I still cannot believe that Metropolitan Laurus is gone. At times, in my prayers, I even forget to commemorate him among the departed who are dearest to my heart, believing him to be alive and well. I await his calls, requests, tasks, kind words of encouragement, support and comfort, but he remains silent, he is no longer with us. Arriving in the beloved monastery of the reposed Vladyka, I do not find him in his office, nor in the church. He is not in his modest residence, which reminded Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Kolomna, who officiated at Vladyka’s funeral, of St Seraphim of Sarov’s remote and humble abode. In a word, it is hard for me to come to terms with his death.
The breadth of work and responsibilities of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory are difficult to recount. He was the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Chairman of the Council of Bishops as well as the Synod of Bishops, Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, which is the pre-eminent monastery of the Russian Church Abroad, and chief editor of the magazine “Orthodox Russia” and other publications. He was also a kind pastor with a generous heart, a heart that found room for countless people. He was strict with himself, but lenient with others. He was burdened with many other concerns not related directly to his duties, even ones such as acquiring needed items for the management of the monastery.
Vladyka joined the monastic brethren every day at midnight office and Divine Liturgy. Taking into account the less-than-robust health of Vladyka, even a tenth of his responsibilities would seem more than enough to bear. But he never complained. Quietly and humbly he fulfilled his obediences and patiently endured all sorrows. Yet Vladyka was never “roped off” from the wide array of visitors, not by a doorman, not by an aloof secretary. You could enter his office at any time, no one would subject you to suspicious interrogation: Why, what for, on what matter, but Vladyka cannot see you now, he is busy, etc. He could be stopped on the way from church to discuss a serious matter, he would not wave you off with excuses that he is too busy. No squadron of subdeacons would guard him (except during services), escorting him to the door of his cell, keeping admirers and beseechers at bay. He opened his own doors, put on his own riassa, checked the church calendar on his computer himself and did most things himself. No one prepared special dishes for him; he ate the same food as the lowest novice together with the monastic brethren. The accessibility and unpretentiousness of Vladyka were rare.
Seminary graduates of the class of 1967, the year Archimandrite Laurus was consecrated bishop and appointed to Manhattan, opened a commemorative booklet with the following words: “Everyone meets in his lifetime an individual who leaves a lasting impression. Such people are not forgotten, just as one does not forget one's mother or father. Just such a remarkable person for us, the Class of '67 of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville was then-Archimandrite Laurus, the Seminary Dean.”
These words can be repeated not only by seminarians, but by most people who knew Vladyka.
His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus was born Vasily Shkurla on January 1, 1928 in Ladomirovo in what was known as Praguean Russia. It was the westernmost border of Ugrian Russia, which before the Great War was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He hails from that heroic part of the Russian Orthodox people living in the Carpathian Mountains, the cradle of Slavdom, which despite centuries of living under a foreign yoke and unfathomable repressions and persecutions at the hands of people of other faiths and nations, staunchly preserved their holy Orthodox faith, even under the forced union with Rome, preserving also their Russian national identity.
The baptism of the young Vasily was performed by the Head of the Orthodox Mission in Slovakia, Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko), later the renowned bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (previously Archimandrite of Pochaev Lavra and the re-founder of the church publishing house). The Monastery of St Job of Pochaev in Ladomirovo was founded by Vladyka Vitaly. The childhood of the future First Hierarch was spent in this monastery, under the spiritual guidance of Vladyka Vitaly, of which he would later say: “From my childhood, the Lord led me to the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in the Carpathians. There, in the monastery, I received my initial spiritual education.”
Vladyka Vitaly was not only the Superior of the monastery, but the founder of the brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev. It is no coincidence that at the Jordanville monastery—in some sense an heir to Ladomirovo—the name of the publishing concern also bears the name of the laborer-in-the-Lord of Pochaev. An icon of the saint with his relics is found here. It was brought out by Archimandrite Vitaly from Pochaev Lavra, and spent 20 years at the Ladomirovo monastery, accompanying the brethren later to the USA.
