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What a Joy It Is to Be a Priest!

We here offer our readers an interview given to the Russian-language periodical Russky Pastyr [The Russian Pastor] by Archbishop Seraphim of Brussels and Western Europe, who until his repose resided at the Lesna Convent in France. Archbishop Seraphim (secular name Igor Dulgov) was not only distinguished for his intelligence and erudition, but also for his great pastoral experience and his success in attracting children and the young to the Church of Christ—as well as for his sense of humor.

In the following interview, Vladyka not only responds directly to the editor’s questions, but adds many of his own interesting recollections and thoughts. Thus, this is not so much an interview as a reflection, through Vladyka Seraphim, on an entire epoch, of the history of the Russian diaspora in France.

Archbishop Seraphim departed to the Lord on 24 November, 2003, the day on which the Myrrh-Streaming Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God is commemorated.

-Vladyka, tell us of your childhood.

-I was born in Russia in what were already Soviet times, but left there with my mother in 1928 (my father was already abroad). My subsequent fate, my spiritual fate first and foremost, would have been quite different had I remained in the USSR. I often ask myself who I would have become if I had not left the Soviet Union. One cannot say that my parents were churchly people--I have absolutely no memory of my parents having taught me to pray or whether as a child I ever went to church. I know that I was baptized, since my godfather was Admiral IK Grigorovich, former Minister of the Navy, who died an emigre in the south of France. But I never laid eyes on him. My mother took me to church after we had left Russia--once a year, on Pascha! Later yet, when we had already settled in Paris, they took me more frequently. I remember hearing Fr Georgy Spassky, a pastor famous in Paris (+1934), preach on the feast of the Annunciation. I do not recall the content of the sermon (I was about eight years old), except for isolated phrases; but I do remember that many of those in church wept.

Even before our move to France, when we were still in Berlin, where we lived at first, when I began studies in the Russian high school, I recall my mother, when kissing the cross after Liturgy, asking the priest to bless me, a young boy, at the beginning of the academic year. He blessed me, said something cordial, and gave me a red egg. Apparently, someone had given it to the priest shortly before we approached him. It is not to no purpose that I have dwelt on this detail. This is an example of how important it is for the priest to devote his attention to a child, to give him a little cross, an icon, a booklet, to say a few affectionate words to him. This makes an impression on children; and perhaps later on, like seed cast upon the ground, it will bear fruit. I of course have in mind that this be done by the pastor with intent, so to speak, as a sign of genuine love for the child (he should enjoy doing what is pleasing to a child). This was very well defined by the remarkable pastor and thinker Fr Alexander Elchaninov, who died at a comparatively young age in the south of France:

“Why are children’s impressions so important? Why is it important to hasten to fill a child’s heart and mind with light and goodness from his earliest years? In childhood one finds the power of trust, simplicity, gentleness, the aptitude for compunction, for sympathy, the power of imagination, the absence of cruelty and hard-heartedness. It is this that is the field in which what is sown increases 30-, 60-, 100-fold. Later, when his soul has already become hard and dark, what he received in childhood can again purify, save a man. This is why it is so important to hold children close to the Church. This will nourish them for their whole life.”

Amazingly, I was then about nine years old, no older, and I asked my mother to buy me a Gospel book! I don’t recall the reason which prompted me to make this request. True, in Russian school, in the morning, before lessons, there was common prayer for all, students and teachers, in the main hall; there were catechism lessons (a female teacher taught the lower classes; only for the upper classes was there a priest). Perhaps the death of my father influenced this indirectly. I remember that in the evening, after my own prayers, I would read the Gospel. I set myself to read a little bit at a time--three verses in all--on a regular basis.

When my father died, my mother had to work full days, and lest I become a street child, it was decided to lodge me in a Russian boarding school, of which there were several in France at that time. The one chosen for me was the military academy, which had recently opened in a suburb of Paris. This turned out to be a decisive choice for my further churchly upbringing. 
In the beginning, there was no priest serving the academy, even for Pascha! I remember that on Pascha night we gathered in the reception room; the music teacher sat at the grand piano, and we all sang “Christ is Risen” three times, after which we went and had some non-lenten food. The academy had a nice church; but a priest came from Paris only very rarely.

Afterwards, a priest, a hieromonk, was sent from Serbia, appointed by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). I remember when I learned that the divine services would then be celebrated regularly; for some reason this made me very happy. The younger cadets served as altar-boys in order. But later, together with four or five others, I became a permanent altar-boy. I was very pleased to serve in the sanctuary. The senior cadet functioned as the psalomshchik [precentor], and when he left, they prepared me to read at all the services, even though I was then only 11-12 years old (I didn’t want to; I much preferred serving in the sanctuary).

I never saw a hierarchal service until, much later, I became one of those carrying out the duties of subdeacon in the cathedral of Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukianov) in Paris.

-When did you decide that you wanted to become a priest?

