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On the 40th day of the repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus: “If then ye are My friends, ye will do as I do”

Today, on Great and Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the Mystical Supper during which our Lord washed the feet of His disciples and established the Mystery of Communion. Today is the fortieth day of the repose of Metropolitan Laurus.

Instead of commencing by saying “How shall I begin to weep?” perhaps I should say “How shall I begin to write?” On the one hand, Passion Week is so holy, so Christ-centered, that during its services we set aside all remembrances of the saints which fall on these days. The Church calls us to lay aside all cares and devote each minute to following our Lord. On the other hand, there is much during the last days of our Savior that is concerned with people – His disciples, His friends, those who sought Him and desired to be with Him: Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany; the apostles at the Mystical Supper; the harlot who anointed His head and feet; Simon of Cyrene on the way of the Cross; the Good Thief on Golgotha; Joseph, Nicodemus, and the Myrrh-bearing Women at the tomb; and other followers of Christ.

“Follow then the example that ye have seen in Me”
(Canon at Matins of Holy Thursday, 6th ode, 1st troparion)

The newly reposed Metropolitan Laurus was a true follower of Christ – in his life, his participation in the services of the Orthodox Church, and in his faith. Thus it seems appropriate and necessary to dedicate a few words to him on this day, the fortieth day of his repose; especially because, with the Lord, nothing happens by chance, including the fact that He called to Himself his faithful servant Metropolitan Laurus on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and that the fortieth day of the newly reposed coincides with Holy Thursday.

Next to the Savior at the Mystical Supper sat his favorite disciple, the apostle John. Christ favored him particularly, I believe, for his purity and chastity. Metropolitan Laurus loved the Lord from his youth, loved Him with his whole heart, with his entire being. At the age of 11 he entered the brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev in Ladomirovo and dedicated himself to God. He preserved the purity of his heart throughout his entire life. Someone writing in Russia has noted the following feature of Vladyka’s character: “No one who has met Vladyka Laurus even once will ever forget the look of his kind eyes, which, despite Vladyka’s advanced age remained that of a God-fearing child. He truly was this child of the Gospel, who in a childlike manner did not fear to admit his weakness, yet precisely because of this was able to rise above it.”

I recall when I first met Vladyka Laurus. In 1971 my home parish, the Church of St. Nicholas, Montreal, hosted a meeting of the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad. My brother and I served as altar boys during this Sobor and were very impressed by the great number of bishops who were present. Among them were pillars of Orthodoxy, ascetics and theologians: metropolitan Filaret (Voznesensky), archbishops Anthony (Bartoshevich), Anthony (Medvedev), Averky (Taushev), bishop Nektary (Kontsevich)… The liturgy, with so many bishops concelebrating, affected us greatly, and we shared our impressions with our grandmother. She decided to invite as many of the participating bishops as were willing to come to her house for dinner. There were seven or eight bishops at the table. They talked animatedly, recounting incidents from their lives and expressing their opinions on different matters. But one bishop stood out from the rest. He sat quietly at the table, listened, smiled, but did not say a word. This was the youngest of the bishops, Bishop Laurus. Later in the evening, my brother and I, together with the subdeacons who were accompanying the bishops, went into the living room while the bishops continued their conversation with my grandparents in the dining room. To our great surprise, Bishop Laurus came to the living room and began to talk to us, to inquire about our lives. We were very moved by the fact that a bishop approached us and wanted to speak with us.

A year later I visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville for the first time. I had never considered studying at a seminary or serving the Church in the capacity of a priest, but my first visit to this holy monastery changed everything. When I returned to Canada, I completely stopped watching television (I had been a TV addict) and decided to spend that summer at Jordanville. After two months of monastery life, I made a firm decision to enter the seminary. It is at the seminary that I became close to Vladyka Laurus.

“Let the first among you be the last; let the master be like the servant”
(Aposticha, “Now and ever” at Matins of Great and Holy Thursday)

Every Jordanville seminarian can attest to the fact that Vladyka Laurus had a beneficial influence on young souls. He cared about us, was very accessible, kind and simple. He was extremely reverent at services and exuded an inner purity. He did not teach with words, but with actions. Vladyka never missed any of the monastic services, beginning with Nocturns at 5:00 AM. He lived at the “skete” – a small two-room house in the forest close to the main monastery building. He ate with the brotherhood, never demanding any special meals. Vladyka never shrank from any monastic obedience, even as a bishop. He was the first to be out in the fields harvesting potatoes...

Metropolitan Juvenal of Kolomna and Krutitsa, who presided at the funeral of Metropolitan Laurus, in his eulogy said the following: “Since arriving in the monastery yesterday, many times I have heard those who served here, labored here, and prayed here, say with tears in their eyes, 'We have lost our father.' This is probably the dearest praise of Metropolitan Laurus'. He is spoken of as a father, who with quiet words and a loving heart warmed everyone, and who had love for all.” Yes, for us seminarians Vladyka Laurus was a true father, a loving father.

