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“The Goal of the Russian Church Abroad Was to Preserve Church Traditions” 

 

Dr Cyril Erastovich Geacintov is President of DRG International, Inc, of Mountainside, NJ, and the President of the Russian Nobility Association in America. He was educated in France and Austria, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and studied the technology of paper production; he also has a Doctorate in Physical Chemistry from Syracuse University, SUNY. From 1953-1955, he served in the US Army Corps of Engineers. Dr Geacintov is fluent in English, Russian, German and French and often lectures in the US and abroad on international entrepreneurship.

In 1970, Dr Geacintov founded DRG International, Inc, which now has offices worldwide. DRG specializes in high-tech medical and diagnostic equipment used in the health industries of many countries.

His first visit to Russia (Soviet Union) was in 1966. Soon afterward, he organized the very first exhibition in the USSR of Western medical equipment in Sokolniki Park, Moscow. DRG International subsequently expanded its work in Russia by opening offices in St Petersburg and Moscow.

In 1974, Cyril Erastovich, as a result of his successes in developing trade with Eastern Europe, was offered the position of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce at the US Commerce Department and Director of the Bureau of East-West Trade.

Since 2001, Dr Geacintov is President of the Russian Nobility Association in America, an organization which helps children, seniors and other needy people in Russia and other countries where elderly Russians and their descendants live. Also, Dr Geacintov is one of the leaders of other organizations such as the Russian Children’s Welfare Society and Tolstoy Foundation Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

Dr Geacintov is a director of the Board of Directors of the Council for Trade & Economic Cooperation and also an active member of the New York Academy of Science, the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the American Association of Clinical Chemistry and the Regional Export Council of New Jersey, one of the divisions of the US Ministry of Commerce.

In 2004, the benevolent organization “Step to Health” was created through the active support of DRG and Dr Geacintov, the goal of which is to diagnose and correct psycho-neurological disorders in children in St Petersburg. Professional diagnostic equipment was purchased and medical examinations commenced. 

Our interview with Cyril Erastovich Geacintov covers his family, the work of the Russian Nobility Association in America and his views on contemporary Church life in Russia. 
 

– Cyril Erastovich, your ancestors were clergymen of the Ryazan Diocese who were later awarded nobility. How did they serve the Russian Empire, and how did they react to the catastrophe of 1917?

– Yes, indeed, the Geacintov family has roots in the clerical service. As I understand, in 1603, when surnames began to be added to names and patronymics, the church school gave a number of its students the names of flowers (including Geacintov [from the Russian word for hyacinth—transl.]) others were given animal names (Volkov [wolf], Zaitsev [hare]), or where they were from (Moskvin, Kalugin).

The descendants of the first Geacintov priests entered into civil service, and were granted hereditary nobility. They finished military schools and served as officers in the Caucasus, Crimea and many other places.

Along our maternal line, we are related to the boyar family Shubin, the noble family of Izmailov (from Tatar princes). One of the Izmailovs participated in the conquest of Kazan under Tsar Ivan Vasilievich Grozny (whose was later beheaded). One of his descendants was General en Chief Izmailov, who remained loyal to Emperor Peter III and for that reason was exiled by Catherine the Great to his estate. One of my great-grandfathers, Mazarakiy, was a descendant of one of the very ancient noble families. He was an officer who saw action, having participated in the capture of Kars.

My grandfather, Nikolai Egorovich Geacintov, born in 1856, graduated Moscow University with a Master’s degree in political economics, and went on to receive his doctorate. He served in the Finance Ministry of the Russian Empire and was the Finance Director of Railroads and Communications during the construction of the Trans-Siberian and other railroads.

My grandfather was awarded the rank of Government Counselor General at a fairly young age. He received the 3rd Order of St Vladimir, the 1st Order of St Stanislav and the 1st Order of St Anna, which was very unusual for government employees. My father always remembered that although he had his own railcar, whenever his children traveled with him, he made them buy their own first-class tickets. They would ask “why must we buy tickets? No one boarding this train car, it is empty,” and grandfather would reply: “I am on duty, but you are on a trip, so you must pay.” This was one of the character traits of the people of the time. There were all kinds of people, of course, but most of these people had a firm faith: that one must serve the Tsar and Fatherland, not one’s own pocket, as we see everywhere today, including the United States.