I was always close to the Church, and more precisely, to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. When, after World War II, we lost our only church in Paris, I, who was then a young man, took an active part with others in organizing temporary divine services, for Passion Week and Pascha, as well as on such exceptional occasions as, for example, the reception in Paris of Saint John of Shanghai, who had been appointed our ruling bishop. (Otherwise, there would have been no place to serve when he arrived in Paris, where the basic part of his flock was.) Having received an intermediate education, I enrolled in a French engineering school, where I studied during the War for a year or two. Later, I was in Germany, and when I returned from there I didn’t want to continue my former schooling.

I decided (in 1946) to enroll in the St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, where I completed my studies in 1950 with a first grade diploma. After finishing my work at the Institute, I worked at my profession in two French firms, even though I did not possess an engineer’s certification. They hired me eagerly, even without a certificate, for I had the requisite knowledge. At the present time in France it is very difficult to set oneself up even with certification. I was, among others, in correspondence with the now deceased Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago, and in each of his letters he took me to task for remaining still among the “gray” clergy. This is how he referred to those who had a theological education (in my case, even a higher degree), yet did not become priests.

Vladyka Seraphim, then an archimandrite, was the head of the missionary monastery of St Job in Carpatho-Russia. It seems that in 1935 it was decided that the Monk Job would visit the entire diaspora (in any event, Western and Middle Europe) with the holy relics of the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon (which the monastery had received from Athos). Much later, the Monk Job became an archimandrite, and after the last War was the head of the Monastery of St Job, though it had been evacuated to Munich. His missionary journey was a success; he visited many churches, parishes, schools, societies. He told about Saint Panteleimon, whose relics were being venerated, and also spoke about the Monastery of St Job in the Carpathian Mountains, acquainting the emigres in Europe with the life and activity of that missionary monastery.

Fr Job was also at the military academy. Afterward, all the students received from him as a blessing an icon of St Panteleimon, which each hung above his own bed. That was the first time I even laid eyes on holy relics! And the icon of the Healer made a long-lasting impression on me. Later, I suffered from pleurisy and inflammation of the lungs every spring. At that time penicillin did not exist, and my condition could have become fatal. During one of my more alarming moments our catechist wrote hastily to the Carpathians for the monks to send a little medal on which the Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” appeared on one side, and the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon on the other. Because they did not have such a medal available at that time, they sent two medals, which I wore my whole life, until they were stolen by a thief (apparently an Arab) when he robbed the church apartment in Lyon, thinking they were valuable. 

How did I become a priest? Everything remained as it was before until I myself came to it! Why? I became somewhat dissatisfied with my life, my occupation, my goals. My job with the draftsmen in the factory (a large, airy building) was not burdensome to me in either a material or any other sense. Yet I experienced a sense of emptiness. There is a droll, somewhat crude expression in French: Bouleau, metro, dodo; which means, Go to work, work, take the subway, and afterward go home again and, tired, collapse and go to sleep. And the next day, do the same. There is no purpose; it is empty. I think that my condition and aspiration at that time was beautifully and fully defined by Fr Alexander Elchaninov, whom I have already mentioned:

“What a joy it is to be a priest! This priesthood is the only profession where you are always living in earnest.” One understands that the expression “profession” is used here conditionally--Fr Alexander merely wanted to compare the priesthood with other callings. That is how I perceive it.

Yes, such a sense of being, a real goal, existence, was defined within me with great clarity. This does not mean that to be an engineer, a doctor, a scholar, a master craftsman, a farmer, is pointless; I am speaking here of myself. When I came to the realization that I needed to become a priest, I began to long for this to happen as soon as possible. I was ordained a deacon in Geneva, but for Cannes, to help the very elderly rector, Mitred Archpriest Nikolai Sobolev. He suffered seriously from asthma, and it was difficult for him to breathe, serve and move around. I wanted to remain a deacon for as long as possible, but my future superior would not agree--he needed a priest.

Thus, I found myself in the south of France, in Cannes, where I served for a quarter of a century.

-What professors of the St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris made an impression on your memory?

I can single out Professor Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern). Many knew him in Belgrade; and afterward he was for a short time the Head of the Mission in Jerusalem. I single him out not only because of his fascinating lectures (Patrology, Liturgics), but also as a universally educated man. With him one could discuss any topic.

Once, they took the students of the Institute to the Louvre Museum, in Paris. Fr Kiprian accompanied us and gave beautiful explanations of the secular pictures and other exhibits of the museum. The famous emigrÎ writer Boris Zaitsev would informally drop in on Fr Kiprian. They both had an interest in various aesthetic topics: Italy, Byzantium (of course), painting, poetry. But the writer visited Fr Kiprian also to discuss personal, spiritual issues. Later, in one of his sketches, he depicted Archimandrite Kiprian as one of his characters, though he changed his name.

