Orthodox America


  MEMOIRS Archimandrite Nektary (Chernobyl)


(Continued from Orthodox America, 155-156)

 In the Russian Church Abroad Meanwhile, the Red Army was approaching Peremysl. What to do? I decided that I would leave the city and live in the forest; that was better than falling again into the hands of the Bolsheviks.

A peasant suggested that I go with him to Czechoslovakia, which at that time was a part of the German Reich. We succeeded in crossing the border, and found ourselves in a camp for "Ostebeiders," Russian workers. People at the camp were being recruited for work in Pressburg (Bratislava). I signed up, and that saved my life, for no sooner had I left than the camp was besieged by Red partisans.

In Bratislava I worked at first on an assembly line together with other "Osts." Later I was able to find work in a watch repair shop located in the city center.

One day I was walking along the street, when I saw two Russian monks. Running, I caught up with them and asked where they were from. They replied that they were from the Russian Church Abroad. One of them was Fr. Gelasiy (Maibord), and the other was Fr. Sergius (Romberg) - both were future archimandrites. They told me that they were part of the printing brotherhood of Saint Job of Pochaev, located in the town of Ladomirovo, in Carpatho-Russia. With the advance of the Red Army, the brotherhood had moved to Bratislava. There an old Russian emigré had given them a spacious warehouse, and in this building, on the shores of the Danube, they had built a temporary church and living quarters for the monks.

I was very glad of this encounter, as I had known about the existence of the Russian Church Abroad when I was still in Russia, and, on finding myself in Czechoslovakia, I had been thinking how to locate it. And so I joined the St Job of Pochaev Brotherhood as a novice. My first obedience was singing on the cliros.

At that time the superior of the brotherhood was Archimandrite Seraphim (Ivanov), the future archbishop of Chicago and Detroit. Other members of the brotherhood included Archimandrite Nathaniel (Lvov, later bishop) and Hieromonk Vitaly (Ustinov, the current Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad).

Meanwhile, the Red Army was approaching, and in January 1945 our brotherhood moved to Berlin. Shortly thereafter General Vlasov requested that the Church Abroad send clergy to minister to the soldiers of his army. Our Church sent Hieromonk Anthony (Medvedev, currently the Archbishop of Western America and San Francisco), and myself in the capacity of a reader.

This was not long before the end of the war.

It should be noted that the majority of Vlasov's soldiers were men who had been raised under the Soviets; few of them believed in God. However, when we served Divine Liturgy, all the soldiers and officers attended. I myself never did meet Vlasov in person.

In April 1945,  Vlasov's division that we were serving was ordered to move towards Prague. We made our way mostly at night to avoid being spotted by American planes, which flew by day. Once an American fighter plane flew over our column. Bullets rained down to the right and to the left of Fr. Anthony and myself; they riddled the vestments and church vessels we were carrying with us in the cart, but fortunately we were not hurt.

Before reaching Prague, we received news of Germany's surrender. Vlasov's soldiers scattered, and Fr. Anthony and I were left by ourselves, without horses or carts. I came across an abandoned baby carriage, and, after I had fixed it, we loaded our church accouterments onto it and moved west, towards the American zone.

En route we stumbled upon a Soviet border post. We tried to pass ourselves off as Czechs: Fr. Anthony had a Czech passport and spoke Czech. The chief of the post looked at us suspiciously nevertheless and said to another guard: "Still, we should take them to the commissar." But the other border guard waved his hand, "Aw, let them go home." The officer in charge thought for a moment and agreed. "Well, all right. Let them pass."

And thus we entered the American zone. There we learned that our brotherhood had moved from Berlin to Munich, and there we directed our steps. Along the way we knocked at the doors of German homes and asked for a night's lodging. Some received us, while others refused, in which case we spent the night in the woods. Whatever our situation, we always read through the daily cycle of   services, and once we even served Divine Liturgy in the woods.

We travelled on foot for many days until finally, in some town, we came upon an abandoned cart and two unclaimed horses roaming the streets. We harnessed them, loaded our church belongings onto the carts, and continued our way.

At last we reached Munich, but we did not find the brotherhood; they had already moved to Switzerland. We were able to obtain Swiss visas, and arrived in Geneva. There we met for the first time the then Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) of blessed memory. His residence was located in Munich, but he came from time to time to Geneva, and served in the church of the former embassy. There lived in Geneva at that time Princess Tatiana Konstantinovna, the daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Konstantinovich, who later became Abbess Tamara, the superior of the Mount of Olives convent in the Holy Land.

