Discussion with His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada
Your Eminence, let us begin with what may be one of the most important events in Church life in 2017. You, along with other members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, participated in the consecration of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ and the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery. Judging from photos and videos, this was a truly inspirational event, a milestone in the history of the Russian Church. Please share with us your impressions as a participant in this event.
- Our participation in the consecration of this divine church, erected in the finest traditions of Russian church architecture, coincided with the 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church. The evening before we celebrated the namesday of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, which fell on the Apodosis of Pascha. This wonderful church was consecrated on the feast day of the Ascension of the Lord. The tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of our unity was celebrated on Ascension Day.
It took several years to build the church; it is located on Lubyanka, the very place where many New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia suffered their martyrdom. The path to their personal Golgotha was traveled here, and now this church stands upon their holy relics. And this can properly be deemed a spiritual symbol of the resurrection and reunification of the Russian Church. All of us who attended the consecration, which included all the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad, all our ruling bishops, experienced something special: a church dedicated to the New Martyrs was built on thissite, and right nearby are the graves of those who were directly or indirectly their torturers. The names of these executioners to this day identify some Russian cities and streets…
During the solemn services and afterward, not only was the church filled, but so were the church porch and large courtyard. After the dismissal, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed the worshipers, after him President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who mentioned the 10th anniversary of the restoration of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church.
The next day, a conference began at Sretensky Monastery devoted to the life and work of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco; a documentary by the director and film-maker Elena Nikolaevna Chavchavadze was shown. She is also the Director of the Presidential Programs of the Russian Cultural Foundation, a founder of Vozvrashcheniye [“Return”], an organization that promotes the restoration of historic traditions from before 1917. Archbishop Michael (Donskov) and Matushka Maria Potapova, both of whom who knew the saint when he was Archbishop of Western America, spoke on behalf of the Russian diaspora.
- Vladyka, you were directly involved in the preparation for this historic event, that is, the reestablishment of the unity of the Church, and what followed. Those were difficult times. There were deliberations, arguments and divisions throughout our parishes, all this consumed the attention of our Church Abroad during the preparation for the 4th All-Diaspora Council, and after the decision of this Council was published, the arguments did not subside but even increased. Now, ten years later, can you share with us what you experienced then?
Those were difficult and complicated times, a period of quarrels and upheavals. In 2006, an All-Diaspora Council was convened in San Francisco, at the last cathedral where St John (Maximovich) the Wonder-worker served, where by his holy, selfless prayers, other divisions, both large and small, were overcome. Debates arose at this Council, too, not because most of the participants were against the reestablishment of unity, but because we approached this question while there were still unresolved important questions troubling us: to wit, the ecumenical movement and the so-called “declaration of Metropolitan Sergius.” This year marks the 90th anniversary of this debatable document, and arguments about it have not ended by a long stretch. Most of the Council’s delegates already understood that great changes were afoot in our Fatherland, in Russia, and from the Church’s point of view, happy changes, but not every member of this majority were prepared, as the Gospel puts it, to “receive” this historic event which took place by Divine Providence.
Were it not God’s will, two eminent hierarchs, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy and Metropolitan Laurus, would not have been able to fulfill the mission entrusted to them by the Lord: to lead the longed-for reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church. Today I would like to appeal to those who have gone into schism. If they consider themselves to be patriots of our historic Fatherland, how can they deny what is obvious? A great spiritual awakening is taking place in Russia, and it should not catch us unaware, like the parable of the Lord in which people invited to a feast excused themselves. Those who are in exile are in fact exiling themselves, they separate from that which the entire Russian Church Abroad had so desired for decades. There is no Divine blessing for schism. We see this from ancient times to this very day. All of our first hierarchs had desired to see the changes occurring in Russia today, including Metropolitan Vitaly, no matter who would wish to ignore that. Our unity within the Church today helps the process of reestablishing and renewing Holy Russia today. In fact, the overwhelming majority of our parishioners are émigrés from today’s Russia, or, as they said in past times, “from all the states of the Russian Empire.”
- What has changed in the life of the Church, in the Fatherland and in the diaspora, over the past decade?
