SAN FRANCISCO: November 5, 2010
The First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad Speaks at the Pastoral Conference of the Western American Diocese
Your Graces, Archbishop Kirill, Bishop Theodosy, Reverend Fathers!
It is a distinct privilege and blessing for me to be here with you today at the pastoral convocation of the Western American diocese.
This diocese is unique within our Church for its rich historical significance and its priceless spiritual treasures. It was to California that the early Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church directed its steps, following the amazing missionary struggles and activities in Alaska of spiritual giants, such as St Innocent (Veniaminov), later Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, and St Herman of Alaska.
This state and the beautiful city of San Francisco have witnessed the martyric confession and death of St Peter the Aleut. This diocese has been fortunate in having wise and holy hierarchs at its helm, such as Archbishop Tikhon (Bellavin), the future confessor and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who lived in San Francisco for a period of time and undertook from this vantage point his many archpastoral visits to distant Orthodox communities (including Alaska and Canada) and his missionary endeavors in bringing back into the fold of Orthodoxy countless numbers of former Uniates.
In latter times this diocese has witnessed and enjoyed the spiritual blessings of other holy and God- pleasing hierarchs—Archbishop Tikhon (Troitsky), St John (Maximovitch), first in Shanghai, and later in Western Europe, who is revered by Orthodox Christians throughout the world; his successor, the ever-memorable and deeply-loved Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), the Bishop of Seattle Nektary (Kontsevich).
There is thus an undeniable spiritual aura of sanctity here, which we, who come to visit from other distant places, can immediately sense and perceive. In the words of the Apostle, there is, therefore, a “cloud of witnesses” of righteous men and women who in their life have glorified God in this region and whom God has glorified with eternal blessedness. You, who are the pastors, priests and monastics of Western America, have inherited this great blessing: the heavenly intercession of the local saints who pray for you and for the flock entrusted to your care.
I am pleased that the clergy of this diocese are all men of sincere faith and prayer, dedicated wholeheartedly to the fulfillment of their pastoral duties and the spiritual care of their parishioners and spiritual children. I thank you with all my heart for your love for God and His people and your selfless labors on their behalf.
The ROCOR celebrates this year the 90th anniversary of its existence, which was based on the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon and his Ukase No 362 of November, 1921. We render thanks to our Chief Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ, for guiding our Church and its hierarchs, clergy and flock through perilous and difficult times, through the vicissitudes of 20th century history. Our Church has by God’s providence survived exile and all manner of privations in good form, faithful to its purpose and calling. It has fulfilled the sacred covenant it entered into: to remain an inseparable part of the great Church of Russia, despite the Babylonian captivity and persecution of the Mother Church by the powers of evil which forced it to live an independent existence. The Church Abroad fulfilled its witness to the world at large concerning the unprecedented persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union, incessantly praying for their liberation from the Bolshevik yoke, nourishing them as far as it was possible with religious literature and publications, glorifying in 1981 the heavenly choir of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia who were faithful to Christ to the end, and then, when the divinely- appointed time appeared, humbly participating in the historic restoration of full Eucharistic unity between the two parts of the Russian Church—that of the homeland and that of the diaspora.
As our blessed and luminous hierarch whose holy relics abide in this cathedral has written, our forefathers and fathers were, as God willed, forcibly expelled from their homes and countries and scattered to the ends of the earth in order that the true Gospel of Christ and the holy and salvific Orthodox faith could be brought to nations throughout the world.
This process continues even today, though at a less rapid pace, intensifying our evangelical witness to the world. Our Church has always—in the past and especially today—held before its spiritual gaze the fulfillment of two tasks and obligations:
First, to care diligently for the spiritual well-being and salvation of our existing flocks, in all our diocese and parishes, safeguarding them from temptations and the many alien, inimical influences that surround us, nurturing them in faith and piety; and, above all, to raise our children and the youth to be worthy members of the Church, to be sincere Christians and godly people. This task of care for the youth is of utmost importance and magnitude and it requires the active participation of all the members of the Church, under the guidance and leadership of our pastors and instructors in the faith.
Second, we have the obligation to be missionaries to those around us, in accordance with our Savior’s commandment, “Go ye therefore into all the world...” Our parishes and monasteries need to be warm and welcoming places where those who seek God and the true Faith can experience the warmth of genuine Christian love and un-hypocritical faith.
We need to find more effective ways and means for the Orthodox Christian message to be passed on to our children, our young people, those who are now only Orthodox in name and are un-churched, and the community at large. We must also be unfailingly familiar with the tenets of our Orthodox faith and be able to give a reliable and trustworthy answer to those who ask us about the doctrines and holy traditions of Orthodoxy.
It is imperative that our divine services, which are a well-spring of theology and spiritual instruction, be readily understood by the faithful and be a pleasing, compunctionate and inspirational experience for them.
Likewise we need to love the divine Scriptures, continuously studying them under the safe guidance of the writings of the holy and divinely-inspired Fathers of the Church. This is what we, as archpastors and pastors of the Church must wholeheartedly aspire to achieve with God’s help and guidance, building up the Church and strengthening the faith and spiritual life of those under our care.