On 29 November/12 December 1946, Archimandrite Seraphim (Ivanov) tonsured me, giving me the name of the saint commemorated that day, Saint Nektary of the Kiev Caves, the Obedient. A few days later Metropolitan Anastassy ordained me to the  diaconate.

Not long afterwards, I came down with tuberculosis (a result of my years in the camps), and I was sent for treatment to a mountain sanatorium near Lausanne. There I spent half a year. I was glad to find a Russian doctor at the sanatorium. The treatment was successful, and I recovered. Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko)

Meanwhile, our brotherhood prepared to move to Jordanville. Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) helped us to obtain our visas for entry into America. Vladika Vitaly (1873-1960) was one of the most illustrious hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Up to the time of the Revolution, his activity was centered in the Pochaev Lavra in Volhynia. There he founded a chapter of the Union of Russian People, which stood for the defense of Orthodoxy and autocracy.

At that time the Lavra's print shop, which had originally been founded by Saint Job of Pochaev in the 17th century, was totally obsolete.

Archimandrite Vitaly equipped it with new presses, gathered around himself some monastic printers, and in a short time the Pochaev print shop became a center of spiritual enlightenment for the whole of Russia. The brotherhood was particularly active in the battle against Unia.

In 1919 Archimandrite Vitaly was arrested by the Poles and sentenced to be shot. He was spared and released thanks to the intercessions of the Serbian Patriarch Barnabas.

Settling in Czechoslovakia, in the village of Ladomirovo, Archimandrite Vitaly gathered around himself a group of monks and revived the printing brotherhood of Saint Job of Pochaev. The brotherhood published a periodical, Orthodox Carpatho-Russia (later renamed Orthodox Russia), and printed church calendars, as well as liturgical and spiritual books, with which they supplied churches and parishes of the entire Russian diaspora.

In 1934 Archimandrite Vitaly was consecrated bishop and sent to New York to minister to the Russian émigrés in America. In his stead, he appointed Archimandrite Seraphim (Ivanov) as head of the brotherhood.

It was about this same time that Archimandrite Panteleimon (Nizhnik) of the Russian Church Abroad bought a parcel of land near the village of Jordanville in upstate New York. On the parcel was a house, some arable land, and pasturage. Surrounding the parcel were woods, and for several miles around there were no factories, just small farms. The nearest city, Utica, was twenty miles away, and it was seven miles to the nearest town, Richfield Springs. In spite of there being two roads through the property, the place was fairly secluded and was suitable for the establishment of a monastery.

It should be added that the climate there was fairly severe: summers were very humid with heavy rains, while winters brought frosts down to thirty below (Celsius) and drifting snow - which partly explained why the area was sparsely settled. There used to be a narrow-gauge railway passing through, but it was later shut down. For all these reasons, the property was very affordable. Fr. Panteleimon and his assistant, monk Jacob (Masharuk), earned money to purchase the property by working at the Sikorsky helicopter factory in Connecticut.

For a long time just the two of them, Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Jacob, lived in Jordanville. Later they were joined by Fr. Joseph. However, by working hard they were able to start a farm, to build a chapel, and to lay the foundation for a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

Soon after the end of the war, Vladika Vitaly (Maximenko) arranged for our brotherhood of Saint Job of Pochaev to come from Switzerland, and on 15 December 1946, fourteen monks arrived in Jordanville. Vladika Vitaly again became our superior, while Bishop Seraphim was entrusted with the editorship of the newspaper, Orthodox Russia. We brought to Jordanville the icon of our patron saint, Job of Pochaev, with a particle of his relics. We had received the icon from the print shop of the Pochaev Lavra and it had stood in the print shop in Ladomirovo. Today this icon stands in the print shop of Holy Trinity Monastery.

Vladika Vitaly was the superior not only of our brotherhood but also of Holy Trinity Monastery. One can say that almost all that we now have in Jordanville, we owe to Vladika Vitaly: he founded the seminary and was its first rector; he directed the construction of the Holy Trinity cathedral; he organized the print shop; he strengthened the monastery by sending for monks from the Saint Job monastery near Munich and from other places, thanks to which, in a short period of time the number of monks grew to fifty.

