Pastoral Retreat and Conference of the Eastern Part
of the Canadian Diocese Held in Montreal

For the second year in a row, the Great Lenten Pastoral Retreat and Conference of the Eastern part of the Canadian Diocese was held at its cathedral city of Montreal. The Parish of the Cathedral of St Nicholas is renowned throughout Canada for its Russian open-heartedness and hospitality. Despite the great difficulties endured by the parish recently in connection with the continuing reconstruction of their cathedral after the fire of 1998, a great deal of effort is always employed in ensuring that these fraternal meetings are held in an atmosphere of love and joy for all involved.

The Pastoral Retreat was coincided with a conference, a session of the Diocesan Council and of the Brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev. For this reason, not only parish rectors and clergymen of Eastern Canada gathered in St Nicholas Cathedral on the morning of March 24, 2005, but also members of the Diocesan Council and of the Brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev.

After a moleben performed before an icon of St Nicholas, the Pastoral Retreat opened with a greeting by His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan, Administrator of the Eastern Canadian Diocese. Vladyka Gabriel relayed to those present the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This year, His Eminence could not attend the Retreat in Canada, which he had very much hoped to do, because his schedule was especially full this year; also, His Eminence had recently visited Montreal on the feast day of St Nicholas last December, when His Eminence participated in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Cathedral.

In his address, His Grace Bishop Gabriel noted that it is specifically the acts of making confession and partaking of the Eucharist, and the unified performance of Great Lenten services that represent the most important aspect of such meetings. "Returning to our parishes, we must again and again remind our flock that the days of Great Lent are given to us as a time of special vigilance over our spiritual lives, a time of cleansing, of repentant prayer, drawing us closer to understanding the will of God." If we remember that the days of strict lent of the Holy Forty Days and Passion Week (excluding Sundays and holidays, when lent is partially abated), form virtually one tenth of the year, one can say that Great Lent is a spiritual tithe that we pay to our Lord God, a notion we even find in the Old Testament.

The parish rectors, clergymen, and members of the Diocesan Council participated in an open discussion of the general improvement in church and parish life in the Eastern part of the Diocese, which followed a period of troubles. Vladyka Gabriel, who had arrived from Ottawa late the night before, told those present of the recent events in Protection Memorial Church in that city in connection with the five-year legal battle.

After lunch, a meeting of the Diocesan Council was held, attended by all. Following this was a meeting of the Board of Directors and members of the Brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev. Board Member and Treasurer of the Brotherhood Priest Michael Metni reported on the continuing efforts of a group of individuals known as the "church in exile" and the "church of St Seraphim of Sarov" to seize the Brotherhood's property, illicitly claiming themselves to be the "real directors of the Brotherhood." The Diocesan Administration and Brotherhood must constantly counteract these ill-intentioned efforts.

But, as was already stated, the situation in the Eastern Canadian Diocese, and first and foremost in Montreal, where the division of 2001 was most acutely felt, had changed completely. Prayer and brotherly love reign in the Cathedral of St Nicholas, where the number of parishioners is growing from service to service. The main task of the parishioners is to quickly complete the reconstruction in the lower portion of the church building, which houses the parish hall, school and kitchen.

The Great Lenten matins began at 5:30 pm and ended after 9 o'clock. A combined men's choir sang under the direction of Reader George A. Skok from Toronto. A particular characteristic of this service, which is in itself especially inspirational and filled with humble and pacifying sorrow, was that fact that acting as readers and chanters were the priests attending the Retreat. All the worshipers, including the writer, witnessed what wonderful and prayerful readers the Rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, Protopriest Vladimir Malchenko and the native of St Petersburg, Priest Vyacheslav Davydenko of St Xenia Church in Kanata, who read the Six Psalms, are. In the words of Leo Tolstoy, they performed their kliros duties with that typical Russian spiritual humility and meekness which subliminally affects the Russian Orthodox heart.

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts began at 8:30 am on Friday, March 25. His Grace Bishop Gabriel led the service along with the clergymen of the Eastern Canadian Diocese and Deacon Vasily Milonov and Deacon Alexander Morin.

At the end of service, at 1 pm, all were invited for a trapeza prepared by the tireless Sisterhood of St Nicholas Cathedral. This particular Sisterhood is renowned for its chefs, but this time they even outdid themselves: veritable masterpieces of Orthodox Lenten cooking were offered at this Retreat. As was to be expected, this brought everyone particular joy, and the Sisters were doubly thanked. During the repast and before his departure, Vladyka Gabriel and the participants of the Retreat had a long conversation, at which His Grace answered questions on daily pastoral work.

A participant of the Retreat