MOSCOW: March 19, 2008
Andrei Zubov: In Memoriam Vladyka Laurus
Vladyka Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, departed to the Lord on March 16, 2008, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Triumph of Orthodoxy became the path of this remarkable Russian bishop, who achieved a great feat for our people—the unification of two parts of the Russian Church. The Russian Church broke asunder in the 1920’s through the plotting of the communist authorities that seized the great expanses of Russia. The Russian Church reunited in triumph on the day of the Resurrection of the Lord last year, and Metropolitan Laurus headed the host of archpastors, priests and laypersons of the Russian Emigration at the ceremonies.
But the path towards reunification was exceptionally difficult, clouded by mutual misunderstanding, sometimes by wicked slander, at times by earnest, stubborn resistance of the course towards unity of the Church and of the Russian people which the majority of the Russian diaspora chose during their Council in the mid-2000’s. Metropolitan Laurus also had his fears, his doubts, but, as he overcame them, his resolve grew that without unity in the Russian Church, the people would not be unified, the people who were rent apart and persecuted in the terrible 20th century. Without unification, the people could not be reborn. Paraphrasing the Savior, one could define the principles of Metropolitan Laurus “a house in which the residents find the strength to overcome division, would stand.” It is with this desire for the renascence of Russia that Vladyka Laurus lived for so many years, and he was fortunate to see his hopes take shape and to see the fruits of his labors.
Literally days before his death, he traveled throughout the European parishes of the Russian Church Abroad, reconciling several communities that had been living in doubt, including the community of the famous Russian church in Cannes. This trip ended in Moscow with a heartwarming meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy. His life’s work was accomplished, the difficult, sometimes overwhelming road traveled to the end.
As a true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Vladyka Laurus took upon himself many sorrows and ailments, healing thereby his own flock, cleansing the people of God from sin and impurities. Fulfilling Christ’s commandments, he took upon himself the burdens and troubles of many, and carried them in his monastic humility and simplicity, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. In his physical body, tormented by a multitude of physical sufferings, burned the fervent soul of a Christian and a selfless Russian man, sacrificing himself without pathos for each person who came to him.
I was fortunate enough to meet him and spend a few days nearby Vladyka Laurus during Great Lent in 2006; to be united with him through Eucharistic communion on the day of the Annunciation, to be honored to have an hour-long conversation with him, one on one, and even share a bit of cognac with him to celebrate our acquaintance. I was struck by his humble way of life, the meager lifestyle of this truly wise and surprisingly kind person. Nothing but the sorrow he felt for the weaknesses and sins of so many made me think of him as a “Grand Prince of the Church.” He sought nothing for himself, not glory, not a splendid residence, not even a good writing desk… He lived in the monastic residence, in a small three-room cell (a study, a bedroom and a reception room), he ate the same food together with the monks (with those limitations imposed upon him by serious diabetes), he tried to participate in all the customary monastic services, he spoke with gray-haired archimandrites and young seminarians with equal kindness, with the same even-handedness and fatherly warmth. He was properly called “vladyko,” but he was more like a wise and kind grandfather to everyone. “I am a monk,” he said during our discussion, “everything else is monastic obedience, nothing more, though this obedience is at times very hard to bear.”
And so his obedience has come to an end. The Triumph of Orthodoxy became the triumph of Vladyka Laurus, who heard on this very day the words of the Lord he so desired to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”