Vladika Vitaly was a man of strong and resolute character. They say that a certain monk came to Ladomirovo, who upset the other monks with his insolent behavior. Once Vladika Vitaly caught him in the act of some egregious misbehavior. Without saying a word, Vladika Vitaly grabbed him firmly by the hand, led him out onto the porch, and silently indicated that he take the road.

Vladika Vitaly stood firmly on the path of Orthodoxy. After the war, the "Leontiev Church" (so-called after its head, Metropolitan Leonty) split off from the Russian Church Abroad and entered into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. Some people demanded that Vladika Vitaly join them. But he categorically refused any such proposition, and thanks to his firm position some of the American parishes remained loyal to the Russian Church Abroad. Vladika Vitaly reposed 8/21 March 1960, and was buried in the memorial church of Equal-to-the-Apostles Saint Vladimir in Casseville (Jackson), New Jersey.

In Jordanville 

In Jordanville When we, thirteen monks from the Saint Job of Pochaev Brotherhood, arrived in Jordanville, construction on the Holy Trinity church had already begun. Only the foundation was completed. Fr. Panteleimon and several other monks and laymen had been working on the construction, and were utterly spent. We, with our fresh reserves of strength, in addition to the assistance of some hired workers, eagerly applied ourselves to the task, and in a short time the lower church was completed. Soon thereafter work began on the upper church, which was consecrated by Metropolitan Anastassy in November 1950.

In the course of the next ten years, we likewise built (true, this was also with the help of hired workmen) the monks' residence and the seminary building. We also built a print shop.

Vladika Vitaly often came to Jordanville from his residence in New York City; he officiated at the Divine services, gave directives, and instructed the monks. And so it was that our brotherhood, under the direction of Vladika Vitaly, prospered in all respects: in the construction of the church, in the printing of books, and in the spiritual life.

All thirteen new arrivals were then young and energetic. Among them were: 1. Bishop Seraphim (Ivanov), the future archbishop of Chicago and Detroit (+1987). 2. Hegumen Philemon (Nikitin), the brotherhood's father-confessor in Vladimirovo and also in Jordanville; he was likewise the stitcher in the print shop. A former Valaam monk, now deceased.

3. Hieromonk Cyprian (Pizhov), now an archimandrite; a talented iconographer, among many others, who painted two magnificent icons: one of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and a second, All the Saints of Russia. He also frescoed the Holy Virgin "Joy of All who Sorrow" Cathedral in San Francisco, where the relics of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco are located, and many other churches of the Russian Church Abroad.

4. Hegumen Nikon (Rklitsky), the future archbishop of Washington and author of the multi-volume life of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovistky).

5. Hieromonk Anthony (Medvedev), currently Archbishop of Western America and San Francisco.

6. Hegumen Antony (Yamshchikov), later an archimandrite, a spiritual confessor of the monastery and the principal printer in Jordanville. He reposed in 1993.

7. Archdeacon Sergius (Romberg), later archimandrite; book printer and steward of the monastery in Jordanville. He reposed in 1992.

8. Novice Nikolai (Gamanovich), now Archbishop Alypy of Chicago and Detroit; an iconographer and student of Archimandrite Cyprian.

9. Novice Vasily (Shkurla), now Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery, the superior of Holy Trinity Monastery and rector of Holy Trinity Seminary.

10. Novice Vasily (Vanko), now Archimandrite Flor.

There were also Hieromonk Seraphim (Popov), Archdeacon Pimen (Kachan), and finally, myself, Nektary (Chernobyl), at that time still a hieromonk.

Soon after our arrival in Jordanville, Archbishop Vitaly ordained me to the priesthood. Later, Archbishop Averky (Taushev) raised me to the rank of hegumen.

I was at that time at the peak of my energies and I did not know what it meant to be tired. In the monastery in Jordanville I fulfilled several obediences simultaneously: I was choir director, I was in charge of the typicon, I was a mechanic, gardener, bookbinder, and typesetter.

I have already related how Vladika Vitaly revived the printing work of our brotherhood, which had been suspended by the war. Upon his instruction, Archimandrite Panteleimon (Nizhnik) purchased two printing presses. I, with my mechanical abilities, was able soon to have them in working order, and, on learning how to set type, began working in the print shop.

