North America was considered to be important, because it is necessary at present that we travel to Europe, primarily, to make our connexions with its services. Its annual budget, even with a Greek subsidy, is only about €90,000. Syndesmos (www.syndesmos.org) is at this time the only available Orthodox vehicle to make possible some sort of nearly “normal” inter-Orthodox communication, because it has regular and frequent meetings. It seems important that we attempt to support that institution through encouraging the participation of our now-numerous Orthodox Christian Fellowships at many universities. The President of Syndesmos, Christopher D’Aloisio, is married to Lydia Obolensky, and they live in Brussels.

On Wednesday morning, 22 February, because of various delays, we arrived at the PUC only after the end of morning prayers, and I preferred at this time not to go to a Bible Study. Instead, I talked to some persons, and read some documents in preparation for the impending sessions. Like other western international bodies (such as the UN), the WCC stresses the importance of documents and adherence to the words of them. As a result, a considerable amount of politicking is associated with the formation of all documents. The first, second and third plenaries of this day were given to re-working various documents, approving others, and voting on the candidates for the Central Committee and the Presidents. There was a considerable discussion, and some documents were significantly improved. At the lunch-break, Paul Meyendorff and I participated in a discussion with Archimandrite Irinej (Dobrijevic) and Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky about the impending conference in Kosovo and about the situation there. We also talked with Archbishop Ieremiasz of Wroclaw about the impending elections. I had a good conversation with Metropolitan Dometian of Bulgaria about the difficulties in ever achieving the hoped-for goal of the visible unity (as it is expressed repeatedly in the WCC documents). We agreed that, under the circumstances, it is only possible for the Orthodox to hope to work together with others in areas of practical Christian action, and in making some common statements. Several times, during the course of these days, there were warm and constructive conversations with Metropolitan Georges of Harare, and also with Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi, who represented the Coptic Orthodox Church. During this day, our Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky was again elected to the Central Committee. Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and Patriarch Paulos of Addis Ababa were both elected to the presidency (this is a responsibility which changes yearly). In the evening, there was a service of reduced Vespers by the Orthodox, with a blessing of bread, as planned. After returning to the hotel, Matushka Valerie Zahirsky and Paul Meyendorff participated in the dinner with the American regional delegations. Father Leonid Kishkovsky, Father Alexander Rentel and I attended a late supper at another hotel for delegation-heads-plus-two, hosted by Metropolitan Damaskinos, for the “Eastern” and “Oriental” Orthodox.

On Thursday, 23 February, we approached the PUC for the last and full day of sessions for text-modifications and decision-making. Already, many persons were leaving. Bishop Hilarion had, the previous day, commented that the regular WCC general assembly was for him always the most difficult of all meetings he attends, largely because of its great length. Because our departure was necessary immediately after the second of the day’s sessions, we were unable to participate in the finalising of the various texts and statements. Because of our departure, the actual outcome of the election for Moderator and for Vice-moderator was also unknown to us until later.

At the end of the third session, Professor Meyendorff had made a public comment about the lack of theological reflection and content in many of the documents. This comment was strongly supported by many Orthodox, and by many Protestants. The fact that our representatives not only are capable of making such constructive observations, but also that they have the vision and the personal strength to make them, underlines (in my view) the importance of our presence in these forums, despite the often negative and tense atmosphere, and despite the many personal difficulties and sacrifices that are required to participate in such conferences and assemblies.

The final documents and statements of this assembly are available electronically on the WCC’s web-site for the Assembly :
http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/2006-porto-alegre.

Pilgrimage and Compassion 2006

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage and Compassion
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
28 May - 13 June, 2006


Since 1994, it has become my custom to lead a pilgrimage to Ukraine every 3 years. This year it took place from 28 May to 13 June. As usual, our tour organiser was Savelia Curniski of Saskatoon and Andrei Romanov of Kyiv. Besides them and me, there was our Chancellor, the Archpriest Dennis Pihach ; the Archpriest Robert S Kennaugh and Matushka Dianne ; the Archpriest Peter Bodnar and Matushka Cynthia ; and 20 others from Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Wakaw, Winnipeg, and Merrillville, Indiana. The previous 2 pilgrimages had certainly been pilgrimages, and a blessing as such ; but they had also included making a difference through contributions to humanitarian works in Ukraine, through the agency Christian Childcare, Canada.

After our arrival (together with Father Dennis and Mark Petasky) on Monday, 29 May, I went to the Kyiv Caves Lavra in order to talk with Archbishop Mitrophan. He takes care of many of the present necessities of the Department of External Church Relations for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, since the Chairman, Metropolitan Makary of Vinnitsia (who once served in Edmonton and in New York) is now confined to a wheel-chair, and can no longer manage the active requirements. Together with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, our Archdiocese has many links with, and concerns in Ukraine. After this meeting, we rejoined the other pilgrims, who had meanwhile visited the Far Caves. We then visited the Vvedensky Monastery, where we venerated the icon of the Theotokos which had copied itself by etching itself onto the glass that had formerly covered it. Indeed, this has happened twice. There is a possibility that this wonder-working icon of the Theotokos could be brought to Canada, should we be able make the arrangements. It is now for us to see whether the Lord blesses this proposal. We also venerated the relics of Saint Dimitra, the founder of the community. Her relics rest in a basement chapel of the main Temple.

On Tuesday, 30 May, we visited the very old and historic monastery territories of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. We then visited Saint Michael’s Monastery, which faces Saint Sophia’s, across a very large quadrangle. We also visited the lively Florovsky Women’s Monastery, and the Temple of Saint Andrew. Then we went to the podolia, which could be called “lower-town”, to visit the Temple of Saint Ilia, not far from the Dnieper River, where Rus’ was chrismated a millennium ago. The original building of this Temple was built by Saint Olga.

The next day, Wednesday, 31 May, we had a long bus trip past Poltava to the Transfiguration Cathedral in Sumy, in Eastern Ukraine. There, I served the Vigil together with Archbishop Mark (Petrovtsi). Many will remember him, since he served for the Moscow Patriarchate in Edmonton for 10 years. Bishop Iov, who has taken his place now in Edmonton, was formerly the hierarch of this diocese of Sumy and Akhtirke.

The following day, Thursday, 1 June, the Feast of the Ascension, we travelled west to Romne. At the mid-morning Hierarchical Divine Liturgy there, Archbishop Mark elevated our priest Robert S Kennaugh to be an Archpriest (in accordance with the recent decision of the OCA’s Holy Synod), and I was asked to ordain a deacon for the Diocese of Sumy. This often happens in the Orthodox world, as a sign of the bonds of unity in Christian love and mutual prayer between our dioceses and peoples. In the late afternoon, most of us went to Akhtirke, the second cathedral town of the Sumy diocese, which is about an hour’s drive to the south. There, in the Cathedral of the Protection, we served a moleben. Sumy, Romne and Akhtirke all have wonder-working icons of the Theotokos.

The next morning, on Friday, 2 June, after bidding an early farewell to Vladyka Mark at McDonald’s (yes, you read it right !), we set off for an all-day bus ride to Rivne (not far from Pochaiv), where were our accommodations.

The next day, Saturday, 3 June, there was time for a little rest and some shopping for the pilgrims in the morning. Meanwhile, Mark Petasky and I were collected by a van from L’viv, and we were driven to Pochaiv, where we arrived by mid-afternoon. We were shown to our rooms, given a small meal, and then taken to the Uspensky Sobor for the Vigil of Sunday, which I served together with Bishop Vladimir (the namestnik, that is, Vicar-Abbot, under Metropolitan Volodymyr). Afterwards, we took supper (which as usual was accompanied by a lively conversation) with Bishop Vladimir in his abbatial quarters. We learnt from him that there are currently over 200 students at the Pochaiv Seminary (just outside the monastery walls), and that there is a similar number in Lutsk. That seminary is presently celebrating its 200th anniversary. When I first visited the Pochaiv Lavra (in l994), the monks there numbered about 60 ; now they number more than 300.

On Sunday, 4 June, Bishop Vladimir and I (along with many priests and deacons) concelebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Uspensky Sobor of the Lavra. In advance of this, we venerated the Footprint of the Theotokos, the Wonder-working Pochaiv Icon of the Theotokos, and the relics of Saints Job and Amphilochy. The other pilgrims arrived from Rivne in time for the Divine Liturgy, and Mark was able to gain access for them both to the Footprint, and to the relics in the lower church. After the Liturgy (about 5,000 attended, not an unusual number in the summer), the clergy and readers of our group were taken to the monastic brotherhood’s trapeza for dinner, while the remainder of the group went to the newly-built monastery hotel to eat. The Pochaiv Monastery itself is in extremely good condition, with many renovations still in progress. After speaking with many people, we took our leave and drove to Chernivtsi.

On Monday, 5 June, there was a city tour of Chernivtsi, which included the university. In former times, the Romanian-style buildings that contain the theological faculty there also included the headquarters of the metropolitan. In communist times, the whole theological faculty was closed, and these buildings were added to the university. This manoeuvre saved both the buildings and the Temple. Now, the complex again houses the theological faculty and belongs to the Church. We toured the botanical garden attached to the complex, and we were shown a very old buk tree. This type of tree seems to be a relative of the black poplar or perhaps the beech tree, and this sort of tree gives its name to the area known as Bukovina. We also saw several old and restored halls in the main building. That day, we also visited Metropolitan Onouphry’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, and then Saint Nicholas’ Sobor (about a kilometre distant). We venerated the relics and icons in both Temples. Next to Saint Nicholas’ Sobor are the official episcopal residence and the diocesan offices. In this complex of buildings, we also had an opportunity to go to the diocesan church-goods shop. There, we greeted Metropolitan Onouphry, who had just returned from some pastoral visits.

On Tuesday, 6 June, Metropolitan Onouphry sent the pilgrims a van and a driver-guide, in order to take a small group to Romania, to Suçeava and Radauti (from where Matushka Dianne Kennaugh’s ancestors came a century previous). Some others visited their own relatives, while I went to the diocesan centre for conversation with Metropolitan Onouphry. We were joined for a time by Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko (originally of Chernivtsi, now of Winnipeg, and the Consistory Goods Store of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church). We talked about the move of Metropolitan John from Edmonton to Winnipeg, in preparation for his enthronement on 23 July. Metropolitan Onouphry, Archimandrite Miletii and I then drove to the nearby town of Boian, where we venerated the Wonder-working and Myrrh-giving Boian Icon of the Theotokos, and then toured the women’s monastery where the nuns care for orphans. After this, we drove to the Annanina Monastery in the area of Kitsman. Here, we viewed the various new buildings which resulted from the abbess’ earlier eremitic and ascetic life. For three years, she had dwelt in a cave in the hill-side. She had dug the cave herself. Soon, others came to live near her, and this resulted in an above-ground monastic community of women. After enjoying the nuns’ hospitality, we returned to Chernivtsi, and we joined those returning from Romania, where they had venerated the relics of Saint John the New in Suçeava, and visited the Monastery of Voronet.

On Wednesday, 7 June, we went to Kolomeya, where we visited the Transfiguration Temple. We saw the new parish house, where thirty needy persons are fed twice weekly. We visited Father John who (along with the other clergy) has a varied ministry to the poor. The priests serve prisoners in a nearby prison (where those incarcerated voluntarily built their own Temple, the upper part of which can be seen above the walls), and these priests also serve as exorcists. This latter ministry arose from the healing character of a 400-hundred-year old wooden Temple in the village. In this Temple, both healing and deliverance come from the walls to those in need. In mid-afternoon, we departed for the retreat-house in Kostiw, where we were to rest for the night.

After breakfast on Thursday, 8 June, we drove to the village of Yabluniw, where there is an Internat (government, state-operated orphanage). This is one of the orphanages through which children are supported mostly by Canadian sponsors through Christian Childcare International (CCI) (http://childcareinternational.ca/), a Roman Catholic social-service agency. It must be emphasised here that, although we have widely publicised this programme of child-sponsorship amongst the Canadian Orthodox believers, and although this programme greatly benefits needy Orthodox children in Ukraine, the great majority of sponsors of Orthodox children in Ukraine are Roman Catholic Canadians. Thanks be to God for this, but I hope that we can do better on our own part. Less than $30 per month helps not only a child, but the whole family, and beyond that family, too.

During the out-of-doors programme of instrumental and vocal music and recitations given for us by the children of this Internat, the 80-year-old grandmother of one boy spoke movingly about the importance of his being sponsored, since in this family, only the grandmother is alive and available to care for him. As in all Internats, children are sent out into the world to fend for themselves at the age of 15 or 16. The result is that many of them end up in the sex-trade, in theft, or even in slavery. Of course, the final result is often prison, disappearance, deadly illness or death. Both CCI, Christian Childcare International (www.ccare.ca) and NASHI - Our Children (http://www.nashi.ca/home/) are trying to improve the possibilities that at least the children being sponsored may have better life-opportunities and hope of not falling into the hands of the predators waiting for them. It was a big scandal earlier in this year, for instance, that at the Foot-ball World Cup games in Germany, there was a government-supported sex-village for the athletes, to which at least 4,000 young girls were sent in slavery, from Ukraine alone. It seems that annually, at least 100,000 young girls and women are abducted from Ukraine, and sold in human trafficking into slavery. In addition to this, there are boys who suffer a similar fate. Many of these persons arrive in Canada (5,000 annually !) and in the USA.

From this moving encounter, the pilgrims went on to Yaremcha, farther into the Carpathian mountains, to a school in Khlibichen where many of the village children are supported through CCI sponsorship. There, we heard many moving stories from the in these children : a balance of a natural shyness, along with a healthy self-confidence. children about the effect of this support for their families, and about the opportunities provided for them through this support. It is important to comment on the balance that I perceived This was revealed in their disposition during the moving speeches they made about their very difficult lives, and in how they played the sopilka (a wooden fife) in several groups, and in how they sang.

On Friday, 9 June, we departed from Kostiw for Kolomeya. There, Father John met the bus, and Father Dennis Pihach, Mark Petasky and I were taken by taxi to L’viv. We had been asked by Archbishop Avgustin to arrive early in the afternoon, because of the special celebration of “Russian Day”. It is important to understand that the Canonical Orthodox Church in L’viv receives a considerable negative pressure from both other Christians and the civil authorities there. Vladyka Avgustin lives in very difficult, constrained circumstances, although he is also the head of Ukrainian chaplaincies to the military, police, hospitals and prisons. His office is also his living-quarters.

At the cathedral, we met Metropolitan Onouphry of Chernivtsi, as well as Archbishops Avgustin, Symeon of Vladimir Volynsk, and Varfolomei of Rivne. Later, at the opera house, the Russian General Consul welcomed the hierarchs, and showed us to our seats. After several speeches by him and other politicians (from L’viv and from Moscow), we listened to a lively concert by performers from the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow. Afterwards, we returned to the diocesan centre, and we spoke with Archbishop Avgustin about the work of the CCI’s Pochaiv and Ternopil Projects, and about NASHI (headquartered in Saskatoon).

On Saturday, 10 June, while some pilgrims remained in L’viv to greet the arriving group of NASHI volunteer workers, a small group of us went with Archbishop Avgustin’s entourage to Chervonograd (near the Polish border) for the Divine Liturgy to be served at the new Protection Temple, which was packed with people. This Temple is built in the shape of a ship. We brought relics of Saint Barbara with us from L’viv. At the end of the Liturgy, Vladyka Avgustin and I talked to the faithful about the similarities between our two dioceses, in terms of being a minority, and about the missionary challenges we face. After dinner, we stopped at the village of Veliki Moster for brief prayers, for veneration of the relics and for similar talks. At each village stop along our way, Archbishop Avgustin distributed gramotas to children who had participated in a competition, and he gave chocolate bars to all the children present. In all these parishes, the priests seem to be visionary, energetic, pastoral and hard-working.

I should note that everything is very difficult for the Canonical Orthodox Church in this diocese, because about 15 years ago they were expelled from almost all their Temples, and they have had to rebuild on property now privately owned by the Church. In all Ukraine, most of the older church buildings are owned and controlled by the government, and the building of new ones is regulated by the government also, sometimes with the introduction of great obstacles.

On Sunday, 11 June, we were again with Archbishop Avgustin, first in Sulimiw for the Divine Liturgy, near Zhovkva, and then in Soposhyn. In both places, there was the veneration of Saint Barbara’s relics, and an educational, informative talk. We ended the day in the L’viv cathedral. Since there are so many direct connexions between Canada and L’viv, and since the Archdiocese of Canada is so involved in social concerns that are focussed on and serviced from L’viv, Archbishop Avgustin raised the possibility of more intense co-operative involvement between our two dioceses, an idea that remains to be explored. He also introduced the superior of a new women’s monastery which is located in the cathedral precincts. Two of the nuns had come from the Unia. He told us that this is the first Orthodox monastic community to exist in L’viv in 300 years.

Early on Monday, 12 June, we went to the edge of L’viv, to the headquarters of the Pochaiv Project (part of the work of NASHI), known locally as Svit dlia detei (light for children). I was impressed by the fact of growth. During my last visit, there were a dozen or so children there, and now there are well over 100. The overall visible condition of the children and their families was much better than three years earlier. We blessed the new workshops for older children, which is part of the NASHI preparation for establishing a trade-school for L’viv. In this area, girls will be taught sewing, and the boys will be taught woodworking and other manual skills, while both will learn computer skills. The hope is that by learning these manual skills, the children (many of whom are slower learners, or simply very deprived of resources) may become employable, and avoid the dangers awaiting most children when they leave the orphanage.

In addition to the trade-school project, NASHI is also organising working groups that will come from Canada to Ukraine, in order to begin the renovation of the apartments of poor people. After doing part of the work, and after demonstrating the technique, these groups leave materials behind for the remainder of the work, so that the dwellers themselves may complete it (see their website : www.nashi.ca or www.nashi.ca/blog/journal/default.asp). NASHI is a non-government organisation, which raises money charitably for the purpose of supporting children and trying to further their education. The work of Savelia Curniski and of Betti Lawrence in particular in this area (both of whom are from Saskatoon) has been publicly recognised by the Governor General of Canada, and by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. CCI (website : www.ccare.ca), and NASHI are presently taking care of about 3,000 children in the Pochaiv Project, and they are helping the children to learn to help themselves in the areas of L’viv, Holobi, Lutsk, Ternopil, Kolomeya, and Sniaten. What they learn helps other members of their families, and other children as well. However, there are still about a million homeless children in Ukraine. Alcoholism afflicts about 70% of men, and 20% of women in a population of which 93% live in poverty, with an income of less than US $50.00 per month. There are no support activities at all at this time in Eastern Ukraine. Another pending hope is to find, purchase and establish a safe home for girls.

An important new fact for us to learn is that the L’viv diocese has established a social service department which is connecting with this work. That afternoon, at the hotel, there was a meeting at which were present Father Dennis Pihach, Father John Bilavus (director of the Social Service Department, and Chancellor of the Diocese of L’viv), Savelia Curniski and me. We discussed various possibilities of working very concretely with concerns about drug-trafficking and AIDS.

The L’viv Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has for a long time been feeding the hungry. It was, in fact, the activities of the cathedral in L’viv which, seven years ago, gave the impetus to develop our participation in Childcare International, and then in NASHI. It was 7 or 8 years ago that the orphanage next to the cathedral ran out of supplies for the children, and the children were encouraged to beg the grandmothers at the cathedral to take them into their homes for July and August of that year — which they did. The care of the cathedral family for the children was an example which compelled Savelia, Father Dennis and others to try to do something from Canada for the orphans.

Childcare International, operated by many volunteers in a Roman Catholic village parish in Nova Scotia, enabled this (with minimum administration costs). Ultimately, however, it must be again stated that it is to our shame as Orthodox that the vast majority of Canadian supporters of orphans are Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox supporters are relatively few. Part of the problem is finding an adequate way to help our faithful have access to information, and more importantly, to trust the organisation. Perhaps with the developing of more concrete links with the L’viv diocese, this may be helped.

At present, the developing trade-school in L’viv has already begun to produce items for sale, and the proceeds are used to fund the needs of the school and of the students. Also recently, a CD of Christmas Carols in Ukrainian was produced. The carols are sung by a special choir of the best singers from several of the orphanages. The CD is sold to help fund the needs of the children. In these ways, too, the children are learning to help themselves.

I was greatly impressed by the apparent development on every level of the condition of the children and their families over the past three years. Three years ago, our pilgrimage group had made a first visit to an Internat in Sniaten, and the pilgrims were overwhelmed by the need, and also by the resourcefulness of the director, teachers and workers. The land around the orphanage was being farmed by the staff, in order to provide the maximum amount of food for the children, for the least cost. The buildings were old, and in poor condition, but they were clean and clean-smelling. The laundry was being done in very old, rusted machines, and often by hand. Members of the group, on returning home, made substantial contributions to CCI. They also provided many different tools, supplies of various kinds, and new washing machines. Some dreamed of providing a tractor, but the process of providing that proved to be too complicated. With the newer supplies that had been provided, many daily tasks became easier for the staff, who are sincerely caring for the children as if they were their own.

During the course of our whole pilgrimage, we travelled by means of an older, local bus, so as not to attract the attention of certain unsavoury elements. This sort of bus was, in the past, dubbed by some of the locals as the “Pakistan Express”. Had we travelled as tourists in modern luxury-buses, negative attention would have been attracted by potential robbers or the like. It was particularly astonishing to local people to see an Orthodox bishop descend the steps of such a bus along with the other Canadian pilgrims. One still sees many domestic animals on the verges of the roads, often tended by children or by senior persons. There are still very many horse-drawn carts, which one may see everywhere. This is not surprising, given the general economic conditions. It was well into haying season in most of the places we found ourselves, and there were many people at work with scythes. They were haying by hand, and stooking the sheaves, and in many cases hanging the sheaves on special poles so as to dry quickly. After this (as we used to see in Canada), the sheaves would be piled into haystacks.

I have every intention of making this pilgrimage again in 3 years’ time, as usual, God willing ; and I, along with others, also have the intention of making a first pilgrimage to Russia (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) in 2007, if God blesses. Such pilgrimages are not easy, but on each of them which I have made, some participants have been eighty years old or more. To receive blessings from the holy places, and to receive the blessing from worshipping with the faithful there, it is well-worth all the difficulties encountered in travel. It is worth it also, because wherever we visit, our encounters give our fellow Orthodox Christians renewed hope, as well as renewed energy to persevere in Christ. Being with them does the same for us. God is merciful. Let us fulfil another part of our Christian responsibility by trying to make such pilgrimages, and to give glory to God for everything.

On Tuesday, 13 June, we began our journey homewards, which included the usual pauses. With God’s blessing and help, we arrived in Canada later on the same day.

Pilgrimage in Romania 20 July - 2 August 2006

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Romania
20 July - 2 August, 2006


I had been invited to make a second private pilgrimage to Romania, and I departed from Ottawa for Bucharest on 20 July, 2006. First, the family that had invited me took me to the Antim Monastery near the Patriarchate, in Bucharest. There, I met the Igumen (Abbot) Mihail, Archdeacon Gamaliel, and then Bishop Ciprian, who is the Chair of the Department of External Affairs of the Patriarchate. Patriarch Teoktist was away in Constanta, but they showed me the 300-year-old Temple, whose frescoes are now mostly cleaned. At the rear is a portrait of the founder, Saint Anthimus the Georgian, and also a portrait of Patriarch Justinian, who renewed the monastery. It is the custom in many countries to portray the founders at the entrance, usually on the west wall. Relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, and of Saint Parasceva of Athens are in the midst of the church.