The future Vladyka Laurus subsequently spent his share of time at his obedience in the print shop.
Archbishop Seraphim (Ivanov, +1987) of Chicago and Detroit of blessed memory, assuming the role of Superior of the monastery when Vladyka Vitaly departed for America, wrote:
Vasya grew up before my very eyes. First I saw him as a child, then a crumb of a boy. At age 5 or 6 he began to serve as an acolyte at our church during holidays. I remember him as a boy of 8 or 9, coming to me as the monastic superior after the departure of Archbishop Vitaly to America, and asked me to accept him as a monk. I smiled, patted him on the head and said that it was good that he wanted to devote his life to God at such an early age, but that he needed the consent of his father.
The next Sunday, Vasya came with his father, who quite eagerly agreed to allow his son to be raised in the monastery, especially since he was poor, a widower, and had three other children.
In accordance with the civil laws of the country, he was obliged to attend school, but, as Vladyka Seraphim wrote, at the same time he lived as a monk: he arose together with the brethren for midnight office at 4 am, stood throughout all the long monastic services without fail, zealously fulfilled all the obediences laid upon him. He was quiet, silent and obedient. During his free time, he loved to read, noted Vladyka Seraphim.
His education, as was the case for all the boys living at the monastery, was supervised by the late Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov), the famous icon painter of the Russian Diaspora.
At the age of 12, Vasily first met the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky, +1965) of blessed memory. The spiritual father of young Vasily, Fr Kyprian, led him up to ask the blessing of Vladyka Anastassy, who then prophesized: “God bless you, you will be a pastor.” Vasily graduated the country school among the top students, and he was sent to middle school in Svidnik, to which he commuted by bicycle specially acquired by the monastery for this reason. Vasya again spent all his free time to monastic obediences, reading and participation in services, wrote Vladyka Seraphim.
From 1939, he took up full-time residence in the monastery and became a trudnik [lay worker] there. He also studied with AA Romanov at the Theological-Pastoral courses at the monastery. These were held in 1941-42.
During World War II, in the summer of 1944, the Red Army was approaching the Carpathian Mountains. The journal Pravoslavnaya Rus', published by the Monastery of St Job of Pochaev, never hid its negative attitude towards communism. It was not difficult to guess the fate of the monastic brethren should the Soviets seize the monastery, and so the majority of monks chose to leave for the West. It was especially difficult for the local natives to take this big step, including the young novice Vasily.
First he remained behind with a few monks. Most of the monastics were already in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. At this time, Archbishop Seraphim was able to reach his native monastery and persuade Vasya (and another young man named Vasya, now Archimandrite Florus of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville), to join those who were fleeing. Returning to Bratislava, Vladyka Seraphim sent Hieromonk Vitaly, later the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to fetch them, and, with the permission of their parents, brought both to Bratislava. Through Germany and Switzerland, where the future Vladyka Laurus donned the cassock, became a novice and, for a time, was an altar boy with Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory–he arrived safely in Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, USA, in 1946.
The complicated and difficult path of the young man could not but affect his spiritual condition. During such times, Vasily had two reliable spiritual guides: Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov) and Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko). Vladyka Vitaly gave him a gift of his portrait with a similar prophetic inscription: “To my spiritual son from the baptismal font and throughout my service to the Orthodox Church and the Russian people 20 December 1946.” These words, as Vladyka Laurus later would say, “strengthened me spiritually.”
In 1948, Vladyka Vitaly tonsured the young novice into the rassophore at Holy Trinity Monastery. “Vladyka Vitaly also tonsured me into monasticism with the name of Laurus, ordained me hierodeacon (January 14, 1950), and hieromonk (June 27, 1954).” In general the influence of Vladyka Vitaly on Father Laurus was constant and beneficial. “My spiritual education and edification occurred under his guidance. I thank God that He allowed me to be under the obedience of such a great podvizhnik and warrior for Orthodoxy as Archbishop Vitaly of blessed memory,” recalled Vladyka Laurus.