There is an expression: Show me what books you have, and I will be able to tell who you are. I have reworked this expression: Show me whose portraits you have in your room, and I will will be able to tell everything about you. I recall that Fr. Kiprian had in his little study two portraits hanging on the wall: a photograph of Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), and an engraving of the famous Archimandrite (later Bishop) Kassian (Bezobrazov). As one tonsured on Athos, Fr Kassian wore a klobuk of the Athonite style. He was a renowned specialist in the New Testament, who had a perfect command of the Greek language. Mindful of the custom of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), in whose quarters once a week, in the evening, students would gather together informally, to drink tea, hold discussions, raise questions (how many future pastors and thinkers were formed at such evening teas!), Archimandrite Kassian, later Bishop of Catania (a city in Sicily, which the Ecumenical Patriarch considered his province), was aware of this. (I remember that one not very educated deacon would pronounce this KO-tania, from the Russian word for cat.)

So he too began to organize tea-drinking sessions. We would go to him, each with his own chair or stool--he lived modestly, in cramped quarters--but nothing resulted in the sense of simple and easy fellowship. It dragged on; they tried to talk about something; but it was without animation. He proved to be not something dry, but a professor, a scholar in his own right, a specialist in his own area, and only that.

In Issue #32 of Russky Pastyr, there was a photograph of I. M. Kontsevich, one of the professors at Holy Trinity Seminary, in Jordanville. I knew him very well in Paris, and visited his home. We studied together at the Theological Institute. His famous book, The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in the Ways of Ancient Russia was his graduate thesis, written under the guidance of Professor AV Kartashev. In the foreword to his book, the author thanks his professor for his lively interest in the topic and for his rigorous criticism.

I also remember Mikhail Mikhailovich Ossorguine. He had two responsibilities--he was the instructor in the Church’s typicon, and in the parish attached to the St Sergius compound he fulfilled the duties of precentor. Since we served the divine services twice a day--in the morning for the students, and in the evening for the parishioners--Mikhail Mikhailovich often chanted, totally alone, the entire services of vespers and matins. With touching exactness he was afraid to miss any of the vespers services for whatever reason, as though to do so would ŇoffendÓ the saint who was then being commemorated.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Ossorguine was a great expert in church singing, and somewhere there is a recording of him reading the paramia for Great Friday, the Prophecy of Ezekiel. His reading of this paremia was transcribed into musical notes.

Who had an influence on you spiritually, was a model for your pastoral ministry?

There was not one single pastor or archpastor who had a fundamental influence on me. I strove like a bee to extract spiritual nectar from many, and each indisputably gave me something of himself. I remember with gratitude all who watched over our youth. I drew forth a great deal also in the military academy, from the various professors of the Institute, and from Bishop Nafanail, whom I assisted as subdeacon.

I also remember with grateful thanks my superior in Cannes (although I was more educated in matters of the Church and theology). I remember Archimandrite Sergy (Pfefferman) of Medon. His spirit, generosity, authority and even confession in three incidents in his life made him not only worthy of profound respect, but also a model to be imitated. I would like to tell you of his three incidents of confession. The first was when he received baptism in his youth and was subjected to persecution by his Jewish family; the second was, during World War II and the occupation of France, since he was born a Jew; and the third was after the War had ended, during the period of Soviet fever here in France, and especially in Paris, when absolutely all the parishes in France submitted to Moscow, with the exception of three or four parishes in all, belonging to the Russian Church Abroad, among them Fr Sergy’s parish in Meudon, which was not located out somewhere in the hinterlands, but was visible to all, practically in Paris.

Although neither Archimandrite Sergy nor the aforementioned Archpriest Nikolai Sobolev had studied in a theological academy, they completed the “academy of life,” they possessed a great experience, a knowledge, which not everyone receives in an academy.

And finally, I am greatly indebted to the ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) of Geneva. The clergy found trust, peace, wisdom and solidarity under his omophorion--and it was cozy there! I read a great deal about our pastors and archpastors, and now, in the years of my advanced age, I love to read the reminiscences of the pastors and archpastors of the recent past, who were, of course, my more-or-less contemporaries.

In childhood I loved to read the Paterikon and the lives of the saints. All of this, of course, did not go for nought.

-When you studied at the St Sergius Institute, were you in the Russian Church Abroad? And if so, how did they treat you?

I belonged to the Church Abroad both before and during my stay at the Theological Institute. I arrived there and presented the recommendation of a priest of the Church Abroad, even though I could have obtained such a thing from colleagues of the Institute with whom I was well acquainted. During my more than four years of study, I comported myself with total correctness with regard to the administration, and no one exerted any pressure on me whatever. For this to be more comprehensible, one must remember that this was the post-War period, when both our diocese of the Church Abroad and the Greek Exarchate (those whom they call “Evlogians”) categorically refused to recognize the Moscow Patriarchate. When news came that the Exarchate (after the death of Metropolitan Evlogy, who had brought everyone into the Moscow Patriarchate) had managed to deliver itself from Moscow, Archbishop Nafanail wrote the following of this: “Despite our different understandings and the state of the Church at the present moment, we sincerely rejoice for His Eminence Archbishop Vladimir for the new title of ‘Exarch’ he has now received...” It must be kept in mind that the proclamation was long ago expected, but was received only in March of 1947. [I will clarify further: In autumn of 1944, Metropolitan Evlogy, through the Soviet consul, entered into correspondence with the Patriarch of Moscow, and declare his readiness to reunite immediately He told no one in Paris about this. Thus, despite the will of the majority of his clergy, he went under Moscow, and they extricated themselves from this only after the death of Metropolitan Evlogy in August of 1945.]

