DIOCESE OF SAN FRANCISCO AND WESTERN AMERICA: November 22, 2006
The Eldest Clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
On Sunday, November 19, the senior priest of the Western American Diocese, Protopresbyter Elias Wen, turned 110. Father Elias was born in the 19th century, in 1896, in Peking, China. As a boy he received baptism at the Chinese Orthodox Mission. After studies at the Orthodox School run by the Mission, he entered into the seminary, which he completed in 1918. The seminary was responsible for preparing missionaries for the Chinese people.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church was unable to continue its missionary efforts in China and so Father Elias, who received a complete theological education, decided to dedicate himself to serving Russian Orthodox refugees in China. In order to accomplish this, he first learned Russian and Church Slavonic.
In 1924 Father Elias was ordained deacon and on November 26, 1931, Archbishop Simon ordained him priest. Thus 2006 also marks Father Elias' 75th Anniversary of the priesthood. It is very probable that he is the senior (by ordination) clergyman of the entire Russian Church, both in Russia and abroad!
Father Elias served a number of parishes in Shanghai. After the new Cathedral "Surety of Sinners" was built, he was assigned the position of Dean of the Cathedral and in 1946 – the Rector of the Cathedral. In the cathedral he served together with Archbishop John (Maximovitch).
In 1949, Father Elias was sent to Hong Kong to organize a parish there. Because communists occupied Shanghai, he was unable to return there.
In 1957, Father Elias was transferred to the Western American Diocese and assigned to the Holy Virgin Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow," to which he is still attached. During his active duty at the Cathedral, Father Elias, besides celebrating the services, sang and read on the kliros daily.
In the course of his pastorate Father Elias, whose mind is still clear and has an excellent memory, would recount to the Cathedral clergy events from church life in China, his memories of Saint John, old Russian liturgical practice and the history of the Holy Virgin Cathedral.
It has been about seven years since Protopresbyter Elias Wen last served. Following the repose of ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) in 2000, Father Elias took part in one of the memorial services. He had a great love, respect and appreciation for Vladyka Anthony.
At present Father Elias lives with his son. He is regularly communed by the Cathedral ecclesiarch, Protopriest Sergei Kotar. Every year on the Feast of the Prophet Elias, Father Elias has a festal lunch for the Cathedral clergy.
On Sunday, November 19, the Cathedral clergy visited Father Elias and greeted him on behalf of the Cathedral parishioners, diocesan clergy and flock.