DIOCESE OF EASTERN AMERICA AND NEW YORK: May 26, 2006
Bishop Evtikhii of Ishim and Siberia Visits St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC
After the close of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in San Francisco, CA, which accepted and confirmed the Resolution of the preceding IV All-Diaspora Council, His Grace Bishop Evtikhii of Ishim and Siberia visited Washington, DC. On May 20, at St John the Baptist Cathedral, His Grace officiated at all-night vigil, and then Divine Liturgy the following day.
His Grace Bishop Evtkihii devoted the Sunday sermon to St John the Apostle and Evangelist, whose feast day it was. Vladyka noted that Apostle John was the closest disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that he was profoundly imbued with His teachings, making love the cornerstone of his life and writings. This Evangelic love preached by Apostle John, continued Vladyka Evtikhii, was clearly present at the IV All-Diaspora Council, and inspired the delegates who gathered from throughout the world to become the participants of the true miracle of ecclesiastical sobornost' [conciliarity] which led to the fundamental decisions on the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church.
After Liturgy and the trapeza luncheon in the overfilled parish hall, a meeting was held at which Parish Rector Protopriest Victor Potapov shared with the parishioners and visitors the final documents of the IV All-Diaspora Council. Vladyka Evtikhii and Fr Victor responded to a plethora of questions. Fr Victor had to leave soon in order to participate in the airing of a program on the Russian channel Natsional'ny interes [National Interest] devoted to the normalization of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate (other participants in the telecast were Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad; Protopriest Nikolai Balashov, member of the Moscow Patriarchate's Commission on talks with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; historian and Deputy of the State Duma Natalia Narochnitskaya; and President of the Fund for Russian Culture, Nikita Mikhalkov).
On May 24, after a moleben to SS Cyrill and Methodius, Equal-to-the-Apostles, His Grace Bishop Evtikhii hosted a second meeting with the Cathedral's parishioners.
During the meetings and in personal conversations, Vladyka Evtikhii was often asked what inspired him, having 16 years earlier idealistically departed from the Moscow Patriarchate in favor of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to speak so decisively in support of restoring Eucharistic communion between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Vladyka Evtikhii responds to this in a statement written during his visit to Washington:
Experiences at the IV All-Diaspora Council
Which Led to My Obedience to the Will of God.
First of all, I am no mystic. I consider mystification as harmful to the spiritual life and to salvation. I am against anyone categorizing as "miraculous" that which I experienced. The Grace of God is a given in our existence, which is arranged by God in its natural condition. Divine Grace acts through human beings when they live according to the word of God, to the Gospel, the Bible. It is difficult for God to reveal His will (for that is the source of grace) to those who, like I, do not properly heed the voice of the Holy Bible. Already rooted in the custom of living independently of God's will, though we seek it, and read the Bible, we are still limited by our reason, corrupted as it is by the habit of self-will. Persistent labors are needed for us to understand the spiritual essence of Holy Scripture, as the natural, Divine source of the Grace of God. In my case, God granted that I grasp His will in a very important ecclesiastical matter, in which I, a sinner, have been granted participation.
I shared these experiences at first with His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and with his blessing, with all the other bishops of the Church Abroad, who did not deem it proper to share with the entire IV All-Diaspora Council. They probably felt pity for me, since they knew that the exaggerated "baring" of my soul before everyone would result in an overly-great burden for me. Everyone probably knows how difficult it is when another person peeks into one's soul "without removing his shoes" [impiously]. It was suggested to me that I reveal my experiences in a sermon or put them in writing.
My first attempt at a written account failed, it being a somewhat disjointed retelling of my experiences under the immediate impression of the shock I had felt. Making a second attempt at putting pen to paper, I will nonetheless try to describe my internal life during the important IV All-Diaspora Council; I will try not to forget the images which filled my thoughts, and which God showed me through Holy Scripture. I allow myself to address some earlier events in my lifetime but not only for the effectiveness of my story. In fact, during those anxious days and nights I remembered everything that had happened in my church life and even from early childhood, besides contact with people of the church who are spiritual authorities for me. Everywhere, in all the nooks of my soul, my memory, my thoughts and ponderings I sought one thing: to act in the proper way at the councils—the IV All-Diaspora Council and the Council of Bishops, so that my deeds would not contradict the will of God.
I know that the question of the unity of the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) agonized many people abroad and I consider it my sacred duty to help them find the answer which pleases God.
Trying to be frank when speaking of myself, I naturally do not expose all my sinfulness: not in order to whitewash or elevate myself, but so as not to trouble others or lead them to temptation or doom. If one could sagaciously peer into my soul, one would not find anything more than a sinful human nature. But even a donkey can sometimes express the will of God, as it happened with Balaam's ass (Numbers 22:28). For the Lord gave me the power to reason, a clerical rank and a place in His Church; do I have the right to remain mute?
