SYNOD OF BISHOPS: September 15, 2004

His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus Visits New Kursk-Root Hermitage and the Synodal Candle Factory

On September 14, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus prayed at St Sergius Chapel on the first floor of the Synodal building in New York, and on the eve presided at a meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Eastern America and New York, at which current issues from church life in the Diocese were discussed.

At the end of divine liturgy, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, accompanied by Priest Serafim Gan and his cell-attendant Nicholas Olhovsky, visited New Kursk-Root Hermitage in Mahopac, some 40 miles from New York City, where he venerated the icons of the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, visited the two chapels and cemetery, where Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago and Detroit (Ivanov; +1987) is laid to rest, and inspected the Synodal candle factory. His Eminence was greeted at the Hermitage by Priest Alexander Botschagow, the Manager of the candle factory, and Psalm-reader Maxim Needleman. His Eminence Vladyka then visited the Church itself, where he venerated the icons with relics of saints and shared his recollections of the celebrations conducted at New Kursk-Root Hermitage under Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky; +1965) of blessed memory, Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky; +1976) and Archbishop Averky (Taushev; +1976), who drew enormous numbers of worshipers. The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia also remembered one of the first feast day services of the Hermitage, at which he, as a hieromonk, participated, along with Metropolitan Anastassy, during which the latter announced with great joy that some ancient holy icons of Russia had been returned, expressing the hope that these events would strengthen the Russian people suffering under atheism.

The well-known philanthropists, Prince and Princess Belosselsky-Belozersky, learning in 1949 of the proposed transfer of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God to the USA, lovingly agreed to grant to the Synod their country estate near Mahopac. It was decided, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Anastassy, to establish a stavropighial Synodal podvorie (branch) on this estate upon the arrival of the Synod in the US, to be set up as a temporary residence. Temporary because it was still forty miles from New York City, and travel was difficult, especially in winter. The founder and rector of this podvorie was Bishop Seraphim (Ivanov). At the beginning of the 1950's, he arrived at his new appointment alone and without a penny in his pocket. After some time, two hieromonks joined to form a brotherhood, while the Russian engineer V.I. Vishnevsky and his assistants began renovation and construction. The Miracle-working Icon was at this time still in Germany, where the faithful could not come to part with it. Nevertheless, soon the Hermitage was to host the great joy of the Icon's arrival, for which it was established to begin with. February 5, 1951 (n.s.), became a historic day in the life of the Russian emigres in the USA; the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God arrived, accompanied by Archimandrite Averky (Taushev). Bishop Seraphim welcomed the Icon at the airport and it was quickly driven by car to the Kursk-Root Hermitage.

In 1952, the Synod of Bishops moved to New York, where a Synodal church was established to house the miracle-working Icon, for being located at some distance from the city would have hindered the Synod of Bishops in fully manifesting its ecclesio-social activity, especially in winter.

The New Kursk-Root Hermitage was headed for many years by Archimandrite Innokentii (Bystrov). In 1927, for his refusal to join the so-called "Living Church," Fr Innokentii was imprisoned in Vladivostok by the Soviet government, by decision of the OGPU [Ob'edinennoe Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie, or "Combined State Political Directorate"], where he spent 18 days. In August of that year, for the "crime" of teaching the Law of God, he was once more sent to prison, where he spent 14 days. In 1928 he was exiled from the Vladivostok Diocese for the same "crime." That year, for refusing to join the "Living Church," he was expelled from the Blagoveshchensk Diocese, and in 1930, without any charges filed, was sent into forced labor. In 1931, he was received by Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk (Anisimov; +1962), and appointed priest of the "House of Mercy" church in Harbin. In 1934, Fr Innokentii was appointed . rector of the Russian Orthodox Community on the island of Yava, where he served until his arrival in the United States in the 1950's, where he was appointed to the New Kursk-Root Hermitage. There were only a few brethren at the Hermitage--ten in total, among which half were monastics, the others trudniki, or volunteer workers. In years past, many worshipers would come during the summer. Many spent the night, others spent their vacations there to "breathe the air of the Russian church." There were also families that spent the entire summers there with their children. In order to serve their needs, a garage was at first transformed into a small hostel, primitive, of course, but then a new, real hostel was built.

Unfortunately, at the present time there are no more monks there, and most of the buildings on the territory are in severe disrepair. The main building containing the church is in need of capital renovation, not to speak of the other buildings.

His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus inspected the candle factory and asked questions of the workers. Thanks to the efforst of Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Priest Alexander Botschagow and their assistants, the candle factory produces high-quality beeswax candles and is expanding its operations.

Then, His Eminence went to the cemetery, where he prayed at the grave of Archbishop Seraphim, Bishop Evlogii and Archimandrite Feofan, the cell-attendant of the late Vladyka Seraphim, after which His Eminence Vladyka departed for Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.

On September 21, on the Nativity of the Mother of God and the Translation of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, there will be a solemn liturgy at the New Kursk-Root Hermitage, and on September 26, a pilgrimage of the Diocese to the Hermitage, where the services will be led by His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan. It is proposed that one of the morning sessions of the October session of the Synod of Bishops will be held at the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God.