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An American With An Un-American Destiny

 
When a person departs forever, one suddenly begins to see him more vividly and more clearly; secondary traits fade, primary traits remain. Archimandrite Joasaph (McLellan) died on December 18, 2009, at the age of 47 in Boston. Seven years ago, a friendship began between him and our convent when he started to translate materials for the English version of our website. An unusual combination: an American, a graduate of the Holy Trinity Theological Seminary in Jordanville, a choir director, a PhD in Slavic linguistics, an educator in the Universities of Missouri and Princeton... and during the last year of his life – a novice, a hierodeacon, an archimandrite, the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. An odd fate? No, it is simply that he searched always and in everything not for his own will, but for God's Will.  He truly possessed the monastic virtue of obedience. 

Back then, in December 2002, at the request of Archpriest Roman Lukianov, Rector of the Boston parish, Reader Joseph McLellan wrote to us. From the very first receipt of his letters we were astonished – the Lord had sent us an unusual helper indeed! Strange as it might sound, but from this native-born American we learned a lot about Russia and made contact with her old church culture. For example, in explaining why he used so many words that sounded unusual to a contemporary Russian person, he shared memories about the elderly monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery and about teachers in the Seminary in Jordanville, who were representatives of the first and second waves of emigration. The unity of Russian Church was a subject of his most fervent prayers. He held Vladyka Laurus in deep and reverent esteem and called him his Abba. Better yet – let his letters speak – letters which might be called a chronicle: 

 
2002 

n answer to the Mother-Abbess’s questions, I can say that our family came to Orthodoxy along a thorny path, thanks to the dedication and zeal of my late father, the servant of God James. I was baptized at the age of 12, and named in honor of the Righteous Joseph. (I would ask for your prayers for my late godfather, Sergey Yulevich Conius, the son of the composer Yulii Edvardovich Conius, who had left Russia after the Civil War). After graduating from high school, I entered the Holy Trinity Theological Seminary and five years later received a Bachelor of Divinity degree; on graduation day, the Seminary Director, Archbishop Laurus, ordained me as a reader. That year, I became the choir director of my home parish of the Holy Epiphany in Boston. In the meantime, I studied as a graduate student in the Department of Slavic Languages at Brown University in Providence, RI. I received a doctorate after defending my dissertation on the language and textual criticism of the 13th-century Hilandar manuscript of the Gospel. I currently work for the University of Missouri in Columbia where I teach first year Russian and some graduate courses: the history of the Russian language and the Church Slavonic language.   Simultaneously I serve as the choir director at the parish of St Basil the Great in Saint Louis. In the summer I also teach Church Slavonic and liturgics at the summer school of liturgical music at Holy-Trinity Seminary.

 
*** 

Last year, during the commemoration of the Royal Martyrs I had a thought: what would their murderers, the builders of the Soviet system, have to say if they could know that their actions at that time would become the occasion for an all-Russian celebration in honor of the very people they had tried to destroy? Indeed, the Lord's ways are inscrutable. 

2003

I do not know what access you have to news, but I have learned about a recent event which has pleased me greatly, and I would like to share this news with you. In the Russian Federation’s New York Consulate, President VV Putin of Russia met with Metropolitan Laurus and other members of the Holy Synod of the Church Abroad.  During this meeting, Vladyka Laurus blessed the President with an icon of Holy Nun-Martyr Elizabeth and expressed the hope that she would protect the President. It would have been hard to imagine that one day a president of Russia would approach the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad for a blessing and pirously venerate the presented icon. The President relayed a letter to Vladyka Laurus from His Holiness the Patriarch in which His Holiness invited Vladyka to Moscow in the near future. The President also invited Vladyka Laurus on his own behalf to Russia. Yes, the Patriarch is a wise and sensitive person - he sent a personal letter to Vladyka Laurus with the most trusted messenger that he could find - the President of the country! 