Before my episcopal consecration in 1994, I was greatly troubled and my heart ached, accepting it as I would my own physical death, but the church situation of the time demanded that I preserve ecclesiastical obedience. I remembered Samuel then, as a boy in the temple, whom the Lord awakened with the words "Samuel, Samuel," and he ran to the high priest and said "Here am I" (1 Samuel 3:4). I believe I even mentioned this in my sermon on the day of my consecration. Not without grumbling did I bear my episcopal cross. In 2000 I even made an attempt to remove it from myself. I went to see Metropolitan Vitaly in order to accuse myself. Knowing how strict he was, I expected that he would suspend me from my episcopal service. But I received only a mild punishment and was forced to continue to bear my cross; I was in despair. I wept bitterly and said "Christ! How cruel are You towards me, I will complain to Your Mother!" And I complained to Her. During my repentance, made at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, with the blessing of Metropolitan Vitaly, I was given an obedience—to analyze the documents of the Jubilee Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate. This became my report at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. From the time of these two Councils, a new page in the history of the relationship between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate was turned.
This year, 2006, on the first week of Great Lent, I ended up in the hospital with serious heart attack. The coronary illness I developed as a bishop worsened to the stage of unstable stenocardia (angina pectoris). This ailment is a daily reminder of death. I penned the article "Once Again On Sergianism," and then responded to questions put to me by others. I am thankful to those who found in it not a condemnation of others, but my heartache and my cry to the Lord that He reveal His will to me.
During the pre-Council debates and anxieties, my older brother, Protopriest Mikhail, said to his distraught brethren: "God's will shall be done, and we cannot resist." But how do we know what is the will of God and not that of man?!
With these thoughts I went to the Council. How good it is that the Council begins with a Liturgy and a moleben! Arguments among some individual clergymen about whether it was "lawful" for us to serve together with the Serbian metropolitan did not reach me. I was truly happy at this concelebration. I personally needed prayerful support from the bishop of the Confessor-Church which suffers much, as does ours.
During the first meeting of the Council, I studied all the faces of the familiar, dear and respected representatives of the entire Church Abroad and thought to myself: "O, if the Lord in His own way would divulge His will to someone here!" How good it was that every day of the Council began with a Liturgy, with the common prayer of all the delegates. The Liturgy, the meetings of the Council, the common prayer and nightly solitude all turned into an unbroken prayerful inner experience, the soul turning to God with questions. And clear Biblical images would come to mind and enter the soul.
"He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter;" these words of the Prophet Isaiah (53:7) were raised that first Sunday of the Council; they consoled me, it seemed that the supporters of immediate unification are also thinking about the parishes in Russia. They are placing us into new, unknown circumstances, terrifying for us, but these people do not despise us, they pray for us. This is dictated both by sympathy and by the apparent inevitability of coming events. At the beginning of Liturgy on Monday morning, I stood in church and thought about the words of Prophet Isaiah. Time and time again the words came to mind: "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.…" I decide: then I too must remain silent, yet would this silence be the best course of action at the Council? I remembered the first follower of Christ on the path of Golgotha, Holy First-Martyr Stephen. He was not silent, but with love and with sorrow he spoke his final words as they began to stone him to death. I made the decision—I must speak at the Council. Yet I still doubted; was this the correct decision?
The time came for the reading of the Epistle, and I heard with surprise the very words of St Stephen. With trembling, I thank God for providing this hint. Jotting down my thoughts to present at the Council, I wrote the epigraph in the corner of the page: "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter…" I understand that I must speak of obedience to the will of God, but I insert my earlier notion: "Unify; but not now, sometime later."
Reading over my words, anxious, confused, I forgot about the epigraph and left my speech unfinished. It was my uncertainty in the will of God. I needed support, and God already gave it.
In one of the discussions, Protopriest Stefan Pavlenko suddenly said, as though he were speaking personally to me: "We should emulate Patriarch Abraham, who was prepared to bring to sacrifice his only-born son 'as a lamb'" (Genesis 22). This episode from the Book, written by the Holy Spirit, already convinced me, sitting at the bishops' table at the Council, that God requires not that we simply are aware of but actively express our will and bring it into concord with the Divine will, which He is so clearly showing me. Of course, it was difficult to change my recent conviction so quickly, a conviction which gave me such a feeling of "noble" righteousness… But God did not finish His dictation to me—for two days, during Liturgy on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wanted to, but could not bring myself to request, to read the Epistle. On Thursday, I was able to do so without forcing the issue. I wanted this without even knowing what the text for the day would reveal to me. No, I simply wished to give a little lesson in the technique of reading to those attending the divine service. Of course, there was some worry that God might say something through the Scripture passage designated for that day. When the Epistle book was handed to me, I discovered that the day's reading was a very familiar one, the one that is read during the moleben "for travelers;" I was even somewhat disappointed. But when I read over the seemingly-familiar text, it arose before me as the words inscribed by the hand of God on the wall before Balthasar (Daniel 5:5): " The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter" (Acts 8:32). I could not pray without tears for the remainder of Liturgy.