The 1917 Revolution, of course, led to the total collapse of the Russian Empire, and of the Geacintov family, which lived in Tsarskoye Selo and in St Petersburg. Many of the family’s sons fought: first in the Russian Imperial Army, then in the White Army and the Navy, and, having lost all their property, found themselves abroad: first in Constantinople, then they made their way to the protection of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, in Serbia, Croatia and other parts of that nation.

– Your father, Erast Nikolaevich Geacintov, was a hero in World War I, he fought in the ranks of the White Army, but was then forced into exile, where he found his final resting place in Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. Please tell us about your father.

– My father was born in Tsarskoye Selo in 1894, he lived in St Petersburg, then studied at Nikolaevsky Cadet Corps opposite Mariinsky Theater. He then enrolled in Konstantinovsky Artillery School, this was one of the oldest military schools of Russia.

What I remember most profoundly of my father will always be his honesty, his devotion to his Russian roots and the oath he made to Emperor Nicholas II on June 24, 1914, upon graduating from Artillery School.

After three years of war on the German and Austrian fronts in the Imperial Artillery Army, my father then served in the White Army under General Denikin and General Wrangel, fighting the Red Army for another three years.

My father was one of the first to fight the revolutionaries in the fall of 1917. When the 181st Ostrolensky Regiment, which was known for its boisterousness, attempted to abandoned their positions, he gave the order to fire shrapnel at them. Seeing this decisiveness, the other regiments of the rebelling division submitted to their officers and returned to their positions. Had the leadership at the time acted more decisively, the civil catastrophe of 1917 may have been avoided.

My father joined the Volunteer Army in September 1918: he joined the 2nd Battery of the 1st Light Artillery Division; from February 1919 in the armed train General Kornilov; from August 1919, he was the head of communications and command of the mounted scouts of the 2nd Division of the Markovsky Artillery Brigade, where he stayed until the evacuation of Crimea. By then, he was a Lieutenant Colonel.

In the end, Erast Nikolaevich and other soldiers of the White Army were evacuated from Crimea to Constantinople, where they were placed in an impossible situation by the French: they were forced, together with the rank and file, to enlist in the Foreign Legion, where all the Russian military servicemen, regardless of rank, had to serve as simple soldiers under French sergeants. His life in the French Legion is described in the book Zapiski belogo ofitsera [“Notes of a White Officer”] published in St Petersburg in 1991; a new edition will be published in New York soon.

Having served in the military for some 10 years in total, Erast Nikolaevich decided to make his way to Prague, where, in the early 1920s, there was a large contingent of the Russian intelligentsia, including professors and scholars. My father enrolled in Prague University, where he received a diploma in chemical engineering. Erast Nikolaevich spoke fluent French, and always hoped to return to his Homeland in order to continue to fight communism, he did not wish to go far from Russia. In 1927, he married my mother, Zoya Sergeevna Martynova. After some time, he moved to the south of France. As soon as the family settled in, a new war began.

After the German Wehrmacht seized control of France, the entire family was sent to a labor camp in Germany in 1943. Our family remained in Germany until 1951, then we emigrated to America.

Because of my father’s age, it was difficult for him to find work in the US, but with time, everything took care of itself. Erast Nikolaevich also served as warden and treasurer in the Russian Church in Syracuse, NY.

– What was your life in the emigration like?

– I was 21 when we arrived in the US. Fourteen months after arriving here, I was drafted into the service: the Korean War had begun.

Living abroad, we were always convinced that the emigration is a temporary one; practically nobody sought citizenship in the countries they lived in. My father only became an American citizen near the end of his life. The lawyer said to him: “Mr Geacintov, we respect the traditions of your country, your culture, so you can bring the wealth of your national culture here, to America.”  The bitterness of our vain hopes stayed with generations of Russian emigres. My father wished to visit his cousin, my aunt, Sofia Vladimirovna Geacintova, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. They never again saw each other. No one expected communism to endure for so long.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was established in order to help Russians survive the emigration, to preserve the Church and return her to an emancipated Homeland. My father was a church warden, my mother was also a great believer, she sang in the church choir, and brought me in as well. What was all of this for? In order to retain Orthodox Christianity and our own national traditions. They thought that the Church Abroad was a temporary thing, while the exile lasted, but that as soon as Russian would be free, the Church would return to the Homeland.