Vladyka Vitaly, in his will, left Vladyka Laurus a valuable and memorable pectoral cross, which he had received from the Union of Russian People. Vladyka Vitaly spoke of its value and significance once: “Of all the ecclesiastical items I owned during my service to the church, the thing most dear to me was the pectoral cross given to me, when I was an archimandrite, from the Volhynia Union of Russian People. I especially treasure it.”
It is little wonder that the influence of Holy Trinity Monastery itself on Vladyka Laurus is inestimable. “One could say that I grew up in this monastery,” said Vladyka Laurus. Both monasteries—St Job of Pochaev in Ladomirovo and Holy Trinity in Jordanville, seemed to meld in his consciousness, the latter being the direct heir of the former.
In 1954, he successfully graduated Holy Trinity Seminary. Standing out among his classmates through his talents, even before completing the full course (at the time, it was six years), he led some general education courses for the lower classes, and upon graduation, became a teacher of the Old Testament and Patristics, which he continued to teach until recently.
On June 2, 1958, Fr Laurus was awarded the gold pectoral cross, and on September 6 of the following year, elevated to the rank of hegumen, and awarded a palitsa. By decision of Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory, in 1960 he was appointed Dean of the Seminary. At the same time, over the course of several years, he fulfilled the obedience of Secretary of the Monastic Council and the supervisor of the book warehouse and monastery's travel secretary. On November 21, 1963, he was awarded the cross with ornamentation, and on April 17, 1966 elevated to the rank of archimandrite. That same year, Fr Laurus made a trip to San Francisco, where he participated in the funeral and burial of St John (Maximovich, +1966).
For almost 30 years, since the age of 12, Monk Vasily traveled all the stages of monastic development, from simple novice at St Job of Pochaev Monastery in the Carpathian Mountains to the rank of archimandrite at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville.
Those who knew him from those early monastic years noticed a rare quality in him—along with his spiritual development and the ascent in his ecclesiastical-administrative career, no changes could be seen in him, he retained his monastic qualities from his youth. Even as archimandrite, and as a hierodeacon, he was always prepared to help, always prepared for any obedience. Already in his capacity as Dean of the Seminary, reading lectures on one of the serious subjects, if needed, he would dig a grave in the monastic cemetery, and, as a monastic obedience, would cook in the kitchen and tend to the cows in the barn. All the correspondence of the monastery chancery lay on his shoulders, and when needed, he packed book orders from the print shop. There was no task he felt was below his rank or position.
On Saturday, August 12, 1967, in accordance with a decision of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Archimandrite Laurus was consecrated Bishop of Manhattan. We cite his address from the time of his consecration: “During these holy moments which are at the same time terrifying for me, when by the will of God, you, holy Bishops, and the Holy Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia call upon me, the unworthy one, to the episcopal service: what can I, the great sinner, say? Fear and trembling come upon me.” But of course, Archimandrite Laurus could not think of disobeying the call to his episcopacy, though he bore in mind that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Yet, he added, “I witness the immeasurable mercy of God to me, the sinner, which I sense has been granted to me my whole life.” Speaking of this, that it would be difficult for him to leave Holy Trinity Monastery, in which he grew up and gained spiritual strength, and yet he understood that his new duties would be the fulfillment of the legacy he was given by Vladyka Vitaly (Maximenko), who indicated his future path to him. For this reason, he added: “Embarking now on a new service to the Church of Christ, it is good and joyful for me to realize that I will continue the apostolic mission,” though he understood that this new task will be bound to new temptations and even persecutions. In his concluding words, the newly-consecrated humbly asked: “Archpastors of divine wisdom, pray that the Lord helps me be a strong, incorruptible keeper of the life-bearing laws and traditions of the Orthodox Church, not only in word, but more importantly, in deed. I pray that you do not cease strengthening me, who is inexperienced, with your directions.”