In accordance with his written testament, his vicar bishop, Archbishop Vladimir (Nitsky) assumed administrative authority. This is who managed, with the support of the majority of his flock, to extricate himself from Moscow. I add further that Archbishop Nafanail, who was assigned to Western Europe by our Synod, not only immediately paid calls on Archbishop Vladimir and the St. Sergius Institute (he was greeted formally by all the professors), but he also concelebrated with Vladyka Vladimir, who was soon to become Metropolitan. In May of 1947, at the hostel for the Russian youth in Verrieres, there was a conference for those who work with the youth, and there was a Liturgy was concelebrated by the two hierarchs. Afterward, Vladyka Nafanail, already alone, concelebrated a moleben [service of supplication] with clergy of both jurisdictions.

And our Saint John also visited Metropolitan Vladimir on more than one occasion when he traveled to France, and after Christmas sent him a choir of cadets from the Versailles academy to sing carols for him (Vladyka John was occupied with the academy until it was closed down). 

This was the period when Professor AV Kartashev of the St Sergius Institute reprinted in Paris the pamphlet “On the Soviet Church,” originally published in Germany in mimeograph form, adding to it his own foreword and an indication that this document, important for humanity, originated in circles close to Metropolitan Anastassy, and was a document which magnificently revealed the essence of the “Soviet” Church.

At the same time, Kartashev wrote to Metropolitan Anastassy in Germany that it was time to forget the heresy of Sophianism and to send students from Germany to Paris without fear! One should take into account that at that time (because of the War), exactly when I enrolled, though there was a full complement of faculty, there were very few students. I seem to remember that some Serbs arrived (from camps in Germany).

To provide you with a complete picture, I want to remind you of the following. Mother Catherine, the Abbess of the Lesna Monastery in Hopovo (Yugoslavia), (Countess Efimovskaya before she took the tonsure), reposed in October of 1925. During the illness that led up to her death, she often dictated her thoughts on many things to her cell-attendant, Sister Zinaida. When it became clear that the end was near, she summoned Sister Zinaida with a glance and in a feeble voice said: “Send everything I have dictated to Zander in Paris.”

Lev Aleksandrovich Zander was also my professor at the St Sergius Institute. He taught logic and something else. True, the abbess of the Lesna Convent reposed in 1925, while Metropolitan Evlogy decisively sundered the unity of the whole Church Abroad only in 1927. Yet already by 1924 relations between Paris and the Synod in Belgrade were under tremendous strain.

I would like to say a few more words about the aforementioned Metropolitan Vladimir. To break with Moscow once and for all, he had to receive the conciliar opinion of his flock. For this, on 16 September 1946, an extraordinary session of the Diocesan Assembly took place, which vested in Vladyka its trust and full authority in his actions. And so, at the beginning of the Assembly there were read the various greetings received from several autocephalous Churches. Greetings were also received from the American Metropolia, which had already succeeded in breaking away from the Church Abroad, as well as from our Synod of Bishops in Munich, in the name of Metropolitan Anastassy. This telegrammed greeting was signed by Bishop Seraphim, who would become Archbishop of Chicago. The Assembly resolved to reply with gratitude to all who had sent greetings. At the insistent demand of those who had gathered, the reply to Metropolitan Anastassy was to be composed using particularly cordial expressions.

En route from Germany to South America, Bishop Leonty (later of Chile) visited Paris. He was possessed of a beautiful voice. I remember when he entered the chapel of the Institute he sang a marvelous Magnification to Saint Sergius.

I think that after all the examples I have cited, my reply to your question is exhaustive. There were no problems. However, for those readers of your magazine who still remain under the impression of the Sophian heresy in Paris, I wish to quote the words of one of the professors--I forget who, but I know that Archimandrite Kiprian cited them for us. The sense of what was said I will recast in my own words: What is a real heresy? It is a living false doctrine which penetrates all the parts of the organism of a Church. From the doctrine of Fr Sergius Bulgakov all that remains are dusty volumes somewhere on a shelf. Fr Kiprian added that this was said, as it were, in defense of Fr Bulgakov, but the latter was terribly offended when he heard of it!