*** 

You have not had to witness how other Churches have transformed sacred Orthodoxy on our continent. My late father had accepted Orthodoxy specifically in the Russian Church because it has kept both the best traditions and original spirit of Orthodoxy. I will not tell you what goes on in other Churches, since I do not wish to disturb your peace of mind. But do not neglect to thank the Lord that you were allowed to partake of the spirit of specifically Russian Orthodoxy. And with a unified voice we would better be able to resist the harmful tendencies. We could do a lot of positive things together.

 
*** 

I am going to apply for a new position. I ask for the prayers of the Abbess and all the sisters that the Will of God be made known in this matter. I would very much want to leave Missouri and to return to the East Coast. In addition, this new position is in one of the best universities in the USA. But nevertheless, I know that my will might not coincide with the Will of God and I dare not pray that I get my way. And no matter how bitter it would be not to get this position (especially when they have asked me to apply for it) and no matter how joyous it would be to receive it, I ask for prayers for God’s Will to be done. 

2004 

It seems that time flies by instantaneously. There was the Christmas fast, then Christmas-tide, the feast day in Saint Louis. Now we are on the threshold of Great Lent, and soon afterward Pascha. I need to buy groceries tomorrow to bake blini for my colleagues and students. I do this every year, no matter at which university I teach.  I try to show students that there are advantages to studying Russian that they didn't know beforehand.

*** 

In 1983, I was in Russia for the first time and since then I have awaited the time when we will be able to speak “with one mouth and with one heart.” The division had its historical reasons, and I do not doubt that the division was necessary for a time, and that if the Lord so decides, it will cease in the same natural way in due course. Thanks to this division and the independence of our bishops the Lord gave us the opportunity to glorify the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981. Many believe that it was not so much our feeble prayers that were heard by the Lord, but rather the strengthened prayers of the assembly of New Martyrs, whom we could address in prayer from that time. I am convinced that it was thanks specifically to the strength of their prayers before the Altar of God that the Lord performed the miracle that I had never expected to see in my lifetime: He lifted the yoke of godless government from Russia. 

*** 

We heard about illness of the Most Holy Patriarch. All my acquaintances wish him strength in carrying the heavy Patriarchal cross. Let us pray zealously from both ends of the earth for his health and salvation. It is necessary to pray, of course, for the health of both of our ailing First Hierarchs. 

*** 

I do not feel very well –  I had a very bad cold and my coughing dislocated a rib and it hurts. It is difficult to lecture and to sing or read at divine services. I ask for prayers. If it is useful for me to suffer through all of this, thanks be to God. And if the merciful Lord returns me to my former state of good health, I thank God for that too. 

2005

In the middle of September a priest, Fr Serafim Gan, called me from the Synod Cathedral in New York. He asked whether I could sing at a moleben on Wednesday the 14th. Then he added that the moleben was on the occasion of the visit of an honored guest – the President of Russia. So I sang at the moleben, before the Kursk-Root icon and the relics of the Nun-Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara, in the presence of the Russian president, Metropolitan Laurus, and an assembly of clergy. The President placed candles near the icon and the relics and stood through the short moleben near Vladyka Laurus; he accepted the invitation to stay for a cup of tea. And afterwards I saw how they walked through the cathedral, and Vladyka showed the President the Cathedral’s remarkable icons and relics and explained their meaning.  The President followed Vladyka, listening attentively, like an adolescent in a Law of God class.  I found this touching.  One can like or dislike this President as a politician, but I consider it to be significant that he is the first Russian head of state since 1917 who is a believing Orthodox Christian. For me, and I think for very many others, this is immensely important.  

*** 

Thank you for the story on how you greeted the Mother-Abbess with the Psalm “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is” after her arrival; you cannot imagine how this story cheered me up. Learning about your life brings to mind the time when I lived in a monastery as a seminarian.  People in monasteries live in a different manner; the shared values are not those of the world. Life takes an absolutely different course, and it is simultaneously very pleasant and very sad for me to remember this. It is pleasant, because I have recalled those days and the monks (most of whom are already praying for us in the next world) whom I was honored to have known. And it is sad because from a distance I see that it has been a long time since I led such a life. 

