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Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose)

Archbishop Averkii and His Significance for the Universal Orthodox Church

Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) Archbishop Averkii and His Significance for the Universal Orthodox Church
“Alas! His golden mouth is silenced.”

Too often we Orthodox Christians are accustomed to “neglect” great people in our midst, we are used to undervalue them until they are gone. Even then we do not give them proper credit and allow their importance and legacy to be forgotten.

Archbishop Averkii was one of the last spiritual giants of the XX century—not only a giant of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, or even of Russian Orthodoxy, but of all of the Orthodox Church of the XX century.

He was born Alexander Pavlovich Taushev on 19 October (Orthodox style; 1 November new style) 1906 to a noble family in the city of Kazan. His father, a government official, traveled throughout Russia as result of his service, and it gave the young Alexander the opportunity to acquaint himself with the heart of Holy Russia—her monasteries and holy sites. Although Alexander left his homeland at an early age, his memories of these holy places remained with him for the rest of his days. From a tender age, Alexander was drawn to books of a spiritual nature, such as Unseen Warfare, and from 7 or 8 he felt alienated from the average daily life and felt a subconscious attraction for the monastic life.

During the civil war, with a heavy heart, the Taushev family left their homeland. The family settled in the Bulgarian town of Varna, where Alexander continued his education until 1926. During these years, the greatest religious influence on him were the local church and its pastor, Fr. Ioann Slunin.

Then, in 1925, a bishop arrived in Varna, who showed Alexander the path his life would take. This was Archbishop Feofan Poltavsky--a strict monk who led a prayerful life, and a theologian in the true tradition of the Holy Fathers. After a meeting with Vladyka Feofan, the young student developed a determined desire for monasticism. With the blessing of Archbishop Feofan, Alexander enrolled in the Theological School of Royal Sofia University, which he graduated with flying colors in 1930, subsequently going to Carpathian Russia with the intention of being tonsured and serve the Russian Church. In 1931, Alexander was tonsured and a year later was ordained a hieromonk and began to minister to the local parishes and help the rector of St. Nicholas Monastery near the town of Iza. Soon he was given the task of editing the diocesan periodical and teaching catechism in middle school.

When the Magyars occupied Carpathian Russia in 1940, Fr. Averkii set off for Belgrade and served under the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky). He taught pastoral theology and homiletics at missionary-pastoral courses and read lectures for layment on the spiritual life.
When the Synod of Bishops was transferred to Munich in 1945, Fr. Averkii went also and continued to teach. In 1950, Fr. Averkii was appointed President of the Missionary-Educational Committee at the Synod of Bishops. In 1951 Archimandrite Averkii arrived in America and was soon invited to the newly-formed Holy Trinity Serminary to teach the New Testament, liturgics and homiletics. In 1952 he was confirmed as rector of the Holy Trinity Seminary, and in 1953 was was appointed ruling bishop of the Syracuse-Holy Trinity Diocese. In 1960, after the death of Archbishop Vitaly, he became the abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery. Assuming all three roles, Vladyka Averkii continued to teach the Orthodox flock until his death, both future pastors at the Seminary (over 100 graduates had been ordained over this time), as well as all those who read monastery publications, the content of which excelled in their piousness and strict theology. Vladyka Averkii's sermons were published in the Monastery's Pravosavnaya Rus'. Among thebooks he wrote were the textbooks Homiletics and Commentary on Holy Scripture (in 2 volumes), his Sermons and Speeches and the life and letters of his beloved abba, Archbishop Feofan.

All of Archbishop Averkii's written works contain one quality--love for God's truth, a righteous zeal in the expression of this love and the desperate call for all to follow it.

The fruitful stream with which his golden mouth issued the sweet honey of the pure teaching of Orthodoxy, especially in the final years of his life, to some degree hid from us the rarity and even uniqueness of his teaching in our wicked days. We were so accustomed to his fiery and bold words that we did not notice that he was virtually the only bishop of all the Orthodox Churches who so bravely and steadfastly defended Orthodoxy.

In the early years of the Church there were many holy fathers who wrote in defense of Orthodoxy or against the multitude of heresies, who, alone or in concert, attacked the Church. But in our days, when Orthodox Christians are losing the "savor" of Orthodoxy and almost all the Local Churches succumb to the apostasy of our time, his voice was almost alone, which, despite his physical ailments, continued to speak the truth with power and force.

Indeed, in a time when our faith grows colder and colder, he was the spokesman for and defender of Orthodoxy.
His view on the contemporary world, inspired by Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers of the Church, was always sober and precise. Archbishop Averkii taught that we live in a century of apostasy--of departure from true Christianity, when the "Mystery of Lawlessness" enters the final stages of preparation for the advent of the "man of sin," the Antichrist (II Thess. 2,3). He particularly clearly traced the development of apostasy from the time of the Roman Schism (1054) through humanism, the Renaissance and Reformation, the French Revolution, materialism and communism of the 19th c., reaching its apogee with the bolshevik revolution of 1917. This revolution removed the last barrier against the Mystery of Lawlessness and the arrival of the Antichrist.

