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.