The essence and character of our relationship has changed. Today our hierarchs directly participate in the work of the united Russian Orthodox Church, including that of the Synod of Bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate. I myself have twice participated in Synod meetings, and soon, in December, God willing, I will be a delegate at the Council which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reestablishment of the Patriarchy and the election of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow the Confessor. I would add that we constantly share experiences with each other in ecclesiastical matters. In addition to, say, administrative matters, we make frequent pilgrimages to the holy sites of Russia, in which many thousands of our parishioners have taken part, some more than once—one cannot cover everything in one trip. In 2017, our First Hierarch Metropolitan Hilarion traveled with pilgrims throughout Russia—and this was for the third time.
- What can you tell us about meeting with President Putin, who did a great deal to help achieve unity within the Russian Church?
- The meeting this past May was already the fourth. The first took place in Washington, DC, in 2001, after the tragic events of 9/11. Since then, as we saw President Putin did all that was in his power to hasten the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Church. He was genuinely convinced that this unity was necessary for the entire Russian world, and wished to do whatever he could. In 2003, the Russian President came to New York for a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. We were invited to meet with him at the Russian Consulate on 91st Street. Instead of the expected 30-40-minute meeting, we continued talking at lunch, so we spoke for over 2 hours, which surprised everyone. President Putin set aside much more time for Church matters than for meetings with other heads of state who were also in New York for the General Assembly.
Then, in 2005, the President visited our Synodal residence. Rather, he came to the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” to venerate the miracle-working Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign.” Greeting him was Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, the First Hierarch of ROCOR. At the time I was the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and I invited Vladimir Vladimirovich to the traditional Russian cup of tea. President Putin again agreed. We expressed our gratitude to him for his efforts in helping restore unity within the Russian Church. By Divine blessing, his efforts were ultimately fruitful, witnessed by his presence at the ceremony of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007.
I am certain that President Putin perceives the place that the Church occupies in Russian society, its importance for the Russian state, in fact, for Russian civilization itself. To better understand the person of Vladimir Vladimirovich, it bears repeating that he often visits Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord, which played an important role in our history.
- You’ve not only been to Moscow, but Tula oblast, where one of your relatives is a monastic. Tell us about this trip.
When the festivities in Moscow concluded, my relative from Moscow and I went to Tula oblast. We came to the town of Anastasovo, near the city of Tula, where the Nativity of the Mother of God-Anastasov Monastery was established a half a millennium ago, as part of the Belyovsky Diocese. It became known as Anastasov because its first abbot was a Fr Anastassy. In the mid-18th century, under Empress Catherine, the monastery was closed, its church became a parish church, and in the 1930’s, under the Bolsheviks, it was completely closed. In the late 1990’s, the parish building was returned to the Church, and Anastasov Monastery was reborn in the early 2000’s. My grandparent’s cousin resides here, Schema-Archimandrite Averky. He hails from Vyatki. He was once in Argentina, a cell-attendant of Archbishop Ioasaph (Skorodumov), the renowned illuminator of Canada, until his final days. Archbishop Ioasaph ordained his cell-attendant to the rank of hieromonk. Such is our history, such is the history of the Russian people.
I had the opportunity to serve with Vladkya Serafim of Belyovsk and Aleksinsk. He accompanied us on our trip to Yasnaya Polyana. On the way back from the Tolstoy estate, we visited the estate of the great Russian painter Vasily Polenov: it is a remarkable museum in Tula oblast, on the right bank of the Oka River.
- In June, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia concluded with the great consecration of the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in Munich. Would you say that it is impossible to view the sorrowful 100th anniversary of the Second Russian Time of Troubles, which we still call “the Russian Revolution” out of habit, without recognition of the great miracle of the podvigi of the New Martyrs of Russia?
Our Council at Munich sent a special letter to President Putin in which we referred to the Troubles of 1917. We could not do otherwise. We cited the words of St Ignaty (Bryanchaninov): “Understand the times!” He was referring to Elder Isaiah, the ascetic of Nikifor Hermitage, who uttered those words during a discussion. In the letter to the President, we say that for us, maybe like never before, it is necessary to understand what is happening, to understand the times in which we live. The hour has come to reject the deathly legacy of the 1917 Time of Troubles, to return to Russia the historical names of her cities and streets, to finalize the burial of Lenin’s body.
