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.