2006

It’s hard for me to judge which language makes the Easter canon sound more convincing. I first understood these lines and took them to heart in Church Slavonic, but I have sung them in English only since my arrival in Missouri. Nevertheless, they always please me in any language. Once, when I compared them to the Greek text, the words “Christ has risen, o eternal gladness” stuck in my mind did not leave for a long time. Indeed, in the unending Day of Christ’s Kingdom, the gladness will be eternal. And “âåñåëèå âå÷íîå” [veseliyje vechnoje] or “O eternal gladness” – both mean the same to me and are equally joyful. 

*** 

I am confused – I have many quandaries which require decisions, and I do not know what to do.  So again I ask for your holy prayers. Perhaps everything will become clear. In such circumstances, I like to repeat the words of a psalm: “Cause me to know, O Lord the way wherein I should walk, for Thou art my God”.  

2007 

I lost my parish during Great Lent. In order not to be in Eucharistic Communion with the Most Holy Patriarch and the fullness of the Orthodox Church in Russia, the rector of my former parish has taken it out of the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad and has placed it under the control of a dubious personage–one who claims to be an archbishop living in Omsk. I ask for your prayers. And I am writing now because Fr Victor Boldewskul has called me. He says that Fr Roman is very ill, and that if I want to see him and say goodbye it would be better to arrive sooner rather than later. So now I will go to the university to wrap up business; then I will drive to Boston. I ask for your holy prayers for Fr Roman and for his family, who are suffering. 

*** 

I participated in a great event, thanks be to God. I sang in the assembled choir from abroad at the patriarchal services on the day of our Lord's Ascension (in the church of Christ the Savior), the following Saturday, (in the newly consecrated church of the Resurrection of Christ in Butovo) and during the week of the Holy Fathers (in the Kremlin’s Dormition Cathedral). Then to Moscow, back to New York, then to Princeton, and early in the morning on to Boston for Fr. Roman’s funeral service. His family asked me to direct the choir at the funeral.  I was glad to offer this last sign of respect to Fr Roman. 

2008 

I was able to spend Christmas at home, in Boston, at my home parish of the Holy Epiphany.  For the first time in our church we heard the Most Holy Patriarch Alexey’s Christmas message; Fr Victor asked me to read it from the ambo during the communion of clergy on Christmas Eve. 

*** 

When I studied in Seminary, the presence and the example of the older generation of monks--some of whom taught courses-- was very important for us. I recall with love Archimandrite Fr Sergii, the monastery’s ecclesiarch and oeconomus (manager) who taught us Liturgics, Archimandrite Vladimir, who managed the monastery office and taught Church History, and Hieromonk Ignaty, who taught the Old Testament and Homiletics. All of them have already gone on to the next world; I "visit" them and other brothers at the brotherhood’s cemetery when I happen to be at the monastery. The "crop" of clergymen who have studied at our seminary is not large, but that is due to the fact that our seminary itself is small. During my time, there were a total of twenty to forty students enrolled in the five classes, no more than that. By the way, I myself am not really helping improve the statistics, being an example of that which the ever-memorable Metropolitan of Kiev Anthony (Khrapovitsky) called "gray clergy", ie the people who have received a spiritual education, but have not taken holy orders 

*** 

One more thing.  Metropolitan Laurus has asked me to prepare to serve the Church.  I am very worried.  If God blesses this course of life, I will go to the monastery to begin this in earnest after the semester ends. And therefore, knowing my inexperience, my lack of readiness and my unworthiness, I beseech the sisters for their holy prayers that this is in accordance with God's Will, and that if He allows this to pass, that He will strengthen me and make me a suitable vessel for His Grace.  I would not have taken this path if it had not been Vladyka who asked me. Since I acknowledge that it is the Lord Who has chosen him to be the First Hierarch of our Church, I believe it necessary to obey his requests and not to refuse them. 