And also: “In laying your episcopal hands upon me, a sinner, to invoke upon my head the flame-like grace of the Spirit, pray, God's bishops, that upon me will come ‘Divine grace, ever healing the ailing and fulfilling the needy,' and would help me rightly administer the word of Thy truth.”
The following day, on Sunday, August 13, on the eve of Dormition Lent, five bishops: His Eminence Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky, +1976) of Washington and Florida, His Eminence Archbishop Averky (Taushev, +1976) of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, Bishop Kirill of the Bulgarian parishes and Bishop Anthony (Medvedev, +2000) of Melbourne, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985), performed his consecration at the Synodal Cathedral in New York. In his address while bestowing the episcopal staff, Metropolitan Philaret said:
“We bishops, who lay our hands upon you in the holy sacrament of the Consecration, rejoice now with you, and now with love we accept you into our archpastoral family, the clergy rejoices, prayerfully participating in the mystery of Consecration; the multitude of your followers and spiritual children rejoices, the flock rejoices—the flock that is now both mine and yours. But I think, more than anyone, Archbishop Averky and the brethren of Holy Trinity Monastery rejoice.”
The church was overfilled with worshipers, since the humble archimandrite already gained the love and respect of many pilgrims to Holy Trinity Monastery. The local parishioners said that the Synodal cathedral had not seen such a splendid and endearing church celebration since the day of the glorification of St John of Kronstadt in 1964, and with such an unusually large gathering of people.
Despite his duties at the Synod of Bishops, Vladyka's ties to the seminary and monastery were not broken. He drove to Jordanville every week, reading lectures as before, and during the illness of Archbishop Averky of blessed memory, managed the monastery administration.
In New York, Vladyka gave lectures at the St Seraphim Foundation and at Otrada. As reported by Pravoslavnaya Rus' on the 10th anniversary of Vladyka's consecration:
“It would be difficult to enumerate all those instances of consolation which, during the short period of his service in the rank of bishop, His Grace Bishop Laurus generously, without thinking, distributed among the members of his flock. These consolations were great and small: in the resolution of important matters of church life and personal issues, in advice and guidance, and daily friendly conversation. Vladyka's mere presence was often a consolation. His steady, humble character brought peace and quiet joy to even the most troubled souls.
The love and gratitude of his flock followed Vladyka Laurus everywhere he performed his often difficult duties. For instance, during his 10-year sojourn in New York as the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops and Bishop of Manhattan, Vladyka Laurus earned grateful acknowledgment; even now one can find elderly parishioners who remember the days when he was the “master of the house.” The devotion on the part of the worshipers of the Synodal Cathedral, and of the faithful of New York City in general, was expressed also in how the news of his transfer to Holy Trinity Monastery spread like wildfire in the city; in a brief time some 1000 signatures were collected on an appeal to leave him on the Manhattan cathedra. The appeal addressed to Metropolitan Philaret said: “This unexpected news struck us with sorrow, and we appeal to Your Eminence with this urgent request: do not take away our Bishop from us.”
Who has not heard of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land, which he often organized in years past, giving new life abroad to that old, pious Russian tradition? And not only was it pilgrimages that Vladyka led, he also helped the convents there through his fatherly care. What consolation to our monastics in the Holy Land it was when Vladyka Laurus came to visit! How much spiritual guidance and advice he gave to his spiritual children in our monasteries in the Holy Land!
After the death of Vladyka Averky, the monastic brethren unanimously elected Vladyka Laurus as their superior. It was not easy for the clergy and parishioners of the Synodal Cathedral in Manhattan to part with their respected and beloved bishop. But Holy Trinity Monastery cannot be imagined either. When a serious illness struck him in the 1990's, prayers were said for him not only in the monastery but throughout the Russian Diaspora. Innumerable get-well cards were sent from all corners of the world.
