Orthodox America


  Metropolitan Philaret - In Memoriam


 

“Like Unto One of the Ancients”

 

       When, only a few weeks ago, we were printing a tribute to Metropolitan Anastassy, the second Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, on the 20th anniversary of his death, we did not even suspect that the next issue would contain the death notice for the third Chief Hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret, whose repose on Nov. 8/21, the Feast of the Archangel Michael, signals the end of an era. Although the Metropolitan, suffering from cancer of the prostate, had been in failing health for some time, his end came swiftly, only two months after a Bishops' Council in Canada.

     Born George Nikolaivich Voznesensky at Kursk in 1903, the future metropolitan was first ordained a celibate priest and then entered monastic life. Much of his work was in the Far East, since his father, Archbishop Dimitri, served in China. He became bishop of Australia in the early 1960's and was elected Metropolitan in 1965. (Of the 18 bishops participating in his election, only five are still living.)

     Only the third Metropolitan of the Synod of Bishops since the Revolution, Vladika Philaret's 21-year rule was not without significance. It seems that to each Metropolitan God has assigned specific tasks, laying different burdens on each one as if giving a crown of thorns with the white klobuk [1]. To the first, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) was given the awesome responsibility of carrying our New Martyr Patriarch Tikhon's decree ordering the formation of a Higher Church Authority outside Russia in the event of contact with the Patriarch becoming impossible or nonexistent due to Soviet interference. Coalescing and organizing the vast numbers of emigre and exiled clergy and laity into a meaningful and functional church unit was a difficult accomplishment, one for which Metropolitan Antony had to summon all his many rich gifts.

    The second Chief Shepherd of the Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy, reigned for nearly thirty years, and his life and achievements have been written about extensively in the last OA. Like an aged Moses, he led the exiled Russian Church through the wilderness of post-World War II conditions and difficulties. Heavy as were many of the burdens of those days, luminous as was the spirit with which Met. Anastassy confronted the labors given him by God, it has come to seem that to his successor, Met. Philaret, was given what has proven to be the most difficult and important destiny of all.

    Almost simultaneously with Vladika Philaret's election, massive changes in the spiritual climate of the world began affecting the Church Abroad. Modernizations in Roman Catholicism, innovations and ecumenism in other Orthodox jurisdictions , a thirst for genuine holiness even among people born and bred to the neo-paganism of modern life--all these forces manifested themselves in a veritable tidal wave of new people, new "tribes ," coming into the Church Abroad. And these came, not because they were Slavophiles or ethnic dilettantes in search of borrowed "roots," but because they sensed that the Russian Church in Exile had preserved the principles of other worldliness and ancient Christian tradition, and this living reality exerted an attraction compelling enough to bring hundreds, even thousands, of people into Holy Orthodoxy.

    One of the most respected writers of the Russian Church Abroad, the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), himself a convert from Protestantism, was not a man given to exaggeration or overstatement, but Metropolitan Philaret's steadfast example so inspired him that in 1976 he wrote the fallowing evaluation of the Metro

      "Among the primates of the Orthodox Churches today, there is only one from whom is always expected--and not only by members of his own Church, but by very many in a number of other Orthodox Churches as well-the clear voice of Orthodox righteousness and truth and conscience, untainted by political considerations or calculations of any kind. The voice of Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, is the only fully Orthodox voice among ail the Orthodox primates. In this he is like to the Holy Fathers of ancient times, who placed purity of Orthodoxy above all else, and he stands in the midst of today's confused religious world as a solitary champion of Orthodoxy in the spirit of the Ecumenical Councils." (Orthodox Word, vol. 12, No. 1, Jan .-Feb., 1976)

     Fr. Seraphim then explained that while those on what he called the "left" (liberal or reform-minded Orthodox) saw Vladika Metropolitan as an extremist, and those on the "right" with "zeal not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10;2) also misunderstood him, the Metropolitan was in reality only and simply "Orthodox," not knowing left or right "wings," wanting only to call back to Orthodoxy all those who have departed from the age-old Faith.

    Accordingly, in addition to his many pastoral letters as presiding bishop, Met. Philaret also wrote several "sorrowful Epistles to the hierarchies of other Orthodox jurisdictions in an effort to humbly but firmly remind them of their responsibilities as shepherds of their flocks and of the principles by which the Faith has always operated, in and out of season, when he saw signs of deviation from the True Faith.

     As Fr. Seraphim said, "The Orthodox stand of Met. Philaret is rooted in his experience from childhood of the age-old Orthodox way of life .... In his uncompromising stand for true Orthodoxy he is very like his namesake in 19th-century Russia, Met. Philaret of Moscow, the champion of Patristic Orthodoxy against the anti-Orthodox influences coming from the West..."

     Now the "second Philaret" is gone from our midst. This, the third great leader of a much-maligned and misunderstood Church, has gone ahead into the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not know what the future will bring. Of course, we believe that the Holy Spirit will guide our bishops in the selection of a worthy and wise successor, and there are several suitable candidates in the Synod. That ours is an historic time, a moment of utmost gravity in the history of the R.C.A.--and, indeed, of all Orthodoxy in the free West, for which the Synod has often been a barometer of traditional Orthodoxy--is doubted by no one.

     Therefore, we pray that God will give our bishops wisdom to select from among themselves one who, while willing to stand above all factions, ambitions and family or "party" politics, will nonetheless be a man of righteous firmness, able and strong enough to help preserve the witness of our Church in the face of the many temptations that lie ahead. With a godly Metropolitan at the helm, our Synod may, by the Grace of God, remain as it has been now for so many difficult years, a beacon of genuine Orthodox otherworldliness and love of truth, and the Church Abroad may yet nourish the souls of many who thirst for the Kingdom of Heaven.

     Let us await the guidance of the Holy Spirit. as our hierarchs gather in council, that after He has spoken through our archpastors, it may be said of us, as it was said of the orphaned flock of Orthodox Gaul when God brought them Gregory the Wonderworker to fill St. Martin's place:

     "Applaud, O fortunate people, whose desire hath now been accomplished. Your hierarch arriveth; it is the hope of the flock that cometh. May lively childhood, may the old and bent with age celebrate this event; may each proclaim it, for it is the good fortune of all."

May God grant it be so. 


[1]  The monastic veil of a Russian metropolitan or patriarch is white, rather than the black worn by all other monastics and hierarchs.

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