In May, 2012, a youth delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia took part for the second time in the “Faith and Deeds” forum in Moscow, with support from the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Department of Family and Youth Policy of Moscow and Rossotrudnichestvo [“Russian Cooperation”] agency. This year, the Russian Orthodox emigration was represented by eight young men and women from the USA and Germany.
This event coincided with the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was the main theme of the conference.
“With the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, the gates were opened which had divided us for many years,” said Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Vice President of ROCOR’s Synodal Youth Department at a press conference. “This forum affords a special opportunity for young people from the Russian Church Abroad to heal the wounds suffered by their forebears.”
During the forum, the youth from the parishes of the Russian diaspora merged with the friendly family of their Orthodox Christian counterparts, discussing matters of mutual concern, socializing and establishing friendships and developing working contacts which could serve in their common missionary work in different parts of the world.
The young people from the Church Abroad arrived in the Russian capital several days before the forum began. They were welcomed by the State Duma of the Russian Federation, the Moscow Department of Inter-Regional Cooperation and Communication with Religious Organizations, the federal agency Rossotrudnichestvo, the press service RIA Novosti. They also visited Moscow’s churches and monasteries.
On Saturday morning, May 19, the youth headed for Butovo Compound. Exactly five years earlier, on a similar bright Saturday morning, the “peacemaker-hierarchs,” His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, in concelebration with other bishops of the reunited Russian Church, consecrated a new masonry church dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and St Tikhon the Patriarch of Russia, on this ostensibly horrifying site, after which they celebrated Divine Liturgy.
Butovo is still called “the execution compound.” From August 1937 to October 1938 alone, 20,765 persons were executed and buried here. But the overall number is much higher—over 90,000 victims. Among them were many clergymen and Orthodox Christians. Some three hundred of them have been canonized by the Church.
In 1995, when part of Butovo Compound was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church, a cross was erected on the site. In 2004, during the first official visit to Russia by Metropolitan Laurus and a delegation of the Russian Church Abroad, he and the Patriarch together laid down the cornerstone of the church.
It seemed that the young people walked in the footsteps of their elders, who had prayed at the first Liturgy in Butovo five years earlier, making their confession right at the entrance to the church with whichever priest they could—they were no longer “our priest” or “their priests.” And so it was this time: the prayerful anniversary celebrations began with confession made under the open skies, and Liturgy was led by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, at which they communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
After Liturgy, the VI International Youth Forum “Faith and Deeds” commenced, opened by His Grace Vicar Bishop Ignatii of Bronnitsk, Vicar of the Moscow Diocese:
“Only a few decades earlier, it was unimaginable that such a forum of Orthodox youth on such a scale would be possible within our borders, let alone on an international level,” said Vladyka Ignaty. “The fact that we are now attending a sixth such forum, where hundreds of kids from all over the world gather, united by a fervent desire to uphold the moral and spiritual foundation of society, our great culture and language, our history and everything that makes the Russian nation unique, is a great accomplishment in the cooperation of Church, state and society.”
Over 400 people from various countries attended the opening. In addition to delegates from the Russian Church Abroad, delegates from Montenegro, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan were in attendance: leaders of parish youth groups, students of Orthodox colleges, participants in choral, educational, charitable and scouting organizations and Orthodox volunteers.
On Sunday, May 20, the members of the ROCOR delegation prayed and partook of Holy Communion at a Patriarchal Liturgy in Christ the Savior Cathedral. Within its walls five years ago, the historic Act of Canonical Communion between the Church in the Fatherland and abroad was signed. Millions of Russian Orthodox Christians scattered throughout the world received this as a gift on the feast day of the Ascension of the Lord. They wholeheartedly sensed with the reestablishment of unity that the thread extending through the long decades that connected them with their distant Homeland was the Church itself: the Church always united them, helped the children and grandchildren born in the West to preserve their national persona, their native culture and language and helped them cherish the very spirit of Russia.
This year, among the youth visiting Moscow were not only those who had never visited Russian themselves, but whose grandparents had never set foot in the country!
Serving as a forum for the missionary education and exchange of ideas were not only the Orthodox auditoria of the nation’s capital but important government establishments and charitable organizations: the Ministery of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo, Russky Mir [Russian World] Foundation and the Fund of St Andrew the First-Called. The youth discussed practical matters of all sorts. How to organize unions and preserve unity, not only in the two branches of the Church but within their parishes. How to discern within oneself what is happening around us today. How is one to carry out the service of missionary work if such a calling is chosen. How to use the Internet for educational and missionary projects. These topics have been discussed before by the youth of the diaspora from Europe to America and Australia during their annual symposia.
