Early Years of Our First Hierarch Metropolitan Philaret
ancient Russian Lives of Saints and chronicles, one often
finds the phrase: He was a good offshoot of a good root.
I would like to apply these words to our First Hierarch, Metropolitan
His father, protopriest Fr. Nikolai Voznesenky, who later
assumed the monastic life and became the archbishop of Khailar,
where he was one of the finest, if not the very finest, clergymen
of the Far East diocese of Manchuria, already rich with good
Having graduated Moscow Theological Academy, Fr. Nikolai had
an impressive and multi-faceted theological and scientific
education. He wrote the finest textbooks on the Law of God,
which were used by Russian youth throughout the Far East.
It must be noted that in the Far East, the study of the Law
of God was not abbreviated, but expanded, similar to the way
it was taught in pre-revolutionary Russia.
In Harbin, Fr. Nikolai Voznesensky moved from the city of
Blagoveshchensk, which bordered Manchuria, as soon as the
Amur region fell to the Bolsheviks. In Harbin, Fr. Nikolai
became the rector of the magnificent Iveron Church, which
before the revolution was the church of the Amur Military
Soon upon his arrival in Harbin, if not back in Blagoveshchensk,
Fr. Nikolai lost his dear wife and enthusiastically assumed
the rearing of his childrentwo sons and three daughters.
The family of Fr. Nikolai was suffused with enlightened, purely
Orthodox, deeply religious spirit. The author of these lines
was friendly with every member of the family. There interests
were so multi-faceted! So many varying and profound were the
topics of their conversations during teatime and in the cosy
rectory of Iveron Church!
It was in this gracious atmosphere that the young Yura grew
up, later to become the student Georgii Nikolaevich Voznesenky,
already in those years become Fr. George and soon Fr. Philaret,
and now our First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Philaret.
Harbin was an anomaly at that time. Built by the Russians
on Chinese territory, it was a typical Russian provincial
town for another 25 years after the revolution. There were
26 Orthodox churches in Harbin, of those, 22 real parish churches,
a whole network of middle schools and 6 institutions of higher
learning. By the mercy of God, Harbin continued its normal,
pre-revolutionary life for a quarter-century.
Even the recognition by China of the Soviet Union in 1924
and the transfer to Soviet hands of the railroad, with all
the rights pertaining to it which Manchuria enjoyed under
the Tsarist government, the arrival in Harbin of the emissaries
of Moscow only superficially changed the way of life in the
More noticeable was the cessation of material support for
the Church by the railroad administration and the seizure
by the Soviets of a portion of the higher and middle educational
institutions in Harbin and Manchuria.
There were many higher and middle educational institutions
in Harbin. But there was one thing missing there: there were
no higher theological schools.
There was a polytechnical institute, a legal educational institution,
an institute of commerce, of Eastern languages, a pedagogical
institute, at one time a medical school, which closed as a
result of lack of funding for equipment.
Yet there was no religious school. It seemed to many that
there was no need for one, because Harbin had few young people
interested in a clerical profession. Yura Voznesensky was
one of the first. From his early years, he loved the Church
with loving devotion. He heard deep, often inspired, broadly-knowledgable
words of witness of the Church. Attentively reading the works
of the Holy Fathers with love, he was literally infused with
He loved mathematics for its pure, dispassionate clarity.
For this reason, with the lack of a theological school, he
enrolled in the Polytechnical Institute and graduated with
Yet the thirst for religious studies remained unsatisfied
Fr. Nikolai began to work towards gaining a religious education
for his son outside of Harbin. The young engineer, G.N. Voznesensky
was accepted into the American Theological Institute in Wisconsin.
His acceptance hinged on certain conditions, and in the end,
Georgii Nikolaevich had to decline his acceptance.
Another young student who sought to become a clergyman tried
to take advantage of the same plan, but also could not. When
several years later he told his sad story to the renowned
Serbian hierarch and sermonizer, Bishop Nikolai Okhriditsky,
the latter responded: Thank God for that
there for eight years and learned the same things I learned
in two years at an Anglican school.
After this setback, Fr. Nikolai began to try to create a theological
school in Harbin. In connection with the option at the American
school, it was revealed that besides G. Voznesenky there were
other young people who wished to follow a religious calling.