On October 20, 1981, by ukase of the Synod of Bishops following the decision of the Sobor of Bishops, Vladyka Laurus was elevated to rank of Archbishop, and on September 1, 1984, came the decision of the Council of Bishops to award him the diamond cross on his klobuk.
In July 2001, the Synod of Bishops appointed him Deputy of the retired First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. In accordance with the decision of the Sobor of Bishops of 2001, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity was selected First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The celebration of the enthronement of His Eminence Vladyka as metropolitan was scheduled for Sunday, 15/28 October. On the preceding Saturday night, all-night vigil was served with an enormous gathering of clergymen and worshipers at the Synodal Cathedral, from near and far. The polyeleos was particularly magnificent that day. While the Synodal Choir sang “Praise the Name of the Lord,” by A. Kastalsky, the new First Hierarch emerged from the altar: Metropolitan Laurus. His full vestments were adorned by the panagia of the first First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky, +1936), which was later worn by St John (Maximovich), then by Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev, +2000) of San Francisco and Western America, the spiritual friend of Vladyka, who loved and cherished him for his staidness, his devotion to the Church and for his judgment, who participated in his consecration in 1967; also worn was the cross of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), which was kept after him by Vladyka's spiritual father, Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov). At the end of vigil, at the end of the first hour, His Eminence Archbishop Alypy of Chicago and Detroit and His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany imparted to him the symbols of a metropolitan's rank with the words “Axios”: the blue mantle and white klobuk, which were first blessed with holy water in the altar.
Humbly accepting these items, Metropolitan Laurus said: “I ask the holy prayers of the bishops, clergy, our beloved flock, for the Lord to strengthen me in bearing this obedience of responsibility, which the Sobor of our Church Abroad has laid upon me. Remember me in your holy prayers.”
At the end of the solemn divine liturgy on the day of his enthronement, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus addressed all those present with the words:
“In these days, when our Sobor of Bishops is convening and my election took place, I remember the words of the Lord spoken to His disciple Peter, after His sufferings and resurrection, when he appeared to the apostles and asked Peter: ‘Peter, do you love me?’ And then the Savior said, ‘When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.’ And so now what I would not do, that has come upon me. Here, in my old age, my brother archpastors have girded me and given me the ship of our Russian Church Abroad. I have taken this, as I told the archpastors, as an obedience to God, to the Church of Christ and our Sobor of Bishops. I do not sense that I have any advantages, nor any strength to steer this ship. I rely solely on the help of God, on the prayers of our archpastors, the prayers of our flock. And only with your help, dear fathers, brothers and sisters. If we can do anything, then it is only through common prayer, through common effort. May the Lord strengthen us in unity of mind, unity of spirit and conciliarity, the conciliarity of which Bishop Alexander spoke today. For it is necessary for Russian Orthodox people, and for Orthodox Christians in general to be one in spirit and action. I ask holy prayers of all of you.”
That evening at Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, a ceremonious trapeza was held in honor of the enthronement of Metropolitan Laurus. Some three hundred clergymen and laypersons gathered. Numerous touching and earnest congratulations were read from archpastors and the clergy, which evoked more than a few tears among the speakers and listeners.
The concluding words at the trapeza were spoken by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus himself. Vladyka stressed that although he thanks everyone for their love, their greetings, prayers and expressions of joy from the heart, his soul was still filled with sorrow. He was sad that so many souls were drawn into schism, he grieved for the eminent and deeply-respected Metropolitan Vitaly, whom he loved and who had brought so much good to the Holy Church over his long life, but who was now surrounded by those with ill intent who are exploiting his elderly weakness, feeding him slander against the Sobor of Bishops. Vladyka Laurus further said that he grieved over the pastors and laypersons who left our Holy Church, and prayed the Lord to grant wisdom to them all. Finally, Metropolitan Laurus, with tears in his eyes, asked for all for their strengthening, holy prayers for himself and for his flock.
