PRECIOUS NUGGETS FROM THE LIFE OF HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN LAURUS
On the 10th Anniversary of His Blessed Repose
Protopriest Peter Perekrestov
I recall when I first met Vladyka Laurus. My home parish, the Church of St. Nicholas in Montreal, hosted a meeting of the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad in 1971. 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 Philaret (Voznesensky), Archbishops Anthony (Bartoshevich), Anthony (Medvedev), Averky (Taushev), Bishop Nektary (Kontsevich)…
The Liturgy, with so many bishops concelebrating, impressed 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.
I came to know Vladyka Laurus (at the time, Bishop of Manhattan) when I enrolled at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. Archbishop Averky (Taushev) of Syracuse and Holy Trinity was the abbot then. Vladyka Laurus was a member of the brotherhood but in fact lived in New York City, at the Synod of Bishops. Once a week, on Thursdays, he would drive or take a train to the monastery to teach patristics at the seminary. After Vladyka Averky died in 1976, the brethren unanimously elected Vladyka Laurus as their abbot, and he was transferred--to the great chagrine of the congregants of the Synodal church--to rule the Syracuse-Holy Trinity Diocese. I not only saw Vladyka Laurus every day while a seminarian (when he was there), but I also began serving as subdeacon under him.
He lived at the “skete” – a small two-room house in the forest close to the main monastery building. He always walked there on foot, and lived alone. During the summer he tended to a small garden near the skete, mowed the grass, and shoveled snow in winter.
Every day, even after he became the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, he would rise at 4:30 am, walk to the main monastery cathedral for midnight office, and, as the monks said, would sometimes help light the lampadas. He would then enter the altar, read his commemoration book and kiss the shoulder of the serving hieromonk. He would never don his stole and cuffs to perform proskomedia on those days, when someone else was serving, deeming it improper to participate in Divine Liturgy without having prepared for it.
All the monks and seminarians would go out into the fields to harvest potatoes, and the first there and last to leave was Vladyka Laurus. On the feast days of the Holy Spirit and of St Job of Pochaev, Vladyka Laurus would host a reception at his skete, and everyone was welcome. We seminarians would play volleyball in his yard against a team from the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in nearby Albany.
Recently at a Pastoral Retreat at the Western American Diocese, Protopriest Stefan Pavlenko shared his memories of Vladyka Laurus. He remembered how as a “summer boy” at the monastery, he would help Archimandrite Laurus. Once the future Fr Stefan was summoned by Fr Laurus to help prepare for a big holiday, led him to clean the bathrooms, and instead of just telling him what to do, began washing the toilets himself!
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.” I think that there is no greater praise for a hierarch than being a true monk. Metropolitan Laurus remained just that until his last breath.
Thanks to my service as a subdeacon under Vladyka Laurus, I was able to observe how he conducted divine services, and even accompanied him during his visits to other parishes. I never witnessed him being irritated or upset during service, and he would not allow himself the slightest of offenses. 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. It seemed that he was born to serve in the altar of God.
Vladyka Laurus had a natural way about him during divine services, there was never anything contrived, or “innovative.” He had an unusual nobility and grandeur, yet also a remarkable simplicity. He was very kind and understanding towards us subdeacons, and treated us not as servants but as a father, with love and simplicity.
His day always began with divine services, then he would share breakfast with the other monks in the refectory (as a matter of principle) and if he did not have to teach, he worked in his monastery office, where he also received visitors.
Archbishop Laurus taught patristics, and it is worth noting that he had a brilliant knowledge of the Holy Fathers.
Vladyka Laurus’ office habits were developed while he was Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. He was a good recorder of meeting minutes and a good editor, he often reviewed typeset work at the monastery print shop. Vladyka Laurus always read correspondence himself: he did not use a secretary or screener, and he could never imagine not responding to a letter. In this regard, he was much like St John (Maximovich). Protopriest George Larin, who was an acolyte under Vladyka John in Shanghai, once commented that of all bishops he had even known, Metropolitan Laurus was most like St John.
When Vladyka Laurus traveled to parishes he would take a retinue of five people with him. These would be his chauffeur-protodeacon Father Victor Lochmatow, Archimandrite Sergei (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.
When visiting a parish, we would always spend the night at the home of the priest or a parishioner—at the time, staying at a hotel was out of the question.
It was unheard of for Vladyka Laurus to participate only at Liturgy while visiting a parish. Participating in vigil was an inseparable and necessary part of the parish feast day. Vladyka deemed that a bishop is the father of a parish, and must not only observe how Liturgy is celebrated, but all-night vigil as well. After vigil, there would be a dinner for a small circle—the bishop, clergymen, warden and sometimes the most active parishioners.
