Orthodox America

  Australian gift to God Archpriest Rostislav Gan

Spiritual Heroes of the 20th Century

 “If Australia is destined ever to have her own saint, then it will definitely be none other than Father Rosfl slav.” These are the words of an active Greek Archdiocese priest who knew Father Rostislav well. Father Miltiades C. publishes a monthly magazine and conducts much work with Orthodox youth.

Such is also the opinion of many Orthodox people who knew him well and many more who are awakening now to our holy Faith. If you look at today's clergy in the Russian Church in Australia you'll be surprised to see that almost all parishes have pastors of an exceedingly young age and almost all have embraced the priestly calling having been one way or another influenced or personally directed to it by Father Rostislav.

Although now dead for many years, his memory is still fresh in the hearts of those men and women who are engulfed in the fervency of ecclesiastical activity put into motion by the spiritual genius of Father Rostislav. This invisible army of Christ's followers is the living spiritual fruit which Father Rostislav, as physically frail and ailing as he was, offered to his God.

Who was this man and what was the source of his spiritual power?

Father Rostislav came from a well to do Siberian merchant class family which had both Asiatic and Germanic blood (hence his German last name Hahn, Russianized Gan). From his early years he was known to be intensely interested in the Orthodox church mystique, especially in the Lives of Saints and the church-services (of which he later became quite an expert and authored several books and articles on the Typicon).

He used to get in an almost entranced state from his impression of liturgical aesthetics. He is remembered by his school comrades to have been exceptionally gifted: intelligent, witty, possessing a sharp mind, and at times a cruel tongue which got him constantly in trouble with teachers  Nevertheless his heart was kind, But, he still had to reform it greatly before subjecting it under the yoke of Christ. There is an indication that he went through some sort of a "born- again" experience. By his temperment he was a struggler. and ascetic, who was drawn quite early to monasticism and he remained a “monk in the world” for the rest of his life. All who knew him say it was a mistake for him to marry. His dominating mother, however, insisted on it; he succumbed to her will, married and was miserable the rest of his long-suffering life. A person who chanced to be in church at his wedding was shocked to see both the bridegroom and the bride and many people bitterly weeping. Seeing this the priest who performed the wedding, also could not hold back his tears. Soon after the wedding he left his native Harbin, Manchuria and arrived in shanghai to be ordained by its hierarch, John Maximovitch (later Archbishop or San Francisco). The latter, a rare breed of an ascetic himself, overjoyed that a kindred heart arrived to combat the unseen "spirits of the under- heaven", treated him like a monk. The both of them at once immersed themselves deep into the realm of the divine services, and so concentrated was this "powerful standing before the throne or the living God", that people used to say that their prayer exuded sparks. And when after a few weeks his young wife arrived, Bishop John was reported to have said to the poor girl, "Why have you come here to be in our way?"

This calibre of spiritual intensity of Father Rostislav's was of course the cause of his life-long conflict with the world. He was not So much "not of the world ', as he could not help answering the primary demands of his soul to be not only a pastor for his flock, but a warrior with the unseen demonic forces which perpetually attack the flock. The church services thus were the battlefield where the fate of his parishoners' souls would be weighed. Thus it is inevitable that his pastoral duties took a whole wide range of activities; For example, he was spiritual instructor for monastics, wrote articles in the church press, taught religion in High Schools and colleges, gave Bible instruction to children, in later years built churches, and so on. At everything he was successful. During his Shanghai years he is remembered outwardly to have been very energetic, attractive, popular, always in demand, but inwardly he was tense, concentrated, ascetic, and very precise and sharp in his dealings with people. He was divided. He had no inward peace and his whole being craved tranquility. He had a good wife but there was little time for her, and his three sons; although he loved them dearly, were to him only boys who had to be reared, while his spiritual children received more attention for he battled for their souls. Such was the cross of this conscientious priest or God.

Upon his arrival to Australia, together with a mass of emigrants fleeing the godless- communists, he never abandoned his love for Holy Russia, In fact, because the whole tenor of his zeal was viewing life as a confession of one's Faith, he had a burning urge to go to the Soviet Union so as to fearlessly confess Christ to the instigation of the atheists and to suffer for Him and receive a martyr's death. This temptation arose while he was still in China when one of his friends, Alexander by name, out of burning love for Christ. crossed illegally the Soviet border and openly preached Christ there.  It was a daring challenge payable by immediate violent death. Everyone gave him up as dead, but Father Rostislav received secret messages from him until one fine day he appeared unharmed and healthy. He fearlessly preached Christ everywhere and God miraculously preserved him. He was in contact with the Catacomb Church. No one could persuade him not to go there again. He knew that the second time unavoidable death awaited him. The two friends agreed that one will go to die for Christ so as to pray for the other who was to remain in freedom, go to Australia and keep the same flame of unquenchable zeal for Christ in order to ignite other living souls for the coming of the Kingdom of Christ. They parted forever and Fr. Rostislay never heard of him again.

In Australia his church activity only increased. He was the father-confessor of all Australian clergy, including those not in the Russian Church Abroad. Out of a few nuns he formed a large monastic community and because of his love for Optina Monastery called it "New Shamordino", keeping close spiritual watch over them.  In time this became the well-established Convent of All Saints at Kentlyn in the vicinity of Sydney. He began to build a huge stone church in Cabramatta, where he conducted the daily cycle of services, which continue up to today.

Our closeness to Father Rostislav began when he first encountered our publication 'The Orthodox Word', which immediately evoked in him ecstatic appreciation, since the magazine was dedicated to the propagation of genuine Orthodox monasticism and patristic philosophy of life, and had the blessing of his beloved Archbishop John.  He wrote to us stating that he found in us a kindred spirit and had put our work to wide distribution. He never wrote to us much, nor did he contribute articles, but was definitely present in spirit through his fervent prayers for our Brotherhood. In time he confided the secret of his heart which took place not long before his death. He sent to us an epitrachelion of an Athonite holy man, Hiero-schemamonk Theadosius of Karoulia and a pack of his letters. It turned out that for years, ever since the early 1940's he had been under the spiritual direction of schemamonkNikodemus, the disciple and cell-attendant of Elder Theodosius, and was practicing the unceasing mental Jesus Prayer while conducting all that torrent of public activities. The hints in his letters indicated the depth of Fr. Rostislav's involvement in the Jesus Prayer.

Father Nikodemus, who was also our Athonite elder since 1954, entrusted to Father Rostislav the publication of a private Spiritual Journal of Elder Theodosius and sent it in the form of letters throughout the course or many years, since it was not safe to send the whole manuscript by mail. This manual copying  took a lot of work and time since a good portion of it accidentally fell into the sea and was hardly decipherable. Father Rostislav, ill due to his heart ailment,. entrusted this correspondence to us, from which we learned the intensity of his inward spiritual world and bear witness that in Father Rostislav the free Orthodox world had one of those righteous ones, who pleasing to God, and who, despite their personal falls, weaknesses or passions consciously have placed their own souls upon God's altar of sacrifice. Thanks to these righteous ones God spares the world as it was revealed through the Patriarch Abraham.

He was a great man who lived during a time of "small” spiritually nearsighted people incapable of taking full advantage of him. But perhaps that is how he desires, being mystically accessible. to those who, like him, are burning for God with all their thoughts, aspirations and unquenchable desires. 

Abbot Herman