In the course of more than four years of study, none of the students (Bulgakov had already died during the War) had heard anything about his public teachings. No, the crux of the matter did not lie in Sophianism, but in something quite different. Like a clap of thunder from a clear sky was the lecture “Old Testament Biblical Criticism,” delivered by Professor Kartashev in February of 1944, in which he called everyone to a different approach to the Sacred Scriptures, to a reworking of the study of the Bible on the basis of the “critical method.”

In 1947, when this lecture was published in Paris as a separate book, it was subjected to scathing criticism by Bishop Nafanail. His lengthy, scholarly and detailed article on this subject said in effect that the questions raised by the respected professor were interesting, but despite all the provisos the author made, the Orthodox reader is in no way able to agree with his conclusions, although one may in a calm, private environment debate the questions raised, but only there. Vladyka Nafanail’s article reads easily, interestingly, like all that proceeded from his pen in general. Everything is comprehensible, even if one has not previously read Professor Kartashev’s book.

But again, although his lecture was public, although his book was published in Paris in a significant press-run, it remained, it seemed to me, an object for the same dusty shelf! So far as I remember, at the lectures on the Old Testament that I attended (my professor was another person) Professor Kartashev’s views were not represented. But how things are now, I do not know. 

To a certain degree, Professor Bishop Kassian in his own lectures on the New Testament (though, as many students have noted, before his consecration) paid more attention to the authority of the German school of theology at Tubingen than to the Holy Fathers! For Archimandrite Kiprian, who rated the scholarship of his own colleague very high, the authority of the holy Fathers was higher than all else. I remember this episode. The students were studying either in the lecture halls, or in the dormitory under them, where it was warmer. There was still not much coal, and we warmed ourselves with a special heater which stood in the dormitory, and which we had to fuel with sawdust. Fr Kiprian, whenever he was tired after a night of working in his study, would go down into the students’ dormitory for a change of scenery. He would remark with pleasure if anyone was diligently studying, but also loved to engage in conversation.

One time he happened to improvise a monologue on an unexpected theme. For some reason the conversation was about the holy Fathers, and Archimandrite Kiprian began to speak in an inspired manner about their authority. The ceiling of the dormitory was supported by two columns, pillars. Leaning against one of them, almost embracing it, Father Kiprian concluded: “Yes, one may and must always lean upon the Holy Fathers. They are pillars which cannot be broken.”

-What giants of the spirit have you encountered personally, or have you read about?

-I hasten to name Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). No, I never met him, but I have read a great deal about him, and the main thing is that those who knew him personally also spoke well of him. Although I was then only twelve years old, I was struck by this personality, at first, of course, as a child would be. I was acquainted with the comparatively young emigre military historian Kersnovsky. He was at the military academy, attended the divine services many times, and prayed with us. Apparently, he noticed there a boy, how he served as acolyte, how he read on kliros. And so he gave me as a gift an anthology of selected writings of Metropolitan Anthony, which had just, in 1935, been published to mark the 50th anniversary of the Metropolitan’s priestly service. Of course, the articles were not intended for a boy to read and understand (for example, “The Moral Idea of the All-Holy Trinity,” “Psychological Data in Favor of Free Will and Moral Responsibility”); but in the beginning of the book there was a good photograph of the Metropolitan--seated, replete with crosses, panaghias and medals (which he wore, of course, only for the photograph, for he did not like medals, considering them to be a touch “worldly”). In it the respected metropolitan sat and smiled in a kindly manner.

Afterwards, when I was already an adult, I was transported not so much by the theology of Metropolitan Antony as by the man, the hierarch, the archpastor, even the social activist (in him this never, however, passed beyond the bounds of what was churchly). As is well known, there is now a major (17-volume) work about him, by Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky). I will always regret the unfortunate title of this work, which considerably restricts it significance. I would suggest to some future editor the following title: “Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky and His Time (1863-1936).”

Yes, the range of his time was broad: before World War I, before the Revolution, the Civil War, the great exodus into the diaspora, the wide vista of the whole emigration, the ecclesial activity. In these 17 volumes I am moved most to compunction by the epistles of the metropolitan, his diocesan decrees, which have broad significance, yes, and also simply by the articles on very varied topics. By the way, I had a sort of “encounter” with Metropolitan Antony, but many years later. I think that a future chronicler would find this interesting.

The great Abba died long ago, but some of his things remain: In the maelstroms of the War, the attacks of the Red Army, the new emigration from Belgrade, it seems almost impossible that anything was preserved. But something was. When I unexpectedly became a hierarch, this coincided with my move to the Lesna Convent, where I was supposed to go as a priest, as though “into retirement.” But it turned out in quite a different way. I became a bishop. In the convent church an armchair was prepared for me on the left kliros, at which I could stand or sit and pray when I was not serving. Near the armchair was a little table on which I could set liturgical books so as to be able to follow the reading and singing. I had long wondered about the armchair set out for me--it was wide, comfortable, but rested on some sort of iron rods or pivots. Once I asked the abbess or one of the senior nuns what the story of the armchair was. It turned out that the lower part used to be on wheels, to facilitate moving one seated in it. Then it became clear that this had been the wheelchair of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Antony!