We typeset Pravoslavnaya Rus' (Orthodox Russia), published biweekly, and its supplements: the annual, Pravoslavny Puts (Orthodox Way), and the monthly, Pravoslavnaya Zhizn (Orthodox Life). Holy Trinity Orthodox Russian Calendar, Saint Vladimir Calendar, and various liturgical and spiritual books were also published.

I worked on the Linotype. At that time the typesetting was also done in part  manually, letter by letter. The elements were prepared from hot lead, which emitted noxious fumes. I became very ill with lead poisoning, which affected my kidneys (uremia). When I recovered, Vladika Vitaly relieved me of my obedience in the print shop, and assigned me to the garden (I had learned about gardening through helping my father in my youth).

In summer I worked in the garden, while in winter I worked in the bookbinding shop, which I myself organized: in New York I bought two binding machines and fixed them up. Three fellows worked in the shop under my supervision. We bound the books that were printed in our print shop. Our garden in Jordanville was enormous, producing sufficient produce to feed all the residents of the monastery. I had two or three helpers, novices, but the bulk of the work I did myself. We planted tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, cantaloupe. Some years the harvest was so abundant that we sent vegetables to the Synod, to Novo-Diveyevo convent, and to the Kursk Hermitage in Mahopac, New York. Many pilgrims would come each year for the feast of Pentecost, not only from nearby cities - Utica, Syracuse, Albany - but also from New York City and Boston. We fed them using the vegetables from our garden. I remember making borscht for several hundred people.

Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitsev) and other staff members of Orthodox Russia

When I was in Bratislava and in Geneva, I confessed to Hegumen Philemon (Nikitin). Fr. Philemon had been a monk on Valaam, but he left when the New Calendar was introduced there. Every night for the rest of his life, Fr. Philemon would get up at two o'clock in the morning to fulfill his prayer rule, as was the tradition on Valaam.

After his repose, I confessed to Fr. Antony (Yamshchikov). There was also a time when Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitsev) was my confessor. Archimandrite Constantine (Cyril Zaitsev in the world) was born in St Petersburg in 1888. He received a law degree and went on to work as an official in government offices. After participating in the White Movement, he left for China, where he was ordained to the priesthood. From China he went to America together with Bishop John of Shanghai. When, in 1949, Bishop Seraphim (Ivanov) was assigned to a diocesan see, Vladika Vitaly invited Fr. Constantine to take his place as editor of Orthodox Russia. Fr. Constantine remained at this post almost to the end of his days. He reposed in 1975 at the age of 87. Fr. Constantine was very reserved, always preserving an inner concentration. He preferred solitude. Every day he would take walks by himself along the monastery roads. In church he served with the same concentration and often gave sermons. Everyone regarded him with utmost respect. He had numerous spiritual children among both monastics and laymen, and he was the most popular confessor among the seminarians. His cell was piled with letters from readers from all over the Russian diaspora, and he could barely keep up with this correspondence. Archimandrite Constantine was highly educated and responded to all current events. He was fiercely opposed to communism, he was a strong supporter of autocratic monarchy, he sensed the nearness of the time of antichrist, and in this spirit he wrote his numerous articles and editorials which appeared in almost every issue of Orthodox Russia and its annual, The Orthodox Way. I worked under his supervision in the print shop, typesetting issues of these publications.

Among the staff of Orthodox Russia at that time, I. M. Andreyev and N. D. Talberg stand out in particular.

Professor Ivan Andreyev (1894-1974), as a professor in St Petersburg, was a member of the delegation which, in 1927, tried to dissuade Metropolitan Sergius from his Declaration. Later he joined the Catacomb Church. He was incarcerated on Solovki. After the war he found himself in Germany, and from there he came to Jordanville. In his articles he described the life of the catacomb Christians of Stalin's era.

Professor Nicholas Talberg (1886-1977) was a pre-revolutionary law school graduate. A man of distinctly monarchist convictions, he became an émigré church historian, and wrote A History of the Russian Church.

These religiously oriented writers were Orthodox zealots, who admitted no compromise with any manifestations of apostasy in the contemporary world, including the ecumenism and Sergianism of the Moscow Patriarchate. They were like-minded and in solidarity with Vladika Vitaly and, after his death, with Archbishop Averky. Highly gifted and widely educated, they were not only church writers but also teachers at the Jordanville seminary: Archimandrite Constantine taught pastoral theology and Russian literature, while Professor Andreyev, who had been a doctor-psychiatrist, gave courses in psychology as well as in moral theology.