Personally I am convinced that the forces that destroyed the Divinely-ordained reign of the Orthodox Tsar 100 years ago by provoking rebellion in the capital cities which destroyed Russia then are the very same forces which today commit the slander of today’s Russia and her President. It is those forces which painstakingly set the stage for the so-called “Maidan” in Kiev, for which billions of dollars were spent, which Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State of the USA, who was entrusted with “the Ukraine project” openly spoke about.
This may be obvious, but even now we lose sight of the spiritual aspect of geopolitical events. The Russian Orthodox nation is subjected to stubborn attempts to divide it from without, and brotherly Orthodox peoples are being pitted against each other. As part of this effort, a conflict was stoked with Orthodox Georgia, relations between Russia and Bulgaria and Romania are being sabotaged. At one time we saved Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. They are trying to weaken Russia’s bonds with Serbia. Evil forces from the West are intentionally gathering against today’s Russia. This is an age-old process: the flourishing of Orthodox Russia, the heir to Orthodox Byzantium, was hated by the forces of evil many centuries ago. This hatred is apparent today. That is why the Russian people must make sense of the events in their nation in the 20th century.
I was saddened and frustrated by a program by Vladimir Soloviev on Rossiya1 TV dedicated to the October catastrophe of 1917. He gathered historians, intellectuals, experts, but alas, little is known in Russia today about the Russian mindset before the 1917 tragedy, the essence of the persecution of the Church in the 20th century! They didn’t even mention the persecutions, and they failed to invite even one cleric or historian of the Russian Church. I am convinced that if people knew more about the podvigi of the Russian New Martyrs, they would be horrified, and no one would dare call the Revolution “great,” only in the sense that it brought great and countless sorrows to our Fatherland and the Christian world as a whole.
Today, this very day that you and I are speaking, we mark the feast day of the very first New Martyr of Russia, Fr Ioann Kochurov, known as St Ioann of Tsarskoe Selo. At one time an assistant of Holy Patriarch Tikhon the Confessor when the latter was Bishop of Aleut and Alaska, himself an inspired preacher and missionary, St Ioann was murdered at the hands of the demonic “Red Guard.”
In the TV program I just mentioned, I believe the only comments that were historically accurate were spoken by Vladimir Zhirinovsky: he called the October events of that year “enacted on orders by external forces.” “Had the Bolsheviks never arrived, we would have sent a satellite into space not in 1957, but maybe as early as 1937,” he said.
This last remark was particularly notable. At the beginning of the 20th century, the renowned magazine National Geographic devoted one issue to a main theme: Russia. That publication, as did many others including Prime Minister Clemanceau of France, predicted that Russia would become the world’s leading economy by mid-century. That same article pointed out that the fastest population growth in the world was occurring in Russia, and by the year 2000 Russia was predicted to have a population of 600 million. Dimitry Mendeleev made a similar prognosis: by the middle of the 20th century, he believed Russia’s population would reach 400 million. Famed French economist Edmond Thierry did a study of Russian agriculture: taking into account the astounding successes in all fields, Thierry said “If European develop at the same rate from 1912-1950 as it has since 1900, Russia will dominate Europe politically, economically and financially.”
The enemies of Orthodox Russia refused to allow this to happen. Brutal blows were dealt from 1904-05. Peter Stolypin dreamt of 20 years of peace for Russia in order to bring stability to our Fatherland, but the constant pressure on Russia kept increasing. Unfortunately, because of our own sinfulness, the very foundation of Orthodox Russianness was damaged, which would of course have hindered the efforts of Russophobic politicians. Let us remember what St John of Kronstadt said in 1905: “If the Russian people do not repent, the end of the world will draw near. God will remove her pious Tsar and will send us punishment in the form of impious, cruel usurpers who will fill the entire land with blood and tears.”
The results of the events of 1991 evoked a widely-shared nostalgia for Soviet times. But this is only an illusion, a hallucination. Ideally, we must strive specifically for the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Monarchy. We must recognize this.
During our diocesan assembly in November we will mark the 100th anniversary of the Second Russian Time of Troubles, and the next day, during the feast-day celebrations of St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reestablishment of the Patriarchy in Russia.