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”.