I liked to serve in the altar and while at seminary I soon began to fulfill the function of subdeacon at hierarchal services both at the monastery and during Archbishop Laurus’ archpastoral visits to the parishes of the Syracuse-Holy Trinity Diocese. I would like to note Vladyka Laurus’ reverence at Divine services. He would not allow any small talk in the altar, any laughter or any conversations not relating to the service. He was a great admirer of the Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) and in many aspects followed his liturgical practices. Vladyka Anastassy never reprimanded clergy in the altar during services. He would call them into the side room after the service and quietly explain to them the proper order of things. When Metropolitan Anastassy was the Bishop of Serpukhov (Vicar of the Moscow Diocese) he often conducted services at Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral and knew the liturgical customs of this church very well. Vladyka Laurus inherited from Metropolitan Anastassy his practice of pontifical service. I should note that Metropolitan Laurus served in an aristocratic manner. He was calm and focused; his movements were reverent, natural, and noble, without a trace of anything fake or exalted. It seemed that he was born to serve in the altar of God.

When Vladyka Laurus traveled to parishes he would take a retinue of five people with him. These would be his chauffer-protodeacon Father Victor Lochmatow, Archimandrite Serge (Romberg, an expert in church rubrics) and two subdeacons. As soon as we left the monastery, Vladyka Laurus would bless the reading of the Rule Before Communion. Archimandrite Serge and the two subdeacons would read the three canons and Vladyka Laurus – the Akathist. Thus, almost the entire trip would be accompanied by prayer in preparation for the upcoming Vigil and festal pontifical Liturgy.

I remember an incident during one of these parish visits that characterizes Vladyka Laurus well. Following the Vigil, a dinner was served at the parish parsonage. Vladyka Laurus was staying at the parsonage (in fact, during my four years at the seminary and numerous parish visits I do not recall one instance where Vladyka would stay in a hotel). In addition to Vladyka Laurus, his entourage, the parish priest and members of the Parish Council, there were also a number of clergy wives and friends of the parish matushka present at the dinner. After dinner these old friends wanted to spend some more time together and invited Matushka to join them. The parish priest’s three small children could not be left without supervision and, since the priest had to prepare for the Liturgy, it seemed Matushka would have to remain with them. Then Vladyka Laurus proposed the following: let Father prepare for the upcoming service while Matushka spends time with her old friends –and he himself will look after the children. And that is just what Vladyka did: he stayed with the children, played with them, read to them and then put them to bed! He who wants to be first, let him be a servant to all.

At Vladyka Laurus’ installation as the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 2001, Bishop Evtikhy (Kurochkin) called Vladyka “chief novice of the Russian Church Abroad.” From the time Vladyka Laurus entered the monastery he never declined any obedience. He reposed “manning his post,” in obedience, after conducting all the services of the first week of Great Lent.

His greatest obedience was to head the Russian Church Abroad following a very difficult period of her existence, at a time when great changes had taken place in Russia, including Church life there. Metropolitan Laurus was formed by the “old” Russian Church Abroad and knew very well what her path was meant to be, especially in regards to Russia, which he loved dearly. I recall that in the beginning of the nineties the Holy Trinity Monastery, with the support of the St. John of Kronstadt Memorial Fund, republished Professor Zizikin’s monumental work on Patriarch Nikon. When I asked Vladyka Laurus who is going to read such a voluminous work, he replied: “This is for future Russia.”

“Winter is cruel, but paradise is sweet”
(From the sticheron for the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia, which were sung at Vespers on the day of Metropolitan Laurus’ funeral)

After Metropolitan Laurus’ repose on March 16, 2008, Bishop Evtikhy of Domodedovo relayed the following to me: at the end of February, 2008 he celebrated Liturgy with Metropolitan Laurus at the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow. After the Liturgy, Metropolitan Laurus said to him: “Well, this is the last time you and I will have served together.” Vladyka Evtikhy tried to object and replied that only God knows these things and there will likely me more than one service together in the future. The Metropolitan answered: “Yes, of course, God knows such things, but nevertheless, this is the last time.”

Many photographs of Metropolitan Laurus’ last visit to Russia (in February 2008) were posted on numerous Internet sites. My matushka remarked that, as a rule, everyone who is next to Metropolitan Laurus in the photographs is smiling. Such is the influence of a true monk with a loving heart, the power of one whose actions correspond to his words.

When Matushka and I found out about Vladyka Laurus’ repose, we (as well as almost all the clergy of the Western American Diocese who had received their theological and pastoral formation at the Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville) immediately made plans to fly out for the funeral of our lord and father. We arrived at Holy Trinity Monastery on Wednesday, March 19, a little before the beginning of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. Before entering the cathedral I was seized by a sort of fear: is it really true that Vladyka is no longer with us? How will I be able to look at him, lifeless, “bereft of form”? But as soon as I saw Vladyka Laurus’ hands, I felt a sense of peace, albeit a sorrowful one. Vladyka had amazingly noble hands, with delicate and beautiful fingers. It wasn’t possible to mistake his hands for anyone else’s and when I saw them, the desire that I had had to see his face disappeared at once.