In such a century, he writes: "To be a true Orthodox Christian, ready unto death to maintain ones loyalty to Christ the Savior, in our days is much more difficult that in the first days of Christianity." At times overt, as, for example, in the communist countries, the persecution of Christians is now carefully hidden. "Under cover of this deceitful, noble-looking exterior, which leads many astray, in actuality everywhere there is the most severe covert persecution of Christianity...This type of persecution is much more dangerous and terrible than its previous form, for it threatens the total evacuation of men's souls--spiritual death." Vladyka Averkii often cites the words of St. Theophan the Recluse on the final times: "Although the name of Christianity will be heard everywhere, and everywhere churches and church officials, all this will be for show--inside there will be true apostasy."

As to the manifestation of these words in our day, Archbishop Averkii writes: "The Christian world is now a frightening, joyless picture of the deepest religio-moral downfall." The lure of worldly comfort and success alienates people from God. "The servants of Antichrist more than anything else attempt to completely crowd God out of the life of people, so that, satisfied with their material contentment, they feel no need to turn to God in prayer, do not remember God, and if that is so, then that is the same as if He did not exist. That is why the whole landscape of contemporary life of the so-called 'free' countries, where there is no overt, bloody persecutions of the faith, where the right of all to believe as they will, 'as they wish,' is recognized, is the greater danger to the soul of the Christian, for it nails them wholly to this earth, making them forget about Heaven. All of contemporary 'culture,' directed entirely towards solely earthly goals, and the devilish whirlpool of daily life, holds man in perpetual fuss and distraction, within which there is not even the possibility of descending into the depths of one's soul, and the spiritual life in him gradually dies." All of contemporary life on the social level is merely preparation for the advent of the Antichrist: "All that is happening today at the highest levels of religious, government and social life, ever since our Orthodox Russia was turned to dust, is no more than the strenuous effort on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist and his future kingdom." And this work is being done by those who have betrayed Christ as well as those who call themselves "Christians."

After Archbishop Averkii paints the dark picture of the present and future, he calls on Orthodox Christians to fight against the spirit of this world which lies in sin. "All those who desire to preserve their loyalty to Christ the Savior, must especially guard themselves against distraction by worldly pleasures, against their seduction. It is extremely dangerous to succumb to the desire to make a career for oneself, to make a name for oneself, to attain power and influence in society, to seek wealth, surrounding oneself with luxury and comfort."

For those who desire to struggle to retain one's faith, Archbishop Averkii proposes a sober and inspiring path of confessorship: "Now is the time to confess one's faith--in strength, if need be, unto death, for one's Orthodox faith, which is subjected everywhere to overt and covert attacks, oppression and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist. We must be true Christians, and not succumb to the spirit of the times, but make the Church the center of our lives. Giving thanks to the Lord God for the existence of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, not staining ourselves with submission to the dark forces of Antichrist that work in today's world, we must be true and dedicated to the Church's children, we must be also her missionaries, warriors for the true faith of Christ, surrounded by the heterodox world and among the apostates and those who are now apostating."

We must conduct a consciously prayerful life, take our nourishment from reading Holy Scripture and the works of the Holy Fathers and draw strength from the mysteries of confession and communion. Notwithstanding the deceptive promises of "progress," the path which lies before us is the path of suffering: "The Lord clearly said that it is not 'progress' that awaits us but greater and greater sorrow and suffering as a result of the 'growth of lawlessness' and the 'impoverishment of love,' and hat when He comes, He will barely find faith in the world (Lk. 18:8)."

The power of true Christians in the forthcoming terrible times is in the constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ: “The spirit of perpetual vigilance for the Second Coming of christ is the spirit of the first Christians, prayerfully calling to the Lord ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev. 22:20). And the opposite spirit is undoubtedly that of the Antichrist, attempting in every way to distract Christians from thoughts of the Second Coming of Christ and the following judgments. Those succumbing to this spirit are subject to the danger of not recognizing the Antichrist when he comes, and to fall into his snare. This is the most horrifying aspect of contemporary life, which is teeming with all kinds of seductions and temptations. The servants of the Antichrist, as the Lord warned us, will try to seduce even the chosen ones (Math. 24:24). This should not depress us and lead us to despair, just the opposite: “look up,” said the Lord Himself, “and lift your heads up, for the end is drawing near” (Lk. 21:28). Archbishop Averkii was able not only hearken to our intellectual curiosity, but more importantly to our believing hearts. He was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought, which reached us from the days of the Holy Fathers, and which he absorbed primarily from his own teachers, Feofan of the 19th c. (the Recluse, +1894) and Feofan of the 20th c. (Poltavsky, +1940). He was an irreproachable teacher of Orthodox morality and spiritual life, and at the same time an unexcelled theologian and patristic mentor for us.

In our sorrowful days there are few remaining saints. But even if we do not see among us such strong and righteous people as he, his teaching remains with us and may be a guiding light in the darkening days, which he foresaw—days when the Church may have to escape to the desert, as did the Woman in the Book of Revelations (ch. 12), the Church of the final times.

© Russkiy Pastyr’ No. 30/1998. This article was the forword to the translation of Hieromonk Seraphim of the works of Archbishop Averkii on the Book of Revelations. All the quotes of Archbishop Averkii are taken from the book “True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World.”

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