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.