In becoming the First Hierarch, Vladyka continued to bear his former obedience as the superior of Holy Trinity Monastery and Editor-in-Chief of the periodicals of Holy Trinity Monastery in the Russian language, to wit: Pravoslavnaya Rus', Pravoslavnaya Zhizn' and Pravoslavniy Put'.
Starting in the 1990s, the His Eminence the Bishop began visiting Russia in order to familiarize himself with the conditions of church life there, and to visit the holy places of the Motherland. In the autumn of 2003, His Eminence gratefully accepted an invitation, passed along by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, from His Holiness Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to visit the Russian Orthodox Church. The first official visit of His Eminence to Russia took place in May of 2004.
For several months we prepared for this first official visit – initially through prayer – and then by working on the practical arrangements for the visit. Preparing more than anyone was Bishop Laurus himself. Right before our departure, we busied ourselves with packaging icons with the relics of St John (Maksimovich) and other mementoes for His Holiness the Patriarch, the President of Russia, and others.
At this time, I remembered an account that the Very Reverend Stefan Pavlenko had shared about an interesting meeting that had taken place in Belgrade a long time ago. Father Stefan’s mother used to help in the archbishops’ dining hall at the Russian Holy Trinity Church in Belgrade. Here, many well know hierarchs and clergy members of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad would gather and dine. One time while setting the table, the mother of Father Stefan had a conversation with a priest who was considered among the Russians in Belgrade to be particularly insightful (unfortunately Father Stefan does not remember the name of the ascetic). He gestured with his finger at the individual who had entered the dining hall, Father John (Maximovitch), and said to her, “With his relics, the Russian people will begin their return to Russia.”
Father Stefan’s mother told her son about this incident not long before her death in the 1980s as she stood in Archbishop John’s sepulchre, located under the altar of the Cathedral in San Francisco.
On the 14th of May, the delegation of the Russian Church Abroad arrived in Moscow. On that very same day, in the evening, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus met with the His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All of Russia. The meeting took approximately two hours. Later, the Metropolitan told me that he was pleased with the meeting.
On the 15th of May, the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, with Bishop Lavr at the helm, visited the Butovsky Poligon and attended the Patriarchal service. This service was headed by His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All of Russia and concelebrated with numerous bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. There were also over 300 priests and a tremendous confluence of the faithful, who had arrived in order to honor the memory of the tens of thousands of martyrs who had suffered and died at Butovo. These martyrs are symbols of both the suffering and the glory of the Russian Church.
On the 17th of May, the delegation visited the Donskoy Monastery where they venerated the icon of the Donskoy Mother of God and the relics of Hierarch Tikhon, Patriarch of all of Russia. They also prayed in his chamber. Afterwards, His Eminence Laurus served a graveside Litiya for the blessed memory of Protopresbyter Alexander Kiselev and his wife.
On that same day, the first meeting of the official delegation of the Russian Church Abroad and the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate took place in a spirit of openness, trust, and brotherly love. All of the issues that had heretofore divided the two churches, were discussed. They identified all the themes and the methods for the future work of the representative committees of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad. The meeting lasted until evening. The spirit of hard work and good will prevailed.
With the participation of His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All of Russia, the discussions continued on the 18th of May, and it was decided that there would be a joint statement about the meetings that had had taken place thus far. His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus presented His Holiness, Patriarch Alexi of Moscow and All of Russia with an icon of the nun- martyrs Saints Elizabeth and Barbara that included a fragment of their holy relics.
In the joint announcement that was posted on the official site of the Synod of Bishops it stated,
“At the meetings that have taken place, it was expressed that the mutual wish of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is to overcome the tragic divisions of our people that have arisen as a result of the revolution and civil war. Furthermore, the goal is to reestablish Eucharistic communion and canonical unity inside the one Russian Orthodox Church, of which the Russian Church Abroad has always considered itself to be an inseparable part. Our goal is to bring that day closer when we will glorify God with one mouth and one heart.”