On the way to a parish, the prayers before Communion would be read, but on the way back, Vladyka Laurus would either nap or talk about his travels. Fr Sergei also shared his great experiences, and was a great story-teller. I don’t remember anyone ever criticizing anyone during these trips, or even discussing Church problems.
I remember well how Vladyka Laurus and I would arrive at a parish, and if there were a hierarchical greeting before vigil, after venerating the cross and icons, he would go right into the altar for the beginning of service, and he would call one of us subdeacons, take out some money from his pocket and tell us to buy some candles for the feast-day icon. Vladyka Laurus felt obliged to offer a small gift on the feast day of the parish, and understood that if clergymen don’t light candles, how could they ask parishioners to?
I still harbor special memories of the simplicity, warmth and gratitude from these parish trips throughout the small but tightly-knit Diocese of Syracuse and Holy Trinity.
I would like to share one story which reveals the remarkable personality of Metropolitan Laurus. I think it was 1978, as I recall, I was already engaged to be married, which we hoped to do in 1979. Protodeacon Victor Lochmatow suggested that we accompany Vladyka Laurus to the Rochester Parish, since they might have needed me to serve as deacon. As usual, the hierarchal vigil was performed, but afterwards, some of the women (Fr Victor’s wife, my fiancée and others) wanted to go somewhere for a bite to eat and to talk.
They invited the parish priests’ matushka (they had three small children). She asked her husband to stay home with the children, but he said he couldn’t, since he had to prepare for Liturgy. Vladyka Laurus heard this, felt sorry for the matushka and offered his help. Can you imagine? Matushka went to spend some time with the other ladies, the parish rector tended to his work, while a bishop of the Russian Church put three children to bed—he read them stories, prayed with them, and they quietly went to sleep.
We seminarians loved His Eminence Archbishop Laurus, our Rector. We trusted and respected him, we were open and frank with him. Vladyka Laurus was always accessible, always among the brethren and seminarians, we saw him working—wielding power was not in his nature. When we had some troubles, we could talk to Vladyka about them, and he often seemed to see right through us. Just like St John, he loved young people, he took care of us, prayed for us and shared our tribulations. We know of a few times when he would not only help a seminarian morally, but materially, out of his own pocket.
He was always happy when one of us seminarians found a girlfriend, a potential matushka. He would slap us on the shoulder and ask “How are things in Sea Cliff?” if she lived there, for example. As a rule, being a bishop and following the guidance and example of Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory, he did not perform weddings, though there were rare exceptions (when his cell-attendants would marry, or others who begged him).
Vladyka Laurus remained a monk his entire life: his lofty rank did not spoil him, he retained the appearance of a simple monk. This drew people to him, young and old. After his election as First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, nothing changed: he continued to live in his skete in Jordanville, he answered letters, remained just as accessible as before, though his workload multiplied. Vladyka Laurus manifested this genuine spiritual fatherhood not only in word but in action.
Our family considered Vladyka Laurus to be our own bishop: long before becoming a bishop, while traveling between Jordanville and New York City, he would visit the family of my future wife. He tonsured me a reader, ordained me a subdeacon, then to the deaconate and finally priesthood. He ordained my matushka’s father, her brother and my brother. His final ordination, in December, 2007, was my son-in-law, Fr Alexei Pjawka, to the deaconate. Our family treasures a gift he gave me and my matushka, Skaballanovich’s The Typikon Interpreted, which he autographed.
When visiting San Francisco, he always stayed with us (except his last two visits when it was too difficult to climb to the third floor where we live). These visits were always warm and joyous.
We especially remember his visit in 1994, for the canonization of St Innokenty of Moscow and St Nicholas of Japan. After the services, on Sunday evening, our ruling bishop, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) also came to dinner, along with Archbishop Alypy of Chicago. They stayed after dinner, looking at photo albums which included many photographs of the monasteries of Ladomirovo and Jordanville. I still remember the love with which they remembered the monks from those days, their spiritual guides, sharing interesting anecdotes from the period. And I remember their simple cassocks and monastic belts…
A Universal Archpastor.
Metropolitan Laurus, just like Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and St John (Maximovich), was at the same time a Russian bishop and a universal archpastor. He was by nature a Russian archpastor, yet he fervently followed the life of all the Orthodox Churches, rejoicing at their victories, grieving for their problems. The Holy Land and Holy Mt Athos held special places in his heart.
