Orthodox America

  In Celebration…

     1988. In this notable year of the Lord, a year marking the one thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', the Russian Church Abroad called all her faithful children to celebrate this glorious jubilee in a manner worthy of its extraordinary significance. For through the baptism of St. Vladimir and his subjects the Russian people as a whole were enlightened and reborn on the foundation of the Christian faith. Succeeding generations of God-pleasing men, women and children--enriched this spiritual legacy of St. Vladimir, which has come down to us today as the greatest treasure of the Russian Church. It is a treasure shared by all her members---Russian and non-Russian, cradle-born Orthodox and converts--to the measure of their personal faithfulness to those precepts which St. Vladimir adopted a thousand years ago.

And so it was that in parishes around the world, this year was marked by special Millennium observances---magnificent services, conferences, banquets, concerts, exhibitions; commemorative medals and plates were issued, medallions; there were various special publications... Some of the diocesan celebrations, attended by numerous hierarchs and clergy,, brought alive the splendor of Byzantium which, according to tradition, had so impressed St. Vladimir's envoys that they "knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth." Other celebrations were more humble, but no less pleasing to God, Who asks only for man's heart.

The principal Millennium celebration of the Church Abroad appropriately took place at the newly-completed St. Vladimir Memorial Church in Jackson, N. J. The festivities extended over the course of a week, beginning Saturday July 23 (n.s.) with a vigil in preparation for the Great Consecration and Divine Liturgy the next day, and ending the following Sunday with the celebration of the Millennium.

      The memorial church in honor of St. Vladimir was the inspiration of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) (+1960) who himself oversaw the initial stages of its construction and was buried there in accordance with his will. Progress, however, was very slow, hampered by lack of funds and poor planning. But this year's Millennium gave impetus for its completion which was duly accomplished under the energetic direction of its present rector, Archpriest Boris Kitzenko.

      Although the church is not large, it presents a majestic sight, set as it is on a high embankment and crowned with a golden cupola. This impression is strengthened by the loftiness of the church's interior design. The soaring five-tier iconostas---nearly as tall as the church is wide---lifts the gaze heavenward towards the blessing figure of the Lord God in the cupola high above. The church walls are covered, by frescoes of the saints, surrounding the worshipper with a cloud of witnesses. Two exceptionally large frescoes on either side of the iconostas depict the Baptism of Our Lord and the Baptism of Rus', strong visual reminders of Christ's command to go into the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'

      The Saturday night vigil began soon after the arrival at 6 o'clock of the much-venerated Pochaev icon of the Mother of God from Holy Trinity Monastery. The hierarchical vigil was served in the middle of the church before the dosed Royal Doors. In expectation of the temple's "illumination" through sanctification, all the lights and vigil lamps were extinguished, accentuating the burnished glow of the setting sun upon the iconostas.

      The next morning, on the feast day of Equal-to the-Apostles Princess Olga, St. Vladimir's grandmother, there took place the Great Consecration of the temple, a solemn occasion which marks the "birth" of a new house of God. The service, which requires considerable and careful planning, was performed by Metropolitan Vitaly with the assistance of Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles, Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, and Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan. After the altar table was sanctified, relics were placed in it of the holy martyrs Cyricus and his mother Julitta of Tarsus, who are commemorated by the Church on the same day with St. Vladimir. At the end of the Divine Liturgy which followed the Consecration, the singing of "Many Years" in honor of all those who contributed to the occasion resounded in a peal of bells, echoing the exultant mood of those fortunate to participate in such a unique and memorable celebration.

       By Wednesday, the eve of the feast of St. Vladimir, the number of hierarchs had increased with the arrival of Archbishop Paul of Australia, Bishop Alypy of Chicago and Bishop Constantine (retired). The vigil that evening was enhanced by the presence of the ancient Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, and the prayerful, practiced singing of a special choir assembled and directed by Peter Fekula of the St. Sergius Music Committee. The rubrics for the service were followed precisely--no stichera were omitted, but in the atmosphere of spiritual concentration the service's long length did not invite fatigue.