The next place we visited was the Pasarea Monastery, an idiorhythmic women’s community about an hour east of Bucharest, where there are about 160 nuns. We met the Igumena (Abbess) Lucia (a widow, and former physician from Hamburg), and the Prioress Filoftea (who is related to some Canadians I know). Then we left for Cernica Monastery, which includes a seminary. Here, we met first the Econom (treasurer-administrator), Father Jerome (who is also related to some Canadians), and then we met Archimandrite Macarie, who is the Abbot. In Romania, it is usual that the one who is the abbot/abbess (igumen/igumenia) be called starets/staritsa. This word means “elder”, but in some other countries, it means a “spiritual elder”. The term in Romania is used for the position of responsibility rather than for a spiritual gift. We were shown the Temple, which has the relics of Saint Callinic and of Saint Gheorghe (he was newly-canonised), both of them of Cernica. Then we were shown around various parts of the cœnobitic monastery, which was founded in the 14th century. The monks here number around 60. We were told how cleverly Patriarch Justinian had kept the monastery open in some manner during oppressive communist times.

From Bucharest, Bishop Ciprian took me to the Crasna Monastery in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. This monastery (which also has a seminary) is a cœnobitic community, from which have come 6 bishops so far. It is built in a forest which covers many hills, and access to the monastery is difficult. A river must first be crossed by a foot-bridge, or forded by vehicles. At this monastery, we met the Igumen (Abbot) Nicodim, the founder and builder, and the Hierodeacon Nectarie, a monk of this monastery who is currently a student at the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris. He was ordained to the Holy Priesthood the next day. This monastery has a 300-year history (including its falling into ruin). Archimandrite Nicodim arrived here in 1969. From nothing, and in extremely difficult terrain, he built a community which gives good evidence of the Christian way of life.

After this, we departed from Bucharest towards the west. Here, in the southern arm of the Carpathians, in Wallachia, are some monasteries associated with royal foundations. In these hills various Romanian kings lived, and here they took refuge on the many occasions of invasion from the Turks, as well as from the Magyars and Austrians. We first came to the Bistrita Dormition Monastery, an historic community established in 1490, where the founders (Barbu Craiovescu and his father) are buried. In this monastery are the relics of Saint Gregory of Decapolis, brought there from Constantinople in 1497. About 200 years later, Saint Constantine Brancoveanu the King-Martyr would also contribute to its foundation. The community there numbers about 90 female monastics, and there are 2 complete monastic cycles of services offered to the Lord daily : one in the main Temple, and the other in the chapel. They also have a small historic Temple from 1520, which has original frescoes from the time of its founder, Saint Nicodim the Wallachian. Nearby, there is a cave (now named for Saint Gregory of Decapolis) which was home to hermits even before the foundation of the main monastery.

Then we drove up a difficult road (the incline is steep) to the Arnota Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, which is led by Staritsa Ambrosia. This was once a male community, founded by Prince Matei Basarab around 1630 ; but since 2000, it has been a female monastery. The central Temple, although small, is in classic Greco-Constantinopolitan style, with the Brancoveanu exo-narthex (a columned sort of open-air porch that extends beyond the main west door) which is characteristic of many Romanian Temples. There is a new monastic church also being built.

We then drove to the Monastery of Saints Constantine and Helen at Hurezi, where we met Staritsa Pavelina (aged 71, and abbess for 26 years), Father Nikodim, and others. Archbishop Nicolae in Chicago has a connexion with this monastery, and he visits regularly. The next day (after Akathist, Hours and Divine Liturgy), we had a tour of the royal quarters and the rest of the monastery, which is a UNESCO site. It is a large territory, and it has 3 existing dependent sketes, at the 4 foundation cardinal points. It was founded by the Martyr-King Constantine Brancoveanu about 312 years ago. The fourth of the sketes is exterior to the present walls, and it is now used as the village church.

We then left Wallachia (Vlachia) and we drove more or less continuously over some difficult terrain for about 8 hours, through Transylvania. After 2300 hrs, we arrived in the Moldavian area of Neamt, at the Petru Voda Monastery of the Holy Archangels. There, we met Starets Iustin (Justin) (Pârvu), who is “the picture of kindness” and Christian hospitality, just as are the many monks and nuns there. This monastic community particularly concerns itself with the new-martyrs of Romania, largely because Starets Iustin is a Confessor who survived 17 years of imprisonment underground in a salt mine. I was asked to go to pray for a dying schema-nun, so we went to the nearby Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, a community of about 70 women, headed by Staritsa Iustina. The nuns took me to visit their orphanage, which accommodates 25 children at present. Then we visited their hospice for older persons, some of whom are nuns who, in illness, had to leave their communities for one reason or another, and had no place to go. In both cases I was asked to bless the buildings. Then we went to the foundation being laid for a hospital which would accommodate the very ill, not only of the community, but also of the neighbourhood. The enormity of the work being done here is almost incomprehensible in its magnitude. That Saint Panteleimon is the holy patron of the monastery is truly appropriate. I am continually impressed with the clearly Christian character of the monastics, and of the people who are associated with them.

We later arrived at the Putna Dormition Monastery with its abbot, Starets Melchisedec. This monastery would be the “hub” from which I would be driven forth on other visits over the following several days. It is in the cemetery of this monastery that Archbishop Victorin is buried. It was the Feast of Saint Panteleimon (27 July).

Next, I was taken by horse-and-wagon from the Putna Dormition Monastery to visit the nearby Monastery of the Annunciation. This new monastery already has 40 monks. They have rebuilt the original Temple, which dates, like both the monastery and town (Putna), from the 14th century. Like Putna, it also was founded by Saint King Stephen the Great and his family. Its first monk was a converted Tatar, the monk Athanasius. In this Temple is a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos, one which had been damaged by the Soviets. Nowadays, the icon gives myrrh, and it also drives out the demons from those possessed. In the monastery’s Temple are relics of the first abbots : Saints Sila, Paisie, and Natan. These relics, which Abbot Nectarie opened for us, are aromatic.

At the Putna Monastery of the Dormition (where I was again taken), there are relics of Saint King Stephen the Great and of Saint Ghenadie in the nave, as well as other relics in the Altar. The main icon of the Theotokos is also wonder-working. It rests in a special shrine that stands in front of the north side of the iconostasis, almost directly in front of the icon of the Theotokos on that iconostasis. This positioning of an important icon, usually of the Mother of God, is very frequent in Romanian Temples. After a few days here, the Igumen, Father Pavlos, Deacon Hrisostom (the driver), and Novice Adrian accompanied me on a drive to some nearby and some more distant monasteries. First, we drove the 80 km to the centre of the city of Suçeava, where the Monastery of Saint John is situated, to venerate the relics of the Martyr John the New. There are several parishes in Canada named for him, usually named “Saint John of Suchava”. In this monastery is one of the famous “painted Temples” (meaning that they are frescoed both on the inside and on the outside). Suçeava is the former capital of Saint King Stephen the Great, and there are therefore many other quite old Temples in this city, precisely because it was the capital.

Then we drove south to the Slatina Transfiguration Monastery in which are relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian. In this historic monastery there had lived the famous Elder Cleopa (Ilie) (†1998), and also our own Canadian Archimandrite Martinian (Ivanoviçi) (†1994), where they also served as abbots. Nowadays, it is a community of women, led by the Abbess Eveline, who has been a monk for 58 years, and the abbess for 46 years.

Next, we went to the Probota Monastery, in existence since before 1398. It has the first Temple in Romania painted on the interior and exterior, in the mid-16th century. It is now a UNESCO protected site, and it has been restored and conserved in part by Japanese money.

On the way back to the monastery in Putna, we visited the Dragomirna Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This monastery, founded in the early 17th century, is one of the 3 monasteries that were not closed during the Hungarian invasion period. In the cemetery outside the walls, there is a very small Temple (dating from 1602) which predates the monastery itself. Saint Paisi (Velichkovsky) was at this monastery before he went to Neamt.

From the monastery in Putna, I was driven in a Soviet-period Russian military truck up the side of a nearby mountain. This “up the side” indicates an extraordinarily sharp incline up which the machine slowly laboured. There, we visited the partly-completed small Temple which will be the heart of a hermitage, very near the top of the mountain. Two monks live there at present, and they are building the Temple and the cells. Then we walked for a couple of kilometres through the woods, to the brow of a cliff which looks north to Ukrainian Bukovina, which we could see clearly. The descent of the mountain was intimidating, since it felt as if we were almost at 90 degrees and looking straight down.

Later, we departed for the village of Salash, in order to serve the Divine Liturgy for the Prophet Elias, Old Calendar. This is a Ukrainian-speaking village, high in the Carpathians, about 2 hours from Putna. About 20 km of this road is of gravel, often deeply rutted by streams that cross the road during heavy rains. Moving up a mountain on such a road requires a large and heavy four-wheel-drive vehicle. Once we arrived at the top of the climb, we entered lush valleys and hills covered with grain and with sheep. This was not quite the top of the mountains, but it was close to it. Archimandrite Melchisedec said that some people walk all the way to Putna (64 km) for the Divine Liturgy on some ordinary Sundays throughout the year, as well as for great feasts. Such is their simple, sincere devotion.

After the return to the Putna Dormition Monastery, it was time to make the trip back to Bucharest by car for an overnight preparation and sleep, in order to depart on 2 August for home in Canada. This voyage included the usual European pause en route.

God is merciful in His organisation of our pilgrimages, in His preparing the way for us, and in His renewing our hearts as we all touch the lives of one another in Christ’s love.

Bilda Conference

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Bilda Conference
Södertälje, Sweden
26 October - 2 November, 2006


Immediately following a meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA, I departed from Newark airport for Stockholm, Sweden, on Thursday, 26 October. Although there were complications with the ticket at the beginning, other elements of the voyage were peaceful. I arrived on Friday morning, 27 October, and I was met by Father Mikael and Iris Liljeström. Father Mikael and Iris had previously spent some time at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, as students. Autumn was unusually late in arriving in Scandinavia. On my arrival, trees were still more green than coloured. Then, as the weekend progressed, the temperature dropped significantly, frost came, and people began to talk about winter. In Stockholm, however, snow does not usually fall to stay until late December. Much earlier in the year, I had been asked to make a presentation to this Bilda Conference, and I had not thought about the implications of travel at this time of year. Stockholm’s name comes from the submerged, sharp stakes that had been put in place in Viking times, and which surrounded the original island (Stockholm now covers 14 islands). This kept invading boats from approaching this island. Because of the amount of water, peninsulæ, islands and bridges, Stockholm is often called a northern Venice.

After drinking coffee, we drove to the Ecumenical Centre, also called the Christian Council, in Söderbyberg (a Stockholm suburb), and there met Father Misha Iaksic, the main Orthodox representative there. It is an interesting place, occupying the whole second floor of an office building. There are offices of persons representing various aspects of the ecumenical conversations, chaplaincies, education ministries, and other such services of those not belonging to the main Lutheran Church of Sweden. The Lutheran Church has now been formally disestablished for 5 years, but there are many remaining characteristics of its former state-church status still to be adjusted. One of these is the remaining involvement by political parties in parish councils. This involvement appears odd to us.

In Sweden, there are several strong Orthodox presences. The Syrian Oriental Orthodox (Jakobite) are very numerous, estimating about 100,000 persons (the Antiochian Orthodox do not at this time have an established presence in Sweden). The Serbian Orthodox are the next largest, and it is they who provide the several parishes that are primarily using the Swedish language. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is historically very present, officially numbering about 20,000 Greek-speakers ; but for a long time, it has not been very connected with Sweden itself, as compared to the Serbs. The Moscow Patriarchate has a much greater presence than previously, primarily because of immigration. There is also the “Paris Jurisdiction” (the popular name for the Russian Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Western Europe) which has served some of the Russian-speakers since the Bolshevik Revolution. The Romanian Orthodox have a slowly increasing presence (mostly through immigration), and there are some Bulgarians also. The Finnish Orthodox previously had a very strong presence, but that is now greatly reduced, with a Finnish priest visiting only once monthly. In the north of Sweden, however, there are very many Finnish and Sami speakers. There is still also an Estonian presence. There is also a noticeable presence of people from Egypt and Eritrea. In the civil context, there is a problem for immigrants, in that finding work is very difficult. It is also significant that (particularly in the Serbian diocese) persons of the Oriental Orthodox are received at the Chalice, if there is no availability of services from their own Church. In the course of this visit, Father Heikki Huttunen also arrived from Helsinki, Finland. He is now on leave-of-absence from his parish, in order to head the Ecumenical Relations office in Helsinki. He arrived to participate in the Bilda Conference, and also to attend the ordination of a priest in the Syrian Diocese.

We then drove to the Serbian Cathedral of Saint Sava, where we met Bishop Dositej, and had coffee. A close friend of Bishop Georgije in Canada, Bishop Dositej has served for more than 15 years in Stockholm, and he has been a very formative person in representing Orthodoxy as the immigration has developed its impact in Sweden. Saint Sava’s Cathedral is the largest representation of “Byzantine” architecture in northern Europe. We then drove to the Hagaberg Conference Centre in Södertälje, a Lutheran-related Centre, and began the programme at 1500 hrs. Michael Ellnemyr opened the conference with a presentation on the renewal of the structure of Bilda, a Study-centre concerned with relationships between church and society, and in connexion with this study, relationships between the Orthodox and other Christians. This was followed by a series of “workshops” on five subjects (all workshops were repeated 45 minutes later) : Ecumenical relations ; Sexuality and homosexuality ; Monastic life ; Böneskola/prayer-school ; Youth leadership/unga ledare. Then, after supper, there was a summary.

On Saturday, 28 October, after morning prayers and breakfast, there was a summary of the coming day, followed by my presentation (“Developing and Maturing the Understanding of the Orthodox Tradition”). This was followed by a series of questions and answers about the content. After coffee, there was a presentation on the renewal of Bilda, and the meaning of learning for leading. After dinner, there was an introduction to the next series of “workshops” : Women in Orthodox tradition ; Christology ; Iconography ; Orthodox Church music. The conference then came to a close at 1645 hrs.

Michael Ellnemyr and Joachim Främberg are both actively involved in Orthodox, inter-Orthodox, and inter-Christian relations, and they are employed as such with Bilda. Michael is a patristics scholar, who has long taught in the Theological Faculty of the Stockholm University, and who is currently writing a dissertation on Father Alexander Schmemann, with regard to his teaching methodology.

After the close of the conference, Father Heikki Huttunen, Joachim Främberg, and I drove about 20 km from Stockholm, to a suburb which now has a majority of Syrian Orthodox Christians in its population. There, we went to one of the Syrian Diocesan headquarters and its cathedral, in order to meet Archbishop Benjamin and various other persons (principally young people), some of whom had participated in the conference. The complex of these headquarters is situated in an industrial park, the only area in which it proved possible to build in the Stockholm area. The building was also required to harmonise with the appearance of the other industrial buildings. As a result, the cathedral is box-like in appearance, but with decorative cupolas above the front entrance, and in the middle of the flat roof. Inside, they have a combined worship and social space, in a very large area. The cathedral portion itself is very large, and it looks very much like a cathedral of the Jakobite style. Archbishop Benjamin estimated that they could seat over 2,000 persons. To the rear, there are various tables and chairs (on 2 levels) for post-Liturgy coffee time ; and to the rear of this there are various offices of the cathedral and diocese. It is very well organised. Next to this building, to its east, is a large building used for wedding-parties and other similar social occasions. There is yet another building next east to this, a former office building, which is being converted into a television station. This station (which they describe as smallish) appears to me to be very generous in size, and it contains the most advanced communication technology in Scandinavia. They plan to provide communications for the Syrian diaspora in Europe, North America, and Australia. Indeed, some telecasting is already in process, since I saw some evidence of the recent Synod Meeting in Damascus being prepared.

It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 Syrians in Sweden, and even more in Western Europe (Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland). Far more Syrian Christians now live outside their traditional territory than within. Also, it is notable that in Turkey, only about 3,000 Oriental Orthodox remain. They say that Syria itself is, at the present time, a much more friendly territory for Orthodox Christians than is Turkey, and that the numbers there are over 300,000 believers ; but this is still much less than formerly. The tour ended in the same town in characteristic Orthodox style, at a restaurant operated by a Syrian. The menu was mixed in nature between Syrian and Swedish, a characteristic I found both new to me, and similar to other experiences : Sweden has become rather cosmopolitan compared to before. This meal had its share of serious conversation, mixed with humour, as usual. This is one of two episcopal administrations of the Syrians in Sweden, and the junior of them. Archbishop Benjamin is a “patriarchal vicar”, whereas the other hierarch, Archbishop Julius (of longer standing) has another, more locally focussed administration. Because of a confusion in hotel arrangements, I spent the night in the home of Joachim Främberg.

On Sunday morning, 29 October, I was taken early to Saint Sava’s Cathedral, where I was greeted by Bishop Dositej. He had to leave for Serbia, so he remained on the kliros until the Trisagion (when he made his departure), and I served the Divine Liturgy with 2 priests, Fathers Arseny and Mikael. The service was bilingual (Swedish and Slavonic), and responses were partly by Serbian cantors, and partly by a Swedish mixed choir. The cathedral is spacious, and its wall-iconography is in process. At the end of the Liturgy, there was coffee served in Bishop Dositej’s quarters, and then I went to the lower hall, where some of the faithful yet remained from their coffee time. Bishop Dositej has organised an exterior glassed atrium, which includes a reproduction of the tower of Saint Basil of Ostrog. This covered area makes a connexion to the bishop’s offices and private quarters, and also the parish hall. There are very many windows, and plenty of plants and flowers, another characteristic of the bishop’s disposition. Bishop Dositej’s secretary, Zorica Salijevic, is apparently the first female secretary of a Serbian bishop, although she had previously worked briefly also for Toronto’s Bishop Georgije in a different capacity. After much talking over more coffee, a large group walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner ; and after that, late in the afternoon, I was taken to the Sjöfartshotell (part of the Hilton American chain, I believe), where I stayed through until Monday afternoon.

On Monday afternoon, 30 October, I was collected, and I was taken to the home of Michael Ellnemyr, an active senior member of the Serbian diocesan personnel. There, there was a dinner for many of the people I had met before, and other members of the Swedish Christian Council, also.

On Tuesday, 31 October, we departed early for a meeting with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sweden, Anders Arborelius, a former Carmelite monk in Sweden. He is the first Swedish and Swedish-born Roman Catholic bishop since the Reformation. Because Bishop Dositej is also from monastic formation, it is said that meetings between the two bishops usually consist not so much of dialogue as such, but of drinking coffee together. The Roman Catholic population of Sweden is quite large and growing, and numbers in the several tens of thousands. It is served by 145 priests, many of other nationalities (primarily from the Middle-east). This visit was very generous in its length, and it included Michael Ellnemyr, Joachim Främberg, Father Mikael Liljeström, and Father Frederick OMI (the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Officer, who has spent time in the USA), and me. There was quite a good discussion about the present and historical roles of both Roman Catholics and Orthodox in Scandinavia, and of the state of relationships with the Lutheran Church in Sweden. There are many ways in which the Lutheran Church behaves as if it were still established. Now, however, as in Finland, it is not only the Lutherans that are funded through state taxes, but it is also all religious groups. Only those citizens who cannot afford the tax do not pay. Since the Lutherans are officially in the majority (85% still declare themselves so, and are even baptised, although only 5% ever go to church), they control most of the available church buildings (even if they are under-used), and also all of the cemeteries. Both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox have difficulty finding suitable, stable places for their communities for worship. Of course, finance remains some sort of problem for both.

I was informed that it is only 5 years since the Roman Catholic diocese has no longer been greatly subsidised from Germany. One of the obstacles faced by both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox is the fact that for Swedes (and for the Lutherans of Sweden) the Lutheran Church is considered to be the church for the Swedes, and where the Swedes belong. Nevertheless, there have always been, are, and are continuing to be, conversions to both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. There was previously a controversy over the ordination of women by the Lutherans, but this controversy was greatly increased by the approval and blessing of same-sex marriages by the same Lutherans. There seems also to have been more recently an emphasising of the very Protestant perception of ministry and sacraments, so that any former sense of residual “apostolic succession” in the Swedish Lutheran Church must be considered long disappeared (especially from the Orthodox perspective). It seems to me that even those who espouse the so-called pipeline theory would be hard-pressed to recognise that anything at all remains.

After this, we went to visit the Temple of Saint Sergius of the Moscow Patriarchate, and its priest, Vladimir Alexandrov. He was formerly the Editor of the Moscow Patriarchate Journal, and a disciple of Metropolitan Pitirim (of blessed memory). The quarters are very, very small, considering how many Russian immigrants must be served (it is said that there are about 50,000, and mostly secularised). They hope that Metropolitan Kirill will be able to help them find financial support in order to buy a proper church building that seems to be available. Should this be possible, the Saint Anna’s Swedish Mission (Serbian diocese) would be able to inherit their former quarters, and have a long-sought-for permanent place. This tiny Moscow Patriarchate community is very active, with frequent services. It meets in a structure that was formerly stables for horses, and the rooms have been completely renovated by the faithful themselves. This is a new community (only 15 years old), as compared to the parish of the “Paris Jurisdiction”. This parish of the Russian Exarchate has a history which goes back to the 15th century, when the chapel served an embassy, and it served businessmen as well.

After these visits, I was taken by Father Mikael Liljeström and Joachim Främberg to visit the Museum of the Warship Vasa (a sixteenth-century sunken warship which had been raised from the harbour several decades ago). Then we went to the Army Museum, which focussed on Swedish military activity, mostly from the 16th century. After this, we all went to supper in old Stockholm, with Michael Ellnemyr. Always, in these discussions, there is fond talk of Patriarch Pavle, and of Bishop Dositej. This day had been quite rainy and rather mild, turning dry and chilly in the evening.

On Wednesday morning, 1 November, we rose to some light snow flurries (which is not to indicate staying snow, only a product of a cold front). Michael Ellnemyr departed for Serbia and Damascus for various meetings, since he is employed by the Serbian Patriarchate in some diplomatic capacities. I was taken by Joachim Främberg and Father Mikael Liljeström (whose family has lived for several hundred years in the Stockholm area) to visit Metropolitan Paulos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Metropolitan Paulos has been in Sweden for about 33 years, and he is a canonical scholar. The visit was pleasant, although very formal, and the conversation was in a mixture of French, Swedish, and English. We were given coffee, and then a small tour of the facilities. The rather large church is a building which was received about 30 years ago from the dying Catholic-Apostolic Church, and it can contain around a thousand seated persons. It includes office space, and the Greek community has added a social hall that seats 100 persons. There are only 4 Greek-speaking communities under Metropolitan Paulos in Scandinavia (including one in Oslo).