Finally, Fr. Nikolai Voznesensky was able to establish Pastoral-Theological
Courses, which were immediately approved by the Synod of Bishops
as a fully-accredited institution of higher theological learning,
however, the Manchurian government only recognized it as such
some years later.
Fr. Nikolai was the very soul of these courses. He was the
President of the Pedagogical Council, a lecturer on Holy Scripture,
Church History, and Apologetics. But there were other brilliant
and fascinating professors and teachers at the Theological
Courses. There were primarily professors of the Kazan Theological
Academy. The Course offered 15 subjects. There were 14 students
in the first class, and eleven in the second. Almost all of
these students fervently and selflessly devoted themselves
to their studies.
Enrolling in the Courses, G. Voznesensky immediately outshone
the others as the best student. At the same time, he was ordained
into the deaconate as a celibate, that is, not marrying yet
not entering the monkhood. In due time he became a priest,
At the same time, living in Harbin, Bishop Nestor of Kamchatka,
who lived in Harbin yet did not join the diocese and so independent,
created a so-called House of Mercyan orphanage for orphans
and a refuge for the elderly.
A magnificent church was built at the House of Mercy. A need
for clergymen arose. In 1929, Bishop Nestor tonsured into
the monkhood one of the students of the Theological Courses,
a friend of Fr. George Voznesenky. Fr. George began to visit
the House of Mercy and a short time later decided to become
a monk, settling there with another priest-monk. Upon his
tonsuring, Fr. George was given the name Philaret. This began
the life of a monastic community at the House of Mercy.
Along with his friend, Fr. Philaret lived in a cell for 8
years, and, recently, remembering those days, he told the
nuns of Lesna Convent in France: We lived with Fr. NN
for eight years in one cell and did not quarrel once.
Both young monks daily, in turn, performed divine services
in the church, read the rules and the Holy Fathers. Still,
they had little knowledge of special monastic services, such
as midnight office and compline.
But in 1930, two monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery, so-called
Shmakovsky, the holy lavra of the Far East established in
the end of the 19th century by the great Spirit-bearing strugglers,
Fathers Sergii and German, arrived from the Primoriye region,
which they fled. The monastery was halfway between Khabarovsk
and Vladivostok, 20 kilometers from the railroad station of
Shmakovka. Since the founders of the monastery were tonsures
of Valaam Monastery, the monastic rule of the latter was introduced.
This monastery had been very active: there were workshops,
a tailor works, shoe manufactury, metalsmithy, woodshop and
blacksmithy. There were also a printshop and bindery. The
monasterys books educated all of the Russian Far East.
There was an apiary and a dairy farm with a special area for
reindeer breeding. There were orangeries and nurseries under
the supervision of Hegumen Sergii, who had finished the Higher
Agronomical Institue, in which the monks acclimatized for
the Far East all sorts of vegetables and fruiting plants of
Russia. There was a candle factory and a school. There were
up to 300 monks and novices there. The Monastery owned 3753
dessiatins [transl. note: each dessiatina is equal to 2.7
acres] of land, mostly in the remote areas of the coastal,
Most importantly, there was a high level of spiritual struggle
in the monastery, to which Orthodox souls were drawn from
the entire Far East, seeking the Lenten life,
as to a lantern. Among the brethren were not only Russians
but Orthodox Chinese as well, and Koreans and a few Japanese.
All this was rooted out by the communists in 1926. The monastery
was closed, monks driven away, the workshops and means of
production seized and collectivized. But in two years, nothing
was left: the reindeer died off, the acclimatized plants disappeared.
The priest Father Vasiliy Bystrov had become a widower a few
years earlier (the reposed archimandrite of New-Root Hermitage
in Mahopac, Fr. Innokentii), and the novice, Brother Andrei,
who lived in Shmakovsky Monastery, four years after its closing
fled to Manchuria to Bishop Nestor, whom they knew from frequent
visits of the bishop to the monastery.
Fr. Vasiliy and Brother Andrei, soon tonsured into the monkhood
with the name of Kliment, settled in a room besides the cell
of Fr. Philaret and the other hieromonk. Fr. Vasiliy and Fr.