       Bishop Mark of Germany arrived the next morning in time for Divine Liturgy. nineteen priests and eight deacons assisted the ten hierarchs in performing the service in honor of St. Vladimir. In attendance was the head of the Russian Imperial House, Vladimir Kyrillovich with his family. The service was prayerfully inspired and concluded with a grand procession.

       That evening registration was held for the St. Vladimir's Conference, hosted by the St. Alexander Nevsky parish in nearby Lakewood. The 260 participants were mostly youth, with a majority from New Jersey, California, Europe and Australia. In preparation, the local parish youth had painted the church, planted bushes, cleaned all around and decorated the church hall with emblems of the Millennium.

       The entire conference was conducted with the participation of Metropolitan Vitaly and six other hierarchs. It opened with a short moleben and the singing of the Russian and American national anthems. After a greeting by the parish rector, Archpriest Valery Lukianov, the Metropolitan gave a brief talk which was characteristically direct and meaningful. He spoke about the significance of Orthodoxy to the believer, of how Orthodoxy inclined the Russian soul towards goodness; he said that in view of the religious awakening in Russia today il is our mission to provide an image of Holy Rus', and that the principal means of doing so is to make our souls into temples of prayer.

      The first lecture of the morning was given by Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles, who spoke about "What St. Vladimir Gave to the Russian People." There followed a second lecture by Prof. Liudmila Koehler on "Religious Themes in Contemporary Russian Literature". The discussion prompted by these lectures soon turned to the subject of perestroika. On this issue particular interest was shown in the comments of Fr. Vladimir Shibayev, a former priest of the Moscow Patriarchate who recently left the Soviet Union and is now a member of the Western European diocese of the Church Abroad.

              The question of what is happening in Russia today was carried into the next lecture by Fr. Valery Lukianov, who gave a most interesting historical exposition relating the cyclical rise and fall of nations and peoples to their fluctuating relationship with God. On the basis of many example~ from the Old Testament and moving up through time to the Russian Revolution, the speaker showed clearly the terrible consequences of a people's turning away from God to the idolatrous worship of their own ideas, their own passions; and likewise the power of repentance to effect a healing renaissance. He concluded that the scourge of communism came upon Russia as a result of a capitulation to Western liberalism in the 19th century. Is it not possible, he asked, that, on the strength of the New Martyrs, the religious awakening in evidence there today, the desire for truth, the growing realization of the need for repentance might these not signal a new phase in Russia's history, a recovery from her fall? It is, he said, too early to answer this question. Meanwhile, there is for us one thing needful: "God, he merciful to us sinners!"

      After lunch and a tour of the church, the lectures resumed with a talk by Fr. Peter Perekrestov on "The Millennium and Our Renewal." He stressed the need to work out one's salvation personally, in the family' and in community, in spite of the surrounding immorality and disbelief. Citing real life situations, the speaker brought up many contemporary problems, and this sparked a lively and prolonged discussion afterwards.

      Saturday morning the conferees heard a lecture by Biship Mark titled "Eschatological Perspectives of the Divine Liturgy." The Eucharist, he explained, is a creative process by means of which the people of God is formed; it is the gathering of the saints, both living and reposed. Through frequent and conscious communion we are made brothers of all the God-pleasers who have shone in Russia in the course of her Millennium.

       The rest of the morning was devoted to a panel discussion in which the participating hierarchs answered questions submitted earlier in writing. Such an eminent panel provided a unique opportunity for interaction between the archpastors and the younger members of their flock. Little wonder that time ran out long before the stream of questions.

       Metropolitan Vitaly gave a final word at the close of the conference, in which he exhorted everyone to keep the Wednesday and Friday fasts, and thereby lay a firm foundation for all their spiritual activity.

       Bishop Hilarion was given hearty thanks for his labors in providing simultaneous English translation of all the lectures. Those laboring in the kitchen to prepare the meals also won expressions of appreciation, which they doubly deserved in view of the sweltering heat. The lecture hall, fortunately, was air conditioned.