We then walked down the street one block to visit the Transfiguration Temple of the Russian Exarchate of Western Europe, which serves Russian-speakers. This is a basement Temple (not very large). It is in an apartment building which the parish owns, and it has been there for nearly a century. As a community , however, the parish dates from about 1617. After the Swedes lost a war with Russia, as a part of the treaty, the Russian merchants were granted the right to have a chapel. This chapel has existed in one form or other since that time. As a result, this parish is the first one to have been established outside Russian territory. Father Angel, Bulgarian immigrant (a graduate from the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris), is only the fourth pastor in a century. It seems that 25 years’ service is not uncommon. This community has mostly a good relationship on all levels with the Moscow Patriarchate parish, which has much less space. It is the same with Metropolitan Paulos and the Greek metropolis. Recently, Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder) had visited this parish, in connexion with having celebrated in Oslo, Norway, the 75th anniversary of the parish there.

After this visit, we went to visit Archbishop Julius, the other bishop of the Syrian Orthodox in Sweden, together with his cor-episcopus. He is a Member of the Holy Synod of Syria, and he had just returned from Damascus. He has lived in Sweden for many years. The quarters of his administration are much more modest in every way than those of Archbishop Benjamin, but the hospitality and frankness of speech was equal. We talked over more coffee and tea for some time, mostly about the very difficult situation of the Syrian Christians in their homelands, and about the fact that there is a steady, and large exodus of Orthodox Christians from Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan. We also discussed the very difficult environment in Sweden, in connexion with the Lutheran Church. It seems that this church has been secularised in many more severe ways, and at a far earlier time, than I had ever imagined. Regardless of theories about the so-called “catholic” nature of the Swedish Lutheran Church, it seems that Protestant ideas, attitudes and perceptions are very much at the root of its interior mentality, together with a great loss of a sense of many basic Christian elements such as I once knew in Lutheranism, and such as one might therefore expect. The way of life in society for Lutherans seems now to be expressed as “this is how Swedes do things”. It would previously have been said that ”we behave this way because we are a Christian people”. Many Swedes have reduced what was formerly a Christian society formed by the Gospel to philosophical and personal choices about how to live. It was pointed out to me that in Kosovo, the Swedish parts of KFOR (the NATO armed forces in Kosovo) do not have any apparent care for Serbian monasteries and churches and their protection, whereas the Italians and French forces do. There is, nevertheless, recognition and acknowledgment by some Swedes that the Syrians are very numerous, that they have a very low unemployment rate, and also a very low crime rate amongst them in Sweden.

By the time we had finished our conversation, the temperature had fallen ; it had snowed considerably, and the roads had become very icy. It took a long time to return to Stockholm, to have supper, and to retire in view of an early morning departure. It seems that in the Baltic areas, there is usually some sort of cold-snap like this (at about this time of year) which is then succeeded by milder weather again for a month or so. The forecast at the time of my departure reflected this.

On all levels, it seems that there was an appreciation of a visit from North America, and there were repetitions of comments about how much the example of the OCA means to the Orthodox Swedes in particular, who are trying to bring Orthodoxy to their people, and to make it approachable. Those who are working on the necessary translation projects involving any of the Scandinavian languages seem to be taking note of the way in which translations are undertaken in our Church. Every bishop expressed particular appreciation for the courtesy visits, and for the conversations. They assure us of their prayers, and ask for ours for them.

On Thursday morning, 2 November, well before dawn, I was taken to the aeroport, in advance of a 0900 hrs departure from Stockholm to Newark, and then on to Ottawa. It was still quite cold, but quite clear. As it happened, there was a very long repair delay in departure, and the flight arrived in Newark over five hours late. Then, in addition, there was over an hour of waiting in Newark for the next departure, but by God’s Grace, arrival was safe, albeit very late.

On Thursday morning, 2 November, well before dawn, I was taken to the aeroport, in advance of a 0900 hrs departure from Stockholm to Newark, and then on to Ottawa. It was still quite cold, but quite clear. As it happened, there was a very long repair delay in departure, and the flight arrived in Newark over five hours late. Then, in addition, there was over an hour of waiting in Newark for the next departure, but by God’s Grace, arrival was safe, albeit very late.

Primatial Visit to Georgia 16 - 24 April 2004

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Primatial Fraternal Visit to Georgia
16-24 April, 2004
[published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2004]


There was a substantial delegation from The Orthodox Church in America accompanying His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman on the occasion of his first official visit to His Holiness, Patriarch Ilya II and the Church of Georgia, and it was one of my responsibilities (and an obedience) to be amongst these members.

Georgia’s history is very long, the territory having been settled for well over 3,000 years. Christianity came early to Georgia. The Apostle Andrew, on his missionary voyages, came to this area via the Black Sea. Early, the Robe of Christ came from Palestine to Mtskheta, by means of a Jewish family. Buried in the hands of a member of this family, a tree grew up from the grave, which provided the foundation of the ancient cathedral in the old capital of Mtskheta. Part of this tree remains protected inside a column in the middle of the cathedral, on its south side. It was in the 4th century that Saint Nino (a relative of the Great-martyr George) came from Cappadocia. She converted the royal family, overthrew paganism, and she brought Christ to Georgia in a lasting way. The places where the Cross was raised (replacing Mazda idols) are marked still by Temples of fourth-century foundation. In the 6th century, there arrived 13 Syrian monks who established monastic ascetical communities in various places. The influence of these communities remains to this day, despite 70 years of communism and various invasions from Persia and elsewhere before that.

The climate and terrain of Georgia are very varied, and therefore the culture is not monolithic either. Georgia’s natural north border is made up of the Greater Caucasus Mountain system, which stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Many of its peaks are over 5,000 m in altitude, and even more of the peaks are over 4,000 m. This system, together with the Ural Mountains, make up the usually-described boundaries between Europe and Asia. To the south are the Lesser Caucasian Mountains, which are more volcanic in nature, and which are approximately parallel to the Greater Caucasian system. The southern border of Georgia is within the southern mountain-system. Because of the nature of these mountains, Georgia is a land of frequent earth-quakes.

The territory of Georgia is very diverse in character. Because of the mountains, much of the interior is at a higher altitude, and this altitude gives what may be called a temperate climate (although in reality this varies in accordance with the altitude). On the other hand, the west-coast area of Georgia could be described as sub-tropical, and this region was known in ancient times as Kolchis. In that hot climate, it is possible to grow citrus fruit and tea. This coast faces the Black Sea, and it has a large coastal plain. Inland, as well, there are fertile temperate-climate plains, arid hills and foot-hills. At the higher elevations of the mountains, the climate can be very cool indeed. In the eastern plains, the conditions are ideal for grapes ; thus, over 10,000 hectares are given to viticulture at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. Eastern Georgia, which was the ancient Iberia, was apparently the place where viticulture began in ancient days. We travelled over much of the eastern part of Kakheti and Kartli, parts of which reminded me of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta and BC.

It was to this environment that the delegation of The Orthodox Church in America, which accompanied His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, arrived on Saturday, 17 April, at the end of Bright Week. We encountered Georgia in spring’s full leaf and bloom. At the aeroport in Tbilisi, we were met by His Holiness Ilya II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. He is truly a father to the Georgian people. Accompanying him were Archbishops Gerasim and Theodore and some other clergy. They all personally escorted us to the special guest-quarters that were provided in a secure residence. Not far away was the home of the former president, Eduard Shevardnadze (he served until 2003). After we were settled into our quarters, we were taken first to visit the Patriarchate buildings, now having been recovered by the Church after the fall of communism. Then we went to visit the very large Holy Trinity Cathedral, still under construction. It is planned that this Temple (with its proposed adjoining buildings) will become the new focus of the administration and pastoral service of the Church of Georgia. These buildings are expected to include a new accommodation for the theological seminary. Under communism, the original building had become an art-museum. This visit was followed by an audience with the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Whenever the head of any autocephalous Orthodox Church is installed, it becomes his responsibility to try to visit the heads of other autocephalous Churches. The purpose of this is not simply a personal introduction, but rather, it is for the purpose of showing the visible unity of the Orthodox Church by serving together with one another at the Holy Table, by making the one Offering to the Lord together, and by receiving the Holy Mysteries together from the one Lamb, and from the one Cup. This may be called “natural Orthodox ecclesiology”. I suppose that the best response to this visit and its purpose is reflected in the words of Bishop Gerasim, the chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Georgian Church : he thanked God for our visit, because we were concelebrating together. He expressed what is always so important in Orthodox life – demonstrating our unity in Christ at all levels of the Church’s life by serving together and participating together in the Body and Blood of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. Because of the shortness of time, there was only one such Eucharistic celebration, which took place on Thomas Sunday. On the evening of Bright Saturday (Vigil of Thomas Sunday), we served together with the two primates at the Sioni Cathedral. During the Vigil, we had the distinct blessing to be able to venerate the Head of the Apostle Thomas, and the Cross of Saint Nino (non-Georgians usually say “Saint Nina”). The Cross of Saint Nino is a Cross of grape-vine wood made in the 4th century by Saint Nino and bound together with her own hair. Some say that the Theotokos gave it to her. In this Cathedral in Tbilisi, there are also examples of the iconography written by Patriarch Ilya II.

Early on Sunday morning, 18 April, we were driven from Tbilisi to the ancient city of Mtskheta, a distance of 20 km. This is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (there is evidence of towns in this place to before 1,000 BC). In the historic Svetitskhoveli (“Pillar of Light”) Cathedral in Mtskheta, Metropolitan Herman and I, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, Archdeacon Alexei Klimachev, and the other members of our delegation participated together with His Holiness, Patriarch Ilya II and 12 bishops of the Georgian Church in the Primatial Divine Liturgy. This cathedral was begun in the 4th century, and it was rebuilt in the 11th century. In the midst of this Temple is a large column which stands over the place where the Robe of the Lord has been buried since the 1st century. After the Divine Liturgy, we were able to venerate this pillar, and also a Cross from the 4th century. A dinner followed in the precincts of the cathedral, in a room by the surrounding wall. Later in the afternoon, we were driven to visit the Elena Dmitrievna Akhvlediani Art Museum in Tbilisi, and we listened to a private concert given by the Chamber Ensemble “Synthesis”. As on every day during this visit, we were given supper. It seems that Georgian dinners can have even more courses and toasts than Russian ones. Georgian toasts seem to be accompanied by a special sort of speech, and most of those seated at table can be called upon by the toastmaster to rise and speak. Every such dinner has a toastmaster. After such a meal on this day, we were taken to our quarters for the night.

I do not want to give an extended travelogue. However, it is important to write a little more about the holy places, because we all really must clearly understand how long this people has been Christian, and how the Georgians influence the rest of the Church (most particularly Russia and Greece).

On Monday, 19 April, after we took breakfast, we first attended a “Proceedings” at the university. We then returned to the Mtskheta area. Atop a high hill nearby Mtskheta is the Holy Cross Monastery, which protects one of Saint Nino’s Cross-foundations (see the beginning of this article). The church building is in Syrian style and the monastery has re-opened. Nearby also is the Samtavro Women’s Monastery, which was built where Saint Nino lived. A little bit more distant is the Shio-Mgvime Monastery where, in the 6th century, the great ascetic Saint Shio (one of the Syrian Fathers) lived together with a large number of hermits. The Shio-Mgvime Monastery was a lavra-style community, and its hermits lived in caves. All these monasteries were now being repopulated, although the Samtavro Women’s Monastery did remain open throughout the communist times. Patriarch Ilya has been overseeing a great renewal of Church life, and he may be favourably compared with the great King David IV the Builder, who reposed in 1130. After the destruction of so many churches and monasteries and other institutions under communism, the Orthodox Church is being rapidly renewed under the paternal direction of Patriarch Ilya II – truly a loving and strong father to the Church and to the Georgian nation. In a poor country with huge unemployment (like most other post-communist countries), resources are nevertheless found to rebuild churches, to rebuild and repopulate monasteries (by the dozen), and to build new ones as well, since there are many new towns without any churches at all. After these visits, we had a meeting with the Speaker of Parliament, Mrs. Nino Burjanidze, and there was a reception at the US Embassy with Patriarch Ilya. We had been given food at many of the stops, and in the evening we returned to our quarters and retired.

During Tuesday, 20 April, we travelled towards the east of Georgia together with Patriarch Ilya and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We visited many holy places and many churches from the 10th to the 11th centuries, and we venerated the relics of many saints all over eastern Georgia – both in the foot-hills of the magnificent snow-capped Caucasus Mountains and in the fertile plains. This eastern area which we visited was particularly in the region of Kakheti. First we visited the Bodbe Women’s Monastery, which is on a high foot-hill that overlooks the fertile valley and is in view of the mountains. This is the place where Saint Nino reposed, and where her tomb can be found. We had the blessing to venerate this tomb (her body is protected underground). This monastery was destroyed several times, including during the communist period, but it is now re-opened, well-populated with nuns, and mostly repaired. Near this monastery is also the sixth-century Monastery of Saint Afif, and the fifteenth-century Monastery of Gremi. During the evening, we attended an open-air performance of Georgian singing and dancing, and we spent the night in the Tsinandali village.

On Wednesday, 21 April, the clear sky afforded us a partial view of the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains to the north. We drove first to the Cathedral of Saint George in Telavi, where we prayed briefly. Here is the home of Archbishop Theodore. Near this city is the 10th century Monastery of Saint George in Alaverdi, which has been newly re-opened. We drove to the monastery, and we venerated the relics of Saint Joseph. We also venerated the Holy Table, which contains the relics of Saint Ketevan. Nearby is the sixteenth-century Shuamta Women’s Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos, which is also the burial place of the princely Chavchavadze family. After this, we were driven back to Tbilisi. Between Tbilisi and Mtskheta, on a mountain-top, is the newly-built Hermitage Skete of Saint John the Forerunner, a metochion for Metropolitan David near both the old and new capitals. In the evening, I was driven to visit this community, which faces Mtskheta. Begun in 1998, this hermitage has 3 brothers (one is an American), and Metropolitan David is in residence half-time. The construction was nearing completion at that time. Metropolitan David has active ties with the Athonite Iviron Monastery, and with Archimandrite Ephrem in the USA. I was returned to the residence later in the evening.

On Thursday, 22 April, we drove in a southerly direction from Tbilisi to the newly-repopulated desert Caves Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner, and the Monastery of Saint David of Garedja, which both date from the 6th century. They were built by Saint Lukian, a disciple of Saint David of Garedja. The caves were established on several levels. During communist times, from the 1920s, the monasteries were quite damaged, since they were in what became a military firing-range, and they were used for target-practice. We next visited the Caves Monastery of Saint David, some 8 km distant. Both here and in the Monastery of Saint John, 6,000 monks were killed by Persians in the 17th century. This monastery began to be renewed in 1984 by the present Metropolitan David (a former architect) and his friend Paata Sganshiashvili. This monastery is in the diocese of Bishop Luka, who had been previously the abbot for 5 years. This area is very much like Alberta’s southern foot-hills, and we were told that road access in times of rain is a great challenge. At the Garedja Caves Monastery, there can be seen an ancient water-collecting system. Later, as we returned to Tbilisi, we were told that in this city there had been notable martyrdoms in the past by the Persians and by Muslim. First was the martyrdom of Abo the Perfumer (who originally came from Baghdad) in 786. Then there was a large martyrdom of 10,000 faithful in 1226. None of them would deny Christ. We then went to a formal meeting with the Prime Minister of Georgia, Zurab Zhvania. He showed himself to be a strongly believing Orthodox Christian. Following this, there was a meeting with the US Ambassador, as is always the case when the metropolitan makes such visits.

In the evening, there was the customary formal farewell dinner with Patriarch Ilya II. Of course, this included many speeches and many toasts, and we were late retiring. In the morning, 23 April, we rose to begin our departure, and we all bore the hope that Patriarch Ilya II would soon again visit in North America. Let us pray for the continued rebuilding and renewal of the life of the Church in Georgia !

Return of the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Return of the Wonder-working Icon
of the Theotokos of Tikhvin
15-28 June, 2004


The Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin has been deeply interwoven with the history and self-understanding of Russia herself. This icon is like that of the Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir in that respect. Both icons have been associated with the protection of Russia from invasions. Both icons have brought the Mother of God, the Theotokos, deeply into the hearts of the Russian Orthodox faithful people. Thus, from the beginning of his patriarchal service, it was a priority for His Holiness Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, to try to bring about the return of this holy icon to the monastery from which it had been taken in order to protect it. However, it took many years to bring about the return of this icon to Russia, and to the Monastery of the Mother of God in Tikhvin (about 200 km east of Saint Petersburg). Because of the great importance of this Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos to the Russian Orthodox Church and to Russia, it required many painstakingly detailed and careful preparations through conversations between the Holy Synods of the Moscow Patriarchate and of The Orthodox Church in America. It also involved many careful conversations between the Garklavs family in the USA and clergy in Russia.

This icon of the Mother of God was written long ago by the holy Evangelist Luke, as was the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir in Moscow. In the 5th century, the icon arrived in Constantinople from Jerusalem, where it was venerated in the cathedral in Blachernae which had been built especially because of the presence of this icon. However, in 1383 the icon disappeared from this cathedral (this was about 70 years before the fall of the city to the Ottomans). During the following century, the holy icon appeared before some fishermen who saw it hovering above Lake Ladoga. It was as if the Holy Theotokos herself had moved from Byzantium to Russia. It was during the time of the Great Prince of Moscow Dmitry Donskoy that this wonder-working icon first appeared above the waters of Lake Ladoga, invisibly borne through the air by angels, and shining with a radiant light. The holy icon moved from place to place, healing the infirm and comforting those in sorrow. In those places where the icon stopped, pious Orthodox Christians built chapels and churches.

Ultimately, it seems that the Holy Theotokos chose the place now known as Tikhvin as the permanent or long-term place for her icon. There, a Temple was soon built for the icon, and in time a monastery grew up around this Temple. Its official foundation was in 1560, by order of Tsar Ivan IV. The veneration of the icon was so great, and pilgrims so numerous, that a special window was built into the wall of the Temple, through which pilgrims could see the wonder-working icon and pray before it even when the Temple was locked. An unusual warmth issued from the hands of the Theotokos on the icon that could be felt by the lips of those who venerated it. This monastery itself became known as the Great Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos, and around it there grew up a town as well. A very substantial wall was constructed by the tsar, to surround the monastery in the manner of a fortress, since at the time it was located quite close to the Swedish border, and the walls could protect the monastery and the trade-route. In 1610, during the Time of Troubles and the reign of Tsar Ivan IV, the town was looted by Polish troops, and subsequently it was occupied by Swedish forces until 1613. Those who had taken refuge in the monastery resisted a very long siege, until the occupying forces were driven out. There were times also when the monastery was protected by this holy icon. At those times, the invading Swedish armies retreated without explanation or fighting after the Icon of the Mother of God was taken in procession around the walls of the monastery.

In the 1920s, after the Bolshevik Revolution, the monastery was closed by the communists, but the icon remained in the Temple of the monastery as before. The Icon of the Theotokos was transferred to Riga by a complicated series of events. In 1941, during World War II, Tikhvin was occupied for a month by German troops, who looted and damaged the monastery. In particular, these troops took the Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos to Pskov, which they had also occupied. It was during these years (when the war-front was moving farther east and north) that there was a very active missionary work undertaken in these territories by Latvian Orthodox clergy and others. One of these hard workers for the sake of Christ was the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Riga, Janis (Garklavs). (Janis is Latvian for John.) He had been ordained to the Holy Episcopate in 1943, and taken therefore from the Kolka parish, where he had been the pastor. Kolka is a village by the sea, on Cape Kolka. It was in 1944 that the retreating German soldiers brought the invaluable image of the Mother of God to Riga, where it was eventually saved by Archbishop Janis. It was at the end of the war, when the Soviets were about to take over Latvia, that Archbishop John took the icon and fled from Riga, along with 12 other clergy (and his adopted son Sergei). As they were leaving, they all noticed that the Soviet war-planes were dropping bombs on all sides of those departing. However, their ship was undamaged. It was his son Sergei who carried the icon on each leg of the journey. The icon with its metal covering weighs about 30 kg. The flight from Riga took them first to Germany, then to Poland and Czechoslovakia, and then in 1949 to the USA. Meanwhile, after World War II, the Tikhvin Town Museum was organised in the monastery precincts.

Once in the USA, the Garklavs family arrived in Chicago with the icon. Covered by a riza (a hammered gold outline of the image it covers, which is encrusted with jewels), the icon for years occupied a prominent place in Chicago’s Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity (which is in what is called the “Ukrainian Village”). Archbishop John (Garklavs) became the Archbishop of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest in 1956. When he reposed in the Lord in 1982, he bequeathed the icon to his adopted son Sergei (now a married archpriest with children), with the stipulation that it return to Russia when the Soviet State would collapse, and on the condition that the monastery where it belonged initially be restored. After 1982, the icon was kept for safety reasons mostly in the home of the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs. He would bring the holy icon to the cathedral for holy days. Therefore, during the period between 1949 and 2004, the icon was kept safely in Chicago (in the cathedral or in the nearby rectory), awaiting the time for the fulfilment of these stipulations.

Even after the “Iron Curtain” disappeared with the fall of communism, it still took many years before the predicted restoration of the monastery could come true. In 1991, the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs began visiting the Dormition Monastery regularly, searching for signs of a religious renewal. At first, the monastery was in such disrepair that he could not imagine the possibility of safely returning the icon. It was in 1995 that the Tikhvin Monastery was transferred by the state back to the Russian Orthodox Church. It was then that the abbot of the monastery, Efimii, began searching for Father Sergei, and this took some time. Eventually, he managed to make a contact. The result was that, after many negotiations, which involved many meetings between the Holy Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church, the OCA and the Russian Government, arrangements were finally made in 2003 for the return of the Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin to the Dormition Monastery in Tikhvin, Russia. Its return home would take place 55 years after what may be called “a forced emigration”. However, the total absence from the monastery in Tikhvin added up to about 63 years. One of the benefits of the meetings and negotiations between the Holy Synods was (for me) the opportunity to meet and to get to know many clergy from the Metropolia of Saint Petersburg. These meetings helped me all the more to appreciate properly the meeting with their Metropolitan, Vladyka Vladimir, during the services and flights involved in the final transfer of the icon back to Russia.

In 2003, there began a period of almost a year of farewells to the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God in some parishes in the eastern United States, beginning with the Monastery of Saint Tikhon in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The last of these stops was in Cleveland, Ohio, and this is where I joined the delegation that was assembling to accompany this holy icon on the return to Russia and Tikhvin. His Eminence, Metropolitan Vladimir of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga was present by this time. He was the official representative of the Patriarch of Moscow for this important occasion. He is a senior member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, and he is the bishop of the diocese in which the Monastery of Tikhvin is situated. He also speaks many languages. After the services in Cleveland and Parma (on 17 June), the Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos travelled by air with the delegation to Chicago. There, in Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral at 1121 North Leavitt Street, the final services were offered to the Lord before the final departure.

A large number of people had been organised to form the delegation that would accompany the holy icon on the various steps of the return. Not everyone (including me) was able to be present at every event, but all participated in some. The whole delegation included the following : His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman ; His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest ; His Grace, Bishop Nikolai of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska ; me ; Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick (OCA Chancellor) ; the Archpriest David Brum, Secretary ; Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood) (OCA Representative to the Moscow Patriarchate) ; the Archdeacons Alexei Klimitchev and Isidore (Brittain) ; Mr. John Mindala (OCA photographer) ; and Messrs. Peter Ilchuk, Alexis Liberovsky, Jason Vansuch, and Joel Wilson. There was also a group of three dozen pilgrims on a trip especially arranged by F.O.S. Tours for The Orthodox Church in America, led by Mr. David Lucs.