*** 

Thank you for your condolences on the death of Metropolitan Laurus. Yes, we were fortunate to have had as First Hierarch a person "of whom we were not worthy." The Lord granted him a blessed death.  Every year Vladyka Laurus spent the first week of Great Lent performing special feats of fasting and in prayer. All divine services were served every day in the monastery, starting with the Midnight office at 5:00 am and ending with vespers at about 2:00 or 2:30 pm (with a short break at about 11:00 am). Vladyka read the readings of the Holy Fathers placed in various spots of the divine services, for example from Lausiac [The Lausiac History of Palladius] or from The Ladder [of Divine Ascent]. This year, as in the past, Vladyka led the reading of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete at compline for the first four evenings, and led the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts on Wednesday and Friday. He did not feel very well on Saturday and peacefully died in his sleep on Saturday night into Sunday morning, i.e. on the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. For me, his death was a personal loss as it was he who told me that was time to begin my service to the Church and he was supposed to tonsure and ordain me this summer. I cannot believe that he is no longer in this world. I knew him more than 30 years; I was introduced to him when I was 11 years old. He is the image of constancy; he was always in church for midnight office and for Divine Liturgy and for compline; he was at trapeza, he served on every Sunday and all holidays. And his constancy in attending and serving divine services showed his deep belief in the power of prayer, and we were witnesses to how the Lord answered his prayers – our Church has healed such a grievous wound [of divison—transl.].   

*** 

I went to the monastery for Vladyka’s funeral. There was no place to stay; all the hotels around the monastery were full. I decided to go at night and arrived at 3:00 am and immediately went to the Monastery church to venerate Vladyka’s body and to spend some time with him while priests and deacons read the Holy Gospel. Midnight office began at 5:00 am and immediately afterwards Great Lent hours. The monastery’s choir director, Hieromonk Roman, asked me to sing second tenor in a trio “Let my prayer be set forth.”  I stood in the middle of the trio. It was very crowded in the church, and we stood in small space between the bishop’s cathedra and the coffin. Since the end of the coffin stretched beyond the bench it was placed on, when we did our prostrations during each refrain, my head ended up under Vladyka’s head. When I approached the coffin for the last kiss, Fr Serafim Gan, Vladyka’s personal secretary, removed the Aer from the face of Vladyka so that I could look at him for the last time. He told me: "Vladyka blesses you" (meaning for the path of further service to the Church). Next day I managed to talk to Vladyka Hilarion, the First Hierarch’s deputy. We have known each other for more than 30 years as well; he was my confessor in Seminary, for which I always thank the Lord. I explained to him that Vladyka Laurus and I had agreed that I would arrive at the monastery and he would perform my tonsure and ordination. Vladyka Hilarion told me that the plans which Vladyka Laurus had blessed, would be carried out by whomever would be chosen as First Hierarch and that I should arrive as planned. This consoled me; I had already resigned my position at Princeton, and they were already searching for a replacement. I was afraid that I would have to search for a new job and to forget about Vladyka Laurus’s wish. I beseech you to continue to pray for me.  Temptations arise from all directions. 

*** 

Christ is Risen! I want to repeat these words of salvation until the leave-taking of the Holiday of Holidays. Thank God our Synod of Bishops has chosen Metropolitan Hilarion as the new First Hierarch to take the place of the ever-memorable Vladyka Laurus. Last week I went to New York to visit him. Sitting in his suite of rooms, I was surprised how similar it was to a quarter of a century ago, when as a seminarian, I went to Fr Hilarion’s cell for counsel. He has remained just as kind and accessible as he was back then. I am very glad that it was he who became our First Hierarch. With his blessing, God willing, I will go to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. If all is in order, the planned tonsure and ordinations will follow after his return from Australia in September. How keenly I feel my unworthiness.  I hope for God’s mercy and for His Grace, filling that which is wanting and healing those who are sick.  