Vladyka Laurus would travel to the Holy Land every other year, taking with him pilgrims, donations, commemoration slips. It can be stated without question that during the difficult years, when there were no large streams of pilgrims to the Holy Land from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, etc, the Russian convents in Gethsemane and the Mt of Olives survived only due to the support of Vladyka Laurus and his pilgrims. Among the pilgrims he led were those who just lived for such trips to the Holy Land. Returning home, they would immediately start saving up money to pay for their next trip, and to donate to the monasteries. They were special people!
Vladyka Laurus had great authority in the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Despite the fact that in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were at odds, the Jerusalem Patriarchate officially adhering to the position of the Moscow Patriarchate, the doors to the churches and altars in the Holy Land were always open to Vladyka Laurus: he was greeted with honor at the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord, allowed to vest and perform the proskomedia upon the Tomb itself inside the Kuvuklia, and partake of the Holy Gifts of Christ together with them.
Vladyka Laurus often traveled to Greece and Mt Athos, and many archpastors, priests, abbots and abbesses of Greek monasteries knew him. He knew and spent time with Elder Nikodim of Karoulia, and he had a remarkable, and important, meeting with the now-canoniczed Elder Porphirios of Kafsokavilia at Transfiguration Monastery in Athens. At that time, the later 1980’s, Elder Porphirios was almost completely blind. Hearing voices, he asked a Greek clergyman who was with Vladyka Laurus: “Pavlos, can you bring this Russian bishop from America over to me?” A witness reports the following: Metropolitan Laurus approached Elder Porphirios, who gazed at him. The elder’s face then began to shine with joy, and he lovingly grabbed Vladyka Laurus by the beard and told him about life at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. Vladyka Laurus, amazed that the Greek elder knew so much in detail, wanted to respond, but couldn’t.
Fr Porphirios then told Vladyka Laurus, then still Archbishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, to try to reestablish relations with the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Laurus told few people about this encounter. One of those who knows the details is Metropolitan Damaskinos of Didymotichon and Orestiada. Metropolitan Laurus told him about the meeting with Elder Porphirios during the former’s visit to Holy Trinity Monastery, and revealed that for many years, he harbored these words of guidance regarding the Church in Russia from Elder Porphirios in his heart.
Thanks to his dedication to the legacy of the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Blessed Metropolitan Anthony, as well as his direct knowledge of Orthodoxy (not only through books and words), including Orthodox life in Russia, Metropolitan Laurus had a clear vision of Church life with all her difficulties and varieties. This breadth, in a good sense of the word, allowed him to make an open and objective analysis of the situation of the Church in Russia, and to embark upon the path of healing the wounds of division within the Russian Church.
The First Hierarch.
It was 2001. The situation within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was dire: there was no unity, no sobornost’ [collegiality]. The First Hierarch, Metropolitan Vitaly, was 91 years old, and was unable to celebrate Divine Liturgy for the third year. He was feeble and forgetful from old age, and finally submitted a request to be retired:
In accordance with my announcement at the last Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 27 June/10 July 2001, I now reiterate before all of you, before the entire Council of Bishops, that I am retiring. And I ask the holy prayers of all of your, brethren archpastors.
I also pray for all of you and now let us pray and beseech the Head Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that He help our Council of Bishops to elect a new president of our much-suffering Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On my part, I call on all of you to unite around our Council's electee and for all of us together to concern ourselves with the reestablishment of peace and unity among us and our flock. Only in unity is our strength and we, with God's help, will be able to resist all the intrigues of our enemies, both seen and unseen. Amen.
At the Council of Bishops on October 24, 2001, for the first time over the history of the Russian Church Abroad, a new First Hierarch was elected in the first round of voting—the will of God was upon Archbishop Laurus. What Vladyka Laurus feared most came to pass, that which he could not escape. During his enthronement, he uttered words from the Gospel of the 11th Sunday after Pascha: “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” And the elect of God, having loved Christ since his youth, receives the cross of the service of First Hierarch.
Metropolitan Laurus began his new service by returning the Church to the path of cooperation and sobornost’, staunchly adhering to the spiritual legacy of Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) regarding the 34th Apostolic Canon as the foundation stone for the relationship of the senior hierarch and his brother archpastors. During meetings of the bishops’ Councils and Synods, all decisions are to be made in the spirit of collegiality and adhering to the rule that if a decision is reached, it is brought to life. The new President would give everyone an opportunity to speak first on a given matter, then have the final word. Such was the practice of Metropolitan Anastassy.
Even in his calling as Primate, Metropolitan Laurus remained the way he always was: simple, accessible, a “people’s bishop” who knew his clergymen and was close to his flock. When he would travel to celebrate feast days in other churches, it was not to “officiate” but to concelebrate with his clerics and parishioners. He did not like being “guest of honor,” and when others would praise him in speeches, he usually bowed his head and read the Jesus Prayer with his beads under the table.