       With the arrival of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, almost the entire hierarchy of the Church Abroad was assembled for the celebration of the Millennium. The vigil that evening was exceptional. With nine hierarchs serving, 34 priests, 12 deacons and a crowd of worshippers who had gathered from all over the world, it was a celebration of unprecedented dimensions. And so it deserved to be. It was rich not only in numbers. The resplendent vestments, the beautiful iconography, the sonorous choir--all blended together in sublime harmony. The presence of three revered icons--the Kursk Root, the Pochaev and the Myrrh-streaming Iveron brought from Canada--inspired a feeling of compunction and served spiritually to refine the prevailing mood of elation. At the polyeleos a resounding magnification sung by the clergy gave thanks to Christ the Life-giver for having illumined St. Vladimir, through whom the Russian people were brought to the true faith.

      The next morning, due to the number of officiating clergy, a Holy Table was placed temporarily in the middle of the nave which then served as the altar. The outside doors were used as the Royal Gates. Some worshippers crowded the terrace around the church, but most stood below the embankment and listened to the service over loudspeakers. The situation was not ideal, but it was dictated by necessity. As for the clergy, their hearts could not but echo the Apostle's exclamation: Lord, it is good for us to be here! (Matt. 17:14)

      Following a long procession to the nearby lake for the Small Blessing of the Water, Metropolitan Vitaly read his stirring jubilee epistle (see p. 1), and the service concluded with a resounding "Memory Eternal," sung in honor of all those who, since the time of St. Vladimir, reposed in the Faith, having fought the good fight--righteous tsars, emperors and empresses, patriarchs, metropolitans, archpastors and pastors of the Church of Russia, builders of God's temples, those who gave their lives on the battlefields, the confessors, those who were tortured and perished in these last terrible times, "and all our brothers and sisters who in suffering or in peace departed this life." This prayer, together with the "Many Years" which followed for all the living members of the Russian Church, brought together the entire body of the Church into a timeless present, a foretaste of a timeless eternity.

      A festive trapeza was set out in an enormous tent, accommodating 500 people. There was a shower of congratulatory speeches made by representatives of the Russian and also local American communities, and many people received handsomely designed certificates of recognition for their labors in helping to make the conception for the St. Vladimir Memorial Church a reality.

      The official Millennium celebration concluded with another solemn and festive Liturgy on Sunday, August 7 (n.s.) at the Synod cathedral in New York City. A gala dinner followed in the elegant Plaza Hotel. 

      SAN FRANCISCO: Here the Millennium was celebrated on November 6 in conjunction with the cathedral's patronal feast. This year marked the 300th anniversary of the Icon of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow," in whose honor the cathedral is dedicated.

      Great credit goes to the diocesan Millennium Committee for its thoughtful planning. This included arranging a stimulating program in the week preceding the celebration. There was a showing of the Soviet film "Temple" (church) with a discussion afterwards, and lectures (simultaneous English translation was available): "The State of the Faithful in the Soviet Union Today" by Fr. Vladimir Shibayev, "Religious Motifs in Contemporary Soviet Literature" by Liudmila Koehler, a lecture by Igor Ogurtsov--long-time prisoner of the Gulag, and one by Vadim Shcheglov--representative of the Moscow-based Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights (the talk was read by his wife since he was unable to attend).

      Friday was devoted to a youth conference. Fr. Vladimir Shibayev gave a talk in the morning, cautioning youth not to be swept up by Soviet propaganda regarding a new 'freedom' of religion there. An afternoon tour of the cathedral was followed by a discussion in which questions were fielded by a panel of young priests. Concerning the many questions on contemporary ethical issues, the priests pointed out the importance of understanding the Church's pastoral consciousness. It was a shame that not more young people were present.

      The magnificent vigil service Saturday evening drew a great crowd of worshippers and onlookers. The clergy--26 priests and 10 deacons---were a splendid sight in new, matching blue vestments. On a center analogion lay a cross with relics of St. Vladimir. Leading the service was Metropolitan Vitaly, who gave a penetrating sermon about the need to follow the example of the Mother of God in conforming our will to the will of God.

    Even more people were in attendance for Divine Liturgy the next morning. Concelebrating with Metropolitan Vitaly were Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, Archbishop Laurus, Bishop Alipy and Bishop Hilarion. Given the inevitable distractions of the occasion, it was particularly gratifying to have the congregation led in the singing of the Eucharistic canon. The service concluded with a moleben and a procession with the Blessing of the Water in the cathedral courtyard.