That evening, after the sessions, I thought alone about everything that was happening around me. I decided that I must tell others. But it is awkward to just get up and say: "The Lord revealed His will to me." Who am I to do so?! An ass among men! But I think to myself that even the ass spoke God's will to the prophet. The thought of the Angel halting Balaam on his path brought me to a parallel passage from the Acts of the Apostles, on Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. And I am in a similar situation: I came to the Council with my fellow-travelers with the intention of saying "no" to a speedy union with the Moscow Patriarchate, but the Lord inspired in me the opposite conviction: to earnestly aid in the achievement of unity as soon as possible. My companions were stunned by surprise no less that Saul's fellow travelers, and there was no apparent pressure upon me to change my mind. Besides Him Who is Unseen, Who inspires thoughts within me, confirmed then by the clear passages of Holy Scripture at divine services. Yet I was nagged by the thought: shall I tell the others or not? I am so sympathetic towards the older generation of emigres who is wracked with doubt, suspecting that change harbors betrayal. Some of them still trust me. But who am I to rise and say before the whole Church: "I have come to know the will of God?"
The next morning, after the anxiety of the previous night, I was once again in church. There was a good, prayerful mood. I must note that I had forgotten to bring the church calendar with me, and I did not know what passage from the New Testament was to be heard during each day's services. That is why it was again so unexpected for me to hear precisely on that day the words of the ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles on the conversion of Saul. The words: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Acts 9:5) shot through my heart. I simply wept; it was good that I occupied a place in the Cathedral "Joy of All Who Sorrow" that was secreted, yet still on the ambo (on the right, in front of the relics of St John of San Francisco). And, weeping, the tumbling verbal stones of His love continuing to tumble upon me and crush my will, which was so unpleasing to Him. I heard the paraphrasing of the words contained within my heart before my episcopal ordination. The Lord spoke to Ananias in Damascus: "Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here , Lord!: (Acts 9:10). Were these not similar to the words I cited at the beginning: "Samuel, Samuel! Here am I, Lord!" (1 Samuel 3:10)? And yet what a Christian would I be if after everything I experienced (which I could only recount in brief) and after everything I heard, that I would remain mute, and not tell all this to others! Of course, among the first listeners of my account were those who expressed doubt: couldn't one "decipher" my experiences differently; the way that opponents of unification with the Patriarchate would interpret them? No, I beg to differ, I now full well what I felt, what my doubts were, what conclusion my experiences led me to, and how Holy Scripture reflected them directly, as though in plain conversation. I had undergone such a spiritual crisis, incomparable even with the fear of death. I sensed the presence of God speaking to me through the words of Scripture. I thank the Lord, Who allowed me, the unworthy one, to feel that in His house, even simple clay pots are put to good use. Even I, a sinner, proved useful.
Some sympathetic people have often expressed concern for the fate of the parishes of the Church Abroad in Russia. What will happen to them in the new situation brought by the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate? My mission is to convey to them that the will of God is that the schism in the Russian church, for which only the atheist communist-bolshevik state is to blame, must end. Whether this will be difficult or easy, I don't know, I only know that there is nothing sweeter than the will of God on earth or in heaven. It would be sweet for me to die on the path of fulfilling the will of God, but if it please God to continue to labor, "Here am I, Lord!"
During the Council of Bishops that followed, a benefactor whom I respect called me at the hotel to express his concern over my change in attitude towards ecclesiastical unity. I tried to explain to him that the Lord illumined me through grace, to which he sadly responded: "Is this not devilish deceit?" Could he have guessed ahead of time that after his phone call I would hear the words of the Gospel at Liturgy that would convince me of the opposite: "He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him… The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil?" (John 7:18, 20).
Sharing with you my positive spiritual experiences, I will share also the negative. The greatest feeling of sin which unforgettably scalded by sinful soul was receiving communion of one chalice with the schismatic Valentine in Suzdal in the winter after the Council of Bishops in Lesna in 1994. I have committed many sins, but there was nothing worse in my life than the way this sin wounded me. I implore all those who are in schism or thinking of going into schism—do not do what you will, do not doom yourselves, force yourselves instead, even through sorrow, to submit to the will of God. Heed now the words of Christ, who prayed before His suffering on the cross: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11).
This is what I wished to say to you, so that you avoid the poisonous and eat of the sweet; I have tasted of one and of the other.
I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth. . Through thy precepts I get understanding ; therefore I hate every false way. è. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalms 118: 102-105). Amen.