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RUSSIAN ECCLESIASTICAL MISSION IN JERUSALEM: August 29, 2006
Metropolitan Laurus Officiates at Divine Liturgy on the 100 th Anniversary of the Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives

On August 29, the Translation of the Image of Christ "Not Made by Hands," called the "Third Savior Icon" by many Russians, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus officiated at the celebrations of the 100 th anniversary of Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. The celebrations began with Divine Liturgy, conducted by Metropolitan Laurus along with His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany; Hegumen Andronik (Kotliaroff); Priest Serafim Gan; Hieromonk Savva; Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov); Hieromonk John; Priest Peter Sturm; Protodeacon Victor Lochmatov; Deacon Nicholas Olhovsky and Hierodeacon Cyprian (Alexandrou). His Holiness Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and All Palestine arrived for the end of Liturgy along with the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, who conduct their monastic labors at the Life-bearing Tomb of Christ. His Holiness was greeted by the clergymen as the Convent choir, under the direction of Nun Vassa (Larin), sang "Ton despotin."

After the singing of "Blessed be the name of the Lord," His Eminence Vladyka Laurus addressed the worshipers with an archpastoral sermon, during which he said in part:

"Today, by the mercy of God, we have gathered in this holy temple built on the Mount of Olives, from which the Lord ascended to heaven. We prayerfully commemorate the 100 th anniversary of this holy convent. In 1906, the women's monastic community living here received a blessing from the Holy Synod of the Russian Church to open a convent.

"The Mount of Olives is a holy place. Our Lord Jesus Christ often came here with His disciples, prayed here and from here, after His Resurrection, He ascended to the heavens.

"This property was acquired in 1870 through the efforts of Archimandrite Antonin (Kapoustin), Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. I should note that Fr Antonin purchased almost the entire peak of the mountain, the site of this convent, close to the 'Footprint,' the place of the Lord's Ascension. Fr Antonin purchased plots of land at holy sites wherever he could for the Russian Orthodox Church. Hegumen Parthenius was his aid and fellow-laborer in Christ, and then assumed Fr Antonin's great task himself, and he participated in the construction of this church and other buildings, and also brought the convent property into shape. In 1909, he became the victim of a senseless crime: Fr Parthenius was found in his cell, brutally mutilated.

"In 1903, Archimandrite Leonid (Sentsov) was appointed Chief of the Mission and by 1906, he was able to obtain the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church to establish a convent here. It is this event that we celebrate today.

"Thank God, life in the new convent, which consisted of 15 nuns, began normally, and construction began. A year later, there were already 150 sisters here. First there were a great many pilgrims from Russia, but soon, in 1914, tragedy struck: World War I began. Russia was allied with England and France against Germany, which was soon supported by Turkey. As a result, life for those Russian residing in Palestine, including the sisters, changed drastically; they found themselves on the territory of an enemy state, and they were forced to endure many hardships, persecution, oppression and deprivation, and some were even forced to leave the convent and make their way in the world. After the war, the scattered nuns began to return to their convent, where monastic life gradually resumed.

"But the Revolution began in Russia and utter ruination followed, the nuns grieved and spiritually suffered for their families, for their suffering Fatherland. The changes in Russia stemmed the flow of Russian pilgrims. Persecution of the church caused the nuns particular pain and compassion towards their much-suffering Homeland.

"World War II, which brought destruction and terrible tragedy and suffering across Europe, also made itself felt in the Near East, and Palestine underwent certain changes. Our ecclesiastical center, the Synod of Bishops and the Fund for Assistance for our Church in New York, continuously strove to materially help and support our holy monasteries. In the early 1950's, the situation improved, and Russians, our flock, scattered throughout the world, began once again to visit the Holy Land.

"We thank the Lord that He helped us sinners preserve these holy sites and holy relics, which have always belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. The nuns of our holy convents have performed a great service in this work, who through their prayers to God, and their works and very lives, enabled this preservation to succeed.

"Eternal memory for all those who are reposed and abide in the convent cemetery.

"On this important and holy day, I extend my heartfelt greeting to His Holiness Patriarch Theophilos, who prayed with us today, and on behalf of our Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem I wish to express to you, Holy Vladyka, profound gratitude for your paternal care for our monastics and clergymen who labor in these holy monasteries. I also thank the members of the Holy Synod of the 'Mother Church' and the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and wish them spiritual peace and joy in their service to our Chief Pastor, Christ. I am also happy to greet the Overseer of our Mission, His Eminence Archbishop Mark, the Very Reverend Abbess Moisseia and the nuns of this convent and all our clergymen, headed by Hegumen Andronik.

"Let us remember the promise our Lord gave: 'I am with you, and no one is against you.' May the King of Glory Himself deliver us from all misfortune and sorrows. Amen."

A moleben of gratitude was then served with a procession of the cross around the church, after which His Holiness greeted His Eminence Vladyka and addressed the worshippers with the following words:

"Your Eminence, Eminent Vladyko! Your Eminence, dear in the Lord fathers, brothers and sisters! Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us to lift our prayers of gratitude to God, who granted us His great mercies. We rejoice in greeting you on this day of celebration. During a recent meeting with His Eminence Vladyka and the members of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, we heard about the progress of discussions between both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. On behalf of our Holy Synod and the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, I wish to express our joy that the division in the Russian Church is being overcome, which resulted from the sin of man. We hope that communion and unity are restored in the near future. The fact that such a large contingent of our Holy Church is in attendance today attests to our support for this great and holy work, to our readiness to help in whatever way possible in the manifestation of the unity everyone desires. We also hope that other Orthodox Christians follow the example of the Russian people and begin to overcome their divisions and quarrels within their own Churches. Once again I congratulate you all and as a symbol of our love to the monastics of this holy convent, I ask that you accept this icon of the Theotokos, which was painted in Russia. May She preserve all of you and grant you the peace of Christ."

Handing the icon of the Most-Holy Mother of God to the clergymen performing the Liturgy, His Holiness bestowed upon the Abbess an ornamented cross and congratulated her on the 100 th anniversary of the monastery.

In his response, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus once again thanked His Holiness and asked his prayers for the much-suffering Russian Orthodox Church.

After the singing of Many Years and the veneration of the cross, a festive trapeza was offered, during which His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, Archbishop Mark, the Head of the Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archimandrite Elisei, Abbess Elizabeth and Abbess Moisseia gave speeches. Also present at the trapeza was Abbess Georgia of Gorny Convent.

We wish the nuns of Ascension Convent heavenly aid and future success!