NEW YORK: June 3, 2015
Bishop Nicholas leads a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Kiev
From the Editors: From May 11 - 29, 2015, His Grace Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, Vicar of the Eastern American Diocese and Deputy Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, led a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Jerusalem, Palestine and Kiev. The following is a brief article about this pilgrimage published on the official website of St Seraphim Memorial Church to the Reestablishment of Unity Within the Russian Orthodox Church in Sea Cliff, NY.
Jerusalem! The very word makes one think about the Savior, the Gospel, the first Christians, the many ascetics of the Holy City, Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin) of blessed memory who did so much for the Russian church in the area, as well as the monastics who labor here in the Russian monasteries in difficult circumstances. One remembers the name of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), who died 50 years ago. He was the second Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who had accomplished so much after the Bolshevik Revolution and Civil War to preserve the se holy places for the Russian Church, and provided help to the Church of Jerusalem in reestablishing its episcopate. His memory was celebrated by His Grace Bishop Nicholas during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The pilgrims accompanying Bishop Nicholas visited the Church of the Life-bearing Tomb of the Lord several times, each time sensing profound trepidation which prevented them from noticing all surrounding details of the church, as there feelings and thoughts were concentrated inwardly, prayers to God filling their hearts, pleas for the Church, for peace, for the people of God, for blessings in their life and the correction of their way of life.
The Life-bearing Sepulcher and Golgotha exuded an unbelievable spiritual force and sense of divine mercy, which renewed and strengthens the spirit. Bishop Laurus of Manhattan, the future First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, the inspirer and initiator of many pilgrimages from New York to the Holy Land, would say that here one senses the presence of an enormous spiritual strength, which draws in and embraces the pilgrim, changing his whole life.
With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and All Palestine, on Friday, May 15, His Eminence Metropolitan Isichios of Kapitoliada and Bishop Nicholas, his clergymen and pilgrims participated in Divine Liturgy at the Sepulcher of the Lord. The Tombstone of the Lord served as the table of oblation, upon which the proskomedia is read from the knees. A table top is set upon the stone in the ante-chamber, known as the “Chapel of the Angel,” which served as the altar. This altar is open to all and has been since the time that the Resurrected Lord opened the doors to heaven for all of mankind.
The pilgrims also experienced the joy of praying at Liturgy also at the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, celebrated by a clergyman of the Jerusalem Patriarchate who had studied at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. Bishop Nicholas and his delegation were warmly received and partook of the Holy Gifts here. The site of the Nativity of Christ is marked with a silver star and an inscription in Latin reading “Here from the Virgin Mary was born Jesus Christ.” Above this site is a marble slab which serves as an altar table. The manger, which is located under the ancient Basilica of the Nativity of Christ, is adorned with marble and precious materials and is illuminated by numerous lamps and chandeliers. The pilgrims, one by one, kneel and kiss a corner of the silver star under the altar table. Despite the crowding of numerous pilgrims, they were able to pray, palpably sensing the lofty inexpressible ecstasy and piety.
The pilgrims were also given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the waters of the Jordan River; they visited Mount Tabor, Bethany, Nazareth, Cana of Galilee, Capernaum, Magdala, the Tomb of the Mother of God, the home of Her Holy Parents in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho, the Tomb of St Tabitha in Jaffa. They saw the monasteries of St Gerasim of Jordan, Saint George of Koziba, St Theodosius the Great and Saint Sabbas the Blessed and many other holy places, praying at each, and commemorating all those ascetics who left us unworthy believers the legacy to pray for them.
Bishop Nicholas and his pilgrims were received at the monastery of St Sabbas with great love. Here the pilgrims were able to venerate the relics of the monastery’s founder and the cave of St John of Damascus, where he lived for over 30 years, and where Divine aid inspired him to composee many sticheron and canons used in our services to this day.
On Wednesday, May 20, the Apodosis of Pascha, Bishop Nicholas celebrated Divine Liturgy at Saint Mary Magdalene Convent in Gethsemane. The church is a prime example of Muscovite-style architecture. Its 7 cupolas are all onion shaped, resting on tall drums. The church lends the impression of lightness and splendor. The iconostasis is made of white marble and bronze, the floor is of multi-colored marble. The icons were painted by the renowned 19 th -century painter Vasily Vereschagin. Above the royal doors is an enormous fresco depicting St Mary Magdalene, Equal-to-the-Apostles, standing before the emperor's throne.
