“It is Time for Us to Understand the Meaning of Our Own History.”
Interview with Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada
- Your Eminence, this year marks the 20th anniversary of your episcopal consecration as you turn 55 years old. You have also been a member of the Synod of Bishops for 20 years. This represents a great deal of experience at the Synod. This year, as a regular member of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, you also participated in the work of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate last summer. How does Synodal procedure differ between New York and Moscow?
— In the beginning of my episcopacy I worked with those of our bishops who were born in Imperial Russia, among them Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Metropolitan Vitaly of Canada of blessed memory. They effused a genuine Russian spirit. I sensed is as a child in Australia, where there were many Russian emigres, and then later when I studied at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where I met monks who began their service to the Church in Imperial Russia and remembered it. One should include among those who shared the Russian Spirit, of course, Archbishop (later Metropolitan) Laurus, who was then the Secretary of the Synod, whom I soon replaced in that capacity. So by the mercy of God, I had good teachers whose experience I could glean from, including experience in work at the Synodal Chancery. If I were to characterize this experience, I would say that the conciliar approach lies at its foundation: in other words, everything was to be decided collegially.
From personal experience in that milieu, first of all there was an effort to avoid hasty judgments. We use all the wisdom granted to us to weigh the pros and cons. With prayer and painstaking thought, we make decisions with the intention that we never come to rue our decisions as having been hasty. Such an approach is dictated by the burden of higher archpastoral responsibility. Our eminent bishops, with whom I had the good fortune of working with at our Synod, obviously always sensed this burden. At the same time, or better yet, thanks to this, they were epitomes of humility and accessibility. I noticed a similar approach during the work of the Synod of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate under the wise guidance of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, which I had the honor of participating in last summer. The meetings began in St Petersburg, the hometown of my family on my mother’s side, which I was particularly happy about. We were actually able to find our family’s house there, the Avenarius house on Suvorovsky Prospect. The meetings in St Petersburg were held in the historic building of the Holy Synod,and we were housed in the renovated Novodevichy Monastery.
- You noted the similiarity in approach between the two Synods. What differences are there?
- The volume of work is incomparable. Even the list of items on the agenda is practically impossible to discuss in one day, let alone come to decisions upon deliberation. That is why detailed proposals are provided in advance which are then discussed. In the Synod Abroad, we can allow ourselves to discuss matters at hand, which only takes us a day and a half.
The main thing that I sensed during our meetings was that they were held in the spirit of brotherly love.
- Your participation in the summer session of the Synod coincided with one of the most important events, if not the most important, as it turned out, or at least the most discussed, in contemporary church life: the meeting of the Local Orthodox Churches on the Isle of Crete. The meeting was alternately called a Pan-Orthodox Council, an All-Orthodox Conference, almost the Eighth Ecumenical Council. All these monikers proved premature. What would you say about it?
- We had a lively discussion on participating in the “Council of Crete.” In April, it still seemed that the Russian Orthodox Church should participate in the gathering. Hotel rooms were already booked, airline tickets purchased. But of course the participation of a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church was conditional. In the process of ironing out a few points of discord, it turned out that Constantinople did not respond to certain questions. The silence of the Phanar was decisive. In April, I was in Jerusalem with a group of pilgrims from Canada and the US. Metropolitan Varsonofy, Administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate, wishing to find out if I could attend the next session of the Synod of Bishops, where Crete would be discussed. I replied that I wasn’t able to be present, but in case of voting, I would ask that my opinion would be taken into consideration: I would advise abstaining from attending the Crete gathering. After the vote was taken, it turned out that the entire Synod of Bishops unanimously agreed. The “Crete question,” then, was I dare say the victory of brotherly communion and collegiality among our bishops, headed by His Holiness.
- You are a member of ROCOR’s Synodal Commission on the Glorification of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia. There were joint meetings of the committees of the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Could you tell us what is discussed at these meetings?
