MOSCOW: March 10, 2009
Bishop John of Caracas Serves in Mikhailovskaya Sloboda
The celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord had not yet concluded when Archangel Michael community celebrated another event. His Grace Bishop John (Berzins) of Caracas and South America visited our church on January 22-24.
Vladyka John is remembered in Mikhailovskaya Sloboda since his first visit on November 27, 2000, when he was still a priest-monk and Secretary of His Grace Bishop Daniel of Erie, representing the Old Rite Community of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the United States, when the churches were still canonically separated. We met him during a conference devoted to the 200th anniversary of Edinoveriye [authorized Old Ritualism]. Fr John, elevated by Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory to the rank of hegumen in 2005, visited Archangel Michael Church as second time, soon after the reunification of the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church, in July 2007, on the feast day of the Tikhvin Icon of the Most-Holy Mother of God, together with clergymen of the Church of the Nativity of the Lord in Erie, PA, Protopriest Pimen Simon and Deacon (now Priest) Hierotheus Popoff. This was the first joint service of Old Ritualists of the two formerly-divided churches, and it will ever remain in the memories of those who prayed in our church that day.
On June 8/21, 2008, Hegumen John was consecrated Bishop of Caracas and South America. By the will of God, this event took place during a conference entitled “Orthodoxy in the 21st Century,” held in the Parish of the Nativity of Christ in Erie. Bishop John knows this church well, and Divine Liturgy that day was celebrated in the Old Rite by the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, along with Bishop Daniel and His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland and a host of clergymen. As Divine Providence would have it, among the participants in the service were representatives of Archangel Michael Old Rite Community, Priest Evgeny Sarancha, Deacon Igor Kraev, singer Aleksei Kolesnikov and acolyte Michael Veryalin. Warmth and strong bonds remained afterwards between the new archpastor of the Church of Christ and the members of Archangel Michael community.
Almost a year before the anniversary feast day of Archangel Michael’s in 2009, Vladyka John was invited to participate in the celebrations, which he kindly agreed to. But the Lord brought him to Mikhailovskaya Sloboda even earlier. The need to arrive in Moscow to participate in the Bishops’ and Local [Pomestny] Council of the Russian Orthodox Church gave us the opportunity to meet with him before the arranged date. His Grace was able to arrive in Russia three days before the Council began, and devoted this time to meeting with the Old Ritualists of Mikhailovskaya Sloboda and other areas of Russia, and participated in hierarchal services, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsk and Kolomensk, Administrator of the Moscow Diocese.
Vladyka John officiated at divine services on the feast day of St Theodosius the Great, on January 11/24. In addition to the clergy and singers of Archangel Michael Church, participating were: Hieromonk Sergii (Gaponov), Rector of the Old-Ritualist Church of the Protection of the Most-Holy Mother of God in Maloye Murashkino; Priest Ioann Miroliubov of Protection of the Mother of God Church in the Rubtsov area of Moscow and Secretary of the Department of External Church Relations’ Commission on Old-Rite Parishes; choir singers from Maloye Murashkino, Protection Church in Rubtsov, St Petersburg and Pavlovo-on-the-Neva of the St Petersburg Diocese. Although only recently consecration as bishop, Vladyka John is already experienced in Old-Rite services, having participated in the celebrations of the acceptance of the priesthood by Erie’s Parish of the Nativity of Christ 25 years ago, as well as other divine services at that church. His service in Mikhailovskaya Sloboda was fervent and reverential. His archpastoral love warmed the hearts of the believers who gathered for this rare service. The choirs sang beautifully. Many prayers were sung in the ancient demestvenny chant.
Having made the customary prostrations, Vladyka John delivered a sermon, in which he stressed the saving grace of ancient Russian piety within unity with the Universal Church, and also conveyed greetings from Fr Pimen and the entire community of Erie to their Russian brothers in the faith. Hegumen Irinarkh, Rector of Archangel Michael Church responded in kind.
During the fraternal trapeza that followed, representatives of other Old-Rite communities were able to spend time with Bishop John, and they invited him to visit their churches during future visits to Russia.