There were also other talented writers on the staff of Orthodox Russia at that time: Archpriest Nicholas Deputatov, Protopriest Basil Boshcha-novsky, Professor G. Znamensky, Peter Marr, N. Bobrov, and others.

Metropolitan Anastassy and Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco

The head of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) often came to Jordanville from his residence in New York City. In spite of his high position and rank, Metropolitan Anastassy was very simple and unassuming. I drove him around the monastery property in a dilapidated, stripped down old Ford that had no roof, and he was not phased in the least. He would come to the garden, pick a cucumber, and eat it right there and then.

He was very fond of the singing of the monastery choir. At that time I was the choir director (I had learned to read notes when I was at the pedagogical seminary in Alexandria).

Metropolitan Anastassy was a true hierarch, a man of firm and unwavering convictions, who led a strict, ascetic life.

He was a resolute opponent of any rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate. In his Legacy he wrote: "As regards the Moscow Patriarchate and its hierarchs, inasmuch as they are in close, active and amicable union with the Soviet regime, which openly confesses its absolute godlessness and strives to implant atheism in the Russian people, the Church Abroad, guarding its purity, cannot have any canonical, prayerful or even everyday relations with them. At the same time, it leaves each of them ultimately to the judgment of a Sobor of the future free Russian Church."

He reposed 9/22 May 1960 and was buried in Jordanville, in a crypt at the back of the main church, next to the tomb of of the renown Orthodox zealot and ascetic, Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco.

I shall also say a few words about the now glorified hierarch John of Shanghai and San Francisco (although I did not know him well and rarely saw him).

This was a very simple man, magnetic and accessible. He was always surrounded by people.

He communed daily. He adamantly opposed any violation of the church typicon, and if anyone on the cliros skipped anything, or did not read or chant in full the appointed text, Vladika would compel him to read it again, beginning from the place where the omission had been made. This displeased some of the clergy, but the simple people loved him, and he had numerous followers who, even in his lifetime, considered him to be a saint.

Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

In 1951 there came to Jordanville from Munich Archimandrite Averky, who later became Archbishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity. He brought with him the most sacred object belonging to the Russian Diaspora - the wonderworking Kursk-Root icon of the Mother of God.

Vladika Averky, Alexander Taushev in the world, was born in 1906 in the Russian city of Kazan, in the family of a military prosecutor. After the Revolution the family fled to Bulgaria. There, in Sofia, Alexander entered the theological faculty. During that time he became a student of the well-known ascetic, Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, who had been a father-confessor of the Russian Royal Family. Later Vladika Averky compiled a biography of Archbishop Theo-phan, which was published as a separate booklet.

After graduating from the theological faculty, he served for a time as a parish priest in Carpatho-Russia. Then he moved to Belgrade, where he was an assistant and father-confessor of Metropolitan Anastassy. In 1945 he moved to Munich, and from there to Jordanville, where he began to teach at the seminary (he gave courses in New Testament scripture). In 1953 he was ordained Bishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity.

Later, when Archbishop Vitaly had grown old and infirm and was no longer able to leave his residence in the Bronx, Vladika Averky assumed the responsibilities of superior of the monastery and  rector of the seminary in Jordanville. And when Archimandrite Constantine fell ill, Vladika Averky also took over as editor of Orthodox Russia.

Vladika Averky led a serious and concentrated life. He arose at four o'clock, perhaps even earlier, and performed his monastic rule. He was very strict in fulfilling the church canons. Seminarians taking his courses were obliged to learn and to know the Nomokanon (compilation of canons of the Orthodox Church). He guided the monastery and the seminary with a firm hand, and did not allow any self-will -neither among the monks nor among the seminarians.

It should be added that his firmness of character was combined with a kindly and benevolent    disposition: he was very considerate and attentive towards people. In his sermons at funerals, he always found warm and sincere words to say about the deceased (some of these eulogies were published in the anthology of his works).

For the most part, his sermons concerned the subject of eschatology. He also compiled a commentary on the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation). He felt strongly that we were living on the threshold of the coming of antichrist, and that we must prepare for the Last Judgment. Some people listened to him with skepticism, but, nevertheless, we now see that his sorrowful predictions, made thirty years ago, have clearly begun to be fulfilled.

He revered Bishop Theophan the Recluse, considering him to be his patron, and he frequently repeated his predictions concerning the fate of Russia and the world, many of which have already come to pass.

