SYNOD OF BISHOPS: April 20, 2006

A Representative of the Synod of Bishops Meets with the Heads of the Romanian and Bulgarian Old-Calendar Churches

In accordance with a decision by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Mitred Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff was sent to Romania and Bulgaria for official visits with the Heads of the Romanian and Bulgarian Old-Calendar Churches .

On the way, at the instructions of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, Fr Alexander visited Switzerland to meet with His Grace Bishop Ambroise of Vevey, and reported in detail on the process of negotiations with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Fr Alexander arrived in Romania on Monday, April 10, where he was met at Bucharest Airport by Archimandrite Kiprian, Abbott of the Old-Calendar monastery in Galata. They headed to the Moldavian part of Romania , to the city of Falticheni , arriving that evening at the home of the local parish priest, Protopriest Vasili Sando. After viewing his very beautiful church, Fr Alexander and his escorts visited Fr Vasili's rectory, where they met His Eminence Metropolitan Vlasie, the Head of the Romanian Old-Calendar Church .

The meeting with His Eminence was conducted with the help of Fr Kiprian, who served as interpreter, as he has a good command of the English language, and lasted for four hours, held in the spirit of respect and mutual understanding.

Fr Alexander read the letter addressed to His Eminence by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and signed by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and heard his response, which expressed the opinion of the Old-Calendar Romanian Church. The Rector of Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Los Angeles, Fr Alexander, then answered His Eminence's questions on the work of the Commission on talks with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Vlasie asked the Fr Alexander relay his gratitude to His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and to the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad for their letter, hand-delivered by their personal representative, and that he would soon issue an official response.

The second official visit, this time with other members of the Synod of the Old-Calendar Romanian Church, was scheduled for the following morning, Tuesday, April 11, at Slatioara Monastery.

That day, Protopriest Alexander and Archimandrite Kiprian visited several parishes in Romanian Moldavia, as well as Protection Convent in Bradicel, where they met with the Abbess, Hegumenia Varvara. They also met two other bishops of the Romanian Old-Calendar Church, Bishop Pahomie and Bishop Demosten.

On the way back to Bucharest , Fr Alexander and Fr Kiprian passed an enormous equestrian statue of Russian General Suvorov, a figure greatly respected in Romania .

Arriving late that evening in Bucharest, Fr Alexander had the opportunity to attend the evening service at the Old-Calendar men's Monastery of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos, where, according to the rule, midnight office and matins begin exactly at 12:00 am.

On the morning of April 12, Fr Alexander had the opportunity to view the monastery and its operations. The monastery has a workshop for marble and granite work equipped with the latest technology. The monks carve detail work for new churches, monuments and cemeteries.

By midday, Fr Alexander took a short flight from Romania to Bulgaria , where he was met by rassophore monk Panteleimon at Sofia Airport . Fr Alexander was please that the large building at the exit from the airport has the word "Mytnitsa" inscribed in Church Slavonic lettering. This is the customs office, where the mytniki , the Slavonic word for the biblical tax collectors, work.

Arriving at the episcopal residence in the outskirts of Sofia , Fr Alexander was greeted by his Grace Bishop Photius of Triaditsa, the Head of the Bulgarian Old Calendar Church, who speaks fluent Russian.

The official meeting was scheduled for the following morning; however there was an opportunity to speak with Bishop Photius unofficially several times.

During the official visit on Thursday, April 13, Fr Alexander, the Secretary of the Commission on talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, read aloud and presented the letter from the Synod of Bishops signed by Metropolitan Laurus addressed to His Grace Bishop Photius, and heard the latter's thoughts on its contents.

The meeting with His Grace was held in a spirit of frankness and understanding. Bishop Photius expressed thanks to His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia for sending a personal representative to present their message. He asked to relay that he will closely watch the decisions of the forthcoming IV All-Diaspora Council and the Council of Bishops immediately following, on the basis of which he will make a decision.

In the second half of the day, Protopriest Alexander had an opportunity to visit some of the treasures of Bulgaria 's capital, including the Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas the Wonder-worker. In the crypt of this splendid pre-Revolutionary church is the abode of the remains of Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of blessed memory, who died in 1950. Archbishop Seraphim is very highly regarded by the local Bulgarian population, and crowds of people gather at his crypt every day for prayer, leaving notes with their supplications.

Fr Alexander also visited the main Bulgarian church—the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky, built as a memorial to the Russian people and especially the Tsar-Liberator Alexander II. The Cathedral is located in the central square across from an enormous equestrian statue of the Tsar, at whose feet are inscribed the words: "To the Tsar-Liberator—from Grateful Bulgaria." The main thoroughfare is in fact called "Boulevard of the Tsar-Liberator." The crypt of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral holds a permanent exhibition of Bulgarian icons and ecclesiastical items of the last 10 centuries.

Fr Alexander was also able to attend divine services at the monastery at the episcopal residence, and also at the large Old Calendar Cathedral of Sofia. After the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy held on Friday, April 14, Protopriest Alexander departed through London to Los Angeles, arriving in time for all-night vigil on the eve of Palm Sunday.