After departing from Chicago on Sunday, 20 June, the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God left North America, and began the Progress of her journey homewards. The Tikhvin Icon was flown to Riga, Latvia on a private jet provided by a Russian donor. His Eminence, Metropolitan Vladimir of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga, Bishop Seraphim, and members of the Garklavs family were on this flight. As the flight passed over Canadian air-space, Metropolitan Vladimir (a gracious and well-educated man) reminded me that it was high time that I bless the Canadian diocese from the air before we would go out over the Atlantic. I did. The flight paused for refuelling in Reykjavik, Iceland in the middle of the night, but the light was as if it were just at the time of sunset. The flight continued on to Riga in Latvia without incident.

On Monday, 21 June, the flight was met by His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia, and other dignitaries. This was the first pause in the Progress homewards of the holy icon. Then Metropolitan Vladimir, members of the Garklavs family (including the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs and his son, the Archpriest Alexander Garklavs) and I accompanied the icon to the city’s Nativity of Christ Cathedral at 23, Brivibas Street. The delegation and the holy icon were met at the Cathedral at 1130 hrs. Despite heavy rains, over a thousand residents of Riga welcomed the Tikhvin icon. They joined a Cross-procession and a festive Hierarchical Divine Liturgy that welcomed the return from the USA of the famous Icon of the Mother of God of Tikhvin. Very tight security measures strictly controlled the access to the icon. Traffic restrictions were imposed on the streets around the cathedral, and public transport stops nearby were moved to other streets. Those who entered the cathedral had to pass a security check. Such was the concern for the safety of this holy icon as it rested in the Nativity Cathedral. Nevertheless, during the next 2 days, the cathedral was opened around the clock for veneration, and about 300,000 people managed to venerate the icon before the time came for the transfer to Moscow.

During this time, there were many services offered. This was also the opportune time for me to find the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Women’s Monastery in Riga, and to present to the community the photographic portrait of the Abbess Evgenia that had been sent to them from Mother Dorofea (Mirochnitchenko) in Ottawa. Mother Dorofea had been an orphan in this monastery’s school and orphanage during World War II, and she had later learnt that the monastery had no photograph of this intrepid and significant abbess because of the ravages of the war and of communism. The nuns were very hospitable, and for me it was good to see where several of our Canadians had lived (Mother Dorofea, Alexander Alexandrovitch Kaminsky, and his sister Tatiana Eckholm in particular).

On the same day, 21 June, Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Job, Bishop Nikolai, and the OCA delegation arrived in Moscow in anticipation of the icon’s arrival there. Meanwhile, in Riga, the veneration of the Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin continued until 23 June. Services were offered frequently in the presence of the icon while people were venerating.

On Wednesday, 23 June, the group in Riga which was accompanying the icon returned along with the Icon of the Theotokos to the waiting plane, and the last leg of the journey to Moscow began. Moscow was the 2nd pause on the homeward Progress of the holy icon. The trip was rapid and uneventful. Upon arrival in Moscow, at the Sheremetev Aeroport (after completing the necessary arrival formalities), the entourage of the Tikhvin Icon boarded several waiting vans and drove straight to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman ; His Eminence, Archbishop Job ; His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, and very many other bishops, clergy and others were waiting to receive the holy icon, the Tikhvin Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos. All the members of the entourage immediately joined in with the others for the procession into the cathedral and for the first service of thanksgiving in Russia before the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. For the next four days, about 50,000 people per day queued up in a kilometre-long line in order to venerate this holy icon. It was most moving to see the joy on the faces of the believers while they were merely near this holy icon. They approached the icon very seriously and with great reverence, even though they may have each had 2 seconds before the icon itself. With such throngs of people all eager to participate in the veneration, the actual veneration of this icon or any other holy object by each person must be rapid. Preparation for the veneration must be done in the heart, and prostrations made while one is waiting, and after the fact of the veneration. Every day, services were offered in the presence of this holy icon.

On Sunday, 27 June, Patriarch Aleksy II and Metropolitan Herman, together with a multitude of bishops, priests and deacons served the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy before the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. A multitude of faithful believers were pressed into the cathedral, and there was a greater multitude surrounding the cathedral. After the end fo the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Aleksy II and Metropolitan Herman led a Cross-procession with the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos. The procession left the cathedral’s main west entrance, circled round the cathedral, and then proceeded away from Christ the Saviour Cathedral, along the street beside the bank of the Moscow River. It then moved up into the square, where it stopped on the stairs leading into the Iveron Chapel of the Theotokos. Reports described the presence of a “sea of people” all along the route, and then in the square. There, a Moleben was served by the patriarch and all the other bishops, clergy and faithful present. The whole of Red Square was, indeed, a sea of people (estimates numbering the assembly at probably more than 200,000 persons). The whole assembly was blessed by the icon as Patriarch Aleksy and Metropolitan Herman (assisted by others, because the icon in its protecting container was very heavy) raised the icon and made the Sign of the Holy Cross with it three times over all the people, and with them over the whole city. After that, the holy icon was taken to a waiting van, and a procession formed to take to the railway station all those who would accompany the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon on the remainder of the journey, first to Saint Petersburg, and then finally to Tikhvin.

For me, this was the conclusion of my responsibility, and I had the blessing to return to Canada immediately (on Monday, 28 June), where other responsibilities awaited me. It is not possible to describe in words what sort of blessing this whole experience had been for me. It was, in its own way, a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage of a different sort than usual. Blessings abounded, to be sure. The protection of the Mother of God was evident. The Grace of God was being poured out.

Regarding the Garklavs family, I wish to make a few final comments. The Archpriest Alexander Garklavs had been a classmate of mine while attending Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York many years previously. I had met his parents in Chicago in 1979, when the Saint Vladimir’s Octet stopped in that city during its continental tour, and we all had had an opportunity to venerate the Wonder-working Tikhvin Icon during that visit. It is true that (as is always the case) there have been many opinions expressed about the Garklavs family and what they should have, could have, or might have done differently or better. Regardless of this, I believe that it is important that we all give thanks to God that Archbishop John and his adopted son, the Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, cared about this holy icon so much that they endured considerable personal difficulties and inconveniences in order to ensure both the icon’s safety during its North American exile, and to ensure the safe and secure return of the icon to its rightful home. Surely the Mother of God was with this family as it lived out its responsibility.

As it was said repeatedly in various media, this particular icon is intimately connected in inexplicable ways with the heart and soul of the Russian people as a nation. One Chicago newspaper reported that “the homecoming is not simply a matter of returning a missing masterpiece to its rightful owner. It is also a symbol of the Russian Church’s new freedom from communist rule and the revival of religion in a nation once called Holy Russia. ‘Russia was not inherently an atheistic country,’ said Nadieszda Kizenko, a professor of Russian history at the State University of New York in Albany. ‘The presence of this icon was very clear and tangible evidence that it wasn’t just the fantasy or nostalgia of people saying this. The spirit of Russia was embodied in these artifacts that remained part of a living church tradition.’”

Reports about the remainder of the journey to Tikhvin (and other information) may be found at :

http://oca.org/news/archived/a-miracle-in-our-time-wonderworking-tikhvin...

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/47528.htm

http://www.incommunion.org/2005/07/31/recommended-resources-summer-2005/

http://www.viddler.com/v/acb6cede

Pilgrimage to Romania 3 - 15 August 2004

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Romania
3-15 August, 2004


According to the report of the Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, it was many years ago that the late Archbishop John (Garklavs) of Chicago was asked by a little girl : “What do bishops do ?” He replied : “They bless”. In my experience, this is so very accurate. It is the foundation of what Christ gave bishops (in representing Him) to do in the Church. First of all, they bless the Eucharistic Liturgy ; and they are, from this, responsible to bless all the persons and ministries and projects, and everything that is necessary for the Christian life. For this reason, a bishop should never be long out of his diocese ; and for this reason, he should be regularly visiting the communities of his diocese : to provide life – Christ’s life.

The visit to Romania on 3-15 August, 2004, was primarily intended to be for the rest and refreshment of the bishop, and to a great extent it was so (particularly spiritually speaking). However, it was also very active from the aspect of the activity of blessing, because the bishop cannot really go anywhere (and particularly to such a believing people) without sharing the blessing and love of Christ with those who approach him. As always, we have to share Christ’s love in concrete ways ; and He always provides more and more for us, so that we have more and more to share. The blessing goes in both directions, too, for if the bishop is bringing such a blessing from Christ to the people, the love for Christ in the people brings Grace to the bishop. Through their faith and prayers, the bishop is strengthened. This is truly the wonder of the life in Christ. This is why a bishop does not take a vacation in the way others often do, because it is neither possible, nor is it congruent with his calling. One might say that it is not his vocation to take a vacation. A bishop cannot ever pretend that he is not a bishop. He must always, at all times be what and who he is.

Like other Churches recovering from the years under godless communism, the Romanian Orthodox Church is one with many new martyrs, and with many new confessors – both departed and living. Truly, I met a number of these living confessors for Christ. As in some other places, the new government officially gives freedom to the Church, but it does not particularly support the Church. Sometimes, it actually hinders the Church (much as there are obstacles in our “capitalist” West), and this in the face of the fact that the Orthodox Church in Romania is not divided, and also in the face of the well-known statistic that 80% of Romanians claim to be Orthodox Christians. This high percentage was a well-known fact even in communist days.

Romania is a mostly agricultural economy, and there are not many heavy industries. There is a tension between the desire to maintain and foster traditional ways of living, and by contrast, the desire to enter the European Union and become materially so-called “better off” (which usually benefits only those of higher income). The Romanian faithful have a long history of tenacious fidelity to Christ and Orthodoxy. In this, the formative person was Saint King Stefan the Great, of the 15th century. With God’s help, he united Bukovina and Romania ; and, over a period of 50 years he defeated the attacking neighbouring kingdoms and empires, including the Ottomans and Tatars. He was strictly faithful, a defender of Orthodoxy, and this heritage remains to this day in Romania, and particularly in Bukovina (north-east Romania and the country Moldova) – and, one may truly say, in the Chernovtsi area of Ukraine. Saint King Stefan founded the Putna Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in 1466. Just outside the monastery, in the village, is what is believed to be the oldest wooden church in continental Europe. It was built in 1353.

On 2 July of this year, the 500th anniversary of his death was celebrated at the Dormition Monastery of Putna (near the present Ukrainian border, west of Suçeava), where also is his tomb in the main Temple. Amongst the many participants in the holy celebration were almost 600 mostly young people who, from 29 June, had walked in a Cross-procession, with singing and prayers, all the 78 km from the old fortress in Suçeava, westwards to the monastery in Putna. This was organised by the Romanian Orthodox Student Christian Movement. Some of the participants, by the way, had walked all the way from Kishinau, Moldova, which means a walk of 500 km each way. Such pilgrimages are not uncommon in Romania, Ukraine and Russia, even for the aged ; and the age-range of this group was from nine to seventy.

The Christian hospitality of the family that hosted me, and of the monks of Putna, enabled me in a short time to experience some of the principal holy places, the historic monasteries, and the life and work of the Romanian Church. I visited the Patriarchate in Bucharest (where I served the Divine Liturgy with Bishop Ciprian on the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration), and the historic Antim Monastery nearby. Then, travelling south of the Danube, near the currently Bulgarian city of Silistra (ancient Dorostolum), I had the blessing of visiting the monasteries of the Cave of the Apostle Andrew, and of Saint Parasceva of Dervent. The Apostle Andrew did evangelical work all around the Black Sea, and along its tributary rivers. At Dervent, there is a spring which began at his prayers (he needed water for baptising), where pure water still flows ; and there are cruciform rocks that rose from the ground over the graves of 4 early convert martyrs. Here, as elsewhere, it was evident that there has grown up a laudable symbiotic relationship between the monasteries and the people who live nearby (not forgetting the urbanites who also regularly visit them to receive, and also to give help).

Romania has very many monasteries everywhere : both new ones, and older ones re-opened after communist closures. However, the Carpathian Mountains, which run through the midst of the country, are home to most of the old and historic monasteries, and many of these were built by Saint King Stefan the Great and his family. It was a very great blessing to be able to spend most of ten days at the Dormition Monastery in Putna, and to attend the daily services, morning and evening.

During three consecutive days, I was taken by the monks to visit several of the area’s historic churches and monasteries. Some of these had been monastic Temples previously, but they had been turned into parish churches in Austro-Hungarian days, and they remain so until now. In the nearby village of Radauti is the historic Bogdana Temple, which is one of these. In this same village, a new parish church is nearly completed ; and there is also being constructed a complex of houses, with their own church, for homeless and orphaned children.

Many of the older Temples are frescoed on the interior and on the exterior as well, and most have had the frescoes cleaned and conserved, or they are now being cleaned. During these days, I visited the Temples and monasteries in Arbore, Sucevita, Moldovita, Humor, Voronet, Dragomirna, Varatec, Agapia, Neamt, Secu, Sihastria, and Sihla. It is not possible in a short space to describe all of these. However, anyone can find photos of these Temples in libraries and on the internet.

In the end, although it was very moving and very important that I see and experience these historic places, what was more important still was encountering the Christian life and love of those who worship in them, particularly the monastics. How hard many of them work. The services of prayer take many hours every day, and there is a great deal of work required on the lands around in order to feed and clothe the monks and nuns, and to offer hospitality to the many visitors and pilgrims. Those who are hearing confessions seem to do so for many hours daily (especially on weekends). Each community has its own historical and inherited crafts, as well as those according to the gifts of the current monastics. Some communities are very large, such as the women’s communities of Varatec (600) and Agapia (350). Others (and particularly the more hesychastic ones) are rather smaller, and they tend to be more isolated in the higher hills.

Thanks to some of the many publications of the monastery in Platina, California, one can read a considerable amount about the spiritual heritage of the Romanian monasteries, and particularly about the well-known recently reposed Elder Cleopa of Sihastria. Anyone who might have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to these, and/or others of the monasteries in Romania, would be well-advised to seize the occasion and do so – probably the sooner, the better. When doing so, take extra resources for gifts to the monasteries, and as well for the many needy persons one will encounter. One finds them often at a church or monastery, but very often elsewhere.

For additional information, and to repeat what was published in the Autumn issue of the Canadian Orthodox Messenger of 2003, there is a Canadian woman, Catherine Langston, who is living in western Romania and caring for children who have been given up for dead. With God’s help, she brings them help. She does this on her own, as a Christian, without any government support here or there. I did not see her, because I was not in that part of Romania. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage anyone who can to support her in her Christian work. This can be done through her mother, by writing to the following address :

Missionary Relief Fund, re : Catherine Langstone

c/o Marina Mantle
8020 Silver Springs Rd NW #31,
Calgary Alberta T3B 5R6.

For a tax-receipt, the address is :

St. Olave’s Anglican Church,
360 Windermere Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, M6S 3L4
(with a notation : “Kathy Langston’s Missionary Support” on the cheque).

Primatial Fraternal Visit to Czechia-Slovakia 2004

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Primatial Fraternal Visit
of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman
to the Metropolitan of Czechia-Slovakia,
Nikolai of Prešov
18-26 September, 2004


The agenda was quite demanding on this visit of the delegation of the OCA, which accompanied Metropolitan Herman on his official visit to the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. It entailed driving to each of the four dioceses (in two countries), serving, visiting churches, meeting the faithful, and establishing or renewing personal contacts and friendships between our Churches. Nevertheless, albeit that this was an official visit of our primate to the Czech-Slovak primate, this visit was at the same time a pilgrimage.

Our metropolitan has been representing our Church for many years before he became the Primate, and he is already well-known by many hierarchs around the world. In this case, he was visiting the land of his ancestors, or at least a part of it. His family comes from Trans-Carpathia, a region of Slovakia annexed to Ukraine during the time of Stalin. Because of this border (and lack of time), it was not possible for him to go to his home village during this particular visit. However, this Church of Czechia and Slovakia is the ancestral home Church of a great many believers in the OCA, particularly in the USA. Our delegation consisted of Metropolitan Herman, Bishop Nikon, me, the Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, the Archpriest Daniel Ressetar, and members of the Chancery staff.

We arrived in Prague on Saturday, 18 September. Czechia as a country is a union of two ancient and well-known territories : Bohemia in the north, and Moravia in the south. We were greeted by His Eminence, Kryštof, Archbishop of Prague (in Bohemia), and other clergy. From there we drove to the Monastery of Saint Prokop of Sazava Monastery in Most, which is one of the several recently opened monastic communities in Czechia. Czechia is a growing part of this Church, both through conversion and immigration, which complement each other. Later, we visited the historic Temple of the Holy Cross in Teplice, nearby. Here, we venerated the relics of the fourth-century Roman Martyr, Clarus, brought to Teplice in much earlier days.

On Sunday, 19 September, we drove to Prague, and we served together in the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. This cathedral was the site of a famous conflict in 1942 between the Nazi forces and Czechoslovak resistance, which resulted in the death of parachutists. It is, therefore, in part, a historic site. In that same year, 1942, Bishop Gorazd gave his life in exchange for the Church, as he tried to protect his flock. Because he died in this Christian manner, he is revered as a New Martyr. After lunch, a large bag of charitable gifts was given to Archbishop Kryštof, which included medications, because this Church has connexions with Kosovo, the destination of this aid. Later, we first visited a nearby village in which is the rather recently-established Romani (Gypsy) parish (the only one in this Church), with its Romani priest, who is also the first such priest. Two details are memorable about the Temple : the predominant colour was blue ; the principal icon of Christ on the iconostas was visibly giving myrrh. Afterwards, we visited Saint Vladimir’s Church in Maria Lanske. Then we went to the Temple of Saints Peter and Paul in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), which is a long-time and historic Moscow Patriarchate representation Church, begun by Tsar Peter I. We also drank the healing waters there.

On Monday, 20 September, we visited the Russian, Canadian and US embassies in Prague. The Russian Embassy has an historic location with sufficient territory to allow for a “domestic” church on the grounds. We had enough time to visit the historic city hall, with its famous clock from the 15th century. At the hour, for over 300 years, the figures of the 12 apostles appear in 2 windows above the face of the clock. Then we drove to the Monastery of the Dormition in Velmov, via Olomouc, near Brno (in Moravia). The nuns here (who came from Varatec in Romania) give additional service to the Church by providing a retreat and conference facility. There, during dinner, we were given an overview of the relationship amongst the Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals through talks given by Archbishop Jan Graubner of Olomouc, and Bishop Vladislav Volny of the Silesian Evangelical Church. David Wagschal gave a presentation about the OCA’s activities in the Canadian Council of Churches, the National Council of Christian Churches (USA) and the World Council of Churches.

On Tuesday, 21 September, the OCA delegation served the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral in Brno, together with Bishop Simeon of Olomouc and Brno. Built in 1931 in Functionalist Style (a style popular in this area, and which was followed by Sullivan and Wright in the USA), the cathedral is situated on a prominent hill, just below the historic castle. After the dinner, we were given a brief tour of Brno, and then we drove to Mikul. It was here that in the 9th century Saint Methodius lived and worked in a town with 12 Temples, and a population of 2500. Here, in the main Temple, the third excavated, was found the first tomb of Saint Methodius. Because the Pope later anathematised him, his relics were removed to a monastery in Austria. The Mission of Saint Methodius here was very effective in its day, but there was strong opposition from certain civil authorities and the western church. As a result, in the 10th century, the Franks destroyed, levelled and obliterated the town. It was found accidentally in excavations earlier in the 20th century, and the findings shed much light on the state of affairs in the mid-800s.

It is perhaps important for us to pay some attention to this particular town and its life, and its relationship to the Mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius. This place is, in fact, the focus of the foundation of the missionary work in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and the same principles of Orthodox missionary work have been used by all the children of these original missions during their missionary work (including our own OCA). After this visit, we went on to visit the Monastery of Saint Gorazd, at the place where he was born, in Hruba Vebka. From there, we drove to Bratislava in Slovakia, the capital of that country. We were greeted by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Nikolai of Prešov, the Primate of the Czech-Slovak Church, by Bishop Jan of Michalovce, and many clergy.

On Wednesday, 22 September, we went to visit the Chairman of Parliament, and various other civil authorities, and the US Embassy in Bratislava. We also saw the nearly completed new cathedral there, and we met the priest, choir and faithful who currently worship in an old Roman Catholic Church near the city’s castle. Then we were driven to Prešov. En route, we saw by night a huge castle, the largest in Europe.

On Thursday, 23 September, there was a meeting with the Holy Synod of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and a visit to the Theological Faculty, the Seminary, the Mayor of Prešov and the President of the Prešov region. The meeting with the Holy Synod produced several agreements for future co-operation and mutual support, and this was reinforced by the meeting with the Theological Faculty, professors and students. The Mayor of Prešov, in particular, stressed the fact that this city is multicultural (albeit seemingly isolated), and that it is on what has been the crossroads of the routes of east-west-north-south commerce from very ancient times. Prešov has been a town for 750 years, and there are signs of human presence from 40,000 years ago.

On Friday, 24 September, we were given a tour of the Diocese of Michalovce, which took us close to the Ukrainian border and to Uzhorod. We began with a visit to the village where Saint Alexis Toth was born, and we continued through Svidnik, Mezilaborce (near the birthplace of the artist Andy Warhol), Straske, Michalovce, and Sobrance. Because almost all property was taken away from the Orthodox Church after 1989, and then given to the Unia, most of the Temples we visited were quite new. This included the diocesan offices and the cathedral. During these years, the Orthodox Church in Slovakia has built over 100 Temples. Everywhere, the faithful met us with beautiful plainchant (prostopeniye) singing. This is the melodic system that is characteristic of Slovakia (Karpatho-Rus’), much as is Valamo Chant characteristic of Karelia. Such chant-systems are all related in some way to the ancient Znamenny Chant, but they are simplified.

We visited the Saint Nicholas Orphanage in Mezilaborce, which is one of those supported by thc OCA’s Christmas Stocking Project. It brought into focus the great needs of the Romani people, and the many ways in which the local Orthodox Church tries to meet these needs. We visited several Temples under construction. In Michalovce, we visited the technical school which is operated by the Church, the first school of its kind in Slovakia. All this served not only to show to us North Americans the Church in Slovakia, but also to show to the Slovak faithful that the Church exists far beyond the Slovak borders, that others are interested in their situation, and that these others might be able to help and to support some aspects of their life. This is one of the major factors involved in a Primatial Visit of this sort to this or to any other Church.

On Saturday, 25 September, the Divine Liturgy was concelebrated in Košice (the second-largest city of Slovakia) by Metropolitan Herman, Bishop Jan, and six priests. The rest of the delegation was in attendance in the nave, because of the awkward and limited space in this Temple (which is a former Soviet-style meeting-hall). As in so many other places, the Orthodox Church was deprived of its property first by the Soviets, and then by the democratic government, as properties were returned to the Unia. However, the Orthodox faithful have continued to build anew, and in a Christian manner of forgiveness. Here, and also in Bratislava, a particularly large church-building is required to accommodate the believers, and sponsors willing to help are very much needed. Because of the costs, more sponsors are needed than can be provided locally. [If there is anyone who feels moved by the Lord to help, contact Bishop Jan of Michalovce, at Duklianska 16, 071 44 Michalovce, Republic of Slovakia.] This was followed by a visit with the Mayor of Košice, and then with the Governor of the Košice Region. The political regions of Slovakia are actually provinces, and their political structure is similar to those we have in Canada.

