Speech by Archimandrite Alexander (Ecchevarria) at his consecration as Bishop of Vevey, Vicar of the Western European Diocese
Your Eminence, Vladyka Mark, Your Grace Vladyka Irenei, Your Eminence, Vladyka Agapit, Your Grace, Vladyka Theodosius,
Dear Brothers, Sisters and Parishioners :
By tradition, a new bishop must introduce himself to you and explain how he sees his new duties. I will attempt to do this, though it will be difficult, since those who know me even a little bit know that I am a man of few words, preferring restraint. That is why I beseech the Lord to open my lips, and I ask all of you who have gathered here today for your understanding.
You elected me, dear Hierarchs, to be a bishop with the title of Vevey. But today we find ourselves in Geneva. Allow me, as an old Genevaite, to tell you about this city, where I was born, a bit over 60 years ago, and about this beautiful church, where I grew in Orthodoxy for the last fifty years.
The place we now occupy was since the most ancient days of Christianity sanctified by prayer to Christ. It is understood that here, from the end of the third century, behind the gates of the old Roman city know as Genava, was a Christian cemetery. Two centuries later a church was built here and dedicated to Holy Martyr Victor, and soon a monastery formed around it, which existed until the sixteenth century. So we should know as we cross the threshhold of our glorious Elevation of the Cross Cathedral that we stand on a site where Orthodox Christian prayers were lifted long before Christianity of the Orthodox tradition to which we belong was adopted in many lands.
Here in this Geneva church, I began to slowly learn about Orthodox Church life at the age of twelve. At first, finding myself among French-speaking parishioners, who formed a significant and active percentage of the parish, I gradually joined in and received my first experience of prayer. By reading and through conversation, with the support of these Francophone parishioners, which existed in this Russian church alongside a Greek community, the rich and multifaceted Orthodox world was revealed to me. So it was natural for me to adopt Orthodoxy at the age of seventeen, or over forty years ago.
Here in this Geneva church, I began to sing in the “little choir ” on weekdays, and in the “big choir” on Sundays and holidays, and also to read Church Slavonic.
It was also here in the Geneva church that I met important figures in our diocese and parish. I cannot list them all, I can recall a few, beginning, of course, with the influential hierarch of our Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Archbishop Anthony. The presence of Vladyka Anthony is still felt in this church, and his voice continues to resound in my memory. What joy does the memory of Protopriest Georgy Samkov bring me, who exuded an otherworldly beauty : when he performed divine services, it seemed that he did not walk through the church but floated lightly, like a cloud. The memory of his wife, Matushka Elena, likewise brings me joy, thanks to whom I learned to sing on the kliros. I cannot but mention dear Archimandrite Osia, whose spiritual tenderness and tears, and sermons will always remain deeply impresed in my heart. I should tell about a great many other people, not only clergymen, who nourished the life of our Geneva parish and left an indelible impression in my soul. Although they have left this temporal earth, I am certain that they all gaze upon us from Heaven.
Here in the Geneva church, His Grace Bishop Ambroise tonsured me as a reader, then a subdeacon, then ordained me into the diaconate, and then, twenty-two years ago, he ordained me to the priesthood.
And so today, dear Bishops, here in this Geneva church, you will invoke Divine grace upon me, an unworthy person, to elevate me to the episcopal rank as Bishop of Vevey. The ways of the Lord are inscrutable.
The Church of Holy Great Martyr Varvara in Vevey is also dear to my heart.
For soon after my ordination to the priesthood, in March of 1997, Vladyka Ambroise called me to replace him that church when at first he traveled on diocesan business, and then, sadly, due to his illness, which forced him on frequent and lengthy stays at the hospital. After he reposed in the Lord in 2009, at first I alternated with Fr Emilian, after which for seven years I ministered to the Lausanne-Vevey parish myself as I continued to serve in Geneva. This splended community, with a 140-year history, is growing even today.
These two churches have something in common : their parishioners hail from different cantons and nations, speaking different languages, thereby representing the living Geneva, a city of international import, and Vevey, an ancient international resort town.
We embark on a new stage in the life of our diocese. Our new ruling bishop, His Grace Irenei, faces a new challenge of ruling an expanded Western European Diocese, which now includes Great Britain and Ireland. You appointed me a Vicar Bishop in order to help. I am grateful for the trust you extend to me, and hope that I can help our new bishop in this difficult task. With God’s help, with your prayerful support, I will try with good will and earnestness to answer Vladyka Irenei’s expectations, and work together with him for the good and harmonious future of our parishes within the bosom of the Western European Diocese. Whatever tasks Vladyka Irenei takes up that require my assistance, I will try my best to help our parishes preserve (and for some, rebuild) a communal peace and harmony, a life of intelligent prayer, a life in which universal respect encourages dialog. Such Church life can be the fruit of mutual respect and the good will of each, whether parishioner, pastor or archpastor. Such peace and harmony is necessary, and treasured, in each one of our parishes of our diocese, especially today, when there is a great schism within Orthodoxy. Schism, inthe words of St John Chrysostom, is the greatest of sins, the work of the devil, the divider,who wishes to disassemble the Church of God. The cure for this evil can only be one thing : peace and harmony which must reign supreme in the smallest of cells of the Church—the parishes.
Here I will conclude, since as I said I am a man of few words, and already I think I took up too much of your time. Therefore, I ask you, dear Bishops, your holy blessings, and all of you, dear brothers and sisters, your good prayers.
Epiphany of the Lord 2019
Photos: Alex Romash