Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff
On the Repose of His Holiness
Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia
The first official visit to a church of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia occurred on November 29, 2007. He was in Munich to undergo medical treatment. The Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God happened to be in Munich then before being returned to America. His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany proposed visiting His Holiness with the icon, or perform a moleben and akathist before the icon at Munich's Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. His Holiness chose the second option. News of this came out only three days in advance. It was a weekday, but the church was filled to capacity. After the moleben, a trapeza was offered for a limited circle of people. The gathering was held in a warm, even familial, atmosphere. His Holiness was in no hurry, smiling as he declined his aides' proposals that "it was time to leave."
A car was waiting in the church courtyard. As we emerged, we saw a group of believers who had been waiting for the Patriarch for over two hours. Blessing each one of them individually, His Holiness turned to me joyfully, yet seriously: "There, Fr Nikolai, these are our Orthodox people!" He was elated by their loyalty and their eagerness to receive a blessing.
He would to on to tell many people about his time in Munich and noted that he did not sense any distance, on the contrary, he felt close to us.
The second visit of His Holiness to our Cathedral took place on November 30, 2008, only days before his death. One might say it was a unique visit: His Holiness Patriarch Alexy celebrated Divine Liturgy in a church of the Russian Church Abroad for the first time. As it turned out, it would not only be the first, but also the only Eucharistic service in a temple of the Church Abroad. Vladyka Mark had invited him on the occasion of His Holiness coming for an examination at a Munich cardiac center.
It was Providential: at the end of 2003 and early 2004, the scheduling of Metropolitan Laurus' trip to Russia and his meeting with the Patriarch had changed several times. It was not man but God Who decided that the meeting was to be held in May, 2004. Later, His Holiness himself would often remark with joyful wonder that it happened this way: the date of their meeting fell on the feast day of the New Martyrs of Butovo. Vladyka Laurus participated in laying the foundation of the new church dedicated to the New Martyrs. And in May, 2007, a day after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, Patriarch Alexy and Metropolitan Laurus together consecrated this church in Butovo. This served as a confirmation of the Act. This marked not only the completion of the construction of this church, but the process of reconciliation, of unification.
But as we see now, that was not all. A great deal can be said about the paths of the two parts of the Russian Church, and of two hierarchs, each of whom led their part of the Church. Each also considered the path being taken by the other part. As we look back on the Russian Church in the 20th century, and look into our hearts, we can see that healing the wounds inflicted upon the Church during the years of strife and persecution followed the growing veneration of the New Martyrs. The growing back together of that which was violently and insidiously rent asunder coincided with the acceptance of their spiritual podvig. Without a doubt, both sides contributed to this reconciliation. Yet this path has not ended, it stretches out before us, and more awaits us.
The importance of the New Martyrs has been discussed many, many times, but recent events confirmed it not in word but in deed. Just as the death of Metropolitan Laurus occurred on the Triumph of Orthodoxy earlier this year, the death of the Primate of the entire Russian Church at the end of this year symbolizes our ecclesiastical growing together.
The last three Liturgies celebrated by His Holiness were like steps into the depths of Russian History and deep into unity. The first, Sunday Liturgy in the newest cathedral of the Russian Church Abroad, dedicated to the Holy New Martyrs of the 20th century in Munich. The second was in memory of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow in the rebuilt 19th century monument, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Two and a half years ago, the ceremony of the unification took place there. Finally, the third Liturgy was held in Dormition Cathedral: the celebration of the three-year-old child, the Most-Holy Virgin entering the Temple, entering the Holy of Holies. In May, 2007, that is where, after the Transfiguration, our Moscow celebration ended with a Sunday Liturgy.
In fact, the Entry Into the Temple of the Theotokos is also the anniversary of the reestablishment of the patriarchy in Russia--the day of the enthronement of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon. Now we bid farewell to Patriarch Alexy with a moleben before the relics of Patriarch Tikhon, the Holy Confessor, in Donskoy Monastery, but then, just before the signing of the Act, he visited these same relics before embarking upon the new path.
During His Holiness' first and only Liturgy celebrated in a church of the Russian Church Abroad, he personally administered Communion to many believers—some one hundred fifty—then, at the end of the trapeza, and in conversations and a television interview, he stressed that he has become convinced that the unification "has reached the parish level," that it has "taken root within the people of the church." This is how, His Holiness felt, unification was symbolically completed, and specifically in the church of the Holy New Martyrs—bathed in their light, illuminated by them.
Beaming with joy, His Holiness emerged after the trapeza to the people awaiting him and once again reiterated the acquired unity by blessing the crowd. He also gave each child an individual blessing.
As farewells were said at the car, a trio sang "Eis polla eti despota." As the vehicle began pulling away to the peal of bells, the window rolled down… Many will remember the hand that emerged and blessed the people. Four days later—who would have believed it?—the earthly journey of the servant of Christ would come to an end. Four days filled with service to the church.
He has departed from us forever. Citing one note from a parishioner in the book of consolation: "Dear in the Lord, beloved Patriarch, we will forever bear the love and joy of meeting you! We will always thank the Lord for His mercy. Eternal memory to him!"
He administered Communion, he left us holy Eucharistic vessels, he shared with us what for him was the greatest consolation. His heart, probably for his entire life, desired to witness our ecclesiastical unity. And his heart finally did see it, a unity crowned by the Chalice of Christ in a church of the diaspora dedicated to the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, a unity newly rededicating the entire Church of Russia into the mighty hands of the Lord.
Holy Vladyko, may you abide in the Kingdom of Heaven! Eternal memory!
On behalf of the parishioners of the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia
Apodosis of the Presentation of the Most-Holy Mother of God
November 25/December 8, 2008
Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff
Inscribed in the book of condolences at the Consulate General of the Russian Federation following the repose of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II from the parishioners of the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (8 pages with signatures).