On Sunday, 26 September, there was the consecration of the new cathedral in Prešov, which included the concelebration of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. This new building is yet another example of rebuilding. This Temple, like the other new Temples, is constructed in a much more traditional Orthodox style than most of the edifices that had been taken away from the Church. The cathedral still needs more finishing work, which requires money not yet available. Nevertheless, the Temple was full to overflowing with the faithful who sang very strongly and fervently in the traditional plainchant. Present were many civil authorities of a rather high level (not by any means were they all Orthodox), and similarly high ecclesiastical representation from other Christian confessions. In itself, this indicates the significance of this visit, not only to the Church, but to the society in general. Our visit gave great encouragement to the faithful to persevere ; and they strengthened us by their warm love in Christ.

The two countries (Czechia and Sloviakia) share a generally common history under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and during their union as Czechoslovakia. However, they are quite different in character, with somewhat different languages. Although the Czech language is a close cousin of Slovak, it is as distinct from Slovak as is Norwegian distinct from Danish. Czechia is a more industrial country, and the society is very secularised. Its society has rather a low number of believers in general, albeit that the Orthodox are increasing. The majority of the faithful there seem to be people who have converted to Orthodoxy. Slovakia is more agrarian and a bit more eastern in character. There is a large number of believers ; and especially in the east, the Church and their society are conservative and traditional. In this society, however, conversion to Orthodoxy can cost the loss of all relationship with one’s family. Here, Orthodox believers have suffered a great deal for a very long time ; but they are, nevertheless, active Christians, strong singers, and lovingly hospitable.

The return to North America followed on Monday, 26 September.

Pilgrimage to Georgia, Russia, and Finland 2004

Bishop Seraphim : Report
[The white dove]
Pilgrimage in Georgia ;
Primatial Fraternal Visit
of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman to
the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, Aleksy II
and to the Archbishop of Kuopio and Finland, Leo
21 November - 13 December, 2004
[published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 2005]


Once again, the Lord gave the blessing that I visit the Church in Georgia (the name of the country is Sakartvelo in Georgian). Along with Metropolitan Herman’s secretary, Archpriest David Brum of the OCA chancery, I was representing Metropolitan Herman, the Holy Synod, and The Orthodox Church in America at the consecration of the new Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi on 23 November. This was on a day celebrating the memory of the Great Martyr George (a cousin of Saint Nino), and of the first anniversary of the so-called Rose Revolution. Represented (with delegations of various sizes) were 12 of the 15 Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. Only Jerusalem, Bulgaria and Czechia-Slovakia were unable to be present.

The event of the consecration itself was momentous for Georgia, and for the Orthodox Church in general. This very poor country, suffering for a long time from various political divisions and trouble with neighbours (and also from great unemployment and poverty), has perceived this great event as a sign of the unity of the people of Georgia — past, present and future. At a later event, it was related that, for Georgia, the beginning of each millennium has been marked by some great and notable events, followed by a period that was significant for the people.

In the first millennnium, there was the arrival of the Robe of Christ at Mtskheta, the mission of the Apostle Andrew in the western part, and the mission, later, of Saint Nino, which brought about the christianising of the whole nation. The second millennium was marked by a great building of Temples, adding to the many from the 5th and 6th centuries, by the Holy King David the Builder. The third millennium has begun with the renewed independence of Georgia, and the erecting of this new cathedral. This cathedral, and its coming adjacent buildings, as described by Patriarch Ilya II, will serve as a focus for the renewal of the Orthodox Church in Georgia, along with the natural attendant promotion of study of theology, history, and the arts, which will refresh the traditional cultural support of the Christian way of life.

This building, 4 years in construction (and yet to be completely finished), stands on a prominent hill overlooking the city, the new presidential palace, and as well the patriarchate, the famous Sioni Cathedral, and the nearby sixth-century basilica named for the Icon of Christ Not-Made-By-Hands. Construction was and is being enabled not only by support from the government and private businessmen, but significantly also by free-will offerings of the faithful in general throughout Georgia. As a result, there is one place in the country where a large number may gather.

The interior (which has a gallery on 3 sides above the floor of the nave) can hold 15,000 persons ; and on this occasion, the cathedral was surrounded also on the outside by throngs of believers. This is even after the 70 years of communist destruction. So very much in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel, Georgians are still amongst the earth’s most hospitable peoples. During the Divine Liturgy, there arrived in the cathedral a white dove : an unusual creature in Georgia, and an unusual event. The dove, sitting on the arm of a student at first, was taken by an archbishop to the Altar, to the Patriarch. It went passively. Patriarch Ilya received it, and placed it on the top back of his chair. There the dove remained for the whole of the liturgy, standing still and watching everything. The dove did not flinch at the passing-by of the many servers and clergy. When the Patriarch was at the chair, it sat along with the Patriarch, and stood along with him. This event was, of course taken as a divine sign.

This visit was soon to be followed by the anniversary celebrations in Moscow which occurred during the official visit of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman there (after which he visited Finland). However, because Archbishop Nikoloz (Nicholas) of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo had invited me to prolong my stay, I was given the blessing to remain a little longer in Georgia. As a result, I was able to visit more of the country, and to meet more of the faithful.

First, with Archbishop Nikoloz, there was a visit again in the Kakheti region to the monastery at Bodbe, the veneration of the relics of Saint Nino there, a visit to the healing spring of Saint Nino nearby, and also a visit to the faithful of the nearby village of Tibani. The next day, we travelled to central Georgia, to Archbishop Nikoloz’s diocese, high on a mountain plateau, near the Turkish and Armenian borders. As a result of a resettlement of peoples in recent decades, it now has a significant population of Armenians. This plateau is mostly treeless (because of a huge fire set by conquerors a thousand years ago), and it reminded me of southern Alberta. Its climate is similar, and there was heavy snow.

The cathedral in Kumurdo is presently a ruin, but services have already been held there. People pray there regularly (without a priest), and they hope for future restoration. However, tenth-century buildings are not cheap to restore, and it means a long wait for repaired walls and a roof. There are various small monastic communities in the villages, a characteristic of the reviving Christian life in all Georgia. These communities are serving as seeds for rebuilding the normal Christian life of the people, and they are already bearing some fruit. The many dioceses of Georgia are small in area, generally poor, very mission-minded, and very family-spirited. It was explained to me by an interpreter that the priests are very close to their people, as a family, and the bishops are likewise close. The people press near to the bishop or priest to take a blessing either as we do, or simply by touching their vestments or by being touched on the head.

In the course of visiting this diocese, which included the village of Ninotsminda, I was taken along almost the whole route of the “Way of Saint Nino”, the route she followed from the lake nearby the village, following the river rising from the lake, all the way to Mtskheta. We could not approach the spring-fed lake because of snow drifts that inhibited even four-by-fours. Only certain tractors could manage that approach.

On the Friday evening, again in Tbilisi, Patriarch Ilya organised a reflective gathering of the remaining representatives and many lay persons. There was a prolonged consideration by His Holiness and the other speakers of the historical significance of this event. This reflection was punctuated by singing, poetry, and instrumental numbers. It reminded me of various similar and ancient reflective gatherings, including some represented in Viking sagas. I also met in Tbilisi 3 young American persons who are students of a Saint Vladimir’s professor, who have lived for some months in Georgia, and studied Georgian singing. They sang as Georgians, and when they spoke with me, I thought by their deportment that they were fair-skinned Georgians. There is also an American monk living in Georgia, who hopes in due time to build a spiritual bridge between North America and Georgian monastic life.

Next, I was taken to west Georgia, to the Samagrelo region, to Bishop Gerasim’s diocese, Zugdidi, a mere 30 km from the Black Sea, a few kilometres from Abkhazia, and within easy sight of the western Caucasus. It was chilly and rainy, but this is where palms and other subtropical plants grow, including oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and tea. Tea grows principally in Abkhazia. Georgia, the size of South Carolina, with all its mountains and plateaus, has all but the most extreme of the earth’s climates. We served together at the Kortsheli Monastery, and visited the reconstruction of the Zugdidi Cathedral. Next to the cathedral is a museum in which are one of the robes of the Theotokos, a bone of Saint John the Forerunner, and part of an arm of Saint Marina. We had the blessing to venerate these holy relics. That these holy relics are in a museum tells something of the previous 80 years ; but it also speaks of the antiquity of the Church itself. It is hoped that the Church may soon enough reclaim these holy relics. We also visited the Tsaishi Cathedral, which was the seat of the first Georgian Patriarchs. It will have been not far from here, it must be remembered, that Saint John Chrysostom died on his way into exile, and it was in this area that the Apostle Andrew made the first missionary ventures.

Archbishop Nikoloz, head of the Missions Department, has extended an offer to us, and to the Church in the USA. If at least one priest and some young people can manage to get themselves to Georgia (and are prepared to stay up to a month with sleeping bags and the like), then he is prepared to take them around and help them to experience this ancient Christian culture, and, by using multimedia also, to see how mission is being undertaken in Georgia. In addition, there would be the possibility of visiting ancient Georgian Temples in nearby Turkey. Such an experience could be of great value in helping us here in Canada with our own missionary labours by adding a different perspective.

I then left for Russia to join a group of OCA pilgrims already there. Saint Petersburg, Russia, is not the same city I visited exactly 24 years ago, during just the same days (a sign of God’s Providence, I am sure). There is a similar renewal of daily life in this city as seen in Moscow, but most significant is the openness of the people. In 1980, everyone was afraid of everyone else ; no-one trusted anyone. Now, there is ready and joyful conversation, and open expression of opinions.

After visiting 3 historic and important Temples, I was taken separately by the mother of our Toronto subdeacon Alexei Vassiouchkine to the Saint Seraphim Cemetery Church in a northern suburb. Here is the burial place and official monument of the multitudes that perished during the siege in WW II. I had visited this Temple in 1980. Visiting this Temple now, and seeing it still active, was moving. It was moving to me also because of the nature of this particular cemetery. More significant and moving for me still, was the fact that the visit was on exactly the same day as I had visited 24 years earlier ; and I met the same pastor, Archpriest Vasili Ermakov, who had served there then. He was a classmate of Patriarch Aleksy II ; and, never bowing the neck, never abandoning Christ, he spent time in both German prison camps and Soviet gulags. He is, like others, a living confessor of the Faith. He is full of life and joy, and he is surrounded with a staff of several young priests who are similarly joyful and energetic.

Very heavy traffic and some communication problems kept me from visiting Kronstadt this time. Later, the pilgrims did visit the shrine and venerate the tomb of Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg in the Smolensk Cemetery. We saw there the Temple which she had helped to build. We visited also the Saint John of Rila Monastery, and venerated the tomb of Saint John of Kronstadt there. In many practical ways since its reopening, our Church has helped this monastery, in particular. After a quick tour of the Hermitage Museum, the group of pilgrims left for Moscow.

The visit to Moscow included a tour of the Kremlin, and a visit to the Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery for the pilgrims, including venerating the relics of Saint Sergius, of Metropolitan Saint Innocent, and of others.

The Patriarchal Divine Liturgy was served at the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin with His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, and we venerated the relics of Patriarch Saint Peter. Afterwards, there was a moleben at the Donskoy Monastery, and the veneration of the Don Ikon of the Theotokos, and of the relics of our Patriarch Saint Tikhon. That evening, the Vigil was at the Novospassky Monastery, the former guardian of the Romanov dynasty’s precious goods (something similar to a vault). The next day, the Primatial Divine Liturgy was served at the Epiphany Cathedral, where we venerated the relics of Patriarch Saint Aleksy I. The bishops afterwards took tea with Patriarch Aleksy II at his rural home. In Moscow, we venerated the relics of Patriarch Saint Philaret at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and also Saint Daniel of Moscow and Saint Panteleimon at Saint Daniel’s Monastery. It was underscored for us time and again that there are still alive many confessors for Christ, both clergy and lay, who suffered not just a little in the course of their lives under official atheism. One encounters them often, and it gives one a humbling perspective. Of course, secularism in the wake of communism is a big challenge in all post-soviet places, as it is for us in the midst of a capitalist society ; for communism and capitalism are each different faces of the same materialist coin. We have very similar home-mission challenges.

Of course, the main purpose of our time in Russia was to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the OCA’s Representation Church, Saint Catherine-in-the-Fields on Bolshaya Ordinka Street. This celebration took place in the context of a fraternal visit to His Holiness, Aleksy II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’. The Vigil of the Feast was served on 6 December by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Nathaniel, Bishop Nikon, me, and 8 priests, including Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, Archimandrite Zacchaeus, Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, Archpriest Constantine White, and Archpriest Oleg Kirillov. On the Feast of Saint Catherine, 7 December (OS), Patriarch Aleksy II concelebrated the Primatial Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Herman and the previously-mentioned bishops, as well as Archbishop Arseny, Bishop Niphon (Representative of the Antiochian Patriarchate), and Bishop Sergei. After the dinner, there was a visit to the Danilovsky Monastery, and the veneration of the relics of Saints Panteleimon, Daniel of Moscow and Alexander Nevsky.

The other purpose of this voyage was to continue on to Finland in order to make Metropolitan Herman’s first official and fraternal visit to Archbishop Leo and to the Church of Finland. This began with a stop on 8 December in Helsinki. There, we were met by Archbishop Leo, and my classmate Archpriest Rauno Pietarinen, now the rector of the seminary in Joensuu. We then visited the Lutheran Archbishop of Finland, and the American Ambassador before going on to Joensuu, and to New Valamo Monastery in Heinavesi County. Our own Father Vladimir (Lysak) is still there at New Valamo, working in the brotherhood, and painting many icons. He has introduced the Finns of that region to cheesecake, very successfully ! The next day, there was a visit first to the seminary and then to the theological faculty of the University of Joensuu, and Metropolitan Herman gave an official address. Then we visited the local parish of Saint Nicholas. Others returned to Valamo while I remained and visited the Finnish Youth Association, and some old friends.

The next day began with visiting in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery of Valamo (often called New Valamo). Then we left to visit Lintula’s Holy Trinity Monastery, where Abbess Marina and other sisters remember the visit of our Mother Magdalen and Anna Belzile ; and their priest of 22 years, Archimandrite Herman, remembered our days together in New Valamo 24 years ago. The next day began with the Divine Liturgy in the New Valamo Monastery, at which I once again sang in the choir, as I had done many years earlier. This was followed by a visit to Kuopio, to the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas and to Archbishop Leo’s residence and offices. In the evening, we left for Helsinki. On Sunday, we served with Archbishop Leo at the famous and picturesque Dormition Cathedral on the waterfront, and I also visited old friends. On Monday, we attended the Divine Liturgy at Saint Herman’s Church in Espoo, and visited the Speaker of the Finnish parliament. After this, we departed for New York. I then returned to Ottawa.

These more than 3 weeks were very, very full for me, with many emotional experiences. At the same time, there were many important responsibilities to fulfil on behalf of our Church. Our international relationships are crucially important. I, and/or the others who go, must be careful to do all we can to strengthen the bonds of love and fraternity amongst the various Churches visited. This can only be done on the basis of person-to-person contacts. Letters will not suffice. This has been demonstrated to me repeatedly in these travels. It is a hard thing economically and personally to travel, but the face-to-face contact between believers, members of this giant family of the Orthodox Church, is absolutely needed.

As it is in any family or association, so it is in the Church at large : if we do not see each other regularly, interpersonal problems arise, because as humans we easily fall prey to temptations of fear. It is the renewal of our mutual love in personal contact that keeps all inter-Church relationships as stable as possible. Therefore, please pray for me as long as I have this work to do. I pray also for you as I travel and venerate the holy things, and encounter holy people. May we continue to strengthen each other in Christ’s love through our mutual service. May our Saviour protect us all !

Pilgrimage to Kyiv and Moscow 2001

Bishop Seraphim : Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage to Kyiv and Moscow
26 August - 4 September, 2001


[published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter/Hiver 2001-2002]


From 26 August to 4 September, 2001, I had the blessing to be a part of the representation of our Orthodox Church in America at two large events in Ukraine and Russia. Our Chancellor, the Archpriest Dennis Pihach, was also a participant in this delegation, whose leader was Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania.

The first events were in Kyiv, where there was the commemoration of the 950th anniversary of the founding of the Dormition Lavra of the Kyiv Caves. This took place at the Lavra itself on 27-28 August (which is the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on the Old Calendar). Participating in this commemoration were delegations of one to six persons (all headed by bishops) from every Autocephalous Church in the world. At the Divine Liturgy, which was served outdoors (at the entrance to the newly-rebuilt Dormition Sobor of the Monastery), there were over 70 bishops concelebrating together with Metropolitan Volodymyr, the head of the Autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine (there are, since the independence of Ukraine, two splinter groups besides). Several tens of thousands of the faithful participated. As usual, after the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, there was a procession around the entire monastery with a “blessing of the bounds” with holy water. This year, there were rain showers during the time of the Divine Liturgy. This was quickly taken as emphasising God’s blessing, since there had been a notable drought in that part of Ukraine until that day. There were many trees that had turned brown because of this drought. Also notable in Kyiv was the presence of the relics of the Apostle Andrew, which had been brought there the week before by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens. On the evening of the Dormition, there was a gala performance of song, music and dance in the National Opera House in Kyiv, co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the government of Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, was the chief sponsor. He had invited all the religious leaders of Ukraine to this event, and he exhorted them all to strive for unity, for the sake of the country.

The other events which followed this major celebration were in Moscow. These events were primarily celebrating the 40th anniversary of the ordination to the Holy Episcopate of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, Aleksy II. He had first been given the responsibility of the Holy Episcopate in his youth (age 32), as Bishop of Tallin, Estonia. This was during the days of great persecution of the Church. At the end of communist days, he became the Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg, and then the Patriarch of Moscow. Under his strong leadership, the Russian Orthodox Church has not only rebuilt Temples, but she has also re-established structures of social service, and renewed the formation of the hearts of the faithful.

On Saturday, 1 September, at the Donskoy Monastery, there was a celebration of the Divine Liturgy, commemorating the Wonder-working Donskoy Icon of the Theotokos. The original icon was present in the monastery for the faithful to venerate. Most of the time, it is kept in the Tretiakov State Gallery, as is the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir. In the evening, the patriarch blessed the foundation of a new Temple in a Moscow suburb, saying that this sobor would likely be second in size to Christ the Saviour Cathedral. During that day, there had been a very generous rain-fall. It was not unnoticed by all who were present that the rain stopped and the sun shone just at the beginning of this service of blessing, and that the rain recommenced just after the conclusion. This new Temple was being raised in a residential suburb in which there had not yet ever been an Orthodox Temple. Nevertheless, it was assumed that there were few believers amongst those who inhabited the many apartment buildings. To the surprise of many, about 5,000 people were standing on the ground above the foundations and looking down on this service of blessing, and praying along with the patriarch and the other bishops and clergy.

On Sunday, 2 September, 30 bishops concelebrated the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They all participated with the patriarch in the ordination of a new bishop. After this service, there was a dinner for all those who served at this Divine Liturgy. By his words and demeanour, Patriarch Aleksy revealed his paternal disposition both towards the new bishop and towards the whole Church.

On Monday, 3 September, the main celebration of the patriarch’s anniversary was observed with the serving of a Patriarchal Divine Liturgy. More than 60 bishops served together with Patriarch Aleksy. It should be noted that in one of his speeches, Patriarch Aleksy made a notable comment about our Orthodox Church in America. Our OCA has always tried to be supportive of the Russian Church (both when it was oppressed, and when it became free). He said : “The Orthodox Church in America used to be our daughter Church ; but here she is with us, and she has now become our Sister Church”.

Ecclesiastical Visit in Portugal (2000)

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Ecclesiastical Visit in Portugal
29 January-5 February, 2000


The ecclesiastical visit in Portugal was undertaken together with a pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Essex, UK. In December of 1999, I had been asked by Metropolitan João (John) of Lisboa (Lisbon) if I would participate in the consecration of a new basilica in Portugal. Because of short notice, and a previously-arranged ticket, I was not certain until almost the middle of January that I could actually manage this trip ; but, with God’s help, things did work out.

Therefore, having asked for the blessing from Metropolitan Theodosius to participate, I travelled to Portugal on 29 January, and I arrived the next day in Lisboa. I was driven to the monastery by an archimandrite who met me at the aeroport. The drive itself was the fastest I can recall thus far. The purpose of this visit was to represent The Orthodox Church in America on behalf of Metropolitan Theodosius, and to participate in the consecration of the catholicon-basilica of the Protection of the Theotokos (Our Lady of all Graces). This is in the women’s monastery near Torres Novas, about 150 km north of Lisboa, and about 50 km south of Fatima.

Although the original plans had anticipated the presence of Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw, it had more recently been decided that, because all the details required for his presence (as head of the Church of Poland) had not yet been achieved, and because of some other factors, a slightly lower-level delegation was sent. The programme was likewise adjusted. Archbishop Ieremias of Wroclaw and Szczecin was accompanied by Bishop Myron of Hajnowka, who is both a diocesan bishop and the head of the Polish Orthodox military chaplaincy ; and by Hieromonk Andrey of Suprasl Monastery, and also by Metropolitan Sawa’s Protodeacon Alexander. The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was represented by Archbishop Longin of Klin, who is the head of the Permanent Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Union. He lives in Dusseldorff, Germany. These three bishops expressed their own gratitude and satisfaction that a representative was sent from The Orthodox Church in America. This gratitude was, of course, shared by Metropolitan João.

The basilica (which was intended to be consecrated during the course of these services) is the main Temple of this women’s monastery and, at present, of the whole Church in Portugal. Because of certain details involving some unavailable necessary items, the consecration of the Temple was not completely finished at this time. The sense of the “rightness” of the construction of this Temple in this place has roots that go back 40 years. Collections for the establishment began 23 years ago, and the construction took 7 years. The completion of the construction of the building was primarily achieved by the hands of the faithful people themselves. They completed what they had begun. One priest was satisfied to report that his own personal involvement included work throughout the whole structure during all 7 years. Of concrete and stone, with a considerable amount of granite and marble flooring, this basilica includes galleries on 3 sides, and a second, higher, gallery at the west end. It can contain up to 10,000 persons (such numbers seem to assemble several times a year on Feasts of the Theotokos). The tomb of the founder of the Portuguese Church, Metropolitan Gabriel, rests within the nave. The lands of the monastery are quite generous, and they include olive groves and orchards. I believe that I saw apiaries. There is an episcopal residence with rooms for the bishops, and there are several buildings round about, which are under construction. There is also a smaller church nearby, which serves a parish. The community also houses and educates 125 orphans. I believe that this is the largest of the many monastic communities in Portugal.