Vladika Averky was a member of the Synod [of Bishops] of the Russian Church Abroad.

In almost every issue of Orthodox Russia, there appeared his editorials and long articles, in which he defended Orthodoxy, battled against the spirit of apostasy and against ecumenism. A majority of his articles were published during his life in a four-volume collection of works titled, Modernity in the Light of the Word of God. He often exposed the falsehood of the Moscow Patriarchate and was a staunch opponent of any rapprochement with it.

I deeply revered Vladika Averky, and he, on his part, was very kindly disposed towards me and presented me with gifts of his books inscribed with his own hand.

He became my father confessor. Unfortunately, I was with him for only five years: in 1966 I was sent to Mount Athos, and then to the Holy Land. But we corresponded regularly, and I continued to receive spiritual counsel from him until he died.

He reposed at the age of seventy, on Lazarus Saturday, 31 March/3 April, 1976, and was buried with great honor in a crypt at the back of the Holy Trinity Monastery church in Jordanville. Many people gathered for his funeral, among them were not only Russians but also Greeks and Bulgarians. On Mount Athos

 I spent twenty years in Jordanville (from 1946-1966), and was then sent to St Elias Skete on Mount Athos. Before my departure, Metropolitan Philaret raised me to the rank of archimandrite. At that time, the superior of St Elias Skete, Fr. Nicholas, was very old and no longer able to govern the skete, and I took his place as superior.

I had been on Athos once before, as a pilgrim, and it had made a great impression on me. For this reason, although I had grown accustomed to Jordanville and had no desire to leave it, it gave me great joy to return again to the Holy Mountain.

I went first to Athens and began the process of obtaining a visa to Athos. This turned out to be no easy task, but Bishop Anatoly, a Russian émigré living at that time in Greece, assisted me, and I succeeded.

I arrived on Athos in the spring. Everything was in bloom, and there was greenery all around. The mountains, the monasteries, the sea - it was all magnificent.

Saint Elias Skete is situated high in the mountains. Access is difficult: the road is a continual, steep ascent. I reached the skete partly on foot, and partly by donkey.

Saint Elias Skete is a dependency of the Greek monastery of Pantocrator, and it is located seven kilometers from Karyes, the capital of Athos. It was founded  in the eighteenth century by Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. For some time the skete remained quite small, both in physical size and in the number of monks. It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that it began to expand and was settled by Russian monks; before the Revolution, their number reached 300. The magnificent church, in honor of the Prophet Elias, was completed not long before the Revolution and was consecrated by Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky).

It is said that when the church was being built, a fool-for-Christ ran around it shouting: "Build, build! It will be empty all the same!" And so it was. Not long before the Revolution, the Russian ambassador in Athens advised the superior at the skete to gather all the monastery's funds which were kept in various banks in Odessa, as there was danger of a coup. The superior was sure that Russia stood firm and inviolable. The ambassador, however, proved to be right. The Bolsheviks expropriated the monastery's funds, and the monks were compelled to work strenuously in towns and villages near Athos in order to pay off the debts incurred by the building of the church. Many monks exhausted their strength in this labor, and died prematurely.

When I came to Saint Elias Skete, there remained only three residents: the former superior, Fr. Nicholas, who was already very elderly; a hieromonk, also infirm; and a third, the steward.

The skete had three or four churches, among which was a rectory church where daily liturgy was served.  The service (Matins, Midnight Office, and Divine Liturgy) began at one o'clock in the morning, following the Athonite tradition, and ended towards morning. Afterwards everyone rested before going to their obediences.

I quickly found myself work to which I was accustomed: I selected a suitable plot of ground and planted a garden, which proved sufficient to feed me and all the residents. The work occupied all my free time away from services. There were three of us in the priestly rank, and we took turns serving, while the steward sang on the cliros.

The Athonite rule is very demanding for a Russian. Russian churches very rarely have night services: only once or twice a year, on Pascha and sometimes Nativity. I was unaccustomed to the night services, and became very tired from standing all night long. And there were few amenities on Athos, which also made life difficult: we would go around in the evening and at night with lanterns or candles.

In spite of all the difficulties, it was absolutely wonderful there on Mount Athos. It was so quiet and tranquil. During the day, from the top of the mountain on which the skete was located, one could see the sea. I recall the time I spent on Athos as the happiest period of my life, and I would gladly live there again. Afterwards I asked several times if I could be reappointed there, but this was not granted. While on Athos I visited the Russian hermits - Fr. Nikodim of Karoulia and others.