Afterward, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and his entourage visited Yekaterinburg and Alapayevsk where they venerated the holy places connected with the death of the martyred royal family and the nun-martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Then, the delegation of the Russian Church Abroad arrived at the Nizhegorodskaya region in order to visit the great orthodox holy site – the Trinity Seraphim-Diveevo Monastery. Upon arrival in Diveevo, the delegation venerated the holy relics of the monk St. Seraphim of Sarov, and along with Archbishop George and Abbess Sergia, followed the path of the spring of the Mother of God, while carrying out the traditional commandment of Saint Seraphim to read the Angelic Salutation to the Mother of God 150 times. They also went to see the spring honoring the Icon of the Kazan Mother of God. After this visit to the Kursk Diocese, Metropolitan Laurus and his delegation returned to the USA on the 28th of May.
During the course of the following two years, the work of the preparation for the unification of the Russian Church continued. In 2006, during the convocation of the long awaited IV All Diaspora Council, Metropolitan Laurus said,
In order to put aside that which has created division and enmity in our midst, we must open ourselves to the intercession of the grace of God. Foremost, we must not fall prey to pride, nor should we fall into depression, but we must humble ourselves and rely on the Will of God.
And from the bottom of my heart I wish that we would forget our enmity and hatred, as they are not appropriate for us as Orthodox church-going people, so as not to be burdened with the harsh verdict at the final judgment of Christ. We must be thankful to God that he gives us the opportunity to carry forth a communal effort of mutual love. Let us pray that our Lord will deflect from us all that is detrimental and dangerous. Now, at the beginning of our work for the church, we must pray especially fervently that God, upon whom depends all of our significant work and actions, will give us the spirit of wisdom and the fear of Him.
Let us always remember, that it is only in the Kingdom of God that everything will be successful. In the militant church we will always come upon problems, human passions and temptations, which we must overcome through the path of dialogue and Christian relations with each other. As Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” We pray to God to cure the wounds and divisions, and we actively strive for this. We must observe oneness of love in the union of peace, as this is imperative for life and especially in communal work. Only under these circumstances will God grant us unity and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For this we must pray so that our council will lead our flock with a sure hand for the glory of God and the benefit of the entire church. Amen.
The Metropolitan was convinced that the unity of the church would be instrumental in the restoration of historical truth, would familiarize the Russian people with the history and the heritage of the Russians Abroad, and would facilitate the spiritual rebirth of Russia. “Our reconciliation must assist Russia in reexamining history, so that in schools those people who fought for the freedom of Russia would not be called traitors and enemies of the homeland,” Metropolitan Laurus told journalists.
In the summer of 2006, Metropolitan Laurus undertook his last journey to the Holy Land. There he met with his Holiness Patriarch Theofilus III, officiated at the services for the 100th anniversary of the Savior-Ascension Eleon Monastery, prayed and partook in the mystery of Holy Communion at the sacred places connected to the life saving trials of our Savior, and also received visitors. Undoubtedly this trip strengthened him. In September of that same year, the Synod of Bishops reviewed and adopted the Act of Canonical Union.
Soon after this, Metropolitan Laurus assigned me to prepare his next official visit to Russia, the goal of which was to conclude the negotiation process and to restore church unity. Vladyka often shared his thoughts regarding this impending trip and was always interested in the progress of this very important work.
On the 17th of May, 2007, as is well known, the Act of Canonical Union was signed, His Holiness, Patriarch Alexi of Moscow and All of Russia, and Laurus, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York signed the document. Afterwards, with the words, “Christ is among us! – He is and always will be!” They kissed three times. After this, His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All of Russia, and Laurus, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York presented their speeches. Next, the President of the Russian Federation, V.V. Putin gave his remarks.
After the signing of the Act of Canonical Union, a festive Divine Liturgy was served.