For me, who began to travel to the Soviet Union back in 1966, it is difficult to grasp how, despite the communist state, the repressions and destruction of everything connected to Orthodoxy, the Russians were able to preserve the Church in Russia. I remember the swimming pool on the site of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I often drove past it, and one time I suddenly noticed a fence around it. “What is this for?” I asked. “We are going to build a church here!” Then I was invited to see how they were building the cathedral. I was invited to ascend to the cupola; the workers were in the process of gilding it at the time. Just like the Russians—no safety measures. We walked out on the scaffolding planks, everything was rocking, held together by some rope, you hold on to the wall so as not to fall off…

And again: I’m strolling along Red Square and see another church was rebuilt… 

– What did the Russian Church Abroad represent to you and your family?

– The Russian Church Abroad was always the center of life for Russian Orthodox and other emigres from Russia.

– Do you have your own parish where you attend services?

– My wife and I attend services at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign at the Synod of Bishops, on 93rd Street in Manhattan.

– Do your children maintain Russian traditions and church life?

– My children continue the Russian traditions. They were both baptized and married in the Russian Church, and I am very proud that my daughter Elizabeth has three Orthodox sons, who even speak and read Russian.

– What was your opinion of the reestablishment of unity in the Russian Orthodox Church?

– I support the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church. As everyone knows, there are a great many religious organizations, and for us Russians, creating another one would have been wrong and would have led to losses in the future.

– In recent years, you head the oldest Russian emigre organization—the Russian Nobility Association in America, having taken over for Prince Alexei Pavlovich Scherbatoff. What does the organization do?

– The Nobility Association in America was created in 1938. Similar organizations exist in Belgium, France and other countries. It is my great pleasure that for over 70 years, the organization remains and observes and tries to preserve the traditions of Russian nobility, sensing the responsibility to help the poor, the orphaned, the sick and other Russians, both abroad and now also in the Russian Federation itself.

Our other social challenge is, of course, to preserve Russian traditions, restore genealogical ties to the extent possible, and to further preserve the traditions of the nobility and be of use to those who cannot help themselves.

We do a lot of charitable work. Once a year we hold the Nobility Ball in New York. The money we raise ($40-50,000) is spent on philanthropy. Prince Obolensky directs our finances. We distribute money collected in interest for the year. We support a home for children with mental disorders in St Petersburg. The Nobility Association in America supported the Museum of the Romanov Dynasty in Moscow. We also support a number of pensioners of noble birth in Russia and Argentina. Not everyone was able to achieve material comfort in life. After all the misfortunes and deprivations, many were left in poverty in their old age. We help them. The Nobility Association also supports Russian children with heart ailments. We pay for their operations in the proper clinics. We traditionally donate money to Russian scout groups, organizations which were established in the 1920’s.

Prince Scherbatoff recommended me to the Association, and I was elected to replace him. We always remained friends and colleagues.

I greatly esteemed Prince Alexei Pavlovich, who was a real member of the Russian intelligentsia, with great historical knowledge of the Russian Empire. He will always remain in my mind a good and kind person.

– You often visit your historic homeland. What is your view on the rebirth of spiritual life in Russia? What is most surprising to you?

– I am profoundly surprised and amazed that the persecution of the Orthodox Church from the 1920’s to the 1980’s, every effort made to destroy and ravage Orthodox tradition in Russia, did not succeed.

Today, when I go to Russia, I see that many Russians are coming to Orthodoxy, from Vladimir Putin to common people living in Siberian villages.

I am also surprised that church singing traditions have remained intact.

The goal of the Russian Church Abroad was always to preserve church traditions and rituals, but I am very surprised now to understand that these traditions were also preserved in Russia despite the expulsion of millions of her people.

Interviewed by Mikhail Kiselev