As is mentioned in his biography, during the last years of his life they often had to move him about in an armchair, from which he preached, seated. Thus it turns out that I, the unworthy one, came to sit in the armchair of His Beatitude.

How did this armchair come to be there? I remember that when the convent moved en masse from Tito’s Yugoslavia to France, the nuns collected everything they could, almost down to the last teapot. They were going into the unknown, not knowing what would happen to them, how they would live. I remember that when they arrived at the train station in Paris, it took forever to haul all their ŇpossessionsÓ away. The first thing, of course, was the holy Lesna Icon the other icons, books, vessels, vestments, etc. Among all this was the armchair, the throne, of the beloved and respected Abba.

-What advice are you able to give newly ordained priests?

-Beautiful advice is to be found in several handbooks of pastoral theology. Among these works is a book by Prof. Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern), Orthodox Pastoral Service, which was first published in Paris, in 1957, but has now been reprinted in Russia. There are also several excellent works, some published earlier in Russia, some published in our time.

Not long ago published a work was published by the unforgettable Archpriest Lev Lebedev, Notes on Pastoral Theology. I know of many still living pastors who deliver lectures on this subject or address gatherings. It seems to me that the young candidate for the priesthood (I do not necessarily have in mind one who is young in years) would do well to familiarize himself with the theology of pastorship from many sources.

In all such works, and among other respected authors, much advice is given to priests just beginning their ministry. I can only suggest that they take under advisement the, if not cynical, then oversimplified advice to a young priest. Whose? Not Metropolitan Antony’s--it is not in his style. It goes something like this: “Serve, pray, perform the divine services reverently, and don’t try to be clever!” If one understands the last phrase to be advice not to undertake anything, not to exalt yourself with humility “from strength to strength,” then, if you please, they are telling us that there should not have been such a pastor as the righteous St John of Kronstadt. But it may contain a warning to the young pastor not to think that he would become such a “Father John of Kronstadt.”

That is, don’t try to be clever, don’t think much of yourself, that you will immediately accomplish such great deeds! Don’t give yourself over to imaginings about yourself. Your divine services and your love for the church each person will value, even closing his eyes to any failures, if you love the church and the services. But if you exalt yourself, it will end up badly for you! How to warn the beginning priest against possible mistakes?

To this the ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony of Geneva said more than once (and I have always tried to hold to his opinion) that, having received appointment to one or another parish, do not under any circumstances introduce new practices, even good ones, from the outset, even if it is necessary to correct some undesirable custom which took root during the pastorate of the previous priest. On the contrary, treat your predecessor with respect and admiration--and this, of course, with sincerity--whether he is an active priest, in retirement, or departed. If this will be done sincerely, you will only rise in the estimation of your parishioners. They will begin to trust you. And when a year or more has passed, you will be able, carefully, by degrees, to change something for the better. And try to present this not as something of your own, but as something worked out, thought up by the parishioners themselves! To follow the opposite practice--to introduce immediately, from day one, your own practices (such as to re-hang the icons in a more logical way, to rearrange the analogia, to begin serving immediately according to the Typikon, etc.), even good undertakings--this is not the right path, and the priest will end up complicating his own life, his future activity, and will upset the parishioners, who had already become used to the other order which had been in place for years. But the main thing is, this will make it impossible in the future to introduce something better than what was there before.

It is unavoidable that the priest/rector will, over the length of his service, have to say something unpleasant (well-grounded directions or a remark) to one of his parishioners, be it personally or socially. One ought not to do this abruptly, to take advantage of the fact that that person has come for the divine services. Better to make a special trip to that person’s home, and speak with him in amicable and leisurely circumstances. And once you have dealt with the main point, it is good to move on to another topic, to recount something, to ask about his work, his family, to share your plans for the future of the parish, and to permit that person to express his own opinion on this matter. Such a meeting will result in far greater benefit that some terse and seemingly sharp remark.

Frequently priests have difficulties of a personal nature--too much work, depression, loss of idealism. What helps a priest escape such a state? In many of the works dedicated to pastoral theology this theme is dealt with well; but I think that the most effective means is if the ordaining bishop early on, in his conversations with the candidate, will warn him of what may possibly happen to him. He should be prepared for this! At first, there is usually elation, ecstasy, an exalted state and, often, zeal incommensurate with his strength. Later, he inevitably experiences either a decline or disenchantment because everything is not going as he thought it would. And this is precisely why there should have been some forethought!

The priest who has been warned will probably not be taken unaware, but will remember what the bishop warned him about. The awareness that even well known pastors experienced such difficulties in the beginning can help a priest overcome his own difficulties. Let us recall, as an example, Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. In his youth, in his first monastery, he had every reason to fall into such despondency and throw everything away! He was a sixteen-year-old youth when the future Saint Paisius began his monastic life as a novice. A good abbot received him, treated him kindly, consoled him: the novice did not shirk from any labor, from even the filthiest work and thankless tasks. He did not sleep away the nights; amid his heavy labors he did not forget to pray. He was happy.