The Holy Table itself was consecrated and relics were installed, as prescribed. When I noted that not all the elements of consecration were completed, I meant that there had been some typical difficulties in communication. Because there had been difficulty (partly because of language barriers) explaining exactly how to prepare certain items and details, not every one of them was achieved, and anything remaining to be attended to (now with clear understanding) would be left for a future visit. All the bishops, however, commented on the beauty of the Holy Table itself, whose iconography I understand was done by the metropolitan. The iconography of the completed iconostasis and the first murals in the Altar also received hearty approval. They are the work of a resident nun, a native of Montréal, who has lived there for 10 years. On the day of the consecration, the attendance was about 5,000. This was on a midweek day. There had been 2 reasons for choosing this day : it was the 40th anniversary of the first intention expressed to build on this site ; and on the following weekend, a group of 100 pilgrims from Brasil would leave with the metropolitan on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

In brief, the history of the Portuguese Orthodox Church is as follows. The Church existed in Portugal from the very early days of Christianity, later to be taken into separation along with other parts of the West. It was eventually the desire of a graduate of the Saint Sergius Institute in Paris to renew the Orthodox roots. This person was to become Metropolitan Gabriel (da Rocha), who reposed in the Lord only a few years ago. Initially, he was encouraged by friends (amongst them especially Princess Alexandra Caradja of Romania, of the Tepes family) to begin missionary work in his homeland. He was, himself, of Portuguese princely blood. On his undertaking this missionary work (from about 1965), it seems that his only possible early protector was the ROCOR. In due course, the development required more priests. Having received no help in finding more priests, he eventually sought the aid of Old-Calendarists in Greece, who responded by making him a bishop. In the course of all these years, he made many attempts to have what had begun in Portugal regularised, but repeated approaches to the Patriarch of Romania were unsuccessful. The focus on Romania was largely the result of his long friendship with the previously-mentioned princess, and her strong support and encouragement. All attempts to be received by a canonical Church failed until the late 1980s, when Metropolitan Vasili and the Orthodox Church in Poland undertook to correct any problems by bringing this rapidly-growing ecclesial community under her protection. At this present time, the numbers of believers in the Church of Portugal well exceed 40,000. Despite any remaining difficulties from any quarters, this seems to me to have been a serious action of missionary outreach and compassion by the Polish Church.

At the time of my previous visit in 1997, the Church numbered 6 bishops. Now there are 8 bishops, including the metropolitan, who had been greatly prepared by Metropolitan Gabriel to succeed him. There are now dioceses in every part of Portugal. The Diocese of Porto includes parishes in northern Spain, partly in Basque territory. There is also a diocese in Brasil, where the main centres are Recife and Rio de Janeiro. There are a few hundred monks and nuns in many communities, which are until now only in Portugal itself. The parishes have mostly been small communities, often using disused Roman Catholic buildings for churches (including the Orthodox Cathedral in Lisboa). Priests generally have full- or part-time secular employment for their income, as is the case in France. Presently, there is a new era of construction beginning, mostly since the accession of Metropolitan João, who is extraordinarily energetic. Not all the projects are large ones, but they all make the Church more visible. Also, it must be known that good stewardship is a foundation of the Christian life which is being fostered there. There is, overall, an unabashed enthusiasm for living the Orthodox Christian life. Besides this new basilica, plans are awaiting property acquisition for a new and large cathedral in Lisboa. Another Temple (in north-Russian style) is soon to be built in Sintra. A complex of monastic buildings and a catholicon is also about to be constructed in Mafra, a historic centre less that 50 km north of Lisboa. It is said that in Recife, Brasil also, the community is almost ready to build.

Like any of the Orthodox communities elsewhere, which have sprung up on their own in recent times (such as in Ghana, and in the USA, the Evangelical Orthodox), this Church faces certain difficulties. Not the least difficulty is pressure from some to call it a sect, and to isolate it. Regardless, Metropolitan João has made a determined effort to be visible on behalf of the Church, and to try to gain at least some understanding from amongst the other Churches. In the last year, his visits included Athens, Jerusalem and Moscow, and he was received by the heads of these Churches. In addition, because there is a sharp contrast in the personalities, cultures and most details of life between Poland and Portugal, there are predictable difficulties in communication and comprehension. Poles, for instance, are punctual and relatively precise (or they seem to be). Portuguese are mostly quite flexible about time, and they can appear to be less precise. An example might be that in Brasil, for instance, an invitation to arrive for supper at 1930 hrs means that an invitee ought not to arrive before 2100 hrs. Although there is presently an increasing number of people who can speak the languages of each other, the main language of communication between the two Churches still seems to be English. However, English is not the strongest language of any of the participants in conversation. The Polish delegation, which had great difficulty with flexible time and apparently indefinite scheduling, nevertheless seemed to conclude their visit in an attitude of general satisfaction, and even of being pleased. This seemed to be the case also with Archbishop Longin, who repeatedly hugged Metropolitan João and slapped his back in encouragement, even though it was he who seemed to have asked the most searching questions.

The main language of worship is Portuguese. Singing is primarily in the melodies of the Russian melodic family, with a noticeable connexion with the arrangements used in the French language. The singing is generally congregational. The language of the Divine Liturgy when it is sung sounds quite close to French, although this is not the case when the language is being spoken. The manner of serving, however, is at present primarily a version of the Constantinopolitan way of serving. I am expecting that there will be a certain modification of this in time, but this style of serving suits Portugal well enough. Frequent Holy Communion and some prayers aloud make links with our North American usage, not surprisingly in the context of the living connexions with the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris.

Metropolitan João is begging me and others to go to Portugal periodically in order to help open the consciousness of the Orthodox people there to the outside. More frequent visits would likely help to accomplish this. Such visits would also likely help to support the work of the Polish Church there, although the visits need not necessarily be only by me. Of course, Metropolitan Sawa’s blessing would be required for this. (For some persons, the well-known beaches of both Portugal and Brasil might be an added attraction.)

The programme of the visit was approximately as follows :

The Polish delegation and Archbishop Longin arrived on Friday, 29 January, and I arrived on Saturday, 30 January. On that day, the Polish delegation had visited the site of the future Dormition Monastery construction . Vespers was served in the monastery church at Mafra. This was followed by a reception with music provided by bishops and monks.

On Sunday, 31 January, everyone travelled to the cathedral in Lisboa, where there was a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy by 8 bishops and many priests. The church was filled, and giving Holy Communion took a long time. Afterwards, there was a reception in a hall at the riverside, with several hundred in attendance. Then Archbishops Ieremias, Longin (and I also) went with Metropolitan João to Torres Novas to check on the arrangements and to refine details. The bishops admitted to being somewhat in awe at the beauty and the magnitude of this achievement. The return to the hotel in Ericeira was quite late, after a small collation. This tourist hotel is commonly used by the metropolitanate. It is of an older and elegant style, and it faces a popular beach. The weather was mild in the course of this winter week, with several fronts passing through. The temperature rose from 17 to 24 C by the end of the visit.

On Monday, 1 February, after rising, we had a later-than-predicted departure to the south of the country. We drove more than 300 km to the Algarve, to the village of Portimao, where there is a newly-built Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle. After a moleben in the presence of many parishioners, and a reception in the local bishop’s residence-and-guesthouse, there was a dinner in a restaurant. This was followed by a tour for the bishops, sailing in two traditional boats on the river for an hour, out to the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean and back. There was plenty of singing. Amongst the entourage was Prince Philip of Araucania and Patagonia (a prince-in-exile in Paris) and his wife. There was also Igor, a translator from the MP Department of External Relations. Then the bishops were taken to a house which was given over to them completely. It was pleasant, but chilly, being unheated as most buildings there are. Dinner and conversation with the whole entourage followed in the same restaurant. Some numbers of the Polish delegation were occasionally absent, as they had arrived already suffering from the ‘flu.

On Tuesday, 2 February (and another later-than-predicted departure), we travelled in 2 groups to the hotel near Torres Novas. The bishops diverted to Lisboa for a meeting with the President of Portugal. There was concern expressed by him about the nature of the negative treatment by Roman Catholics of others, and he gave assurance of equalising legislation in parliament. After arriving at the hotel, the same bishops as before again went to the basilica to check arrangements. We then served Vespers and an Akathist. A substantial dinner followed for the whole entourage and other guests in the metropolitan’s quarters.

On Wednesday, 3 February, we rose early, and checked out from Torres Novas. We were driven to the basilica ; and after final arrangements and a lesser blessing of water, we consecrated the Holy Table, and settled its appointments. Afterwards, the whole basilica was blessed within and without with Holy Water. Then, when all was ready, there was the concelebration of the Divine Liturgy by the 8 Portuguese bishops and the 4 visiting bishops. There were 4 deacons and at least 50 priests. With a multitude of communicants and the giving of many awards at the end, along with speeches, we did not conclude until about 1500 hrs. There followed a reception in the plaza before the basilica with Brasilian music being played. Then we withdrew to Ericeira at about 1930 hrs. At 2130 hrs, there was a departure to the Sintra Palace, a famous hotel and restaurant in a historic palace. In this restaurant, there followed a formal dinner with more music and granting of awards. The affair ended very late, and we did not return to the hotel before 0300 hrs.

Thursday, 4 February was spent in Ericeira. Archbishop Longin made his departure at midday. The Polish delegation visited the Polish Embassy for several hours, and the rest of the bishops and delegation had time to walk and talk with each other.

Friday, 5 February was the day of various departures. As is appropriate in many ways, I was the last. I departed for a retreat of several days in England, at the Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist near Maldon, Essex. From that retreat, I returned directly to Ottawa.

Pilgrimage in Ukraine (1999)

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
16-31 August, 1999
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1999/2000]


The Canadian pilgrims (from several parts of the country) arrived in Lviv, Ukraine on 17 August, 1999. This small aeroport was still in its early days of receiving international flights. The arrival was taken up with simply settling into the hotel and unpacking.

Ukraine is a land of sharp contrasts, both in its geography and its people. The contrast is found not only in the Carpathian Mountains, the steppe, the great rivers, the woods, the open land. It is also found in the people : the very rich, and the very poor, the very believing, and the unbelieving. It is so within the Church’s life also.

In places like Chernivtsi (Bukovina) and Kyiv, bishops live in normal circumstances – for them. However, where there is strong pressure against the Orthodox Church, it is different. The Archbishop of Lviv, Avgustin, is forced to live completely in his office (as he has done for 6 years so far, and he is not permitted to build any Temples in the city. He and his people everywhere in his diocese must build new Temples with their meagre resources because they have been expelled from the existing ones. This is the case also in Ternopil. There, Archbishop Sergei lives in a small house in a hamlet on the outskirts of the city. He and the believers had been expelled from 2 other church-buildings. This has been possible because, since communist days, all such lands have been owned by the government (even the whole territory of the Kyiv Caves Monastery). In Ternopil, after many delays, permission was eventually granted to construct a new cathedral and diocesan office-building on territory owned by the Church herself. This construction was enabled to begin and to progress with our help, and that of others. In another case, in Kamenets-Podilsk, Bishop Feodor lives very modestly because it is a newly-created diocese. This happens through the division of a very large diocese into 2 or more dioceses as a part of an effort to make the diocese more manageable pastorally for each bishop.

The canonical Church in Ukraine is striving very hard to minister to the faithful, but there is much difficulty in simply existing. This is the fruit of several schisms in Ukraine, most of which arise from an ultra-nationalistic disposition. There is also the aggressive revival of the Unia in western Ukraine, helped by large infusions of cash and resources from the West. Nevertheless, one can see signs of reconstruction and restoration amongst the Orthodox everywhere. Just as did our own Orthodox Christian pioneers in Canada, people there are putting the Church first. Often, they are building with their own hands for little or no pay. We have such people in Canada today (but not very many).

This pilgrimage took us through much of western Ukraine. It was clearly with God’s blessing, for many good things occurred, despite some obstacles and temptations. The weather was good, and everywhere were bazaars. We travelled in an aged bus, which was not as comfortable as might be, but which kept us from being noticed and disturbed by certain dangerous elements.

On Wednesday, 18 August, we enjoyed a brief visit with Archbishop Avgustin of Lviv, the dynamic leader and shepherd of his flock. He has various responsibilities with the Holy Synod, and he is the head of the military chaplains. Vladyka Avgustin showed us the evidence that he is currently learning to fly a jet (a helmet with an air-hose). He, like many other bishops, encourages his youth, involving them in work close to him.

On Thursday, 19 August, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration in the village of Kolomeya, in Ivano-Frankivsk province. The Temple was only partly built when we last visited 5 years ago, after the clergy and the people had been expelled from other Temples. Now, this Temple has been actively used for more than 2 years, and the total congregation already numbers 20,000. There are 5 priests serving in this community, and the faithful feed the poor daily. The singing was beautiful in Galician chant, sung by 3 choirs. There were more than 4,000 persons attending on this mid-week work day. The blessing of fruit afterwards took more than half an hour. The baskets were on the ground encircling the whole Temple, and they were several rows deep. Present was the Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos from the monastery in Boian in Bukovina. Part of the parish includes an old wooden Temple, in which myrrh seeps from its walls. People come from all over Ukraine to this holy site, where many are delivered from evil possession.

On Saturday, 21 August, we passed briefly through Yaremche in the Sub-Carpathian mountains, near the source of the River Prut. In local humour, it is the only breakable river, because Prut means “willow”. We passed also through Kosliw on our way to Horodenka.

The following morning, Sunday, 22 August, we drove to Chernivtsi, where we served the Divine Liturgy together with Archbishop Onufry in his cathedral. Afterwards, while the pilgrims in our group went on to see other places, I was taken that day to 2 monasteries : one for men and the other for women.

The next day, Monday, 23 August, we first went to the monastery in Boian, near the Romanian border. The energetic young monks care for 50 orphans. Here again was the Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos, in her usual residence. I learned that this icon is not a painted icon, but that it is only a decorated print, from which myrrh comes forth from the eyes of both Christ and the Theotokos. Then we visited other monasteries of men and women in the area. These monks and nuns work very hard at building and renewing Christian life.

Tuesday, 24 August, was Ukrainian Independence Day, and we drove to Kamenets-Podilsk to celebrate the name-day of Bishop Feodor in his cathedral. There was again a good attendance for the midweek Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which was followed by a moleben and a procession. There were also serving with us Archbishop Sergei of Ternopil, Archbishop Avgustin of Lviv, and Archbishop Niphont of Lutsk. Late in the afternoon, I went to Ternopil. Our other pilgrims had already arrived there, although I was employed by Archbishop Sergei on a different programme.

On Wednesday, 25 August, there was an early Divine Liturgy, which was served by our Father Nicolai Nikolaev, at the newly-built (but not yet complete) diocesan headquarters. Afterwards, we were given a tour of the developing cathedral of Saint Sophia and her Three Daughters, in which at present regular services are held in the unfinished basement. The upper Temple urgently needs water-proof cupolas. Because of this, there will soon be a collection taken amongst us, in order to help. This congregation faces very many obstacles and delays. Nevertheless, the construction which we saw has been done in less than 3 years, with much love offered by the people.

During our visit to Kremenets on Thursday, 26 August, we were amazed at the beauty of the restored Temple of the women’s monastery, at the increase in their numbers, and at the extent of the repairs to their quarters. In a part of their newly-returned buildings was formerly an interior domestic Temple which, like so many others, had been used as a social club in soviet times. Already, it has been emptied, and it is being readied for reconstruction. Nearby is a school for cantors, with 100 students who live in primitive, crowded conditions. Sadly, a huge building nearby has been given by civil authorities to schismatics, although they have few students. From there, we drove the 18 km to the Pochaiv Lavra of the Dormition of the Theotokos. There, we met Archimandrite Vladimir, the hard-working abbot of the monastery.

On Friday, 27 August, I attended Matins and Divine Liturgy, which began at 0500 hrs. The Temple was full of pilgrims, many of whom had walked 300 km (and yet others more than that) for the Feast of the Dormition. Afterwards, we met Archbishop Niphont and Father Peter Vlodek who had come by bus from Lutsk with 300 children. The work of the abbot is revealed considerably in the renovations of the lavra, as well as in the cemetery and the skete nearby.
Later that day, in Ternopil, there was a great presentation at a project of Child Care International which gives support to needy children. One project already exists in Ternopil, administered by the daughter of a priest. It is expected that soon there will be one in the village of Holoby, and also in the city of Lviv, administered by the church there. This is an important project for us to consider, and more information will come later. In the evening, I served the Vigil of the Feast of the Dormition for a congregation of nearly a thousand in the Ternopil Cathedral’s basement Temple. We left before the conclusion, and we hurried to catch the train to Kyiv.

Arriving in Kyiv at dawn on Saturday, 28 August, we were quickly taken to the Monastery of the Caves for the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Dormition. This Divine Liturgy was served outdoors by Metropolitan Volodymyr, Bishop Paul, Bishop John, me, and many priests and deacons. There was an ordination to every rank of the clergy (except bishop). Before our eyes was the almost half-completed reconstruction of the Dormition Sobor which had been destroyed in World War II. Then followed a procession around the monastery, with Gospel readings and blessing with water. By this time, the congregation well exceeded 10,000. After dinner, Bishop John and I served the Vigil at the Trapeznaya Sobor.

On Sunday, 29 August, I served alone as a bishop in the Trapeznaya Sobor, along with numerous archimandrites and igumens. I was also asked to ordain a deacon (Alexander Tkachuk, from Bukovina). Then in the evening, with Metropolitan Volodymyr and other bishops and clergy, we served the Service of the Burial of the Theotokos. This service is much like the Service for the Burial of Christ. Again, a great throng of believers were in attendance. In the course of things, I also met a young man from Edmonton, Jaroslav Boychuk, who is presently staying in this monastery, with the blessing of Archbishop Mark.

On Monday, 30 August, the other pilgrims travelled around Kyiv, visited various notable sites, and saw other sights of the city. Meanwhile, I was taken to see several newly re-opened monasteries. Some of them are remote on the outer edges of Kyiv. Because of this remoteness, they suffer greater poverty and difficulty (because of few visitors). Nevertheless, the monks and nuns faithfully persevere and struggle, and God blesses their offerings. That evening, we all prepared ourselves for an early departure on Tuesday, 31 August.

It is amazing to see how God distributes gifts according to the needs of the Church. Many are able administrators, such as Archbishop Onufry and Bishop Paul (who have both visited Canada), and like many heads of monastic communities. Others have a more clearly spiritual accent, like Archbishop Sergei and Bishop Feodor, and like other monastic leaders and parish clergy I met. They all seem able to work together with their various gifts for God’s glory and the building up of the Church. Certainly sin exists, but repentance is also abundant. The current relative poverty of the Church and of believers presents an opportunity for strengthening faith and mindfulness of God. In the days to come, when unity is restored, I believe that these faithful will be ready to undertake the great work ahead. Let us always keep these Ukrainian believers in our prayers. They always ask for us to pray for them, so let us pray for them with fervent love.

Pilgrimage in Russia (1997)

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Russia
30 September - 15 October, 1997
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 1998]


For many months, the Vicar-Bishop of Kashira and Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in Canada, Bishop Mark in Edmonton, had been suggesting that we go together to Russia, and that we treat the visit as a pilgrimage. Although I wanted to go, I had no idea how it would or could be financially possible. There is also my calendar, which has this year been more overcrowded than ever. I was so sure that there already existed too many obstacles for this to happen, that I foolishly accepted another request. Then, at the last minute, everything fell into place and it was clearly evident that it was God’s will that I go. Therefore, leaving some people disappointed, and with a few typical eleventh-hour obstacles, I left with Bishop Mark for Moscow on 30 September.

Upon arrival on Wednesday, 1 October, it was a blessing to be greeted by Matushka Evdokia Hubiak, wife of Protopresbyter Daniel Hubiak, Rector of our OCA’s Representation Church of Saint Catherine in Moscow, and to meet Father Igor, who is expected to come to Canada to serve the patriarchal parishes when Father Alexander returns home. I was taken to Danilovsky Hotel, beside the Danilovsky Monastery, and began to rest – Bishop Mark having very thoughtfully not organised much at the beginning, specifically to allow for stillness, silence and prayer.

The drive into Moscow had been quite a revelation to me. Although this was my first visit to Moscow, when I lived in Finland at New Valamo in 1980, I had been sent for a weekend to Saint Petersburg, and so I had had a taste of Russian (or rather Soviet) society and Church life at that time. What a contrast now : so many cars, so many newly-painted and renovated buildings (in so very many pastel colours). I had heard of the greyness of the past decades, in contrast to the traditional colourful appearance of the more distant past. Amazing, too, were all the billboards, what was advertised for sale, and the multitude of small shops.

Already I could sense the different atmosphere. Before, there had been a heavy weight of caution (even fear), not only in relationships, but also in the whole of life. Now, even at the passport control, there was no longer any sense of that, even though people do speak of the high cost of living and the high crime rate. The weather for the 2 weeks of my visit was cool, sometimes clear, most often a bit rainy. Nevertheless, on all the important occasions, whenever there was an outdoor procession, it would be dry. It was very good, and a relief to retire after a long day.

It was a special blessing for me to be able to awaken on Thursday, 2 October, to the ringing of the monastery’s bells before the early Divine Liturgy, and to spend several hours quietly alone. In the afternoon, Father Daniel Hubiak took me first to Protodeacon Vladimir Nazarkin, the chargé for Protocol in the Patriarchate’s External Affairs Department. Some details of the coming week were clarified, and then I was introduced to our Representation Church on Bolshoye Ordinke Avenue. We have a very nice Temple in Saint Catherine’s, but the structure needs much repair yet, and the art-restorers still hold more than two-thirds of the building for their studios. They should have left long ago, but the new facilities elsewhere for this company are slow in being completed, and so the artists remain. This is a common story for parish churches in Moscow and elsewhere : having the right to a building is still far from actually having it and occupying it.

After a brief visit to the Patriarchal Offices on Clean Street, we returned to Saint Catherine’s, and Father Christopher, one of the assistant priests, walked me to the Tretiakov Gallery and to the Icon Section therein. It was wonderful to come to the room where the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos hangs, to sense the holy atmosphere, to see the many people whispering together an Akathist, and to be allowed to venerate the Icon by at least kissing the case – at the direction and permission of the on-duty supervisor. Especially in this room and in others where the icons of Saint Andrei Rublev and of other iconographers are found, there was definitely a prayerful atmosphere amongst the many visitors.

I was also given a brief walking-tour of the nearby area, on the south side of the Moscow River. In the course of this excursion, I venerated several well-known wonder-working icons, amongst them the Theotokos, Joy of All who Sorrow. As I have before witnessed in Ukraine, so also I saw here, that the rebuilding of Temples and communities presses on, with a strong sense of commitment amongst those who are believers, and with a great deal of searching amongst those who are not. On my return to Saint Catherine’s, I met with Dr. Alexander Dvorkin, a former classmate from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in New York, who now lives and teaches theology in Moscow.

On Friday, 3 October, Feodor Konin (a translator for the Patriarchate’s Department of External Affairs) escorted me to the Donskoi Monastery, which now has 20 monks. In the large summer Temple there, I venerated the Holy Relics of Patriarch Saint Tikhon of Moscow, the former Archbishop of North America, who was responsible for incorporating our Canadian diocese in 1903, and who consecrated many of our Temples in Canada in about 1904.

We then visited the new Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which is amazingly and rapidly replacing what had been razed by Stalin. The already completed exterior of the cathedral, with its white walls and gold-coloured cupolas, once again dominates the architecture of central Moscow. The basement Temple, which is finished except for some decorative carving of the walls of marble from Bethlehem, is a new addition to the Temple structure (there was no basement before), and there is even an underground parking garage below it, as well as various meeting-rooms. This basement Temple with its 3 Altars is already functioning fully on weekends. This Temple is very beautiful, accommodating several thousand people. On weekdays, faithful people come to pray and venerate icons in its entrance-hall.