- The joint sessions began in 2014. The second was chaired by His Holiness the Patriarch. The main task is to formalize the list of Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. The lists of Russia and of the Church Abroad do not match, and of course, we would like them to be identical. We are talking about establishing a documentary methodology, in particular to the minutes of interrogation of those who suffered for their faith in Christ. The persecutors attempted to justify their actions, but these documents could have distorted not only the reasons those who suffered for their faith were arrested and prosecuted, but the very moral and spiritual character of the arrestees. This circumstance, I presume, must be considered.
- You participated in pilgrimages to Russia even before the events of 1991. You also accompanied the pilgrimage of Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory. So you witnessed the progress of the rebirth of the Russian Church. Can you compare church life of Russia then and now?
- The first time I went on a pilgrimage to the holy sites of the Fatherland in 1988, on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, with a small group of pilgrims from New York. We went to Moscow, Kiev and St Petersburg. My second pilgrimage to the Fatherland took place in August, 1993: I accompanied Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity along with a fellow seminarian, now Protopriest Paul Ivanov. We went to Moscow, traveled the Gold Ring, Novgorod, Pskov, Gus-Khrustal, Belgorod. We saw the Church of Russia as it was then. I would add that His Eminence Vladyka Laurus went on this pilgrimage incognito: he wore a pectoral cross but not a panaghia. The political undercurrent at the time was for me, a descendant of the “first wave” of immigrants, confusing,but I saw that over the previous five years, a great deal had changed in the Russian Church: she was being reborn, rising to her feet, and the tragic events on our land drew Russian people into the bosom of the Church. This was God’s will for us, and the crux of the matter of rebirth did not rely on the sheer number of parishioners. This growth was a result of the Russian people seeking out their Orthodox roots, upon which our Russian Civilization was built. According to statistics, the levels have not reached those that we would hope, but this is only the beginning of the journey.
Today the main challenge facing the Church is bringing our people into church life. Meanwhile, in the West, church buildings are emptying out and are being turned into condominiums, clubs and restaurants, but in Russia, by the grace of God, Moscow alone is building 200 new churches. But the devil doesn’t slumber. The forces of evil have savagely taken up arms against today’s Russia. Our Fatherland is accused of all sorts of imaginable and even unimaginable crimes, fear is stoked in the hearts of people in order to incur hatred for Russia in the West. But this has been the case for a long time: the flowering of Orthodox Russia was despised by the forces of evil hundreds of years ago. That is exactly what we are witnessing today. That is why it is important for the Russian people to make sense of the fate of Russia in the 20th century. For, alas, few in Russia today know about the state of mind of the people before the troubles of 1917, the essence of the persecution of the Church in the 20th century. If the people only knew more about the spiritual bravery of the New Martyrs of Russia, they would be shocked. And they would strive towards recreating Historic Russia.
The results of the events of 1991 created a false illusion that some sort of reestablished USSR would be a good thing. Ideally, however, we should strive towards the renaissance of an Orthodox Russian sovereignty. But are our people ready for this? What happened in 1917 continued for over seven decades, it was certainly an evil permitted by God, of which St John of Kronstadt wrote in 1905: “If the Russian people don’t repent, the end of the world is near. God will take away the pious Tsar and will send down a scourge in the form of dishonorable, cruel self-proclaimed rulers who will flood the land with blood and tears.” Thank God, the rebirth of Russia has begun. By the way, when this year I visited the house where Fr John of Kronstadtlived, I was able to sit down at his desk… There is a special sense of grace in that house.
- You mentioned your springtime trip to Jerusalem. At the same time, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev was there, who is known and loved by the people of ROCOR. The Orthodox Church in the ancient Kievan lands is enduring difficult times. How would you characterize the situation?