But misfortune befell the brotherhood of that monastery--the good abbot was replaced by another, a prideful, stern man, extremely demanding and, moreover, unjust. Almost all of the brethren dispersed. Only a few remained, those who had the most patience. Among them was Peter Velichkovsky, the future Paisius. But he also had to endure more and more, and it ended up that things became unbearable for him too. His patience was exhausted, despondency set it, and he decided to flee from that monastery. He went to church for the last time, prayed, asked the Lord to forgive him and his offender. And he fled with his knapsack on his back. Later, he spent some time at another monastery in Russia, then at another, and finally he moved on to Athos, where word quickly spread of the young recluse whose life was adorned with wondrous struggles.

Thus did the future great elder Paisius grow “from strength to strength,” on a level with his temptations. But now let us imagine that he gave in to his despondency, that he “surrendered” to the difficulties, though they were in the final analysis temporary. Had he cast everything aside, we would never have had a great Elder Paisius, nor his remarkable contribution to the spiritual treasure of the Church. Thus it is also with the appearance of the young priest’s first tribulations, which can, if not cut down, cause serious harm to his further pastoral work, if he gives place to such despondency after his initial ecstasy and enthusiasm. And so much that is unfortunate in the parish, which seems at first to be basic, central, crucial, may, a year later, or perhaps even less, even be forgotten, not even brought to mind.

Yet the priest on the parish does not have, as did Peter Velichkovsky, a bad and obstinate abbot. The rule of this abbot is brilliantly taken up by certain parishioners, especially when the parish is small. Among thousands of parishioners, even two or three are lost in the mass. But in a small parish, they can occupy an important place. Remind them about the evil done to the young future elder by the obstinate abbot, and they will think about assuming that duty themselves, complicating the life of the priest, which is complicated enough without them.

On what principles of upbringing do you base your relations with children and the youth?

I am far from a specialist on this question. I recall a wonderful report on the upbringing of children made by our Vladyka Anthony of Geneva: “Our Successors” [published in Russky Pastyr, #10, 1991--Ed.]. Not long ago, in Russky Pastyr, Protopriest Vladimir Morin also dealt with this question, completely exhausting it [# 33-34, 1999]. Yet I still try to hold to the principal of taking every young person, teenager, even child, seriously. Children and young people often write to me, and I answer them without delay and in detail. I try to reply to them in their own tone; I often adorn my letters with cutouts, or I will simply add to the envelope something I think might interest them. There must be personal contact (and not just a formal reply), but one also ought not to write “from the loftiness of the hierarchal rank.”

I reply to all their letters--both the “trivial” (I do not consider the time expended to be needlessly wasted) and also those very serious letters, in which the youth pose questions which trouble them, asking them with full confidence. One writes from a distant country that the Church Abroad’s wary attitude toward the Ukrainian Church bothers him. It turns out that one of his grandfathers there was a Ukrainian priest. I had to answer that, strictly speaking, there is no one Ukrainian Church, nor has there been over the past 50-60 years, so that it is understandable that a circumspect attitude toward any such groups is essential. I had to write in a style understandable to a teenager, for two or three pages.

One 15-year old boy, who is studying at a French Catholic college, intimated that his friends were teasing him because he had been “baptized in the wrong way.” Here I again had to answer in detail that the question of who is baptized correctly or incorrectly cuts both ways. As an example I mentioned to him that one of the Roman pontiffs of the early 13th century, Pope Innocent III, in his work “On the Sacraments of the Holy Altar” (it can be found in Migne’s famous Patrologia Latina) indicates in detail how one must baptize and why, and later adds how baptisms ought not to be performed in an incorrect manner. Thus, this authority for Roman Catholics shows that at the outset of the 13th century they were being instructed to perform baptisms in precisely the manner in which we Orthodox do them to this day! Innocent III also condemns the way baptisms are performed by Roman Catholics in our time.

The confession of children is very important and requires a careful approach. I think that each parish priest, when in time he comes to know his flock better, works out his own method. Beginners, though, should limit themselves to simple, not so much questions as advice. What is printed, for example, in Bulgakov’s Desk Reference for the Clergy, the “Questions for the Confession of the Young” and the separate “Questions for Children” are in no way bad or outdated. I have never adhered to any precise distinction between those “older or younger than seven years.” There have been some who at the age of six and a half are already able to come to confession; and there is the one of seven and a half who is still actually a child.

But what I consider should definitely not be done is to try to find out from teenagers certain intimate aspects of their life or conduct. Limit yourself, when necessary and if you see that it is possible, to advice--I have in mind that “one ought not to do such-and-such and such-and-such, and here is why”--thus totally without questioning or interrogating the children.