The interior of the main Temple is far along in its construction (they seem to work night and day on these Temples), and I understand that its walls will be covered with Siberian marble. People seem to have confidence in the strength of the new structure, and all are amazed at how swiftly it has gone up (so far just over 2 years, compared to the 40 years of the first building). It will be the third-largest European church building. It is expected that if both the upper and lower Temples are used on a great occasion, about 23,000 people could be accommodated. A figure such as that can scarcely be comprehended in Canada, but it is quite possible to have such congregations in Russia. I was taken by elevator to the top of the Temple, and we walked around the whole perimeter. The bells at each corner were truly impressive, one of them being the largest cast in this century in Europe. Also impressive was the view of Moscow from this vantage, and the great variety of pastel colours which were very warming to see on a cool, windy day.

After this experience of central Moscow, I visited Poklonnaya Gora on its western edge, where there is a war memorial containing a large collection of World War II armaments. There is also a small but beautiful memorial Temple which offers regular services. The area also contains a memorial mosque, since many Muslims fought alongside the Orthodox in the armed forces. On the edge of this large territory, closer to the city’s dwellings, a small memorial Cross has been erected by the clergy. All these details help to explain the name of this place. It is a hill (hence gora) on which anyone approaching Moscow from the west would be expected to pay homage, as it were (hence poklonnaya, meaning “bow down” or “prostration”). This hill gives the highest elevation in the region. Therefore, historically, this hill had great strategic importance, since it offered the best view of the Russian capital. In 1812, this is where Napoleon waited in vain to be given the keys to the Kremlin by the Russian inhabitants. It is now principally a war-memorial where people pray for those who died in the various wars from which Moscow suffered.

The next day was a quiet, restful Saturday (4 October). During this day, I went with Father Daniel Hubiak to the 300-year old Holy Trinity Church, near to Poklannaya Gora. It is one of the very few Temples which survived the Soviet era without ever being closed, despite the fact that it is right on a main road. In the evening, I served at Vigil in Saint Catherine’s Church with Father Daniel, and his assistants Fathers Christopher and Hilarion, and Deacon Michael. It was a beautiful service, and the small choir was very good. Afterwards, I again spoke with Sasha Dvorkin, and also with Sergei Chapnin, whom I had previously met at Saint John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, and who is helping to publish books, newsletters, and to provide an electronic news-service.

The following day, Sunday, 5 October, was the main commemoration of the glorification of Saint Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Apostle to America. In the historic Ouspenski Sobor in the Kremlin, I concelebrated with His Holiness Patriarch Aleksy II and 16 other bishops (including our Bishop Mark), and many priests and deacons. The congregation numbered only a few hundred, since the state strictly limits attendance in this museum-Temple. Afterwards, “tea” was served in the patriarch’s token official residence (in Russia, “tea” always includes plenty of food). This residence is nearby, across the open square within the Kremlin (this residence is also part of the protected historical buildings which are next to the former imperial quarters). Patriarch Aleksy rightly made humourous references about this meal, because the tables were “groaning” with food. Very soon afterwards, everyone departed for Saint Philip’s Church, the grounds of which contain the new Siberian Representation Temple, a small hospice for Siberian travelers, and offices, all of which were to be blessed by the patriarch.

After the blessing service, there were speeches given by both Patriarch Aleksy and the mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who had found funds to aid the construction of this representation-Temple. The choir for this occasion included many young soldiers, some of whom had relatives in Canada. On this occasion also, it was a delight to surprise Father Oleg Kirillov. He is a priest of our Canadian archdiocese, but he is serving in Moscow at this time, and he had not yet heard of my arrival. Then, after another offering of “tea”, it was time to go to Sergeiev Posad and the Trinity-Sergius Lavra for Vigil, where a special surprise awaited me : participating in this Vigil were Archbishop Onufriy and Bishops Sergei and Feodor from Ukraine, whom I know from my pilgrimage there. It was a lovely surprise, and a warm reunion.

On Monday, 6 October, at the Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra, the 200th anniversary celebration of Saint Innocent was kept. It was in this monastery in Zagorsk that the saint spent much time, and where his relics now rest. After venerating them (as well as those of Saint Sergius), I prepared to serve again with Patriarch Aleksy, 20 other bishops, and many priests and deacons. Several thousand people were in attendance at this Divine Liturgy, as well as at the Moleben to Saint Innocent, and the veneration of the Holy Relics of Saint Innocent which followed it.

The meal afterwards included speeches about Saint Innocent, the current patriarch, and the missionary activities of both. Then, Bishop Mark took me for a walk through the grounds ; and after a rest, we attended the Solemn Assembly of the Moscow Theological Academy in honour of Saint Innocent. There were many speeches about Saint Innocent and his missionary labours, and about the need for missionary work in Russia and abroad, today. The main presentation was by Bishop Evgeniy, rector of the Academy. After that came a programme of singing, both liturgical hymns and spiritual songs related to Saint Innocent, led by the famous Archimandrite Matvei. There were also poetic recitations by schoolchildren.

At this point, I should explain that the Theological Academy is only one of the many components of the Lavra community. Besides the monastic brotherhood itself, there is also a seminary, an academy and a school. While I was at the Lavra, the mayor of the town of Sergeiev Posad, in the presence of the patriarch, stated that because of the academic atmosphere and resources of the Lavra, an Orthodox school will soon be opened in the town. This announcement was quite significant, because until recently, these near neighbours of the Lavra had not been so friendly nor even interested in such an idea.

All was restful and quiet for me at the Lavra on Tuesday, 7 October, until 1500 hrs, when we gathered in various Temples to serve Small Vespers and the Akathist to Saint Sergius, whose autumn feast-day was beginning. Bishop Mark and I served with about 16 bishops in the Trapeznaya Temple. Then, from 1600 until 2000 hrs., he and I served Vigil along with many hierarchs in the Lavra’s Ouspensky Sobor. I was one of the 3 bishops anointing the people during Matins, and I did so for over half an hour.

At the Divine Liturgy on Wednesday, 8 October, the Feast of the Lavra’s patron, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, I served in Ouspensky Sobor together with Patriarch Aleksy II, Bishop Mark, and about 20 other hierarchs. There were bishops serving in 3 other Temples within the compound at the same time, numbering about 55 bishops in all. I have never before experienced anything like this. In Ouspensky Sobor alone there were 7 chalices, and giving Holy Communion to the people took about half an hour. Concelebrating with the patriarch were also representatives from the Constantinopolitan and Serbian Churches, and our OCA representative, Father Daniel Hubiak.

The clergy had all processed from the various Temples to greet the patriarch before the service, and we all again processed into the open square of the monastery grounds afterwards, with many thousands of people, to serve the festal Moleben to Saint Sergius. The massed choir led by Archimandrite Matvei sang higher than I ever recall hearing a choir sing. After venerating the patronal icon, there was a festal dinner in the patriarchal residence, where I met Archbishop Nikolai (Shkrumko) who had once served in Canada. There were several interesting speeches, and for me many warm encounters with various Russian bishops, which resulted in invitations to visit Siberia : Omsk, Alma Ata, Vladivostok. Following numerous pleasant conversations, I returned to Moscow and the Danilovsky Hotel, where I had supper with Father Oleg Kirillov.

For the commemoration of Saint Tikhon of Moscow on Thursday, 9 October, Bishop Mark and Protodeacon Vladimir Nazarkin took me early to the Donskoi Monastery, once again to concelebrate with His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II. This celebration was a smaller one – only 9 bishops – but it was again very beautiful. After the Divine Liturgy, we served a Moleben to Saint Tikhon ; and towards the end, after the patriarch had venerated the Holy Relics of Saint Tikhon, we bishops took up the relics in their reliquary, and we moved in procession from this summer Temple to the nearby winter Temple where the relics remain until 25 March. Following the Moleben, we dined with the patriarch in the igumen’s residence. Just as before, the speeches paid attention to missionary work, and to the patriarch’s good example.

After I had returned to my hotel, Matushka Hubiak came for me. We drove to Red Square where we walked, and saw the exterior of the famous Saint Basil’s Sobor. This very old structure comprises several chapels and small Temples within the one building. We also visited the newly-reconstructed Sobor dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. It is of modest size, and quite beautiful in its new iconography. We also venerated the Iveron Icon of the Theotokos in its newly-rebuilt shrine, which is just at the entrance to Red Square. It is a small chapel constructed specifically for the veneration of this wonder-working icon.

On the following morning, Friday, 10 October, I was driven more than 300 km (4 hours by car) south of Moscow, to the Optina Monastery, in the province of Kaluga. The area feels to me to be some sort of blend of Alberta and Ontario in ways hard to explain. I have never seen so many birch trees in my life. Canada has some birches, but not to “hold a candle to” Russia’s birch-forests. The monastery is by a river, on arable soil but surrounded by a forest. I arrived, and was greeted with ringing bells, and went as is customary to the Entrance of the Theotokos Temple to venerate Saints Amvrosy, Moses and Nectary. Afterwards, we went to the Kazan Temple, where we had the blessing to venerate many other saints. During lunch, I talked with Archimandrite Benedict, Schema-Igumen Elii and others ; and afterwards, I toured the monastery grounds and observed the immense reconstruction work in process.

After a brief rest, I was escorted, walking, to the Skete, prayed in the Church of Saint John the Baptist, and was given time to sit and pray in the cell of Saint Amvrosy. By this time, Bishop Mark had arrived, and we had supper with the brotherhood in the trapeza. The currently recognised saints of Optina are Moses, Leo, Makary, Anthony, Amvrosy, Anatoly I, Joseph, Barsanoufy, Nectary, Hilarion, Isaac I, Anatoly II, Nikon, Isaac II, and Sebastian. There are also graves of 3 monks considered martyrs who were murdered at one recent Pascha by apparent Satanists. What I saw in Optina I have seen in other places as well : that despite the devastation by the godless, the Lord made blind the eyes of many authorities, or softened their hearts, and much that might have been destroyed remained as seed for the present resurrection of the Church in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

The next morning, Saturday, 11 October, Bishop Mark and I were in the Temple at 0530 hrs for Midnight Hour, Hours and Divine Liturgy. The monastic singing was very quiet and peaceful, and there were many pilgrims attending, many of whom were also communicants. After the Divine Liturgy and a brief interval, we drove back to the Skete and again received the blessing of being and praying where the great Optina fathers had struggled in Christ. We drank water from the holy well outside its walls.

Then we walked around the multitude of works associated with the life and reconstruction of the monastery which has many hectares of land to farm. There are huge piles of construction supplies, many buildings to house people and visitors, and numerous barns and workshops. Mostly from their own land, the monks feed over 800 persons daily in winter, and over 1000 in summer. There are 19 tonsured monks in the brotherhood of the main monastery (12 more in the skete-community), many novices, and very many others who live there, work there, and make a sort of village outside the walls. A special Temple is being built for them, too.

After this, we were taken through the nearby town of Kozelsk (12 km distant from Optina) to the Women’s Monastery of Our Lady of Kazan at Shamordino. This women’s monastery, where 100 nuns now live, came into existence as a product of the life of the original Optina Brotherhood. It was revived by the same brotherhood. Reconstruction of this community moves quickly. They have renewed their work with the retired, and I have hope that they will in time renew their orphanage as well. Because it had been raining, on this day of the tour I received an especially close experience of Russian mud. We returned to Optina in time for Bishop Mark and me to serve Vigil together as bishops. After the Polyelei, I anointed – which took a very long time because there were so many faithful present.

On Sunday, 12 October, Bishop Mark and I were escorted to the main Temple by Archimandrite Benedict for the Divine Liturgy at 1000 hrs. We numbered 2 bishops, 10 priests and 4 deacons, serving quietly and without rushing, and afterwards serving a Moleben to Saint Amvrosy and venerating his Holy Relics. After the formal meal in the trapeza, it was time to leave ; but we lingered – talking, taking photographs, longing to remain in this holy place. When we finally found our way to the main highway north, there was plenty of traffic, as there might be in Canada on a Sunday afternoon, so it took a long time to return. Bishop Mark and I then parted, since he was to leave the next day to see his family in Ukraine, and I returned to the Danilovsky Hotel.

On Monday, 13 October, I first spent some time with Father Daniel Hubiak. Then Irina Dvorkina came with Father Arkady, and they took me to an orphanage, which cares for 20 girls in very small quarters. The operators of the orphanage itself do not have access to all their rightful facilities, because a well-moneyed Protestant missionary holds on to at least half the building. Nevertheless, the residence was well-managed and very clean, and I could see by their behaviour that the girls were being well-formed. Their care-givers and teachers invited us to share lunch with them all, which we accepted, and I heard Pushkin’s story about the golden fish being read to them – with questions about vocabulary. The girls were very sweet, sending me away with keepsakes to remember them – it was very touching.

Then Father Arkady took me to the hospital operated by the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the Sisterhood of Saints Mary and Martha (founded by Saint Elizabeth). Having 1500 beds, it is the biggest hospital in Moscow. There is a large Temple dedicated to Saint Dimitry on the second floor. The hospital teaches and trains nurses, and it cares for over 30,000 patients a year. I visited during lunch time and saw the nurses eating, and listening to spiritual reading in their refectory. There is a semi-monastic environment here. Nearby the hospital is a hostel for the sisterhood, where some nurses also live.

Next came a visit to the Saint Tikhon of Moscow Institute, also operated by the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood. They have about 1,000 “resident” theological students, taught in various rented quarters, since they have no building for classes. There are another 1,000 students studying by correspondence and in small groups in far-away cities. The Brotherhood is also keeping a catalogue of new martyrs, and has a website. After seeing the various icon workshops, the library (which needs our donations) and other facilities, I visited Saint Nicholas Church nearby, and venerated the Icon of the Theotokos, Quench my Sorrows. This is another Temple that, by miracles and suffering, was never closed. The choir there is now mostly composed of students of Saint Tikhon’s Institute. It was the eve of the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos, and I spent some time standing at Vespers.

Later during the service, Sergei Chapnin came and took me away to several other nearby Temples, which we found each to be in various stages of the Vigil. This experience reminded me of the manner in which many people will, on Great Friday, go from Temple to Temple to venerate the Plashchanitsa in each of them.

Sergei and his mother then drove me then to Kolominsk, on the Moscow River in the suburbs, the site of the former Tsars’ summer residence from early times. In this place are 3 beautiful Temples. We first visited the Kazan Temple, where Matins had begun, and we prayed there for a time. Then we walked past the impressive Ascension Sobor, which was not open. Along the river and up a steep bank was the Temple of Saint John the Baptist, which we approached. It was closed, but Sergei knocked on the door and gained admittance for us. We saw how this Temple (not long ago re-opened) was beginning to be restored, although it is only in summer use. There, we sang some of the festal hymns with the 2 women who were on care-taking duty. We then had tea with the women, and we heard how the local people in this region are descended from the servants of the Tsars, and how they are still attached spiritually to these Temples and the surrounding territory. The tea was made with water from a spring which had given water to generations of them, as well as to their employees. I was literally drinking in Russian history. This was truly a blessed and God-sent conclusion to this day.

Tuesday, 14 October, was the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos, and it was my last day in Russia. I served at Saint Catherine’s Church with the priests Daniel, Oleg, Christopher and Ilarion, and with the deacon Seraphim. It was very pleasant, a “quiet” Hierarchical Liturgy, with a good attendance. “Tea” was served at its conclusion, and there was plenty of conversation. The rest of the day was spent in giving an interview, packing, and having supper with the Hubiaks.

Very early in the morning of 15 October, Father Oleg Kirillov came to collect me and my bags. He drove me to the airport, and he helped me with the first stages of checking in for the trip home. It was good to see him again, little changed in appearance, but flourishing in his presbyteral activity.

Thanks be to God for all the blessings that were so obviously poured out on this pilgrimage, for all the unexpected assistance given, and for the love expressed by all the people. Thanks be to God also, especially for Bishop Mark, and for all the people who made it possible for me to go, and who helped me with personal contacts. Although I cannot expect very soon to go to Siberia, it seems that it is time to try to organise a return both to Russia and to Ukraine, and that I ought to take a group of people, such as wish to go with me to each country. If the Lord blesses, I hope to prepare to do this in 1999, 2 years hence. Writing this now may give enough notice for anyone who may want to go.

Pilgrimage in Ukraine (1994)

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
12-26 May, 1994
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Fall 1994]


Ours was a mixed group from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec which arrived in Odessa on Friday, l3 May, 1994. For some, the primary aim was to visit holy places in Ukraine ; for others, it was to find family members or to get a taste of "roots". Joint leaders of the entire group of 25 were Savelia Curnisky of Saskatoon/Lviw and Father Dennis Pihach of Yorkton. Our pilgrimage sub-group, which included Protodeacon Cyprian Hutcheon, Ken Kolesnik, Lorne Kozaruk, Walter Litven and Paul Miklashevsky, was guided by Father Dennis, to whom we are most grateful for arranging the pilgrimage.

We came to be strongly aware, as we listened to various passenger comments on the flight from Vienna to Odessa, of the many sectarian and business interests now flooding Ukraine. We also came to be aware of the great concern for personal safety that is felt everywhere there at the present because of rising crime in the face of uncertain authority. The opening wide of doors to the West is a very mixed blessing.

Despite the economic, political and social turmoil in Ukraine, the activity of the Church is in full bloom everywhere. Monasteries for men and women are being opened ; Temples are being built or repaired ; hospitals are being acquired ; a tuberculosis asylum is opening ; hospices for the poor, and “soup kitchens” are being developed. Since the Ukrainian government does not seem to grant private ownership (particularly not to the canonical Orthodox Church), believers forge ahead under what are obviously very trying conditions.

On Friday, 13 May, we arrived at the Odessa aeroport, where we were slowly processed by the immigration authorities. We waited for some long time in a metal quonset structure, amidst considerable dust, under an intense sun. This process took long because this was at the very beginning of such international arrivals at this aeroport. We were then taken to our quarters near Odessa, where we stayed at the Ouspensky (Dormition of the Theotokos) Monastery, which is situated high on the hills overlooking the Black Sea. We were hosted by Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Izmail.

On Saturday, 14 May, we were given a tour of the monastery and its facilities, and we were also given some time to rest. Although this monastery seems almost self-sufficient in food because of its land, the seminary is lacking in nearly all the necessities. The teachers educate in the face of obstacles and complete lack of resources which we can scarcely comprehend. Here there are now 200 students, more than double the maximum previously permitted by the state. Students pay part of their expenses, but in the current economy it amounts to little in reality. They supplement with much heavy work on the grounds of the monastery-seminary-diocesan headquarters. In the evening, we participated in the Vigil at the monastery. Afterwards, we shared supper with Metropolitan Agafangel, who told us many anecdotes.

On Sunday, 15 May, we served at the Dormition Cathedral in Odessa with Metropolitan Agafangel, and it was given to me by the metropolitan to ordain a deacon (Alexei Smirnov of Izmail), in order to establish a lasting relationship between us. After dinner with the Metropolitan at the monastery, we departed for a six-hour bus ride through the steppe country towards Uman.

After spending the morning of Monday, 16 May, touring the Sophia Park gardens of Uman, we drove the rest of the day westwards, through Vinitsa, Bar, and Borshchiw to a resort near Horodenka in the province of Ivano-Frankivsk. The resort is a former “Komsomol” centre, now a private local enterprise. Komsomol is a Russian acronym for “All-Union Leninist Young Communist League”.

On Tuesday, 17 May, in the nearby town of Kolomeya, we visited first the Hutzul Museum, and then the Annunciation Church (which is of wood), built in the 1500s, and presently the home of the canonical parish. There are weekly healing services here, and the rector, Father Nicholas, told us that in this Grace-filled Temple, people are healed sometimes by simply touching the walls. This parish also has a significant ministry to children, and to others in need. We heard of the many trials faced by the community, and had the blessing of venerating their relic of Saint Barbara. We also visited the beautiful new Temple which is lovingly being constructed in the “Byzantine” style (mostly by the volunteer labour of the faithful).

After a fine meal of homegrown products with Father Nicholas and Matushka Maria, we returned to Horodenka for dinner and entertainment in Galicio-Bukowinian style by local collective farm workers. They had left their work in the fields early in order to be able to sing and dance for us, and they told us of their suffering as Orthodox Christians. In fact it was very moving to be in the presence of these confessors for Christ in Orthodoxy.

Telephones in Ukraine will work, but it is very unpredictable when, how, and for whom. Nevertheless, they worked enough for arrangements to be made for me to be taken ahead of the rest of the pilgrims to the Dormition Monastery of Pochaiv. Because of my desire to be in the Pochaiv Monastery for the Feast of Saint Job, I was enabled to arrive early, and given the blessing to sit in a cell of this historic monastery for a few hours of silence and prayer. There were strong similarities in the structure of the cells there with photos I have seen of the monastic quarters of Old Valaam, and the place felt somehow familiar to me. The atmosphere of prayer was present enough, that I felt quite at home.

Soon there was dinner in the episcopal quarters with Bishop Sergei of Ternopil and Kremenets, who is the Archimandrite in charge of the Pochaiv Lavra, and Bishop Feodor of Pochaiv, who is namestnik, or vicar-abbot. Then after a short rest, it was time for Vigil in the Crypt Temple by the cave of Saint Job. I had the blessing to serve as the presiding bishop beside the others.

There were 2 choirs of monks and seminarians (Pochaiv has a newly reopened seminary too, with about 100 students), who sang to local melodies with much use of the canonarch. Vespers included Litiya, and before completing Matins, we served the Akathist to Saint Job. There was veneration of his relics which rest in the cave, and which are still incorrupt after several hundred years. It is remarkable that his hand is not cold, but warm.

The next day, Thursday, 19 May, dawned hot, with a prairie-like wind. There had been drought until this time, and molebens were being served, in which the Lord was being asked to send rain. At 0830 hrs, we bishops went together around the monastery to venerate Saint Job, the Foot-print of the Theotokos, and the Icon of the Theotokos of Pochaiv, which is normally above the Royal Doors of the Iconostasis. It was lowered for us to venerate the icon. We returned briefly to our cells. Then, from the cells, we went with the choir in procession to the Crypt Temple, while singing the Paschal Canon and Troparian in various melodies. We again venerated Saint Job during the Entrance Prayers, and we concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with many hundreds of faithful people present. Many of them received Holy Communion. At the conclusion, we served a Moleben to Saint Job. Afterwards, we went in procession to the Refectory Temple, while singing the Paschal Canon, for the festal dinner with the brotherhood.

On the tables, decorated kuliches and eggs were still present. It was clear to me that our Ukrainian brothers and sisters keep the paschal season with more energy than we manage in Canada ! After dinner, we processed again to our cells with the singing of the Paschal Canon and Troparian in a Bukovinian melody.

After a rest, there was a tour of this monastery founded in the 13th century by monks of Kyiv fleeing the Tartars. During this tour, we were given water to drink which flows from the Foot-print of the Theotokos, since we were not able to drink it before the Divine Liturgy. Later, we were also able to drink from a well dug by Saint Job. There is a wonderful Temple to the Holy Trinity in the older “Byzantine” style of early Rus’. The main Temple is in Baroque style, high and gilded and Italian-looking. The monastery, although briefly in Uniat hands in the past, has never been closed. It is situated on a solitary hill (which rises up sixty metres from the surrounding flat land), and the monastery has been protected from various attacks by the Mother of God herself.