Here Divine Liturgy was celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, who arrived in the Holy Land with a large group of pilgrims from his diocese. Joining him, besides Bishop Nicholas, was Archimandrite Roman (Krassovsky), Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, his mission clergymen and other pilgrims. The convent choir sang. Abbess Elizabeth (Smelic) warmly welcomed the pilgrims, and after divine services, offered them a magnificent luncheon. Venerating the relics of Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, and performing a memorial litany, during which Metropolitan Anastassy and the reposed monastics of the convent were commemorated, the pilgrims headed to Jacob's Well, where the Savior and the Samarian Woman had their well-known discussion. They went to Holy Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives to pray during all-night vigil on the eve of the holiday of the Ascension of the Lord. The Mount of Olives is the highest of all hills surrounding Jerusalem and has always had a great number of olive trees. The Arabs call this the “holy mountain.” From its heights our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Empress Helen raised built a grand church on the site. They say that domes did not cover the original church and during services worshippers could gaze directly into the sky. A stone which bears the footprint of Christ is surrounded by a gold fence. When the Persians invaded, this church was destroyed to its foundations but later, a smaller eight-sided chapel was built. This chapel now belongs to a Palestinian family.
The pilgrims are allowed into the chapel for a small fee to venerate the divine footprint, which is surrounded by a marble frame. Approaching Jerusalem from any direction, one always sees, rising against the bright cloudless sky of Jordan, a tall, slender bell tower in the Mount of Olives Convent which is topped by a spire and a cross, known to locals as “the Russian Candle.” Holy Ascension Church in the convent was built in the Byzantine style, with heavy walls and a low dome. Archimandrite Antonin is buried in the church, the greatest of the Chiefs of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission.
Here, Bishop Nicholas and his pilgrims celebrated the great feast day of the Ascension of the Lord, welcomed by Abbess Moisseia and her nuns. Divine Liturgy was headed by Archbishop Mark. His Holiness Patriarch Theophilus arrived in time for Holy Communion, having celebrated Liturgy earlier. After a festive luncheon at the refectory of the Church of St Philaet the Merciful, Abbott Moisseia received the archpastors, clergyman and pilgrims in her residence. During a cup of tea, they spoke on spiritual topics, the history and daily life of Ascension Convent. Father Roman warmly welcomed the Pilgrims and asked them not to forget the monastics in the Holy Land in their prayers and to share with everyone the spiritual crumbs of this grace filled experience.
The following day, the feast day of the Translation of the relics of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bishop Nicholas bade farewell to his pilgrims, blessing them on their return trip, and flew to the city of Kiev, where he arrived that evening.
Kiev is now hosting the Third International Conference title “Mount Athos and the Slavic Nations” at Kiev’s Dormition Lavra of the Caves, in which His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, Archbishop of Prague and the Czech Lands, participated, along with Abbott Archimandrite Methodius, of Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos, and many others. Bishop Nicholas spoke with the participants of this conference during dinner at the residence of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, who welcomed everyone as a loving father.
Bishop Nicholas pointed to the brotherly bonds connecting Kiev, Pochaev, Slovakia and Serbia with the Russian Church Abroad, and relayed the message of love to Metropolitan Onouphry from His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, the archpastors, pastors, monastics and the fullness of the Russian Church Abroad, who earnestly pray in their churches for the cessation of the internecine war and the reestablishment of peace in the hearts of all.
During dinner, Metropolitan Onouphry spoke about the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while the monks of Mount Athos talked about their daily life, and the hesychastic way of life.
On Saturday, May 23, Bishop Nicholas visited Dormition Lavra of the Kievan Caves, where they participated in an all-night vigil. The following morning, the feast day of SS Cyril and Methodius, Teachers of the Slavs, His Grace officiated at Divine Liturgy at Holy Protection Convent in Kiev. They venerated the relics of St Anastasia of Kiev (Alexandra Petrovna Romanova) and Holy Confessor Sophia (Grineva). During lunch, His Grace wished the nuns success in their spiritual life, and expressed joy at the Liturgy they jointly celebreated in this holy and blessed place.
Later that day, Bishop Nicholas visited the monument to Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, and other holy sites of Kiev. The following day Bishop Nicholas met with Metropolitan Onouphry in his residence in Feofania.
On Tuesday, May 26, Bishop Nicholas celebrated Divine Liturgy at St Vladimir of Kiev, the first holy hieromartyr of the Russian church in the 20 th century, who died at the hands the Soviets.
On Wednesday, May 27, His Grace prayed at midnight office and canon with an akathist to the Dormition of the Mother of God performed in the Great Cathedral of the lava, and venerated the relics of the Near and Far caves of the monastery. Later that evening, Metropolitan Onouphry hosted a dinner to honor Bishop Nicholas, during which he remembered Metropolitan Laurus and their fraternal and heartfelt meetings, which began long before the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Church. During these meetings, the hierarchs talked not about the division within the Russian church and the need to overcome it, but about monasticism, prayer, Divine Liturgy, the spiritual life and holy sites.
The discussions with His Beatitude and the divine services spiritually benefited the participants of the pilgrimage to Kiev, and the familial and warm atmosphere of the trip to the Holy Land added to the experience, with all the pilgrims sensing themselves to be members of one large Orthodox family, who will continue to gather together and support each other.