I spent over a year on Mount Athos, and then, at the insistence of Archbishop Averky, I returned to Jordanville.

In the Russian Monasteries of Jerusalem

In Jordanville I planted my garden, and there was a bountiful harvest. That fall, however, the Synod unexpectedly reassigned me to Jerusalem. I did not want to go. First of all, the monasteries there are large, there are many pilgrims, many tourists from all over the world, and consequently there are many temptations. In Jerusalem there was not that solitude that I found on Mount Athos, nor even the tranquility of Jordanville. Jordanville received its share of pilgrims, but they were "ours," from the local Russian émigrés; very rarely were there tourists. I therefore asked Vladika Averky to request, on my behalf, that I remain in Jordanville, but he said that it was not possible to rescind the Synod's decision.

I arrived in the Holy Land in 1968. The Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission at that time was Archimandrite Antony (Grabbe). His residence was located at the Russian Excavations, and I was at first given a cell there, where I lived for about a year.

In Jerusalem I met two old acquaintances: the superior of the Mount Olives Convent, Abbess Ta-mara, with whom I became acquainted in Geneva, and Archimandrite Dimitri (Biakai), whom I knew in Europe.  (When I came to Jerusalem, he was living in retirement at the Mount of Olives convent.)  I used to visit them often there on the Mount of Olives.

On Thursdays I served Divine Liturgy at the Russian Excavations, in the church of Saint Alexander Nevsky; on Fridays I served at the Bethany School; other days I served at Gethsemane, at the convent of Saint Mary Magdalene.  On days that I was not assigned to serve, I would go to Jericho, where we had two fruit orchards, and there I worked.

There in the Russian monasteries of Jerusalem I met a number of remarkable people, representatives of old, Imperial Russia. They had all left their homeland after the Revolution. Among them were: the superior of the Gethsemane convent, Abbess Barbara (Tsvetkova), who in Russia was close to the Tikhonite bishops; the elderly spiritual father of the Gethsemane convent, Fr. Seraphim, a former aide-de-camp of Tsar Nicholas II; Hegumen Stefan, also a father-confessor at the Gethsemane convent and a former soldier of the Imperial Army; Archimandrite Modeste, spiritual father of the Mount of Olives convent, formerly a monk of New Athos monastery [in Russia - trans.]; after the dispersal of the monastery, he was in the catacombs; at the end of the '30s he hid in the Caucasus; Nun Alexandra, whose father served at the court in Tsarskoe Selo; General M. Khripunov, president of the Palestine Society, formerly also at the Imperial Court. Another remarkable person was the abbess of Gethsemane convent, Mary Robinson, an Anglican convert to Orthodoxy.

Frs. Seraphim and Stefan served at that time in Gethsemane. When they could no longer serve because of infirmities brought by old age, I began serving daily at Gethsemane.

In addition, at the Mount of Olives Convent I engaged in my usual work - as a gardener. With a tractor, I tilled the olive orchard, and pruned and fertilized the trees. Given this attention, the withering olive trees came to life and gave an abundant harvest. I also planted a garden, where I grew vegetables for the monastery kitchen.

At the same time I began work in the mechanic and woodworking shops at the monastery. I cut crosses out of wood and prepared icons for pilgrims; I repaired candlestands and other church furnishings and fixed sewing machines. Soon people began coming to me with requests - to glue a chair, to tin-plate a kettle, to repair a watch.

I had virtually no free time: mornings were taken up with services, the afternoons with work in the gardens or in the shops, and besides that there were confessions and my own prayer rule that I performed in my cell. I was always busy, always wrestling with time.

And so it continued for many years of my life as a priest and as a spiritual father in the Russian monasteries of Jerusalem.

About the Holy Land

I love Mount Athos, but I am also very attached to the Holy Land. Every time that I leave Jerusalem for any time to go to America, I feel a pull to go back, as if to a place that is dear to me, and I impatiently await my return to Jerusalem.

Everything in the Holy Land is dear to me: the Tomb of Our Lord, the Russian Excavations - this house that was built by our Russian people receives me as if it were a small corner of Russia.

Here in the Holy Land, each stone, each place serves as a reminder of the events in Holy Scripture. After all, most of what is written about in the Gospels has been preserved as it was in the time of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and this confirms the truth of the Gospels.