We then went to see the nearby skete which is actually older than the main Lavra. Part of its buildings are still retained by the state as a mental hospital. As an indication of the situation, the Pochaiv Monastery must pay monthly 10 million coupons (the present Ukrainian currency) to the government. We then visited the graves of the monks, some of whom are recently known to have been wonder-working intercessors. This cemetery is not in the hands of the present monastic brotherhood : a non-believing family lives on the cemetery precincts and their children play there.

On Friday, 20 May, we set off on the road to our next destination, Kremenets. We stopped and waded in the waters of a healing cold spring beneath a parish Temple. Then, at the Monastery of the Annunciation, we met Igumenia Cheruvima and her sisters, who are rapidly rebuilding this monastery which was reopened a little over 2 years ago. Mother Cheruvima hid precious books and icons for over 30 years at the risk of her life. We venerated the plashchanitsa (the handiwork of the former community), now fragrant with the rosy scent of sanctity. We also venerated a relic of Saint Barbara in her icon, and a relic of Saint Panteleimon in his icon. His relic is very warm.

The sisters’ Temple had been converted by the communists into a sports arena, and their quarters into a hospital. Now, although the Temple is in use, it is still very much under repair. As Mother Cheruvima strongly emphasised, there is no-one helping them. Part of the monastic quarters still remains in the hands of the state, and these spaces are still used as a hospital. After enjoying the sisters’ hospitality (the vegetables of their own gardens and greenhouse), and viewing their sewing workroom, we drove to Ternopil, where we spent the night. It began to rain, thanks be to God.

The next morning, Saturday, 21 May, it was still showering, and by 0800 hrs, we were present in the little “home church” in Ternopil for the Divine Liturgy. It was on a videotape of this same “home church” that I first saw Bishop Sergei over a year ago, when I was visiting Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia. It was then that I heard of beatings that were endured by him, his clergy, his faithful, and even children, as they were driven out of their Temple by so-called brothers and sisters.

Their current little “home church” was crowded, inside and out. This attendance is obviously normal, since they did not expect foreign visitors that morning, and I was very moved by the fervent devotion of these faithful. Afterwards, I met the relatives of some of our Canadian people, to whom I had various items to deliver. It can be difficult to get things reliably to relatives in Ukraine, but it is still possible. There are some good agencies, and some reliable travellers and pilgrims. After dinner and a rest, Vigil was served in the “home church” at 1800 hrs. After this, Protodeacon Cyprian and I had supper with Bishop Sergei in his home in a nearby suburban village.

Sunday, 21 May, began with an interview for a local paper at 0745 hrs. By 0830 hrs, we were all assembled and ready to begin our procession of 5 km to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and the blessing of the foundation-stone of the new Temple. With Cross, banners, protodeacons and choir in the forefront, a dozen or so clergy and 5 bishops led the faithful down Rusyn Boulevard and along Bandera Street to the new property, now owned by the parish and diocese. All along the way, we were singing the Paschal Canon and Troparian, and proclaiming “Christ is risen !” to which there was a warm response by many passers-by on the sidewalks and in buses along the way. There were still showers, thanks be to God, a sign of His blessing.

After we arrived and assembled on the new site, the Divine Liturgy (in the open air) was led by Bishop Sergei of Ternopil and Kremenets, Bishop Feodor of Pochaiv, Bishop Avgustin of Lviv, Bishop Nicholas of Ivano-Frankivsk, and me. Towards the end of the Divine Liturgy, Bishop Onufriy of Chernivtsi arrived. He had first served the Altar-feast Liturgy of one of his monasteries before driving to Ternopil. Then followed the blessing and the laying of the foundation-stone, and the planting of the Cross for the future Temple of the Martyr Sophia and her Three Children. During this time, there was another shower to confirm the blessing. Of course, there were speeches and presentations.

We gave an envelope of money (over $1200 US) to help with the construction, money which was collected mostly in Toronto through Father Nicholas Nicolaev (a priest from Bishop Sergei’s diocese who is presently serving in Canada). The money came from our parish of Christ the Saviour, and from two Greek Orthodox parishes – notably the church school of one (about half the money). Afterwards, a great crowd gathered at Bishop Sergei’s home for dinner, which had been prepared by the local women, and by some of Mother Cheruvima’s nuns. That evening, we drove north to Lutsk. We arrived at the end of Vigil in the Protection of the Theotokos Cathedral. There, we met several clergy, seminarians and faithful.

The next morning, Monday, 22 May, we were introduced to Archbishop Niphont of Lutsk and Volyn. He, too, is a Confessor. He had recently been severely beaten and cut with knives. He had had his larger cathedral taken away by military and gang force. Since then, he has had to move 12 times in just over a year, until he and his people were granted more permanent but shabby quarters. The seminary had suffered similarly.

When I met him, Archbishop Niphont had just returned late at night from part of a Cross-procession on foot around many villages with a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos from Pochaiv. This procession had already lasted for many days. The result of this procession and prayer is the reduction of hostile activity. The present cathedral (begun in the 1200s) was tightly-packed with believers for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy which we two bishops served together, along with many priests and deacons. Many of our people were impressed with the system used for passing candles from the candle-desk at the entrance to the candle-stands near the iconostas. The candles are simply passed forward from person to person until they arrive at their destination. There were persons at each candle-stand whose responsibility it was to place these candles and light them. Afterwards, a Moleben to Saint Nicholas was served by us outdoors, with well over 2,000 people present. They especially enjoyed Archbishop Niphont’s vigour in blessing them with holy water. After dinner with the archbishop, who then departed to continue his rural procession, we went to tour the seminary with the cathedral’s rector.

What can one say about the poverty of resources in this and the other Ukrainian seminaries ? God says to us that we must find ways to help ! We had supper with the seminary’s rector, Father Peter Vlodek, whom many in western Canada will remember with love. Despite his age, Father Peter continues to serve with determination and faithful vigour, giving himself totally to the preparation of more than 100 young seminarians whose respect and love for him were clearly visible.

On Tuesday, 23 May, Father Anatoliy Mel’nyk took us to his village of Holoby, where we served a moleben at the Church of Saint George in the presence of several hundred faithful, and then answered questions for some time. We were told of various interventions in their life by the Mother of God, and we were shown a special icon of her. The older retired priest, Father Boris, had averted the destruction of their very old and historic belfry by standing in front of the tractors and refusing to move.

We next drove to another little Temple by a collective farm at Pohin, dedicated to the Protection of the Theotokos. There, we venerated a wonder-working icon of the Mother of God. This Temple, built of logs, was constructed several hundred years ago at the instigation of the Theotokos. When it was closed by Khrushchev, enemies of the Church tried to take the icons to destroy them. An older man attempted to protect them by sitting on them. He and the icons were then taken to a neighbouring village, and he saw to their protection in a parish church. Komsomol people then tried to use a crane to cut the Crosses off the cupolas. A woman who was present with us that day had run from the fields and worked the levers to get the young man away from this destructive task. She succeeded, to his painful surprise, and the Temple was left in peace until it was recently reopened. Always, there are such wonderful stories of God’s loving intervention in the lives of these fiercely faithful and brave people.

Before leaving Lutsk on Wednesday, 24 May, we had a wonderful but brief visit with Father Nikanor and Matushka Maria Shimko. Father Nikanor has warm memories of Alberta, and now serves faithfully in the Lutsk diocese. We next drove to Kyiv where we stayed in a hotel on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

On Thursday, 25 May, after breakfast, we began a city tour at Saint Sophia Cathedral. Dedicated to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, this cathedral is now sadly in the hands of the government. It is simply rented to anyone who wishes to use it. Nevertheless, being almost as old as Orthodoxy in Kyiv, this Temple still retains the feeling of the presence of Divine Grace for the believer. In it were protecting, supervising women who are always happy to see visitors who are believers. I was allowed to stand in the Altar for a time.

We saw some other historic buildings and monuments, and some Temples which we could not enter because of the schisms. Then we went to the Monastery of the Kyiv Caves. Because Metropolitan Volodomyr had already left for Jerusalem, we met his secretary, and we were accompanied by a seminary student into the caves. In both the Far Caves and the Near Caves, we venerated the relics of saint after saint whose names we all recognised from our calendar. Although certainly not all were so, many of their bodies were incorrupt, even after many centuries. Some were exuding fragrant myrrh. We had the blessing to be anointed with oil coming from the skull of Saint Clement of Rome. We saw the chapels of both Saint Theodosius and Saint Anthony, and later drank water from their wells outside. In the caves, we were also blessed by the cap of Saint Mark the Gravedigger, a monk of great holiness. Currently, many people possessed by demons are delivered by the imposition of this cap, as we saw.

It was a joy to see that the Kyiv Caves are populated by people praying, and not by so many of the curious tourists. Still, because the government does not give the whole monastery to the monks, there are many irritating presences of moneymakers and opportunists (contrary to the will of the monks). However, the faithful try their best to protect the monastery.

We saw the facilities and some of the students of the Kyiv Seminary and Academy. The latter was recently reopened, and it will soon graduate its first students in many decades. There are over 260 full-time students, and another 200 extension students. Although some aspects of their life seem better here than in the other seminaries which we visited in Ukraine, there is still a very great need. We had a restful and refreshing cup of tea with the metropolitan’s secretary and one of the seminary professors, and then walked more around the seminary. We saw the Refectory Temple (which is currently Metropolitan Volodomyr’s cathedral), and the ruins of the ancient Dormition Cathedral (which had been blown up by the communists and blamed on the Germans). While on the way to meet our bus, we met some monks and nuns from nearby who were also on pilgrimage to the Kyiv Caves. We returned to our hotel.

Too soon, on Friday, 26 May, it was time to leave Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have suffered long and continue to suffer in various ways. However, the people of this land of a multitude of martyrs are clearly buoyed up by the shedding of the blood of their martyrs, and by the love in their prayers. Strength and patience flow from the faithfulness of the many living and departed Confessors of the Faith. It is useful to say at this point that through Project Ukraine and personal gifts, there were amounts of money in US dollars left in various places. Seminaries received some ; certain parishes received some, and several monasteries also received some. However, the receipts this year were less, and the need is great. It would have been good to have been able to give much more to our sisters and brothers.

When I returned to Canada, I was immediately driven to Pennsylvania to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery for the Glorification of Saint Alexis. There, I met Archbishop Makariy of Vinitsa and Bratslav who had come from Ukraine for the services. He told me of a recent government directive that any sect of religion should be allowed to use Orthodox Temples for their various activities, and that the Orthodox must share even with non-Christians. Vladyka Makariy has repeated the call to his people to defend the Temples against invasion, and to defend the truth. Meeting such valiant servants of Christ has put into sharper focus for me all the struggles faced by the believers in Ukraine in the wake of an antichrist government.

How are living here in Canada ? How are we responding to God’s love ? How are we measuring up to the standard of faithfulness of our suffering brothers and sisters in Ukraine ? Truly, in our Canadian comfort, we have let a lot drift and fall away. Nevertheless, it is not too late. There is still time to appeal to the Lord to renew our hearts. May He hear our prayer and quickly do so. May we become at least as loyal and faithful holders of the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox Way !

Bicentennial Pilgrimage to Alaska 16 - 23 September, 1993

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Bicentennial Pilgrimage to Alaska
16-23 September, 1993


[Published in the "Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Winter/Hiver 1993/94]


[[His Grace Seraphim, Bishop of Ottawa and Canada, was amongst those who accompanied the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksy II, and the OCA’s Metropolitan Theodosius on the Bicentennial Pilgrimage to Alaska, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. This took place from September 16-23, under joint sponsorship of the Russian Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Church in America. He has written the following account of the journey, along with some reflections upon it.]

This year begins our celebration of 200 years of active and continuous Orthodox missionary activity in North America. In 1793, a band of eight monks and novices from the Valaam and Koniev (Konevits) monasteries left Saint Petersburg to travel by foot, horse and boat across Siberia, and then by ship across the North Pacific Ocean. They arrived at Kodiak in Alaska in September of 1794, and they began the evangelising of the “new world”.

This September, His Holiness Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, began to follow the same route (only by air). First from Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga and then from the nearby Saint Petersburg, he and his entourage flew across Siberia. This week-long journey included stops in Irkutsk and five newly-recreated dioceses. The last and most poignant of these was Magadan – poignant in part because this was the site of Stalinist communist death camps which operated until recently. Not surprisingly, the Church had been completely suppressed there. In its current financial straits, the Russian Church must reconstruct almost everything from nothing (especially in Siberia, where almost everything was wiped out). Magadan and other similar places are poignant also because, as the Church tries to re-gather her scattered sheep, a heterodox mission from Alaska is at the same time introducing a sort of competition and very different understanding, under the cloak of “help”.

Arrival in Alaska

After a week of travel, the patriarch’s band of pilgrims (which included Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk in Russia and Bishop Sergei of Ternopil in Ukraine) arrived in Alaska. This began Patriarch Aleksy II’s first visit to North America. In Alaska, the members of his entourage began to glimpse what might have been in Siberia, had the Church survived there intact. It is not a complete “might-have-been”, because of strong pressure by the US government and by Protestants against Orthodox Christianity in Alaska for the last 150 years. Nevertheless, it is a significant witness, and it much moved the Patriarch and the rest of us in the entourage of Metropolitan Theodosius, who had just arrived to greet the patriarch. (Our delegation also included Archbishop Kyrill, Bishop Herman, Bishop Paul of Zaraisk, Archpriest Rodion Kondratick, Archpriest Daniel Hubiak, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, Deacon John Hopko, Paul Hunchak and Martin Pawluk. Other bishops met us at various points on the pilgrimage.)

The village of Eklutna (just north of Anchorage) has two small churches, which are surrounded by graves topped by “spirit houses”. These graves are very much like those one would find in cemeteries in Karelia of Finland and Russia. The people of Eklutna are Athabascans, part of what is known correctly as Alaska’s multinational cultural composition. In nearby contrast is the very large Eagle River church of the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission. This latter is clearly American. The former struggles with the “rightness” of letting tourists visit and walk around the graves of their families. Everywhere is the tension between the native (therefore Orthodox) harmony with the environment, and the invasive disharmony of the modern technologies and insistently secular lifestyle. These are driven, of course, by philosophies which exist without God. Seldom is one more aware of this than in the fragility of the north.

Anchorage is the largest example of this. It is a city just as any other, and a real contrast to its surroundings. Within the city are many of “our people”, the “real people”, as they know themselves to be. Alaska had its Diocesan Assembly at this time, so all the villages of the Orthodox parts of Alaska were represented at the Divine Liturgy in Saint Innocent’s Cathedral. There were about 1300 in attendance on the Lord at the Vigil, along with the patriarch and our own beloved metropolitan (who had come “home”) and Bishop Gregory with the sheep in his care. The Vigil and the Divine Liturgy (with even more attending) were served in English, Slavonic, Yupik, Aleut and Tklinkit. To my ears (even without my knowing the language), I found that Yupik was especially well-knit with the melodies. I asked the choir director if he knew who had done so well in setting the melody and words. He replied that they had always sung this way, and that the people had simply written down what was always done. They were first taught by Bishop Aleksy, and the rest was from the heart, being the result of living prayer. The multinational congregation was dominated by the local nationals – Yupik, Aleut, Athabascan, Tklinkit – and the warmth of their prayer made the visitors feel very much at home.

Kodiak and Sitka

The town, Kodiak, the site where the missionary monks first landed in 1794, is an hour’s flight from Anchorage. The island, Kodiak, is home to several notable Orthodox villages, but the town, Kodiak, has the main church and also Saint Herman’s Seminary. Here also are the relics of Saint Herman. Praying the Akathist with him present there was most moving. Off the east coast of Kodiak is Spruce Island, Saint Herman’s home at Monks’ Lagoon. Because of rough seas, only the patriarch, our metropolitan and three others could fly over by helicopter. By Saint Herman’s prayers, they were able to land on the beach at Monks’ Lagoon and they were met there by the faithful who had walked the 14 km from Ouzinki. Saint Herman permits only certain ones to approach his gravesite, those ready and in need. Father Peter Kreta, pastor of Ouzinki, knows well the fruits of Saint Herman’s intercession (shrinking tumours in his own case), as well as do many in Canada !

Sitka is a town on an island near British Columbia, about two hours’ flight from Kodiak. From here, Saint Innocent made many missionary journeys. In Sitka, he did significant translation work, and it was here that he built the bishop’s home (now a museum) and also Saint Michael’s Cathedral (the present one is only a replica because of a fire). The Saint Michael’s congregation is 80% Tklinkit people, and it also includes students of other native nations who travel to school in Sitka from other parts of Alaska. It is important to understand that most of Alaska’s priests are now native Alaskans, thanks to Saint Herman’s Seminary. The hospitality is warm, and the berries the best tasting outside Finland ! Everywhere, the faithful sang and danced for Patriarch Aleksy and Metropolitan Theodosius, and they presented the bishops gifts as well as offering the hospitality of food. Everywhere we went, our leaders expressed their joy at the prayer they experienced in the holy places in Alaska amongst these modest, quiet, fiercely faithful people. It is very significant that most of our North American saints served in Alaska : Saint Innocent, Saint Herman, Saint Juvenaly, Saint Peter (Chunagnac) the Aleut, Saint Iakov Netsvetov. It is important, too, that we remember that our Canadian Church is also the product of their original mission, and she bears the mark of the mission’s saints and pioneers. Indeed, as a Canadian, I felt quite at home in Alaska ; for there are many similarities between the life of the native Alaskan Orthodox people and the best of our Canadian rural communities (one clear link, for example, is the custom of “starring” during the Christmas carolling season). We in Canada have much in common with the Alaskan Church, and we can learn and be encouraged by this common bond.

San Francisco, Chicago and New York

Historically, the second headquarters of our Church, after Sitka, was San Francisco. Our journey from Alaska to San Francisco was rapid, but marred by the stress of hearing news of political troubles in Russia. Upon arrival and being greeted by Bishops Tikhon, Boris, Basil, and Anthony, Patriarch Aleksy spoke with the media. His appeal for compromise and avoidance of bloodshed was instantly quoted by both sides in the Russian political conflict, and for a time it was heeded. A moleben was served in the historic Fort Ross, two hours’ drive north of San Francisco (the southern-most outpost of the Russian American Company until 1840). Here, there was a picnic with the youth. In San Francisco itself, the pilgrims served the Divine Liturgy in Holy Trinity Cathedral, and then a moleben was served at the Russian Patriarchal Sobor of Saint Nicholas.

The pilgrimage journey continued on to Chicago, where there was an address given by the patriarch to the Diocesan Assembly. At a pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy at McCormick Place attended by about 2,000 faithful, Patriarch Aleksy gave a homily. Vespers was served at Saints Peter and Paul Church (the home church of Bishop Job of the Diocese of the Midwest, who grew up in this parish) and the Divine Liturgy was served at Holy Trinity Cathedral. This cathedral was consecrated by Saint Tikhon, and built by the Priest-Martyr John Kochurov (whose glorification we are expecting soon).

We then flew to New York, where His Holiness received the award of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation upon his arrival (he would miss the public presentation because of his early departure). After the Divine Liturgy was served at the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Passaic, New Jersey, the departure of the delegation of His Holiness began. We have all heard by now of the troubles that met him on his return, and about his importance in current Russian society. It is often said that the Church is the only real glue holding things together at this time. It is for a good cause that in his liturgical patriarchal title is the word “father”, a rôle and responsibility of the patriarch that he has truly been able to recover. In some respects, we are now seeing events of old Rus’ relived, and it should be no surprise to anyone that under these circumstances there are many attempts to undermine and destroy the Orthodox Church. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in all the eastern European countries, as well as in the Caucasus, that God will protect them, that they will be ready to hear the truth of the Gospel of Christ, and try to live by it. Now, more than ever, they need not just the intercessions of all their saints and martyrs, but our prayers and support as well.

Further Reflection on the Church in Alaska

In the Archdiocese of Canada, we are trying to rebuild our crumbled foundations. Each year, all over this country, we are beginning to recover some remote community here, or an almost forgotten community there, or a cemetery long neglected. Little by little, as we try our best to take care of our inheritance, the Lord provides the renewal – usually unexpected, often surprising, and sometimes amazing. We are not large numerically, and we are certainly not rich. However, God provides for us ! In the perspective of the long time during which we merely tried to survive because of our limited resources, we are often aware only of the barest minimum of Orthodox Christian life. We perceive ourselves as scattered. Some of our communities are scarcely communities at all because of the disconnection and rare communication. Yet, here and there across the country, there have remained pockets of faithful people, faithful families, and faithful groups of persons, who are determined to remain faithful Orthodox Christians even in an apparent vacuum. We are now just beginning to recover the fundamentals of organised Church life – council meetings, assemblies, deaneries, a newspaper, a basic diocesan centre and house for a bishop. We are also just arriving at the minimum clergy coverage (meaning a minimum number available to serve).

Alaska has been through this, and more. In the majestic beauty of its topography lie also the main obstacles to Church life – mountains, lakes, oceans, islands, rivers. Distances are very great and roads are not abundant. Travel is expensive when it is undertaken by air, although it is the most practical means these days. Travel is very slow when by land or by water, and it is not necessarily any cheaper. The daily cost of living is very high. This is because if they are living by the standards set by the American “lower 48”, the citizens of Alaska must import almost everything. Does this seem familiar ? Where are people who live by subsistence supposed to find money to pay for all this ?

Over the past thirty years, first under Metropolitan Theodosius (then bishop) and now under Bishop Gregory, there has been a lot of reconstruction in the Diocese of Alaska. Increased visitations by bishops to the local and often remote communities by land, sea and air were followed by attempts to increase the number of priests. In many places, readers and local leaders/elders kept services going for more than a generation. Old parishes from the time of Saint Herman and Saint Innocent were reconsolidated. New missions were undertaken. Saint Herman’s Seminary was established, and now a great many of the local clergy are native people. Included in the preparation of the clergy are courses in helping to cope with the serious social problems that often result from isolation. The phenomenon of clergy supported by their parishes is rare. Much of the priest’s income has to come from work in activities like fishing, for example. Alaska is in a new stage of development. True, there are still vacancies to be filled. In addition to this continuing need is the expansion of new missions amongst natives, because by far, not all Alaska has yet heard the Gospel of Christ and learned the Orthodox way. There is also the need for mission to the “Americans” from the south who continue to emigrate into Alaska.

Canada and Alaska have a lot in common, besides the geographical fact of our connectedness. Our northern challenges are the same. Our inheritance as Orthodox Christians is the same. Our inherited understanding of harmony with God’s creation is the same. Many of our greater and smaller customs are the same. Even the general direction for our future Church life is about the same. Our brothers and sisters in the Church in Alaska have been suggesting that we increase communication between us, and that we strengthen contacts. I plan to do my best to help this happen.

I would add this : many of us have already visited Alaska, but on tours. Tours do not allow for our meeting the Church, meeting our brothers and sisters. Tours pass one quickly around the scenery, allowing one to taste a little food and “culture” and then to depart. Rather, from here in Canada, let us begin making pilgrimages instead of doing tourism. Let us go to the holy places in Alaska, and let us there meet our spiritual kinsfolk. By this meeting let us not only encourage them in faithfulness, but also allow them to strengthen us as well. We need the help !