Kliment introduced the monastic Rule of Shmakovsky Monastery,
that is, that of Valaam, into the newly-expanding monastic
community of the House of Mercy.
The monks arose every morning at 4:30 a.m. At 5 a.m. they
read the midnight office. Following was the liturgy, which
was served by rotation. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Fr. Philaret
served. Wednesdays and Thursdays, his friend, Fridays and
Saturdays, Fr. Vasiliy Bystrov. On Sundays, Bishop Nestor
served along with all the clergymen of the House of Mercy.
After dinner, the monks served compline. Tha canon was read,
including the akathist. The spiritual fervor of the monks
urged them to seek out additional readings which could be
After compline until the end of midnight office, all conversations
Spiritual fervor is always contagious. The young monks of
the House of Mercy were gradually joined by young people who
loved the Church and were drawn to the monastic life. Some
of them assumed monasticism. By the middle of the 1930s,
there were already 9 monks at the House of Mercy.
Among these we will note the close friend of Fr. Philaret,
Hieromonk Mefodii (Kyrill in his temporal life) Iogel, who
later became the eminent sermonizer, who died a tragically-young
age. Also to be noted is Fr. Niel, K. Nosov in his temporal
life, a selfless youth who in 1934-5 secretly went to Russia
with anti-communist assignments from patriotic organizations
in Harbin. He also died young, having contracted a cold and
tuberculosis as a result of immersing himself in the cold
waters of the Amur in October during his return from Russia.
We also note the Chinese Fr. Ilya, who established a candle
factory at the House of Mercy.
In 1932, Fr. Philaret, together with scouts from the Harbin
brigade, walked 107 kilometers to Maoershan Station, where
he was to set up a childrens summer camp.
This distance was covered by the brigade in three days. On
the first day, 40 kilometers was hiked, the second, 35 and
on the third, 28 kilometers were to have been traveled, but
since the difference between the verst and kilometers, the
scouts were mistakenly told that the distance between Harbin
and Maoershan was 103 kilometers instead of 107.
These last four extra kilometers were particularly difficult
for the young men and children. It was dry and hot that summer.
There was no river, no stream on the road for a long time.
Water from canteens was long ago finished. Their thirst was
intolerable. Suddenly, a small swamp appeared.
Fr. Philaret, resounded the voices of the children,
bless this water, well drink from it then, and
nothing will happen to us.
Fr. Philaret read the Lords Prayer and blessed the drink
for the servants of God.
The scouts threw themselves into the water.
Fr. Philaret, I swallowed a tadpole, said one
Thats alright, this water was blessed. For
he who drinks of poison will not be harmed, it says
in Scripture, said Scout Semyon wisely, one of the frequent
worshipers and the monastic services at the House of Mercy.
When during the final two additional kilometers
to Maoershan, the children reached their limits, sitting down
and refusing to continue, the lone voice of Fr. Philaret began,
quietly at first: I crossed the water as on dry land,
and escaped the wickedness of Egypt
The holy words
were caught up by the children, of which some half sang in
their church choirs. A flash of courage flashed through the
tired faces of the children. They gathered themselves up and
with the singing of the irmosi reached Maoershan Station,
where they were met by a group who had traveled by train.
In camp, Fr. Philaret and his friend, with the help of the
scouts, built a camp chapel from intertwined branches, in
which daily monastic services were performed, the midnight
office and compline, all-night vigil on Saturdays and divine
liturgy on Sundays.
They accompanied the scouts on long hikes. Especially interesting
was the hike to Maoershan Mountain, at which the visited a
Buddhist monastery, and found a cave in which there was a
fossilized image of an ancient saber-toothed tiger.
Besides the scout camp, Fr. Philaret ministered to a similar
camp of another youth organization competing with the scouts.
Not far from the scout camp was a large raspberry garden belonging
to a Chinese merchant, who would allow the scouts in for 10
cents a person. The children were able to eat all the raspberries
they could there, but couldnt take any with them.
One time, Fr. Philaret joined the children on a visit to the
raspberry garden. Before eating a berry, Fr. Philaret crossed
himself. The children followed his example and one of the
little wolf cubs said: Its so good
that a priest is with usbefore we gulped raspberries
without crossing ourselves!