I then understood why there is a custom in the Russian Orthodox Church to cover the face of deceased clergy: the flock should remember the living face of their spiritual guides. While the deceased clergyman’s face may be peaceful, his eyes and lips no longer have life. The hands of the server of the Altar, though, are mystical in nature. Physically it is the blessing and comforting hands of priests and bishops that we make the most physical contact with. It is precisely with their hands that they consecrate the Holy Gifts, bless icons and our homes, offer us the Holy Mysteries, bestow God’s blessing upon us, and it is with their hands that bishops ordain to the diaconate and priesthood. Thus, having seen the hands of the reposed Metropolitan Laurus, I saw what had been most important in his life: his service at our Lord’s Altar. Apostolic succession, including the grace of the priesthood, were preserved and passed on by Metropolitan Laurus through his hands.

An endless stream of flowers was constantly being brought to the coffin of Metropolitan Laurus, but due to lack of space, they were set to the side and only one wreath remained – flowers from His Holiness Patriarch Alexey of Moscow and All Russia, and, in his person, from the entire Russian Church.

Then the monastics from Jerusalem arrived and put a olive branch from the Holy Land into Vladika Laurus’ hands. This was so moving and so appropriate: Vladika Laurus loved the Holy Land dearly and organized pilgrimages there almost annually. At the same time an olive branch is a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Metropolitan Laurus had fulfilled the main obedience of his life – he had brought to a conclusion the process of reconciliation in the Russian Church, and had done everything in his power to reconcile the two parts of the now united Church.

The day of Metropolitan Laurus’ funeral, Friday, March 21, was very cold. There was a strong wind and the blowing snow was blinding. It seemed that the severe winter weather would present an obstacle to those people who were traveling to attend the funeral service. But the weather was unable to prevent those who loved Vladika Laurus from coming. Clergy and laity from Russia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the Holy Land flew to the US to attend the funeral. Families drove by car for 7-14 hours in severe winter conditions from Maine, Florida, Missouri and other states...

Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomna provided great moral and prayerful support to all those present by presiding at the funeral service. I don’t know how we would have able to handle the loss of Metropolitan Laurus without the support, love and prayers of the Church in Russia, in the person of its representatives Metropolitans Juvenaly and Onuphry (of Chernovitsa and Bukovina) and representatives of the Local Churches – Serbian, Antiochian and American. Metropolitan Juvenaly began his address before the memorial litya with the following words: “Love and sorrow have brought me to this holy place today; love for Vladyka Laurus, and sorrow over his departure from us.” He then continued, saying that in his life he had participated in the burial of many Church leaders, hierarchs, pastors, and laymen (Metropolitan Juvenal was consecrated bishop in 1965), but never has he seen Russia gripped by such a public display of grief as today. He was amazed that not only Orthodox Christians, not only presidents, governors, civil servants, but even adherents of other religions expressed their condolences, marveling at what kind of man has departed from us.

Many feelings, emotions and much love were expressed at the funeral service. On the one hand there were sorrow, sighing, tears, a sense of loss: winter is cruel; and, on the other hand, a sense of peace, joy, incredible unity, love, oneness of heart and mind were prevalent: paradise is sweet. All these feelings were mixed: at one moment some of the faithful would remember Vladika, his gentle smile, the twinkle in his eyes, his kindness and a faint smile would appear on their faces; at the same time someone else would begin to cry and weep, and the hand holding the lit candle to tremble. The sense of spiritual triumph at the funeral service stemmed from the fact that there was no doubt that Vladika Laurus is in the tabernacles of the righteous. At the funeral, Metropolitan Laurus’ spiritual stature was revealed in its full glory; the power of his love, his modesty, obedience, faithfulness to the end, humility, gentleness and quietness prevailed.

Today is Great and Holy Thursday. Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ for the greatest of gifts – for having given us unworthy ones His Body and Blood. This year, for the first time in 80 years, all children of the newly-reunited Russian Church have the opportunity to commune with one mouth and one heart from Christ’s common cup on this day when the sacrament of the Eucharist was established by our Lord. Christ is in our midst and nourishes us with his Body and Blood. In a few hours our Lord Jesus Christ will be praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (the High Priestly Prayer). At the heart of this prayer is the entreaty for unity among Christ’s disciples: “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17, 21). Today is the fortieth day since the repose of that quiet and humble follower of Christ, Metropolitan Laurus, thanks to whom such unity—at least in the Russian Church—became possible.

Protopriest Peter PEREKRESTOV
Holy Thursday
San Francisco, 2008

Translated from the Russian by Rev Peter and E. Perekrestov.