During this trip to Russia, His Eminence went to Kursk again and then headed for Little Russia, as Vladyka called the Ukraine. Some very impressionable moments of this pilgrimage included the greeting of His Eminence at the Pochaev Monastery, the services and the singing at the monastery, the veneration of its sacred places, the visitation of the near and far caves of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, the Holy Liturgy there, and the personal contacts with His Holiness Vladimir, bishops, priests, monks, and the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Metropolitan Laurus’ consecration as Bishop took place in America, in September of 2007. In conjunction with these festivities, the icon of the “Reigning” Mother of God was brought from Russia to visit all the Dioceses of the Russian Church Abroad. Soon after this, I began to notice that Vladyka’s physical strength was gradually beginning to diminish. Nonetheless, he attended daily church services, fulfilled his monastic offices, and continued to receive his visitors with love and affection. He often spoke of humility, and that, “The great events happening now are not my doing.” He felt that rather, this is the will of God occurring through him and the other participants working towards the restoration of the unity of Russian Orthodoxy.
During his last trip to Moscow in February 2008, where Vladyka was presented an award by the Mayor of Moscow and the International Council of Russian Compatriots, and where he reaffirmed the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church by serving with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, I thought that Metropolitan Laurus would probably retire soon and would live in peace at the monastery. But God had different plans. Vladyka passed away quietly and peacefully in his “skete,” as he liked to call his residence at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, on March 16, 2008, the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
That day, upon hearing of his repose, I wrote the following on our official internet site: “Today, on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, reposed in the Lord. The late Vladyka Laurus "fought the good fight, completed the course, preserved inviolate the faith, conquered sin” and the long division in the Russian Church.”
To steer the ship of the church through such a turbulent sea – the negotiations process leading to church unity, is truly a grandiose accomplishment, worthy of utmost respect, recognition, and appreciation. Here is where the true God-given wisdom of His Preeminence became evident. Of course, helping him was the great strength of his spiritual authority. But most importantly, were the incredible personal gifts of Metropolitan Laurus, foremost, his God-given astuteness, or in other words, grace and holy wisdom. This was internalized in him in all of its fullness.
The blend of endearing tenderness with unwavering firmness when the needs of the church demanded it, his patient encompassing consideration for each individual, and even to the most insignificant matters, his unusual theological erudition in combination with an incredible memory, his ability to win over people with his tactfulness, his talent for sorting through the most complicated church situations, his unquestionable gift of discernment, and even foresight, and many other qualities made up this wisdom that was full of grace.
It is noteworthy to mention that the 40th day, after the repose of Vladyka, fell on Holy Thursday, which is when Our Lord established the sacrament of the Eucharist, performed the first Holy Liturgy and uttered His high-priestly prayer, during which he commanded, “All may be one.” Vladyka Laurus loved the Church; he lived its life, he communed the Holy Life-giving Mysteries with the fear of God and with faith, he served reverently and prayerfully, and as a result, not only in his personal life, but also in his monastic life, and in his service as the church leader he embodied the Triumph of Orthodoxy. God showed this to all of us by taking him into his eternal dwelling place on that day.
Vladyka Laurus served God and the people as a member of the clergy for over 50 years. How much joy and sorrow he experienced in his service! In spite of all temptations, he preserved a peaceful spirit and for all was an example of strong faith, dependence on God’s help and of trusting in His will, love for the church, and monastic humbleness and patience. While he was still alive, one of his spiritual sons wrote, “It is difficult to give him his due without arousing his objections because of his natural humbleness, but to all who know him he personifies a true example of piety and monastic charity.”
People often ask me: “what gift can we bring him in order to express our thankfulness and love?” Let us learn from Vladyka about faith in God, and humble loyalty to His will that will direct our steps toward salvation. With his living example, Vladyka demonstrated to us these most important virtues. As a kind archpastor and helmsman, he led our church vessel with serenity and wisdom.
Protopriest Serafim Gan
Personal Secretary of the late Vladyka Luaus
Zhurnal Moskovskoy Pariarkhii, October 2008