I always liked very much to take part in the annual procession of Great Thursday, when, late at night, after the reading of the Twelve Gospels, all the nuns and pilgrims walk from the monastery of Gethsemane and, with the chanting of the troparion of Great Thursday, "When the glorious disciple..," with candles and lanterns in hand, follow the way of the Cross. En route they stop at the prison where Christ was held, and at other places associated with Christ's Passions, and read passages from the Gospels corresponding to these events. The procession ends at the Russian Excavations, at the threshold of the Judgment Gate, through which Christ passed on His way to Golgotha, and there again the Gospel is read and the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission gives a homily about the events of Great and Holy Thursday.

Similarly, I always joined the solemn procession that the Greeks organize before the Feast of Dormition, when, to the chanting of spiritual hymns, the image of the Holy Virgin is taken from the Greek metochion near the Holy Sepulchre to the Greek church in Gethsemane where the tomb of the Mother of God is located. (This image, it should be noted, was given to the Greeks by some Russians.) Many monks and nuns, priests, local Christians, and pilgrims from different countries take part in the procession.

I also liked to go to Mount Tabor for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. On this day a bus takes nuns from the Russian convents, to Tabor.

I used always to walk up the mountain (at that time I was still full of energy) - not along the road but straight up - to the top of Tabor, where we would serve a moleben.

On the third day of the feast of the Holy Trinity it was an old custom to visit without fail our Russian monastery at the Oak of Mamre in Hebron, where, in the presence of a great gathering of Russians, Greeks and Orthodox Arabs, I would serve a solemn Liturgy near the Oak in the open air. Likewise, we served the Divine Liturgy at our school in Bethany on Lazarus Saturday, its patronal feast, and then visited the nearby cave of the resurrected Lazarus, where the Gospel was read.

We also made an annual trip to Phar on the day of Saint Chariton, and visited his cave high up in a cliff. We would bring a ladder to climb up into the cave and there served Matins and Liturgy.

On the first day of Christ's Nativity, all the Russian nuns would go to Bethlehem and venerate the sacred sites of the Cave and the Shepherds' Field, and there serve molebens. On Nativity and on Pascha we always paid a visit to the Jerusalem patriarch to greet him with the Feast, and there at the Patriarchate we would be treated to a festive reception.

On Theophany we would go to the Jordan River, to the place where Jesus Christ was baptized. Later, when, because of the political situation, access to the Jordan at this place (near Jericho) was closed, we began going to the Jordan in Galilee, and there we blessed the water, and whoever so desired immersed themselves in the waters of the Jordan.

In this measured way the life of our Russian monasteries in the Holy Land flows, from one great feast to another. Of course, between these feasts there are also ordinary days, but here in the Holy Land even these are special, for almost daily there come pilgrims from all corners of the world - in groups and individually - and we, residents of the Holy Land, must show them some attention, tell them about the holy places and show them these sacred sites connected to the feasts of Christ's Nativity, His Transfiguration, Ascension, and other great events from the Gospel narrative.

For this reason, the life of the monastics in the Holy Land is constantly festively adorned.

Epilogue

I must say that by nature I have a particular trait - to be accurate in all that I do. This trait revealed itself in my relation to the Church as well, and this striving - to observe the church canons no matter what - this striving for the Truth, led me away from renovationism and from Sergianism, to the Catacomb Church.

When I found myself abroad, I sought there also the True Church, a Church that was truly orthodox, where all the Orthodox canons were observed - and I found such a Church: our Russian Church Abroad, headed at that time by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky).

In this Church I have experienced many spiritual joys: in Jordanville, then on Mount Athos, and, finally, in the Holy Land.

Every Christian, in every age, has considered it the greatest joy to visit the Holy Land at least once, even if only for a short time. I have been granted the great joy of living here for nearly thirty years.

After the difficult and agonizing life in the camps and in prisons, where for a long time I could not imagine life "outside," and where I was once under threat of execution, I managed to reach freedom - something I didn't even dream of. What is more, in my old age I have the consolation of living in the Holy Land, where our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the salvation of the human race.

Jerusalem 1996

Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus (Orthodox Russia) #21, 22, 23, 1998, and #1, 1999, Jordanville, NY. Photos from the same sources, with the exception of Archbishop Averky, which is taken from Russkiy Pastyr #32 (III, 1998).

 

 

 

 

 


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