- This was not the first time we met at in the holy land. This time I was lucky enough to serve with Metropolitan Onouphry during Liturgy at the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord. Vladyka Onouphry is a genuine archpastor and monk, that is, he is humble and accessible. The land of Ukraine is suffering today, and our church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, is bearing these sufferings. The obedience bestowed upon Metropolitan Onouphry, has caused him to bear this cross. As far as the tragic events in these lands are concerned, which started in the fall of 2013, I would like to remind everyone that Russia is being slandered—they say that Russia was the main instigator of the bloodletting. But throughout the Ukrainian crisis, Russia has only taken responsive measures, which President Putin has said more than once. By the way, many Russian citizens even consider the nation’s response insufficient, too moderate. If we were to pose the question: what would happen if a large mob gathered not in Kiev, but in Washington, in front of the White House, mobs armed with Molotov cocktails and even guns, and tried to overthrow the democratically elected president? Any sane person knows perfectly well the answer to the question. This mob would immediately be chased away by security forces. Obviously, no regime change would not have occurred.
-Eight years ago, the Council of Bishops appointed you to the cathedra of Montreal and Canada. In those days, the Canadian diocese, once among the most successful in the church, had not yet healed from the schisms and troubles of 2001, which affected the entire diocese. The situation now, thank God, is different. The number of parishes is growing, many faithful and clergyman who had been disturbed by the schism, returned to the bosom of the church. What are your plans, hopes and desires, as ruling Bishop?
The cathedra of Montreal was founded during the days of Archbishop Joasaph, the Illuminator of Canada. In 1925 Archimandrite Joasaph, who came from Serbia, was made the Rector of the church in Montreal, where he earned respect of the clergyman and laity. On October 12th, 1930, when he was consecrated to the episcopacy by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory, the “Abbot” of the Russian Church Abroad. Bishop Joasaph was appointed the bishop of Montreal. The Canadian diocese, as it happened, developed from the West towards the East, as a result of the settlement pattern of Orthodox immigrants who arrived in Canada.
On May 29th, 1936, an independent Diocese of Edmonton and Western Canada was formed, and Bishop Joasaph was assigned there. He constantly traveled through all points of the enormous territory of Canada, sometimes by train, sometimes by boat, sometimes even on foot. Over the course of 20 years he built churches, baptized children, married couples, arranged for divine services, and provided ministry and counsel.
Yes, in fact, our diocese suffered a good deal from the schism of 2001. Thank God, matters have gradually settled down. The main thing that is all truly apparent now is that these “zealots beyond reason” who warned us of our quick and inescapable collapse into the abyss of ecumenism, and for that reason created uncanonical episcopies, were badly mistaken. Over recent years we came to the conclusion that both we, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, did not collapse, and that the Russian Church in the Fatherland has in fact strengthened in its devotion to the canons of the Holy fathers. I should once again point out the firm stance taken by His Holiness the Patriarch with regard to the meeting on the island of Crete. I address those who left the bosom of the Church now: think about what you have done, brothers and sisters! The time has come for us Russian Orthodox people, both in the Fatherland and in the diaspora, to come together in unity. You are all witnesses that those who call themselves the “True Church Abroad,” have already broken away from each other. There are some five or six quarreling groups, and this fragmentation continues even today, which many of you don't even know about.
This is especially dangerous for the clergyman who broke away from us. We know that according to Holy Canons, a cleric can separate himself from his Bishop only in response to a heresy condemned by the Holy Councils or Holy Fathers, “when a bishop preaches heresy openly, and teaches it openly in church.” Who would dare say that Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, who was the First Hierarch of the Church Abroad, who reestablished prayerful communion with the Patriarchal Church in the Fatherland, preached heresy? Can any of our bishops today be accused of this? We staunchly hold to our foundations, which were established during the days of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), that is since the early nineteen-twenties. If someone considers himself a Russian patriot, he cannot be separated from the Russian Church, he cannot be in schism.
At all times, the fate of schisms has been one and the same. Sooner or later they will disappear, and those who are trapped within them risk their very salvation. The very existence of schism only serves the enemies of Russia.