Seeing how some children eagerly attacked the raspberries
and quarreled over them, Fr. Philaret said:
We are stuffing ourselves with delicious raspberries
now, but the ancient fathers did not have the same approach.
One holy hermit father was brought as a gift a large frond
of ripe, sweet grapes. The holy father thanked them, but did
not eat of it himself, but sent it to a neighboring hermit.
He did the same. And all the holy fathers of the desert did
so, too. Finally, the grapes returned to the first hermit,
and he rejoiced that all the hermits of the area turned out
to be just as restrained.
But what happened to the grapes? asked one scout.
I dont know, but I think that the first hermit
squeezed the juice out of them, and then, when it became wine,
used it for liturgy, said Fr. Philaret.
So, does that mean that we shouldnt eat the raspberries?
asked one crestfallen boy.
No, children, eat the raspberries as you like. But do
not give your entire souls over to it. Do not be enslaved
by raspberries, or any other food. Eat with your mouths and
stomachs, but do not give your souls to it. I told you about
the ancient hermits, great giants of spirit, not to spoil
your appetite for the raspberries, but to remind you that
our guides, our examples, are not those who are enslaved by
bodily instincts, but those who could master them, those who
did not touch the delicious grapes, although, of course, they
very much wished to no less than we wish to eat the raspberries,
but they could subject their desires to the effort to struggle
in spirit and to their care for their neighbors. That is what
we must learn.
* * * *
a great degree because of Fr. Philarets influence, the
main readings in the House of Mercy were the works of the
Holy Fathers. The young monks tried to sate their souls with
their holy guidance and shining examples.
The young monastics of the House of Mercy were greatly impressed
by the lessons of the Holy Fathers on how to be tactful with
one another. It is said that one of the ancient monks would
often recline and cross his legs, which was considered unseemly
for a monk. Not wishing to insult his brother by rebuking
him, but wishing to help correct this behavior, two holy elders
agreed that one would recline in the same position and the
other would make a remark. They did so, and the young monk
corrected his unmonk-like habit.
A couple of years after the establishment of the House of
Mercy, one of the monks began to read a temporal book. Brother
Semyon saw this and was troubled. But remembering the testament
of the Holy Fathers on the importance of tactfulness, he kept
circling the monk and finally asked:
Fr. N., what are you reading?
Mowgli, by Kipling.
I also used to read useless books before I entered the
* * * *
the young people who attended the House of Mercy became monks,
but all became close to the Church.
In the mid-1930s, the Soviet authorities sold the Eastern
Chinese Railroad to Japan. Tens of thousands of Russians who
worked on the railroad were dismissed and had to choose: to
depart for the USSR or to remain jobless in Manchuria. Among
those who remained were many young people, educated in Soviet
schools, where they were drawn away from the Church and persuaded
that religion was incompatible with science and was a sign
Among these young people, the monks of the House of Mercy
did missionary work, using the simplest methods.
Fr. Philaret always loved to fish. The fishing in Manchuria
was very good. On days free of church services and other obligations,
Fr. Philaret and other young monks invited the former Soviet
youth to go fishing with them, and often around the campfires
at night on the beautiful banks of the Sungari River or at
small lakes, after inspired conversations, the spiritual eyes
of these young people would be opened to the founding tenets
of the faith.
Once three such young Soviet-educated people came to matins
being performed by Fr. Philaret and his friend. After service,
the five of them had to leave for an overnight fishing trip.
But suddenly one of the parishioners requested a service of
need. The young people had to wait.
Read something here, said the monks to them.
What is there to read, this is only religious stuff,
its not interesting, protested the youths wanly.
Fr. Philaret opened the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27
and 28, and gave it to them to read during the service of
commemoration. Twenty minutes later, finishing the service,
the monks approached the youths.
Were ready to go fishing.
Wait, let us finish reading, this really is interesting.
And so those who had never read Holy Scripture became acquainted
* * * *
Besides daily services, the monks of the House of Mercy carried
obediences in the teaching of the Law of God in an orphanage
and in various middle schools of Harbin. The students of the
girls Aksakov Gymnasium would say later: Of all
the classes in the Law of God, we only remember those of Fr.
Having become a monk and settling at the House of Mercy, Fr.