On another occasion, a teenager, seeing that confession is not a tribunal of inquisition, and the priest is not a judge-inquisitor, but a “physician” and friend, will himself say, without fear and with trust, what is necessary. I know of several instances when inexperienced priests began, following the Roman Catholic practice, to extort the least little details, after which such teenagers rarely came to confession anymore.

-In conclusion, what are your wishes for the readers of Russky Pastyr?

-What follows hereafter is not for all readers, but for those who complain about some of the difficulties in the spiritual life of today’s Church. Some complain about the liturgical language: “Why is Batiushka using the local language of the country for the services?” Others, on the contrary, lament: “Why is there not more done in the local language? Our children, and we ourselves, do not understand either the readings or the texts chanted in church, or even the sermon.” And some dream of changing to the civil calendar: “Our children can never attend feast-day services. Why make such difficulties for us?”

Now pilgrims from the former USSR are beginning to travel on pilgrimages here, to the Lesna Convent, and the first thing they recognize here about the Russian Church Abroad, about Sergianism and the rest, is: “Oh, how difficult it is for us! We will have to return home later; and what will become of us? Why such complications? Would not this or that be easier?” To others the fasts of the Orthodox Church are burdensome; that weddings cannot be celebrated all the time is burdensome. And what else is not a burden? In a word, everything is difficult! What the Apostle Paul warned about thus becomes clear: “All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). They will be persecuted not only with force of arms and administrative arbitrariness, but by the whole environment and the conditions of the life of that era in which they live, and which, at a different time, in various places, have created, are creating and will create difficulties for the Christian when everything around him pursues and oppresses the one who wishes to “live godly in Christ Jesus.” Not for naught did Christ say that faith in Him is a “yoke,” as well as a “burden.”

I have listed above some contemporary difficulties of “everyday” following after Christ. Yet even this is not everything. Saint Seraphim of Sarov spoke of internal difficulties (see his “Conversation with Motovilov”). This is how difficult it is to be an Orthodox Christian! And it has always been difficult, both inwardly and outwardly.

For example, both the Jews and the pagans persecuted the apostles. Later, the governmental authorities persecuted the Christians, and for generations on end! If you are a believer, be prepared to go to the Coliseum to be torn apart by wild beasts! Do you want to come to a common prayer gathering in the catacombs for the “Breaking of the Bread,” that is, for the Liturgy? They might arrest you! Several generations of Christians later lived under the yoke and occupation of infidels--Saracens and Turks, Arabs, Mongols.

For how many centuries the Church was rocked by heresies and schisms, and it was always necessary (and the members of the Church did this!) to determine where the Truth is and where it is not. And again, it was difficult for believing Orthodox Christians! There are people who are still alive, who remember the difficulties the faithful endured under the conditions of the Soviet regime. Yes, it is difficult. It has always been difficult. Everything is difficult--to believe is difficult; it is difficult to carry out the commandments, to keep all the feasts, the fasts.

The entire Faith is difficult: the Gospel is difficult, the commandments of the Lord are difficult. For some, any burden seems lighter; for others, the one a person bears has is the heaviest! Yes, all of this is really both a yoke and a burden! For this reason, when contemporary Orthodox Christians for some reason consider that for them no difficulties in fulfilling and confessing the Faith are acceptable, it is strange to hear this. When the contemporary Orthodox person considers that he can be such only on condition that this faith of his not “impose upon” or “inconvenience” him, one may wonder whether such a person can actually be a believer. When the contemporary Orthodox Christian refuses to make a certain effort in the province of the Faith, one may again wonder.

When you hear, for example, that he finds it difficult to observe all the feasts, or to listen to some litany in a language other than Church Slavonic at the divine services, or to celebrate the holy day of Pascha “unlike any other,” or, still, to realize that the problem of Sergianism in Russia has not ended, and much else, you again wonder: Is this all he finds difficult? Is all the rest of Christian life then easy? For each of us, everything is probably difficult! The whole Christian year is difficult; the believer’s whole life on earth is difficult! Let us remember Fr Dmitri Dudko (who in Soviet times was a confessor). He somehow wrote or explained to those who listened to him that “Christianity must not limit itself in any way; it must become the content of one’s whole life.” And also: “If your Christianity is only something incidental (i.e., without difficulties), the sort of Christianity you have will not be worth much.” “Whosoever will come after Me,” says the Lord, “let him deny himself” (Mark 8:34). “To deny oneself” is to reject or place in second (and not in the main) place one’s own habits, inclinations, comforts: personal, familial, social habits; as well as inclinations; the demand for comfort, the desire not to make effort, to sacrifice one’s own customs for the good of the Church.

Let us remember that to be an Orthodox Christian is difficult in general, by the term itself, and has been over the course of two thousand years!

-Thank you, Vladyka!

Russky Pastyr [The Russian Pastor], #36 (2000) 
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