In our diocese, by the grace of God, new parishes are being opened. In 2015, during the millennial celebration of the death of Grand Prince Vladimir, the first parish of the Russian Orthodox Church opened in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, devoted to the holy prince. In Calgary, Alberta, a new parish has also been established in honor of St John Chrysostom. I would add that new parishes are being founded by the new generations of Russian people who have for one reason or another settled in Canada
- Among the novelties in your diocese are the regular pilgrimages you organize to holy places. Do you intend to broaden and further these pilgrimages?
Since 2008, we have arranged pilgrimages from Canada every two years; last spring we were in the Holy Land for the fourth time. It is important for every Orthodox Christian, even if only once in his life, to have the opportunity to visit the places where the earthly service of our Lord Jesus Christ took place. Our pilgrimages is usually coincide with the Feast of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, in Ascension Convent, founded by Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), who by the will of God, became the de-facto founder of the Russian ecclesiastical presence in the Holy Land. August, 2017, will mark two hundred years since his birth. Some of the Russian monasteries founded by him in the Holy Land were preserved through the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Had we not preserved these monasteries, conducting pilgrimages would have been much more difficult. We hope that the years in between our pilgrimages to the Holy Land we can visit the holy sites of Russia.
We suppose that we can also visit the holy sites of Rome, Bari, where the honorable relics of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker are located, and the island of Corfu and the relics of St Spyridon of Tremithus lie. Of course I will inform our flock well ahead of time.
- Your Eminence Vladyko, only days are left before 2017 begins. This coming year is closely tied with anniversaries of tragic events, the February Revolution of 1917, the abdication of Czar Nicholas II the Passion-Bearer. After that came the October Revolution. After that came the October Revolution. In recent years we see that more than a few Russian people are loathe to notice those cruel and bloody events, which one way or the other, were the results of the rule of the Bolsheviks. In response to the memory of this in this indisputable historical fact, we often hear that under this rule, under the Soviet regime, under Stalin’s personal leadership, we achieved great victories against half of Europe under the Germans! “Don't you dare,” they say, “denigrate our victory!” What is your attitude towards this approach to Russian history of the 20th century?
I think right off the bat that “under Soviet rule” does not mean “thanks to Soviet rule.” Had it not been for the will of God that Russia was to fall, we would have had victory over our enemies all the same. Victory came regardless of the godless rulers--in fact in spite of them! During the recent December meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Church of God, which is always held to coincide with December 10th, the feast day of the miraculous Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign,” which is called the Hodigitria of the Russian diaspora, we discussed how we should mark this tragic year. I would like to express my personal opinion. I have said more than once that our people must learn and recognize their own history. Then, their attitude towards Soviet symbolism of the destructive revolution will change, which are in fact symbols of destruction, of internecine war. These Soviet symbols include the “Revolution-era” names of many Russian cities, including my family’s native Vyatki, which bears the name of Kirov; the people of Vyatki themselves spoke out against restoring the city’s historic name… Let us remember: Lenin and Stalin are guilty of the murder of millions of their fellow countrymen, among them the Royal Family, the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, who were savagely butchered. These horrors must be recognized by our people. This demands our attention, and the glorification of the podvigi of the New Martyrs. In Germany, they quickly came to acknowledge the wicked deeds of Hitler. Why has Russia not yet recognized the tragedy of the Revolution and does not condemn the executioners?
The unburied remains of Lenin, still located in the center of the Russian capital, might well be the main symbol of Russia’s defeat, the collapse of Imperial Russia. Let us imagine that a monument rose above the tomb of Hitler in Berlin, the man who led Germany to crushing defeat, made the country “a byword among all nations” forever, while Germans gaze upon it as a symbol of victory. In 2017, we must do all we can for the body of Lenin to be removed once and for all from Red Square.
It is time for us to understand the meaning of our own history.
This February, the Synod of Bishops will issue a special epistle on the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Time of Troubles of the 20th century. But we will soon also celebrate a joyous occasion. In early summer, a regular Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will convene in Munich, after which its participants will head to Moscow to mark the 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church. Festivities will be headed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. It is possible that the main celebration will fall on the feast day of All Russian Saints, the holiday of the spiritual Victory of Russia.