*** 

I arrived at the Holy Trinity Monastery in the very beginning of September. Vladyka Hilarion really wanted me to live here until my tonsure and ordination.  But I have no idea when all this will happen.  For now I live at the monastery. It is a little strange to live here after 23 years' absence. I finished seminary a half lifetime ago, that is at the age of 23, and now I am 46. Much has changed since then. It is difficult to see the monastery without Vladyka Laurus.  I try to visit his tomb every day and I commemorate him, and I address requests to him. After all, he had called me to serve, and then he left me (and all of us), and questions and the need for his assistance and counsel still remain.  The gravestone has not yet been placed on his tomb; he is buried under the cathedral, on the left side (when looking westward) under an altar, near his confessor and mentor, the renowned icon painter Archimandrite Kyprian. Vladyka Hilarion has asked the Abbott of the monastery, Archimandrite Luke, to make me a novice soon after my arrival at the monastery. Fr Luke suggested that this be done after liturgy on St Job of Pochaev, the patron saint of the brotherhood which was founded by Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) in the Carpathian Mountains – Vladyka Vitaly was the Abbot of the Pochaev Monastery -- and they joined the brotherhood of the Holy Trinity monastery after their arrival in the USA after WWII.  St Job’s day is considered the second holiday of the monastery. With love in the Lord, Joseph. 

*** 

Vladyka has decided to tonsure after matins on the eve of the Sobor of Saints of the Kievan-Caves (September 27/October 10) and will ordain me hierodeacon the next morning during Liturgy.  The liturgy will begin at 6:00 am, as on any weekday, which is unusual for hierarchical services. All of this frightens me a little. I ask for your holy prayers, especially on day of my tonsure and ordination. Only I do not know how you should commemorate me, as Vladyka did not tell me what he is going to name me.  This is probably that last time I sign off in this way, but for the present I say goodbye, with love in the Lord, novice Joseph. 

*** 

“What is thy name brother?” the sinful Hierodeacon Joasaph (in honor of the sainted hierarch and wonderworker of Belgorod). The forty days of serving has begun.  Today I served as the only deacon for the first time. I ask for your holy prayers.  

*** 

Deacons, while consuming the Holy Gifts, are advised to commemorate their relatives and close friends, so at the end of Divine Liturgy I am able to repeatedly commemorate all of you: Fr Avraam, Mothers Zlata and Domnika and the sisters at the Sacred Chalice. After so many years on kliros I am not very familiar with the sacred rites that comprise the deacon's service, and I have to be thinking constantly think of what needs to be done next.  And at the end of service I prayerfully rest before the altar and I commemorate. I ask that you continue to pray for me sinful, unworthy Hierodeacon Joasaph. 

2009 

Forgive me for long silence. On day of the great martyr Catherine the newly elevated Bishop George ordained me a hieromonk; since then I serve daily, both morning and evening. I serve, I commemorate; very soon, before Christmas, I plan to go to Boston. I will remain till Christmas, to serve while Fr Victor hears confessions. He will only join me for the polyeleos during the festive all-night vigil. He is the lone priest of the parish, and 300 people are expected for the holiday, if not more.  With love in the Lord, Hieromonk Joasaph. 

*** 

I greet you from the Holy City of Jerusalem where I carry out my obedience at the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, as its chief. For the past month, I have lived on the Mount of Olives, I serve in the Ascension Convent and in the Convent of St Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane, where the holy relics of Martyrs Princess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara lie. The nuns have received me with much love. I ask for your holy prayers; it is most likely that I have one of the most difficult obediences that exist in the Church Abroad.  I wish you a successful completion of Great Lent and the joy of Christ's Resurrection. With love in the Lord, Archimandrite Joasaph. 

My first Pascha as a priest, and I spent it in Jerusalem, and as the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. I am infinitely grateful to the Lord for all. With love in the Resurrected Christ, Archimandrite Joasaph. 


It was also his last Pascha. He was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in the summer; chemotherapy, hospital stays - it became difficult for him to answer letters. The last thing he wrote about was that he would pray for the murdered priest Daniel of Moscow.  

Father Joasaph always asked God that His holy Will to be done in his life. And the Lord gave him what he wanted most. The Lord granted him the resolution to break free from the vanity of this world, to leave a brilliant career. The Lord vouchsafed him to be washed through repentance, to accept monastic tonsure. The Lord also vouchsafed him the grace of the priesthood and service in the Holy Land. And as a crown – the Lord sent him illness to cleanse his involuntary sins and allow him the opportunity to prepare better for the transition into Eternity. 

He has left for home. Please pray for him and help him on that path. Eternal memory! 

Translation provided by Holy Epiphany parishioners.

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