SAN JOSE/CARACAS: October 27, 2008
The Days of Russian Culture in Costa Rica and Venezuela
Saturday, October 18
At noon, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, heading a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, arrived in the city of San Jose, Costa Rica, to join the main delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church as part of the tour titled "Days of Russian Spiritual Culture in Latin America." After visiting Cuba, where a new Russian Orthodox church was consecrated, and now Costa Rica, the delegation, God willing, will visit five other nations: Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, the delegation is being accompanied by the "Reigning" Icon of the Mother of God. The tour of this icon, an important one for Russian Orthodox Christians, is meant to help lift the spiritual mood of Russians abroad, aid their unity and assist to openly confess the Orthodox Faith in to the peoples of South America. This is the first visit of the "Reigning" Icon to the South American continent.
Vladyka Hilarion was met at the airport by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Costa Rica, Valery Dimitrievich Nikolaenko, other Embassy colleagues and members of the Russian community. Afterwards, the delegation proceeded to the home of Rodion and Elena Aragon, where Protopriest Daniel McKenzie and a group of local Russians met them.
On Saturday evening, Vladyka Hilarion and His Grace Bishop John of Caracas, who accompanied His Eminence, prayed at all-night vigil performed at the Aragons' house. During the polyeleos, Bishop John emerged from the altar with Fr Daniel and Priest Alexander Gorbunov of the Moscow Patriarchate, who ministers to the Russian parishes of Panama, Colomba and Ecuador.
There is no Russian Orthodox Church in Costa Rica as of yet. However, land has been purchased and last January, His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan (now of Montreal and Canada) laid the cornerstone. The local community does not yet have enough funds for building a small, Russian-style church. For this reason, services are still being conducted at the Aragon home.
The idea of building an Orthodox Church in the middle of Central America came to Nikolai Ivanovich Zacharov, an emigre from France, who has for a decade and a half been a member of the Orthodox community in Costa Rica and is an enthusiastic and active proponent of the project. By the decision of the Synod of Bishops, the church will be dedicated to the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. It is worth noting that the official permission to build the church was granted to the parish on October 14, the feast day of the Intercession of the Mother of God.
San Jose has a large Russian Orthodox community in need of pastoral care. For this reason, Rodion Aragon enrolled in Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville with the aim of taking on pastoral ministry in Costa Rica. At the present time, the community is tended by Fr Daniel and Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov) in turn, which is unfortunately not often enough. Services are now being conducted in the Aragon residence in Coronado, attended by Russians, Ukrainians, emigres from Kirghizia, Moldova and all over Costa Rica. Women from the countries of the former Soviet Union and present-day Russia who married Costa-Rican men, their children, and not infrequently, their husbands attend services; the women are mostly college graduates, or Russians in Costa Rica on business. The country now has approximately one thousand registered residents from the post-Soviet countries.
On Sunday morning, October 19, Vladyka Hilarion celebrated Divine Liturgy with the aforementioned clergymen. His Eminence ordained Rafael Martinez-Gonzalez to the deaconate, and the next day, during Divine Liturgy, ordained him to the priesthood. With the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion, Fr Rafael will conduct services under the supervision of Fr Daniel.
After Liturgy, His Eminence delivered a sermon, thanking everyone who assembled for their labors and prayers and welcomed the Russian Ambassador. During trapeza, everyone was able to speak with the Primate of the Russian Church Abroad and have their questions answered. After lunch, Vladyka Hilarion was taken on an excursion of the sights of San Jose.
The following day, Monday, Ambassador Nikolaenko hosted a luncheon in honor of His Eminence at his residence, which was held in a warm and gregarious atmosphere.
Late that evening, the main part of the delegation arrived from Cuba.
On Tuesday morning, October 21, His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad performed the service of the blessing of the waters at the Ambassador's residence, attended by an enormous gathering of people. The moleben was sung by Sretensky Monastery Choir of Moscow. After the service, Vladyka Kirill greeted the worshipers. That evening, the world-renowned Sretensky Choir sang at the most magnificent edifice in San Jose, the National Theater of Costa Rica. The 750-seat venue was filled to capacity. President Oscar Aries Sanchez of the Republic of Costa Rica was in attendance, as were Metropolitan Hilarion, the delegates, and residents of Costa Rica and surrounding countries. The choir sang liturgical and folk songs and classical compositions of the 20th century. (A day earlier, Ambassador Nikolaenko announced that all the funds raised from ticket sales would be spent on a new piano for the National Theater.)
On Tuesday, October 22, the delegation met with government officials of Costa Rica.
At noon, the delegates departed the hospitable nation of Costa Rica for Venezuela.
On the evening of October 22, the full delegation arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, and was greeted by the Russian Ambassador to Venezuela, Mikhail Ivanovich Orlovets. After a brief press conference at the airport, the delegation headed for their hotel.
At 8 pm, a reception was given at the Embassy, attended by Venezuelan state officials, cultural figures and members of Caracas' Russian community. A press conference introduced the new hierarch, His Grace Bishop John (Berzins) of Caracas, Administrator of the Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in South America, Vicar of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion.
The reception that followed provided Vladyka John with an opportunity to meet his new flock, to hear their concerns and share his plans for the future.
On Wednesday morning, October 23, Metropolitan Hilarion and Protopriest Pablo Volkov performed a moleben with a blessing of the waters as Sretensky Choir sang, and the faithful venerated the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God.
After the moleben, His Eminence delivered a greeting to those in attendance. Metropolitan Kirill also welcomed everyone, noting the profound meaning of the Reigning Icon, that during the godless regime, the Russian throne was not abandoned, being invisibly occupied by the Mother of God Herself, which is attested to by this Icon's appearance. Vladyka Kirill also expressed his great respect for the flock of the Church Abroad, and gave the church a gift of an icon of Christ the Savior, pointing out that it was thanks to the reconciliation between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that the opportunity now exists to pray together and witness Russian Orthodoxy and Russian culture to the whole world.
At 1 pm, Metropolitan Hilarion participated in the opening of an exhibition entitled "Orthodox Russia," along with His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Khutsk and Vinogradovo, a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the organizers of the exhibition.
At 7 pm, Sretensky Choir gave a successful concert. When the choir sang compositions in the Spanish language, the standing ovation was accompanied by enthusiastic shouts of "bravo." The audience's excitement knew no bounds. It was later revealed that because the event was sold out, many people, desperate to hear the music, made their way into the concert hall's cellar to hear the remarkable singing.
After the concert, Vladyka Hilarion responded to a request by journalists to hold a press conference to discuss the Russian Church Abroad in South America today.
At 11 am the following day, the delegation departed for Rio de Janeiro.