Philaret continued to preserve close ties to his father, Protopriest
N. Voznesensky, who also soon after assumed the monkhood with
the name of Dimitriy, and became bishop (later archbishop)
Despite the fact that the House of Mercy and Iveron Church,
where Bishop Dimitriy lived, were in opposite ends of the
city, Fr. Philaret often visited his father. Once, returning
from a visit to his father, Fr. Philaret came upon a beggar
asking for alms in the name of Christ. Fr. Philaret only had
10 cents with him, the price of a ticket from Iveron Church
to the House of Mercy.
Still, he gave these 10 cents to the beggar, and continued
on foot, some 5-6 kilometers awayan hour and a half
away at a brisk pace. On the way, Fr. Philaret thought about
the fact that they say that if one gives in the name of Christ,
that it will be returned to you a hundredfold, but this does
not happen on earth.
Returning to the House of Mercy, he remembered that the marriage
of two of his spiritual children was scheduled that day, which
he was to perform. Donations for services of need were collected
in a common cup, which was then distributed for the maintenance
of the orphanage and old persons home, and a part going
to the clergymen.
But in this case, the newlyweds, putting in the corresponding
amount into the cup, gave Fr. Philaret 10 dollars, saying:
Dear Father, please, take these ten dollars for yourself
personally, its from our love for you.
This way, Fr. Philaret, a few hours after giving away 10 cents
in the name of Christ, received exactly a hundredfold in return.
Approaching his monk-friends, he said sadly:
For todays kind deed I will receive nothing in
the Kingdom of Heaven, since I received my reward in its entirety
here on earth.
* * * * *
Metropolitan Anthony was still among the living then. The
young monks of the House of Mercy nurtured endless respect
and love for the great elder bishop, father and teacher of
the Church. His works, especially Testament, Pastoral
Theology, Lexicon for the Works of Dostoevsky,
were favorite readings of these young monks. They were raised
on Metropolitan Anthonys writings, they absorbed them,
maturing in spirit, and kept the image of these works before
Despite the 10,000 kilometers separating them, the Metropolitan
found these young admirers of his, Fr. Philaret and his friend,
who wrote to him. Burdened by great labors, serious concerns
in heading our much-suffering Church in exile, the elderly
Metropolitan found time to respond to these two young monks,
who seemed so insignificant then.
Soon afterwards, one of the monks of the House of Mercy [the
author of these linesed.] was to accompany Bishop Nestor
during his trip to the Council of Bishops convening in Yugoslavia,
and saw Metropolitan Anthony there himself.
Metropolitan Anthony greeted the young monk with fatherly
love and asked him about each of the monastics of the House
of Mercy by name, especially Fr. Philaret, whom he especially
loved among the group. It may be that as early as 1933, his
grace-filled spirit allowed him to foresee the great bishop,
that the lantern he lit in the diaspora would be passed to
the hands of this very young hieromonk.
One episode showed this especially cleary. Not long before
his departure from Yugoslavia, sitting at the table with Metropolitan
Anthony, the monk from Manchuria turned to the First Hierarch
with the request to give him an autographed photo as a memento.
Vladyka Anthony eagerly complied. The Metropolitans
aide, Fr. Archimandrite Feodosii brought him a photograph
for his inscription.
The Manchurian monk looked over the shoulder of Vladyka and
froze. The Metropolitan wrote: To my dear and favored
Fr. Hieromonk Philaret, with heartfelt love, Metropolitan
Anthony. Despite that fact that another hieromonk was
standing beside him, some half a meter away, the mind and
heart of Vladyka Anthony were with the one he chose, never
having seen in person, ten thousand kilometers away.
The disappointed sigh of Fr. N. distracted Vladyka Anthony
from his writing. He raised his head, looked at Fr. N. warmly
Oh, yes, this photograph was meant for you, and
taking another one, he made a similar inscription upon it.
So, for thousands of miles, a thread was stretched between
two blessed leaders of our holy Orthodox Church Abroad, the
great Metropolitan Anthony and our present [third-ed.] First
Hierarch, the blessed, humble spirit-bearer, Metropolitan
From the compendium Conversations on Holy Scripture
and Faith, New York, 1995.