"FOR THE SAKE OF UNITING ALL"
His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus Grants an Interview to Pravoslavnaya Moskva
From the Editors: The Church of Great Martyr Catherine at Vspolie is the Moscow branch of the Orthodox Church in America. Its clergymen and parishioners recently welcomed an important entourage: at the invitation of the church Rector, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, visited the church. Accompanying him were His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany; His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan, Vicar Bishop of the Diocese of Eastern America and New York; His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland, Administrator of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America; and Protopriest Serafim Gan, Personal Secretary of Metropolitan Laurus.
Every Wednesday, a moleben is served to St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and this was the day the delegation visited St Catherine's Church. The delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia participated in this service. Together with numerous parishioners of the church, the ROCOR bishops prayed to the Most-Holy Mother of God, St John and St Catherine. Bishop Peter headed the service. This was providential: Vladyka Peter personally knew Archbishop John (Maximovich), having been an acolyte under him, and who often helped him in his archpastoral travels.
After the moleben, the OCA's Moscow representative welcomed the delegation of the Church Abroad. Addressing Vladyka Metropolitan Laurus, Fr Zacchaeus said:
"The Lord has placed Your Eminence at the helm of the Russian Church Abroad in a difficult moment, but you were able to steer the ship of the Church successfully on the way to the reestablishment of ecclesiastical unity, stoking within your flock the spirit of peace and love. We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you in your further labors for the good of the Orthodox Church."
Fr Zacchaeus then gave His Eminence an icon of the "Lamb of God" in prayerful memory of the joint service within the walls of St Catherine's.
At the end of the service, a correspondent from the newspaper Pravoslavnaya Moskva [Orthodox Moscow] A. Khludentsov asked the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia several questions.
- Your Eminence, what sort of emotions have you sensed among the Orthodox believers after the historic reunification of the Church?
- Many people, both in Russia and abroad, are truly rejoicing over this. I have been approached by many faithful with words of gratitude, who wished to share their joy. I even witnessed tears in their eyes, tears of joy. I have received many letters from all over, including Russia. I was especially pleased and even touched by this sort of reaction from average people in Moscow, Kiev and Kursk. As far as the believers of America, they not only write to me, they call me on the phone. They thank me for the happiness they experience since the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Last May, right after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia traveled throughout Russia and Ukraine. We visited Kursk, then we went to venerate the holy relics of Pochaev. Simple believers came up to us everywhere, they yearned to share their elation that we are now the flock of one Russian Orthodox Church, that we have regained each other once again.
I have said many times, and I will continue to say: the closer we are to God, the closer we are to each other. That is, I feel, the path to spiritual unity of the peoples of our Fatherland. Traveling upon this road, we will truly participate in the great deed of “unifying all.”
- As the day of the signing of that historic document approached, the press reported pessimism among some that alleged that many parishes of the Russian Church Abroad will join the a schismatic jurisdiction. They even gave a figure of 20 percent. Were these estimates accurate?
- I don't think so. Some people, indeed, joined schismatic organizations, but not that many. There has not been a mass exodus from our Church. Most of our believers have calmly and even enthusiastically accepted the historical fact of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. Moreover, the events that developed afterwards do not give reason to worry: our relationship is progressing in the spirit of love and peace: we retained our former independence, no one has made any claims on our property—people see the good fruits of our communion, and this is the main result of our unity.
- What events since the signing of the Act seem to you the most important?
- I especially remember the divine services at the place they call the “Russian Golgotha” on Butovo Field. As you know, on May 19 of last year, as part of the celebrations of the signing of the Act, a church built on the grounds of the former NKVD field in Butovo was consecrated in the name of the Resurrection of Christ and the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II consecrated the center altar of the upper church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, while I blessed the left altar dedicated to St Tikhon the Patriarch.
Also taking part in these celebrations were members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
I remember also the day, May 15, 2004, when we laid the foundations of this church. There, the members of the delegation of the Russian Church Abroad prayed at Divine Liturgy for the first time serve in the Patriarchal rite. After the services, conducted under the open sky, the foundation was laid.
I also recall our joint services in Kiev, at Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra. After visiting the holy places of Russia, we returned home to America. There we welcomed a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We were visited by clergymen, along with the singers of Sretensky Monastery Choir. Our believers were able to pray together with their brethren and sisters from Russia and venerate the Miraculous “Reigning” Icon of the Mother of God, which was brought from Moscow.
- This is not your first visit to Russia. What changes in our country have surprised or disappointed you?
- The first time I visited Russia was in 1993, and I have come here several times since then. Even then I noticed that religious life in the country is changing: destroyed churches were being rebuilt and new churches were being erected, more and more people were coming to the houses of God. I was very gladdened by that.
Many believers from our parishes plan on traveling to Russia and the often ask me: what do I recommend they see first? I tell them that without fail, they must go to Ekaterinburg and pray at the Savior-on-the-Blood Church of All Russian Saints. It was built in 2000-2003 on the very site where, on the night of July 16-17, 1918, the Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his Family were shot. Its consecration took place five years ago, on July 16. I feel that it is the great achievement of Archbishop Vikenty of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk that this grandiose memorial church was built. Vladyka was able to unite the Orthodox flock around this God-pleasing effort, the construction of such a splendid cathedral.
The creation of such grand churches yet again confirms the fact that Russia is changing, that the Russian people is returning to the faith of their fathers.
- Your Eminence, will the Orthodox Christians of Russia have the opportunity to pray before the miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, which is kept at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York?
- You know, of course, the enormous spiritual value that this icon has for the Orthodox believers of the Russian Diaspora. It is the main holy icon of the Church Abroad, it is their Hodigitria [Protectress]. The Prior of the Kursk-Root Hermitage called this a “icon of the world,” because it has visited every corner of the earth, wherever Russians were in the difficult years of persecution. That is why there is not even any discussion of handing it over to Russia. Now, in Kursk, they have begun to restore the church devoted to this icon of the Queen of Heaven, which was destroyed under the communists. If the Lord allows it, one of our bishops will attend the consecration of the church. And maybe he will bring this miracle-working icon for veneration by the Orthodox believers of Russia. But again, if God wills, for all this is in the Lord's hands.
- Vladyka, this year, the newspaper Pravoslavnaya Moskva celebrates its 15 th year. What would you wish its staff and our many readers?
- I extend my profound congratulations on your anniversary. Many people need truthful information on the life of the Orthodox Church, and you provide this news. Orthodox Christians must keep abreast of church events, and you provide the means: they learn how our brothers and sisters in Christ live. I wish you strength and good health to continue to work tirelessly in this harvest field. May God help you!