He Seemed To Know Everyone By Name—Russians, Americans, Serbs, Romanians…
Vladyka Laurus never forgot the “little people.” I remember well one moment during the first official trip of a delegation of the Russian Church Abroad to Russia in 2004. Our delegation visited 5 cities in 10 days: Moscow, Ekaterinburg, St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Kursk. We first met with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, and then again on our way back through Moscow. During this meeting (the delegates sat at one table together), His Holiness asked Metropolitan Laurus: “Your Eminence, what are your impressions of this trip?” The first thing that Vladyka Laurus said, turning to a certain deacon (now Priest George Kirindas, standing against the wall some distance away, was “Oh, how much poor Fr George has had to endure, how he’s suffered!” Fr George was head of the Protocol Department of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate who accompanied our delegation everywhere and resolved all logistical problems. Vladyka Laurus felt sorry for this “little person,” sympathized with him and was grateful.
I remember how in May, 2007, a large delegation of archpastors, clergymen and parishioners of the Church Abroad, and the expanded Synodal Cathedral Choir, traveled on a plane together with Metropolitan Laurus to Moscow for the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, and the first joint Divine Liturgy of a united Local Russian Orthodox Church to be celebrated after 80 years of division. Vladyka walked down the aisles, smiling warmly, talking to each traveler. He seemed to know everyone by name—Russians, Americans, Serbs, Romanians, Czechs and Greeks. This reflected the Gospel words about the relationship between a shepherd and his flock, that he must know every sheep by name. That was our Vladyka Laurus!
Warrior for Church Unity.
The seeds of service to Russia and to ecclesiastical unity sown by Vladyka Vitaly (Maximenko) settled deep in the heart of Novice Vasily (the future Metropolitan Laurus), and never left him throughout his life.
Having recently visited Russia, I got to know the family of a venerated and eminent protopriest. A member of this family told me that their father would tell his children: “Never criticize America: even in the worst years of spiritual famine, it was from America that help came in the form of religious literature, and for this we must be eternally grateful.”
The literature in question was primarily that which came from the monastery in Jordanville, a constant stream, by any means possible, free of charge and to the glory of God. It is difficult to say how many pleas came for such material in the early 1980’s-early 1990’s! Archbishop Laurus, despite the great expense, never refused anyone. He would say that these books would contribute to the renascence of the Church, that our duty was to help the suffering and spiritually-starved Russian people. At that time, these books were read and re-read to tatters.
When Vladyka Laurus became the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad—and this was during the years when there were great changes in Church life in Russia taking place: the canonization of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and the Royal Passion-Bearers; the adoption of the Social Concepts; the denunciation of the ecumenical theory of the branches and in fact rejecting ecclesiastical subjugation to the state; the flourishing of the publication of religious literature—he could not ignore these changes, he could not only love the past, but, in accordance with God’s will, to apply love to the present, the very moment in time where the Lord placed us.
Vladyka Metropolitan was already older, and his strength was waning. The most difficult part, it seems to me, about restoring Church unity was the inner turmoil and recognition of the duty he carries before God, before his flock and before the Russian people. This physically-weakened elder performed an heroic feat which demanded impossible spiritual power. Despite the seeming futility, Vladyka Laurus fulfilled the last task that God had set before him.
The Final Days.
In September, 2007, the “Reigning” Icon of the Mother of God visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, accompanied by a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Onouphry (now the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate). During a procession of the cross after Liturgy, passing by a “double” crypt (where Metropolitan Laurus’ former spiritual father, Archimandrite Kyprian [Pyzhov] was interred), Vladyka Laurus turned to Vladyka Onouphry, and, pointing to the crypt, said “There’s my hut.”
Six months later, on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, March 16, 2008, the fifth Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, died. News of his repose flashed like lightning not only throughout the Russian Church Abroad and Russia, but the entire Orthodox world.
His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II sent His Eminence Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomensk to represent the fullness of the Russian Church to see the newly-reposed Primate on his final journey. At the first open pannikhida over the casket of Vladyka Laurus, Metropolitan Yuvenaly said the following astounding words: “I have been at the funerals of many bishops and important officials, but the sorrow that I witness today in Russia over the death of Metropolitan Laurus I have never seen before.” The atmosphere at the funeral of Vladyka Laurus reminded me of what I had read from witnesses of the funeral of Holy Patriarch Tikhon: great sorrow, meekness and spiritual unity.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, we of course mourn that he is no longer among us, but at the same time we rejoice and thank God that he was with us at all.
San Francisco, CA.
March 16, 2018