On May 21, the feast day of Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, the young delegates prayed at Liturgy at the church dedicated to the saint—the chapel of Russian Orthodox University, and then met with the University Rector, the tireless missionary Hegumen Peter (Eremeev).
The young men and women from Germany and America then attended a formal ball at Renaissance Hotel. They were indistinguishable from their peers from Moscow and St Petersburg.
With bated breath, they listened to the discussion with Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Prior of Sretensky Stavropighial Monastery in Moscow. They had with them a copy of his now legendary book “Unsainted Saints,” brought from overseas.
I did not participate in this meeting but I also read the book. And I remembered the people whose portraits were painted in the noble lines of Fr Tikhon’s memoirs. And I remember Fr Tikhon himself, then still George Shevkunov, who left his job at the Patriarchal Publishing Department and headed for a life of obedience to the elder Fr Ioann (Krestyankin), whose fatherly prayers and monastic labors gave new life to Donskoy Monastery, and later Sretensky Monastery in the capital city of Moscow.
The final chord in the participation of the youth from the Russian Church Abroad in the festive celebrations was the Patriarchal Liturgy in Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow’s Kremlin.
“I cannot express the feeling I had as the Senior Priest of the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” in New York during Liturgy in the Kremlin!” said Fr Andrei Sommer. “For here, within the Kremlin walls, in this cathedral, suffused with centuries of prayer, our second Primate, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) loved to celebrate divine services; here, in 1906, he was consecrated to the episcopacy; here in 1918 he headed the Church Council committee charged with drafting the rite of enthronement of the newly-elected patriarch. I take all of this as a connection between times, as a universal prayer for our Church, for those living and those in the other world.”
I note that this is not the first time Protopriest Andrei is heading a delegation of youth from abroad at joint conferences in Russia and in the diaspora. It was Fr Andrei who five years ago was virtually the only staff member of the Synod Abroad who remained to manage its administration when the majority of others were in Moscow for the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion in Moscow. Now, on the fifth anniversary of this historic event, he brought to Moscow a growing generation, the future of the unified Church, he himself served in these renowned churches of Moscow, participated in press conferences with Bishop Ignaty of Bronnitsk: http://www.tv-soyuz.ru/videonews/moscoworthodox/at25381, spoke on Soyuz TV: http://www.tv-soyuz.ru/videonews/moscoworthodox/at25381, was interviewed by Alla Mitrofanova, whom he told about how the descendants of Russian émigrés live in the West, and how they know about Russia and contemporary life in their historic homeland: http://www.govoritmoskva.ru/programs/record/76/.
“We understand that youth mission not only relies on clergymen,” opined Fr Andrei, “that it is a daily matter of every individual, that first of all it is personal example which can bring dozens of people to the faith. That is why it is so important today that the young generation understands and accepts that serving one’s neighbor is a joy, it is a chance to reveal oneself, to help resolve important social and moral problems today.”
The young men and women, praying and receiving Communion in Uspensky Cathedral, stood on the threshold of a miracle. They were to participate in a procession of the cross on Vasilievsky Spusk, under the aegis of the Queen of Heaven Herself in the form of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. Together with Muscovites, these compatriots from abroad, including descendants of members of the White Movement, who were scattered throughout the world by the Bolshevik uprising, all loved Russia during the eight decades, and prayed for her.
I remember five years ago as the historic document was signed, then-Archbishop Hilarion of Australia and New Zealand said: “At times it seems that the experience of reconciliation and reunification has faded from the life of contemporary man, and today before our eyes an unusual event took place—Churches are reconciling, Eucharistic communion is being reestablished, and unity in prayer. This is a great source of consolation for Russian Orthodox Christians both in Russia and abroad. We see the rebirth of the Church in Russia: the rebuilding of churches, and monasteries, seeing people strive to a spiritual, even to a monastic, life. We regard this as the work of God and cannot stand idly aside.”
A year later, after Metropolitan Laurus has passed on to the other world, the Lord blessed for Vladyka Hilarion, now Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, to head the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and its Synodal Youth Department.
The youth of the Russian Church Abroad likewise does not stand idly by in the work of church renewal and missionary work. Young people from the Russian diaspora will continue their joint efforts with their peers in Russia this summer at Moscow’s “For Life” conference.