     That afternoon more than 1500 people attended a jubilee banquet in the St. Francis Hotel. A large icon of Ss. Vladimir and Olga dominated the hall. The first speech was given by the Metropolitan. He spoke of America as a nation built upon human achievement, action, a nation of "doers". But, he said, people here pay insufficient attention to the most important activity--prayer. Colleges and universities are equipped with high-tech science laboratories, but they do not offer courses in reading the Holy Fathers, they do not promote the study of the Philokalia. And yet, nothing is more important than prayer----converse with Almighty God. The Metropolitan urged everyone to be more earnest in prayer, and in fasting which gives wings to prayer. Indeed, this was his principal message this Millennium year.

      The keynote speaker was Prof. M.M. Zarechniak who discussed 'The Word About Law and Grace" by Metropolitan Hilarion, first Russian metropolitan of Kiev. Archbishop Anthony spoke warmly about the quality of compassion which characterized St. Vladimir after his conversion, and how this became a distinguishing trait of the Russian people--expressed even towards criminals. Fr. Vladimir Shibayev thanked the diaspora for having preserved the Church "in all its fullness and purity," and, on behalf of Orthodox in the Soviet Union, he asked those present to pray for those in the suffering homeland, and to raise their children in the Orthodox Faith. The last scheduled speaker, Igor Ogurtsov, spoke of the resurgence of national feeling in Russia. He told the audience the  homeland awaits your help!" and made clear that the time calls for courage and self-sacrifice.

      The program included two musical interludes--a performance of religious songs by a women's choir directed by S. G. Schidlovsky, and a performance by the cathedral choir under the direction of V. V. Krassovsky.


      Of the many cultural programs offered as part of the Millennium observances, the most ambitious was produced by the United Committee for the Celebration of the Millennium of Russian Christianity, at Queens College Performing Arts Center in Flushing, New York. Several choirs, the Millennium Symphony Orchestra and a number of acclaimed ballet and opera soloists took part in "A Russian Epic" which combined masterpieces of Russian music and literature in a series of artistic tableaux depicting pagan Rus', its conversion to Christianity, and the impact of Christianity on Russian history and the Russian soul.

      Another sizeable cultural venture was undertaken by the St. Nicholas parish in Frankfurt, Germany, which, in cooperation with the city's Museum of History, organized there a comprehensive, 3-month exhibition titled "A Thousand Years of Christianity in Russia." On display were ancient church vessels, Gospels, hierarchical and priestly vestments, crosses, banners, icons, liturgical music notes, photographs, maps and pictures showing various stages in the spread of Christianity in Russia. A handsome catalogue, printed in German, contained not only a wealth of illustrations but also articles about the history of the Russian Church, about the Orthodox Church in general, her faith, her services, monasticism. It was a missionary witness to the fact that no museum exhibit, however, "complete," could adequately convey the true beauty of Orthodoxy which is hidden in her spiritual life.


     During the Millennium Liturgy there in Frankfurt, Archbishop Anthony of Geneva gave a sermon in which he described St. Vladimir as a bright and strong personality who sought a strong and powerful God. He found this God in Jesus Christ. Today, however, people prefer a weak God, not a God of Love--Who is a consuming fire, but a God of sentimentality, a God who will excuse their sins, excuse them from spiritual struggle. How many people today don't bother to keep the fasts, or lead immoral lives, and brush it off with "God will forgive." Like St. Vladimir, exhorted the Archbishop, we must seek the true God, the God of Love, and answer Him with our reciprocal love!

      May this be our resolve as we carry into the future the lessons and impressions of this Millennium year, a year which is still with us because, as Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco wrote in his Nativity Epistle, it has been a year of the Lord's mercy, and His mercy is everlasting.

(Based on articles by Archpriest Valery Lukianov and Liudmila Koehler in Pravoslavnaya Rus', 9/14 and 12/28/88; and the German diocese's Vestnik, No. 5, 1988)

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